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February 2013

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With reports this month from Traveler on crossing the Pacific in the owner's seventh decade; from Ojo Rojo on literally getting snakebit in Mexico; from Interlude on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket; from Dreamcatcher on India's Andaman Islands; from Kailani on crossing from the South Pacific to New Zealand; and Cruise Notes.

Traveler — Roberts 40
Patrick Callahan
The Sailing Dream Continues
(Vallejo YC)

Our friend Patrick has never lost his desire to sail. At age 72, he recently completed a singlehanded trip across the Pacific, demonstrating that you're never too old to start new adventures.

Patrick built his first boat, a trimaran, when he was just a teen growing up in Southern California. He wanted to be able to sail to Catalina. He hasn't stopped sailing or thinking of sailing since.

When in his 40s, Patrick and a lady friend spent a season cruising Mexico aboard his Vega 27. When he returned to California, he started looking for a steel boat. Unable to find what he wanted, he decided to build his own.

The Traveler project started in a field in Santa Rosa when Patrick was in his 50s. Traveler wouldn't be completed until Patrick was in his 60s. But when she was done, he made a trip with crew to Hawaii. After that shakedown, he made a singlehanded voyage to Mag Bay to see the whales. After a year in Ensenada, he took a berth in Ventura.

It was on April 30 of last year that Patrick, then aged 71, set off for the nearly 3,000-mile-distant Marquesas. During his 26-day singlehanded passage he celebrated his 72nd birthday. Cruisers at Nuku Hiva later threw a big party for him.

Patrick continued through the Tuamotus to Tahiti, then Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora. After a 10-day passage, he arrived at Pago Pago, American Samoa. During a squall while on the hook, he was unaware that Traveler was being blown toward shore. Fortunately, Shane Berry of Clover noticed, and was able to alert Patrick and help secure the boat.

Patrick spent five weeks exploring Vava'u and other parts of Tonga before making the long and sometimes dangerous 1,100-mile crossing to New Zealand's Bay of Islands. He arrived just in time to join other cruisers celebrating an American Thanksgiving.

Just because he's crossed the Pacific doesn't mean that Patrick is done cruising. He plans to spend next season cruising Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia before returning to New Zealand.

"Don't let age deter you from following your dream," Patrick advises. That said, he suggests that people don't wait until 71 to begin their long-distance sailing adventures.

"My Monitor self-steering vane," is Patrick's answer to the question of what was his most valuable piece of equipment. "It did 99% of the steering." There were two things he wished he had more of: solar panels and light-air sails. But the lack of those two things won't keep him from sailing, the thing he loves.

— tammie and dale jennings 01/15/13

Ojo Rojo — Columbia 36
Keith Albrecht
Snakebit While On The Hook
(Alamitos Bay, Long Beach)

My husband Keith and I were enjoying after-dinner wine in the cockpit while at anchor at Tenacatita Bay on the night of December 29, feeling as relaxed as could be. It was one of those blissful cruising moments by the light of our battery-powered candles. We were having fun discussing all the places we would be discovering south of Tenacatita — there are so many options! So Keith decided to go below to get our cruising guide to Mexico.

"WTF!!!" was the next thing I heard. "Something bit me!" Keith shouted. "It hurts!"

My husband is no weenie, so my fear quotient jumped a few notches.

Keith said he first thought he'd been bitten by a rat, because a while before I'd mentioned something about rats being able to climb up docklines when boats are tied to docks. But then Keith turned on the light and saw his attacker. It was a long snake! We managed to just catch a glimpse of it before it slithered beneath the stove.

"Holy $#%&&, it's a snake!" I shouted to myself. My first thought was whether it was venomous. Then I saw the blood dripping down the side of Keith's foot, coming from where he'd been bitten near the toe.

"Do I need to suck on his cruddy ole toe to get the venom out?" was my next thought. I didn't want my lips anywhere near his big toe — but then I didn't want to lose my partner in bliss either.

I got on the VHF, and in my best calm voice asked if anyone in the fleet in Tenacatita knew anything about local snakes. I didn't realize that the transmission would reach all the way to the cruising fleet at Barra de Navidad, too.

A woman with a lovely voice responded, asking all the questions I might have asked had I not gone into a 'fight or flight' state of mild panic.

"Is there blood?" she asked.


"Is there any swelling?"

Just a tiny bit.

"Is there pain moving up his leg away from the bite?"


The following day I found out that our Florence Nightingale in Barra was registered nurse Renee Blaul Neal of the San Diego-based Peterson 44 Serendipity. She and her husband Barritt had their radio on, and thankfully were in earshot when I called for help. Renee's knowledge and calm demeanor reassured me that I wouldn't wake up the next morning with a marido muerto in my bunk.

Bill from Beyond Reason also responded very quickly, advising that he had a snakebite kit and would be right over. I'm not sure what horsepower engine his has on his dinghy, but he must have flown over to Ojo Rojo.

Once aboard, Bill began to search for our stowaway serpent. Grabbing an oven mitt from behind the stove, Bill asked for some tongs. With tongs snapping, he became my knight in shining armor.

Bill's wife Lisa assisted by screaming, "Be careful!" from the safely of their dinghy tied alongside our boat. She had a great view of the action through a port in our main salon.

