February, 2006

With reports this month from Nepenthe in Malaysia; Manu Kai in South Africa; Viva in Venezuela; Windsong in Costa Rica; Elsewhere in French Polynesia; Reflections in Thailand; and more Cruise Notes than ever before.

Nepenthe - Folkes 39
Tom Scott
Starting Yet Another Cruising Year
(Royal Langkawi YC, Malaysia)

As yet another year ends, world turmoil continues unabated - as does my personal turmoil. For each morning, I still must decide whether to have coffee or champagne with my croissants, whether soft-centered chocolates are more appropriate than nut-centered ones for a post-lunch self-indulgence, and whether to have the Beef Wellington or Chicken Cordon Bleu for dinner. The sailor's life is not any easy one.

The post-tsunami business recovery has been slow but steady here in Malaysia and elsewhere. Tourists have begun to appear again, although not in great numbers. Regardless of where the visitors come from, most seem to be somewhat careless around the local drivers. Today, for example, I witnessed a tourist on foot foolish enough to attempt to cross the street when cars were clearly visible less than a block away. Perhaps this silly fool thought the crosswalk would protect him against the vehicular onslaught. He surely didn't realize that the traffic signs and regulations are purely advisory - like telling somebody to eat three squares a day. And about as effective.

For instance, if the street is marked "one way", there is not necessarily a consensus about which way is the right way. Apparently some drivers believe the arrow on the sign indicates the direction from which the cars should be coming, while others believe it shows the direction in which the cars should be going.

Some of this inconsistency in driver behavior is probably engendered by the whimsical attitude of the authorities. An example that caught my eye was a very narrow lane clearly marked "one way" - with an arrow pointing down the lane. At the other end of the lane was an identical sign with the arrow pointing in the opposite direction. In a similar case of strange symmetry, there is another short lane a few blocks away with "Do Not Enter" signs at both ends.

No letter from me would be complete without some small mention of yacht maintenance. My cockpit light developed a persistent and annoying flicker. I changed the bulb. I bent the socket walls to get a better contact. I resoldered the power leads. But I still got no joy because the light continued to flicker. I became frustrated and may have used some colorful language to describe the bulb, the socket, the wiring, electricity - and perhaps the nature of the world in general - because my Malay neighbor at the Royal Langkawi YC piped up:

"I see you are having a problem. Maybe I am helping?"

"Sure," I replied, "come aboard." He did, and I handed him the offending light assembly. He looked at it for a bit, wiggling bits and pieces as I had done, and after a few minutes had me hold the base in my right hand and the socket in my left hand. I did this while he gently pulled on the power leads with one hand, and inserted the bulb - twisting sharply - with the other. I was astounded when the light flared to life, bright and strong, without the slightest hint of its previous flickering. I was overjoyed!

Smiling brightly, my neighbor looked at me and said, "It's like you say in your country: Many hands make light work."

At the request of the editor, I've come up with a chronology of my cruising adventures - and find that I've been at it for nearly 20 years:

1986 - Bought Nepenthe and moved aboard at Gig Harbor, WA.
1988 - Quit work. Sailed from Washington to Zihuatanejo.
1989 - Zihuantanejo to New Zealand via the 'Milk Run'.
1990 - New Zealand, South Pacific Islands, to Australia.
1991 - Australia to South Africa.
1992 - South Africa to Trinidad.
1993 - Caribbean Islands.
1994 - Caribbean Islands to Mexico, then to San Francisco for a long stay.
1995 - San Francisco to Zihuatanejo
1996 - Mexico to New Zealand.
1997-2004 - New Zealand (cyclone seasons) to South Pacific Islands.
2004 - New Zealand, Fiji, and Vanuatu to Malaysia
2005 - Malaysia

The editor also inquired how my steel boat is holding up, and how much I spend a year on my cruising lifestyle.

My steel boat is holding up poorly. The bottom resembles Swiss cheese. The proper way of handling the matter would be to gut the boat and replate her. But that would cost more than the boat is worth, so in recent years I have simply been plating over where I must. Generally speaking, the boat gear is holding up just fine - although it helps that I don't have much of it.

I generally get by on about $10,000 a year. Of that, about $5,000 goes to boat-related expenses such as fuel, haulouts, replacement parts, and so forth. The other $5,000 is spent on me. Of this $5,000 spent on me, about $2,500 goes for necessities. The remaining $2,500 goes to my vices - tobacco, liquor, women, printed T-shirts, etc. - although not necessarily in that order.

In terms of cost - and many other ways, too - Malaysia has proven to be a pleasant surprise for me. It is very inexpensive.

For the year 2006, I hope to continue my pursuit of a life of luxury and ease. Plain sailing.

- tom 12/18/05

Manu Kai - Hans Christian 41
Harley & Jennifer Earl
Simon's Town, South Africa

We're just finishing up two months of touring in southern Africa, and are tied up at the False Bay YC in Simon's Town. We're waiting on the southeasterly wind to drop below 30 knots so we can get around Cape Point, the 'Southwesternmost Point of the African Continent'. One would figure that the southernmost point - Cape Agulhas - would have more geographic significance, but the persistent near gale force winds that keep us straining on a spider's web of dock lines suggest that the fabled Cape of Storms has earned its sobriquet.

Be that as it may, our boat is provisioned, the bottom has been cleaned, and all we need is less wind and a first port of call. We're still trying to decide whether to gunkhole north to Namibia along the Skeleton Coast, or sail direct to St. Helena. But whatever, we'll let the weather make up our minds for us.

Since the update we sent to Latitude while on passage from Vanuatu to Darwin last August, we have traversed the breadth of the South Indian Ocean. And what a long, strange trip it's been. Right out of Darwin in mid-September, we had dead flat calm for five days. Little did we know at the time, but that was to be pretty much the last peace and quiet we'd have for the next 45 sailing days. For over the next 6,100 miles we rarely saw the wind drop below 25 knots. On several occasions, we found ourselves in 30+ knots for more than a couple of days at a time.

We had our worst weather on the final approach to the African coast, when we weathered a four-day gale that included gusts to 50 knots. Such conditions are not described in any of the pilot charts we have. Many a night during our crossing of the Indian Ocean our dinner menu was rice with a side of soy sauce and an M&Ms chaser. The reason is that neither of us could master the gymnastics required in such weather to even open a can.

But talk about exhilarating sailing! Aside from sweating out an incipient wind shift to the southwest while in a northeasterly gale in the Agulhas Current - which would have meant wind against tide throwing up waves of 30 feet or more - we enjoyed the frequent 165 to 175-mile days. And even when the wind went foul and forced us to ride the seas hove to for 36 hours, we had a great time just hanging out with DVDs, catching some sleep, and puttering around taking care of simple boat projects.

