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February 2010

Missing the pictures? See the February 2010 eBook!

 With reports this month from Jake on an explosive New Year's at Las Hadas; from Brent 'No Fixed Address' McInnes on the ex-pat cruising life in Thailand; from Reflections on nine years and 36,000 miles into a circumnavigation; from Escapade on approaching and transiting the Canal; from Adagio on a return to New Zealand where she was built; from Swell in French Polynesia on Liz Clark's continuing trials and tribulations; and Cruise Notes.

Jake — Hunter Legend 45
Jake and Sharon Howard
Fireworks At Los Hadas
(Seattle, WA)

We had an interesting New Year's Eve experience while anchored off the resort hotels at Las Hadas. A Mexican Navy go-fast gunboat came by at 10 pm and made the three boats anchored between us and the beach move. They said the boats were going to be too close to the midnight fireworks. That left us front and center for the fireworks show.

At 11:30 pm, a panga anchored about 50 feet off our bow. We couldn’t help but notice that it was overflowing with rocket and fireworks launchers. As this is our third season cruising in Mexico, I figured that a Mexican fireworks display may not be an exact science, so I decided it was best to be prepared. I came out on deck armed with an oven glove on each hand ready to pick-up any burning debris that might come our way.

At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks went off from two locations on the beach, and — you guessed it — from the panga just off our bow. Suddenly it was as if we were in the middle of a 'shock and awe' demonstration over Baghdad, combined with a fireworks factory going off. We were surrounded by deafening explosions, and debris rained down everywhere. It appears that the navy had been off in calculating a safe distance from the action.

Fortunately, it only lasted for about 10 minutes. I was amazed to find no holes in our bimini or dodger, and surprised to find that the dinghy had not exploded. In the light of the next day, we found cinders all over the deck, but luckily no damage. It turned out to be the most spectacular fireworks display we have ever seen — and just another day in the cruising lifestyle in Mexico.

— jake 01/05/10

No Fixed Address
Brent McInnes
Phuket, Thailand
(Terrigal, Australia)

Thailand is the land of ex-pat sailors for a number of good reasons. It's got a tropical climate and lots of beautiful beaches and places to anchor for free. The cost of living is very low, because food is cheap and booze can be purchased duty-free in Muslim Langkawi, Malaysia, just 130 miles away. And if you're a lonely guy, you can find an attractive young Thai 'girlfriend' in about 10 minutes on any night of the week. Even if you're 80 years old.

But when it comes to the likes of Brent McInnes, an Aussie who has spent the last nine years in Thailand, there's something else even more appealing about the country. "Thailand is a 'can' country. You can do pretty much whatever you like as long as you are respectful. Being respectful means never even suggesting anything bad about the king or the monarchy, and making sure your paperwork is in order. Thailand is a lot different from 'cannot countries' such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. People are supposed to be freer in those places, but there are always reasons that you can't do things."

One of the things that McInnes could do in Thailand is move into squatters' digs at the edge of the water at Chalong Bay, the main anchorage in southern Phuket, and found the Phuket Cruising Club in the adjacent building. The clubhouse is about 15 feet by 30 feet, with a small bar, some couches, an internet connection, a porch overlooking the water, and inflatables beached on the sand. Beer sells for 50 baht, which is about $1.50. The fact that it's rather unkempt doesn't keep it from being popular with other ex-pat sailors and cruisers passing through on their way around the world.

The very casual nature of the club is another draw for ex-pats, who generally don't like to be told what they can and cannot do. "When we have races," laughs McInnes, "we don't have handicaps or finish lines, we just have fun sailing our boats."

As befits a founder of a yacht club, the friendly and jovial McInnes has three boats, having recently sold his catamaran No Fixed Address. One is a Donzi fast powerboat, another is a sportfishing boat. McInnes charters both of them out. The third is a Privilege 48 catamaran that comes with a bit of a story.

"She was stolen six years ago in the Caribbean and sailed to Thailand," explains McInnes. "On the way here, the thief got her some papers from a similar size boat, and she was put into charter service here. Well, one day this insurance broker looked out his window at Patong Bay here on Phuket, saw the cat on the hook, and wondered if it couldn't possibly be the cat that had been stolen from the Caribbean. He got onto the cat under the pretense that he was thinking about chartering her, at which time he confirmed she was the stolen boat. The guy was thrown in jail and the boat seized and put on the hard at Phuket Boat Lagoon."

McInnes says he's put up the money to buy the boat and the paperwork will shortly be completed, releasing the boat to him. For some reason we get the idea that "shortly" in Thailand is the same as "mañana" in Mexico — some indeterminate time in the future. But McInnes doesn't seem to be in a particular hurry.

"The cat's exterior is an absolute mess, and the mainsail needs to be washed in a swimming pool," he admits. "But the boat's interior isn't bad, and she's only got 375 hours on her engines. I've got a crew of workers and we'll get her all fixed up." She sounds like the perfect ex-pat project.

Thailand likes to portray itself as the "Land of Smiles." We didn't get that impression on Phuket, which we found to be an unpleasant mess from a lack of planning and too many Thais trying to extract money from too many tourists. Indeed, Phuket struck us as being the 'Island of Weasels'. The locals may not outright lie to you, but for Buddhists they seem to have an estranged relationship with the truth. Further, for a Land of Smiles, the tuk-tuk drivers not only have a mafia-like stranglehold on island transportation, but based on reports in the local press, they enforce it through regular violent disputes with customers and drivers of other vehicles. All this, combined with the ubiquitous reminders to never leave any valuables out of one's sight, led us to ask McInn about security and safety in Phuket.