Capturing the angry and desperate snake wasn't easy, as the %$^&*er tried with all his coiling, writhing might to bite and/or squeeze Bill's arm. In fact, all our hearts skipped a beat when Bill had to drop the snake momentarily to keep from being bitten. But Bill grabbed the snake again, at which point Keith pulled the pillowcase off his pillow, and held it open so Bill could drop the viper in. I managed to take a few photos to use for identification, to confirm that the snake wasn't venomous. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was have to open the pillowcase to get another look.
Chris from Legacy also responded to our call, and came over with a reptile book in the hope of making a positive identification. But we had no luck.

The consensus was that the snake wasn't poisonous, and had come from the river estuary in the corner of Tenacatita Bay that Ojo Rojo was anchored closest to. Since our anchor chain was the first dry thing the snake would have encountered, we presume it slithered up the chain, down the forward hatch, onto our bed in the V-berth, then off the bed and into our main salon.

I hate to say it, but I'm glad the snake bit Keith's toe rather than my bare ass. OMG, can you imagine climbing into bed and finding a snake under the covers?

Given the events of the night, I was surprised that I was able to climb into our bunk and immediately fall asleep. My poor hubby Keith wasn't as lucky. He had tied the pillowcase shut and left it on deck — but kept thinking that the snake would somehow be able to squirm out of the case. So after an hour, he got up and put the pillowcase inside a garbage bag, tied it tight, and hung it off the side of Ojo Rojo.

But snakebites play on your mind. After mulling over that solution for an hour, the obviously freaked Keith still wasn't confident his captive snake couldn't escape. So he got back up and wired the bag shut! We were keeping the snake in hopes that a local could identify it in the morning.

Alas, by the time I rolled out of bed the next day, Keith had already sent the snake to the bottom by adding a heavy wrench to the bag and dropping it in the drink. Keith didn't really want to kill the snake (not!), but he realized that if he let it go and it climbed up someone else's anchor chain, we would be blackballed from every anchorage on the coast.

Word about the snakebite traveled quickly, so everybody asked about it on the morning net. I hadn't planned to say anything about it so as not to scare the wives, but there was no containing the story.

Looking back at the incident, it was pretty funny. And I'm sure it was a rare occurrence. But it sure was nice to have the great support of all the wonderful people in the cruising community.

— terry 01/15/13

Readers — If we're not mistaken, Bob Willmann, then of the Islander 37 Viva!, opened a sail bag in Mexico one morning and had a snake slither out. But it was many years ago.

Interlude — Deerfoot 74
Kurt and Katie Braun
New England Summer

This year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary onboard Interlude. Despite our marriage, we joke that Katie is the ‘owner’, who tells the ‘captain’ where she wants to go. Capt Kurt decides if the proposed itinerary is feasible. If it is, he tells Katie, the only crew on the 74-ft boat, what to do.

This year, the premenopausal ‘owner’ decided that she wanted to avoid the tropical heat of the Bahamas by heading up the Eastern seaboard of the United States to Maine, where she could feast on lobster. The captain had his own reasons for wanting to cruise New England. First, we had just completed a nine-month refit in Fort Lauderdale, so a good shakedown near repair facilities in the U.S. seemed prudent. Second, hurricane season was upon us, and the cooler waters north of Cape Cod tend to be safer during the summer than do the warmer waters to the south.

Leaving the Bahamas in early June gave us a head start on the summer crowds of New England, and heading north as directly as weather permitted allowed us to avoid the dreadful heat of the East Coast summers. Weather detoured us to Charlestown, South Carolina, where we had an easy Customs clearance and pleasant one-week visit. Upon leaving, we headed offshore for the 2-4 knot Gulf Stream boost around Cape Hatteras and up the coast to Martha's Vineyard, which is just south of Cape Cod.

It was explorer Bart Gosnold who, in 1602, reportedly named the island Martha's Vineyard after his eldest daughter and the wild grapes that grew on the island. Great Harbour, where the first white settlement was established in 1642, was renamed Edgartown to honor the new Royal heir apparent — who nonetheless died at the tender age of four. Under the leadership of Pastor Thomas Mayhew, the settlers dealt fairly with and respected the indigenous Wampanoag.

In fact, it was after the Wampanoags taught the settlers how to kill and render whales that the Vineyard became the global epicenter of the whaling industry. Whale oil and blubber lubed and fueled the early Industrial Revolution — until petroleum was discovered — and prompted surplus whaling ships to make a one-way trip to San Francisco hauling (18)49ers. The subsequent whale industry depression led to a halt on Martha Vineyard construction and renovation.

The 'Vineyard' was eventually rediscovered by summer holiday makers — including several presidents — and preservationists. Cape Cod-style colonial architecture dominates, with showy structures sporting Greek Revival elements having been commissioned by whaling captains. The seafaring tradition is still strong on the island, with junior sailing camps in full swing using Opti- and 420-class dinghies. The adults are into classic Shields, Herreshoff 12.5s and all manner of gaff-rigged catboats, as well as modern racing sloops. Club races provided a scenic backdrop for our sundowners at many anchorages.

On our first day ashore at the Vineyard, we took advantage of the excellent bus system and rode from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown to see the well-preserved whaling captains’ homes and The Old Whaling Church. Fish & Chips on the Seafood Shanty upstairs deck offered a nice view of the hundreds of yachts in the harbor. Next door we presented ourselves to the friendly staff at The Edgartown YC, who offered us reciprocal privileges.

