February, 2007

With reports this month from Niki Wiki on the bottom not holding at Isla Isabella; from Southern Belle on cruising from Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta; from Cheshire on problems in the Galapagos and Tonga; from Sumatra on strange mainsail fallout after a layover at Barillas Marina in El Salvador; from Swell on trying to live with 'ear ebola' in Costa Rica; from Blue Banana on a refit in Thailand before continuing on to the Med; and Cruise Notes.

Niki Wiki - Gulfstar S.M. 50
Jonesy & Terry Morris
A Bruceful Of Bottom
(Chula Vista)

We survived the last Baja Ha-Ha, which was our first cruising experience - other than to Catalina Island. Once we were done, it was time for us to cruise the Pacific Coast of Mexico on our own.

After spending a few days in the serenity of Los Frailes on the east coast of Baja, we crossed the Sea of Cortez and spent a week in Marina Mazatlan. Those folks at the marina really made us feel welcome. Not only was the staff extremely helpful, the facility had a cruisers' lounge with free internet, a laundromat, a new laundry service, and a convenience store - apparently all relatively recent additions. They even put on a Thanksgiving feast for us, complete with roast turkey, dancing, hitting each other with long balloons - yeah, we were confused, too - and a traditional Mexican fireworks display.

We then took off for the Mexican Wildlife Preserve at Isla Isabella, to observe the nesting habits of the frigate bird and blue-footed booby. The Isla Isabella anchorage is notorious for 'anchor eating', but we all agreed that we couldn't miss out on the opportunity to visit this unique island.

We dropped our 66-lb Bruce anchor, but we couldn't get it to set, and it just kept dragging. So we decided to raise the anchor back on deck. As we did, we noticed that the windlass seemed to be working really hard. And no wonder, for, as the anchor came into view, the problem was obvious. We'd caught a big one. A big rock, that is. As hard as it was to believe, a boulder from the seabed had somehow managed to become wedged in the crook of our Bruce anchor, which has no moving parts. The rock was the exact same shape as the interior of our anchor, and it must have weighed a couple hundred pounds!

Bringing the rock aboard was not an option, so we had to come up with a plan to get rid of the unwanted weight. We decided to reverse the scooping action of the anchor. So Terry, hanging over the bow with Jonesy hanging onto her ankles, attached a shackle to the small hole that was already drilled in the elbow of the anchor. Next, she latched the snaphook from our snubber line to the shackle, and Jonesy tied the other end to a cleat. As we lowered the anchor back down towards the water, the line pulled the bottom of the anchor up, and the anchor rocked upside down, and - yipppeeee - the rock headed straight down to the bottom where it belonged. We still had our anchor.

Our second attempt at anchoring was successful, and we enjoyed two days of snorkeling and bird-watching. The anchor chain continuously ground against the rocks on the seabed as we swung in the wind, which was not only a little unnerving, but was loud for our son, Brett, the crew guy, who slept in the v-berth.

Thanks go to Paul and Meridee Thompson of the Costa Mesa-based Bohemian, friends from the last Ha-Ha, who were comfortably anchored and thus able to photograph our (mis)-adventure.

Our next adventure was to sail back to the mainland to beautiful, quiet Chacala Bay, where we spent several days anchored out, relaxing and exploring. We are now at anchor in La Cruz on Banderas Bay. We've been here five weeks now, just hanging out on the boat or at some of the local bars/restaurants, most notably Ana Bananas and Philo's Pizza Bar, and riding the local buses into Puerto Vallarta. Our plans are to continue our southward cruising next week.

We're having the times of our lives! Not bad for novice cruisers, eh? So many folks thought that we were crazy when we shared our plans with them about cruising, but now those same landlocked folks are reading about our adventures and telling us that they are green with envy.

We also want to thank the Ha-Ha folks for such a fun and safe event. We all had a great time and met so many other cruisers who are now our friends. We still fly our burgee so that others can spot us, and they sure do. Since our open-ended plans include an eventual passage through the Panama Canal, we won't be doing another Ha-Ha soon, but we highly recommend it to our friends.

- jonesy & terry 01/07/07

Southern Belle - F/P 42 Cat
John Thompson, Crew
Mazatlan To Puerto Vallarta
(Laguna Beach)

I joined George Salley's Fountaine/Pajot 42 catamaran Southern Belle for what was intended to be a week-long excursion before I took a bus back to Mazatlan and flew home. But I've been having such a good time, I may continue another 140 miles to Manzanillo to increase my sailing time. I'm in no hurry to return north.

A quick overnight sail from Mazatlan brought us to Isla Isabella, a relatively remote island that's known, in somewhat of an exaggeration, as 'the Galapagos of Mexico.' The birds were amazing, however, and incredibly unafraid of humans. We caught more boobie birds than fish when leaving Isabella, but that's because boobies aren't the smartest of birds and kept attacking the lures.

We had a quick spinnaker run from Isla Isabella to historic San Blas, although we did have to dodge large pods of whales. While in San Blas, we paid homage to legendary captain Norm Goldie, who informed us that, since the channel into San Blas in is good condition, he no longer needs to pilot boats in. Goldie is still going strong, providing help and advice to all yachts that request it. But he says he may be retiring soon. Although Norm requested that no photos be taken of him, Morgie, his longtime pet parrot, was more than happy to pose.

Besides visiting Norm, the rustic town square, and the ancient fort, we took an excellent jungle cruise many miles up into the estuary. We went early in order to see hundreds of exotic birds, and, by the time the sun rose higher in the sky, the crocodiles started coming out en masse.

The Singlar Marina in San Blas is still under construction. There are some buildings several stories tall that aren't completed yet, and it looks as though work hasn't been started on any slips. There are lot of pangas tied up in front of the marina buildings, so I guess they'll have to be relocated soon.

Speaking of dinghy thefts, or at least attempted dinghy thefts, the crew of Dale Winson's Laguna Beach-based Olson 40 Pythagoras was awakened in the San Blas Channel at 6 a.m. by the sound of a guy in a canoe trying to cut the line to their dinghy. He rowed off as soon as he was spotted. Capt. Goldie says that dinghies needs to be raised on davits or brought aboard at night.