"You sure don't want to buy a condo from the Thais," he laughed, "but the Thai people are pretty honest, so hardly anybody locks them up. From time to time some cruiser will report that his dinghy was stolen, but when we look into it, it is almost always the case that the guy didn't know how to tie a knot when he was drunk. To show you how much I trust the Thais, I leave the keys in the ignition of my anchored-out Donzi."

As we looked up and down the beach at Chalong Bay — which is unexpectedly littered with garbage thrown about and not picked up — we saw that indeed only a small percentage of cruisers had locked their inflatables. As for walking about day or night, Phuket seemed very safe.

What's the biggest change McInnes has seen since he arrived? "There are now twice as many cruising boats anchored in Chalong Bay as there were when I arrived nine years ago." In other words, the number of ex-pat cruisers in Thailand just keeps growng.

— latitude 01/10/10

Reflections — Perry 47
Max Young
After 36,000 Miles

After nine years and 36,000 miles, my boat and I are back in the United States — albeit on the East Coast. I left San Francisco in May of '00, and have had an amazing cruise to date. I would do it again, pirates and all.

When it came time to cross the Atlantic last June, I decided that I wanted to go straight from Gibraltar to Bermuda, and that I wanted to do it singlehanded. I figured that less crew would mean fewer demands on my energy. I'm really pleased to have done the passage solo, as it was one of my most enjoyable legs to date.

I stopped at Madeira, one of the most beautiful islands I've ever seen. It was also a great place to reprovision, and the people were just wonderful.

I'd been told that crossing the Atlantic in June and July wasn't a very good idea because there wouldn't be any wind. So I loaded up with fuel in Madeira, figuring that I'd sail when I could, and would motor the rest of the way. Well, I had 10 straight days of no wind! I'd never seen the ocean as flat as that. I was already running low on fuel when I was still 1,200 miles to the east of Bermuda. Luckily, a Polish ship came by, and I asked the captain if he'd like to trade some diesel for booze. The diesel he gave me looked like used oil — very black. When I asked him if he was sure that I could burn it in my Ford Lehman, he told me not to worry. Easy for him to say. But, in fact, it was great. Indeed, the engine ran cooler than normal!

The entrance to St. George Bay, Bermuda, is not for the faint of heart. But Bermuda turned out to be more beautiful than I expected. And more expensive, too. When I went to top off my tanks, I asked the fuel dock manager how much it would be per gallon. "Four dollars," he said. I was a little shocked, having only paid $3 a gallon in Madeira. But then the manager finished his sentence. "Four dollars per liter." That's more than $15/gallon!

Fortunately, it was only 640 more miles to the East Coast, so I figured I only needed 80 more gallons. Nonetheless, I had to pay the guy $1,200! Having done that, I decided to have dinner on the hook instead of at a restaurant.

I really loved my cruise, but it was not without its challenges. No truer words were spoken when cruising was defined as 'fixing things in exotic places'. And when you visit Customs and Immigration, it's best to bring some extra cash with you. This is especially true in Thailand, Turkey, Indonesia, Tonga, Yemen and, worst of all, Egypt.

Not counting the boat, which I purchased in '85, my cruise cost me a total — everything, including flights to and from the boat — of $220,000 for nine years. It was money well spent.

In the June Latitude, the editor wrote the following in response to a letter: "The path to happiness is paved with interesting experiences, not things." I wrote that on a sticky note and put it on my world map because no truer words were ever spoken. America is in a shithole because all those bankers and Wall Street types think they can find happiness in things. I could have more things if I had not circumnavigated the world — well, almost circumnavigated, I'm still on the wrong coast and have more exploring to do — but wouldn't have had it any other way.

Another challenge to multi-year cruising is finding good crew. I got some of my crew through the internet, and was usually successful in finding good and fun-loving crew. But not always. A couple of years ago I had one woman who I wouldn't even want to cross the Bay with as fellow passenger on the Sausalito ferry. She was so totally unprepared, and had no idea what it took to crew on a boat making an ocean passage. But I haven't met one captain/owner who has not had to deal with at least one totally unqualified crewmember.

For instance, this crewmember was so afraid to be on watch that she insisted that somebody stand watch with her — even during the day. I have only four rules on my boat, and go over them fully before we leave the dock. The rules are as follows: 1) Eyes on the water at all times, so no reading books while on watch. 2) Do not change course without checking with me first, although it's all right to dodge things. 3) Do not add sail area without checking with me or one of my experienced crew. 4) In an emergency, do what I say, even if you think it's wrong. Ask questions later.

The fourth rule saved my life and that of my crewmembers when we were the victims of a pirate attack off Indonesia. Thanks to a crewmember who had sailed with me before, and did what he was told without hesitation, we survived. But why is it the least competent crew are the ones to ask the most questions and be the most argumentative in emergency situations? I'm not saying that I'm a perfect captain or have never made mistakes, but I am saying that in emergency situations, the crew can't be second-guessing the captain. And that's what happened in the case of my problem crew.

In my nine years of cruising to date, I've had 52 crewmembers, split about evenly between friends and people I met via the internet. I have had to remove two of the internet crew from my boat, including the one mentioned above. I later learned she had been previously removed from another cruising boat, so it was my fault in the sense I didn't do a better job of vetting her.

After my bad experiences, I became much more thorough in checking out my crew from the internet, and required at least three references. It took months of emails to get to know them by asking about their travels, sailing experience, and education. But what a difference it made! The next year my crew all came from the internet, and they were all exceptional. In fact, two who met while crewing for me got married a couple of months later.

