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February 2016

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With reports this month from Chesapeake crossing the Indian Ocean; from Ocean Echo on completing a North Pacific Loop; from Aussie Rules on switching boats and switching oceans; from El Gato on thoughts on cruising the Med last summer; from Geja on an eighth season cruising the Adriatic;
and Cruise Notes.

Chesapeake — Outbound 46
Jim Fair and Linda Powers
Across the Indian Ocean

When we departed Berkeley on February 9, 2009, to start our circumnavigation, we knew that crossing the Indian Ocean would likely be one of our more difficult passages. When it came time for us to cross it in July 2015, we’d heard plenty of stories about the confused seas, the wave trains running in multiple directions — usually S and SE with 13-foot waves — and winds in excess of 30 knots.

There are three options for crossing the Indian Ocean. The shortest, most traditional route is west from Phuket, Thailand, across the northern Indian Ocean up to and through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. Unfortunately, piracy has made this option too risky in recent years. The second option is to head west through Sri Lanka and then south through the Chagos Archipelago, Rodrigues, Mauritius, and Reunion to South Africa. Most boats taking this route depart December-January. The third option is to head east back through Malaysia and part of Indonesia in order to start the Indian Ocean crossing by going through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.

Each option has its drawbacks. We chose the third, the main drawback being having to make our way nearly 1,000 miles down the Strait of Malacca to reach the Sunda Strait. That passage was bedeviled by mostly very light wind, and was littered with boat traffic, much of it poorly lit at night.

We provisioned and refueled in Puteri, about halfway down the Malacca Strait, which left us with 500 miles to Sunda Strait. We thought we’d never get out of SE Asia! We eventually cleared the Strait, saw a hazy Krakatoa, site of one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions ever, and cheered that we were finally in the Indian Ocean. We were relieved to finally be away from all the shipping traffic, heat and humidity.

It took us four days to sail 600 miles to Cocos Keeling, the first of several island stops when going across the Indian Ocean. The southeast trades made it a quick trip, and we logged some of our fastest days ever — 191 miles in 24 hours was our best. The seas were typically 10 to 15 feet, which made things lumpy, but overall the sailing was fine.

On August 24 we left for 1,999-mile- distant Rodrigues. It took us 12.5 days. The sailing was a mixed bag — gentle downwind sailing, then squalls and erratic winds to 35 knots and 12-ft seas.

On September 29, we took off for 348-mile-distant Mauritius. We had a terrific downwind sail and arrived at Port Louis after just 49 hours.

Bob Walden flew in to help us sail the rest of the way to South Africa. We left on November 9 for an easy 132-mile overnight passage to Port Ouest, Reunion. "So far so good," is what we were thinking at the time.

On Friday, November 13 we left for Richards Bay, South Africa. This was the most difficult part of the crossing, as we had to cross the Agulhas Current, which is a changing whirlpool of 3-5 knots of current. It took us 11 days to go 1,272 miles. We saw some light winds and did some motoring the first few days. Our speed over ground was 7+ knots. Then the seas got bigger and then the wind died altogether.

We started to get favorable current, but it also got chilly, so we had to pull our foulies out. We finally got blessed with a 3+ knot current in our favor, kicking our speed over ground to above 10 knots. At the time we were about 80 miles south of Madagascar, and we recorded a new 24-hour record — 196 miles.

Then the trades died and we got wind from every direction. We were constantly reefing, unreefing, gybing and tacking. We slowed down to avoid weather in front of us, but still had rain, lightning and wind to 52 knots. We finally hove to for a day in light wind and sloppy seas. When we started moving again, we did more than eight knots over the bottom, despite carrying a triple-reefed main and a small jib. We arrived at Richards Bay, South Africa at 2 a.m. on November 24, Jim's birthday. We rafted up at the Tuzi Gazi Marina until the office opened in the morning.

Here’s what we learned: The Indian Ocean seas can be large and confused with gale-force winds — but it's not always that way. On the final leg, from Reunion to South Africa, you can be guaranteed one or more high-wind fronts passing through. The front will start with light winds, but can blow at more than 50 knots in less than an hour.

Sailors must pay close attention to avoid being surprised by bad weather. Boats that left before us had more severe winds. And you must keep monitoring the currents. We found several sites that were helpful:,; and We also used for email and weather information.

We leave Richards Bay for Cape Town on Christmas Day.

— jim and linda 12/24/2015

Ocean Echo — Hallberg-Rassy 45
Hellmuth Starnitzky
The North Pacific Loop

I finished my Pacific Loop — a two-year, 12,000-mile adventure — at the end of last October and am now back home at Marina Village in Alameda. I started from here with my wife Angelika at the end of September 2013. She would cruise with me in Mexico and later in parts of Alaska.

After sailing down the coast of California, we did the Ha-Ha and took honors in the Kilo Division. Staying with the program of so many other cruisers that head south, we made La Paz our home for the winter. Using that as a base, we sailed the Sea of Cortez, including tracing the great path we'd taken when we chartered a boat from The Moorings out of Puerto Escondido back in 1990. In the spring of 2014, we crossed the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan, and spent time in both La Cruz and Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta.

The similarity of itineraries with most other cruising boats ended at mainland Mexico. To my knowledge, my boat was the only one that sailed to Hawaii. We started that voyage from Vallarta in the middle of April. It took us 23 days to cover the 3,200 miles. It's longer than most people think because they don't realize how far east P.V. is — due south of Denver. Our trip was earmarked by the lack of wind, particularly for the first 10 days or so. We even resorted to motoring slowly to conserve our limited fuel.

