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February 2014

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With reports this month from Bula on their solar oven; from Privateer on a long cruise through the South Pacific; from the Wanderer on a return to Mazatlan; from Starship summarizing a two-year cruise; from Points Beyond on Cartagena, Colombia; and Cruise Notes.

Bula — Seawind 1100
Ken McLaughlin and Kerry Dunlop
Cooking With the Sun
(Redondo / Two Harbors, Catalina)

If you're only using the sun to get power from your solar panels, you're not taking full advantage of Old Sol. As Ken and Kerry — he of Northern California, Redondo and Two Harbors, and she of Redondo and Two Harbors — told us, they do most of their cooking with a Global Sun Oven.

The 21-pound oven was made with the Third World and the environment in mind. Two billion people in the world cook with wood, charcoal or dung, which is not good for their health or the environment. The Global Sun Oven is said to be the alternative for 70% of their cooking, as food can be boiled, steamed, roasted or baked at temperatures up to 360°. "You need to wear oven mitts when you open the oven so you don't burn yourself," says Ken.

What can you cook in a solar oven? The better question is, what can't you cook? Meat, fish, chicken, stews, vegetables, pies, cakes, beans, pasta — the list of things to cook goes on and on.

"I just throw in a bunch of frozen chicken parts and veggies and let it cook all day, just as you would with a crock pot," says Kerry. "It won't burn. It's suggested that you add a cup of water, but we've found that's not necessary."

"And the meats are slow-cooked-juicy and delicious," says Ken. "We've made ribs several times, and the meat falls right off the bone. We also did a roast. Another favorite is hard-boiled eggs. You take the top off the carton and put the rest in the oven, and in a little more than an hour you have perfect hard-boiled eggs. And the shells come off easily.

Depending on the model stove you get, they run from about $125 to $300. Ken and Kerry got the more expensive one, which comes with its own set of pots and pans. "Using the special stacking pots and pans, I can do things like cook meat and make corn bread at the same time. It's great. For things like cookies and cakes, the oven is not a slow cooker at all. They bake in the same amount of time as in a conventional oven."

The saloon in a Seawind 1100 is relatively small, so Ken and Kerry don't like to use their normal stove too much, as it overheats the saloon. "We do make our coffee with a regular stove and use a pressure cooker for things like artichokes, but our propane consumption is way down," says Ken.

The only downsides the couple could think of were that in situations where changes in the wind direction give the boat a different orientation to the sun, it might take a little longer for food to cook, and it's not as efficient on cloudy days. "It doesn't have to be a hot day for the stove to work, but it can't be too cloudy," says Ken.

The couple's more expensive stove came with a dehydrator for meat and fruit. If you want to get further off the grid and prepare healthier foods, the solar oven could be the ticket.

Ken and Kerry tried to take off cruising a year ago, but things — such as the house taking longer than expected to sell and Ken's daughter having a baby — set them back. They ended up spending eight months in Ensenada.

The truth be told, downtown Ensenada looks a little tawdry. Nonetheless Ken says he had "a fantastic time", and Kerry says, "I loved it." But the couple realized it didn't make sense for them to pay for a slip in Ensenada when Ken still had a free mooring at Cat Harbor. So they returned to Two Harbors — where Kerry had been a harbor patrolwoman for years and where the two first met — last summer.

They headed south a second time in December. After spending a month in Ensenada, they continued south to Cabo shortly after Christmas. You know how great the run down the coast of Baja is? Well, it wasn't for them. Either there was no wind or it was blowing up to 35 knots on the nose. "We didn't get to sail more than 10% of the time," said Ken, who, having owned 15 boats, obviously likes to sail.

The two figure they will spend hurricane season in Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, then head down to the Canal. After that the picture gets a little fuzzy, but they can see Bula — "a perfect boat for us" — in the clear waters of the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. Solar- cooked conch anyone?

— latitude/rs 01/15/2014

Privateer — Hans Christian 33
Chris John and Lila Shaked
The Young and Restless
(Redlands and Tucson, AZ)

Since the majority of cruisers are in their 50s and 60s, we thought we'd pick the brains of a couple of young cruisers to better understand their perspective. The subjects of our interview are Chris, 29, and Lila, 32, who have recently finished a 2½-year, 16,000-mile cruise from California to New Zealand and back to Hawaii.

38: Did the two of you know each other well before you took off cruising?

Chris: Not really. Lila came around the night I was concluding the sale of my Islander 30 to a friend of hers. Three months later, she and I set sail for Hawaii aboard Privateer.

38: Where did you go from Hawaii?

Chris: Fanning Island, which is about 1,000 miles to the south. We then set sail for French Polynesia. Unfortunately the headstay broke, so we had to turn back to Fanning. Fortunately, we had a back-up swage fitting and were able to jury-rig some anchor chain to the bottom of the stay. The repair worked well enough for us to make a 1,300-mile, 13-day passage to American Samoa. After getting the headstay repaired, we stopped at the little island of Niue, which turned out to be our favorite place.

Lila: It's such a beautiful little island with awesome people.

38: You must have heard about Blue Marble, the F/P 46 catamaran that tied up to the fishing boat buoy at Niue that failed, allowing the cat to go on the reef.