But I can't emphasize enough the need to thoroughly check out your crew and their references before going offshore with them.

P.S. Mark and Debbie Menagh of the Passport 51 Eagle's Quest, whom the Grand Poobah will surely remember from the first Ha-Ha, are friends of mine. They finally sold their boat in Australia in '07 and moved to Boulder, CO, where they are both working. But they plan to move back to New Zealand or Australia.

— max 12/20/09

Readers — It's important that everyone realize that there can be only one captain on a boat. If a crewmember doesn't respect the captain's skill or judgment, he/she should get off the boat as soon as possible. For there will always be small or big crises that come up, and the time it takes to explain or argue with a crewmember who doesn't know the boat or situation is all the time needed for a crewmember to be seriously hurt or killed and/or the boat be damaged or destroyed.

Escapade — Catana 52 Cat
Greg Dorland, Debbie Macrorie
Transiting the Panama Canal
(Lake Tahoe)

The most important thing to know about sailing to Panama to transit the Canal is to stop in the Las Perlas Islands. There you can find solitude on excruciatingly beautiful beaches — although only at low tide. But because the waters on the Pacific Coast of Panama are so shallow, the tidal range can be up to 23 feet, 10 times of the range on the Caribbean side.

If you get a chance to visit these islands, we particularly recommend that you catch the crescent-shaped beach adjacent to the low-tide isthmus of Isla de Don Bernardo before the Four Seasons transforms this part of Isla Pedro Gonzales into another mega resort. Isla Bartoleme, just north of Isla Contadora, the only densely populated island, nonetheless has as beautiful a day anchorage as one can find. Even the folks from the Survivor television series know where to find a gorgeous spot — the cut between Isla Chapera and Mogu Mogu. It's well-protected, with great swimming in blue-green water, and white sand on both sides of the channel.

We arrived at Panama City on the afternoon of December 12, which was just over a month after the end of the Ha-Ha and three weeks out of Puerto Vallarta. It's a pace that most cruisers wouldn't want to maintain for 2,200 miles. Having been in touch with Canal Agent Pete Stevens of Delfino Maritime Agency since leaving Vallarta, we arrived to find that once the paperwork had been taken care of, there would be no wait to transit the Canal.

The formalities included Stevens' arranging to have a representative of the port captain visit Escapade on a Balboa YC mooring. He was followed by the ACP Admeasurer, who measured the overall length and interior volume of our cat, then filled out the necessary forms for the Panama Canal Authority. We were unaware of the new Panamanian law requiring visiting boats to check in via their web site 48 hours prior to arrival. Presumably Stevens took care of that for us, too, but let this be a heads up to anyone headed this way.

At 7:30 am two days after we arrived, an ACP tender dropped off Robben, a transit advisor who would remain aboard Escapade until we arrived in Colon on the other side of the Canal. Shortly thereafter, our two hired linehandlers — $65 each per day — arrived, giving us the required complement of four linehandlers, me, the captain, and our advisor.

It turned out to be a bit of a tense morning, as there had been some miscommunication between Stevens and the guy who provided the linehandlers. As a result, the two young men didn't come with the four 125-ft lines that are required for a transit and for which we had paid $60 to rent. Once we had finally retrieved the lines, we raced to the Canal to try to catch up with the bulk carrier we were to lock up with. Robben was on the radio with ACP, which informed us that if we were late, we wouldn't be able to lock up until 10:30 am. That would mean we'd have to spend the night at Lake Gatun halfway through the Canal, and therefore not be able to lock down until the following morning. But our luck was good, and we arrived at the first of the Miraflores Locks just as the bulk carrier was settled in and the two tugs were rafting to the wall. Ten more minutes and it would have meant an added day for us — plus a $440 fine for not transiting in one day.

Time is money to the ACP, and they don’t wait for pleasure craft, which contribute almost nothing to their revenues. Having said that, thanks to the plunge in the world economy, business is slow for the Canal. Eighteen months ago, we might have had to wait up to six weeks to transit the Canal!

Given a choice, we elected to go through the locks 'center chamber', which in busier times could have caused us to have to wait even longer. The alternative of rafting to a tug might have been satisfactory, but if we didn't choose center chamber, there was a chance we would be forced to be the center boat in a three-boat raft-up. The ACP puts catamarans in the middle because of their superior manueverability. With the very high freeboard of our Catana, our topsides surely would have been damaged when the rafted boats danced around in the prop wash of the ship in front of us and the water pouring into the locks. A few years back, a friend of mine had his 80-ft power cat slammed into the lock's cement walls as a result of two tugs churning the waters on their way out of a lock. We didn't want that.

Locking down is typically a less dangerous process because small boats are normally placed in front of ships, the opposite of what's done when locking up, and there is no water pouring into the locks. They just pull the plug and the water peacefully drains out.

There were two things I found particularly interesting about the Canal. First, there are no pumps used to fill the locks with water. Brilliantly, it just flows down by gravity from the lake. Second, in dry years the ACP has to minimize the number of times they allow the locks to open and close because they run short of water. Each transit uses 52 million gallons of water, no matter if a big ship or a Cal 20 is making a transit.

One thing we really appreciated was the extremely helpful and welcoming manner of all the Panamanian officials. Apparently, this is the work of Ruben Blades, a "thinking man's salsa megastar" who once drew 18% of the vote in a presidential election, but more recently accepted the position as Minister of Tourism. An extremely popular figure in Panama and Latin America, Blades has managed to instill in officials and much of the population the need to welcome visitors and treat them with respect. This is kind of ironic from a guy whose biggest hit has been Pedro Navaja, a Mack the Knife-inspired song about a neighborhood thug who appears to die during a robbery.