But there was some weird stuff that happened in the Indian Ocean as well. One night I spotted four brilliant green lights in rigid formation dragging comet-like tails from horizon to horizon. I'm still not sure what it was. If I had not gone on the radio and confirmed the sighting with two Australian commercial fishing boats 75 miles to the south - who were pretty much in awe as well, and who resolved to meet at a bar back in port to discuss it in more detail - I would just have figured I was experiencing the normal hallucinations that come from a combination of a lot of hard living in my younger days and the sleep deprivation of shorthanded sailing.

And then there was the sleeping humpback whale that we plowed into in broad daylight a couple of weeks deeper into the ocean. In fairness, he was just below the surface and we were only moving along at about three knots in one of the few periods of calm we saw in those months. Our port quarter sort of glanced off him, which woke him with a start. He immediately showed his flukes, evacuated his gut, and left behind a large and smelly brown stain as he swam off to the north. It wasn't the glamour one associates with whale-watching, but he was easily as long as our boat. We apologized to him profusely for fear that he might decide to run us down, turn-about being fair play.

Once we hit Durban, South Africa, we still had to make the 800-mile trip down the coast and around Cape Agulhas before we could say that the weirdness of the Indian Ocean was actually behind us. This passage is typically done in increments during favorable weather windows - all in an effort to avoid the southwesterlies that blow up every couple of days against the south-setting Agulhas Current. The first of these legs for us was the 340 miles from Durban to Port Elizabeth. Between the wind and the current, we managed a 220-mile day - hitting a somewhat unbelievable 13.5 knots over the ground at one point. Our ancient clunker of a GPS hasn't had to light up that second digit of double figures in quite a while, but now we know what you multihulls and big boat sailors get to enjoy on a regular basis.

Anyway, we've had our share of other misadventures - including riding our 20-ton surfboard on a nice breaking wave between the Knysna Heads into the lagoon beyond. Details of all this craziness - as well as our mobile bush camping safari experiences - can be viewed by following the log link at www.manukai.com. (By the way, Rule #1 posted at the gates of the Chobe National Park in Botswana reads: "Do not leave your tent at night. Lions and hyenas will eat you."

On a more serious note, we read with shock the story of the Lagoon 44 catamaran Emerald Jane and the Silverwood family going on the reef in the South Pacific. We briefly met John in Papeete the November before their tragic mishap, as he was kind enough to catch our bow lines and assist us in reverse Med-mooring our double-ended bow-sprited boat along the quay. He freely shared his local knowledge and passed along several invaluable tips on where to hang out in Moorea. While we feel the pain of the loss of their boat and belongings and are deeply saddened at the loss of John's leg, we are glad the family all got off safely.

- harley & jennifer 01/09/06

Viva - Grand Soleil 39
Steve & Pam Jost
(San Pedro)

As 2005 draws to a close, we begin our seventh year of cruising aboard Viva. After a whirlwind 10-week visit back to California - where we spent most of our time with all the usual medical checkups, parts procurement, photo assignments, and visiting family and friends - we returned to our boat in Venezuela in October. Were we in for a surprise! The mechanic with whom we had contracted to overhaul our engine in our absence had decided to hire himself out as an engineer on an 80-ft yacht on the East Coast.

After nearly three weeks of searching for a mechanic who wasn't booked and was willing to take the responsibility for someone else's work, we finally got the engine back in and running - to a certain degree. There were a few parts missing and a couple of bolts left over, but hopefully all will be well in a few days. After that, it was time for the annual bottom job, changing a couple of thru-hull ball valves, and then getting the boat back in the water.

Our biggest maintenance decision of the year was whether to remove the teak decks. Twenty-one years after we bought the boat in Italy, the decks were in pretty sad shape. And for the last six years, we had learned that teak decks and the tropics don't mix. Besides the wear factor, they are hot to walk on, and add at least 10-15 degrees to the temperature belowdecks. Removing the decks involved the tedious work of chipping the wood off using a hammer and chisel. Luckily, we found Jose Luis, a great young Venezuelan guy, to do the chiseling and chipping, and after nine days the old decks were gone. Of course, residing below during this process was like living inside a tree that's home to a family of woodpeckers! That's been followed by grinding and sanding - which our contractor says he'll have completed in 20 days.

Since marinas frown on the noise and amount of dust associated with such a project, we had to find a slip in front of a private home on the lagoon, the owners of which were away at work most of the day. The privacy and our newly acquired air conditioner made life as bearable as possible.

What we hadn't counted on was a visit from the Guardia Naçional patrol boat, the crew of which cited Eduardo, our landlord, for "the possible pollution" of the canal. As if the canal could be any more polluted! Apparently, his neighbor had called them and reported us for sanding and grinding on the decks. It seems that our sanding dust was more of a problem than all the oil, raw sewage, diesel, Styrofoam, plastic bottles, trash bags, and dead rats. After a trip to the Guardia station and the port captain's office with Eduardo to explain, we were allowed to continue sanding, but would not be allowed to spray paint. A day later the neighbor blew the whistle again, and there was another visit by the Guardia, but this time they stopped all work.

Fortunately, Jose Luis found us a spot at the old marina in downtown Puerto La Cruz where we can finish all the work. So we loaded up all the boys, their tools and materials, and headed downtown. It turned out to be a nicer location for doing the work, so the decks, now to be a light-colored gel coat painted with non-skid, should be finished in a few days. The floorboards and much of the interior have been sanded and varnished, so things are looking better, and we're almost ready for Christmas.

Things have changed a bit since our earlier visits to Venezuela. First of all, all the hurricane activity in the last two years has meant that all the yachts in this part of the world - including the Eastern Caribbean - are going all the way south to Trinidad or Venezuela for the summer months. Venezuela just hasn't been able to catch up with their new-found bonanza, so all of the marinas, boatyards, and service personnel are stressed to the max. As hurricane season comes to an end and yachts have started to head north, things have started to loosen up, but there's still a frustrating wait for any type of professional services.

Most people are probably aware of the verbal sparring between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and President Bush. It can be a little unnerving when you're down here, but for the most part the local Venezuelans remain very friendly. However, the local Guardia Naçional continues to hassle and fine cruisers over paperwork, speeding in dinghies, and things like that. Of course, Christmas is just around the corner and there is a need for government workers to fill the stockings of their children. There have been a few more reported incidents of boats being boarded and robbed, but most of those have happened in isolated anchorages.

Fortunately for us, the dollar has remained strong - particularly on the black market - and there are some great bargains in the wining, dining, and travel department. Money changing was always been a bit of a chore in the past, but there is one guy - 'Charlie Alpha' - who will still take checks on accounts in U.S. banks! Charlie Alpha is a good-looking guy who drives around all day in a black sports car with an attractive chica and a briefcase full of Bolivars. He monitors the VHF radio for his daily deliveries, so in that way he's sort of like the local drug dealer. But dealing with him sure beats standing in line at the bank.

