Changes in Latitudes

March, 2001

With reports this month from Kooyah on the Cayman Islands and sailing to Texas; from the Wagners about Diana getting hit by a ship near the Panama Canal; from LaRive on a three-year cruise to from Ensenada to Key West; from the seniors on Shayna on cruising in Europe; from Pizazz on making the difficult passage from Aruba to Cartagena and vice versa; from the schooner Latitude on getting from Hunter's Point to Sardinia; from JoLigGa II on cruising from Fiji to Tonga; and an unusually large number of Cruise Notes.

Kooyah - Hunter 35.5
Don & Mary Farquharson
Cayman Island Problems
(El Cerrito)

The author of a recent letter to Latitude asked why more folks didn't sail to the Cayman Islands - which is in the middle of a 'box' formed by Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Having sailed to the Caymans, I have some ideas why more cruisers don't do it. First of all, Latitude was right when they said one reason is that it's not close to other popular sailing areas. Although with both Cuba and Jamaica becoming increasingly popular with cruisers, there is beginning to be some spillover to the Caymans. It's incorrect, however, to suggest that the islanders don't have a sailing tradition. Caymanian men, in fact, have a very long seafaring tradition, and at one time were the crew of choice for cargo vessels plying the runs from London to the Caribbean. During the peak of the sugar trade, for instance, it was said that more eligible Caymanian men were at sea than left on the islands!

But there is another good reason why yachties avoid the Caymans - being hassled by authorities. Each year there is a race from Kingston, Jamaica, to Grand Cayman organized by the Royal Jamaican and Grand Cayman Yacht Clubs. But in recent years, some of the Jamaican entries have been subject to harassment by the Caymanian authorities, who boarded - and in some cases, ransacked - the boats. They claimed they were looking for drugs.

In the July '99 issue of the Seven Seas Cruising Association Bulletin, Bob and Laurie Wright wrote an interesting article about sailing in the Caymans after sailing in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Like others before them, they'd been lured by the promise of great diving. They made landfall at Cayman Brac and then moved on to Little Cayman with no problem. But when they got to Grand Cayman, they had to endure a nightmare of official harassment at the hands of the drug enforcement authorities. It appears that the Cayman government doesn't see yachtie tourism as a priority - perhaps because there is so little of it - so they don't care if they discourage visitors. It's for this reason that we didn't actually stop at the Caymans during our May 2000 trip from Jamaica to Galveston. This was despite the fact that Georgetown, Cayman Islands, was just five miles off our rhumb line, and that we passed it in the middle of the afternoon.

I had sailed to Jamaica in '96 after a year of cruising the Eastern Caribbean - and stayed there to cruise extensively around Jamaica and the Bahamas. Last year I finally decided to bring my Hunter Legend 35.5 back to the Bay Area, so I put a crew together for the 1,300-mile trip from Kingston to Galveston. It took us five days from Kingston to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where we spent two days changing crew and relaxing ashore. Then we took another five days to get to Galveston. Everyone should have a trip like the one we had. Every day was sunny and clear, with tradewinds blowing between 10 and 20 knots from astern or the quarter. There was moonlight and clear skies after dark. It was a total pleasure cruise.

Anyone wanting to bring a boat from the Caribbean to the Bay Area should consider the Texas option. If the Canal and beating up the West Coast don't sound appealing, you can sail downwind to Galveston and have the boat trucked the rest of the way across the country. Just don't do it during the winter or during the July to November hurricane season. We had good luck with both Payco Marina in Galveston and with American Boat Carriers out of Florida.

Mary and I enjoyed our five years of Caribbean cruising, but are glad to be back home.

- don 2/10/01

Ship-Boat Collision In Canal
Susan & Peter Wagner
Sierra Leyre Hits Diana
(Colon, Panama)

At about 3:30 p.m. on February 1, the freighter Sierra Leyre pulled away from the dock near The Flats anchorage just off Colon, Panama. A tug pulled the bow of the freighter around in order to position her so that she'd be pointed toward the first locks, but the line from the tug came loose. As a result, the 20 knot wind pushed the empty freighter sideways toward The Flats anchorage. The freighter then struck the French sailboat Diana, whose owners were not aboard at the time.

The anchor chain of the sailboat was caught on the bulb of the freighter's bow. Realizing that the sailboat was in danger, Andy from the sailboat Webegone boarded the sailing vessel. With the anchor and chain holding tight, Diana began to be dragged beneath the bow of the freighter. Andy responded by first letting out the anchor chain, then cutting the line that secured the chain to the boat. This prevented Diana from being pulled beneath the freighter and/or being seriously damaged. However, the freighter continued to drift, and snagged the anchor chains of two other sailing vessels before departing the area of The Flats.

Five or six cruisers from The Flats brought their dinghies over to tow Diana to a buoy and secure her. After the owners returned, they took her back to The Flats. Although Diana sustained damage, the Panama Canal Commission ruled that her owners weren't entitled to compensation because she was just outside the designated boundary of The Flats when she was hit. At the time there were nearly 40 boats anchored closely together in The Flats.

- susan & peter 2/5/'01

Susan & Peter - Your story reminds us of the time in the early '80s when a cruise ship tied up in the Puerto Vallarta Harbor broke loose, allowing the bow to blow across the harbor in an arc. There weren't any marinas to speak of in those days, so everybody anchored in the middle of the harbor. About a dozen of the cruising boats got banged into by the cruise ship. Fortunately, no individuals or boats were badly hurt.