After just a few more hours of sailing, we arrived at the cove at Chacala, which looks like paradise, thanks to the palapa restaurants and housing lining the shore. Like everyone else, we anchored bow and stern, which held us firm. After an easy dinghy landing and playing in the surf, we enjoyed a beachfront dorado dinner before heading back to the boat.

After just a few more miles of sailing along the coast the next day, we arrived at Rincon de Guaybitos, which we found to be rolly, touristy, and not very interesting.

Today, we spent the afternoon at Isla Marietas West, which is at the entrance to Banderas Bay. We enjoyed some fantastic snorkeling, in part because the water temperature was 79 degrees. As we've gone north, the water has gotten warmer. This island has lots of caves, and we even were able to dinghy through one arch and into a couple of caves. As I write this, we're anchored off the Punta Mita anchorage along with several cruising boats and some massive motoryachts.

I visited the 400-berth marina that's under construction at La Cruz, and the breakwater looks pretty much completed. In fact, there is a bunch of sailboats anchored inside. I didn't see any buildings associated with the project, but in any event the next step will probably be slips. I've read that the marina won't open until next winter, but Philo says that the marina part may be opening as soon as June.

In any event, I've been having a great time, and have enjoyed being on a cat.

- john 01/08/07

Cheshire - Spindrift 40 Cat
David and Susanne Ames
The Galapagos & Tonga
(Olympia, WA)

Having noticed the references to the Galapagos and Tonga in the December '06 issue, we decided to write in, as we encountered the Port Captain at San Cristobal in the Galapagos, and were in Tonga when the riots occurred.

After a 10-day passage from Panama's Las Perlas Islands, we arrived in San Cristobal on June 7. We experienced some rough conditions along the way, which resulted in bridgedeck damage - and some of the external stringers being sprung. We hadn't planned to be in Galapagos long, and therefore hadn't purchased a cruising permit. And those boats that had purchased them didn't seem to have any trouble checking in.

After cleaning up, David went to see Puerto Capitan Danilo Espinoza Zambrano to request a stay of two weeks in order to repair our boat. We even wrote a letter that detailed the problems with our boat and the extent of the repairs required. Capitan Zambrano granted us five days and required that Mr. Cuello, his representative, visit the boat to verify our claims, after which he'd decide whether to grant us a further extension. Mr. Cuello took pictures, wrote a report, and told us he'd recommend we receive 20 days to ensure our repairs were complete.

When David went back on the 12th, Capitan Zambrano said he'd grant us another five days, after which we'd have to come back. He told us that he was concerned that cruisers were using a need for repairs as an excuse to get longer stays. This may have been true in the past before cruising permits were available. Meanwhile, other cruisers - mostly European - told us they had no trouble getting stays of however long they wanted.

The uncertainty of how long we could stay was getting tiresome, and furthermore, we couldn't find all the supplies in town we needed to make the repairs. So we went back to Capitan Zambrano and asked to leave - at which point he required Mr. Cuello to return to our boat to assure that she was seaworthy! Enough of the repairs had been completed for Mr. Cuello to do so, and on June 21 we gratefully left Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for Puerto Ayora. There we found the stainless steel pieces we needed, cut to size. We left on June 23 for Puerto Vilamil on Isla Isabela, which was lovely, protected, and where we got the eight days we requested with no fuss from the port capitan.

We've heard that the port captains in the Galapagos are on a yearly rotation, which starts in January. We think the five-day edict is a personal policy of Capitan Zambrano, possibly targeted at American boats. Hopefully it will cease to be an issue at the end of his rotation. We generally enjoyed our stay in the Galapagos, made more interesting by the Football World Cup. When Ecuador was playing, the towns would effectively shut down, people and buildings wore the national colors, and victories were celebrated by impromtu parades. It was very fun to see.

We arrived in Vava'u, Tonga, on November 13, and were out at the Port Mourelle anchorage when the riots took place at Nuku'alofa, 200 miles to the south three days later. Neiafu experienced a couple of power outages and disruption to the plane service for the next couple of days, but seemed otherwise unaffected. The reactions of Tongans with whom we spoke in Neiafu ranged from apathy to strong support for the monarchy coupled with strong antipathy towards the instigators of the riots.

As far as we know, no cruising boats were in Nuku'alofa during the riots, although the wife of a skipper got stuck for a couple of days as she was due to fly out. After waiting a couple of days, she made it to New Zealand via Australia, courtesy of the Australian Army. Fortunately, most of the cruising fleet had left by then, since buildings across from the Nuku'alofa wharf were destroyed.

We had planned to leave for New Zealand from Nuku'alofa, which is at the south end of Tonga, but reconsidered during the subsequent week as we heard about the level of destruction and service disruptions to the downtown area. However, it appeared that the riots affected only Nuku'alofa, and were a one-time event. So we decided to stick to our original plan to visit the Ha'apai group en route to Nuku'alofa, as we had heard wonderful reports. We're really glad we did. The Ha'apai are similar to the Tuamotus and the San Blas, in that they are all remote, a challenge to navigation, and lovely places to visit both above and below the water.

We visited five islands between November 24 and December 3, which felt about right for the time we had. Shoals and reefs abound, so good light is required for navigation. While most hazards appear to be charted, eyeball confirmation is necessary, as all charts in Vava'u and the Ha'apai appear to periodically be inaccurate. Our charts were based on surveys made by the good ship HMS Penguin in '95 - 1895 - and it looked as though the only update was the addition of airfield markers!

The islands we visited were Ha'ano, Luangahu, Tungua, Telekvava'u, and Kelefesia. None of them were more than 20 miles apart. Ha'ano and Tungua were the only ones with permanent residents, although the others appeared to be owned due to the presence of fishing camps and plantations. Good to great snorkelling was available everywhere. We found Ken's Comprehensive Cruising Guide to the Kingdom of Tonga to be very useful, with accurate GPS waypoints for approaches and anchorages. We enjoyed a walk to Tungua village, which we don't think gets very many visitors. The kids practiced their English with us and gave us mangoes. We reciprocated with notebooks, pencils and cookies.