We'll probably stay around here until the end of January to complete a few more projects, although we'll probably make one last trip inland. We're unsure of our future plans, but will most likely be heading west toward Panama. After all, there are still many anchorages in Central America and Mexico that we haven't seen. And on the way there, we'd certainly like to re-visit Cartagena and the San Blas Islands. In any case, we're looking forward once again to calm anchorages with clear water.

- steve & pam 12/20/05

Steve & Pam - Your item on Charlie Alpha took us right back to the days when we had Big O in Venezuela. Once you get outside of the First World, you discover that things are a lot more free-wheeling, and certain colorful entrepreneurial individuals are willing to take big risks.

Windsong - Islander Freeport 36
Frank Nitte
The Dark Side Of Costa Rica
(San Diego)

When people think of Costa Rica, they think of tropical jungles, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, rainforests, and beautiful beaches. But we here have come to learn that there is a dark side to this country - it's also the Land of Thievery! Many of us in this year's cruising class have been victimized.

We, for example, had our 10-ft Caribe hard-bottom inflatable with a 15-hp Johnson outboard stolen about a week ago while out at the Gulf of Nicoya's Isla Jesusita. We normally lift our dinghy out of the water every night and lock it to Windsong, but that night we failed to take that precaution. Theives came in the middle of the night with bolt-cutters strong enough to cut our 3/8-inch Krypton cable, and floated our dinghy away. When you include the custom Sunbrella covers for the gas tank, the dinghy chaps, the lifting sling for the outboard and dinghy, the oars, the seat, the Master outboard lock, the outboard wings, the custom stainless wheel brackets, and gas tank, our loss came to about $6,000!

We're not the only ones who have suffered, as other cruisers have had their dinghies and outboards stolen. Just a few days ago some cruisers had their outboard stolen - and it was locked to their stern rail! Somehow the thieves managed to steal the outboard while the cruisers were sleeping onboard. This theft also occured in the Gulf of Nicoya, just a short distance away from where our dinghy and outboard had been stolen.

We recommend that all cruisers raise their dinghies out of the water every night. If you're lazy or complacent, you're likely to lose both your dinghy and outboard. If you hear about a dinghy or outboard theft in the area you're in, we suggest that you immediately leave the area - as in moving 25 miles away - because you can be sure that thieves are salivating over your dinghy.

In addition, always use a lock and chain on your dinghy and outboard. Obviously, the Krypton brand of cable - which is made of strands of steel covered in plastic - was not adequate. We're now thinking we need two sets of 3/8 to 3/4-inch stainless steel anchor chain in combination with two very large hardened locks. Thieves would need a monster bolt-cutter to cut such big chains. And presumably it would make such a racket cutting the first chain that we'd hear them before they got to work on the second chain. Speaking of noise, the fan we run next to our berth may have prevented us from hearing the thieves stealing our outboard and dinghy. The 'white noise' of the fan makes it difficult to hear anything outside the boat.

When leaving their boats, cruisers should always close all the hatches and ports, and lock the boat. And do this no matter where you are. Why make it easier for thieves to ransack your boat while you're gone?

We encourage all cruisers headed to Costa Rica to be extra vigilant about security, both on the boat and while travelling on land. We know of incidents of pick-pocketing, luggage being stolen off of buses, and so forth. When traveling inland, never let anybody else handle your bags. So travel light and keep your bags on your lap or on the floor in front of you. Never put bags in the overheads, as the buses are packed like sardines and you won't be able to keep your eye on them.

The measures we recommend may sound extreme, but they are based on what we've learned while cruising Mexico and Central America. Generally speaking, the people are poor. While almost everybody is wonderful and friendly, there are still some bad elements. Some of these folks think there is nothing wrong with stealing from rich Norte Americanos.

We're now moving on to Panama, where we will buy a new dinghy and outboard. These things are a lot cheaper in Panama than Costa Rica, plus we don't feel like contributing any more to the Costa Rican economy.

- frank 01/03/06

Readers - Because Costa Rica is a much heralded eco-destination, has a history of democracy, and doesn't have a standing army, people tend to assume that it has less crime than other Central American countries. Costa Rica may not have as much violent crime, but it's notorious for petty theft, pick-pocketing, and credit card scams. Beware.

Elsewhere - Cabo Rico 38
Matt & Judy Johnston
Leaving Our Boat In Polynesia
(San Francisco)

We're at home in Antioch watching it rain, having left our boat at the marina at Tahiti's Port Phaeton in order to fly home and spend the holidays with family. Taking a little time to reflect makes us realize what a great year we had.

We started in Panama - where there is great provisioning - and on March 26 sailed west. After a short stop at Panama's Los Perlas Islands, we set a course for the Galapagos. It took us 11 days to make the crossing, in part thanks to the weather info from Don on Tamuré. The Galapagos were great. We managed to stay for six weeks and visited four islands - all of them incredible. So much has been written about these famous islands that we won't repeat it here.

After the Galapagos, we faced the 3,000-mile passage to the Marquesas. The first 1,000 miles went by quickly as we had good wind from the southeast. We thought we had a quick crossing in the bag, but it was not to be, as the wind all but quit. We had two weeks of wind in the 3 to 8-knot range, and it only rarely got up to eight knots. Plus, what wind there was shifted to out of the east, which meant we had to sail dead downwind!

Initially we had some problems sailing wing-and-wing. First, our telescoping pole kept retracting on its own. I finally had to put a couple of screws in to keep it the right length. Then the end of the pole started to eat into our brand new Hood genoa. I got very upset about this and fired off an email to Robin at Hood Sails in Sausalito. He set me straight by offering a couple of solutions. I chose to tie a sacrificial pennant into the clew, then clip the pennant into the end of the pole. We just hadn't known what we didn't know. We later found out that other skippers were having the same problem.

Our crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas took 28 embarrassing days, and after many days of rolling back and forth, we finally made landfall at beautiful Nuka Hiva. Lots of other yachts had a similarly rolly crossing, so we all got to scrub the growth that had accumulated above the waterline of our boats. We'd rolled so much that we had green stuff all the way up to the rub-rails on both sides of our boat! The only way to get the growth off was to use Scotch Brite pads. During the cleaning process was one of the few times I was glad we didn't have a larger boat.

The Marquesas were so fabulous that we stayed for five weeks, visiting five islands. Our one bit of advice is to learn a little French before reaching French Polynesia. We haven't had to use it much, but when we have, the locals have appreciated it. What happens is that you start out in French, but after a few sentences the locals realize that they speak better English than you do French - so the rest of the conversation is in English.