LaRive - Hunter 40.5
T. Joe Larive
After Two Years

Right now I'm off the coast of Cuba, and am starting to write down some thoughts about my cruising experiences. I may keep at it until I reach an American port. I started my adventure in January of '98, when I took delivery of my Hunter 40.5 in Ensenada, Mexico. That fall I joined the Ha-Ha, and continued south to Panama and then up the Western Caribbean. After colliding with an unlit fishing boat, I left my boat in Roatan to have her repaired. I rejoined her in October of last year. I should reach Key West soon, having covered 3,400 miles. During that time, I think I've seen everything that you can imagine - but I still seem to see new stuff each day. And I've seen just about every kind of person, too: pirates, gunrunners, banditos, great people - and everything in between. Right now my biggest fear is the U.S. government, because I've spent several weeks along the coast of Cuba.

Update: I've since arrived in Key West, and didn't have anything to worry about - except for paying $25 for a Coast Guard sticker. Customs and Agriculture both stopped by my boat, but they didn't search. They wouldn't have found anything anyway, as I was very careful not to have any Cuban items aboard. As for the stuff I've learned during my cruising, here goes:
Much of what you read isn't true or is out of date.
No matter where I've been, the U.S. dollar is the 'coin of the realm'. It works everywhere under all conditions.
Never get into a cab until you agree on a price - and the type of currency.
Cuban rum - especially Havana Club Seven Años - is muy bueno. But it sneaks up on you.
Air-conditioning is muy importante because it allows you to close down your boat when the mosquitos come out. Mosquitos were a major problem for me. I was bitten so much that I had to be hospitalized with a temperature of 106°. I'll carry mosquito bite scars for the rest of my life. A day with air-conditioning in Honduras is worth a week of wonder anywhere else.
Everything costs more than you were told. Much more.

It's not a good idea to take 'unseasoned' sailors along as crew, as they waste water and electricity, and don't really understand what's going on. Assume that the other countries you visit, even Third World countries, can run themselves without outside help.
Bring more fuel and fewer sails. If you head east, the wind is on your nose. If you head west, the wind is on your nose. After beating for a month, following seas are orgasmic!

Bring a bigger anchor than you think you'll need, and lots of chain. Let me repeat that. Bring a bigger anchor than you think you'll need, and lots of chain. You don't appreciate how important these things are until you drag. I dragged so fast in the mud and turtle grass bottom at Isla Mujeres that I could have towed a water-skier! Coral attracts fiberglass. Mud attracts keels. Most water in the Caribbean is six feet deep. I feel sorry for anyone with a boat that draws more than that.

Assuming that your boat has all the 'normal gear' such as steering, two or more GPS units, charts and such; that you have knowledge, training, guts, and far more money than you thought you'd need; you'd also appreciate having the following:
Air-conditioning. God, what a savior! A good handle on Spanish, because it's tough not understanding what's going on. Computer integrated GPS and CD charts - which are really great! A computer is even more important than air-conditioning - although to some extent it depends on how much of the warm months you spend in the Rio Dulce and/or at Roatan. Make a computer and printer a high consideration because they allow you to make your own forms. By the way, don't depend on charts being accurate once you leave the States.

It's good to be back in the United States, where boat parts are easy to find and reasonably priced. Everything else, however, is shockingly expensive. For instance, the least expensive berthing I found is $1.65/night!

- t. joe 2/15/2001

T. Joe - You know how much easier it is to sail downwind than upwind? It's that much easier sailing from Panama to Key West the 'right way' and/or at the right time of year, versus the 'wrong way' and/or at the wrong time of year. And there are few places in the world where doing the 'right thing' is more important to one's comfort and safety than when you're about to depart from Colon, Panama.

To our way of thinking, the 'right way' to sail from Panama to Key West is via Cartagena, the ABC Islands, Venezuela, Trinidad, the fabulous chain of islands in the Eastern Caribbean, the south coast of Puerto Rico, the north coast of the D.R., the north coast of Cuba to Havana, then to Key West. Yes, it's a lot longer - but that's a good thing, because if you play it smart, you get nearly 2,000 miles of mostly off the wind island-hopping through some of the most fabulous, varied and popular cruising grounds in the world. Other than sheer expediency, we can't understand why anyone would choose to go from Panama to Key West via the Western Caribbean. It's just as hard a trip if not harder, it doesn't have anywhere near the number of attractions, and it certainly doesn't offer the ideal sailing conditions. After all, it's no accident that the Eastern Caribbean has about a million times as many boats as the Western Caribbean.

Some folks might scoff at our viewpoint, arguing that it's virtually impossible to get from Panama to the ABC Islands. That pretty much used to be the case, because all the anchorages on the northeast coast of Colombia - where it really can get rough - used to belong to the smugglers running drugs out of Colombia and cigarettes and appliances into Colombia. But no more. If you don't believe us, check out Randy and Lourae Kenoffel's article elsewhere in this issue that tells you how to intelligently make this passage with just one overnighter. If you want another reason for this route, when we had Big O between Venezuela, the Eastern Caribbean, and Puerto Rico for the better part of 10 years, it was sometimes quite warm and humid in late summer and fall, but we never felt the need for an air-conditioner until we got to Key West. Furthermore, we can't recall a single occasion when mosquitos were any more than a minor nuisance.