But from the port captain down to multiple ACP officials, we were told that it was their pleasure to have served us. It was the same with Robben, our advisor, who helped guide Escapade through turbulent waters with a great sense of humor and coaching. And all the while he answered our many questions about building and operating the Canal, and even raising cattle in Panama.

We left Escapade tied to the dock in secure, safe — and expensive — Shelter Bay Marina in Cristobal while we flew home to the snow to remind us of what we'd been missing.

­— greg 12/20/09

Adagio — M&M 52 Cat
Steve and Dorothy Darden
Back In New Zealand
(Tasmania / ex-Tiburon)

We're back in summery New Zealand — five and one-half years and two Pacific crossings since we last sailed out of the Bay of Islands in June '04, when we were bound for Tahiti, Hawaii and Alaska. We’ve just anchored in Pomare Bay in front of our former home on Te Wahapu, and are kicking up our heels to be sharing anchorages again with our many dear friends.

It's been a busy year for us. We celebrated the '08 holidays with our extended family in California, then flew to Tasmania — which we love — for their Summer Festival, the Australia Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart, the Australian TROPFEST film festival, and the Folk Music Festival and more. March found us back in the Bay Area watching Adagio get a new bottom at the Napa Valley Boatyard. The views of the surrounding vineyards from the decks of Adagio were wonderful. We did some sailing on San Francisco Bay, but not enough. San Francisco Bay is certainly one of the finest sailing venues on the planet.

By the end of June, Adagio was provisioned for our trip to Hawaii with Shaun Peck of Victoria along as crew. We sailed beneath the Gate on June 30 with our daughter and grandchildren watching us on the Exploratorium webcam. We arrived in Honolulu on July 12 after a comfortable and fun passage.

About two weeks later, we were joined by Leo Foley, commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Tasmania, and Penelope and George Curtis of Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. After 23 days at sea, we arrived at New Caledonia. We seem to have partied all the way! With such good and plentiful company aboard, the watches were short. We enjoyed showing our crew our favorite places in New Caledonia, even visiting our friends Cleo and Albert in the Isle of Pines.

We enjoyed cruising New Caledonia through August, and in September circumnavigated New Caledonia’s Grand Terre or 'big island'. We believe that the best way to see New Caledonia is by boat, as the coastal areas are very beautiful, and the coastal towns are as varied as the scenery.

In October we were joined by Australian friends Ian and Andrew, who would be a big help in preparing the boat for the passage and repairing the few bits we'd broken between San Francisco and New Caledonia. While we waited patiently for good weather for the passage to New Zealand, we spent as much time as we could enjoying the beautiful Isle of Pines — including visits with our local friends, and with new cruising friends aboard other boats lucky enough to make it to Ile des Pins.

We sailed out of New Caledonia on October 31, Halloween, and arrived in New Zealand on November 6. The headseas were bumpy for the first couple of days, but it was comfortable after that. We had a week to show Ian and Andrew around the Bay of Islands before they returned to Australia. After that, marine businesses in the Bay of Islands entertained cruisers as they arrived from numerous islands in the South Pacific. We met cruisers from many different countries, and spent many enjoyable social hours getting to know them.

As you can probably tell, we're just a 'box of fluffy ducks' being back in enZed, where Adagio was launched nine years ago. We have begun exploring the islands of Urpukapuka, Moturua, Roberton, and the Te Pahi Islands, finding good beaches, coves, caves, hiking trails and fishing spots to show to our grandchildren when they arrive on December 23 for a 10-day visit. Stay well everyone!

— steve and dorothy 01/10/10

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
Trials and Tribulations
(Santa Barbara)

After months away, I was back aboard Swell in French Polynesia on November 15, eager to get my ship back in order. My first task was to haul all the cushions and pillows out into the sun and start on nine loads of laundry. The rats that had moved aboard during my absence had pooped and peed on everything! Then I continued with other tasks. By dusk, I needed a long swim in the ocean to rinse the sweat away. I spent the night on a pool mat in the cockpit, not wanting to sleep with the rat finks that I could hear tinkering inside my Swell.

The next day all the workers returned to work at the yard, and I got a warm welcome — and a big shock. Sylvain, my long time friend and helper, no longer worked at the yard. He'd put in his five years of work there in order to buy a larger boat to complete his circumnavigation, and the time had come for him to move on. Who was going to help me fix the leak beneath Swell's engine that had been causing me so much grief?

I had to settle for the new guy, Laurent, a small but sturdy Frenchman in his 50s with hair like Einstein's. A rather cold person, he spoke too quickly for me to understand. After one hour, he was sure that we couldn't find the source of the leak from the outside. I spent a forlorn night. For not only was the help of my old friend Sylvain out of the picture, but it rained, which meant I had to sleep down below with the rats. Ugh!

The next day Sylvain just happened to wander by, and I explained my predicament. He told me that he would help diagnose the problem, but Laurent would have to make the actual repair. Deal! We pulled off the companionway steps, and I showed Sylvain where the water could be seen coming into the bilge. He then went under the boat and put a pressurized water hose to the cutlass bearing area. The leak immediately erupted inside the boat like Old Faithful! There were cheers and high-fives in the pouring rain, for the first step in any cure is a good diagnosis of the problem.