Chris: Yeah. Maybe there's a jinx at Niue. When we were there in 2012, a baby humpback that had been swimming through the anchorage hit a mooring ball that the Hunter 46 Knotty Lady was tied to. It resulted in the cleats being ripped right though the deck of the boat. The force had been so swift that it melted some of the lines. Insane!

Lila: Fortunately, the boat's anchor and Code Zero got wrapped in the mooring line, so she didn't drift away.

Chris: After Niue we continued on to Tonga. Man, that place is paradise! It's better than Niue in the sense that it's much larger and has hundreds of islands, and there are lots of good anchorages instead of just one lousy one. We spent time at the three main areas: Vava'u, which gets lots of cruising boats; the Ha'apai area, which is a gem because it only has a small airport and the anchorages aren't very good, so it doesn't get many visitors; and the Southern Group, which is where we jumped off for New Zealand.

Lila: We actually took off for New Zealand twice. After getting about 200 miles down the line on the 1,100-mile passage, Chris noticed an approaching low. He got a bad feeling about it, so we and three other boats turned back.

Chris: That was the blow that knocked down the Beneteau 38 Windigo, resulting in the crew's having to be rescued by the navy. It blew about 40 knots where we were back at Tonga, so it was better to be behind a reef than on the open ocean.

38: Did anyone seek shelter inside Minerva Reef, which is only a couple of feet high, but is the only shelter between Tonga and New Zealand?

Lila: They did, but they said it was horrible, with 50-knot winds and waves breaking over the reef and into the anchorage. But everyone survived.

Chris: Once we got to New Zealand, we stayed for the entire Southern Hemisphere summer. And we both found jobs.

38: Because you were both under 30?

Chris: Well, I was, so only I was legal.

Lila: Young cruisers need to know that they have to get to New Zealand before they turn 31, not 30, in order to be able to work legally. I made it there by two or three days, but you still have to apply for working status in time.

38: What did you do?

Chris: I worked as crew on boats while Lila worked in a cafe in Paihia. I later got a job as a cook at a beach bar where I could look out the window and see Privateer.

Lila: New Zealand doesn't have enough young workers, so it's not hard to find work. You can pick fruit, work in hostels, do all kinds of things. It's the same in Australia, except they pay even better.

Chris: Americans can also work in American Samoa because it's an American territory. Just put on a hair net and go into a tuna cannery. [Laughter.]

Had I known about the legal opportunities to work between Hawaii and New Zealand, I would have taken off a lot sooner. But I'd assumed that I could only get spot work doing things like cleaning bottoms and stuff. What we learned is that you can easily get legal full-time gigs in Hawaii, American Samoa and New Zealand, socking money away for six months, then cruising for six months.

Lila: You just have to stay on the hook instead of in marinas, and make your own meals instead of dining out.

Chris: We lived on about $400 a month, including all expenses. We'd save money by doing stuff like brewing our own beer. Everybody in New Zealand brews their own beer because otherwise it gets expensive — even for folks who, like us, who don't drink that much.

38: New Zealand is usually decision time. Do you go around the world with following winds, which is much longer, or do you head back to the States, which isn't as long but is a more difficult sail?

Chris: Even if you're going to return to the States, you have to make the decision if you're going to do it by going all the way around the Pacific via Micronesia and Japan, which takes 18 months, or sail back to Hawaii. We had to make that decision in the spring of 2012.

Lila: We decided that we didn't have enough money to complete the Pacific circuit, so we took the southern route back to French Polynesia. It was the worst trip ever, which is why so few cruisers try it.

Chris: We had bad luck. It took us nearly a month to cover the 2,500 miles, and it blew 30+ for days on end. We replaced the main with the trysail for two weeks!

Lila: We had to put out our drogue, too, and had many days where waves were breaking over the boat.

Chris: We knew what we were getting into, but we had a little bad luck with the weather. We ended up in the Austral Islands, which were great.

38: How did your heavy Hans Christian hold up in rough conditions?

Chris: I'd gotten a heavy full-keel boat specifically for heavy weather. It's true that there were many times during our cruise when I wanted more wind to move her, and we flew the spinnaker a lot to accomplish that, but on the trip back to French Polynesia I was very happy with our 'little pot of tea'. She and her little engine just did their thing.

We continued up to Tahiti, then spent a month at Toha, which is just north of Fakaraha in the Tuamotus. Only eight people live there. The cargo boat with staples like rice and flour only comes once a month, and there is no airport.

38: What was the attraction?

Chris: That only eight people live there. In our opinion, the fewer the people, usually the better the experience.

38: It's long been our contention that it's easier for locals to identify with low-budget cruisers than those on larger and more luxurious boats. What do you think?

Chris: I agree 100%. If you're living a humble lifestyle, it's easier for poor locals to relate to you. You see it in the way people interact. We got along really well with everyone — although in French Polynesia it certainly helped that Lila speaks French. I stumbled with my French, but they appreciated my trying.

38: Not all French are so appreciative of such efforts.

Chris: The Tahitians are. They always want to bring you into their homes and make you part of their family.

Lila: After the Tuamotus, we returned to Tahiti, Bora Bora, and then kinda had to hide because our visas had expired.