As for your trip costing so much more money than you anticipated, we wish you would have been more specific as to where it went. If you look elsewhere in this issue, you'll also see a story by Michael Beattie and Layne Goldman, who made a nearly the identical trip at almost the same time. They spent an average of $1,000 a month. If $500/person/month isn't the good life on the very cheap, we don't know what would be.

Shayna - Hylas 45.5 sloop
Larry Hirsch & Dorothy Taylor
Senior Cruising In Europe
(San Diego)

[Due to the incompetence of the Changes Editor, this Changes, covering the latter part of the '99 cruising season, didn't run a year ago when it was supposed to. But a year late is better than never when it's the tale of a couple of 70-year-olds happily cruising all over Europe. The first half appeared in the February issue. The next installment - covering their European adventures for 2000 - will run in the April 1 issue. We promise.]

We enjoyed Cala del Bola anchorage in northern Sardinia for a couple of days, then continued on through the Strait of Bonifacio - which separates the Italian island of Sardinia from the French island of Corsica - to the relatively new marina at Santa Theresa. Because it's very windy at Santa Theresa, and because it's also a ferry terminal, we took the ferry to Corsica for a day of sightseeing. This was a good call, as marina slips and room to anchor are very hard to find in Corsica. Furthermore, we were hassled by French Customs - something we'd managed to avoid until then.

We left Santa Theresa on June 23 and spent a few days at the Madelena Islands. We weren't too impressed, but maybe we'd started to get jaded. So we continued on to the island of Ischia, which has a great anchorage under a humongous medieval castle. The only drawback was that huge ferryboats zipped in and out of the anchorage, leaving wakes nearly the size of tidal waves.

Sometime during this period - our memories fail us - the one gallon Shop-Vac that we stored in the engine compartment broke free and threw itself into the belts that run the engine alternators and the engine-driven refrigeration. What a mess! The belts broke as did the alternator frame that we'd just had welded in Palma. To make things worse, the lack of berthing was even worse in Naples than it was in Palma, so we had to anchor off downtown Naples for the night and hope for the best. Ironically, we were just a stone's throw from the U.S. Consulate building.

Through sheer chance - and good fortune - we met Enrico Caledoli, who just about adopted us. Years before, Enrico had studied economics in the United States. He married an American woman, ran Ferrari Services in San Francisco, then divorced and returned to Italy. In his new life, Enrico and his current wife operate a small marine repair business that specializes in mega poweryachts. Anyway, Enrico drove us and our boat six miles north of Naples to Nisido, an almost completely hidden marina for mostly smallish powerboats. Somehow he got us shoehorned in - and for half of the going rate for a berth in Naples. By the way, the going price for a 40-foot slip at Mergellina Marina in Naples - you'll want to sit down for this - is $150 U.S. a night!

After one night in the comparatively inexpensive - $75/night - Nisido Marina, which had electricity and water but no showers, we opted to anchor 100 or so yards off the marina. That was free. After Enrico fixed our refer and other assorted problems, we travelled about 25 miles down the coast to the island of Capri. I had promised Dorothy a belated but super birthday dinner on the lovely and romantic island. But we dropped the hook on the side of the island where you can anchor for free - and on that side they roll up the sidewalks very early! By the time we got ashore in the dinghy, the best I could find was a take-out pizza!

We returned to Enrico and Nisido Marina the next day because our genset had gotten very sick - probably a virus from the Shop-Vac we'd already deep-sixed without honors. We correctly figured that the genset repairs would take awhile - it turned out to be 10 days - so we were forced to stay at Nisido. And we ended up having the greatest time! It's a real hole-in-the-wall with no tourists. Lots of locals come to the beach during the day, however, and after 8 p.m. it seems as though all of Naples converges on three 'fish shanty' restaurants at the marina. The three serve nothing but seafood, and feature great service, reasonable prices, and the most delicious seafood we've ever tasted. The restaurant staff seemed to adopt us, so after our last dinner we had a tearful farewell.

During the day, we became familiar with the owners of the local mom & pop groceries - both of them. We also rode Naples buses, taxis, and subways, visited lots of museums and churches, and really got to know the place. For a place we didn't want to spend any time at, we loved it - and look forward to returning.

Meanwhile, Enrico had torn apart our almost new and still very much under warranty genset - and decided that we needed a new generator unit for our pint size 4KW German-made Fisher Panda. So he burned the phone lines with calls to FP in Italy, Germany, and to the dealer we bought it from in Fort Lauderdale. We had lots of cooperation all the way around, and quickly had the parts air-freighted. All we had to pay for was the freight and the reasonable labor charges. When he was all done, Enrico insisted on taking us out to dinner with his family. What a night to remember, as we enjoyed more seafood, exotic antipasto, and much more. What a prince of a guy!

Since we'd fallen far behind schedule and lost our weather window for Turkey via Greece, we decided to sail up to Croatia. We arrived in Croatia at Dubrovnik from Italy in June, and had a wonderful time sailing up the coast for the rest of the summer. We previously wrote that the Azores are the hidden pearls of the Atlantic. Well, the same is true for Croatia in the Med/Adriatic. Croatia is a fabulous place to cruise, as they have thousands of islands and many scenic wonders. The war damage of the early '90s is pretty much repaired along the coast. Most of the population lives in the capital of Zagreb, a very modern city with large hotels. The remaining population is scattered along the coast. It was interesting to learn that just about every Croatian you meet owns property on one of the thousands of outlying islands. The ownership of the land has been passed down through the generations since the land was deeded to the people several hundred years ago. Ironically, the islands themselves are largely uninhabited - although many do have small villages and some summer homes.