I had a crew of three, which worked out well, as everyone got sufficient rest and time to themselves. After crossing shipping routes from/to the Panama Canal, we saw no other vessels — visually or electronically — for 20 days.

A layover of almost two months at Honolulu’s Ala Wai Harbor ­— more on that next month — drew to an end in July when, with a crew of four, Ocean Echo left for Sitka, Alaska. It was only 150 miles shorter from Honolulu to Sitka than from P.V. to Honolulu. Our passage to Alaska took 22 days.

The weather during the two passages was manageable, with winds topping out at 36 knots true, and waves at an estimated 25 feet. We engaged the services of Commander's Weather for the leg to Sitka, and found their findings mostly in line with our own weather expectations based on the GRIB files.

Heading south on the Inside Passage, with its many neighboring waterways, was interesting. Unfortunately, when my wife and I were there in the July – September time period of 2014, it was often cold and rainy. And when there was wind, it was usually on the nose. Nevertheless, our visits to Glacier Bay National Park — with its glaciers, killer whales, bears, moose, bald eagles and other stunningly beautiful wildlife — made up for many inconveniences. After Glacier Bay National Park, we visited Juneau, Petersburg, and at the season's end, Wrangell, where Ocean Echo spent the winter of 2014-2015.

I had no takers on my invitations to join me for the voyage south from Wrangell in 2015. Nor was my wife interested in returning to the cool and often rainy Alaskan weather. So I ended up doing four months of singlehanding. Fortunately, I had sailed my boat singlehanded many times before in the Bay and adjacent waters, so it wasn't a problem.

I started the 2015 season on May 1, and slowly made my way south, in and out of the Inside Passage. I visited Ketchikan and many small settlements as I crisscrossed Southeast Alaska. I eventually reached Prince Rupert, BC, where I checked into Canada. I then continued south through the myriad waterways among the islands of British Columbia. When I got to Port Hardy, I was joined by a friend for exploring Desolation Sound and the Powell River area.

Singlehanding once again, I arrived in Vancouver shortly thereafter, where a great-nephew and his girlfriend from Germany joined me for the trip to Victoria, BC, via the Gulf Islands. After Victoria and Orcas, San Juan and Lopez Islands, we reached Port Angeles, Washington, where a full crew joined me for the trip down to San Francisco Bay.

The 990-mile journey to Alameda, via Neah Bay, went as expected. Initially we had great northerly winds, which allowed us to quickly eat up the miles. But the wind came out of the south with an approaching low pressure system, so we pulled into Eureka for shelter and fuel. Resuming our trip south, we had up to 40 knots of wind from the north before making our next and final stop at Drakes Bay.

My cruise was fantastic to plan and execute, and it was an eye-opening and extremely satisfying experience of maybe my lifetime. But hopefully it was only a teaser of things to come.

— hellmuth 10/15/2015

Aussie Rules — Catalina 34
Dave Hayes and Rose Alderson
The Chapter After the Pacific
(Gabriola Island, British Columbia)

After seven years of planning, and an extensive house renovation, we sold our fixer-upper to finance our cruising dreams. The first part of our dream was ambitious — sail our humble, not-really-meant-for-cruising Catalina 34 from British Columbia to Australia. Though some sailors may have thought we were nuts going with a boat that wasn’t designed to cross oceans, only one said, “You’re going where?! In that?!” to our faces. He was likely just voicing what others thought but kept to themselves. We did, however, add a bunch of new gear, including oversized standing rigging, 420 watts of solar panels, an SSB radio, radar, a B&G chart plotter, and Hydrovane self-steering.

Dave and I were concerned that our 34-footer was too small. But as we learned over the course of the trip to Australia, about 80% of the time we were fine with the boat’s size. After all, Catalina makes roomy boats. We entertained often, having four, six and even 10 people over for sundowners and even full-blown dinners. Aussie Rules' cockpit is huge, bigger than the ones on some much larger boats.

Other than perhaps three days of nasty weather, we were perfectly confident in our boat’s abilities. As it turned out, we often reached destinations faster than friends on buddy boats because our boat was lighter, and because we’re racers at heart, we liked to tweak the sails.

We sailed down the West Coast quickly in order to make the start of the 2014 Baja Ha-Ha. We found the rally to be a lot of fun, with an emphasis on safety, fun social events, and some lighthearted competition. Nonetheless, we were glad to win our division. We also took part in the Banderas Bay Blast a month later, and enjoyed finishing near the front of the fleet — not far behind Profligate and Sea Level, two fast cats we had no business being anywhere near.

For more than four months, we explored Mexico. We spent some time in the Sea of Cortez, sat out a Norther in La Paz, had family and friends visit in Puerto Vallarta, and enjoyed many weeks at Tenacatita Bay. Our final weeks were spent in the Puerto Vallarta area, getting prepped for the crossing and taking in several Puddle Jump seminars at the Vallarta YC.

We started our Pacific Puddle Jump on March 21, 2015, and along with everyone else, struggled trying to find the fabled tradewinds. We reported in on the SSB net each day, noted the weather others were having, and created a visual on our OpenCPN program on the laptop. Using GRIB files and the information from those around us, we managed to stay ahead of a huge high-pressure system that would have left us bobbing for days. We made it to the Marquesas — an incredibly scenic landfall of lush greenery after huge blue skies and endless seas — in 28 days.

Friends had a much more difficult passage. First, the skipper tore muscles in his back and had to be flat on his back for six days. During this time the boat was hit by a 50-knot squall, with the crew unprepared to deal with it, resulting in their boom breaking in two places. Thanks to our DeLorme InReach's communications device, we kept in touch and encouraged them to join us in a lovely bay on Tahuata. When they got there, Dave, with the help of cordless tools and the support of many, fixed the boom by cutting off the jagged end. He relocated all the attachment points along the bottom of the boom, making it almost as good as new. The only downside was they had to have a permanent reef in their in-mast furling system.

