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February 2008

Missing the pictures? See the February 2008 eBook!

With reports this month from Beyond Reason at Altata, Mexico; from the Geja kids on their great summer cruise in the Med; from Ketch 22 on making a run for the Guatemalan border; from Sanderling on seven years cruising in the Caribbean; from Migration on a less expensive alternative in Ecuador; from Harmony on examples of red tape in Ecuador; from Persistence on the 'Mexico Triangle'; and Cruise Notes.

Beyond Reason — HC 43
Bill and Lisa Novak
Altata, Mexico

Hola from the path less travelled in Mexico! Although much of the Ha-Ha Class of '07 moved up to La Paz or over to Puerto Vallarta, we decided to travel north and across the Sea of Cortez to seldom-visited Altata, which is about 120 miles north of Mazatlan on the mainland. Altata is located at 24’37.613 N 107’55.693W inside a massive lagoon, but the entrance into the lagoon from the Sea can be tricky. To fully appreciate how different the area is from most cruising destinations in Mexico, check out the satellite view on Google. But thanks to waypoints provided by TomBoy, we managed to make it in — even during a full ebb. Full ebb is not the recommended time to enter, as the channel reminds us of the narrow entrance to Morro Bay, where a massive amount of water is trying to flow out. We did see some standing waves to either side of us as we passed the jaws of the entrance, but we never saw less than 19 feet beneath us at this point. Once we got inside the entrance, it became more of a river trip, for the force of the ebb eased considerably.

Altata is a fishing village of approximately 3,000, so we weren't surprised to see about 50 pangas working the estuary. What was surprising, however, is that they actually trawl for shrimp in the eight-mile long part of the upper bay. And since the sound of outboards scares the shrimp, the Altatains have developed a unique way of trawling. Each of the pangas is fitted with a mast, plus bow and stern sprits, with all spars being made with 20-ft lengths of bamboo. The bow and stern sprits are used to hold the shrimp nets open, while the mast has the dual purpose of supporting a spinnaker-like sail on the leeward side of the boat and supporting the net on the windward side of the boat. The mast is supported port and starboard by the bow and stern sprits — the boat is sailed sideways — and the net provides a backstay-like support, as the 'spinnakers' are quite large.

Upon our arrival at the village proper, we were met on the beach by Gustavo, who is the owner of the La Perla Restaurant, and who has been a friend to cruisers for years. Gustavo speaks limited English, but his son, having been educated in the States, is fluent. They are more than willing to help arrange for water, fuel and whatever other supplies might be needed.

There are rumors that a new marina is slated for Altata, but they may only be rumors. From what we were able to see, the marina location identified in Raines' Boating Guide To Mexico has been abandoned, and a new one has been proposed near the new resort city of Nuevo Altata. We noticed a dredge at this site, but it wasn't being worked. But there's no doubt about a resort coming, as there was much building going on. We saw plans calling for the development of the outside part of the bay, with residential tracks, commercial and business zones, golf courses and high-rise hotels.
We were certainly a novelty in Altata, as only six cruising boats visited all last year. As we walked around the well-kept town — limited trash and very little graffiti — many of the locals wanted to try their English on us, and several stopped to have group photos taken with "the Americans". As usual in Mexico, everyone was quick to smile, warm and friendly.

As far as we could tell, the 15 waypoints provided by TomBoy were still valid this year, but once inside the actual bay, we would favor the port side of the marks, which seems to give us an additional two to three feet of water beneath our keel. We saw a minimum depth of 10' 8". If anyone would like a copy of the waypoints, they can send us an — but you have to understand that we can in no way be responsible for their accuracy.

— bill and lisa 01/08/07

Geja — Islander 36
Eli and Sara Bottrell
Seven Months In The Med
(San Francisco)

My wife Sara and I recently returned home after seven months of cruising in the Med. It was an incredible experience, and we're extremely pleased that we made the decision to drop everything and go. Cruising had been a dream of ours, but we never thought we'd be able to do it while we were so young. What made it possible was seeing the ad in 'Lectronic for an Islander 36 on the hard in Spain for $10,000. Since the price was right and the boat was already located in an incredible area, we couldn't ignore it. After all, we didn't have children or a mortgage, so what better time to become homeless and unemployed?

We bought Geja, sight unseen, a year ago October from Shirley Sandys of Palo Alto. Shirley and her late husband Dick had sailed her most of the way around the world over a period of 15 years. We were already familiar with Islander 36s when we purchased Geja, so we were very happy with the boat's size, performance, and liveability. But once we arrived in Spain and saw the boat, we realized that we wanted to make some improvements. Luckily, we had a friend with an apartment 20 minutes from Empuriabrava, where the boat was on the hard, who let us stay with him for a few weeks before we moved aboard. This was perfect, as the weather really wasn't warm enough for cruising when we first got there, so we were able to upgrade various things like the electrical and water systems, the stove and cushions before we moved on the boat.

The publisher of Latitude suggested that we not upgrade anything, but we felt that it would be worthwhile to make sure that we had as few problems as possible during the summer. So we did things like change out the fresh water hoses, sea cocks, and the head. Having grown up off the grid outside of Tahoe, I knew that upgrading our electrical system — including new batteries — would be key to happy cruising. We also purchased a rigid-bottom inflatable because we knew we'd be using the dinghy a lot.

The preparation and purchases turned out to be time and money well spent. We only had one real breakdown during the summer, which was when the wheel pilot for our autopilot gave out after a long downwind sail in large seas. We were lucky enough to find another Raytheon wheel pilot of similar vintage in Marseilles for only 200 euros. I was able to take the good parts of both units and cobble together a unit that gave us no problems for the rest of the summer.

After we moved onto the boat and relaunched her, we sailed south from Empuriabrava to Barcelona, stopping at lots of little towns along the way. This is a great place to cruise, as the coastline is both very dramatic and beautiful. The towns were interesting and Barcelona is a great city, probably one of our favorites of the trip. We stayed two weeks in Barcelona before heading back east toward France. My parents and sister joined us for the trip back to Empuriabrava and a side-trip in a rental car to inland France. After that, Sara and I left for the French border.

After hearing stories of how bad the seas could be around Cap de Creus, which is just south of the Spanish/French border, we waited a few days for the seas to be completely flat before taking off. Our patience was rewarded with an uneventful crossing. We'd been flying our California flag because we weren't sure what kind of reception we'd get, but at that point we decided to fly our American flag, too. We were then welcomed with more smiles. In fact, many people stopped by to ask us questions, and some even took pictures of the boat.

The western shore of the Mediterranean coast of France is an endless sandy beach. It wasn't until we reached Marseilles that the landscape became picturesque. The cliffs around Marseille are amazing, with lots of little bays or calanques, as well as nice anchorages and beautiful seaside towns along the coast. Cassis and Port Miou turned out to be two of our favorite places in France. We spent our days sunning, swimming and exploring the towns. Every place we stopped had great farmers' markets with delicious produce and incredible deals.