As for cruisers, the government has developed a number of first class marinas to complement the many private marinas. It's a magical cruising ground with unlimited safe anchorages and coves to explore. It costs about $250 U.S. for an annual cruising permit for a 42 foot boat. This may be a bit high for cruisers on a budget, but it's for a full year. There is talk of having the fee reduced for a six-month permit. English, German and Italian are all widely spoken, as is Croatian. This is a popular cruising ground for Austrians, Italians, Germans and the Dutch during the summer. We also met a few Brits, but just two American boats.

Croatia is a great place from which to explore nearby parts of Europe. We drove 12 hours to visit Vienna, Austria, and made many interesting stops along the way. From there it was only another four hours to Budapest, Hungary, a fabulous city. We drove another 12 hours back to the Croatian coast, stopping in Slovenia on the way. Slovenia has great scenery - and a fascinating cave in which you ride a train for two miles and then walk another mile.

We can't wait to get back to our boat in March, and head off to Greece and Turkey.

- larry & dorothy, late '99

Pizazz - Beneteau/Moorings 500
Randy & Lourae Kenoffel
Bonaire to Cartagena
(San Francisco)

One of the toughest passages that a lot of West Coast cruisers find themselves wanting to do is from either Panama to Aruba, or the other way from Aruba to Panama. This is because it's the shortest way for West Coast cruisers to get from Panama to the fabled waters of the Eastern Caribbean. And for sailors who've done the East Coast of the U.S. or the Caribbean, or who have bought a boat coming out of a charter program in the Caribbean, it's the most direct way to California.

What makes these passages very hard is that there are often very strong winds and big seas. From Panama to Aruba, you have to travel almost directly into the weather. When going the other way, you can sail with the weather - which is sometimes even more dangerous. It's long been said that some of the toughest sailing in the world can be found within 150 miles of Cartagena, Colombia. In fact, lots of sailors - and some cruising guides - maintain that you can't safely sail along the coast of Colombia. Our response is that this isn't the '80s anymore. You not only can sail along the coast of Colombia, but you can also do it without making lots of long and/or overnight passages. Having made the passage in both directions, we'd like to share our information with you.

To remind everyone who we are, we lived in the Bay Area for many years, and during our 30s had great careers and our dream home. But after a brief cruise with friends in Spain, we made a 10-year plan to go cruising. Five years into the plan, we bought a Beneteau 500 and put her in a Caribbean charter program with The Moorings. Five years later when the boat was ready to come out of the program, we were ready to start cruising. Alas, Randy suffered a heart attack just weeks before giving notice at his stress-filled job. We knew our jobs were killing us, but at age 42? After three angioplasties and $100,000 in medical bills, we knew we had to get out. In the six years that we've been cruising, Randy has shed 60 pounds and Lourae lost 35. We now eat healthy food, get lots of recreation, and socialize often. Indeed, we are truly different from the stressed-out fast-trackers that we used to be!
What we're about to describe is how to make a westbound passage from Bonaire to Cartagena. Using the same information, you could also make the trip in the opposite direction. One caution: GPS readings vary slightly depending upon the equipment, satellites used, and input error. In other words, you're on your own using the waypoints that we provide. But they worked for our equipment and us.

Assuming that you're starting in Bonaire, head west to Curaçao and Aruba, the other two ABC islands. It's about 35 miles of nice downwind daysailing from Bonaire to Spanish Waters, Curaçao's large and protected lagoon. The channel into Spanish Waters is a little tricky and it's not illuminated at night, so make sure you arrive before sundown. Prior to entering the lagoon, stay close to the beach. Although you'll still be in 90 feet of water, you'll nonetheless be able to see the shallow edge of the reef to the north. Then zig-zag into the sheltered water.

It's another 70 miles to Oranjestad, Aruba, which is as nice as it sounds. But 70 miles is a little far for even a downwind daysail, so we recommend that you sail in the direction of Aruba along the west coast of Curaçao. Don't worry, the water is deep close in, and the interesting cliffs, fancy homes and pretty beaches make for great sightseeing. You only want to go 25 miles northwest - an easy daysail - to Santa Kruz Baai, which is located at 12.18.55N 069.08.77W. Anchor in 10-12 feet of sand and coral at the mouth of the bay. There is fine snorkeling along the cliffs. It's an easy place to leave from in the dark, and Aruba is now a manageable 45 miles away.

Aruba has several anchorages. The first is Rogers Beach, just south of the refinery in Sint Nicolas Baai. Enter between the buoys at 12.25.34N, 069.53.96W - remembering that the green buoy is on starboard! Next head 090º to the next green buoy at 12.25.38N, 069.53.5. Finally, head 115º and anchor wherever you wish in about 12 feet of sand and grass bottom. It can be a little rolly in southeast winds, and it's eerie at night thanks to the lights and flames of the big oil refinery. Don't worry, you'll be upwind of the smoke and smell.

A second anchorage is at Oranjestad Harbor. Don't worry if you get there after dark, as it's well lit. The Aruba Port Authority requires that boats tie up to a dock to clear with Customs/Immigration, so call on VHF 16 for instructions. They often tell cruisers to tie to the cruise ship dock, which unfortunately has big black tires that leave smudge marks on topsides. So use lots of fenders and try to get to the north part of dock, which is sheltered behind the terminal building. There won't be anybody to help take your lines, so have Carl Lewis - or somebody who can long jump almost as well - try to jump to the dock. After clearing in, you're free to anchor. The airport anchorage features about 15 feet of water northwest of the runway or in the lagoon south of the runway. It's good holding and close to downtown, but it's also noisy.