Chris: If you have to hide out, it's smarter to stay at the smaller islands such as Maupiti and Mopelia. We made the mistake of going to Raiatea to provision and got caught. But we smiled a lot and the officials were nice about it. They didn't fine us or anything.

Lila: But we heard horror stories about boats that had overstayed their visas in Tahiti and some of the other big islands. The three-month time limit is hard on cruisers because we have to wait for the end of hurricane season before we can safely move on.

Chris: Anyway, we just got back to Hawaii in November after a hard 6,000-mile trip back from New Zealand. We plan to stay on Oahu for awhile.

Lila: It's the first time we've stayed at a dock in three years!

Chris: It's nice. I was so happy to see the breakwater at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. The Ala Wai is still Hawaii-funky, with some very good slips and some really bad ones. But that's sort of why you like Hawaii. There's also good racing on Friday nights, they've got fireworks, and we're having a blast there. I have a job waiting for me at West Marine, where employees get super discounts. But we hope to get to cruise Mexico in a year or two.

[We'll continue with Part II of our interview with Chris and Lila in the March issue.]

— latitude/rs 12/15/2013

Return to Mazatlan
The Wanderer

It had been about five years — way too long — since we'd been to Mazatlan, and upon our return we were shocked by the changes. As most of you know, Mazatlan, Mexico's second largest coastal city and home to the biggest shrimp fleet in the world, is located in Sinaloa, one of the most active narco trafficking regions in the world. A few years ago there was a much-publicized shooting in a nightclub, and after a street robbery two years ago, most of the cruise ships pulled out. So we expected a lifeless city in decline. What we found instead was what appeared to be a booming, safe city with lots of happy locals and expats. We've never seen Mazatlan looking so good.

We were in Mazatlan as part of a road trip from Tucson to Puerto Vallarta with a newly imported Honda Element — the choice for discerning motorists — so we pulled off the auto piste at a seemingly seldom-used turnoff overgrown with weeds to the beach area at the north end of the city. Minutes later we were flabbergasted by the string of new high-rise hotels and condos lining the beaches. Then there was a big new shopping center a short distance away. Somebody obviously believes in the vibrant city.

Our first stop was El Cid Hotel and Marina, where we visited with Harbormaster Geronimo Cevallos. It's easy for new hotels to look good; the real test is how they are maintained over time. Whoever owns El Cid deserves a medal — along with Graziano, the owner of Paradise Resort and Marina — for doing such a great job of maintaining and constantly improving his property in Mexico. El Cid looked great, as everywhere you looked someone was sweeping, scrubbing, painting or improving. The staff was very friendly without being obsequious. Despite the fact it was between Christmas and New Year's and nearly sold out, we got a spacious one-bedroom fronting the marina for just over $100 a night. We liked the room, El Cid, and Mazatlan so much that we extended our stay for another night.

There are four marinas in Mazatlan. Ed Cid and Marina Mazatlan are the largest, while the Fonatur Marina and Isla Marina are smaller. All are accessed from the same channel on the north end of town. There is a sharp and narrow dogleg at the entrance, so if a huge swell is running, it's safer to go to the old harbor at the south end of town.

El Cid is the closest marina to the entrance, and thus is sometimes subject to considerable current. This needs to be taken into account when entering or leaving a berth. El Cid has a lovely setting, however, with a bunch of swimming pools, and is ideally located for strolling to restaurants in the upper scale Dorado (Gold) Zone. The other three marinas are farther up the channel, and while their facilities aren't quite as nice, they are still very pleasant.

A number of years ago, Fonatur, Mexico's tourist development agency, came up with the quarter-baked 'nautical stairway' plan, which would feature stops every 60 miles down the coast of Baja, as well as the creation of nine Fonatur marinas. The reality has pretty much been an expensive flop because of the of ridiculous assumptions made about the number of U.S. boats that would travel to Mexico each winter. Nonetheless, the nine marinas and facilities still were built. To the best of our knowledge, the only one that has been a big succss is the one at Mazatlan. A big factor in the success has been the onsite presence of Total Yacht Works, which has a stellar reputation for engine repair and replacement throughout Mexico, and other service providers in the area.

Total Yacht Works' reputation is so good that La Cruz-based friends John and Gilly Foy of the Alameda-based Catalina 42 Destiny think nothing of making the 222-mile round trip to have engine work done on their boat in Mazatlan. In addition to engine work, they got a gorgeous set of new faux leather salon cushions, with new bottom foam, for about $1,000.

One of Mazatlan's signatures is her lovely six-mile malecon, which is a magnet for physical-fitness buffs and others. While walking there, we came across five young at heart gringo senior citizens taking a rest from hill climbing on their bicycles. We asked them what they liked about the city. The whole bunch of them, half from Canada and half from the States, reported they spend about six months a year in Mazatlan and like it most because, "It's not a tourist town like Puerto Vallarta." One gentleman explained to us that agriculture and fishing are economic engines numbers one and two, while tourism is just number four. "Did you know," he asked us, "that the propellers for U.S. Navy ships are made here in Mazatlan, and have been for decades?" We didn't know that.

All five seniors agreed that the cultural offerings in Mazatlan are superb, the weather great, and the cost of living a quarter of what it is "back home".