The loud cheers that went up from the many fellow cruisers around us as the boom was reattached reflected the community spirit of cruisers we have experienced all across the Pacific. If you need help, we'll be there; and if we can't help, we'll stay close and cheer you on. The compensation is always the same — food, friendship and a few beverages. In this case, it was a 1.75l bottle of tequila. But hey, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary celebrations. This fun-loving, supportive cruising community watched out for one another, helped one another, and celebrated time and again, sourcing parts, tools, skills — and most importantly a willingness to join in. Hip hip, hooray! Our friends sailed all the way to Bundaberg, Australia with the jury rig, going just a bit slower than their normal top speed.

Alas, our trip across the Pacific went much too fast, as we only had a week or two to explore areas where we could easily have lost ourselves for many weeks. French Polynesia in particular was spectacular and unique, specifically the differences between the three island groups of the Marquesas, Tuamotus and the Societies. I feel as though we missed the most in the Tuamotus; there are so many atolls that it’s really hard to see more than a few, especially as we only got a three-month visa, the most common duration the French give out. It would be very easy to spend years exploring these extremely remote islands and atolls. Numerous other islands had to be skipped completely or visited only briefly.

We have had a wonderful trip across the Pacific, arriving in Bundaberg on November 10, just shy of nine months after departing from Puerto Vallarta, and just 15 months after leaving Canada.

Our plan had always been to sell our boat once we got to Australia. Many Aussies told us that Catalina is well-respected in Oz as a solid, well-built boat. We were also told the market has gone a bit flat, but the smaller boat market was still doing all right.

As we landed in Bundaberg, which was a pleasant and painless process, we were immediately greeted by a friend we had made in Mexico. It turned out that his brother was looking for a boat in the Aussie Rules size, and we had to think on our feet to come up with a selling price. As we had bought the boat for a bargain — she was a fixer-upper — we were able to ask less than what we thought the going rate might be, yet still take home a great profit. Over the next few weeks we worked out a deal in which everyone benefited. We had a buyer quickly, and he got a great deal as many other similar boats were for sale for much more than ours. But those boats are still for sale and ours sold!

So that’s it for us and cruising. We've got the T-shirt and are moving to the Ayers Rock area in the middle of Australia, as far from the sea as you can get in Oz. Just kidding! We took all the cruising gear except the solar panels off Aussie Rules when we sold her, because we immediately turned around and bought a Catalina 400 Mk II in Sint Maarten in the Eastern Caribbean!

Ohana was built in 2000 but was only used five of the last 15 years, and thus became a neglected, fixer-upper. While she does have a new engine and headsail, she needs a pretty extensive refit ­— including new heads, a mainsail, cockpit canvas, some wiring and some basic plumbing. We’re bringing lots of the goodies we had on Aussie Rules, and were glad to hear the Poobah/Wanderer tell us that Sint Maarten is not only duty-free but also has one of the best cruising boat chandleries in the world.

Maybe we’re dreaming, but we’re hoping it will only be a couple of weeks before we can start seeing the various islands of the Eastern Caribbean, Dave puts things together as time allows. The Poobah/Wanderer will be arriving in St. Barth, only 15 miles from Sint Maarten, about the same time we’re hoping to be able to get underway, and he's promised to give us a tour of the island.

The next time we come through the South Pacific, we will aim for a 5-7-year trip. We hope to start that in about five years' time.

— rose 12/20/2015

El Gato — Catana 47
Annie Gardner and Eric Witte
More Thoughts on the Med
(Pt. Loma, San Diego)

[In last month's issue, Annie and Eric recounted buying their catamaran in Europe — and suddenly deciding to spend a summer cruising the Med before crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. The following are some of their thoughts and observations.]

Where are the Yanks? "We never saw any American boats during our summer in the Med. If an American flag flew from a boat, it was a small boat, and it was owned by Turks who had registered the boat in Delaware to get tax breaks."

New priorities: "We watch the weather religiously, as Mother Nature now rules our lives. Right now she is gentle. Predict Wind and Navionics apps have become our best friends. When we don’t have phone service/Internet for these apps, we keep our eyes open and our fingers crossed. Iridium satellite service will come into play eventually, but for now Europe and T Mobile are our sources for info."

Not everyone is courteous: "We returned to our boat at one place in Greece to find she was banging against the sea wall, protected only by her fenders. El Gato's anchor had been pulled free by a boat that had left. There was very little damage, but it was a scramble to get the anchor reset. Eric 'MacGyver' hung it from the bow of our dinghy El Raton, backed up, and let her go. The funny thing is, when we pulled up the anchor to reset it, there was a boat hook stuck to the chain. So now we have a spare boat hook, courtesy of the folks who jerked our anchor free."

We've made mistakes, too! "Villefranche, just east of Nice, is said to be the biggest natural harbor in the world and was once home to the US Sixth Fleet. It's in a very beautiful setting, too, but it's a very deep-water anchorage. Late in the afternoon we went for a hike in the hills above Villefranche, and when we looked down to see El Gato, she wasn't where we'd left her. Huh?! And just two days before in Antibes we'd bought a "better" anchor and more chain. The sandals came off and we flew down the hill, backpacks bouncing on our backs, rushing to our dinghy to get to El Gato before something bad happened. We were so lucky, as she'd drifted between two large yachts rather than into either one of them. The only good thing that came of it is that Eric was impressed to discover how quickly I can run."