The return bus via Oak Bluffs allowed a circumambulation of the historical town center, with its quaint shops and Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously operated carousel in the States.

Over 12,000 tenting attendees were attracted to the first annual Methodist Church meeting at Oak Bluffs in 1835. Over the years family campsites evolved into summer cottages with elaborate Victorian scroll-/beadwork and whimsical themes. Today the town is known as a summer resort for many wealthy African Americans — as depicted in the movie The Inkwell — and is sometimes referred to as the 'Black Hamptons'. We were told the megayacht avec helicopter anchored next to us belonged to Oprah Winfrey.

Next we rented bicycles and headed for John Belushi's final resting place: Abel Hill Cemetery near Chilmark. Taking care not to make it our final destination as well, we dodged the trucks and buses on the winding road. After some searching, we found a headstone near the entrance stating: "Here Lies Buried the Body of John Belushi. I may be gone but rock 'n roll lives on." Back aboard ship, we watched the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live.

Stopping at the farmer's market at Grange Hall in West Tisbury, we bought two orchids from a local grower, who was kind enough to deliver them to the bike rental shop. We continued on for a well deserved lunch of New England clam chowder at the rugged beach in Menemsha. This small fishing harbor was immortalized in the movie Jaws, as was as Edgartown, although the latter was referred to as Amity so as not to scare tourists away. That evening the local TV news reported that a great white had been spotted off Chatham, Cape Cod, reminding us that director Steven Spielberg was correct in choosing the area to film Benchley’s novel.

Two consecutive days of bike riding are enough for sailors, so we stretched our legs around Vineyard Haven and special ordered some items from the local West Marine. We dined at the Black Dog Pub, made famous in part by various celebrities who wore their promotional T-shirts. Among the celebrities was President Bill Clinton, who famously purchased items at the pub for the soon-to-be-famous 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

After five nights, we moved our boat to the Edgartown outer harbor to secure a front row seat for the Fourth of July fireworks. We were the first boat there, but within a couple of days our spot off the Chappaquiddick Beach was crowded with dozens of other yachts.

Given the crowds, we employed some alternative touring methods. For example, we dinghied to Cape Pogue Pond with kayak in tow to hike past wild roses on the east coast sand dunes and to watch the local fishermen surf cast. We then employed the kayaks on Poucha Pond. We dinghied past the inner harbor to Katama Bay to gawk at the many stately mansions along the shore. And we took a day-ferry trip from Oak Bluffs to Falmouth on Cape Cod to visit and BBQ with old friends who summer at their lovely home nearby.

The Independence Day festivities started with a quaint small-town parade and consumption of lobster rolls, and concluded with an hour-long fireworks display from a barge a few hundred yards from our boat. But with the Fourth over, the demeanor of the island changed from laid-back locals to hurried hordes of vacationers. It was time to move on.

The Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book is a must for cruising this area due to the numerous shoals and strong currents. Navigation charts were very accurate, so after consulting Eldridge, we decided on a mid-morning departure for the 20-mile trip to the island/town of Nantucket. With as much as three knots of current possible, variable winds, and ubiquitous sand bars, our respect for the whaling captains of old continued to grow. Entering the well-protected harbor, we found most of the anchorage area filled with moorings, so we dropped the hook in the channel leading to the next bay. The price for the cheap seats were strong currents and big-boat wakes.

Over the next four days, we visited the Whaling Museum (reopened in 2005 with a complete sperm whale skeleton), the Old Gaol (jail), the Old Wind Mill (1749) and the Oldest House (1659), and climbed the restored First Congregational Church steeple for a bird’s eye view of the harbor. We also strolled the cobblestone streets, lined with the stately colonial homes of whaling merchants dating from the early 1800s — when the island had the highest per capita income in the world.

With a new lease on life as a summer colony for the very affluent, Nantucket is said to have the highest per capita income on the East Coast of the United States. A 2% transfer tax on all property sales funds a land trust to purchase open space. The open space — now over 50% of the island — is ringed by white beaches and is laced with hiking and biking trails. The overall result is a quaint historic town filled with upscale shops and restaurants, where a 200-year-old cottage in need of major repair sells for $2 million. In addition to the wealthy summer homeowners, thousands of well-heeled 20-somethings swarm the streets or beaches — depending on the weather — for summer fun.

Consulting Eldridge again, we departed Nantucket on July 10 and motored to Butler Hole, through Pollock Rip — you can’t make up names this funny, with Gay Head taking the cake — and around Cape Cod, with one to three knots of current with us the entire way to Provincetown. With boat speeds up to 11 knots at times, the tediousness of dodging thousands of lobster pots for hours was offset by numerous wildlife sightings — including dolphins, whales and seals. Like the Mayflower in 1620, Interlude wound her way around the sweeping spiral of sand dunes at the tip of Cape Cod to drop anchor. Contrary to what we were all taught in grade school, the Pilgrims actually first set foot on Cape Cod. It wasn't until five weeks later that they sailed across the bay to the more protected area that became known as Plymouth. Provincetown’s 252-foot-tall granite edifice commemorating this historic fact, the Pilgrim Monument, offered us a grand 360 view of the area.