Yeah, but what about all the narco violence? You ever hear five guys snort in unison? We did.

"I've been here 10 years and haven't seen as much as a fist fight in Mazatlan," said one, with the others nodding their heads in agreement. "The violence business got blown out of proportion and sensationalized in the U.S. and Canadian press. You know why? Because our home countries are mad because so many of their Social Security checks are being cashed down here in Mexico."

It's estimated that one million American and Canadian citizens live in Mexico.

There is one street in Mazatlan near the central mercado where vendors sell nothing but shrimp. The shrimp are sorted by size and kept in big tubs along the street. It's not the most appetizing display, but the deal is you buy a kilo or two, then you walk into one of the nearby restaurants that specializes in cooking them for you. We and friends bought a kilo of medium large ones — which is about two pounds — for 200 pesos — which is about $17 U.S. It cost another 50 pesos for preparation of each style and the use of their facilities, which included the near-mandatory karaoke jukebox at ultimate volume.

"The shrimp cost twice as much as they did a year ago," said Gilly, "but it's still about half of what they cost in the States." And because the shrimp are so fresh, they taste noticeably better.

After stuffing ourselves with shrimp and saving some for lunch the following day, we took a stroll to the old central mercado. While the arrival of Wal-Marts and such has reduced the importance of the mercado, it's still vital and still the real deal. This is particularly obvious at the various carneceria stands. When we looked down at a display case, we saw three severed pigs' heads looking back at us with baleful expressions. "What did we do to deserve this?" they seemed to be asking. Hang around the mercado long enough and you'll become a veggie.

It's only a short stroll from the mercado to the beautiful main cathedral and then the theater district. The latter is on a very lovely square with restaurants in colonial-style buildings and spilling into the street, and hip new boutique hotels. After the sun goes down, the crowds appear and the fun begins.

So now you're on the other side of town, stuffed, and bushed. How much is a taxi back to the El Cid and the other marinas? Who cares? All you have to do is wait for a green bus, which will take you right back to your marina for about $1. How convenient!

The old harbor of Mazatlan is much closer to Mazatlan's Old Town, which is home to the shrimp district, mercado, cathedral and theater district. It's possible to anchor out there and come ashore at the so-called Mazatlan YC, which is looking a little down in the dumps. We tried to ask for info, but the gate was locked. The downside of the area is that there was an outboard theft or two in recent years. The same is true for Stone Island, which is outside the harbor and about a mile south.

We like surprises, particularly good surprises. Mazatlan was one of them.

— latitude/rs 01/12/2014

Starship — Islander 36
Chris and Anne-Marie Fox
Our Two Years of Cruising
(Victoria, Canada)

After two years of being sea gypsies, Anne-Marie and I, now 30 and 29 respectively, are back in Canada and settling into life as landlubbers. Ours was an amazing two years of cruising, filled with a lot of emotional highs and lows, and lessons learned. We would like to recap some interesting figures and lessons learned from our journey in the hope that it may help those who are about to leave Mexico and follow in our wake.

Decisions We Were Happy About:

1) Spending a Year in Mexico. Anne-Marie and I agree that the best single decision we made was to spend a year in Mexico before doing the Puddle Jump. After all the countries we have visited, Mexico remains our favorite for several reasons. The amount of time we spent there allowed us to really get to know the people and places, and at a very relaxed pace. Given how quickly we had to rush through the countries of the South Pacific, it was impossible to develop the same affection that we have for Mexico. Sailing was also generally easy in Mexico, especially in the Sea of Cortez where all but the hardcore motored a lot. There were only short hops between amazing anchorages, and it was easy to find secluded spots.

2) Not Getting a Watermaker. Thanks to our boat's 100-gallon water capacity, and our conservative use, we found that not having a watermaker wasn't a problem. Indeed, it was a luxury, as we would have had to get additional electrical power from solar, wind or a Honda generator, or else use our main engine. The main hassle was carting water to the boat, since we rarely went to a dock. It's true that a watermaker would have given us more freedom in places such as the Tuamotus if we wanted to stay for extended periods of time.

3) Not Replacing Our Bent Boom. The boom was bent when we bought our Islander, and this caused us some concern before we left San Francisco. Yet it served us well across the South Pacific,

4) Having a Third Crew Member for the Puddle Jump. A third set of hands for the 2,800-mile jump from Mexico to the Marquesas made a huge difference. Jonathan Busby, our crew, was the best.

What We Would Do Differently:

1) Not Fly a Spinnaker at Night! That ended poorly for us — and it could have been much worse.

2) Go to Vanuatu. We heard nothing but great things from the people who paid Vanuatu a visit.

3) Minimize Our Time in the Societies. We would just reprovision in Tahiti and head straight for the Cook Islands. Especially since we were doing a single-season crossing, our time would have been better spent in Tonga or Fiji.

4) Spend More than One Season Crossing and in the South Pacific! I'm coining the term 'Single Season Syndrome' or SSS for short. It seems nearly every cruiser we met who was trying to get to Australia in a single season became exhausted and just wanted to be done with the trip. From what we surmise, we had a rougher weather year than most, which may be partially responsible for cases of SSS. In a perfect world, we would spend a season in just the Marquesas and Tuamotus, then haul the boat in the Tuamotus for the cyclone season. We'd then spend another year or two in the Tonga/Fiji area. Unfortunately, we didn't have the ability or desire — because of SSS — to extend for a third year.