An alternative anchorage is three miles north of Oranjestad near the high-rise hotels. Go to the red buoy - which has a white light at night - at 12.34.87N, 070.03.34W, leave the buoy to port, and head approximately 090º toward the beach. The Marriott Hotel and Condos are the left two buildings along this stretch. Anchor in eight feet with sand and grass. This leaves you away from the downtown shopping, but right next to beach sports and access to hotel amenities - such as casinos, expensive shops and expensive restaurants. For those who haven't been to Aruba, it's a mini Las Vegas on the Caribbean Sea. There is easy access by bus - $2 per round trip - to supermarkets and most anything else you might need.

After the bright lights and hubbub of Aruba, you'll be ready for some out-of-the-way coastal cruising - which is a good thing, because that's just what you're going to get for the next 350 miles. The first stop is Monjes del Sur, about 53 miles to the west. See the sketch for the layout. This rock is part of Venezuela, so get your courtesy flag out and call the Guardia Coasta on VHF 16 for permission to anchor. "No problema," will almost certainly be their answer. The anchorage to the left of center is in 65 feet of water facing the rock dam in front. There's a huge dock with tires. If you ask, you might be able to use it. Monjes del Sur is a good rest stop. We stayed for several days and enjoyed fabulous snorkeling around the rock, seeing lots of barracuda and large lobsters. The guys stationed at this anchorage get lots of fishing trawlers stopping by, and enjoy visitors - particularly those with fresh fruit or vegetables. This is also a very easy place to leave after dark - something you'll want to do as the next leg is 80 miles.

The next waypoint - not anchorage - is 45 miles away at 12.28.80N, 071.40.02W. This is about two miles offshore of Punta Gallinas in 50 feet of water. If you're headed west and going downwind and downcurrent, it won't be rough. If you have to stop, go another 12 miles to Bahia Honda, which is located at 12.24.00N, 071.49.00W. Swing back to the port side of the bay entrance, as there's a visible rock toward the starboard side. Anchor in 30 feet.

Since the current is pushing you along, when possible it's better to continue on to Cabo del Vela. Continue to waypoint 12.14.50N, 072.10.00W to get an idea of what the anchorage looks like. Even though it's 15 feet deep between the coast and the island, it's best to go around the island to 12.12.27N, 072.10.69W. Then anchor in 20 feet of sand with good holding. You'll be in an open bay with plenty of wind - Cabo de Vela means 'windy cape' - but at least you're out of the swell and in a comfortable anchorage. No one will bother you, although fishermen might come by to stare at your big sailboat. You may even see some tourists hiking to the light tower or sheep searching for shrubs. Stay as long as you need to get a good rest, as the next leg is 120 miles - the only overnight passage you'll have to make. Most boats should leave before sunset so they'll arrive before noon about 36 hours later.

As you head to the next waypoint at 11.22.00N, 074.03.50W, sail downwind as comfortably as possible - which we suggest means gybing downwind so you're not always DDW and in danger of gybing unintentionally. Other than the oil rig near Rio Concha, there are no obstructions along this part of the coast. The above waypoint gets you northeast of Bahia Cinto, the first of five wonderful little bays that are great stops. If the swell is from the north, Bahia Cinto gets rolly from the strong williwaws off the Santa Marta mountains. Two bays further down is Bahia Guayraca, which offers more protection from the swell - and opportunities to explore ashore and while snorkeling. The fifth bay is Ancon Chico, which has the most protection from swell and nice locals ashore. The sketch below gives you some idea about these bays. They also appear on DMA #24493A - which is no longer available.
[To be continued next month.]

- randy & lourae

Latitude - 72-Foot Schooner
Paul & Suzie Zupan
Hunter's Point To Barcelona

Suzie and I read many letters last year about the advisability of building one's own boat, and wanted to respond based on our experience with three boats. We suggest if that anyone plans to build a boat just so they can go cruising, that they shouldn't waste their time.

My first boat was a Bear class called Sugar Foot that needed a few ribs and a new deck. I started the project before I met Suzie - and amazingly enough still had the boat when she married me. We sold the Bear and then rebuilt a large part of Harmony, a 1927 40-ft Lake Union powerboat. After several years with that project, we took her back to Seattle where she was built and sold her. Then, in the mid-'90s, we bought the makings of our current boat through an ad in the Classy Classifieds. That was a long time ago and on another continent, but here's the story.

The ad was for the cold-molded hull of what was intended to be a 72 foot (overall) schooner designed by Joseph Hartog of San Francisco. The hull had been started 25 years before at the Alemand Brothers Boatyard in Hunter's Point near Candlestick Park, and had already exhausted the persistence and finances of two other sailing hopefuls. At the time we looked at the boat, the owner hadn't worked on her since 1990. When we finally reached an agreement, Suzie and I became the owners of a partially completed 60-foot hull sitting in a ramshackle warehouse. A lot had changed in the quarter of a century since the hull had been started. For one thing, the Hunter's Point neighborhood had deteriorated badly. And the Alemand Boatyard had become something of a collection of parts for used Chevy pick-ups.