Soon after we anchored, a friend of 30 years motored out in his 1950s classic Chris-Craft to bring us a delicious homemade lobster salad. While we lunched on our Lido deck, a boatload of burly men motored by to admire our friend's launch. Apparently we had arrived in P-Town just in time for Bear Week. This is when predominantly overweight, hairy, tattooed gay men, from ‘sugar bears’ to ‘cubs’, mill about, filling every inn, bar, restaurant and fudge parlor in town. As well as having a large resident gay population, P-Town hosts festivals catering to the LGBT community. We had fun browsing the many art galleries and shops, and were lavishly entertained with sumptuous lunches and dinners at the summer homes of old and new friends. With few cars making for enjoyable walking, stunning sand dunes and beaches, we can see why Provincetown has morphed from a Portuguese-American fishing community to a popular summer spot.

Part II, next month.

— kurt & katie 01/15/13

Dreamcatcher — Cal 46
Glenys Henry and Harry Mellegers
The Andaman Islands of India

Our sail from Phuket, Thailand, to India's Andaman Islands took a smidge under 72 hours. It wasn't very comfortable, and there was so little wind that we had to motorsail. The highlight was a lovely escort of dolphins during the second morning. Once we arrived at Port Blair, which is located on South Andaman Island, we entered the world of Indian bureaucracy. As the famous saying goes, 'The Brits invented bureaucracy, but the Indians perfected it." We were soon to find out how true it is.

We dropped the hook at the official entry anchorage at 10 a.m. The first officials to arrive were from the navy, and for some reason there were six of them. They sat in the cockpit and shuffled papers as though they were a pack of cards. Our boat was photographed, our chart table was photographed, our electronic instruments were photographed — even we were photographed! We exchanged papers, there was much rubber stamping, and they finally departed with a handshake.

Customs arrived two hours later. These fellows were a bit wary of us, as we were carrying over the limit of alcohol. We'd heard that customs officers sometimes make pointed requests for gifts of unopened bottles of whiskey — presumably to sell downstream. Customs went through our copious prepared lists of provisions and booze. They did make a request for booze, but we ignored it, and were able to get away without paying a bribe.

Next came Immigration — and we had the same round of questions, paperwork, rubber stamping, and shuffling of paper. Between these official visits we tried to get our dinghy outboard running again. But despite the work we'd had done on it in Phuket, there was still a problem with the fuel supply.

The following day we and the couples on our three buddyboats — Kevan and Sheila of Rusalka, with whom we do the Phang Na Bay regattas in Thailand; Gavin and Carol of Rascal, with whom we do the Raja Muda Regatta in Malaysia; and Charlie and Susie of Smystery, with whom we've done both King's Cups and Phang Na Bay regattas in Thailand — went to visit the harbormaster. There were more meetings, paperwork, and stamping. When the guys went to the bank, we gals hit the market for fresh produce — of which there was plenty.

There was no question that bustling Port Blair, population 100,000, is part of India, as it had everything the rest of the Subcontinent does — the exotic smells, the women in colorful saris, the wandering holy cows and their droppings, and the crazy traffic. Talk about constant honking, wild driving, three-wheel tuk-tuks, and cars that looked like 1956 Rambler Ambassadors! The India-ness of Port Blair filled our senses.

Our first day adventures — including an amazingly inexpensive and delicious dinner at the Emerald Hotel — were aided by a wonderful taxi driver named Ravi. He acted as our guide and concierge. Whatever we wanted, Ravi could get.

Located on a ridge in the Indian Ocean, South Andaman Island is home to many government, administrative and private businesses. But how they get anything done is a mystery, for when we got on computers at an Internet cafe, they were so old they didn't recognize Microsoft Word documents. We had to give up trying to surf — slowly — the Internet. Port Blair is also home to the largest collection of aging and shabby ships that we have ever seen. Our favorite was Warship, which parades around the port announcing that it is a warship. Probably from World War II.

Our first cruise within the Andamans was a 20-mile sail over lovely clear waters to Havelock Island, the most commercial island in the group. Like all of the Andamans, Havelock is very green with a forest of tall trees to the water's edge. It's also dedicated almost entirely to 'resorts' — if you use the term loosely. In reality, they are rustic backpacker facilities, only one or two of which were up to our standards. Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, as the admittedly shabby small town was colorful and home to a great veggie market.

The one downside of the island was a sandbar preceding the site of our dinghy landings, which created three-foot waves. These weren't a bother if you were swimming, and they were a delight if you were surfing. But watch out if you're making a dinghy landing or departure! All but one of the dinghies in our party were pooped and rolled, resulting in everything getting wet. Our dinghy engine, which we'd finally gotten working in Port Blair, took a good dose of saltwater. As a result, we had to row — and eventually be towed — back to our boat.

You would think we'd learn, but we got drenched during departure from shore the next night and the dinghy half filled with water. We had to try to drain it at the water’s edge between waves, as it was too heavy to drag up the beach. It took our soaked and sorry lot a half-hour to sort things out and get underway. Ah, the joys of cruising!

The next day we took the boats around the corner to Laccam Harbor, anchoring among small wooden fishing boats and a couple of industrial ferries. Glenys did go to shore with one of the other dinghies, and had a quick Indian lunch — at a restaurant that had lost its liquor license — overlooking the anchorage. Fortunately, she managed to smuggle in some gin in a water bottle, and topped off the 7-Ups that had been ordered. Drinking is not a big part of the Indian culture, and the government tightly governs the consumption of alcohol. As a result, it's hard for the locals to get liquor, and the few bars that exist are dimly lit rooms that are hidden away — and exude a strong sense of taboo.