For further proof of the cause of SSS, note that we spent 27% of our time in the South Pacific doing passages! No wonder we developed a case of SSS. This is one strong reason to have a faster boat. Our friends with the First 40 Hydroquest spent about 21% in passage, which is less, but still quite a lot. Contrast that with our time in Mexico, where we were able to spend 22% of our time on 'vacation' from cruising, leaving our boat in storage. This amount of downtime really made our time in Mexico that much more enjoyable.

Our Statistics:

12,000 — Total nautical miles traveled.

0 — Number of times we plugged our boat into shore power. Thanks to 270 watts of solar panels, we didn't plug in after San Diego.

20 — Number of nights in a marina or at a dock. We don't like marinas. Of the 20 nights, seven were spent in Puddle Jump preparations, five were spent when guests visited, and just two were in the South Pacific.

79 — The number of nights at sea. Nineteen of them were in Mexico, 60 were in the South Pacific.

420 — The number of nights we spent at anchor. Of these, 299 were in Mexico and 121 in the South Pacific.

96 — The number of nights our boat was in storage.

46 — The number of nights on a mooring, all in the South Pacific.

Favorite Countries/Island Groups:

1) Mexico. It will always hold a special place in our hearts!

2) Fiji. We would have loved to spend a few seasons in Fiji. In a lot of ways — beautiful anchorages and super-friendly people — it reminded us of Mexico.

3) Suwarrow, Cook Islands. This is a very worthwhile pit stop on the way to Tonga or Samoa.

4) Vava'u Group in Tonga. There is a lot to love there — friendly locals, short hops between anchorages, and great snorkeling and kitesurfing.

5) Tuamotus. This is another spot where we would have liked to spend more time. Amazing kitesurfing, snorkeling and secluded anchorages.

6) The Marquesas. A great place to make landfall after 24 days! We would spend more time here if we did it again.

7) New Caledonia. We didn't get to explore New Caledonia as much as we would have liked since we were selling Starship, but we enjoyed what we did see.

8) The Societies. Is it a coincidence that all the French Territories were at the bottom of our list? Our French-speaking friends seemed to enjoy these countries a lot more.

Favorite Cruising Gear:

1) Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat for a dinghy. Our compact 310 RIB dinghy did everything great but row.

2) Four-stroke 9.9-hp outboard. Compared to two-strokes, the four- strokes are quieter, smell less, and are much more fuel-efficient.

3) 270 watts of solar panels. This was the perfect amount for us. There were only a few times when we had to run our engine to generate electricity, and those were when it had been excessively cloudy for long periods of time. We ran the fridge for our entire trip without power issues. If we'd had a watermaker, we would have needed more solar power or a generator.

4) Xantrex Link Pro battery monitor, which helped us get a grip on our power usage.

5) Jiggle Tubes! These revolutionized the way we filled our water and fuel tanks.

6) SSB Radio with Pactor Modem. Being able to email family every day was really great for us, especially on passages. There was also the benefit of weather forecasts. We were also surprised at how much we enjoyed the SSB nets.

Our Most Exciting Personal Accomplishments:

Learning to surf, learning to spearfish, learning Spanish — thanks to Vincente, our hot dog vendor in La Paz — learning how to repair an oil leak in our diesel, outfitting Starship for offshore cruising, and repairing her while underway.

Some of Our Favorite Experiences:

All the amazing sea life we saw firsthand, the amazing sunsets and sunrises, the interesting people we met along the way, and getting our tattoos from Felix, the local tattoo artist in the Marquesas.

Our Advice? Get out of your comfort zone. Aim for the stars. Chart your own course. Stay focused and make it happen. Live your best life possible!

P.S. We sold Starship in New Caledonia for nearly what we'd paid for her via
Raiatea Yachts in Tahiti. However, we did not recover the amount of money we put into her, which was considerable. The buyer in New Caledonia had no conditions on the purchase of the boat and didn't even do a survey. That was great. The buyer even paid the import fees for New Caledonia, which were high.

We crewed aboard a friend's Privilege 39 catamaran for the last leg to Australia. It was an interesting experience.

— chris 01/12/2014

Points Beyond — Shannon 38
The Mullins Family
(Newport Beach)

Last August we — Devan, Alisa, Brady, 12, and Jamie, 8 — spent a month exploring lovely Cartagena, Colombia, during our family's six-month cruise from Key West to Panama via the Bahamas. We're lucky Cartagena is such a great destination, because our six-day, 750-mile passage from the Bahamas to Cartagena wasn't so pleasant. The weather was Caribbean-rough, and we had to hand-steer because the autopilot wouldn't work. It was several months before we realized that the problem was that a rat had chewed through the wire between the autopilot and the compass!

We anchored off Club Nautico, because at that time it still had no facilities. The facilities may have been completed by now. But there was also quite a bit of surge at the docks because the tourist-laden pangas screamed by at Mach 6. When it got really bad, masts would touch. I think we paid about $30 a week to use the dinghy dock.