One of the most unusual days we had in the South of France was sailing to St. Tropez, where we experienced some of the largest seas of our trip. The 'seas' weren't caused by any storm, but rather by the wakes of literally hundreds of megayachts that passed us in both directions. And when we got to St. Tropez, it was the first time we'd experienced a traffic jam while trying to get into a marina! It was obvious to us why the French Riviera is so popular — it's gorgeous!

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in August by sailing across the border from France into Italy. We spent the night in the old town of San Remo, having been lucky enough to find free berthing in the 'community' portion of the harbor. It even included water and power. Had we spent the night in the regular part of the harbor with brand new docks, it would have been 56 euros — about $80 U.S. — a night.

We continued cruising the Italian Riviera, visiting larger, well-known places such as Genoa, but also lots of small towns and tourist destinations such as Portofino and Cinque Terra. After dropping anchor and about to pull away in our dinghy at Santa Margarita Ligure, which is just a short distance from beautiful Portofino, a guy roared up in an inflatable and asked if we were from San Francisco, as that was the hailing port on our boat. When we said we were, he introduced himself as Ni Orsi of Stockton! We socialized with Ni and his wife Krissy aboard their new Dolphin 460 catamaran Finalmente a number of times, and even water-skied on the bay behind their powerful RIB.

While spending time in Santa Margarita, we also ran into Lionel and Laurel, two other West Coast sailors aboard Sea Whisper. We buddyboated down the coast of Italy with them for a few weeks and had a great time. While following Sea Whisper along the Cinque Terra region, we sailed past an opening between a small island and the La Spezia area. Sara started getting excited about a large boat anchored in Portovenere. Because of the boat's unique rig, I immediately identified her as Tom Perkins' 289-ft Maltese Falcon from Belvedere. We circled the enormous sailing vessel, taking some photos and staring in awe.

We spent the next few days anchored across the small bay joking about ways that we could possibly find to get a tour of Falcon. My cousin Nate visited us the next day, and it turned out he works with a good friend of the captain of Falcon. We introduced ourselves to him, and were invited back for a beer while the boat was docked at the shipyard. We came back a few days later and got a tour of Falcon, a yacht that is even more amazing than we could have imagined. Getting a tour was definitely one of the highlights of our summer.

We continued sailing in Italy for the next month, staying on the hook to save money for expensive side-trips to Paris and London. Fortunately, we discovered that there are inexpensive marinas on the Arno River just outside of Pisa. So we left Geja there while we took off on a two-week trip inland, enjoying terra firma life in hotel rooms. When we got back to Italy, we returned to the most protected and comfortable anchorage we were to have of the summer — La Grazie, about 30 miles north of Pisa. We anchored there for the next few weeks, taking train rides to nearby towns and relaxing before returning home. It was a welcome change to stay in one place after almost constant moving.

Our trip ended back in Pisa, which is where we left Geja on the hard. Our summer cruise was a life-changing experience, and we couldn't have asked for a better vacation. Geja was the perfect boat, never once failing us. Nonetheless, after a lot of thought about where we are in life, we've made the decision to sell her. She's ready to go back in the water and be taken cruising again. From Pisa, her new owners could easily sail her back to France and Spain, or continue south in Italy and on to Croatia, Greece, and Turkey. Having done a number of upgrades on the boat, we're asking $20,000. If anyone is interested, they can us.

— eli 12/15/08

Ketch 22 — Freedom 39
John Thompson, Crew
Making A Run For It

I've been out cruising again, this time with Tom Marlow and Rick Canter aboard Ketch 22, which I met while crewing on another boat during the '06 Ha-Ha. Yesterday we arrived at Barillas Marina in El Salvador from Huatulco, and have been having a great time so far. Barillas is a private club on 2,000 very private acres, separated from the rest of El Salvador on one side by lots of sugar cane and security guards, and on the other by 12 miles of mangrove and coconut palm-lined estuary. I've been catching up with my computer work while sitting at a palapa table with a great view of the river and the boats on their moorings. Behind me are the pool, jacuzzi, lawn, gardens, clubhouse and so forth. It's not a bad place to be working.

Huatulco is the doing of Fonatur, the Mexican government’s tourism development agency that has had a number of great successes — and a few flops — over the years. Built from scratch, Huatulco is nicely laid out, with a wonderful zocalo and lots of good restaurants, all within close proximity to seven small bays. We spent one day at Playa Mague, enjoying the excellent snorkeling — lots of coral and lots of fish — as well as an equally good seafood lunch at the Ay Caraye palapa restaurant. We spent most of the rest of our time at either the plaza area or at the beach club near the marina. The beach club is basically a restaurant that allows free use of their two large pools, beachfront, showers, and wireless internet. What a great place to hang out!

Four days ago we set sail for El Salvador, taking advantage of a long weather window for crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We hit it right, as we had nothing but calm seas and light winds — a great relief compared to the 30 to 40 knots and 14- to 16-foot seas we'd had before arriving at Huatulco!

After crossing the gulf, we stopped for two hours for fuel at Puerto Madero, which is only about 12 miles from the Guatemalan border. Although we had checked out of Mexico in Huatulco, and had all the necessary paperwork to leave the county, a man showed up at the fuel dock in Madero, told us that he was an agent, and that we needed to hire him to check in with the port captain and to pay the port tax. We weren't sure whether he was just trying to scare us in order to get money or if we really needed to do it. To be safe, Tom hired him, and he and I spent about an hour and $28 driving to the port captain’s office and harbor office. This turned out to be cheap compared to what happened to the crew of another boat we met. The agent wanted $200 from them just for helping them get a zarpe!

While Tom and I were gone, Rick, the other crewmember, had to host the crew of a military drug inspection boat and their dog. The inspectors wanted to review the boat's paperwork and have him complete a long form. But all the paperwork was with Tom and I while we were going to the various offices. Rick told the officers that we would call them on the radio when Tom returned with the paperwork.

However, we were so frustrated with all the useless paperwork that when Tom and I got back to the boat, we decided to just make a run for the Guatemalan border, skipping out on finishing with the inspection. So we cranked up the motor, getting 6+ knots out of the boat, and motored out the long harbor entrance. We then set a course straight for the border. For the next two hours we kept looking back, expecting to see a military boat racing after us. We were quite relieved when we finally crossed over into Guatemala, out of reach of the Mexican bureaucrats.

Barillas marked the end of my trip aboard Ketch 22, as Tom plans to leave her here — 12 miles inland on a mangrove-lined estuary — while he returns home for a year. I plan to take a bus to Costa Rica, where I hope to meet up with my aunt and uncle aboard their sailboat Iris, currently at Playa Panama in northern Costa Rica.