As I happily climbed up the companionway steps, two beady eyes were staring at me from rat trap #1 that I had set out. Rat #1 was dead! I said a little prayer for him, then sent him to sea on his little wooden trap/ship.

For the next three days it rained. Thanks to the help of Taputu, I at least got my outboard down from the boat and into the shop. It hadn't been running right, but only because of a loose screw in the carburator. At least I had my sea wheels again!

After a day of cleaning rat poop out of the forward part of the boat, I discovered new poops. What, another rat?! I baited another rat trap with peanut butter. Then I carefully hung my precious bag of Trader Joe's walnuts from the overhead. Surely they'd be safe up there.

Dream on. The next day I discovered that the rat or rats had licked all the peanut butter off the trap withut getting caught. And somehow managed to get to and eat all my Trader Joe yummies. That did it, I would show them no mercey from then on.

It quickly seemed as though I had never left the yard. Taputu was as helpful as ever, there were midday lunches with the crew, it was midsummer in the southern hemisphere and therefore blazingly hot, and I climbed up and down Swell's ladder so many times that my feet ached. And how could I forget all the obligatory French kiss-kiss greetings on the cheeks?

A boatyard seems like a rather cruel place to uphold this greeting ritual, as 90% of the time people are sweaty and/or covered with some sort of toxin. I’d much rather just smile and say bonjour, skipping the kisses. And I’ve learned long ago that there are the normal greeting kissers, with whom there is hardly any skin-to-skin contact, and then there are the others, who take the cordial French custom into something creepy. The latter greetings are usually given by older male sailors, and the boatyard was crawling with them in November and December.

Laurent came up with two options for making Swell watertight again. Option A was for me to grind and chisel away at the bad glass, and then clean the holes in the tube, then glass over it all. The more complicated and expensive option would be to replace the entire bronze tube where the propeller shaft exited the hull. This would mean dropping the rudder, removing the shaft, lifting out the engine, and basically having a demolition derby on the aft part of the keel.

If the holes that we could see in the glass and the tube were the only source of water getting into the bilge, Option A should work. In theory, at least. So we went for it, and hoped for the best.

After all the glass work was done, all that was needed was to slap on another coat of bottom paint. But this was French Polynesia, so there wouldn't be any blue bottom paint on the island until the following week. But there were always other chores to keep me busy, including the battle with the rats. For each morning I’d find a new trail of munched and pooped-on items.

Up until that point, the rats hadn't eaten through any of Swell's wiring — at least that I was aware of. But as they continued to find and consume edibles, I began to worry that they'd start in on Swell's vitals. While I certainly had no interest in sharing a home with them, over time I came to admire them for being so crafty. I was awed by how they could evade the traps, and how they seemed to have no trouble gaining access to the most impossible locations.

After hearing a thud while working on Swell late one night, I finally realized that the rats were getting on the boat via the roof of the boatyard garage. It was infuriating. I thought about resorting to poison, but decided against it. Sticky traps seemed too cruel. Lke Bill Murray with his Caddyshack gophers, I had to get into the mind of the rat. I finally decided to tie the cashew bait to the rat trap with thread before putting the spring-loaded arm into place. And I carefully whipped the thread around the metal piece that engages the trap so that the rats would have to tug on it, thereby setting off the trap.

I first employed the plan on a Friday afternoon when everyone gathers at the garage to drink a Hinano or two. After an hour of hanging with the crew, I climbed up the ladder to see that my rat victim #3 was in the trap. I reset the trap with a new threaded cashew and rejoined the party. After another hour passed, I came back to find victims #4 and #5! It was clear that I had murdered four teenage rats and their mother, the last being decidly bigger than the others. I could hardly live with myself for having killed these living things, but what else could I have done?

With some blue bottom paint back on the island, I slapped it on Swell's bottom and we were ready to launch. Once in the water, I carefully checked Swell's bilge — and there wasn't a drop! You can't imagine the relief! Not only that, a friend came by and managed to remove a winch handle that had been stuck in the roller furling for over a year. Yes, things seemed to be looking up.

But you just can't trust happiness.

As I put the inside of my boat back in order, I could have sworn that my box of tea on the table hadn't been munched on previously. After I saw more clues, it was clear that there was another rodent aboard. I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least Swell was floating.

But soon I was to discover that the decade hadn't ended well for me after all. For after a while, I heard the bilge pump suck air, which wasn't a good sign. After I lifted the floorboards, I saw to my horror that there were five to six inches of water in the bilge! Option A hadn't worked after all. My mind went numb. I slowly pulled off the companionway steps and looked at the traditional source of the leak, dreading what I thought I would see. My worst fears were realized, as there was saltwater trickling in from the same old place. It was soon joined by tears from my eyes. I couldn't believe Swell was still leaking!

The news soon spread through the yard. People patted me on the back or gave a nod of sympathy. It appeared that complicated and expensive Option B would be the only solution. But I mentally wasn't ready to take Swell out of the water again. Not right away. Besides, the yard was going to close for the Christmas break in just a week. I went back to Swell and curled up in a wad under the fan.

That evening, Jacques, the owner of the yard, who rarely converses with the clients, stopped me as I climbed off Swell and onto the dock. My eyes were swollen. I felt fragile and forlorn. He took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “Don’t worry, okay?" he said. "Take a break for the holidays, make a tour of the islands to forget about this for a while. I’ll clear it up with Customs and you can start again after the new year.”

“Okay,” I sniffled. “A little break will help. I just can’t bear the thought of starting again tomorrow. Thank you."

Here's to hoping that the old decade ended a little better for all of you, and that the new one is better to Swell.