On our way from Havelock to Henry Lawrence Island, our group lamented that swimming and snorkeling weren't really an option in the Andamans. The problem is an increasing crocodile population. The natural mangrove habitat of crocodiles had been physically changed after December 2004's tsunami, so the crocs had moved closer to the human settlements. While we hadn't seen any crocs up to that time, we weren't keen on any up-close and personal encounters!

Another serious danger in the Andamans is navigation. Forty thousand people — a staggering 10% of the population — perished in the tsunami, and the shorelines of some islands changed by as much as half a mile. According to the current pilot and prior cruisers, the charts are "fiction" or "useless". The old charts are a combination of 1857 Indian surveys and a 2001 British Admiralty survey, both pre-tsunami, so the depths vary as much as 60 feet from what the charts say. All navigation in these islands is a gamble.

Our cruising pals ­— all of whom have been in the Andamans before — set a cracking pace the next day, as we anchored in three locations! Dreamcatcher’s normal cruising style is a two-night minimum stop, and more if we find a place interesting. Nevertheless, we joined in.

One of the big attractions of the Andaman Islands is that they are so remote — 400 miles from Calcutta, and 400 miles from Phuket — that there are hardly any other boats around. The most we saw in one place was 10, and that was at the Port Blair check-in anchorage. So if anyone is looking for a largely undiscovered cruising ground, this is certainly one.

There is some tourism, but it's of the low-key backpacker variety. Higher-end tourism could be a big revenue generator — India's Hawaii, as it were — but the infrastructure and mindset just aren't there. The Andaman Islands are largely about defense.

— glenys 02/01/12

Kailani — Deerfoot 63
Harley, Jennifer and Sophia Earl
The South Pacific Calendar

We're currently in the Bay Area visiting family and friends, having left Kailani on a swing mooring in Kerikeri on the North Island of New Zealand. We spent the last South Pacific cruising season in Tonga and western Fiji, and were thus part of the great annual cruiser migration. For those looking for an overview of cruising with the seasons in the South Pacific, I'll try to explain how it works.

Sometime in April, with the advent of the antipodal fall weather, cruising boats begin to leave New Zealand and Australia bound for the tropics. At distances of less than 1,500 miles, Tonga and Fiji are, comparatively speaking, in the Kiwi and Aussie backyards. And the Kiwi and Aussie cruisers take full advantage, arriving in the South Pacific in ones, twos, and groups, right through June.

Beginning in July, there is an influx of European and American boats, the majority of which are in their first season in the South Pacific. Most started from Mexico or Panama in March or April, and have followed the traditional Milk Run — meaning the Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Societies to Tonga and Fiji. Occasionally different drummers get there via Easter Island, Pitcairn and the Cooks.

Regardless of where they came from, by the time these cruisers reach the South Pacific, they are linked through various radio nets and the initial shared anchorages. Other boats group around kids, since it is the youngest crewmembers who have the greatest desire for company of peers. Our daughter Sophia, who didn't turn five until just before Christmas, was always on the lookout for 'kid boats'. By the time our anchor was set in each new anchorage, she would have surveyed the boats and categorized each by which had kids and which didn't, and the ages of the various kids.

By late August and early September, pretty much everyone who is coming to the heart of the South Pacific, meaning Tonga and Fiji, is already there. By mid- to late October, all cruisers in the South Pacific begin to consider how they are going to deal with the onset of the South Pacific tropical cyclone season, which officially starts on November 1.

Cruisers have four options when dealing with tropical cyclone season: 1) Stay where they are in the South Pacific, keeping an eye on weather forecasts and knowing where the nearest hurricane holes are; 2) Leave their boat in a hole on the hard in one of several marinas that specialize in this service; 3) Head north to the Line Islands, the Marshall islands, or other locations near the equator where cyclones aren't a problem; or 4) Sail down to New Zealand or Australia. Virtually all the Kiwi and Aussie boats sail back home, in part because their home waters offer great cruising in the antipodean summer. And most U.S. and European cruisers do the same.

But the fourth option can be tricky. It's roughly 1,100 open ocean miles — except for Minerva Reef — from Nukualofa in southern Tonga or from Lautoka in western Fiji, to Opua, the northernmost port of entry into New Zealand. It's a bit farther to the various ports in Australia. This is a regular run for the Down Under veterans, and they are well aware of what awaits them on the passage. But for first-timers coming from the east, the long passage can be a bit intimidating.

The average American cruising boat will have travelled between 4,500 and 6,000 miles to get to Tonga or Fiji, but few, if any, will have encountered any particularly strong weather ­— other than the short-lived violence of tropical squalls. But when heading from Tonga or Fiji to New Zealand or Australia, it would be foolish to assume that one won't get banged up by at least one low-pressure system from the Tasman Sea. So it all comes down to picking the weather window for the 1,100-mile passage.

Last season was particularly difficult for cruisers waiting to cross to New Zealand, as New Zealand was hammered by one low after another — with as little as three days between them — all through October. As a result, the anchorages and marinas in Fiji and Tonga were crowded with crew waiting for a window.

There is a certain herd mentality that takes over in such situations, particularly among those who are making the crossing for the first time. Everyone wants an assurance that their weather won't be too bad, an assurance that nobody can give. Many skippers hire weather routers, and when their router says, “Go!” they go. The final decision, of course, rests with the captain of each boat. As the days and weeks dragged on in October without a good window, the pressure built to get going. After all, staying in place had its own weather risks, made clear by the fact that boat insurance there is not valid after November 1.