— john 01/12/08

John — As we recall, there have been quite a few problems in the last year or so with officials and 'agents' in Puerto Madero wanting lots of money from cruisers. With regard to agents, Mexican law says that recreational mariners do not have to use them. As for the sometime large fees that have been charged by officials, we don't have the details, but were told it involved their curious interpretation of a section of Mexican law. In any event, it seem that Puerto Madero would be a good place for most cruisers to bypass.

As for skipping out on a drug interdiction team, that seems pretty ballsy to us, as they've got the fast boats and guns. If anything, we'd skip out on bureaucrats who don't have boats or access to them.

Sanderling — Cabo Rico 38
John Anderton
Seven Years Cruising The Carib

Early in January we were motoring through the Gustavia anchorage in St. Barth and noticed a San Francisco hailing port — it was on old Caribbean friend John Anderton's Alameda-based Cabo Rico 38. John transited the Canal in '01, and had been in the Eastern Caribbean ever since. He's spent six hurricanes seasons in Trinidad, and during the winter he cruises up to the Virgins — about 600 miles — and then back down to Trinidad.

Given his long experience in the Eastern Caribbean, we decided to pick his mind a bit.
Where's the best place to sail? "There is no greater place to sail than between Antigua and St. Martin. The winds are reliable and the weather is good. In the southern half of the Antilles, meaning from Guadeloupe south, the winds tend to be more boisterous. It will blow hard for about a week, then there'll be a couple of light days, then it will blow hard for a week again. At least that's been my experience. And because the channels between the islands are closer together, there's not a much room for the wind to funnel through, so it really blows hard. Winds of 25 to 30 knots, with 10-ft seas, are not uncommon."

So how come it's been so light this winter? "There's been a big low — it might have even become an out-of-season named storm — between the Azores and here, and that's interrupted the normal winter trades."

You've been to all the islands in the Eastern Caribbean. Which are your favorites? "I like St. Lucia, in a large part because of the pristine marine park at the south end of the island. I like Dominica, which is only very slightly developed, although the guy at Papa's Restaurant at the north end is trying to make it more welcoming for cruisers. And I also like little Bequia. The thing that all these islands have in common is that the people are so very friendly. I may only visit them once or twice a year, but upon my return, people will come up to me and say that it's good to see me again. I also go by the beer-based cost of living index. If I can get a beer for $2, as I can in these islands, I'm pretty happy with the cost of living.

"A place that's become popular with cruisers, including Americans, is St. Anne's in Martinique. Lots of cruisers are starting to gather there, having a Christmas Party, doing wine-tastings on the beach, and otherwise socializing."

What islands don't you like? "The boat boys in St. Vincent will drive you crazy. I'm not too fond of Union Island, either, as they've not really done anything to recover from the last hurricane."

How's the crime situation in the Eastern Caribbean? "It hasn't been a problem for me, but I take the normal precautions. When I'm down in Trinidad, for example, I raise my dinghy each night. And there parts of Port of Spain where I just won't go, day or night. I'm not saying there's no crime in the Eastern Caribbean, because there is, but I was the victim of more crime when I lived in the United States."

Are there big price variations depending on where you go? "There sure are. For example, if I went into St. Martin's Simpson Bay Lagoon and stayed on the Dutch side of the lagoon, I'd have to pay about $60 to use the bridge opening and about $80 a week to anchor there. But if I continue over to the French side, I don't have to pay for having gone through the bridge opening, and there's no fee for anchoring. Then there's the two-tier pricing for boat labor in St. Martin, where I get quite a bit of boat work done. For regular boats, the going rate is $70/hour, but for megayachts — and St. Martin is a megayacht center — it's $120/hour. Guess whose boats get worked on first?"

You're 67 years old. What's the deal with health care in the Caribbean? I used to be insured by a company called ING in the States. What a joke that was! I had to have some cancer-related surgery done in Trinidad in '04 that involved three days in a private room, X-rays, medication, the surgery, anesthesia, and everything else. It only came to $5,200, which is a small fraction of what it would have cost in the States, but ING would only pay $1,800 of it. So I dropped them."

Are you happy with the medical care you got in Trinidad? "My doctor is an Indian (from India), who was trained in Britain. I have a lot of faith in him. In fact, he might be the only reason that I'm returning to Trinidad. I need to confirm that we've gotten rid of all the cancer."

Are the health care prices really more reasonable than in the States? "I had to have two CAT scans, one with dye. It cost me $385 in Trinidad. I'm told that the same thing would have cost about $7,000 in the States."

You must qualify for Medicaid? "In order for them to pay for my treatment, I'd have to go to either the U.S. Virgins or Puerto Rico. Right now I prefer my Indian doctor in Trinidad."

How many times have you been back home since you got here in '01? "I've been back twice. I went back to Alameda, Portland and Canada last year, and I wasn't too impressed. It seemed to me that all everyone did was watch television, moan, and bitch."

— latitude/rs 01/15/08

Migration — Cross 46 Tri
Bruce Balan and Alene
Alternatives In Ecuador
(The Peninsula)

We're leaving Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador tomorrow and thought Southbounders would be interested in an alternative to mooring at Trip Martin's Puerto Amistad. We spent six months at Saiananda, which is two miles upriver from Puerto Amistad. Saiananda is a wonderful places that's kind of hard to describe. Owner Alfredo Harmsen has created what I'd call a combination of a B&B, finca, meditation retreat, animal shelter, tropical fish and bird farm . . . well, the list goes on and on. The birds are everywhere — blue macaws, mot-mots, parrots, many kinds of pigeons, and peacocks that he breeds. He also has ducks, geese, a swan, horses, a cow and a burro. It's quite the menagerie.

Alfredo put in six moorings last year and plans to install more this year. The moorings are 2.5-meter long steel helixes screwed into the bottom, and have beefy shackles and thick line. He currently charges $170/month, which is $100/month less than Puerto Amistad down in Bahia. Wi-fi is available for a small additional fee. Included in the normal monthly fee are hot showers and two nice porches where you can relax or play on the internet with your computer. Alene, my lady, also gave free yoga lessons on the porch above the dinghy dock over the river, a perfect setting for it.

Alfredo also provides many of the services that cruisers want and need — laundry, potable water, fuel, and so forth. And you can ride along with him when he takes his truck to the market in Bahia on Saturdays. Alfredo has a workshop and a carpenter, so they can handle most woodworking projects, and he has contacts for nearly every other kind of job. Alfredo also produces and sells delicious natural jams, with 16 flavors. Try the mamé cartagena, our favorite.

One of those kind and generous good spirits, Alfredo also runs a wonderful school just up the road. It’s free to any child in the area, something that's very important in Ecuador. His school is fantastic, much better than the government run schools, and cruisers are welcome to volunteer.