We spent December 5 in Nuku'alofa, topping off on fuel and provisions and checking the internet before leaving for New Zealand. Access to the downtown was limited through military checkpoints, and locals needed special badges to get in. Many buildings were destroyed, and few of the rest remained open. Fortunately, one was Friends Cafe, where we enjoyed a good lunch and internet access. The produce market had moved outside of the town, requiring a taxi ride. We were befriended by Tom, a Tongan with a truck, who took us to a supermarket, produce stand and Chinese market, where we got some excellent local vanilla rum. Another couple gave us a ride back from the gas station with our jerry jugs.

The Nuku'alofans we met went out of their way to be helpful, and seemed apologetic for the effects of the riots. While they were not openly sympathetic with the rioters, it was clear that George V, the new king, is not as well liked as his father George IV, who died a few months before in a car accident. George IV promoted education as a way to bring Tonga into the modern world, and sought good relations with all nations. Traditionally, the royal family and a small group of nobles have controlled most of the country's resources and power. George V has acknowledged the need for the royal family and nobles to relinquish some of this to other Tongans, but there does not appear yet to be a clear plan or progress in this direction. His coronation will be in the late summer or fall of 2007, following a formal year of mourning for George IV.

It looks like it will be a while before these changes are implemented, which could lead to further unrest. In general, Tongans aren't big on change, as they have a group-oriented society conditioned to the mores of a complex social hierarchy. Individual initiative and change are discouraged, unlike in the U.S. We found this interesting, liked Tonga very much, and would recommend it as a destination. If there are future disturbances, it is unlikely that they will affect the country outside of Nuku'alofa, which is not a necessary stop.

After leaving Trinidad in February of last year, we spent most of the year under sail, transiting the Canal in May as one of Manukai's 'fiberglass fenders'. It's been a fabulous trip, and we have been enjoying the beauty and amenities of the Bay of Islands before heading off to the yard in Whangarei for general maintenance.

Since '07 will be the last year we can afford to cruise before returning to work, we plan to head north to Fiji and as much of the Western South Pacific as we can fit in.

- david & susan 12/28/07

Sumatra - Trintella 53
Jerry Morgan & Crew
Central American Guano
(San Francisco)

I'm back home after nearly three months of cruising down the Pacific Coast of Central America aboard Jerry Morgan's San Francisco-based Sumatra. When we rejoined the boat at Barillas Marina in El Salvador, where we'd left the boat in April at the end of last season, I met Harold and Sherri, the two new crewmembers. He's a ski instructor from Squaw Valley while she's a personal trainer from the Bay Area.

El Salvador was hot, hot, hot, during the day, then right after dark the thunder and lightning would move in along with pouring rain. This meant we'd have to close all the ports and hatches, and it would get really hot and humid inside the boat. We spent a few days getting the boat cleaned up and making repairs, and were eager to get away from the heat and the mosquitos and back on the open ocean.

On our last night at Barillas, we met the crew of the m/v Taloo, a surplus navy vessel that had just been purchased in San Diego and was on her way to Florida. The crew said they had too much fish, so they invited us to a wahoo and dorado fish feed. The fish was perfectly prepared, and we ate all we could before we started telling lots of funny stories.

At daylight on September 23, we followed the pilot panga down the channel, past the volcano in the background and the little fishing village, and out through the breakers and into the Pacific. It felt good to be underway again, although we were in for a bit of a surprise. I made some coffee and we all sat in the cockpit enjoying the beautiful morning. Jerry set a waypoint heading almost due east, toward Nicaragua and the Gulf of Fonseca.

Feeling in great spirits as a result of being on the ocean again, Jerry decided to raise sail even though there wasn't much wind. But as soon as Harold starting to hoist the main, all the debris - including part of a bird's nest - that had accumulated in the folds of the sail during the previous four months started to pour out. When Harold raised the sail further, it started raining little black pellets of bat guano! Thousands of pellets fell onto the deck, and several confused and disoriented bats flew out. A couple more, perhaps babies, fell to the deck and crawled around looking for places to hide. As the main began to flap in the wind, big globs of guano that had been stuck to the sail started to break loose and fall on the deck.

Jerry almost stepped on one of the little bats, but then it crawled onto his foot and started up his leg! He tried to pick it off, but it flew away. Not having anywhere to go, it returned to the boat.

With so many pellets having fallen onto the cockpit and decks and into the cracks, we had a real clean-up job ahead of us. Using hand-brooms, we brushed the loose stuff onto the main deck, then hauled up many buckets of seawater to wash it overboard. Harold and Sherri scrubbed down the big smelly stains on the sail, and we started joking around with Jerry, who even had a few bat guano pellets in his coffee. We told him it was a special dark roast blend that we'd made just for him. We were so busy that we didn't get to see much of the coastline.

About noon we started seeing the land features of the Gulf of Fonseca, with several large islands at the entrance and the tip of Nicaragua off to the right. It was an enchanting view, as large thunderheads piled up behind the emerald green islands. The Gulf of Fonseca is said to be the birthplace of nasty storms, and we could believe it, seeing how quickly the clouds grew and spread out in a typical rainy season pattern in the tropics. We circumnavigated one of the islands, then found a good breezy spot off Punta Ampala to drop the anchor. We all jumped in the water for a nice swim, and admired Sumatra framed against a big plumy thundercloud, with the huge bay and islands as a backdrop. I could tell it was going to be a great sunset, and it was.

We toasted the sunset with Chilean wine and finished off the leftover fish for dinner. Soon the Milky Way appeared overhead, looking like a belt of star smoke. Jerry put on a Dylan CD, and as Bob sang, "I saw a shooting star tonight," I actually saw one rocket across the sky. And when he sang, "With God on My Side," I felt very content and, before long, dozed off beneath the stars. It had been an effort getting to where we were, but it had all been worth it.