We've always done our own weather routing on Kailani, and in late October we noticed a developing high that looked as if it would dominate the weather for long enough for us to make the run from Fiji to Opua. True, there was a small risk we'd be hit by a low on arrival, but our boat has a long waterline and we can carry a lot of fuel, so if we were hit by the low, we hoped to already be in the lee of the North island. The catch was that there would be little wind for most of the passage.

We departed Lautoka on October 29, and arrived in New Zealand a week later. Although we burned a lot of diesel, we had only 12 hours of bad weather — 30+ knot winds and 15-ft seas on the nose. A lot of boats that left three or four days after us got caught in the middle of what we mostly managed to avoid. One boat was rolled and ultimately abandoned, while other boats suffered considerable damage.

Of course, the boats that left the week after them had to motor almost the whole way, and didn't have any bad weather at all. There just aren't any weather guarantees when it comes to 1,000-mile passages.

In any event, we had a delightful cruising season in the South Pacific. We have memories of whales in the Ha’apai, Clownfish Town in the Yasawas, the privacy of the one-boat lagoon at Manimita Island, and the crazy times at the Musket Cove Regatta in Fiji. We have made many new friends, rediscovered some old ones — and are looking forward to doing it all over again this coming season.

In the meantime we, like most of our fellow sailing migrants, will be working on our boats and enjoying Kiwi hospitality. For those who will be in New Zealand next season, be aware that the Kiwi dollar has strengthened by almost 33% since we were here six years ago, making things more expensive than they used to be. Yard rates are about the same as in the States, although labor is about 20% less. There are still some bargains, such as cheese, green-lipped mussels and lamb.

— harley 01/15/13

Cruise Notes:

So what do a couple do after a 12-year circumnavigation? That's the question we put to Kurt and Katie Braun of the Alameda-based Deerfoot 74 Interlude, who are currently in Costa Rica and slowly making their way up to San Francisco Bay for the America's Cup and to see family and friends.

"We hope we don't get stuck too long with Interlude docked behind our house in Alameda," they replied. "So maybe we'll do this fall's Ha-Ha, and then head to New Zealand in early 2014." The couple are vets of the 2002 Ha-Ha. They have also sailed their 74-footer 150,000 miles, more than any other Deerfoot.

"We're home in Southern California with our kids and grandkids awaiting a new grandchild," began the holiday greetings from Gordon and Sherry Cornett, vets of the '09 Ha-Ha with their Ventura-based Tayana 52DS Serenity. "In February, we'll return to our boat in Thailand, and then will have her shipped to Turkey to avoid Somali pirates on the way to the Med. Our 'Adventure of a Lifetime' will continue with two years of cruising around the Med. After that, the idea is to cross the Atlantic and Caribbean, do the Canal, and return to Ventura. But plans change."

If you read the December and January 'Lectronics, you're aware that there have been a handful of dinghy thefts and attempted dinghy thefts at the anchorages off Mazatlan, especially on the south end of town, the end opposite from the marinas. Particularly troubling is the fact that a thief came aboard several of the boats to try to get at outboard motors locked to stern pulpits. Nobody was hurt, but in one case a knife was brandished.

After cruiser complaints, the Port Captain put a stop to the thefts in a relatively novel way — he made it illegal to anchor overnight at either the Old Harbor or Stone Island, where the thefts had been taking place. So reports Mike Wilson of the Mazatlan-based S&S 44 Tortue. As best we've been able to determine, only Mazatlan has had a spate of dinghy thefts and attempted thefts. No doubt they were the work of one or two bad hombres. Our question is what do Mexicans do with inflatable dinghies and small outboards?

After buying the M&M 52 catamaran Kiapa in Alameda with the intention of sailing her back to Perth, Australia, over the next four or so years, Lionel and Irene Bass decided their high performance cat didn't need spinnakers. So they sold both of theirs to a fellow cat owner in Alameda. But after nearly a year of sailing in the often-light airs of Mexico, the couple decided they'd made a mistake. Alas, the folks who bought the chutes weren't interested in selling them back. The moral of the story is that there is a lot of light air in the world, particularly between California and the Canal, so at least one spinnaker or gennaker is highly recommended.

The other lesson the Basses learned is that you need to lock your boat up when anchored in Matanchen Bay near San Blas. In the pre-dawn hours of December 31, Irene heard a noise, went up into the salon, and confronted a fellow in a hooded shirt. He grabbed a red backpack that had been prepared for a guided jungle tour the next day, dove into the water, and swam to a waiting panga 30 feet away. The couple lost about $1,500 in cameras and cash.

Of all the countless anchorages on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, the ones at the south end of the Mazatlan and San Blas/Matanchen bays are the only two that we consider to be sketchy. Both destinations are great, but we'd recommend staying in local marinas.

Home Depot has started selling sailboat sails? In February of 2005, we interviewed artists Jack Carson and Monica Guildersleeve at Punta Mita aboard their British Columbia-based 44-ft junk ketch Bella Via. The couple had already done a five-year, low-budget circumnavigation with Monica's daughters Payana and Isha aboard the couple's previous boat, the Swain 36 Island Breeze. The couple's new boat, Bella Via, also was completed on an artist's budget. Jack built the 44-footer himself in about six months, and used lots of recycled materials. The identical masts, for instance, had been 'repurposed' light standards from the Vancouver Airport. Unfortunately, we missed the couple when they passed through Punta Mita again in December. But friends tell us that Jack and Monica haven't changed their thrifty habits, as their sails are plastic tarps from Home Depot! Before you rush to Home Depot for your inventory, remember that sail shape on junk-rigged boats is anything but complicated.