For some cruisers, the downside of Saiananda is that it's two miles away from Bahia. But there are a variety of ways to get there. We have folding bikes, and it's a nice ride — although it can be into the wind if you leave in the afternoon. Used bikes are widely available in Bahia for $25. A cab is $1.50. The bus costs 18 cents and takes 15 minutes, the route being through Leonidas Plaza, a Bahia neighborhood that has a Saturday market, a Monday bazaar, and many other stores and services. (The outboard repair guy does good work, but get a price before he starts work.) Or, you could walk. Terry Bingham and Tammy Woodmansee of the Eagle Harbor, Washington-based Union 36 Secret O' Life did it all the time.

The upside of the downside, if you will, is that it's much quieter at Saiananda than at Puerto Amistad — no thumping weekend music — and much calmer, although the current still rips. The water is perfectly smooth at Saiananda, whereas many of the monohulls roll quite a bit when the swell rolls in at high tide at Puerto Amistad. There are wonderful bird sounds — as well as the strange 'disgruntled cat' call of the peacocks.

We left the boat at Saiananda while travelling inland in Ecuador for a month and returning to the States for two months. But we felt our trimaran was very safe because there is a guard on the property after dark who checks the boat with a spotlight during the night, and because Alfredo spends most of his days in his office overlooking the moorings.

It's possible, of course, to anchor for free near Puerto Amistad and pay the $2/day fee for the dinghy dock. But we didn't want to be at anchor because we'd just had our chain regalvanized in Manta, and didn't want to leave it in the water to get covered with growth and barnacles. The river is biologically very active.

Whether cruisers should come to Ecuador — given all the problems with government regulations and the runaway pricing of cruiser services — is grist for another letter, and we understand the arguments on both sides. But we can say that much of the success of our visit to Ecuador was due to our stay at Saiananda and Alfredo’s generous spirit. He can be reached at this , although it may take a few days to get a response.

We're now in Panama, having come here come here to get our new Porta-Bote before heading to the Galapagos and the South Pacific. We had to give up trying to import the dinghy to Ecuador, as the duty would have been exorbitant.

— bruce 11/09/07

Harmony — Islander Freeport 41
Ginn and Robert Gleser
Ecuadorian Red Tape

As Latitude readers know, Ecuador has become a very popular summer destination for cruisers because it has fine weather — unlike coastal Central America, which is not only extremely hot and humid, but is also the summer lightning capital of the world. As such, many think Ecuador is the best summer option for cruisers on the Pacific side, and it has become quite popular. Cruisers are allowed 180 days a year in Ecuador during any 365-day period, and there is no problem with leaving your boat for even longer.

There are a few downsides to cruising Ecuador. The cheapest flights we found between Ecuador and the States were $500 each, round-trip. And these involved a three-day marathon, including a 12-hour flight, to finally get back to the boat. The second problem is that, not unlike Mexico a few years ago, the Ecuadorian government — and port captains and other officials — are unsure of how to deal with cruisers. As you might expect, there are the petty, money-grubbing local officials who are temporarily gumming up the system, and quite a bit of paperwork. But everybody hopes that Ecuador will soon see the light as Mexico did, and make it easy for cruisers to check in and out — and spend money in their country. Lastly, it's about a five-day sail from Costa Rica or Panama to Ecuador, and it can be a rough slog. However, it's nowhere as bad as the trip from Tonga or Fiji to New Zealand to escape the South Pacific tropical cyclone season, and the wind and seas are at your back when you return to Panama/Central America.

As usual, there are some cruisers who whine loudly about Ecuador, mostly about the red tape. But having spent plenty of time there on Harmony this summer, including working on our boat and travelling inland, we can report that we had a wonderful time. In fact, we highly recommend a cruise to Ecuador. By the way, the cost of living and travelling inland in Ecuador are both bargains. The average lunch — which includes soup, an entree and a drink — costs just $1.25. In other words, a couple could eat their main meal out every day for a month, and it would only cost them $75. Try to do that in Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama. In addition, the 9-hour bus ride to the capital of Quito up in the mountains costs just $9.

Sailors coming to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, the most popular stop, have a good friend in ex-cruiser Tripp Martin, who runs a very nice operation for cruisers at Puerto Amistad, just up the Chone River. He has inexpensive moorings, a nice and inexpensive restaurant, and takes care of laundry, water and diesel issues. His desire to help cruisers forced him to become a ship's agent, facilitating the paperwork, which is not an easy job in Ecuador. He charges $150 for in and out, but only because he has to.

We haven't been to Puerto Lucia, but have heard that boats clearing in and out of there have to deal with a difficult Customs officer and have to pay higher fees. However, we know folks who have left their boats on the hard there for up to a year, or who had work done on the hard while they travelled inland, and they were very satisfied. It has to be noted, that was until the red tape became thicker in the last year.

To give you an idea of the kind of red tape that can delay and frustrate you in Ecuador, here's what we had to go through to leave the country in early December:

Tripp asked for a week's time to get our papers taken care of. After a week, the port captain's computer system was down, so it was "no zarpe for you!" But we were told that we could go to Immigration in distant Manta without our zarpe — an exception because the computer system was down — to receive our exit visas. So after provisioning at the Supermaxi grocery in Manta, we stopped by Immigration, where the guard told us that their computer system was down also. Fortunately, Tripp just happened to be coming to Manta, and was told by a lady at Immigration that she'd see him at 3 p.m. to take care of our papers. While he was waiting, he stopped by the port captain's office to see if their computer system had come back up. It was, so he asked if the Manta port captain could prepare a zarpe for us. "No problem!" the port captain replied.

With Immigration taken care of and our zarpe in hand, we were free right? That's what we thought, so we pulled up our outboard and raised our dinghy. That's when we got a call from Tripp, who told us, "You're not going anywhere today." The problem was that the port captain in Bahia had learned that we'd gotten a zarpe from the port captain in Manta, and had a hissy fit. Talk about feeling like pawns in a power struggle between big guys! And being under 'boat arrest'.

The explanation that Tripp gave the Bahia port captain is that since Bahia's computer system was down, he was just trying to do his duty as an agent by taking our papers to Manta. But Mr. Bahia port captain claimed he had to get permission from the big port captain in Guayaquil for this to happen. The next day a navy ensign came out to our boat in Tripp's panga — the navy's launch was out of commission — to inspect our boat. After doing so, he gave us our zarpe. Wow, having been tangled up in red — tape — we were finally free again!

— ginn & robert 12/15/07

Readers — While cruising and dealing with petty officials, you can't help but realize how detrimental they can be to the free movement of people and goods, and how once they or their positions are established, how difficult it can be to eliminate them. Mexico has been making great strides in this regard in recent years. We hope that Ecuador can do the same.

Persistence — Peterson 44
Tom Hoffman
The 'Mainland Mexico Triangle'
San Francisco

Some things defy explanation — although maybe there is a way to explain our trip south to Zihuatenejo last season. My crew, Dan, and I left Puerto Vallarta on January 25th, with the goal of making it to Zihua for SailFest on February 1.