Satisfied Catana owners. "The wind topped out at 42 knots as we sailed past Sifnos, Greece. We were grateful that we had two reefs in the main and the small Solent up. The wind increases near the islands, and this time it blasted down on us. We were never overpowered going downwind, and our cat is so stable that the guests were comfy and happy. We feel really good about having bought our Catana 472."

How good was it? "Our Greek friends told us the best places to go in Sikinos, and after anchoring we found the bus to the top of the hill for dinner at the Manalis Winery. Owner George greeted us at the door of the restaurant run by his daughter. It was as good an experience as it gets. Not just the wonderful wines, but the location, the food, the ambience, the decor — and the price was crazy inexpensive! We watched the sunset reflect off the water, and while later waiting for the bus, watched the Pleiades meteor shower in the company of Turks and Greeks from other boats."

Having a theme is good. "We hosted a dinner party for Luis and Teresa, the Argentinians anchored on the boat behind us. In the spirit of Eat Sail Love — our cruising theme — I decided to make moussaka. While I was buying the ingredients and waiting for the butcher, a restaurant owner came in and helped me shop for the items. Even the Greek ladies thought my creation was delicious — although maybe they were just being polite. By the way, nowhere have we met more people who were as gracious, hospitable and giving as in Greece. We wish we could bottle their spirit and spread it across the world."

Understanding vegetarians. "When I asked the butcher in Amorgos if he had lamb, he went into the freezer and brought out a whole skinned lamb — eyeballs included — on a hook. He pointed while asking which part I wanted, then he took the cleaver and hacked off a leg. Eating that leg was the closest I’ve come to truly owning what it means to eat meat. I can relate to vegetarians much better now. But I’ll still eat meat — the lamb was delicious — and octopus, thank you very much!"

Getting philosophical. "Eric had to go back to the States, leaving me alone on the boat in Greece. It didn't suck, but I missed my man fiercely, as this was the first time we'd been apart since we started this journey months ago. We knew that at some point we'd have to fly home individually for something unscheduled, which in this case was a death of a gem of a relative of Eric's. With his death came the realization that our generation is next. Nooooooo! On that note, we will live each day as though it is a gift."

Maybe topless, but bottomless? "Arriving at one marina at 4 a.m. meant having to anchor outside the marina entrance until the office opened up. We woke up off a beautiful deserted beach, but by 10 a.m. the beach was packed with naked people. Like most Americans, Eric and I are a little shy when it comes to public nudity, but people are naked everywhere on beaches in the Med. I can sort of see topless, but bottomless? I later walked into a beach restaurant topless, not realizing I was the only one. Oops. I'm still learning the 'rules'."

Speaking of rules. "Shortly before crossing the Atlantic as part of the ARC+ fleet, we joined some other participants on our dock and got into a conversation about 'rules'. Hostess Tina from England said she, like me, hates rules. But she still had three:

Rule One: Don’t drink her effing rum. Rule Two: Don’t make her scared. Rule Three: Don’t hurt her boat. I think these are good rules.

I used one rule throughout the summer: No one is allowed to leave the boat unless she is docked or at anchor, and they've told someone they are leaving. After going to some ARC first aid classes, I added another rule. No one is allowed to get hurt, as I learned that blood — even fish blood — makes me queasy. We have a complete medical kit and know some first aid from the seminars, but I don’t want to have to use any of the stuff or knowledge."

What a way to go! "As we slowly traveled along the South of France looking for a new spot to anchor, we looked up and gasped — we suddenly realized that the Med is even more beautiful than we ever imagined. Add to that history surrounding almost every place and building, and we were in constant awe. Traveling by boat is the bee's knees. No worries about hotel reservations, rental cars and such, and as long as the weather cooperates, we peacefully enjoyed each location with its new things to discover."

Sardinia is expensive. "At Phi Beach, beautiful Claudia greeted us at the dock with a big white book hoping to persuade us to buy into the roped off VIP area. We gently skirted her invitation by saying we would drink at the bar instead. Our four mojitos cost 60 euros. But they were delicious."

The favorite? "Everyone asks us which was our favorite island. When they do, Eric and I look at each other and smile. In fact, we could sit, smile, and not say a word as the memories of our time in the Med flood through our minds. Picking a favorite island would be rude, so we come up with examples of our many favorites.

Milos was awesome for the pirate caves and the Greeks we met. Bonifacio on Corsica took our breath away as we entered the narrow channel carved between cliffs and below the castle. Sardinia had great windsurfing, fish, and a friend waiting for us. Stromboli had a volcano that erupted every 15 minutes. We loved drinking wine on the back porch of a vineyard owner's home on Lipari. Ithaca was great because that's the setting for Homer's Odyssey.

Those are about 1/10 of the places we visited in the five months we spent cruising the Med. There was no favorite because they were all our favorites. Each island had its own character, whether it was Spanish, French, Italian or Greek. One thing I learned early on was to buy and enjoy what the island was famous for. The grocery stores were telling. Just walk down the aisles and see what items they had whole rows of. The hard part was then figuring out which of any particular item was the best."

Not enough time. "Why the rush-rush when we are supposedly 'cruising'? When you only have five months to see the Med, it's not nearly enough. Some people spend their whole lives cruising the Med, and we can see why. Each country has its own style, flavors, customs and landscapes. It was really hard for us to leave the Med, but rest assured that some day, with or without El Gato, we shall return."

— annie 12/15/2015

Readers — Annie and Eric are now cruising the Eastern Caribbean. Her blog is terrific, and you can follow it at It's also the way to contact the couple if you want to do a charter with them.

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Eighth Summer Cruise In the Med
(San Francisco)

[This is Part Two of Andrew Vik's report on his eighth annual cruise in the Med. Part One appeared last month.]