We only made two stops in the Tuamotos - Raroia and Tahanea. We'd recommend skipping the former, but the latter is a wonderful uninhabited atoll. We especially enjoyed snorkeling, particularly after a four-foot fish took up residence beneath our boat! This fish would come right up to us, and then follow us around when we swam off. Even though the fish had a remora, it wasn't a shark. The locals told us that it was a carangi - but the name doesn't mean anything to us. We did see quite a few sharks, but they ignored us.

Our roller furling started to come undone on our way to Tahiti. API Yachting replaced it for us in Papeete at prices very comparable to the States. You can get anything done for a boat in Tahiti. We also learned that lovely and remote Port Phaeton can pull out very large boats - including catamarans. In fact, they mostly cater to yachts rather than commercial vessels.

After an extended stay in Moorea, we returned to Port Phaeton to leave our boat in the very protected marina while we made our Christmas pilgrimage home. The reason we've left the boat in French Polynesia instead of hurrying to New Zealand to avoid the tropical cyclones is that we want to spend another season in French Polynesia. We know there is a risk in doing this, but we hope it works out.

- matt & judy 1/4/06

Reflections - Perry 47/50
Max Young
Royal Phuket Marina
(San Francisco)

When the killer tsunami hit on December 26 of '04, my Perry 47/50 Reflections was on the hard at Rebak Marina near Langkawi, Malaysia. It wasn't a matter of chance. When I arrived at the marina four months before, the harbormaster tried his best to get me to keep my boat in the water during my absence. But I insisted that she be put on the hard. It was a good thing, too, because the tsunami wiped out the marina. Even the pilings that held the docks in place are gone. And the bottom of what was once the marina is now the home of several sunken cruising boats.

Finding a marina that fits my needs has always been a major concern for me. When I leave my boat, I want her to be in a well-maintained, safe marina with a cooperative harbormaster and staff. And there should be all boat services nearby. Since leaving San Francisco in '99, I've been very lucky in my searches for satisfactory marinas.

When I subsequently left Malaysia for Thailand, I was told that it would be a problem for me to find a place to leave my boat on the hard - or even in a marina. I assumed that I'd have to take whatever I could get, which wouldn't be too bad, because I wasn't planning to leave Reflections for very long.

When I got to Thailand, I found some of the most friendly people I have met anywhere. In addition, I was taken by the amazing beaches and islands, and even the low prices. What I did not find was a place to keep my boat - other than to leave her on a mooring in Chalong Bay. But as we were driving by a new marina being built in Phuket, one of my crewmembers suggested that I stop to see if they had anything. The next day my boat was in a slip at the Royal Phuket Marina on Phuket Island, and I was a very happy guy.

What a welcome we got upon arrival! We were treated like a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier entering San Francisco Bay. There were about a dozen marina staff waiting to grab our mooring lines, a lady with fresh towels for washing up, and another with refreshments. Had I sunk and gone to heaven?

The Royal Phuket Marina is the brainchild of Gulu Lalvani, founder and chairman of Binatone Telecom Group, the world's second largest manufacturer of cordless digital phones. He's invested $150 million into developing Thailand's first world-class "luxury lifestyle marina". It's being developed on 30 hectares of tropical paradise, and will have 350 berths for yachts up to 115 feet. In addition, there will be 400 luxury villas and condominiums. All berths are equipped with electricity, fresh water, broadband internet, telephone service, and cable TV. Minimum draft at low tide in the outer marina is over 10 feet.

When I hear the words 'luxury' and 'marina' together, my first thought is that I can't afford it. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the marina fees are very reasonable - and comparable to Asian marinas such as at Singapore and Hong Kong. There are also hardstand facilities, including a 60-ton Travel-Lift, cradles, and a pressure washer.

Visitors to the marina will be able to order from any of the international restaurants and cafes lining the 'Fisherman's Wharf'-style waterfront promenade, and have the food delivered to their boat. There will also be a newspaper delivery every morning, and croissants and fresh bread from the already operational Les Anges Bakery.

The Royal Phuket Marina is the co-sponsor of the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, which takes place the week before December 5th, the latter being the King's birthday. Last year was the 19th running of the regatta, and it attracted some of the world's top yachtsmen. The 90 or so entries included everything from cruising yachts to mega racers, with over 900 sailors competing from 15 countries - including Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Hong Kong, Britain, Italy, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Royal Phuket Marina's location on the eastern seaboard places her on the doorstep to Thailand's world-class Phang Nga Bay. This is home to the famous 'James Bond Island', as well as Phi Phi and Krabi Islands, where Leonardo de Caprio's The Beach and Brigitte Jones's Edge of Reason were filmed. There are hundreds of deserted tropical islands, so the area ranks as one of the world's premiere cruising grounds, with nearly year 'round boating.

I can't express how wonderful the cruising experience has been for me. I think I'm going to stay longer than I thought. For further information, visit www.royalphuketmarina.com.

- max 01/08/06

Cruise Notes:

In the late '90s, Ardell Lien had such severe congestive heart failure that he was unable to climb a flight of stairs. He's now approaching the coast of South Africa after crossing the Indian Ocean, more than halfway into a solo circumnavigation aboard his San Diego-based Nor'Sea 27 Catalyst. What accounts for the dramatic change in his physical condition? He had a pacemaker implanted in '02, but that didn't help much. So when tests at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota showed that the now 71-year-old had no other serious health problems, he was placed on life support and listed number one for his blood type to get a heart and kidney transplant. The organs were found on New Year's Day in '03, and transplanted during a 13-hour surgical procedure. After nine nearly painless days in the hospital, he was released to recover at home. Six months after his surgery, he reroofed his house on the hottest day of the year. He set out in May of last year on his solo circumnavigation in order to make people more aware of the critical need for organ donations. Lien and his wife Maureen are veteran cruisers, having sailed their 45-ft sloop Moonshadow between Alaska and Mexico from '91 to '97. If you're an old cruising friend of Ardell's, why not send him an ?

Sources at a marina in Mexico tell Latitude that SET, which is the second most powerful ministry in Mexican government after Hacienda (their version of the IRS), is proposing a plan that would require owners of foreign boats over 33 feet to pay $80 a month - to have marinas keep track of them for the government! The staff of SET apparently believes they are modeling the plan after one in the United States. But that's ridiculous, because there is no such plan in the States. Once a foreign vessel pays $19 to get a one-year cruising permit, there are no other charges. The SET folks have been told this, but so far it hasn't seemed to have made an impact. At this time it's unclear whether the proposed regulation will go anywhere, as it will be challenged by the Mexican Marina Owner's Association and would infuriate cruisers. After all, $1,000 a boat per year to be kept track of is ridiculous.