- jon 12/20/06

Swell - Cal 40
Liz Clark
Ear Ebola In Central America
(Santa Barbara)

I heard a knock on the hull followed by a soft whistle. I poked my head out, sweaty and reeking of gasoline from cleaning the carburetor in Genny, my portable gas generator. Four boys in their early teens peered up at me with round brown eyes.

"Podemos atar a su velero para pescar?"

"Sí, por su puesto,"
I replied. I took their line and wrapped it around the mid-ship cleat. I really wanted to fix the carburetor, but I could tell my new neighbors were less interested in the fishing than talking to the strange gringa alone on the sailboat. I fielded questions and passed out cookies and crackers in exchange for fresh coconuts.

"I want to learn how to climb the coconut trees," I told them. The three pointed to the smallest boy at once. Apparently he was the best at it.

"Mañana, quiero aprender," I told him. They were thrilled at this, and we agreed to meet the next day in the afternoon by the medium-sized palm tree by the pier.

"It was like, like 15 feet . . . it was huge," the sun-burnt guy in the Internet café bragged to Diego, who ran the place. He was facing Diego, but I could feel his words aimed at the back of my head. He spoke with loud inflections and dramatic hand-jives towards the ceiling about the size the waves had been that day. I stared at the computer screen, doing my best not to make the slightest visible reaction to his commotion. I listened carefully to each word for signs that he couldn't surf and was probably exaggerating.

Nonetheless, the words stung. I knew the swell was pumping. I was trying to let my infected ear heal by resting alone in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica, where the flat waters had less of a pull on me, but this lobster-faced hot-dogger had to tell his story loud enough for the entire galaxy to hear. I tried not to let it get to me, but he jabbed at my weakest point - and finally pushed me over the edge. I silently devised a plan to sail across the bay at first light. Long drive to the left, huh buddy? I paid my bill, and thanked Diego, and walked out into the cool, wet night.

Sure enough, despite the constant pulse in my ears, I stubbornly hoisted the sails at dawn. Two hours later, I found myself not far from the glassy green lines, dropped the hook, and got ready to surf again.

"I know you," said a man paddling up the point. "I've read some of your stories . . . I'm Clay."

Clay brought me up to speed on the conditions - the swell was better than the day before - and local scene - there was a better anchorage around the corner, but the guys at the fish camp would surely keep an eye on me, and that kind of stuff. It was nice to be welcomed to the line-up. This, the fact that Jaime, her husband and son, were already out ripping, that the younger kids recognized me and smiled, and that Adam and Jackie had driven down from Domninical all made the place feel a little like home.

I shoved the earplugs deep in both ears and ran up the point, where I would spend all of the next two days. It was good. Clay even swam 200 yards out to Swell to deliver the latest copies of Latitude 38. But Jack, my next guest from back home, was soon to arrive. So when an onshore wind came up on the third day, I let it blow me back across the bay to Puerto Jimenez.

The exhaustion hit me that night as I anchored the dinghy off the side of the pier and made my way up the rusty, barnacle-caked stairway at Jimenez. I had promised to call home before Jack arrived the next morning, and had to get to it. I lobbed a bag of trash up on the pier from the boat, and in my zombie state then walked right by it.

"Su bolsa," said a man propped casually with his back against a piling.

"Oh, gracias," I replied, realizing I still had cotton in my ears. I picked up the bag and looked over to see what the man was staring at - a golden, lopsided 3/4 moon was climbing over the eastern horizon. I hadn't even noticed. Herrardo then explained that the trashcan was down the road and to the left, but that some people just throw their trash in the ocean or on the road, and that he spends his days picking up after them. He explained that he lives very close to nature, and that everything we need comes from nature. All the complicated stuff, he told me, was unnecessary.

I nodded, but didn't have quite enough energy to explain that I couldn't have agreed more.

"Buena manifestación!"
he called as I stumbled towards town. I didn't really understand, but waved while I pondered on this different form of environmentalist as I skipped puddles in the dark.

Jack arrived early, weary from the travel, but beaming nonetheless. I offered him a coconut that Herrardo had bestowed upon me during my morning walk to the airstrip.

Jack was a waterfall of stories, with two days of travel that had taken him through Tijuana with my sister, and then into the darker side of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. I was excited to see him, and we couldn't get the words out fast enough as we loaded his bags and boards onto Swell.

He immediately unzipped a monster bag and began extracting gift after precious gift for me from home. There was aloe vera, chocolate, a letter from my mom, a 2GB CF card for my camera, more chocolate, brownie mix, CDs my sister had burned me "so that I don't lose touch," hair products and more chocolate. I almost collapsed with delight. After Jack finally handed over all the stuff for me, the bag was deflated. After packing all of the things on my wish list, he'd almost no space left for his things. In fact, he soon realized that he only had one pair of shorts, having forgotten his other pair at one of the hotels.

We found him a nice pair of nylon baggies in the Ropa Americana store in Jimenez later that day. They were too short, making him look like an aspiring soccer star, so we immediately renamed him 'Pele'. Luckily for him, we found a place that sold more trunks a few days later.

The next day I needed some time to write, so I shooed Jack off the boat with his cameras, and told him not to come back for a while so I could get some work done. Six hours later, I walked off the pier heading for town, and there was Jack, coming my way. His face was red, his clothes were rumpled and dirty, plants were sprouting out of the side pockets of his backpack, and he had an almost devilish grin. His words came out in a torrent:

"You won't believe it! Right after you dropped me off, I met this guy named Herrardo. He took me on a hike through the forest and taught me all about natural medicines...and Lizzy...then he took me to his house...it was just a tarp in the forest. He cooked me the most kine grinds and made coffee, and he only had one mug and he let me use it and we hiked for miles and miles. Actually, he worked me. Then I came back in a canoe, and there were crocodiles in the river . . ."

I thought Jack might spontaneously combust from the excitement. It was Herrardo from the pier. It couldn't have worked out any better . . . buena manifestación . . . I was starting to understand. Herrardo had been the first person he ran into that morning. I wished I had been there too, but I was happy that Jack had experienced his first day in Central America on his own.