Our first job was to clear a path to the warehouse. Then we had to wash away the layers of dust that had accumulated since 1990, the last time anyone had worked on her. We uncovered a hull that had three of the four layers of wood veneer cold molded in place, and the deck and house were roughed in. We also uncovered enough mahogany, oak, fir and ape tong to almost complete the boat. It took us just six months to finish the hull and paint it. We were in a bit of a hurry as Hunter's Point is more like Beirut used to be than Monaco is now. We wanted to launch the boat prior to doing any interior work, so we trucked her down 3rd Ave and launched her at San Francisco Boat Works.

Our destination - and home for the next several years - would be the Richmond Yacht Harbor on the 'Chevron Riviera'. This meant we were next door to KKMI, and over the next several years were able to watch as Francis Brann and her husband completed their Snow Dragon II and launched her. We also benefited immensely from the expertise of Jeff Rutherford of the Rutherford Boat Shop, who is a boatbuilder extrordinaire. We also benefited from Anders Johansson, the mechanical genius at Swedish Marine.

By February of '97, we had enough of the interior completed to move aboard. Suzie and I worked full time at our day jobs for most of these years, and our schedule only allowed us to work on the boat during the weekends and holidays. Nonetheless, in May of last year we actually formally christened the boat Latitude - although the name has nothing to do with the magazine. This is not to say that the boat was finished, as there was still much work to be done. In addition, while the masts were built, we didn't have any rigging. We also didn't have any sails, electronics or ground tackle.

During the years prior to '99, we had talked about cruising, but hadn't really focused on it. The idea of completing the boat was our only focus. By mid '99, however, it seemed to us that we were within sight of completing the boat - ha! as if that ever happens! - and needed a new goal. Europe sounded good. After all, my job was taking me to Europe for a large part of the year, so why shouldn't we move there. Besides, how difficult could it be to move a 60,000 pound uncompleted boat halfway around the world?

The European decision prompted us to accelerate our lagging construction efforts. We had the hardware made for the masts, and installed most of the electronics. We also finished some of the interior work that we'd put off doing. We were, however, in too much of a hurry to wait until the boat was really complete. So we called the trucking company instead, hauled our boat to Florida, and put her on a Dockwise Transport ship to Toulon, France.

Besides the frantic pace of last-minute construction and preparation, there were some interesting twists. For example, the trucking company diverted the trailer scheduled to move our boat to Larry Ellison's Farr 84 Sayonara just three days before they were to pick our boat up. This delayed our delivery to Florida by almost two weeks. Then the trucking company sent a trailer that couldn't carry the weight of our boat. It was only by the persistence of Donnie, the driver, that resulted in Latitude finally getting to Florida. Thanks to these problems, the 10-day buffer I'd scheduled between our boat getting off the truck and onto the ship had evaporated. We barely had enough time to motor down the river in Fort Lauderdale to get our boat on the ship before it left. It didn't help that my trying to take a shortcut over a sandbar added to the delay.

The plan had been to get the mast stepped in Florida prior to Latitude being loaded onto the ship. But that obviously didn't happen, in part because we didn't have any standing rigging yet. Can you imagine what it's like to order rigging for a 72 foot schooner in Toulon when you don't speak French? We spent lots of time pointing at catalogs, drawing pictures, learning the metric system - and laughing at ourselves to get through two very difficult weeks. We were fortunate to make good friends with Richard at the Elvstrom loft at Port Pin Rolland in St. Mandrier. The former trainer for the French America's Cup team in San Diego was incredibly helpful, doing whatever it took to make our project happen. Did I mention there was a trucker's strike in France shortly after we ordered all our rigging, which delayed everything being delivered?

Once we got the masts stepped, we decided to move on to Barcelona, Spain, which meant we'd have to cover 220 miles across the Gulf of Lyon. The gulf is the home of mistrals, which are 45 to 60 knot winds that whip up in almost no time. The only warning is the soleil voile, or high elevation cirrus clouds - three of them in the shape of a chevron, if we're to believe the stories we were told. Since Latitude still hadn't had a sea trial or shakedown sail, we were very nervous before setting out. Indeed, the engine hadn't been tested for more than a couple of hours, and we still didn't have any sails. I had visions of being 100 miles offshore and getting hit by a mistral after the engine stopped. So we purchased a used storm sail from Richard - left over from one of Eric Taberly's around the world efforts.

So one fine morning in early September, with the sun just coming up and no forecast for a mistral, we left the Toulon harbor, calibrated our newly installed autopilot, and set out for Barcelona. We were lucky, however, as we had no wind, fairly flat seas, and lots of tuna and dolphin during the 28 hours it took us to reach Barcelona. Latitude performed flawlessly, and we averaged almost eight knots for the entire distance. The only mishap was that we both got sunburns.

We enjoyed our time at Port Ginesta, Sitges, which is near Barcelona. The Costa Brava is an amazing place, and we really enjoyed relaxing there. I worked at my 'day job' during the week travelling around Europe, while Suzie stayed with the boat and enjoyed the Med. We then continued on to Menorca for three months - two more than we'd planned. It's a very friendly place, and we almost couldn't leave because of our packed social calendar. It's a great place to spend the winter in the Med. We then moved on to Carloforte on the southern tip of the Italian island of Sardinia. The only other cruising boat there was the Swedish couple we met in Menorca who were sailing in the same direction as us. So far the Italians have been even more friendly than the Spanish! However, the facilities - such as electricity - are very scarce because everything closes down for the winter. But the food here makes up for everything else that might be missing in the marina. Our next destination is Sidi bu Said in Tunisia, probably within the next two weeks. We've been in Europe for six months now, so we need to get out of the European Union for awhile to avoid having to pay value added tax. The weather is already starting to warm up here, so we are looking forward to spring in Greece, but will first visit Sicily along the way.