Theft had previously been a big problem for boats anchored off the club, but apparently no more. Officials cracked down on the local outboard shops, not allowing them to repair any outboards unless they had proof of who owned them. We didn't hear about any dinghy thefts either, but everyone still lifted their dinghies at night.

During the colonial period, Cartagena served a key role in the administration and expansion of the Spanish Empire. Cartagena's most significant structures remain the forts that were begun in the 17th century, some of which took over 200 years to build. Just under seven miles of walls and other fortifications surround the city. Cartagena's fortress and walled city were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Cartagena is also the city most associated with pirates. Willie Sutton robbed banks "because that's where the money is". Pirates attacked Cartagena because that's where much of the booty looted from the Americas was kept prior to shipment to Spain.

Our family wandered all over the old walled city, the skyscraper district, and the hotel-ridden Boca Grande peninsula. The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fort is so big, and has so many miles of caves, that it took us an entire day to see. Our other explorations had us walking the walls around the old city, ogling the beautiful colonial architecture, and checking out some of the emerald/jewelry stores. Colombia produces 75% of the world's emeralds. We even sought out a dentist, who took care of a dental issue for Brady for far less than it would have cost in California.

During our wanderings, the boys, especially Jamie, quickly developed a Colombian fan club. It must have been their blond hair. Everywhere we went, people stared, pointed, and smiled. Sometimes they touched Jaime's hair and asked if it was real. A teenage girl begged the boys to pose for a photo with her. Some of the older women appeared to want to gobble him up. We think he's pretty cute, too.

By far the easiest way to get around Cartagena is by taxi. The ubiquitous cabs are tiny, cheap, and easy to hail. In fact, driving a taxi seems to be the number one type of employment in Cartagena. And they all got the same memo: drive as fast as possible, use your horn at every opportunity, and make three lanes out of two at every intersection.

We felt absolutely safe the entire month we were in Cartagena and had no anxieties whatsoever. We loved it!

The water quality is terrible at Cartagena, as it's both dirty and a breeding ground for big barnacles. We paid Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest $80 to clean our bottom, but the joke was on us. After we left, we stopped at an island where the water was clear and discovered that the three had only cleaned parts of the bottom and hadn't done anything to the prop. I had to clean it. And after just one month, our anchor chain had become one long barnacle. Bottom paint? It does nothing in Cartagena. But that was the only downside.

— alisa and devan 10/15/2013

Cruise Notes:

On January 14, Andrew 'Droopy' Connell, a good friend from winters in St. Barth, reported that he'd been advised that his lovely Standfast 40 sloop Corcovado had disappeared from her mooring at St. Barth. Connell, who has done close to 50 trips between the Northeast and the Caribbean, more than anybody else we know, was in Puerto Rico doing a delivery when he got the bad news.

"It has been blowing 30 knots for weeks now, and there have been huge seas," Connell wrote on Facebook. "I'd left Corcovado's forward shower hatch open for air, so the waves would have filled the boat as she drifted at two to three knots to the southwest. Unfortunately, the authorities have no info for me. Losing my boat is the hardest thing I've ever had to accept. I hope to earn enough money soon to purchase another boat, because owning a sailboat and cruising the islands of the Caribbean is not only a way of life for me, it's the thing that keeps me smiling from day to day."

A day later there was some good and bad news. The good news is that a Dutch Coast Guard helicopter had spotted Corcovado from the air, and she looked to be in fine condition. The bad news was that she had drifted to a position 120 miles west of Guadaloupe and was still headed west — to the wide-open spaces of the Caribbean Sea — at a couple of knots. Given that Droopy had no insurance, the question became whether he has the means to recover his boat. We, like a lot of others, have offered to chip in. We'll have to wait and see.

"Funnily enough, our first passage of 2014 will be one of the longest of the season, even though it will only be 85 miles," write Scott Stolnitz and Nikki of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House. "We're just going from Trinidad to Prickly Bay, Grenada, and the rest of the season will be sailing up and down the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. You can almost always see the next island before leaving the one you're at. The long voyages and mammoth provisioning requirements of the last few years — when we sailed across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans — are for the most part a distant memory. The next long passages won't be until after the boat goes through the Panama Canal, most likely next year. We started this year with the boat on the hard for her bi-annual bottom scrape and paint, in addition to transmission and thru-hull maintenance. Then we had an unscheduled delay due to having to go back to the States for a week or so to get some medical tests. No worries, it was all good. And now we're off."

"After six weeks out on the reefs of Venezuela, I am back in civilization at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgins," reports Steve Schmidt of Hotel California, Too, the only cruising version of a SC70 ever built. "I haven't firmed up my racing schedule for this season in the Caribbean, but I definitely will do the Around St. Croix Race in late January, the St. Thomas Rolex Cup in late March, the BVI Spring Regatta also in late March, the Guadaloupe to Antigua Race on April 25, and the Around Antigua Race a few days after that. Doing the Voiles de St. Barth in mid-April will depend on who wants to crew. If I don't have adequate crew to race, I might just take people sailing during the Voiles."