It was great to get in two solid weeks of cruising along Montenegro’s short coastline. While Croatia is inundated by tourists, by both land and sea, you can still get that off-the-beaten-path feeling in Montenegro. The marinas are never full and we had all three anchorages to ourselves. Berths with water and electricity cost between 30 and 50 euros per night, about 20% less than in Croatia.

Unlike our checkout procedure in Croatia, sailing out of the EU and into Montenegro couldn’t have been smoother. But that's probably because our port of entry was the overly posh Porto Montenegro. Some rich Canadian guy has turned an old naval shipyard into the Adriatic Sea’s most luxurious marina, positioning it as a hot spot for megayachts.

Upon arrival at the customs dock, I was whisked away by a pretty young marina employee in a golf cart to visit the onsite customs and police offices. I was even given a cold beverage. I was afraid that I was unknowingly going to have to pay a fortune for the hand-holding, but it was free. It sure made the 64-euro overnight charge seem far more reasonable. Overall, though, the place sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise poor country.

As you sail south in Montenegro beyond the Budva Riviera, things became less 'refined', leading us to make a number of Borat references. There was more trash in the sea, and the water somehow lost the clarity for which the Adriatic is known. But, hey, 'refined' can be boring.

Yet if it had been up to my two buddies, a Swede and a Dane, we’d have spent their entire two-week stay in Budva, a very refined holiday destination. It’s indeed a special place where the most fashionable local girls, along with tourists from Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, party the summer nights away. Their culture favors high heels and short dresses, so the nightly supermodel parade was just insane.

What’s a typical party night like for the Geja gang? Being Scandinavian-blooded, we follow the Nordic protocol of pre-partying on board. Not that drinks in the Balkan countries cost anywhere near what they do up north – a mojito will only set you back up to seven euros; beers two to three euros. The pre-party is just a fun component of the night to sit with your buddies and get your drink — usually vodka-based — on. At around 11 p.m. we’ll paddle and/or walk to a nearby hot spot, and possibly hit a nightclub later. If new friends are curious enough to check out the boat, the Scandinavian concept of an after-party concept applies as well. In between nights such as those, I like to schedule what I call 'detox-stops' – remote anchorages with no shoreside party temptations. A long, peaceful night of sleep can be an elusive treat during a Geja voyage.

Checking back into Croatia from the south involves another stop in Cavtat. Oddly, the customs quay was empty, and several boats were just circling around when we arrived. Apparently the computers were down so nobody could check in. Nor were the awaiting boats allowed to even tie up. Eventually the computers were fixed and it became our turn to Med-moor to the quay. Given the time, I'd come up with a plan to avoid the ridiculous 13-euro line-handling charge.

Since you’re not allowed to step off a boat that isn’t securely tied at Cavtat, it would seem you would have to pay for a line-handler. But I positioned a crewmember at the stern with a pre-looped line. With my other crew up front paying out the anchor chain, I backed toward the quay. Ignoring the line-handler on the shore, my stern crew successfully lassoed the bollard. With line and chain snug, I stepped ashore from my secure vessel and checked us into Croatia. I was lectured upon departure, but did avoid the fee I would have had to pay the previous time.

From Cavtat it’s just an hour to Dubrovnik, one of Europe’s most badass walled medieval towns. The marina is a 30-minute bus ride from the old town, and costs 100 euros during weekends — "just 70 euros" the rest of the time — so we just dropped the hook next to the old town port. It’s a crappy anchorage where Geja rolls in even the calmest weather, but the location can't be beat. And there is no anchoring fee at Dubrovnik, a surprise in a country infamous for anchoring fees.

In all, I logged 600 miles this summer and was underway 37 out of the 48 days. I averaged 16 miles on my days underway. As for those fickle Mediterranean winds, we were only able to sail about 35% of the distance this summer, a new low. This figure had been as high as 59% in one previous summer, but it's usually in the 40s.

Of Geja's 30 different overnight stops, 13 were new to me. That’s the luxury of sailing in Croatia ­— you simply can’t run out of new places to explore, what with the countless islands and protected harbors. Even after eight summers.

That said, I’ve covered all of the highlights of both shores of the Adriatic at least twice by now, from Venice in the north down to Montenegro. Part of me misses the excitement of discovering new places, while another appreciates the minimal planning required to share some awesome cruising grounds with good friends. I have a great setup with a boatyard just a stone’s throw from the airport in Split, Croatia. The English-speaking mechanics are intimately familiar with Geja by now, and there’s always some deferred maintenance for them to deal with in the off season at less than half of US boatyard rates.

Many cruisers hate Croatia, mostly due to the bureaucracy, anchoring charges, hordes of charter boats, and expensive marinas. In time I've gotten used to the rules, have learned which anchorages are free, and cherish the Fridays and Saturdays when all of the charter boats head back to port. Croatia has the most islands in close proximity of anywhere in the Med, so if geography defines the quality of a cruising venue, then this is the place to be. Plus, it attracts independent travelers from around the world, and is probably the safest, cleanest, and most convenient country in which to cruise. So it still suits me as the ideal place for a 'quick' six-week vacation sail.

— andrew 12/15/2015

Cruise Notes:

"The outboard thieves of Mazatlan are alive and well," reports Jamie Sibley of the San Diego-based Cheoy Lee 36 ketch Flying Cloud. "In early January we had our Yamaha 8-hp taken in the middle of the night while at the Old Harbor at the south end of town. The thieves were brazen enough to board our boat and gather up the outboard gas tank as well. It's sad that there seems to be no stopping these guys, as it makes cruisers not want to visit Mazatlan."