We pulled into Barra de Navidad lagoon for a couple day's rest and supplies. There we met Janice, who signed on as crew for the rest of the trip. So far, so good. We headed out of the bay in 15 knots from the northwest in the morning, and set the gennaker as soon as we cleared the point. About 10 p.m. we doused the chute, jibed, and went wing-on-wing.

We were happily sailing along about 28 miles offshore until 2 p.m. the next day, at which point we entered the Mexican equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle! For without warning, all our electronics went dead. Nada, nothing, dead. This included two GPS units, radar, depthsounder, wind and speedo intruments, and a chartplotter.

After scurrying around for a few minutes, I brought up the paper charts, turned on the engine — fortunately, it started — dropped the sails and noted our course and time. With the engine at 1,000 rpms, we were able to make about three knots, a good number for dead-reckoning. As we always, we kept an hourly log, so we had a good fix to start with. I even dug out an old handheld Magellan GPS — in fact, it was the first one they ever made. But it wouldn't acquire a satellite, even lying out on the deck.

As we plotted our position on the charts, things got even weirder. We were 28 miles off Punto Lizardo, something I want you to remember. As it had been about 15 minutes with nothing coming back on or resetting itself, it dawned on me that I probably had $8,000 of dead electronics. I started to check the fuse panels and battery meters, but as I did, I noticed that there were some things 'on' that were supposed to be off! For example, two fuel gauges that had pushbuttons to activate, were on, and the fuel transfer pump was running even though the switch was off. So yes, something definitely strange going on!

Janice, who is the captain of a research vessel, noted that she had the same radar on her ship, and once had to replace a fuse inside. Okay. So I lifted the cover off the top of the radar . . . and a large lizard appeared. Panic! I put the cover back down and pretended that I didn't see what I saw. "Is someone playing a joke on the captain?" I asked the crew. By the looks in the faces of the crew, I knew they weren't. I lifted the cover again, and this time the lizard — actually an iguana — blinked! An iguana had taken up residence behind the 'dashboard'!

Dan fixed a noose on the end of half a fishing pole while I went looking for the leather gloves. As I slipped the noose over the iguana's head, the end of his tail appeared at the other end of the dashboard — some four feet away! Dan hand-over-handed the tail, while I pulled the iguana up through lots of wiring. It was four feet of lizard, and he was pissed off! Janice suggested I rub his belly. I didn't think so!

After some discussion blaming the iguana for our electronics problems, and discussing having him swim the 28 miles to shore, the captain held the crew at bay and stuck him in our ice chest!

The only thing is that no wires had been compromised. I pulled the radar and, bypassing the 'no user serviceable parts inside', found out there aren't any! I checked for voltage everywhere, and had a good 12.8 volts, so I packed up the radar and figured I would be flying back to San Francisco to replace it. At least we had the motor and a supply of cold Corona beer.

Sitting there writing down a DR position every 15 minutes, I felt confident that we'd make Zihua all right. Of course, at 28 miles off the beach, the shoreline was barely visible in the haze, and without a radar we were a little too close to the shipping lanes for comfort.

After about 2 hours and 15 minutes, the old Magellan got a fix! And then Janice suddenly noticed that windspeed indicator had come on, followed by everything else. When I reinstalled the radar, it worked, too. As for the fuel gauges and pump that weren't supposed to be on, they shut down!

Okay, what had happened!? After thanking the Corona gods, we could only speculate. Here are some of the theories that we came up with:

1) The boat's small 200-watt inverter malfunctioned, causing a spike or reverse polarity.

2) the U.S. Navy had a submarine nearby, and it was sending out some kind of jamming signal.

3) Aliens.

4) A new Bermuda Triangle off Punto Lizardo.

Whatever it was, I checked the wiring thoroughly after reaching Zihua, and we couldn't find anything wrong. In fact, everything still works today.

As for the iguana. We named him Juan — as in I wanna get off this boat! We brought him to one of the potlucks for the kids to play with, and they released him on the rocks of Playa Madera.

ZFest was terrific, but afterward the Navy boarded almost every boat in the anchorage, and the port captain wanted to put dye tabs in all the holding tanks. It wasn't the best way to lure cruisers back to ZFest.

We had one other less enjoyable adventure at Carrizal, just south of Manzanillo. Dan and I headed to the very rocky beach, where we were accosted by two toothless Mexicans armed with a pistola and a machete. They spoke English, but most of the words in their sentences were cuss words. So we booked it back to the boat. There were some signs of a future development at Carrizal, but I don't believe that these guys were affiliated. That night, while we had the crew from Mystique aboard, an unlit panga flew by us and onto the rocky beach. Thirty minutes later, they took off through the dark. Be warned, Carrizal could be a dangerous anchorage.

By the way, I'm not new to all this, having done the '04 Ha-Ha, three Z-Fests, two Banderas Bay Regattas — and thinking of doing this year's Banderas Bay Regatta with an all-woman crew.

­— tom 12/15/07

Cruise Notes:

"The weather here at Careyes on the Gold Coast of Mexico has been perfect, and the Bel-Air Hotel continues to welcome cruisers," reports Jim Forquer of the Newport Beach-based Catana 521 Legato. "As I write this, there are a half-dozen boats here — including the Anacortes-based St. Francis 44 cat that's also named Legato. I'm hoping that the hotel staff can keep our bar tabs straight. We're still talking about what a great time we had at the Banderas Bay Blast, and are hoping that something similar is planned for Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, because we plan to be in the La Paz-Caleta Partida area in early April. In fact, we're working on getting Kevin and Marcie Millett to bring their Lihue-based 46-ft cat Kalewa over to play, too.

We're going to be there with Profligate on April 4-6 for the revived Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, and will look forward to seeing you and others there, too. As we mentioned last month, we're going to limit participation to under 30 boats and fewer than 100 people out of respect for the island environment. The way we're going to try to do this is to encourage only those cruisers who really enjoy 'nothing serious racing', and discourage those who prefer the more typical social activities that can be found at the Club Cruceros' La Paz Bay Fest the following week.

"My wife Rebecca and I are interested in doing Sea of Cortez Sailing Week in early April," writes Mark Covec of the Bristol 27 Magstar. "Our boat is definitely in cruise mode, but she's still nimble enough to sail well in the most light Baja winds. My only question is whether all the other boats are going to be big cats and 60-footers, because we wouldn't be able to keep up. What's the story?"

We probably won't know who is actually going to show up on April 4, but we can assure you that we intend the event to be as inclusive as possible, and that the size of your boat shouldn't be a factor in having fun. After all, who knows, you might end up crewing on one of the big cats. We don't think you have anything to lose by showing up.

Cruising is "doomed." That's the opinion of John Lynker, who, basing his information on cruising forums, reports that "country after country is molesting the deep pockets of cruising sailors," and because cruisers don't have a unified voice such as the Airplane Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA). He amends that slightly by saying that "fat cat cruisers" — such as, "you know, the top Blackwater and Halliburton executives" — will probably pay people to deliver their boats so they can fly in and have a lay on deck. "So save up your money, buy a $100,000 boat so you can take a two-month cruise to Mexico, then put an ad in Latitude so you can sell it to the next guy for $80,000. It kinda sucks."