The swell forecast was dismal, and my ears still buzzed with infections, so I swallowed more antibiotics and Jack and I made a plan to head for Panama after I spoke with Elizabeth Oden's students. Elizabeth is a teacher and founder of the Nueva Hoja or New Page (or Leaf) school in Puerto Jimenez. She had been following my travels, and even swam all the way out to Swell to greet me when I was anchored in front of her home out at the point. She'd asked if I would come in and talk to her students which, of course, I was honored to do.

We walked into the cool hallways of Nueva Hoja, and I smiled at the bright colors and hand-painted art on the walls. I knew they were kids, but I was always nervous before I spoke in front of any group. My words never seemed to flow like they do onto paper. But the place radiated with positive energy, as Elizabeth and Terry Huisman, her partner, told me the story of how they had started the school from nothing, fought the bureaucracy, and had prevailed with a successful group of budding scholars - and more applicants each year.

The older kids were wickedly smart, and I fielded their questions as thoroughly as possible. I showed them a copy of Dove, by Robin Lee Graham, who had been one of my main inspirations when I was a kid. We talked about watersheds, and I used a drawing by Geoff McFetridge to explain how surfing affects our watersheds. I also explained why it's important to understand the origin of the things we buy and how they affect the environment before and after they get to us.

The younger kids were pleased with a map of the world and a slide show consisting of photos from my trip. They were so excited that, by the end of my presentation, they convinced the teacher to let them walk down to see Swell anchored off their pier. Their eyes glowed with wonder. "Does it have a bed?" "How do you eat out there?" They just couldn't believe what I was doing.

The little girls seemed especially pleased, and held my hands as we made our way down to see Swell. "I want to surf, too!" They proclaimed. As I waved goodbye to the kids I thought about the courage it took for Elizabeth and Terry to do what they had done at Nueva Hoja, and what a difference they were making in the lives of these kids. I felt lucky to have been a brief part of it.

So, full of the children's inspiration, Jack and I set sail for Panama. I wanted him to experience how I lived aboard Swell, even in just the short time he had. Our first passage would be the longest, as, once we made it to the northernmost island in the Gulf of Chiriqui, there were loads of places to go in quick day-hops. The first 12 hours seemed easy enough, which should have been my warning.

- liz

Blue Banana - Gulfstar 50
Bill & Sam Fleetwood
Refit In Phuket, Thailand
(Monterey / Langkawai, Malaysia)

We haven't checked in for awhile, so we thought it was time for an update. As you'll recall, we met through Latitude 38, did the Baja Ha-Ha in '97, then jumped to the Marquesas in '99.

We found ourselves in Australia in '01 and then, due to a diagnosis of breast cancer, ended up spending 2.5 years in Oz. We survived surgery, chemotherapy and a lot of other mean, nasty and ugly things, but after all that was done, and I was sporting a new head of fuzz, we day-hopped our way north along the Great Barrier Reef. We had wonderful sailing conditions of 15 to 20 knots and, thanks to the protection of the reef, flat seas.

Once we reached Darwin in the northwestern part of Australia, we joined the mid-July Darwin to Kupang, Indonesia, Rally. This involved a 3.5 day motorsail in light and smooth conditions to Kupang - where we were welcomed like celebrities! Everyone pretty much went their own way at their own pace from that point.

In October we crossed the Singapore Straits - yikes, you should see all the giant ships! - in a black-as-night thunderstorm, and made it into a marina for a little well-deserved luxury. A month later, we were day-hopping up the Malacca Straits - there are no pirates on the Malaysian side - to Langkawi for another stop in a marina. For Christmas celebrations, we leisurely sailed for five days between islands to make the last 150 miles to Phuket, Thailand.

We arrived at Phuket just in time for the tragic tsunami. Luckily for us, we were in a deep enough bay so that no boats were damaged in the area around us. We were, however, able to see the back of one of the waves as it swept up over the beach, the road, the shops and restaurants, and into the hotels. There were about 90 boats in the bay for Christmas, and everyone raised their anchor and got into deeper water, as nobody had any idea what was going to happen next. Streams of debris floated out off the beach, and most cruisers spent all day picking the stuff up in the hopes that it could be returned to its owners. The stuff was mostly beach chairs, mats, and giant coolers, but some people got a bit of a shock when they found mannequins floating face down.

We spent the rest of the season cruising the outer northern islands of Thailand, including the Surins, which our friends aboard Feel Free wrote about in the November 2006 issue of
Latitude 38.

In July of '05, we took Blue Banana into the marina at Phuket's Boat Lagoon for a new interior. We had a teak and American oak - it looks like holly - sole installed, and beautiful upholstery made of water buffalo leather. We cruised the Phuket area some more in the early part of the '06 season, then went back to Boat Lagoon for a paint job - that nearly turned into a complete refit, including engine! As such, what was supposed to take no more than four months took nine. But we do have to say that we have a beautiful new boat - although she's still not blue.

Here's a list of all the work we had done to our 30-year-old boat: new paint (deck, hull, masts, booms); new Yanmar 70-hp diesel, new stainless ports and hatches, new rudder, new anchor platform, new caprail, reinforced rudder and skeg, new instruments including a forward-looking sonar, new instrument panel, new wiring in both masts, new antennas in both masts, including one for an AIS receiver, new headliner and varnish, and three new chainplates to replace the cracked ones.

The labor in Thailand is very inexpensive, with unskilled labor going for $5/day, and good carpenters willing to work for just $7 to $12/day. Nonetheless, the project came in quite a bit higher than what we had budgeted, because it took longer and because we had to live in an apartment while the work was being done. While the cost of labor was low, we also had to be in the yard every day to supervise and help, or else nothing at all would get done. Nonetheless, we did manage to do some traveling in Southeast Asia, as we visited northern Thailand, Laos with two days on the Mekong River, Cambodia and the ancient and incredible temples of Angkor Wat, Vietnam, and the highlands of Malaysia.