The Old Harbor-Stone Island area of Mazatlan did have a number of outboard thefts a few years ago, so it's unfortunate that it seems to be starting up again. Mazatlan is well worth visiting, so it might be better to get a berth at one of the marinas at the north end of town where there is better security.

If you have something valuable stolen from your boat while cruising in Mexico, we'd love to hear about it so we can warn others about potential 'hot spots'.

"After meeting up with the Wanderer in La Cruz, we had a good trip around Cabo Corrientes and down to Tenacatita Bay, where I'm serving yet another term as 'Mayor'," write Robert Gleser and First Lady Virginia Gleser of the Alameda-based Freeport 41 Harmony. "On our way to Tenacatita, we got to see the impact that October's extremely powerful hurricane Patricia had on the area. From what we could tell, the worst hit spots were from Perulta, better known as Chamela, to Barra de Navidad. As of late December, the jungle and palm trees still looked battered, with lots of torn and fallen fronds. But new fronds were emerging from the barren trunks.

"As for Tenacatita Bay, a lot of work has been done and is being done, with a beautiful new palapa on the beach near the Tenacatita anchorage. The Blue Bay Hotel has many projects going on to rebuild and repair the damage, from new roof tiles to new palapas to smoothing the beach with big equipment."

For the record, the Glesers have been 'six and six' cruising since 2000.

What does the 'Mayor of Tenacatita Bay' do? We'll let John Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow explain. "Every Friday the 'Mayor' holds a dinghy raft-up potluck. By the time I got down from taking the accompanying photo of the group from the mast, there were more than 20 dinghies and about 50 people sharing food and stories and generally enjoying each other's company and the end of another fine day."

The 'Mayor's' Friday night raft-ups, and other cruiser group activities at Tenacatita, are among the strongest cruiser traditions in Mexico. Tenacatita Bay is about 15 miles north of Barra de Navidad and 90 miles south of P.V.

Is there a group of people any more deserving of love and help than children who, for whatever reason, don’t have a parent or a family member they can live with and who cares for them? We don’t think so. As a result, we’d like to give a special shout out to Katrina Liana of Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz, and local cruisers, who on January 6 put on a special King’s Day Party for the 25 children of Manos de Amor (Hands of Love) Orphanage. 'Kat', as she's best known, founded the event six years ago when she was an active cruiser. Now that she works for the marina — "I'm still a cruiser!" she insists — she continues to head up the terrific event, with the enthusiastic support of the marina.

The children were brought to the marina from the orphanage in Bucerias and given a free meal at the marina deli. Then they got to play with the marina's many 'boat kids', doing things like making crafts and painting one another's faces. Finally they were all given gifts in one of the 30 backpacks brought down from the States by cruisers Richard and Donna Pomeroy of the Astoria, Oregon-based Polaris 43 Flying Carpet.

As much as the children loved the gifts, what they really hungered for was the attention and love of other humans. As Doña de Mallorca remarked, “I’ve never been hugged so hard in my life.”

Latitude 38 salutes everyone who helped bring a little sunshine into the lives of these innocent kids, who have started life having being dealt such a bad hand. We know this is just one of many cruiser programs to help the less fortunate in Mexico, so we also salute all of you who help at other similar events.

Another of the other cruiser charity events in Mexico was the December Riviera Nayarit Splash/Blast/Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity, which is supported by Riviera Nayarit Tourism, Paradise Marina, Marina Riviera Nayarit, Latitude 38, the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and P.V. Sails. The beneficiaries of the three-day event are the very young students of the Punta Mita area. Top finishers of 21 boats in the Ha-Ha-style racing was Fred Roswold and Judy Jensen's now-La Cruz-based Peterson 43 Wings. Having sailed their boat around the world for 18 years, they've got her dialed in.

"Since June I've had my catamaran up the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala, where I've had extensive work done on her," reports Scott Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House. "We later spent New Year's Eve with Peter and Laurie on their sistership Zia. While up the Rio Dulce I felt like we were in the bottom of a toilet bowl. I don't mean to suggest that it's a bad place, but rather it is the bottom of the world in terms of getting out of there, as you've run out of downwind options and have to head east and upwind into the trades. It took a guy named Columbus and the crew of his galleon three months to finally get far enough east, which is why he named the last point Punta Gracias Adios.

"Anyway, my companion Nikki Woodrow and I will soon depart for either the Bay of Islands or Isla Providencia, then the San Blas Islands and the Panama Canal. We need to transit the Canal, not so I can head up to California to finish my circumnavigation, but rather because Nikki and I have decided to sail across the Pacific to Australia again. It's going to be quite a season."

What's the best alternative to a satphone? Mike and Deanna Ruel of the East Coast-based Manta 42 R Sea Kat — who finally won a seemingly endless battle against relentless strong winds to get down the east coast of South Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope — are big believers in the DeLorme InReach two-way text messaging device. On the other hand, Eric Witte and Annie Gardner of the Pt. Loma-based Catana 472 El Gato are big believers in the Iridium Go! "Our service plan for $125/month includes unlimited texting and emails, no matter where in the world we are. We used our phones and iPads and their app, and it was easy once we practiced."

Both the DeLorme and Iridium Go! are powered by Iridium, which means they should work anywhere in the world. Although we think nothing beats a satphone in an emergency, both devices are good alternatives — and/or backups — to satphones.

Doesn't Debbie Rogers look smashing in the photo below that shows her practicing yoga on her and her husband John's San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow? Naturally her bright blue top complements her blonde hair and is a vibrant contrast to the green background, but what really makes her look so smashing is that she radiates health and vitality. It's almost hard to believe that she's been happily married to John for 43 years, and is also a grandmother several times over. Those of us hoping we can look half as great as Debbie through some '30-seconds-a-day, every-third-day' routine are going to be disappointed, as she reports that it takes time and effort.