Intrigued by this line of reasoning, we asked Lynker to be more specific. "Hong Kong, Qingdao, Shanghai," he responded, "they're all super expensive, even for the smallest boats." Funny, after 30 years of reporting on cruising, we still weren't aware there was much interest in cruising to places like Shanghai and Qingdao. "What about Mexican port fees?" he continued. "I haven't heard much about them lately, but I suspect they're only going higher." Actually, the government-mandated costs for cruising in Mexico have plummeted over the last three years, and there's no sign that will be reversed anytime soon. In fact, we've heard talk that the cost of fishing licenses for cruisers will go way down. He also mentions that boat slips in Costa Rica are now selling for more than slips in Emeryville — which is true, at least in the case of marinas that are part of exclusive resorts targeted at the most wealthy individuals. "The thing is," Lynker concludes, "I'm a 'pushin-6-figure-salary’ high tech workin' stiff with no credit card debt, and I still feel the pinch."

Maybe Lynker is feeling the pinch because he's not out cruising. Shortly after we got his alarmed missives, we had a face-to-face chat with John Anderton, who, as you've probably already read in Changes, transited the Panama Canal in '01 with his Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling, and has been enjoying himself cruising the Eastern Caribbean ever since. "We hate to be the ones to have to break the news to you," we told Anderton, "but cruising is doomed because people on 'cruiser forums' say governments are making it too expensive." A soft-spoken man, Anderton had some less-than-complimentary things to say about 'cruiser forums', mentioning that they seemed to be "dominated by about 30 highly-opinionated people" who may not actually do much sailing, let alone cruising.

Curiously, Anderton didn't seem that concerned about the imminent demise of the cruising lifestyle. Perhaps it's because he's spent the last seven years cruising one of the most desirable and expensive areas in the world, and getting by just fine on $800 a month — annual haulouts and other boat expenses included. Being a younger guy, Lynker might not appreciate that Anderton is reporting that he's cruising happily on half of what he collects from Social Security each month. It's true that Anderton doesn't have the newest or most expensive boat in the world, nor does he squire young bimbos to the most expensive restaurants and nightclubs in the Lesser Antilles. But he's got a very nice-looking and capable boat, and is pretty happy. Not wanting to mislead anyone, Anderton admits that he's taken one big hit to his cruising budget, that being when he had to replace his 25-year old Perkins of diesel with a Yanmar a couple of years ago. Thanks to going from one brand diesel to another, the bulkheads had to be cut and reglassed, engine mounts redone, different size hoses used, a new shaft installed, and on and on. The final bill was $20,000. But amortized over the expected 25-year life of the engine and his otherwise very low cost of living, Anderton wasn't too distressed about it.

Unaware of the bad news from the cruiser forums, Anderton says he's "tickled to be enjoying cruising as much as I do at age 67." One of the best things about it, he says, "is that you can go up to a strange boat and say, "Hi, I'm John," and they'll usually invite you aboard to trade stories." Nonetheless, Anderton is convinced that you can immediately identify West Coast cruisers — no matter what the hailing port on their boat ­— because they are far more friendly than folks from other places. When down in Grenada two years ago, he was invited aboard a Nor'Sea 27, the name of which he can't remember, singlehanded by a 68-year-old woman from San Diego. "Cape Town, South Africa", was her response when he asked her where she'd come from. "I suppose you'll be heading on to your homeport of San Diego to complete your circumnavigation," he replied. "No," she said, "I liked Thailand, so I think I'll be heading back that way." Poor woman, apparently she hadn't gotten the news from the cruiser forums either. By the way, if any of John's old friends want to commiserate with him — or just say hello — he can be reached by .

Doug Thorne of the Alameda-based Celestial 48 Tamara Lee Ann reports that he was listening to KQED Forum the other night, during which time he heard guest Tom Perkins of Belvedere say that "maybe" he'll be bringing his 289-ft Dyna-Rig Maltese Falcon to San Francisco in May. If he does, you won't want to miss her. While in the Caribbean last month, we were sitting on the back of our boat about 10 p.m., at which this large but nebulus shape began to take greater clarity out of the darkness. "It's Falcon!" Dona de Mallorca said a minute later. Sure enough, it was. And what a site! She appeared to be gliding along at about 12 knots — and we do mean gliding. Then, about a quarter mile off our beam, her crew suddenly illuminated her sails. And that's saying something, because her sails describe a near rectangle of nearly 300 feet by 150 feet.

"We've spent the last five years working at, then managing, the Islas Secas Resort in Panama, commuting back and forth to Ecuador during the off season," report Guy and Deborah Bunting, who built their beautiful 46-ft Morrelli & Melvin catamaran Elan at their home in Vista. "Our cat is now 10 years old and in need of some TLC, so we've quit our positions and are sailing back up to Mexico to do a refit. Our plan is to sail from Ecuador via the Galapagos, then offshore to Zihua — which should be a good light air sail for our cat. We enjoyed Latitude's December editorial response about your "pilgrimage" to Greenwich, England and the Prime Meridian. Dona de Mallorca may well have experienced a "tickle" while straddling the line, but I know that I, Guy, sure did — or something similar. After all, Deborah and I were visiting during our honeymoon there ages ago. I’m sure Deborah may have had second thoughts about the man she married, as I stood there, eyes misting up with my voice quivering, as I marveled at the moment — which I still remember as though it were yesterday. In the same sense, I've always enjoying crossing the equator. We've done it six times with our boat, nine times by plane, two times by bus, and twice by motorcycle. The last motorcycle crossing was one of my favorites, as we passed over a faded painted line in the coastal road in Ecuador. It was a much more humble affair than Greenwich, but still a tickle. Anyway, all of us navigators should try to make a pilgrimage to Greenwich at least once in our lives."

"The Islas Secas Resort we worked at is in western Panama near Coiba island on the Pacific side," continues Guy. "When we arrived in Western Panama after six months of coming down through Central America, we immediately fell in love with the area. We met a few ex-pats there, one of whom was the sister of Michael Klein, a 37-year-old from Santa Barbara who graduated from UCSB at age 17, started several very successful financial and communications businesses, and who most recently has been managing the $300 million Pacificor LLC hedge fund. While we were in the area, Klein managed to buy four large and 12 or so small — as well as pristine and uninhabited — ­islands in order to create a small, low-impact resort on the largest of the islands. We got involved during the construction phase, and I did all of the electrical work — which was mostly solar. When that work was done 18 months later and we were preparing to leave, Klein shocked us by offering us a chance to manage the resort. We did that for three years, ending last May. You can see the resort at It’s a gorgeous place, with only seven casitas and a maximum occupancy of 14. It has a staff of 14 to 16, a chef to die for, diving, fishing and 16 islands. It was also very expensive. Then just before Christmas, tragedy struck, as Klein, his 13-year-old daughter, Talia, and the Panamanian pilot of their Cessna 172 were killed when it crashed near Panama's tallest mountain after leaving Islas Secas. Only 12-year-old Francesca Lewis, Talia's friend, managed to survive. She was found walking along a road high on the mountain. We're still reeling from the tragedy. The fate of the islands and the resort are unknown."