— liz 12/20/09

Cruise Notes:

Have all the Singlar Marinas in Mexico — there are 11 of them — been sold?

"It's my understanding that all the Fonatur/Singlar marinas have been sold to a single buyer, identity undisclosed, and the deal is expected to be completed in February," writes J. Mills of the Newport Beach-based Catalina 470 Location. And as a consultant to the marina industry, he seems to have some inside knowledge.

"I think it would be a shame if they did sell," he continues, because in my opinion they are among the best-run marinas in Mexico. It took the management a long time to come to grips with the marina business, and the needs and desires of recreational boaters and cruisers, but they have been steadily improving their service. As a result, they have gained greater acceptance from cruisers in the past couple of years. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for these facilities."

By the way, here's Mills' report on the recently opened Singlar Marina at San Blas and San Blas itself: "The new marina is a nice facility, with a pool, laundry, and a small store and seafood restaurant. The marina offers limited shipyard services. It's also just a short walk to downtown San Blas for fresh vegetables and other basic supplies. You won’t find a supermarket or extravagant supplies in San Blas, but the markets are clean and well-stocked with staples. The restaurants and bars around the cathedral square are fun and cheap. If you visit the San Blas Social Club, you’ll find a cadre of local ex-pats filling the bar. The especial there is a shot of reposado tequila and a beer for only 40 pesos."

"While in Cabo, I was helping my friend Dan Peterson of the Vancouver-based Union 36 Tenacious with a battery-alternator problem," reports Donald Klein of the Honolulu and Marina del Rey-based Dufour 39 Passion. "The problem was that the alternator wasn't charging the system because the starter and some other parts had been fried as a result of someone's trying to bypass the internal regulator. We went to an auto shop, which wanted $200 just to get replacement parts! Because the parts were going to have to come from La Paz, it was going to take several days. And then they were going to charge us labor for installing the parts. We decided we'd have an ice cream and think it over. While on the way to the ice cream store, we found this place called Reauto, which is located next to the Olas Hotel in the old part of Cabo. They found a replacement alternator for us, and spent over 30 minutes explaining — in English and Spanish — how to hook it up. The total cost for the brand new alternator, plus external regulator and parts, was only $83. What a deal! I want Latitude readers to know what great service this small establishment provided, as they even called in two gentlemen from the rebuild shop to explain how to re-wire the new alternator with an external regulator. Reauto is located on Revolucion S/N e/Gomez Farias y Fco. Villa. The owner is Idalia Sanchez Travina, and he can be reached at ."

We always like to report on businesses that offer great deals and service to cruisers in foreign waters. If you've had a terrific experience, please share it with Latitude readers.

"We've got some good news and some bad news to report from Club Nautico, Cartagena, Colombia," advise Marelene and Roy Verdery of the Sausalito-based Manta 42 cat Damiana. "First, the bad. In the middle of January we were told that the difficulties that Club Nautico has been having with the city of Cartagena have reached the point that the city is threatening to bulldoze the marina within two weeks! That would be a disaster, as Cartagena is the key stopping point for boats headed east or west across the southern Caribbean, as well as for boats just wanting to hang for a couple of years enjoying Colombia. As an indication of how important the facility is, there are currently over 100 boats at Club Nautico from at least 10 different countries. And after what happened to the Panama Canal YC in Colon — torn down with no notice not long ago — and the Pedro Miguel Boat Club in Panama — closed down over a period of years — all we cruisers are concerned. All this is happening against the backdrop of cruisers feeling really good about being in Colombia, and believing that at long last it's again safe to travel throughout the country. We're just hoping that we're not going to be forced out of the bay by lack of shore access.

"The good news," the Verderys continue, "is that we're really enjoying the good life here in Cartagena. Christmas was especially wonderful, as Tammy Woodmansee, formerly of the Seattle-based Union 36 Secret O' Life, joined us on the sail here from Bocas del Toro, Panama. We had a four-day sail, and arrived in Cartagena on December 22 — just in time to host a Christmas breakfast and dinner on Damiana with friends from our days of cruising in Mexico: Rob and Linda Jones on the Whidby Island-based Gemini 3000 Cat’n About, Rich Crowell and Jan Schwab on the Jacksonville, FL-based Freeport 41 Slip Away; Lilianna and Tom on the San Diego-based Prout Quasar 50 cat Gloriamaris; and Brian and Marilyn on the Vancouver-based Icarian. All of us have enjoyed Cartagena immensely. The Old City is wonderful, the Naval Museum is a treasure trove of history, and we feel very safe walking anywhere in the city. By the way, everyone is warned that they will be running a serious risk of having their dinghy stolen if they leave it in the water with the outboard at night. About one a week is stolen. But there haven't been any problems for those who lift their dinghies out of the water."

"I'm now working in Wellington on a New Zealand government project to improve contracting practices," reports Susanne Ames of the Olympia, WA-based Spindrift 40 cat Cheshire. "In addition to some welcome income, this permits David and me to finally get through the residency process for citizenship. He had to stay up in Whangarei to fix boats, so I'm commuting and Skyping. Long term, we want to keep poking arond this corner of the world, maybe making it as far as Southeast Asia. There are so many places to go, so much to see."

The last time we saw Susanne in person was back in June of '96, when she was working for the state of Washington, but had taken time off to do a two-week cruise of the north coast of Cuba with us aboard our Ocean 71 Big O. Haven't she and David done well! After buying their small cat in England, David sailed her across the Atlantic, and they've subsequently crossed and cruised the Pacific together.