In another sticky nautical issue in Mexico, the so-called La Cruz Yacht Club in La Cruz - which is actually a large development that includes at least a hotel and a 350-berth marina on the shores of Banderas Bay - was recently blasted by what sounded like a not particularly objective article in the Vallarta Tribune. According to the incendiary article, the development - which had a festive ground-breaking attended by many of the more powerful local political figures - is partly on land that doesn't belong to the developer, doesn't have the necessary permits, is proposing a marina that's merely a front for a massive waterfront land grab, unjustly destroys the views of homes that were previously on the waterfront - and in general threatens all foreign real estate investment in Mexico. It's not clear if the development will be delayed, curtailed, or proceed on schedule.

"While doing the Baja Bash in '05, we heard a 33-foot boat broadcasting a mayday just before dusk after they hit the beach while trying to enter Mag Bay via the Canal de Rehusa," report Myron and Marina Eisenzimmer of the San Geronimo-based Swan 44 Mykonos. "They threw out an anchor when grounded, and the anchor line fouled their propeller. However, they were lucky enough to make it to the beach unharmed. We and five other boats heard the mayday as we were travelling up the coast, but after discussing it, all concluded that there was too much danger for us to attempt a rescue in the dark. Delphis, one of the boats in our group, made contact with a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that was in the area trying to assist with another mayday. They contacted the Mexican Coast Guard in Mag Bay, which went to assist the beached vessel the next morning. We believe that the 33-footer was trying to enter Mag Bay in order to avoid the rough seas outside - and almost paid for it with their lives. By the way, we'll be doing the Ha-Ha again with you this fall!"

"It's now official, I'm now the owner of the Formosa 47 ketch Exterra Firma," reports Axel Heller. Many of you may recall that Heller lost his previous boat, the Long Beach-based Newport 30 Sea-Ya, on the shallows of La Paz Bay in late November after a rough sail north from Cabo. "I signed the papers on my new boat, and will soon start the process of bringing her 'almost' home - meaning she won't come all the way back to California until early 2007 in order not to be subject to sales tax. The ketch is sure a big step up from my little Newport 30! My immediate plan is to add water to the bottom of her keel - she's currently on the hard - load her up with fuel, and then spend some time enjoying the Sea of Cortez."

"I'm sure that many readers both sympathize with the plight of Don Ferrell - who suffered a stroke while at Turtle Bay during last year's Ha-Ha - and wonder what they might do in a similar situation," writes Ron Smith, MD, of Reno, Nevada. "As a physician who enjoys travel and cares for many world travelers, I have been approached by patients with questions about how to get either back home or to better medical facilities in case of serious illness or injury. After some research, I concluded that the best deal is to have an AAA Plus card. Along with the common benefits of AAA membership, the Plus upgrade provides Emergency Medical Transportation Coverage up to $25,000, which includes transportation of a spouse, children or other companion to home or medical facilities of the patient's choosing. Apparently the annual fee varies somewhat by zip code, and some special deals are available, so I won't quote the cost here. But I will say that I found it reasonable enough to buy for me and my family. Another option is the Air Ambulance Card, which provides up to two evacuation trips a year for a hospitalized inpatient, without regard to cost. The fee is $195/year for individuals and $295/year for a family. Visits to the appropriate websites will provide further details. A subscription to one of these plans would be worthy of consideration by many of your adventurous readers. Membership in either one would have saved Mr. Ferrell a lot of anxiety and money."

"We had company - David Kroosma and his bicycle Tierra del Fuego - on our crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan," report Ha-Ha vets Sean and Adrian Guches of the DownEast 38 Tiki Iti. "David left San Francisco on November 5, and is riding to the tip of the continent on a mission to raise awareness of mankind's effect on the climate and our merging roles as global citizens. It's all there on his www.rideforclimate.com Web site.

"The first day we entered the Cerralvo Channel," Adrian continues," it was blowing about 25 knots, the seas were eight feet on our beam, and we immediately took water over the side. David stood on the high side looking down at Sean's shoes, which were covered by rushing water. Sean continued to chat away as though everyone's feet were covered by seawater at noon on Thursdays. His nonchalance seemed to put David at ease, but I thought this was a little much to ask of someone with so little sailing experience, so we headed up to Espiritu Santo and anchored for the night. Being excellent swimmers, Sean and David took a long swim in Unnamed Anchorage #3, while I read in the warm sun and made spaghetti. Oh wait, it was actually Sean who made the spaghetti. We had a great sail down the Channel to Los Muertos the next day, although David was more or less seasick from that point on. Then we had a hit and miss 200-mile trip over to Mazatlan, with lots of motoring in glassy seas. It was great to have David's company, and he was a good sport about being seasick. It was great to pull into Marina Mazatlan and see so many familiar boats. David stayed on one more night, and the next day was nice enough to give a presentation to the kids on boats about climate change, his equipment, and his ride. Jackie from Daydreams was hungry for more science, but the teenagers were primarily interested in his equipment, how he ate, where he slept, and other practical matters. We'll heading south in a few days for Isla Isabella."

Richard Petersen of New Port Richey, Florida, and Jeffery Jones of Vista, California, put out a mayday in the wee hours of January 10 when their 38-ft catamaran Motion Ease became partially submerged 55 miles north of the Dominican Republic. Just 90 minutes after issuing the call for help, the two were rescued unharmed by the cargo vessel Tokai. We're not sure what kind of cat it was or why she took on water. By the way, manufacturers of catamarans often boast that their boats are unsinkable. While they may not go to the bottom when holed, most seem capable of becoming awash, and therefore not necessarily habitable.

"We just spoke to a vessel in Isla Mujeres this morning on the Northwest Caribbean Net, and they indicated that officials there are still making cruisers use an agent - unless the cruisers threaten to send an email to Tere Grossman, who would report them to Mexico City," report Chuck Bair and Susan Landry of the Norfolk, Virginia-based Mariner 40 Sea Trek. "It sounds as though officials at Isla Mujeres are not taking the new clearing rules seriously, and are desperately trying to hang onto the old ways. This information came to us via Conquest, a trimaran in the harbor at Isla Mujeres. You may remember that we had the same problem there until we called Tere, who called Mexico City, which called Isla Mujeres. The problem is that Port Captain Ibarra is a very stubborn man who doesn't like the new law. And if cruisers don't have to use an agent, Miguel, the agent at Marina Paraiso, stands to lose a lot of money. Meanwhile, when our friends on Bettie tried to clear in at Puerto Morales, which is also on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, the skipper was asked to pay $200 to clear in. After he complained, the price was lowered to $160. It's frustrating when Mexican officials don't comply with Mexican law - even when instructed to by their superiors in Mexico City."

You don't suppose any money passes hands between ship's agent Miguel and Port Captain Ibarra when a cruiser uses the agent, do you? No, of course not, whatever could we be thinking?