Why don't we recommend building a cruising boat? Because if you just want to go cruising, it's faster, cheaper and a lot less painful to buy than build. In the five years we spent building our boat, we could have easily saved enough money to buy one like her - and probably enough extra to have funded cruising for a while. Plus, we wouldn't have had to do several thousand hours of manual labor. Our theory is that most folks who successfully complete their own boats were motivated by the desire to build a boat, not to go cruising.

Having said this, we have compiled a short list of criteria essential for backyard boatbuilding: Send your friends a card and tell them that you'll see them again in five years or so. Forget your social life, as you have something more important to tend to. Socializing with family members is the only exception, because you can weasel some of them into helping on the boat. After awhile, however, they'll quit coming. By the third year, they won't even miss you at Thanksgiving. Tell your employer that you'll never be able to work overtime again - especially on weekends. Evenings are meant for small boat projects, weekends for big ones. Forget the savings account and have your salary direct-deposited to West Marine. Get a calendar and mark down all the holidays and which chandleries are open on those holidays. You don't want to find out on Christmas afternoon that you can't get any more epoxy until the next day. While you're at it, make a list of all the grocery stores that are open after 10 p.m.

As usual, the 200/20/50 rule will be in effect. In other words, if you double your estimate for both time and cost, add 20% for overruns, then you'll only have underestimated the real time and cost by 50%. Read the Classy Classifieds in Latitude the first day of the month they come out. You want to snap up the good used gear before the amateurs start nosing around. Learn to find excuses to work on the boat. If you find yourself making excuses for not working, for not having enough money, and for not having the right part, it's probably too late, because your heart really isn't in it. Cut your losses and buy a boat.

Our building our schooner Latitude was a labor of love - and neither of us regret any part of it. We enjoyed the work and are proud of what we created. And now that we're cruising - if that's what you want to call it - it enhances our lives tremendously. So, yes, we're really enjoying it.

- paul & suzie 11/15/'00

JoLiGa II - Ranger 30
John Sloboda
To Neiafu, Tonga, Finally

I'm in the middle of the ocean on a passage from Nuiatoputapu, Tonga - sometimes called 'new potatoes' - to Neiafu in the Vava'u group of Tonga. I left Fiji for Neiafu on July 20, but due to unfavorable winds wound up in Nuiataputopu, which is some 163 miles to the north. About 12 miles square, Nuiatoputapu is a small Island, with a highest peak of only 450 feet. It has a well-sheltered lagoon on the north side, although the entrance is a little tricky. There is a general store at Fale where the wharf is located, but this is still the most primitive place that I've visited to date. The supply boat only comes about every three months, and when I was there, the island was out of just about everything. The officials were friendly when I checked in, but did want coffee - very sweet coffee - and crackers. The children were really cute, especially when they walked by half a dozen times just to see me. Guys with blonde hair and beards just aren't that common in this part of the world.

I had to stay at 'new pototes' for five days, as the wind was blowing 25 knots out of the southeast - the direction of Neiafu. When the wind finally dropped to 10 knots from the east, it was exodus time for the five cruising boats waiting to sail to Neiafu. We tried to find the officials to check out, but nobody was around. Not wanting to miss the weather window, we took off anyway. So far there haven't been any repercussions.

I finally made it to Neiafu after motorsailing for 48 hours into headwinds that seemed to change in intensity every 15 minutes. Once here, I grabbed a mooring owned by The Moorings charter company - which has a big base at Neiafu. The mooring costs $6 U.S. a day, but it was worth it because of all the coral heads in the area. It was windy and rainy when I arrived, and relatively cool. For my first time in the South Pacific, I needed a blanket to sleep at night.

I'm glad I got all my shopping done by Saturday morning, because the stores close at noon and then everything is closed on Sundays. There are lots of cruisers here from all over the world, although they are scattered all over the Vava'u Group. The Group actually doesn't cover that much area, but according to the guide published by The Moorings, there are at least 42 anchorages. They are identified by number because the names are too hard to pronounce! This is probably one of the best spots in the world to charter a sailboat because there are so many good anchorages so close together - even more so than the Virgins. It's also good for scuba diving as the water is crystal clear - although it's only 74° in the winter, so it's cold by South Pacific standards.

Tongans are cruiser and tourist friendly - which makes a big difference when you arrive in a foreign country. It was just the opposite in Tahiti, for instance, where the people were sometimes very rude and made me feel as though I wasn't welcome there. The officials in American Samoa weren't very hospitable either. But in Fiji, it's "Bula!" with an instant smile; and in Tonga, it's "Malo e lelei" and an instant smile, too. Neiafu isn't very big, but it's larger than Savusavu, Fiji, and has more supplies and a better variety of veggies. Lettuce and tomatoes were $5 U.S./kilo in Fiji, but are only about $1 U.S. here in Tonga. Tonga. Of course, eggs are $2.45/dozen here and less than half that in Fiji, so you can never tell. A nice chicken dinner here at Ana's Restaurant runs about $4, so it doesn't make sense to make your own dinner.