What's up with Panama? On the one hand, the government has been bending over backward with lavish tax breaks, discounts, and other goodies to attract gringo retirees. On the other hand, they've recently started adding charges and jacking up fees for cruisers to preposterous levels. Frank Nitte of the San Diego-based Freeport 36 Windsong forwarded us a January 16 letter from James Laing, who broke down how it cost him $870 to check in his 50-ft ketch Manawa Nui — reportedly Admiral Halsey's personal yacht in World War II — at Puerto Armuelles and Vacamonte, Panama, in January. Some of the expenses were for taxis or pangas, but most of it was government fees or taxes: navigation fee, $180; quarantine fee, $35; overtime for three government workers, $60; mariner's visa for three people, $315; Health Ministry fee, $122; and mandatory boat fumigation, $53. The original quote for boat fumigation was $300.

Hear that silence? It's the sound of cruisers in Mexico suddenly thinking of places other than Panama to cruise.

Last April, the management of Flamenco Marina and Shipyard in Panama City — at the end of the Amador Causeway — was taken over by the folks who run the Americo Vespucio Shipyard and Marina in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, Manager Victor Marten says they can provide almost every kind of service needed by sailors. It would be in the shipyard's best interest to pow-wow with government officials about the ridiculous fees, lest the company soon not have many sailboats to work on.

Many cruisers check into Panama at Panama City. According to Nitte, here's the latest drill: 1) Check in at the Port Captain's office at Flamenco Marina when you arrive. There you need to purchase a one-year cruising permit — even if you stay for just one day — for $180. 2) Go to Immigration to get stamped into the country. Alas, its only a temporary entry stamp, as 3) You must proceed to Immigration at Diablo to get a Mariner's visa within 24 hours — 48 hours on weekends. The visas cost $105/person, no matter if you stay a day or a year. You won't be issued a zarpe to leave Panama without a Mariner's visa.

Here is where it gets ugly. If you fly out of Panama, your Mariner's visa becomes invalid. When you return to Panama, you get a 90-day Tourist visa at the airport — but then have to go back to Diablo and pay another $105/person for a new Mariner's visa. You can't get a Mariner's visa at the airport. Ship's agents have a way around it, where they deliver a Mariner's visa to the airport — but there is naturally a charge for the service.

"As with all things in Latin American countries," explains Nitte, "things change on a daily basis. And what happens in one jurisdiction can be totally different from another jurisdiction. So smile, keep calm, and don't sweat the small stuff. And it's all small stuff."

Our final bad news from Panama is that the Balboa YC has raised rates on mooring from 60 cents/ft/day to 70 cents/ft/day.

That said, we at Latitude have fond memories of Panama, and of the Astilleros Shipyard at Vacamonte in particular. During Profligate's 2004 post-Ha-Ha sprint from Cabo San Lucas to St. Barth, both saildrives started to fail on approach to the Canal. In a major hurry to avoid the Christmas Winds of the Caribbean, we had the cat hauled at Astilleros on Thursday, the day after we ordered two saildrives from Yanmar in Florida. The saildrives were delivered and installed, and Profligate transited the Canal the next Tuesday, having spent just three business days in the yard. That's what we call taking care of business — even if the crew did much of the work. There was a bit of a leak as a result of the installation, so Profligate had to be hauled again briefly at St. Martin. But as Nitte says, you can't sweat the small stuff.

"As we sit at anchor in Clifton Harbor, Union Island, in the southeast Caribbean, listening to Christmas carols on our stereo and enjoying the holiday, we reflect on the previous year," wrote Fred Roswald and Judy Jensen of the Seattle-based Serendipity 43 Wings. We can't recall how long the couple has been out cruising with the former Big Boat Series and TransPac class winner, but we do remember they survived the Queen's Birthday Storm of '94 that devastated the cruising fleet on the way from the South Pacific islands to New Zealand.

"Some water has passed beneath our keel in the last 12 months," the couple continue, "which is when we celebrated the holidays with Jim and Carole aboard Nepenthe in Simon’s Town, South Africa. A short time later, with friends Randy and Laura aboard, we sailed to Namibia. Then the four of us set out from the foggy coast for 3,200-mile-distant tropical shores of Brazil. We only made one stop — at remote but lovely St. Helena Island. What a great sail we had across the Atlantic! After Brazil, during which time we struggled with the Portuguese, we ventured north across the equator to Trinidad. We spent the six-month hurricane season there, working on the boat, making friends, and doing a few local races. We're now cruising the Windward Islands of the Caribbean, making our way to Antigua for Sailing Week in April, and other destinations. Having sailed about 5,800 miles in the last year, we'll probably end up in Cartagena, Colombia for next hurricane season.

"Do I look different?" asked Marc Wilson, skipper of the Catana 52 cat Bright Wing, when he walked into the Riviera Nayarit YC. It was kinda dark, so we didn't really notice anything. "My nose," he said, pointing at his bent proboscis, "I broke it while surfing the point at Punta Mita. I trashed my shoulder, too." He then proceeded to make three attempts — all of them featuring crunching cartilage noises — to reset his nose. Considering that he was standing in the middle of a restaurant and working without a mirror, he did a credible job.