"We're in San Blas right now, continuing to have an incredible time in Mexico that started with the Ha-Ha," reports David Benjamin of the Alameda-based Amel Maramu 48 Exit Strategy. "Today we had a pretty interesting event. We were in the water doing some maintenance, and Jean had a small crab crawl into her ear!"
You've got to watch those crabs, as they love human orifices. But if the crab had to chose one orifice, we suppose an ear wouldn't be the worst one.

"It's been quite a few years, but you may remember me, as I used to own the 72-ft S&S-designed Kialoa II," writes Frank Robben. "Well, Cynthia and I are sailing again, but aboard the Emeryville-based Makani, a Peterson 44. She's much smaller than Kialoa was, but she's still a good ocean boat. We intended to sail her to San Diego, but were delayed by a couple of December cold fronts. No point in beating to Southern California in cold weather. But we hope to be taking off soon."

Off course, we remember you Frank. After all, you did a couple of races to Hawaii with Kialoa, did some Sea of Cortez Sailing weeks in the early '80s, and then did most or all of a circumnavigation. Welcome back into the fold.

"After two months in the yard, during which time we survived a tropical cyclone and finally got our new transmission, we're back in the water," reports Jennifer Sanders of the Long Beach-based 68-ft modern schooner Cocokai. "Everyone is invited to ooh and ahh over Cocokai's lovely topsides paint and name, nice new stainless steel lifelines, new bottom paint, new bench-seating in the salon, and numerous other improvements. I may be biased because I'm the owner, but I think she looks like a new boat. And Greg King of Long Beach — fellow 'Coconut' with me and my daughter Coco — did an amazing job managing all the wayward workers, coordinating all the projects, and preventing mishaps. In addition, he sweated his behind off to complete many projects that couldn't be outsourced. Needless to say, Coco and I were extremely impressed and grateful, as our 'part' of the project was visiting friends and family back in California! The good news is that Fiji is an inexpensive place to get work done, and the exchange rate with the dollar has been terrific. We just provisioned for another six to eight months before heading north to Funifuti, Tuvalu, after which we'll sail to the Marshalls where we'll spend at least one season."

"It was at about 9:15 a.m. that the first message crackled over Channel 22 on Banderas Bay," reports Steve Lannen of the La Cruz-based Beneteau 40.5 Full Quiver. "The message was: 'There appears to be something like a waterspout forming out here beyond the anchorage. Well, maybe not a waterspout, but something that looks like one.' Five minutes later there was a second report: 'There is a well-defined waterspout heading for the La Cruz anchorage, and a second waterspout seems to be forming.' What an awesome sight they were for this California boy who has lived in earthquake country but has never seen a tornado or the waterborne cousin of one. The breakwater of La Cruz was soon packed with people watching as the waterspout — or culebra, meaning 'snake' in Spanish — tore up the surface of the bay as it headed for La Cruz. It lasted for about 15 minutes before — fortunately — dissipating long before it threatened the boats in the La Cruz anchorage and marina."

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Wanderer didn't spend New Year's at St. Barth, our favorite haunt in the Caribbean. It turns out to have been a good year to miss New Year's on the island. According to Tom Reardon, captain of the legendary 1929 Herreschoff 72 Ticonderoga for the last 20 years, there was such a big north swell in the days before New Year's Eve that Port Captain Bruno Greaux ordered all the boats out of the harbor. While this had to be a huge disappointment to all those who had spent hundreds of thousands to charter a boat on the quay for the celebration, the last thing Greaux or any of the captains of the mini megayachts that can fit in the harbor wanted was for the Med-tied boats to spend days on end slamming beam-to-beam, popping fenders the size of linebackers and snapping two-inch docklines. While Reardon says it was a bit of a weird New Year's Eve with the quay empty, the Around the Island Race was held on New Year's Eve as scheduled.

"It was a wet and windy one," says Reardon, who was the mainsheet trimmer on the new 135-ft Hanuman, which is the just launched sistership to Endeavour. Despite the squally conditions, or perhaps because of them, Hanuman had the fastest elapsed time, which is what the Around the Island Race is all about. About 10 years ago, we were the starboard headsail trimmer on the J Class Endeavour for the same race and in similar conditions. It was spooky stuff, what with the huge loads and the enormous walls of whitewater rushing down the decks toward those of us at the winch positions. Those boats were made for controlled America's Cup conditions, not bashing into reinforced Carribean trades.

So where was the Wanderer this New Year's Eve? Siam Reap, Cambodia. If it meant we missed the one-hour concert Beyonce put on at the Nikki Beach Bar for $2 million, put up by Motassim Bilal 'Hannibal' Gaddafi — the fifth son of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi — in front of the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Usher, and Lindsay Lohan, so be it. After all, the coast and islands of Cambodia are said to be the next cool and unspoiled place to cruise in Southeast Asia.