"In October of 2001, the dotcom bubble burst, and so did Tilden Park Software, our long-term database consulting business," write Lance Batten and Susie Bowman of Berkeley. "Since we were going broke, we decided we might as well have fun - so we bought the Beneteau 40 Eaux Vives in the British Virgins, and by December were sailing those warm, clear waters. We're not really 'old salts', but rather two salted nuts who like to sail, travel, swim, fish, and meet new and interesting people.

"In December of last year, at the start of our fourth winter season cruising the Caribbean, we arrived at Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, just in time for the finish of the massive Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)," the couple continue. "The ARC, which is 2,700 miles from the Canaries to St. Lucia, included everything from professionally skippered boats and crew on racing machines to Ha-Ha type fun cruisers. There was an all-Turkish women's entry, a boat entirely crewed by disabled British servicemen, and even the spectacular 97-ft R/P Leopard of London. Anyway, we helped at the finish, and our participation doubled the representation of colonials in the shore crew. We were liberally rewarded with rum punch and a series of parties including a sunset cruise on a catamaran to beautiful Marigot Bay. With 224 starters, you can imagine the adventures in the ARC fleet. The most prolific transAtlantic garden was full of basil; the best-dressed crew wore tuxedos, the youngest cruiser was two years old, and the motto of the last boat across the finish line was, "Sailing is like sex, it's best to come last!"

"My girlfriend Loretta and I, along with Capt. Rob and friends, have been in Careyes, a small bay about 100 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, and have been having a great time enjoying the Mexican hospitality," reports Steve Williams of the Santa Cruz-based SC 52 Natazak. We also wanted to say thanks again for the great Ha-Ha. We continue to tell everyone what a great trip it was for us. Your enthusiasm for the annual adventure is impressive."

Cruising south with hundreds of friends when it starts getting rainy and cold in California - how could we not be enthusiastic about doing that? By the way, did you see Loretta's photo on the cover of the Pusser's Rum Newsletter? If only our dentist looked like that.

"We saw your note requesting feedback about Wifi access in Mexico," write Joe Brand and Jacque Marin of the Alameda-based Wauquiez 37 Marna Lynn, "so we thought we'd report on our Wifi experiences here at Lagoon Marina in La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. This small marina is run by a very friendly and helpful couple who have about 15 Med-tie slips up the river from the shipyard. They offer Wifi free, and it's great. But we are currently hauled at the La Ceiba Shipyard, which also has free Wifi access, as well as three terminals by the office. As for the work that's been done on our boat, we've been pleased with how professional it's been."

La Ceiba Shipyard claims to be the biggest yard between Panama and Mexico, has a 125-ton Travel-Lift, and can haul boats to 100 feet in length and 25 feet of beam.

"The adventure began with a small ad in Latitude by Nick Goldman, owner of the Olympic 47 ketch Rozinante, who said he was looking for a couple to sail with him to Europe," write Tony and Sharon Gourd. "We left him a phone message, but after not hearing from him for two weeks figured he'd found somebody else. Then we got the call, met, and discovered that we seemed to be a perfect match in all ways. It's now six months later, and we're about to get underway."

Guided by the motto of Pete Goss - "If you are going to do something, do it now, tomorrow is too late" - the trio plan to leave KKMI boatyard in Richmond during the first weather window in February, sail to the Panama Canal, and then up to St. Augustine, Florida, to join the May 11 Atlantic Rally To Europe. That event takes the fleet to Bermuda, the Azores, and Lagos, Portugal. After that, there will be "four months of easy sailing exploring the ports and cities of the Med."

We're not going to say that three people on a 47-ft boat can't make such a trip so quickly, but it would be a monumental accomplishment on the part of the crew and the engine. The most difficult part is going to be getting from Richmond to St. Augustine in three months, and, of that part, the most difficult is going to be making the 3,000 miles from San Francisco to Panama. The problem is that there is so little wind along that route that it would require almost nonstop fast motoring to keep the necessary pace. Nonetheless, we wish Goldman and the Gourds the best of luck - and the shortest traffic delay possible when transiting the Panama Canal.

One good reason to attempt such a trip is that cruising in the Med can be a blast. Former Sausalito monohull sailor Noel Gaudinet, who now lives in France where he sails his Outremer 43 catamaran Laia out of Grand Mott, sent us the accompanying photos from his cruise last summer. The main one shows his cat on the hook at Formentera, one of Spain's Balearic Islands. The second is of a naked lady stretched out on the port hull of his cat. Two bad about all the spray, no? There was no room for the final shot, which is of crowds of young folks on Ibiza, who had no doubt just woken up in time to have their first spliff of the day while watching the sunset. About nine hours later they'd start hitting the clubs and dancing in mounds of spermicidal foam.

"The 97-ft schooner Talofa is alive and quite content here on the hook at La Paz," report Cactus and Betsy Bryan. "We made the trek back to Baja as part of the Ha-Ha, bringing home plenty of swag. In addition to finishing second in the Tequila Division, we won the Master Baiter's award for catching the most fish over 10 pounds. We proudly display our singing bass trophy over the nav station. But perhaps our most important recognition last year was winning the Perry Bowl Award from the ASTA for our racing accomplishments while on the '05 Tall Ships Challenge. We're all very proud to have our boat's name engraved forever on the Perry Bowl Perpetual. Since purchasing Talofa in May of '04, we have been on an adventure like no other. Sailing over 10,000 miles from Mexico to Canada and back again has given us new found respect for our boat's sailing abilities and all that she has to offer those who wish to learn something. The learning curve has been very steep, and thus far Capt. Cactus and 1st Mate Beau - with the help of others, including Capt. Kevin Porter - have sail-trained over 15 cadets this past year, stopping in over 12 ports. During this time, Talofa has had more than 40,000 folks pass across her decks in awe and appreciation of something old, original, and so special. Just recently, she took 34 underprivileged Mexican children for the sail of their lives. The wind and seas in Cabo Bay really piped up to treat the children to a real Tall Ship experience. Some even got seasick while learning to ties knots. We are working toward a full-time home for Talofa here in Mexico's Puerto Los Cabos, the new port in San Jose del Cabo. We have been blessed by the many folks who have wanted to volunteer aboard Talofa - and don't know what we would have done without such kindness. We are always taking on new crew for different lengths of time to help with sailing and maintenance. Everyone is welcome. For that or information on charters to the islands outside of La Paz, check us out at www.bajaschoonercruises.com.