Jill and Pro, our boat refit contractors, had their guys take everything off our boat before painting, and put everything back on. Unfortunately, some of it wasn't done too well, and therefore some things had to be re-done. We unrigged and stripped both masts and booms ourselves. Hint: Take a lot of photos before trying this yourself! After all the spars were painted, we put everything back on ourselves.

We finally escaped Boat Lagoon on December 23 of '06, and are just now finishing all the last-minute projects for our sail across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. We anticipate leaving here in January and arriving in the Med in April or May. Wish us luck!

- sam & bill 01/06/07

Cruise Notes:

"We're the flamenco people who did last November's Baja Ha-Ha, and we had a ball," report Richard and Andrea Black of the Santa Cruz-based Sceptre 41 Saeta. "We're now at Barillas Marina in El Salvador on our way to Spain, but want to alert everyone of a bad experience we had when trying to get our zarpe in Puerto Madero to clear out of Mexico. To greatly summarize, it involved lots of visits and payments of port fees in various places. None of it was all that bad until we got to Immigration. Until the beginning of January, all yachts had to be processed at the airport, which is about 10 miles inland. As far as we can tell, that was basically just a rubber stamping and a signature process.

"At the start of the year, however," the couple continue, "the responsibility for yachts was transferred to the Immigration office in Tapachula, which is 20 miles inland. So having completed everything else, we took a taxi to Tapachula to discover that the people there didn't have a clue what they were doing. Nonetheless, they decided that they should apply the laws pertaining to cruise ships to yachts such as ours. They gave us a copy of the relevant statute, despite the fact it explicitly said it pertained to "commercial vessels." As such, they insisted we pay a fee of $262, which is the rate for cruise ships carrying between one and 500 passengers. Having no friends in town, and trying to get back to the Capitania before the office closed on Friday, we paid the exhorbitant fee. But Immigration then kept our passports, saying that they would bring them down to the boat the following morning when they "inspected" us. This made us very nervous, but they actually did show up when they said they would. The clerk came, along with her boss and her boyfriend, and all three had a jolly outing. At long last, we had our passports stamped and they filled out papers stating that they had "inspected" our boat - although it was anchored in the bay and they were standing in the Capitania.

"The money isn't so much the issue," the Blacks contend, "but rather that Immigration clearly intends to apply this process to all the boats that come behind us. If this is truly the policy of Immigration, then shouldn't Immigration be applying it to northbound boats leaving Cabo? We don't believe they are. Despite this incident, Mexico was great! We didn't get to stop anywhere for very long, as we're trying to get to Spain by next summer. But we've realized that Mexico deserves an entire season, not just a few months. Oh well."

We, and all Southbounders, would certainly like to know what experiences other people are having getting their zarpes to leave southern Mexico for Central America. Have other skippers had to pay similarly ridiculous fees? As for Immigration policies, veteran cruisers to Mexico know that just because certain rules and fees apply in one place doesn't mean they apply anywhere else. For example, in some places - we think La Paz is one of them - boats wanting to clear out for the U.S. have to get time-consuming and expensive medical examinations for all their crew before they are allowed to leave. You didn't hear it from us, but this is the reason almost all veteran cruisers leaving Mexico for the States clear out of whatever port they are in for Ensenada, because it requires a simple domestic rather than complicated international clearance. And then when the get up by Ensenada, they blow right by and into San Diego. Officials in San Diego don't seem to care about any clearance papers from Mexico. We wonder if it's the same with officials in Guatemala and El Salvador.

In any event, we've encouraged the Blacks to contact Tere Grossman, President of the Mexican Marina Owner's Association, to see if she can't look into this.

"Just a quick update on our adventures," write Jan and Bruce Smith of the Gig Harbor, WA-based 34-ft homebuilt gaff-ketch Woodwind. "We left the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica on January 7, thinking we'd have an easy five-day sail/motor crossing to our long-awaited destination of Balboa, Panama. But that would be far too easy for the Gusty Smiths, right? Just as we crossed the imaginary border into Panama, we got hammered by headwinds and steep oncoming seas. It blew a steady 20-25 knots with frequent gusts to 40. So we decided to do what sane people do, which is seek shelter. But there wasn't any, of course. After two days we finally reached Bahia Benao - or, as we call it, Beano Bay - the only bay on the southern coast of the Azuero Peninsula. It's just 12 miles west of Punta Mala, and is right out of the '70s. All it has are three houses and one Third World bar in front of a hot surf spot with camping. Cold beers are 50 cents and fish dinners are $2. Not a bad spot to be 'trapped'. We've been hanging out with five 20-something-year-olds from the Northern Coldfront of America. They were all travelling through Central America and hooked up to form an entertaining team. We still have 100 miles to go to get to Balboa, but right now it's upwind and into one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. That passage can wait."

"What are the dates for the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run from Punta Mita to Paradise Marina this year?" wonders Mark Steinbeck and family aboard the Alden 65 cutter Nirvana. "It sounds like a fun and worthwhile event. I've seen the schools in the Emiliano Zapata colony that some of the money goes to, and we'd love to help. Nirvana is well set up for daysailing with a crowd, and we could easily take 15 to 20 guests if we could borrow some extra PFDs. Who should we talk to about this?"

The delay in announcing the date of the Pirates for Pupils was because the traditional date, two days before the start of the Banderas Bay Regatta, would mean that it would have to be on March 21 this year. Alas, that's a terrible time for us co-organizers, as it's right at the deadline for the April issue of Latitude 38. But since there were no good alternatives, it's going to be held on March 21 after all. For details, contact Ronnie 'Tea Lady' starting about March 1. It's a fun event for a great cause, so we hope to see you there.

Marc Hachey of the Auburn-based Peterson 44 Sea Angel reports that he returned to his boat in Trinidad late last year for his seventh season of cruising. Getting the boat ready for this season proved to be a little more difficult than other years, so he's written an article about it. We hope to publish it next month. But after finally getting away from Trinidad, Marc sailed up the Windwards to St. Lucia, "where the locals know me as the crazy white guy who climbs the Petit Pitons twice a day. But I love it. My passion is hiking and climbing the tallest peaks, which are by far the best in the Windwards."