Connie McWilliam reports that while it's been quiet in the cool of winter at Puerto Escondido, Baja, the Hidden Port YC is starting 2013 with a theme of 'A New Beginning, Let The Good Times Roll'. The 'new beginning' is all about the Hidden Port YC clubhouse having been moved to the API facilities. Connie also advises that "the new marina in the canals by the 'modern-day ruins' is now up and running — and owned and operated by a group from Vallarta. Alas, it's not suitable for sailboats. However, the Fonatur facility, with 117 mooring buoys and 10 spaces on the muelle, and the boatyard, welcome all sailors. The dates for Loreto Fest, held at Puerto Escondido, have been set for May 3-5.

Baja got another marina last summer when the Marina Cortez — formerly known as the 'Virtual Marina' because it didn't have any slips — opened for business in La Paz. The marina advertises that it has 50 slips for boats 30 to 120 feet. What's unusual is that there is no breakwater and no pilings for the docks, which are held in place by floating wave attenuators. The attenuators themselves are held in place by a Manta Ray anchoring system, which relies on anchors that are embedded in the bottom rather than anchored with heavy ground tackle that drags on the bottom. It's thus supposedly more friendly to sea life and coral bottoms. Pier 39 initially tried to use wave attenuators instead of pilings at their marina, but it didn't work out. It will be interesting to see how Marina Cortez does in rough weather. Cruisers who have stayed at the marina say the docks have been fine — but the marina location means you sometimes have to listen to music until 4 a.m.

It seems as if La Paz could use the extra berthing in the winter; we're told that Marina de La Paz, as always, has been packed, and all the other marinas have been near or at capacity. It's pretty much been the same story on the Nayarit Riviera on the mainland, where Paradise Marina has been full, and the 300-berth Marina Riviera Nayarit, having had a big uptick in occupancy, is closer than ever to being full. The number of boats anchored off La Cruz has been down a little, but Punta Mita has regularly had 20 boats on the hook, which is about five times as many as most nights in previous years. We have no explanation — other than that it's such a great place. As we write these words on January 22, a head-high swell is hitting all the many surf breaks in the Mita area, the sky is blue, the air temp is 83°, and the water temp is 78°. If anybody up in the frozen 48 — it's was to get down to 19° in Portland — eats their heart out, we'll understand.

"Augustine, our new friend in Zihua, swam a half-mile out to our boat to do a super scrub on our bottom for $40," report John and Gilly Foy of the Alameda- and Punta Mita-based Catalina 42 Destiny. "He's able to hold his breath for what seems like forever, which is why he does bottoms free diving. He keeps all his tools and gear strapped to an empty plastic jug, which he pushes in front of him as he swims to your boat. We've always admired the 'can do' spirit of Mexicans, but Augustine is something special. Our friends on Serendipity and Miss Teak recommend his work, too. We've also enjoyed the beach landing/launching services of Alfonso and Jesus, who for an 80-cent fee also watch over your dinghy and its contents for the whole day and half the night. Zihua hasn't seen too many cruising boats as of early January. We hope that changes by the February 5 start of Zihua SailFest, the great cruiser fund-raiser for schools for indigenous children."

Why are there more boats than ever in Mexico?

"Because if you're on Social Security like I am," said one cruiser whose name slipped our mind after one too many beers, "it's like you suddenly get four times as much money as you did back in the States. My $20,000 a year in Mexico is like getting $80,000 a year in my former home of California. The only thing I pay more for down here is berthing, but I can anchor out for free — or close to free — near almost every marina. The kicker for us old guys is that we can get complete health insurance, with basic vision and dental care included, for under $400 a year."

"We're the folks who bought the Deerfoot 2-62 Moonshadow in Fort Lauderdale from George Backhus after he completed his 16-year circumnavigation," write John and Deb Rogers of San Diego. "When we wrote about it in the July issue, you said to be sure to look you up when we get to St. Barth this winter. Well, we're down in St. Lucia right now, and other than meeting kids and grandkids in the Virgins in mid-March, we have no plans. So we think we'll take you up on your offer. We can head to St. Barth in early April. Where is the best time and place to find you?"

The Latitude Caribbean office — aboard the Leopard 45 'ti Profligate — opens in mid-February in the British Virgins and moves to St. Barth as soon as the weather permits crossing the Anegada Passage. We love visitors, and can help visitors enjoy St. Barth without going broke in the first half hour. Our office stays open until May 10. We most often anchor in the shallows off Fort Oscar — don't try it with Moonshadow — or off Corossol. We use Internet out of the Center Alizee, upstairs 30 feet from the intersection of Rue du Oscar II and Rue de La France in Gustavia. De Mallorca can be found at Le Select starting at about 7 p.m, while the Wanderer begins overtime with a glass of rosé across the street at Bar d' Oubli at about 7:30.

We recommend visiting St. Barth March 24 to 27, during the Bucket, which is the greatest spectacle in sailing. Alas, you have family commitments. The second best time is during the Les Voiles de St. Barth April 8 to 13, where you can party French Caribbean style as much as you want — yet a half hour later be anchored in silence without being able to see a light onshore.

Missing the pictures? See the February 2013 eBook!


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