Readers Steve and Teri Dale wrote in to ask how difficult it would be to get crew positions for the Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run For Charity on March 28, and the Banderas Bay Regatta from March 30 to April 2. The Pirates for Pupils is a 12-mile spinnaker run for charity founded by Latitude 38 to benefit the schools in Punta Mita and the shoreline of the north coast of Banderas Bay. All anybody has to do to participate is sign up at the Vallarta YC at Paradise Marina and donate $25 or more per person. We'll personally make sure you get on a big cat. Historically, the Pirates for Pupils course has been one of the sweetest sails in Mexico. Did we mention that everybody is supposed to dress up in their best pirate garb for the lunch at Dorado Restaurant preceding the sail?

While we can't guarantee berths on boats in the Banderas Bay Regatta, we'd be stunned if interested sailors couldn't find one - particularly if they'd done the Pirates for Pupils a few days before. And let us put in an unabashed plug for the Banderas Bay Regatta. It's the best 'nothing serious' regatta for cruising boats only that we've ever seen, as it has the best sailing conditions - flat water, mild winds, easy courses - and the best venue - Paradise Marina is wonderful. Did we mention that there is no entry fee, and 30 minutes after the end of each race you can be sitting in a hot-tub overlooking the ocean being served margaritas? For details on this wonderful end-of-the-cruising season sailing event, please Google Banderas Bay Regatta.

Both the Pirates for Pupils and Banderas Bay Regatta are part of the 15-event Banderas Bay Nautical Festival, which starts on March 3 with the finish of the San Diego to P.V. Race, and ends on April 2 with the conclusion of the Banderas Bay Regatta. In between there are activities for people of every nautical persuasion, including an attempt at the world dinghy raft-up record, the St. Paddy's Day cruise to Punta Mita, the Jazz & Art Festival, the La Cruz Festival, the Optimist Regatta, MEXORC, the Governor's Parade, the fishing tournament, and much more. For details, see the ad elsewhere in this issue. We plan to be on hand for a lot of these activities with Profligate, and hope that you will, too.

Connie Sunlover down at Puerto Escondido, Baja, reports that there have been a lot of rumors going around that Singlar has raised the prices for moorings in the main harbor, but says that so far they are just rumors. "The current price remains one peso/foot/day - or about $120 U.S. a month for a 40-footer. Singlar has now got 220-volt electricity to the fuel dock, but the fuel dock still isn't open. The company has slowed construction on the new facilities building, concentrating instead on getting their dry storage facility completed. We'll report on the prices of that operation as soon as they become available. Don't forget that the 10th Annual Loreto Fest will be May 4-7, with more activities than ever planned for this great fundraiser. 'Big Banana Sailing' will be picking up the mooring tab for the boat that travelled the longest distance from their last port of call to make the event, and also for the smallest pocket cruiser to attend. For more information on Loreto Fest, visit www.hiddenportyachtclub.com.

"We greatly missed the Grand Poobah's intended Baja Ha-Ha presentation at the Seattle Boat Show," report Steve and Lori Dana of the Mill Valley-based Sceptre 43 Pacific Wind, as we were looking forward to the ever-enjoyable informational talk on the Ha-Ha and cruising in Mexico. But we know the Latitude editorial offices flooded out, and we understand that repairs have a greater priority than the boat show. We nonetheless worked our way through the Seattle show's many exhibitor booths like children in a candy store. It was a very big event, and admission also entitled one entry to the outdoor Boat Show Afloat, a few minutes away at Lake Union. It was gloomy outdoors, but there was an awesome display of sailboats. By the way, we purchased our Sceptre 43 in Seattle last summer, and had a great September-October cruising experience across Puget Sound, through the San Juan Islands, and along the Gold Coast. We ultimately left Pacific Wind at the manufacturer in Vancouver for a bit of a refit. We can't wait to get her back in the water and up to Desolation Sound this spring, then home to San Francisco in anticipation of joining the Ha-Ha fleet in '07.

"Lori has taken the basic ASA sail and seamanship courses," Steve continues, "and was enamored with the thought of joining John and Amanda Neal on Mahina for a two-week stint along the Pacific Coast without me to gain additional knowledge. I couldn't be more supportive, since the dream of sailing away was mine. Fortunately, it's caught on like wildfire with Lori! Despite purchasing our own boat last year, we have retained our membership at Modern Sailing Academy in order to get out on the Bay whenever we have the time. Both of us want to thank Latitude for the tremendous inspiration. In fact, since we're neighbors, we'd have been happy to lend a hand when the creek overflowed into your office."

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement, but hopefully by the middle of February the editorial offices will be back to some semblance of the mess they were before they were flooded on December 31.

"Every December, a small and well-insulated group of sailors departs Long Beach just before Christmas to circumnavigate Catalina," reports Harry Hutton. "We stop at Isthmus Harbor, Cat Harbor and, of course, Avalon. Although the weather was cool this year, the locals welcomed us warmly - probably as curiosities to break up their winter tedium. When visiting Avalon, a stop at the Marlin Club is a must. This year our group consisted of the Ericson 35 Rogue and the C&C Landfall 38 Casablanca. We sure didn't have much company. We've been doing this Christmas trip for about five years now, and will probably continue. Give it a try - but just lose those bikinis!"

"First, I want to thank you very much for 'Lectronic Latitude," writes John Keen of the San Francisco-based Nordhavn 46 Knot Yet II, which is currently in Umag, Croatia. "During the five months we spent in the Adriatic, and the following three months in Thailand, I was grateful to be able to keep up with sailing news on your site. In a recent 'Lectronic, you called Malaysia "the most populous Muslim country". That's not true, as the title actually belongs to Indonesia, which has about 240 million citizens - or about 10 times that of Malaysia."

You and several others pointed out that error. Thank you.

"Maybe we should have gone for the '2 for 1' special," write Rob and Linda Jones of the Whidby Island-based Gemini 3000 cat Cat 'n About. "That's right, David Barbor painted both our cat and Latitude's cat Profligate in the back lagoon at Nuevo Vallarta. Barbor and his guys showed up when they said they would, and did a great job. Actually, we ran out of time and cruised down to Tenacatita Bay, so Barbor will have to wait until March to sand and paint our hulls. The cost for a two-part paint job on our little gato? Two thousand dollars plus the haulout. God, we love Mexico! The low price of the paint job makes up for the $50/month the Vallarta YC charges for Wifi. Although the price is steep, I probably would have lived with it if the reception weren't so terrible. It constantly kicks you off. At first I thought it might just be us, but then learned multiple boats were having the same problem. But if that's my only bitch, life is grand! Hope Profligate's paint job turns out as good as ours did."

We also hope the paint job turns out, because, as of the middle of January, the port captain at Nuevo Vallarta is no longer permitting painting in the lagoon. As such, Profligate was having to be towed out to the open waters of Banderas Bay every day for painting. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how it turns out.