You don't hear about it much, but hiking is actually a great activity in the Caribbean. It's never cold - unless you climb to the heights of places such as Dominica and Grenada - the breeze is always blowing, and at the end of every hike is the opportunity to dive into the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

"I was reading the January issue of Latitude 38 here in Cabo while waiting for a delivery weather window to Puerto Vallarta," writes Holly Scott of the Newport Beach-based Cal 30 Catspaw, "when I looked up and saw a blue sailboat come into the fuel dock. It was Stary, the Polish boat that recently completed the Northwest Passage with a crew of six. So we had them over for refreshments the other night. What a great group of folks!"

Rosaura Herrera, the Port of Call Supervisor for Singlar in Puerto Escondido, Baja, has released a new list of services and prices as of January 19. They claim to offer a laundry, bathrooms with showers, a new launch ramp, revitalized moorings, an operational boatyard, a new parking area, and dry storage services. It's our understanding that not all of this stuff - such as the boatyard - is operational yet. As for the prices, moorings will be about 60 cents/ft/day for a 41 to 50-ft boat, which by our math comes out to $738/month for a 41-footer. And that's before the 17% IVA tax is added on.

We can't imagine that Singlar is going to be deluged with cruisers wanting to spend nearly $900/month for a mooring, particularly when there are plenty of places to anchor for free nearby. We don't mean to be overly critical, but these prices seem to reflect continuing hallucinatory calculations on the part of the Nautical Stairway folks, who once figured that 68,000 Americans would be bringing their boats to Baja ever year. Did we mention they want to charge another $100/month for parking if you have a car? The dry storage rate for a 40-footer is a much more reasonable $3.93/ft/day, which by our math comes to about $120/month before taxes. If Singlar was smart, that's what they would charge for the moorings, because they'd easily get 10 times as many takers as they will at the absurd rate of nearly $900/month.

For what it's worth, a mooring for a 40-footer in the inner harbor at Gustavia, St. Barth, the hottest location in the Caribbean, is $740/month, taxes included - and they're always full.

The news of the new rates at Puerto Escondido is certainly not good news for Connie 'Sunlover' McWilliam and the Hidden Port Yacht Club, who work so hard each year to put on Loreto Fest, which is a major cruiser fundraiser for locals. This year's Loreto Fest, May 3-6, will be the 10th, and will feature four days of harbor cleanup, sailing, music, seminars, games and fun. You don't want to miss it, because before or afterwards you can stop at any or all of the seven nearby islands. For details, visit www.hiddenportyachtclub.com. In the past, Singlar has backed off on their high prices for those participating in Loreto Fest. If they don't do it again this year, they'll probably cripple the event.

"Sorry we didn't cross paths in St. Barth on New Year's Eve," writes John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling. "Here are a few of my impressions. The main event was the people-watching, as the beautiful people did their thing. My vote for the best to look at went to the trim young lady wearing the string bikini, spiked heels and cowboy hat. The anchorage was so crowded that some anchored boats were putting out fenders as more boats kept arriving. As usual, the French boats had their own special formula for anchoring. 'Nuff said. As I go from island to island, I compare the cost of a beer in U.S. dollars to determine the 'cruiser's cost of living' for that island. I call it the Beer Index, and on St. Barth, it's on the very high end. A bottle of Presidente beer that sells for $2 U.S. in St. Maarten sells for $5.77 in St. Barth, which is just 15 miles away. I'll be in St. Maarten for awhile, as I've lost faith in my 26-year-old Perkins 4-108, and have ordered a new Yanmar."

We're sorry we missed you, too, but we spent most of our New Year's in the little bar at Filou and Mimi's La Gamelle Restaurant. It wasn't filled with beautiful people, except for the lovely Mimi, of course, but the people were real. When you get a hug at La Gemelle, you feel the love, even from strangers. As for good value in beer, you have to be careful where you drink. But a Heineken at Le Select is just 2 euros - or about $2.60 U.S. That's a little more than in St. Martin, but as you apparently noticed, the scenery is a little better.

Anybody out there remember Fred Turrentine, who kicked around the La Paz area aboard his 37-ft Brown Searunner trimaran Serape from '79 to '81? His son Terry did the last Baja Ha-Ha aboard the Palos Verdes-based Irwin 41 Heart to Heart, and gave us an update. It turns out that 'ol Fred is still alive and sailing, but now down in New Zealand. He sailed to Hawaii in '91, and then made five unsuccessful attempts to continue on to the South Pacific. So get this, he returned a lava rock he'd taken to the exact spot he got it, then made a sixth attempt. The next thing he knew, he was in the South Pacific. We can't be sure that Lono and the other Hawaiian gods blessed him after he returned the rock, but we do know he made it to Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. He finally sold his tri in '96, and married a Brit woman who had sailed to New Zealand. After they bought a house, Fred built a series of small cats, including one he lost in Fiji after the rope rode chaffed through on coral. Then, to the horror of everyone, he took a small monohull and added two floats to create an 1,800-lb trimaran. Everybody laughed, but the 73-year-old Turrentine reportedly hit 29.8 knots with her, which is faster than most any 70+ sailor in the world has sailed.

"We had awesome weather and were zooming along south from Puerto Vallarta, but still managed to snap some fantastic photos of huge turtles between Ipala and Chamela," report William and Sara Sitch of the Santa Rosa-based Gulfstar 37 Wanderlust. "We later participated in the second Sunday Raft-up of the season at Tenacatita Bay, a real cruiser favorite. We all shared potluck food while in our dinghies, told lies about our boat histories - and fled after the sun went down and no-see-ums came out. During our stop at little La Manzanilla, which is tucked up inside Tenacatita Bay, we came across a group of crocodiles. For some reason there didn't seem to be many dogs or children around."