"I do my routine the first thing in the morning almost every day we're at anchor," says Debbie. "I usually put on some mellow flute music to set the mood. It takes about an hour to finish the routine, but when I'm done, I'm limber and ready to start the day. If we're in a marina, I usually hear about a local yoga class and join in."

It's easier to do yoga, stretching and other exercise on bigger boats, of course, but many cruisers manage on smaller boats. If you have a daily or just frequent exercise routine for when you're on your boat, we'd love to hear about it.

The little big man! That's the thought that came to our mind when we saw the photo at right of two-year-old Taj Lauducci of the Sausalito-based Stevens 40 Shawnigan. Skateboarding Taj is a wild one, so it's fortunate for parents Christian and Josie that they have the help of two offspring — Nina, 12 and Ellamae, 7 — as well as pickup crew Emma (last name unknown).

Great Misexpectations. "We are in Mazatlán and met the skipper of a boat that had started the last Ha-Ha, but had to bail in Ensenada because of electrical problems," write multiple Ha-Ha vets Marina and Myron Eisenzimmer of the San Anselmo-based Swan 44 Mykonos. "The skipper said they were disappointed when they got to Turtle Bay because they found the village to be "so dirty". What was he expecting, a miniature San Diego?"

Since Baja is almost all desert, it's to be expected that the village of Turtle Bay, which has no paved roads, will be as dusty as all the other villages on Baja. However, it's also true that there is an unfortunate garbage problem in Turtle Bay, as is the case in too much of Mexico. The garbage situation has actually improved greatly in the tourist areas over the last 10 years, but there is still work to be done. That said, we should all remember that it was common practice to throw garbage out of cars in the US as late as in the 1960s.

"Judy and I are in Panama City, Panama, getting ready to transit the Canal," reports Bill 'Cover Boy' Lilly of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 47 Moontide. "It looks as though I will have an (almost) all-female crew. The rumor down here is that the issue with the Kuna Indians on the beautiful San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side of Panama has been resolved. Even though the Kuna Yala — San Blas Islands — are supposed to be pretty much autonomous in the way Indian reservations are in the States, the Panamanian government reportedly put a stop to Kuna plans to charge between $1,500 and $4,000 a month (!) in fees to anchor in the San Blas.

"In any event, after the San Blas we will probably head north toward Belize, the Yucatan, hopefully Cuba, Key West, and get north of Florida by hurricane season. If we don't, our insurance doubles. We're thinking about taking Moontide up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. to do the 'Capitol thing' with a couple of my grandkids this summer, then head to the Eastern Caribbean in the fall. I figure I need to do New Year's at Foxy's in the British Virgins at least once in my life."

Because of the webcams at the Panama Canal, many of Bill and Judy's friends were able to watch them pass through the Miraflores Locks on January 19. It's always fun to watch friends pass through the locks, and you adjust the webcam angle over the Internet.

Thanks to Michael and Robin Stout of the Redondo Beach-based Aleutian 51 Mermaid, we have the latest information on the situation in the San Blas Islands.

"We were in the San Blas Islands more than a month before anybody ever came by to collect any fees from us, and they were $20/month per person, and $20/month for the boat. It's true that the Guna Congresso, which is the Kuna Yala ruling body, was going to charge outrageous fees, but decided against it. The Kuna have been friendly and welcoming to us so far, and the San Blas are beautiful and fun. By the way, here's our daily routine: do a boat chore in the morning; go for a swim, island or dinghy adventure; lunch; then snorkel. Sometimes we even go for a sail. It's not a bad way to spend our days. We might even stay here for a year."

Actually, it's not uncommon for cruisers to spend a year or more in the San Blas Islands, which have frequently been described as looking "more like the South Pacific than the South Pacific."

Thanks to publicity given it by numerous self-appointed experts, Playa del Amor, aka Hidden Beach, became an Internet sensation for the absurd title of 'the world's best remote beach'. Located just four miles from Punta Mita at the Marieta Islands near the mouth of Banderas Bay, it's also ridiculously been called 'the Galapagos of Mexico'. The result is that the place we and other cruisers had to ourselves just a few years ago is now overwhelmed with tourists brought out in all manner of charter boats from Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta and Punta MIta.

Hidden Beach truly is cool because it's inside a crater and you have to swim through a tunnel to get into it. In fact, you can't get in when the tide is really high or the surf is big because you bang your head on the top of the tunnel. But while the surrounding area is home to some tropical fish, rays and whales, it's not on the order of the Galapagos — or most places in the Caribbean. But that hasn't stopped the hordes. According to one official of the nature preserve, 4,000 people a day visit the beach during the high season, and 2,000 during the low season. And you thought Yosemite was being loved to death.

So many charterboat passengers want to get ashore that they sometimes have to wait as much as 90 minutes for their turn. While waiting, no music may be played and no alcoholic beverages may be consumed on the boats. And when you swim to the beach, you have to wear a bracelet that shows you've paid a fee, and an orange PFD. How can you free dive while wearing a PFD? You can't — which is the point. If this sounds heavy-handed, it is, but given the number of visitors it almost has to be. And if you see photos suggesting that it's just going to be you and your lover at Playa del Amor, rest assured that you have a better chance of being alone on a BART train at rush hour.

However, there is very good news for owners of private yachts. After getting a permit in downtown Puerto Vallarta, you can anchor overnight at the Marietas up to four times a month. But don't wait too long, because plans are already being formulated to begin restricting access to islands on certain weekends if not weeks, simply to keep it from being overwhelmed.