"We've got news regarding yachts cruising to Kiribati," report Kurt and Katie Braun of the Alameda and New Zealand-based Deerfoot 74 Interlude. "Tarawa has instructed officials in the outer islands to turn away yachts attempting to stop. All yachts must now enter Kiribati at Tarawa - or Christmas or Banaba - even if they have obtained visas in advance. The crew of one boat even had their passports seized and mailed to Tarawa. When they arrived there, they were given 24 hours to depart Kiribati or pay $500 for an additional three days. There appears to be some sort of internal problem between Immigration and everyone else in the Kiribati government, but Immigration is ultimately in charge. The High Commissioner at the embassy in Fiji is obviously not following official policy, and is getting yachts in trouble by giving them permission to stop before they get to Tarawa. In other news, we're having a great time in the Marshall Islands."

"I'm pleased to report that Point Loma Publishing - which means Captains Pat and John Rains - wants to publish my out-of-print Baja Bash book," reports Jim Elfers from San Jose del Cabo. "For the last year or so I made the material free on the Latitude and other websites, but apparently downloading 100 pages was too much of a pain for most people. Besides, a lot of people prefer reading it in book form instead of on a monitor. The new version of my book will include other northbound options, such as trucking boats home via San Carlos, shipping boats home on Dockwise Transport, and sailing boats home via the Clipper Route."

Elfers also happens to be a honcho at the huge Puerto Los Cabo marina complex being built at San Jose del Cabo. "Phase One of the project is coming along apace, and is set to open in August of this year. Sailors with multihulls should be glad to learn that we'll have plenty of end-ties, as well as some dedicated multihull slips. I'm also planning a huge discount for participants in the Ha-Ha - although I'm not sure I'll be able to make that offer in 2006."

"We leave Antigua on April 18 for Bermuda, then Horta in the Azores, and hope to reach Europe by May 25," writes Doug Owen of Santa Cruz, who will be crewing aboard the Bruce Roberts 43 Eclipse. The boat was fitted out in Portsmouth in the early '90s by owner Geoff Titterton, and is registered out of Penarth, Wales. "Geoff and I know each other from high school in Tenby, where we both learned to sail dinghies. It's been bigger boats ever since then for both of us. Eclipse is presently in Trinidad, since Geoff had to fly home last year to attend to his aging mother's welfare. If anyone had made the same passage, especially in the late spring, I'd be tickled pink to hear from them ."

Jim Drake of Drake Marine in Alameda skippered our Ocean 71 Big O from Antigua to the Azores and then to Gibraltar in early May of '94. They had an easy downwind passage with never more than 15 knots to the Azores, then had a little bit of rough stuff on the way to Gibraltar. If you leave Antigua on May 25, you'll find that you're about two weeks behind a flotilla of Antigua Sailing Week boats headed to the Med. It's a familiar route, and once you get to the Caribbean, any number of veteran skippers can advise you on how to approach it. Canadian Herb Hilgenberg of Southbound II has been providing small boats with weather routing for crossing the Atlantic since 1987, and is much respected. Check out his website before you go, and then check in with him as you go across.

"We've just purchased a Freedom 35 and will be cruising the Chesapeake for a season and then heading south - finally," report Kirby and Suzie Townsend aboard Tobias. "We sold Lena in Mexico in '99, and have been boatless ever since. Suzie has just started work at her third West Marine store. She worked at the stores in San Diego and Newport in the '90s, and is now working at the one in Annapolis. By the way, when the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca went to the Caribbean for Christmas, we hope they crossed paths with John and Lynn Ringseis on the Lagoon 41 cat Moonshine. Those two Novato residents must love running their charterboat in the British Virgins in the winter, because they just keep going back for more!"

Thanks to EPIRBs, it's rare to hear of folks having to spend a long time in a liferaft anymore. But it happened to Aussie skipper Mark Smith, 49, and Kiwi crew Steven Freeman, 30, who just barely survived 11 days in a liferaft in mid-December. The two were delivering a 65-ft motoryacht from Hong Kong to Australia when it had engine trouble, was holed by a big wave, and quickly sank off the coast of Vietnam. During the next 11 days, they would be repeatedly capsized by 30-ft waves. The first capsize happened 30 minutes after the sinking, and caused them to lose all their supplies except for one paddle and two sponges. Having no food or water, they managed to collect a few drops of condensation with the sponges, but mainly fended off dehydration by drinking their own urine. Because the raft continued to be flipped, their clothes never dried. They cuddled up at night "like babies" to stay warm. On the 11th day, Smith accidentally swallowed a mouthful of seawater and figured his time had come. But just 10 minutes later they were spotted by a Vietnamese fisherman who managed to rescue them. They were lucky in more ways then one, as the storms that had made their lives so miserable at sea killed 47 in flooding in central Vietnam. Smith says the incident won't prevent him from returning to sea.

You have to hand it to the Aussies. They're a game bunch - especially the old geezers. Take Alex Whitworth, 63, and Peter Crozier, 60. After completing the 2004 Sydney to Hobart Race on Whitworth's 33-ft Berimilla, the self-described "smelly old farts" took off around the world - but with a twist. Their goal was to reach England by way of Cape Horn in time for the classic Fastnet Race, and then hurry back to Sydney in time to compete in the 2005 Sydney to Hobart Race. Sixty must be the new 30, because darned if they didn't pull it off, arriving in Sydney just a few days before the Hobart Race. The duo's year-long voyage was filled with adventure, of course. They were knocked down off New Zealand and again off Africa, and Crozier was nearly lost after going overboard while reefing the main. Despite being on such a small boat, they didn't see each other much. "We had three hours on, three hours off, and the only time the two of us were up was during sail changes. But we did get together every evening for a gin and tonic, a hot meal, and to argue about trivia." Oddly enough, the two became poster boys of the American Association of Retired People after a short mention in the organization's newsletter. Whitworth's next adventure is to compete in the London Marathon in April. Good on ya, guys!

"It's hard to believe that we did the Ha-Ha in '03 and have continued on to Brisbane, Australia," write Henry and Glenys Mellegers of the San Francisco-based Cal 46 Dreamcatcher. Actually, after reading their biographies on their website, it doesn't come as any surprise to us. Originally from Holland, Henry moved to California at age 12, did some sailing, got into the tech industry, travelled extensively around the world, and in '01 bought Dreamcatcher. A short time later, he met up with Glenys, who was born in Australia, but worked in the tech industry in California, and has extensive sailing experience all over the world. The two hit it off and have been going strong ever since. Here's what they have to say:

"Our journey began with joyful weekends of sailing in San Francisco Bay, followed by the many months of blood, sweat and tears it takes to ready a daysailer for a world cruise. The load was lightened by the dozens of friends and family who turned up every weekend to work along with us.

With the cruising season in full swing, we'd love to hear from all of you - and get high-res photos, too. Send your good stuff to , and we'll try to get you in the magazine.

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