While in New Zealand for the holidays, Sutter Schumacher, Latitude 38's Racing Editor, ran into Kiwi sailing legend Chris Bouzaid, who is the owner of the McMullen & Wing 60 Waianiwa. Bouzaid sang the praises of Nelson, New Zealand, which is located on the northwest corner of the South Island. Although we're not sure about the veracity of his claim that Nelson is the sunniest spot in the world, it regularly has some of the best weather in New Zealand. And Bouzaid was quick to list the small town's attractions - it has a modern marina, a downtown within walking distance of the harbor, and regular Air New Zealand flights from all major New Zealand cities. After sailing just a few hours in either direction from Nelson, you can be in the heart of either stunningly beautiful and remote Marlbourough Sound or Abel Tasman National Park. "When Americans think about coming to New Zealand, they almost always go straight to Auckland," said Bouzaid. "But what they don't realize is that in about the same amount of time they can come to Nelson and have the Sound and the Abel Tasman all right there. It's some of the best cruising around."

Nelson is also home to Dickson Marine, one of the South Island's best-equipped boatyards. Basil Hart and the crew at Dickson had just finished a major refit and repaint on Waianiwa, and Bouzaid was very pleased with the quality and the price, the latter of which he claimed was much less than would have been charged up in Auckland. A Kiwi native who helped launch New Zealand onto the international racing scene in the late 1960s with Rainbow, he would know quality. After splitting his time between New Zealand and the United States as a businessman and yacht racer for more than 30 years, he's recently shifted to cruising mode. With the boat in top shape, Bouzaid and crew are off to another well-known South Island sound, Milford, which is on the southwest coast of the South Island. In March, they'll head to the Auckland Islands. Bouzaid may then bring the boat up to the northern hemisphere, although a return to the islands of the Pacific isn't off the table either.

"I've driven my truck to Florida in order to pick up my new Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3," reports Mike Harker of Manhattan Beach. "After she's displayed at the Miami Boat Show from February 15-20, I'll be heading to Panama by way of Mathew Town, Inagua and Jamaica to start my circumnavigation. I'll probably meet a bunch of this year's Puddle Jumpers in Nuku Hiva in April or May. Included among these may be David Madera and his partner Monica, who bought Wanderlust II, my Hunter 466. The couple hoped to make last year's Baja Ha-Ha, but got delayed a week in San Diego at the start. But they are down in Mexico now and having a great time."

"When I come back up the Atlantic in early '08," continues Harker, "I'm going to stop at Mathew Town again, which is where I'll be completing my circumnavigation. I'll pull into that little hole in the rocks they call a harbor, where they have a Shell diesel pump. Of course, you have to walk or bicycle up to the town and ask the Shell station operator to come down and turn on the one pump. I did that three years ago when I left Puerto Rico and headed to Miami. I was tired singlehanding the narrow Old Bahama Channel and wanted a good night's sleep. I didn't need the diesel, but I bought some anyway, because if you do that you don't have to officially clear in and pay the in and out fees."

"We're glad to hear that the Wanderer is going to cut back on work and get out there on the ocean more," writes Tim Harmon of the Sonoma-based Irwin 37 Luna Sea. "Life is short, you know. But I'm mad as hell at myself, and my wife, Julie, too. We did the '03 Ha-Ha, and had a ball, of course, did two seasons in Mexico and bashed back (my fault). Luna Sea is now in Marina Bay in Richmond, and we are back living in Sonoma. We had sold our house in '03 (my fault), and I'm mad about that, as its value went up $200,000 while we were out playing. When people ask me how much it cost us to cruise, I leave that part out. But then again, you can't put a price on our 6,500 miles on the ocean. I'm also mad at what we have done since getting back, as we had sold everything save a 5'x8'-sized storage shed of stuff. Now we are renting a friend's studio and, after nearly two years back, the place is bursting at the seams with stuff (Julie's fault). How is this possible?! We have sinned, that's how, as we have slipped back to the dark side of land dwelling. We are now saving money to return to sailing in Mexico, as we intended all along. With any luck, we should be heading south in September."

For what it's worth, the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca no longer live in a normal house, but rather in either a little granny unit or on a boat. Life has never been so delightfully crap free. It may not be for everyone, but it suits us just fine.

According to Capt. Norm Goldie in San Blas, there's a new navigational hazard in Mexico:

"The Mexican Department of Fisheries (SAGARPA) and the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes have decided to allow commercial fishermen to slaughter off all marine turtles, sailfish, marlin and dorado. This is being done by allowing the fishermen to 1) use illegal floating long lines within 50 miles of the Mexican coast, and 2) sell gamefish and sea turtles as commercial seafood products. This has never been done before. In years past fishing inspectors would actually go into restaurants, seafood stores and fish warehouses and confiscate all billfish and certainly marine turtles. Marine turtles are protected by international law. In Mexico they are sold for 200 pesos each (about $18.00).

"This situation is very significant to the yachtsman because daily cruisers and sportsmen are engaging these floating long lines and spinning them up on their propellors, shafts and rudder posts. In the near future, I'm sure someone will lose their life.

"Just recently Black Dog II limped in to San Blas with their prop and prop shaft a mess. Two years ago Capt. James Bach (cruising the Mediterranean at present) became dead in the water on his way from San Blas to Puerto Vallarta. He had spun up a long line on his prop shaft and, having only a mask, snorkel and fins, decided to cut away the fishing gear. While diving he put a large hook completely through his hand - he was hooked fast and knew he would drown unless he tore the hook out of his hand. He did this and, upon his arrival in Vallarta, was hospitalized. Recently Jim wrote to me from the Italian Riviera recalling that he 'did not enjoy being on the wrong end of the food chain.'

"Floating long lines are now in use on the entire West Coast of Mexico. Beware, as the floats used are clear, small plastic soda bottles. You're into them before you know what has happened.

"I urge you, our visitors, to notify the proper authorities. Stop this illegal practice. I never thought I would see the day when a 100-year-old sea turtle's life was worth $20."

We've love to hear from you folks out cruising, so send those emails and high-res photos to .

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