It's funny how long-ago cruising friends pop up in the most unexpected places. While at the Banderas Bay Blast in Mexico in December, a couple tentatively called out our name at the docks at the Nayarit Riviera Marina in La Cruz. We didn't recognize them immediately, but we had an excuse — we hadn't seen them since the winters of '91 and '92 in Antigua. But sure enough, they were South Africans Doug and Mary Solomon, who are still happily cruising — and racing — in their 70s. The couple and their three kids sailed away from their homeland in '77 aboard their Mura 32 Sundance Kid. After the kids moved on, we had some of the longest and best laughs of our lives with Doug and Mary aboard their Harle 42 Maracuja at Antigua's English and Falmouth Harbors in the early '90s. And now here they were, 15 years later, in Mexico aboard their Aige Nielsen custom wood 44-ft Fandango, which had been built in Southern California many years ago. "If we can get a wood boat like this to Italy," Doug smiled, "she'll be worth a lot of money."

While going over the 'old days', somebody brought up the fact that it was the 25th anniversary of the Cabo Storm. Doug and Mary shocked us by saying, "We were there on our boat." To think we'd all been there and never discussed it previously! What's more, Hilary Hutson, the Solomon's crew during the Banderas Bay Blast, piped in to say that she'd been there at Cabo also. "My husband and I survived that storm aboard our Hunter 36 Safari — and later broke three — count 'em, three! — rudders while on our way to and through the South Pacific. After that cruise, Hutson and her husband did four years of cruising aboard Spirit of Freedom, a Herreshoff 51. "My husband and I got divorced a while back and I no longer have a boat," says the Seattle resident who now works for IBM, "but I still love sailing."

If you're a frugal cruiser, it's good to cruise on a boat that used to race in a class or whose sail dimensions are the same as a popular racing class. That's because racers usually have garages full of sails that are no longer capable of winning on the race course but can still provide years of excellent service as cruising sails. In fact, if anyone out there has a medium to large Cal 40 headsail wasting away in their garage, we know a terrific young woman in the South Pacific who would love to buy it on the cheap. That person would be Liz Clark of Santa Barbara, who is two years into her sailing and surfing safari aboard the Cal 40 Swell. Liz explains:

"I've been ripping more than waves down here in the Tuamotus. I did my first real upwind passage in the trades — 120 miles tacking against 15-25 knots! But during the last 20 miles, I got hit by a 35-kt squall and didn't get my roller furling headsail in fast enough. RIIIIIIIIIIIP! My big headsail got three five-foot horizontal tears. I limped into port using a small jib. I have now repaired the torn sail. It wasn't without getting carpal tunnel in my right thumb and forefinger, plus having a cat pee on the sail, but that's life when you're cruising. The important thing is that I'm in the market for a replacement roller-furling headsail. A new one just isn't in my budget, so I'm wondering if there are any Cal 40 owners in Latitude's readership who would be willing to part with an older but still serviceable Cal 40 roller furling headsail on the cheap. My dad, who lives in San Diego, could pick the sail up, which would then give him the perfect excuse to come out and visit me in the Pacific.

"Anyway," Clark continues, "I'm still in the Tuamotus — shhhh, don't tell Immigration — but I plan to leave for Christmas Island within the week. It's going to be tough to leave this place, as I've got a perfect little coral lagoon anchorage next to the pass where a beautiful right-hander just won't stop breaking. Plus, I've made some awesome friends at one of the pearl farms. But I have to get out of his area, both because of tropical cyclones, and also because of bureaucratic reasons."

If anyone has a Cal 40 headsail that might be a good deal for Liz, they can her by way of Richard.

America's Cup style racing in Cabo? "My wife and I just returned from our first trip to Cabo," writes Ron Lewis, "and while there, I got to spend my 46th birthday sailing on NZL 81 against NZL 82, both of which sailed in the '03 America's Cup campaigns. It was most enjoyable to drive an America's Cup boat into the box, then start, race, and eventually set a 500-sq-meter chute. It's a very cool thing for racers to do. By the way, six years ago for my 40th, Latitude helped my wife set up a sail on America's Cup boats on the Bay. One of these days we hope to return to Cabo — but on our own boat and as part of the Ha-Ha."

When the Ha-Ha boats finally got settled in the Outer Anchorage in Cabo this November, we were shocked to see the two America's Cup boats race through part of the tightly-packed fleet. But they did a nice job. In addition to the two America's Cup boats in Cabo, the same company — Puerto Vallarta Adventures — is running two other America's Cup boats in Puerto Vallarta. All things being equal, the sailing would probably be more exciting out of Puerto Vallarta, as the wind is more consistent on Banderas Bay then in Cabo.

"We spent Christmas at Tenacatita Bay anchored several hundred yards from the super-duper mega motoryacht Kogo," reports Bill Vaccaro of the Napa and Nuevo Vallarta-based Moody 44 Miela. "The accompanying photo shows how nicely Miela fits in with Kogo and Piano Bar, the other mega motoryacht in the bay. The folks on Kogo seemed to enjoy her numerous jet skis, ski boats, kayaks and other water toys. Kogo is rumored to have 26 crew, while we on humble Miela were limited to Captain Memo, that's me, First Mate Karen, and guest Barbara. I'm certain that the three of us had as much fun — if not more — than the folks on the big yachts.

For the record, Kogo is a 236-footer that was built in France in '06, while Piano Bar was built in Italy way back in '82. We at Latitude have to admit that we're not fans of these mega motoryachts, which have huge carbon footprints and represent greatly disproportionate consumption of natural resources by a very few. Unfortunately, such mega motoryachts are exploding in popularity, and while they were once primarily found in the Med and the Caribbean, are now showing up in greater numbers in Mexico.

"I'm happy to report," Vaccaro continues, "that we've now got wi-fi available at the lagoon in Barra and at the library in the local school. The service is coming from John Noller and Vickie McMullen's house — they also own the Back Cove 29 Low Maintenance — in Colamilla. Steve Anderson, who is on an Amel Super Maramu with his wife Lisa, and Terry Fahey, who is on the Peterson 44 Tenacity with his wife Vicky, did the electrical work. Bill Finkelstein, who is on the Valiant 50 Raptor Dance with Mary Mack, brought the donated computers back to life and configured the system. I donated the equipment. John allows access to the wi-fi system for up to 30 days for a donation of 300 pesos — about $30 — to the local school."