The other somewhat discouraging news is that some organization, believed to be Vallarta Adventures, has placed a very large dolphin pen outside the anchorage at Punta Mita. We can only assume that tourists will be brought out to the pen in high-capacity boats so tourists can swim with the captive dolphins. Currently Vallarta Adventures has a swim-with-dolphins program in Nuevo Vallarta. Vallarta Adventures activities are very popular and highly-rated, we'd just prefer that they, as well as everyone else, stay out of the trapped-mammals business.

UPDATE: After three days and a major uproar from locals, the pen and mooring balls have now been removed.

We have to admit that we swam with dolphins in a pen during a Big O cruise of Cuba about 20 years ago. It was a terrific experience, but one we nonetheless have misgivings about.

Good friends Barry and Sylvia Stompe of the Sausalito-based Hughes 48 ketch Iolani report they've completed a 16-day doublehanded passage from French Polynesia to Hilo, Hawaii. The couple love delicious and nutritious food, so they've been enjoying the produce market at Hilo.

"Hilo has a lovely veggie market every day, with Thai and Hawaiian farmers selling great fruit and veggies," reports Sylvia. "So after more than two weeks at sea, we've been eating well. However, the fish prices are quite a shock after French Polynesia, where we paid $2.50/pound for yellowfin tuna fresh off the boat. We're thinking the only fish we'll eat is that which we catch ourselves on our way up to Hawaii. We landed two dorado, which was nice. We also hooked a massive yellowfin, but after Barry played it for two hours, the fish got off. I'm not sure how we would have been able to land it, much less eat it all, so perhaps it's for the best that he got away."

We'll have a detailed report on the Iolani's adventures in next month's Changes.

A heart attack on the boat in the marina at 4:30 a.m? The Wanderer had been having a dream — he thinks it was a dream — in which he was having a difficult time breathing. When fully awake, he wasn't sure if he was having trouble breathing or not, although he wasn’t having any other obvious heart issue symptoms. But at age 67, and having recently lost his dear, dear friend Philo Hayward to a heart problem, he decided not to take any chances. He popped a couple of children's aspirin, took a bit of Xanax, and told Doña they were going to 30-minute-distant San Javier Hospital in Nuevo Vallarta just to err way on the side of precaution.

They arrived at the immaculately clean San Javier Hospital at 5:30 a.m., and the Wanderer was immediately tended to by several staff members, one of whom quickly hooked him up to a machine to check his blood pressure and pulse. Moments later he was taken to see a doctor, who immediately gained the Wanderer's confidence. Already this was the antithesis of too many US hospital experiences.

After going over the Wanderer's pretty clean medical history, he was taken to a modern and absolutely clean room with a bed where he was given an EKG by a combination of three very kind nurses. They let the still sleepy Doña, who didn’t seem very concerned, crash in the bed next to him. A few moments later the doctor went over the Wanderer's EKG — no problems — and discussed how to deal with the fact that both his blood pressure and blood sugar were a little elevated. The Wanderer knows how to fix that: go on a plant-based diet and cut out the crap food. He'd done it before, lost 40 pounds (way too much) in four months, and saw his blood-pressure and blood-sugar numbers plummet.

As far as the Wanderer is concerned, his was the Ritz Carlton of hospital experiences. He didn't see another patient in the whole place. It got even better when he was handed a bill for 2,700 pesos for everything — about $162. What would such a visit have cost in the United States?

Naturally not all hospitals in Mexico are as good as San Javier, but there is usually at least one very good one in most larger tourist cities. Several others have shared their hospital experiences in Mexico:

"I was in La Paz in December and couldn't shake a dry cough that had persisted since the Ha-Ha," reports Douglas Thorne of the Alameda-based Celestial 48 Tamara Lee Ann. "I decided to go to a clinic that the marina recommended, and they were able to get me an appointment with a doctor for later that day. He turned out to be a cardiologist. He arrived exactly on time and it appeared that I was his only patient that day. He spoke English pretty well, and proceeded to give me the long-form interview about my family medical history and so forth. He then gave me an exam that included an electrocardiogram, for which he personally did all the prep — shave the chest, attach the sensors, and so forth. It came out normal. He then typed out a prescription for three medicines for the cough, which I was able to fill in about two minutes at the pharmacy below his office. The cough was almost completely gone two days later. Total cost for the exam? About $48 US."

"Our daughter gave birth to our grandson in Hermosillo, and her experience reflects that of the Wanderer," wrote Lynn Cannon. "Giving birth in Hermosillo was luxury compared to what it would have been in Phoenix — and at one-quarter the price."

"Tamiko and Eli and I have been to the IMSS hospital in Mezcales twice now," writes Steve Willie of the La Cruz-based Vagabond 47 Landfall. "The public IMSS hospitals are for the masses and not as scrupulously clean as San Javier, but the one in Mezcales was as clean as most hospitals we've seen in the States. And an emergency room visit only costs $30. The longest we had to wait to see a doctor was 15 minutes, and as far as we're concerned, the care was beyond excellent."

"When Mike had back surgery at the San Javier Hospital in Guadalajara, it was the best hospital experience ever," reports Shelley Rothery Ward of the La Paz-based Peterson 44 Avatar. "I was given clean sheets every day and told to sleep on the couch in the room for the week."

The bottom line? Stay healthy. But if you need medical care, don't fear treatment in Mexico, especially if you're on a budget. And when in doubt, get a second opinion.

It's the height of the winter cruising season, so we'd love to hear from you and get a few photos.

Missing the pictures? See the February 2016 eBook!


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