George Deane, who did the '99-'00 Ha-Ha with his Nawiliwili, Kauai-based Norseman 447 Hana Hou, and then sailed her to Kauai in '05, forwarded us an article from the Garden Island newspaper on Kauai that says slip/mooring fees are going to increase around the state. If you're familiar with marina (mis)management as practiced by the State of Hawaii for decades, it won't surprise you that the Small Boat Harbors system has been operating in violation of state law since its inception. The law requires that slip and mooring fees be sufficient to cover the operating costs of the Small Boat Harbors. This has never been the case — which is why many berths at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Honolulu were unuseable for several years. They had no money to keep them from falling apart. Part of the problem was decades of slip fees that were ridiculously below market despite waiting lists of 25 years; another part of the problem was excessive expenses; and none of it was helped by a financially ruinous real estate investment on Maui that didn't pan out. According to the Garden Island article, the state board proposed that temporary mooring fees be raised from about $7 a day to $2/foot/day. In some cases that would have resulted in an increase of about 1000%, and prices of as much $1,200 a month for a mooring — not a slip — at Hanalei Bay during the summer. Realizing that this would be a tad bit much, the board decided to limit the increase to 20% a year for the next five years. That's still not enough to break even and comply with the law, which reportedly would require an increase of nearly $3.50/foot/month for every slip/mooring in Hawaii. The real solution — as has been the case for 30 years — is for the state to get out of the marina business and turn the marinas over to businesses that know what they are doing. By the way, the rates mentioned are just general averages, as the fee structure varies tremendously based on a variety of factors.

Speaking of marina fees in different parts of the world, Phuket Boat Lagoon in Thailand charges about $15/foot/month, with utilities running about 15% more, and there being a 7% tax on both. Multihulls pay 150% of the rate. But there are countless great places to anchor in Thailand, and there are no anchoring fees. About 130 miles to the south at Langkawi, Malaysia, the Kiwi skipper of Planet Surf, an Alex Simonis-designed 50-ft cat that did a lot of surf charters in Indonesia, pays about $500 a month at the Royal Langkawi YC. He said it was the most expensive of the four marinas in Langkawi. You can also anchor out everywhere in Malaysia for free. The slip pricing is a little funny, because while the cost of living in both places is low, it's lower in Malaysia. Both, however, are way more expensive than Vietnam, where a nutritious and delicious bowl of Pho for dinner runs just $1 or $2. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether or not you can cruise in Thailand. In next month's edition, we'll present some opposing opinions.

Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie of the Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade have some good and bad post-Canal news from the San Blas Islands — see page 135. First, the good news: "It's very quiet out here off the Caribbean coast of Panama, and hard to describe how far away this place seems to be. The natural beauty is absolutely stunning. Not quite Seychelles-like unbelievable, but a close second. What makes it really special are the Kuna Indians, who have a unique, unspoiled culture, and the great flat water sailing. Everyone sails everywhere, even if they're only going five miles. The breeze makes the 90+ degree weather very pleasant, and the water refreshing, even though it’s warm enough that you can stay in it all day. But you get a feeling of isolation you don’t get in Mexico or the Eastern Caribbean, and that's very relaxing. Having had lobster two out of the last three nights, and king crab on the intervening night, we had to turn down the divers who offered us lobster for tonight, too. Fortunately, the fruit and vegetable dugout came by this afternoon, and we bought some veggies and two fish for $1 each. Add a little rice, and we've got dinner — right after another swim to shore and a walk around the little island."

So what's their bad news? "If we had two Amazon Kindle readers instead of just one, both of us would read the New York Times when we woke up in the morning." That's right, the New York Times 'delivered' right to your boat, via Kindle, every morning. Hasn't cruising changed?

When we did our November '09 Latitude Interview with Damien McCullough and Deborah Ream of the Costa Mesa-based Celestial 50 Ticket to Ride, they'd made an offer on a boat to replace Ticket, which had all but been bought out from under them. "We went ahead and bought the new boat we'd made an offer on, which is an Antigua 60 designed by Jack Corey," they report. "Only three of them were ever built, and ours was gutted and rebuilt by her owner over a period of 10 years. We’ve already added a Spectra watermaker and Intellian Sat TV, solar panels, a wind generator, and a host of other goodies. We’re working on a stern swim platform. We're in Lauderdale now, but hope to head for the Bahamas in late January. We'll hang out there until June, then come back up the IntraCoastal Waterway for the summer. The following winter, we'll pick up where we left off in the Caribbean."

Peter Goldman of the Marina del Rey-based 30-ft sloop AuntMary sent his friend Jim Milski of the Colorado-based Schionning 49 Sea Level the following 'whale's tale': "Capt Joe, his brother Pete, and his wife Olga, decided to sail from Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa. We were sailing along when a whale surfaced 100 yards in front of us. Cool! We went in for a closer look, and when we got as close as 25 feet, we could see that it was a humpback and something was wrong. When she surfaced to breathe, we could see a fishing net wrapped around her midsection.

We circled the whale for 15 minutes while we formulated a plan. I volunteered to swim to the whale and cut the net. Although the captain said that humpbacks are as docile as dolphins, he didn't like the idea of me being in the water. So I went through the galley drawer looking for the proper knife, and chose a small wood-handled paring knife. I then jumped into the inflatable and rowed over to the whale. She was nervous and went three feet under. I tried to talk to her as calmly as I could while I was floating right over her. Looking straight down at her tail, I knew she could flip me in the dink if she wanted to. But she surfaced right next to me.

With my left hand, I reached for the rope which held the edge of the net together, and with the knife in my right hand, started cutting it. I quickly realized that the net was hundreds of feet long and probably extended to the bottom 220 feet below! So this poor whale had just enough net to allow her to breathe, but could only swim in small circles. As I continued to cut the net and pull parts of it into the dink, there was still a full wrap around the whale's body.

Here is the crazy part. As I was reassuring the whale and pulling on the rope, I felt her completely relax. Her body just rolled over beneath me, allowing the net to unwrap completely! After 30 seconds, she was free! She took off and I never saw her again. I didn't think much of it until later that afternoon. I then thought to myself, "Wow, we saved a whale!"

Missing the pictures? See the February 2010 eBook!


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