What happens when you complete a six-year circumnavigation and don't live on your boat anymore? In the case of Larry Jacobsen and Ken Smith, who did a six-year go-around aboard their San Francisco-based Stevens 50 Julia, Jacobsen says they "don't see the night anymore." We'll let him explain.

"People ask if Ken and I are sad to be home, and if we miss all the far away places. Actually, we love being home. We did look at other places to settle, and seriously considered Auckland, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Lausanne, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. We also rented apartments in London, Paris, and Amsterdam, and had lots of fun living in those places as if they were our home. But we've now landed back in San Francisco, and it tops the list. Our apartment has two bedrooms, two baths, and is quite spacious. We have a big two-door refrigerator with an ice machine in the door, spacious closets — two things we would have loved to have while living on the boat. Ken is working in tech, while I spend half my time putting things away and the other half in a feeble attempt to write a book about our travels. But the other night I awoke at 2 a.m. to raid the refrigerator, and on my short walk to the kitchen, noticed a big bright light coming into the apartment. I looked out to see the full moon shining in a clear, warm sky. It was quite beautiful, and reminded me of the many moonlit nights on our circumnavigation, and how much more aware of the night we were then. At sea, and even at anchor, we often awoke several times each night to check on things, and would see the night, moonlit or dark. Living in our apartment, we go to sleep in the evening and awake in the morning — and don't see it anymore."

As we're currently living on the hook off Gustavia, and getting up at least once most nights, we know exactly what Jacobsen is talking about. When you live in the city, you're out of touch with not just the night, but almost all of nature. When you're living on a boat — particularly in the tropics when it's warm even in the wee hours — you're totally in touch with nature, and the nights become something very special.

By the way, as Julia is fully equipped for cruising, and Jacobsen and Smith are no longer cruising, they have put her up for sale. You can finding a listing for their Stevens 50 in the Classy pages of Latitude.

Grid and bear it! Having not exactly enjoyed the 35 feet of snowfall they endured last winter while caretaking the Baranof Wilderness Lodge in Warm Springs, Alaska, Rick and Jen Fleischman, who charter their Catalina 50 Bob in Alaskan waters during the summer, have opted to spend this winter at their 742 sq ft 'condo nasty' in more cosmopolitan — population 8,000 — Sitka. Nonetheless, with the season not that far away, they're going to have to start thinking about putting Bob on the grid again to do her bottom. "Sitka has a tide grid available where you can bring a boat in at high tide and tie off," writes Rick. "If you’re lucky, the boat will not fall over or off the grid as the tide drops."

That gives rise to our cruising question of the month. How you ever 'hauled' your boat on a grid, and have you ever had bad luck doing it?

"I've been meaning to write, but the lazy life here in La Paz after the Ha-Ha has really slowed me down," reports Bill Crysler of the Powell River-based Islander 36 Contigo. "You'll remember me as the skipper with the leaky boat. I was constantly amazed at the Poobah and Assistant Poobah's ability to keep 150 skippers and 600 personalities in check over the course of the last Ha-Ha, and to do it with professionalism, competence, and especially humor. Your commitment to ensuring everyone was safe and having fun came through in every moment. It was a very special time in people's lives, so thanks for making it all happen. Contigo is sound and carrying me safely around the Sea of Cortez, and the haul-out facilities in La Paz were excellent. Once I return to British Columbia, I hope to prepare a new and larger boat for a world cruise, so when I set out you may have me in another Ha-Ha. I'll try not to be so much trouble next time."

Thanks for the very kind words, and you were no trouble at all. In fact, we can't recall anybody ever being in such a good humor while his boat was so consistently taking on water. We look forward to Ha-Ha-ing with you again.

Last call! Did you hear the story of Alan Thompson, the 61-year-old Brit singlehander who fell and broke his pelvis while mid-Atlantic on his just-purchased Hunter Legend 37 Padolu? The poor bloke couldn't reach any rescue services by radio — he probably hadn't read our Idiot's Guide to SSB in our October '07 edition— so he used his satphone to call a number he remembered — that of his local pub in West Sussex. His call was answered by his friend Roger Pocock, who alerted the Falmouth Coast Guard, which worked out a rescue plan with the U.S. Coast Guard. Thompson was ultimately rescued by a diverted ship 600 miles off Bermuda, but had to abandon his boat. "It was very sad," says Pocock, "as sailing was his life."

By the way, what frequency would you use to call the Coast Guard if you got into trouble in the middle of the Atlantic or the middle of the Pacific? If you said 2182, your need to go back and read our Idiot's Guide To SSB Radio, because 2182 will almost certainly get you nothing. Thompson's story is also further evidence of the greater role satphones are playing in coastal and mid-ocean rescues.

"We spent the holidays aboard our Morrelli & Melvin 52 cat Adagio on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where our daughter and her family live," report Dorothy and Steve Darden, former residents of Tiburon. "Tomorrow we fly to Hobart, Tasmania, for three months in the southern hemisphere summer. After launching our boat in New Zealand, we spent several very enjoyable seasons in Tasmania. But come May, we'll be taking our boat back to Alaska for several months of cruising pleasure. All is well with us!

"We took time out for the last two months to rebuild our cruising kitty," report Bob Steadman and Kaye Nottbusch of the Marina del Rey-based Cascade 36 Bettie, which is currently in Guatemala's Rio Dulce. "Bob was on a movie in Morocco, while Kaye was with the opera in Los Angeles. We did Christmas with family in the States, during which time we also got a distributor for our cruising movie, and took care of financial and medical stuff. We’ll be on a plane in a few days for Guatemala to start the fourth year of our cruise."

What was that? A couple of months ago, Steve and Lili Wolfson of the Texas-based Hans Christian 48 Liward were sailing near Martinique when Lili noticed that the boat had sped up from seven knots to an astonishing, for a Hans Christian 48, 10 knots. Then she and husband Steve heard a distinct thumping sound, almost as though they'd gotten something wrapped around their prop. If anybody could figure the cause, you'd think it would be these two, because Steve was a tech guy for Shell for 20 years, and Lili, a genuine rocket scientist was about as high up in NASA as you could get. But they were stumped. They were further stumped when they stopped in Martinique and the crew of another cruising boat said the thumping on their boat had been so bad they jumped overboard to try and find the cause. The answer came in the next day's paper — an earthquake just north of Martinique that registered 7+ on the Richter scale! How that caused Liward to speed up and the thumping sounds is still unclear.

Earlier in Changes we wrote about how folks can cruise on very little money. We don't want to give anyone the impression that everybody does, because they don't. In fact, more than a few cruising couples spend a lot of money. We're not going to mention any names, but a couple of friends of ours admitted, "Our budget is $7,000 a month, but somehow we've managed to spend $10,000 a month for the last two years. Our cruising friends tell us that we're spending money like we're on vacation — full time rental car and all that — instead of cruising, but we worked hard all our lives, and we're enjoying ourselves." Are they ever!

Missing the pictures? See the February 2008 eBook!


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