All these racing plans from Schmidt, a former resident of the South Bay, who only got into racing in the Caribbean to meet people! We sailed with Steve in last year's Voiles and had a blast. By the way, the Caribbean sailing season is just starting to come to a full boil, with lots of great events between now and when the season ends with Antigua Sailing Week in early May. Not mentioned by Schmidt were the St. Barth Bucket, the Bequia Easter Regatta, the Antigua Classic Regatta, and the St. Martin Heineken Regatta, the latter probably being the biggest of them all.

Much to the disbelief of many in the Mexico cruising community, Dave and Kim Wegesend, the delightful couple who have berthed their Catana 42 catamaran Maluhia at Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta for two weeks shy of forever, really did take off, as they've been promising to do for so many years. "We left on New Year's Eve, and have been sailing down the coast," writes Kim. "Thank goodness that very unusual week of rain finally stopped, as we were beginning to think it was a sign. But we're in Barra now, enjoying ourselves immensely. Our loose plan is Panama, the Galapagos, and French Polynesia, but we all know about plans."

People complain about officialdom in Mexico, and oftentimes it's justified. But when Dan Orlando of Marina Iguana in Puerto Vallarta delivered the Maple Leaf 78 pilothouse Breathless through the Panama Canal to St. Petersburg, Florida in late November, he says U.S. officials were baffled when he attempted to clear into the country. Eventually they sent him to the Tampa International Airport, where officials didn't know much more. "It took nine hours for me to check into the United States because none of the U.S. officials knew what to do." Orlando had a more enjoyable time in the Panama Canal, when he took the accompanying photogragh of what appoears to be an egret hitching a ride through one of the Miraflores Locks.

In the December issue we wondered how long an idealistic group of four young people ­— Eric, Pam, Tyler, Kevin, and a dog — who planned to do a circumnavigation together, could last on the 31-ft Columbia 9.7 Connect. After all, she's a small boat, and new sailors have different desires and needs. It turns out the four made it to La Paz from Southern California, which we think is pretty good. But having done 1,000 miles, the near-inevitable changes are taking places.

According to Kevin, Eric and Pam are unsure if they want to continue attempting the circumnavigation with Connect, or travel up the Sea of Cortez, or go back to the States for a bit. But he and Tyler like cruising so much — and "becoming part of the Latitude 38 community" — that Kevin decided to buy his own boat. She's Destiny, a CT-35 pilothouse that was available for a very good price, but needs quite a bit of work. Fortunately, he says there are a lot of experienced cruisers around La Paz who seem interested in helping them.

We're hoping that none of these four young folks don't feel bad that things didn't turn out as planned, as they need to realize that by having 'gone for it', in many ways they've already gotten a real- world education. When you're young and putting your heart and soul into chasing dreams, there is no such thing as failure, just lessons learned. And because you learn them firsthand, they stick better than what you learn from a book or in a classroom. So please don't stop pursuing your dreams, as the world needs risk-takers such as you.

"Hey now!" shouts German Stefan Ries of the nowhere in particular-based Triton 28 Mitaka, currently in Panama. "I picked up two Belgian ladies in Panama City, and we sailed out to Santa Catalina. We broke the trip into parts, with two overnights at Playa Benao, where we caught some fun waves and did some reprovisioning. The wind was on the light side, so the whole trip took six days. We spent New Year's Eve drifting off the Peninsula de Suero, safely inside the busy shipping lane, and were able to watch the fireworks at Cambutal. We did a lot of drifting the next day, which allowed us to swim with the dolphins. It was a great trip, as nothing broke, we didn't starve, and the Belgian girls adjusted well to life aboard. I'm now waiting for a swell to surf Santa Catalina, my favorite spot in Panama."

We know that Ries paid $5,000 for his boat, but were curious what it costs him to cruise. "In a good month, I can live well on $200 to $300 a month," responded Ries. "I hardly ever stay in marinas, and sailing without an engine saves a lot of money, too." The old time versus money tradeoff.

"We made it!" report an enthusiastic Charlie and Cathy Simon, with crew Andy, of the Spokane and Nuevo Vallarta-based Taswell 58 Celebrate. What they had done is complete Leg 1 of World ARC, from St. Lucia to Porvenir in the San Blas Islands of Panama. "We finished in six days and two hours, and were the 10th boat to finish in the fleet of 35. What a wonderful experience it's been so far! Aside from the occasional breakage and reluctant Autohelm, all went smoothly. And what a beautiful place the San Blas Islands are! The 365 islands are very small, dotted with small Kuna villages, and the people get around the crystal-clear waters in dugout canoes, some of which are powered by sail. What's amazed us is the number of cruising boats that apparently come to spend the entire season here. It's truly a remote community of cruising sailors. We and the rest of the World ARC boats will meet up at Shelter Bay Marina, Panama, before passing through the Panama Canal as a group on January 28."

Seven of the 35 World ARC boats are from the United States, but we believe that Celebrate is the only one with a West Coast connection.

Alex Hasenclever of the M/V Maitairoa wants all Mexico cruisers to know that this year's La Paz Bayfest, hosted by the Club Cruceros of La Paz, will be held on April 3-6. During the four days of fun there will be cruising-related seminars, wine tasting, dancing, good food, lots of socializing — and a fun day race for sailboats. "Don't miss it!" says Alex. "It's a blast," say a lot of sailors who have done it in the past.

While at the Fonatur Marina at Mazatlan in December, we came across an interesting poster on the front door of the harbormaster's office. 'Denounce Acts of Corruption', it read. That would be a great thing, wouldn't it? We wonder if they have any posters left to put on the doors of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"My idea is to build a full-service marina at Mag Bay, featuring about 100 slips, a 100-boat dry marina, and a hotel and condos, and be open for business sometime in 2015," writes Federico Pani. "Does Latitude have any idea how many U.S. boats, sail and motor, come to Mexico every year? I need to know to better plan my marina."

We at Latitude do not know how many boats "come to Mexico" every year. In terms of the number of boats that go up or down the Pacific Coast, we'd guess somewhere between 750 and 1,200. It seems to us that the most successful marinas in Mexico are close to population centers and airports, so we think your projections might be a little optimistic. But we wish you the best of luck.

We've always wanted to spend more time aboard Profligate at Mag Bay, which is about 25 miles by 11 miles (not counting adjacent Bahia Almejas, which is 11 miles by seven miles), and is located about 150 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas. Better still, we've always wanted to take Profligate the 25 or so miles up the 'inside passage' to Lopez Mateo, where we've been told it's possible to pop back out into the Pacific. Last month we spent a few days with Bob Voit, owner of Mag Bay Outfitters, who knows all about the waters between Mag Bay and his home at Lopez Mateo. "There would be no problem bringing Profligate up, as the waterway is plenty deep and wide," advised the longtime friend of the Ha-Ha. "And if you're careful, you could easily get back out into the ocean with all the fishing boats," Sounds good to us.

Something else that sounds good is Fausto Beltran advising that the marina that is part of the 5,000-acre Isla Cortes nautical, golf and residential development at Nuevo Altata will be having their grand opening on February 22. Nuevo Altata is at the same latitude as La Paz, but on the east side of the Sea of Cortez, tucked inside a relatively large bay. The closest big city is Culiacán, about 20 miles inland, where the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca found themselves spending last Christmas. Culiacán is a very affluent agricultral region, as well as home to the powerful Sinaloa Drug Cartel. Until now, the local owners of big yachts, mostly motor yachts, have had to keep their boats in Cabo, La Paz or Mazatlan. But Beltran and new harbormaster Bill Hempel hope to bring them back 'home' to join the smaller local boats at the 50-berth marina. And they want foreign yachties to know they are most welcome, too.

Beltran says the entrance to the big bay is a little tricky, but the government keeps it buoyed for all the commercial fishing boats that are based out of the area. The bay itself is said to be 20 feet deep, and the marina area has at least nine feet of water at low tide. Isla Cortes Marina has gas and diesel, and will soon have a restaurant and other facilities.

If you stop by, we suggest a side trip to 30-minute-distant Culiacán, which is an interesting and suprirsingly cosmopolitan city. It has three rivers flowing through it, and among other attractions, an orchestra that has a 42-week season of symphony, pops, opera, ballet, and chamber music, featuring musicians from all over the world.

As if that weren't enough marina news, the Vista Encantada development has announced it's planning a 150-slip marina "to the south of Chacala", which is about 25 miles to the northeast of Punta Mita. This might be the same marina that was previously announced for the Rincon de Guayabitos. We hope so, because cruisers would have a fit if anybody destroyed the cherished anchorage at Chacala itself.

"I'm reading the bad news out of Mexico for cruising folks and others looking for some fun in the sun," writes Malama Robinson of Hanalei Bay. "Unfortunately, all good things come to bad endings when you factor in human greed, such as had so much influence for decades now here in Hawaii. Yep, it looks like the party is over in Mexico and you'll need to pay the piper — i.e. the corrupt bastards running the show. It seems as though there is nowhere to go but home to a gated condo. Oh, well. Some of us saw the writing on the wall, but the ca-ca is only now hitting the fan. Sailing is not fun here in Hawaii any more due to all the vagrants and thieves living in and around the water, because of the horrible conditions of the marinas here and the stupidity of the people employed by the harbors. Oh, well, after losing my lifetime retirement in the 2008 financial fiasco, I was banished to the sea in small sailing vessels of one sort or another, until I found an old Cal seaworthy enough to eventually make my way home to Hanalei, Kauai. I guess I'm a bit hardened to the plight of folks in Mexico and owners of big boats, as I see more and more megamillionaire yachts headed our way. The writing on the wall is that we owners of vessels under 70 feet are expendable. But I wish everyone well."

We've recently talked to some folks with boats in Hawaii who say that while things can be a little funky, they are loving it. That said, Hawaii has never been particularly friendly to out-of-state or foreign boat owners, and it's particularly hard on those who don't have a lot of money. There are, however, still plenty of places in the world were it's easy to cruise very inexpensively. See the earlier Cruise Note from Stefan Ries.

Fred Roswald and Judy Jensen of the Seattle-based Serendipity 43 Wings report that having spent the last year in the Caribbean, they are now anchored off the Rosario Islands of Colombia, and expect to transit the Canal soon and head up to Mexico. We remember when they sent us a report on the Queen's Birthday Storm in the South Pacific. That was in June 1994!

Happy cruising everyone!

Missing the pictures? See the February 2014 eBook!


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