After a couple of days, I moved to anchorage #10 in company with Mike and Gail aboard Salt Air. Although it was less than 12 miles, it was blowing 25 knots on the nose again, and took almost 3.5 hours. I dropped my hook in about 15 feet of water, and could clearly see the mostly sand bottom. I shared the anchorage with about seven other boats - and a black pearl farm that needs several hundred buoys. But there's still plenty of room. The only problem was that it rained too much for snorkeling, so all I could do was visit other boats and commiserate about the weather over sundowners. Fortunately, rum on the rocks always seems to taste great in an anchorage. I'm still working on my Bounty Rum from Fiji - which is 58% alcohol. Wow!

I bought a new 8.6 foot dinghy from James on Rainbow Chaser. I still have my old 11-footer rolled up on deck, but it's too big to keep inflated while underway. Then the water pump on my outboard quit. There's always something. Two days before I had replaced the alternator belt on the diesel - something I'd just done a month before.

After a few days, I moved over to anchorage #7, which was calmer and had a nice sand beach. While there, Mike went up the mast for me to replace the port flag halyard and secure the spreader lights. Gail dove to to verify that my strut bearing was worn, but at least the zincs were all right. When you're nearing 70, it's nice to have folks help out a little. The weather continued to be dismal, so Mike and Gail decided to sail back to sunny Fiji.

I returned to Neiafu, where I had some good luck for a change. I got my radar arch welded, the Suzuki impeller replaced, and dropped off my little Evinrude at Coleman's Marine to be repaired. So far I've spent $30 on repairs and stuff, but got 30 gallons of fresh water in the process. I also bumped into friends Tom and Lilly from Miz Mae, who had just got back from the Ha'pai Group south of here. And the weather finally improved, with clear skies and calm winds. I also heard that Mike and Gail made it to Fiji despite not having a working engine. The down side of cruising is making friends and then having to leave them. The up side is meeting up with old friends and trading sea stories.

Later, I went to Nuki Isle, where the white sand was glaringly bright and the only footprints were mine. I felt like Robinson Crusoe. It's tough down here in paradise. I then moved back to #8, where the water was again crystal clear. I can look down and see my anchor chain wrapped around several coral heads - which means I won't be drifting off in the night. The local kids came home for the weekend, and on Saturday really had a ball swimming and clowning around in the water. But it was all over on Sunday, as everything fun is forbidden. There's no dancing, no swimming, no playing, no working, and all the stores are closed - even some of the restaurants. They really have a strange religion. But they do make up for it the other six days of the week.

My boat - which I bought new in '78 and have lived aboard ever since - seems as though she's in constant need of repair. I fix one thing and two more things need attention. On September 23, with everything in pretty good shape, I set sail back for Fiji. I covered 419 miles in 76 hours for an average of 5.5 knots. My best noon to noon run was 147 miles, an average of 6.1 knots. Pretty good for an old man and an old boat - especially since it was so rough.

- john 11/15/00

Readers - Some of you may recall that John fell out of his dinghy - which he was using to push his boat - some 30 miles off Panama back in 1991. After swimming for many hours, he was miraculously saved in the middle of the night when a cruise ship passenger barely heard his shouts for help. After returning to Mexico, John drifted into an unhealthy lifestyle and suffered a collapsed lung. After that narrow escape with death, he decided to get fit and take off across the Pacific.

Cruise Notes:

"I just returned from a six-week trip to Fiji, Australia, Singapore and Thailand," writes John Keen of the San Francisco-based Gulf 32 Pilothouse Knot Yet. "My principal reasons for the trip were to put my boat on the hard in Townsville, and to visit with cruising friends who were in Phuket, Thailand. Both objectives were accomplished. I put my boat on the hard, then I visited with at least six boats with whom I'd cruised in '99 and '00 - including Roy Foster and Chris Rodriguez on their Oakland-based Lagoon 55 catamaran Solmates, and Dream On. Upon my return home, I read the 'Lectronic Latitude query about the whereabouts of Tom Vance of the Freya 39 Vanessa. My news is really old, but I did meet Tom in Savusavu, Fiji, in July of '99. I know I heard from him again, but 'cruiseheimers' prevents me from recalling whether he'd gone on to New Zealand or Australia. I plan to return to Townsville on May 1, put Knot Yet back in the water, and head north. I'm signed up for the Gone Over the Top Cruise to Darwin, and was very interested to see the note in February Changes about the Darwin to Ambon Race destination being changed to Bali. I had a bunch of friends who voyaged from Darwin to Thailand last year, about half of whom lingered in Indonesia along the way. Those who did visit Indonesia said it was a great experience. I'm going to wait to see how the political situation is there before I make my decision. It's always nice to come home to the Bay Area, but it really seems cold after six weeks in tropical climes!"

"We left Los Angeles in the spring of '97," report Richard and Linda Braue of Departure II, a Shannon 38 cutter, "and then made lots of friends cruising in Mexico. In Z-town we finally had to part paths with good friends and frequent Latitude contributors Buddy and Ruth Ellison of Annapurna and George Backhus of Moonshadow. We continued on to Central America, transited the Canal in May of '98, did the San Blas and Western Caribbean up to Isla Mujeres in '98 and '99, then spent a month cruising Cuba before arriving at Key West. Although we've since been kept close to the U.S. by a health problem, we have managed to cruise the Bahamas and Chesapeake Bay. We hope to be able to escape the doctors long enough to get down to the Eastern Caribbean to see our Cabrillo Beach YC buddies Viva and Charis aboard 2nd Kiss. Our health problem is melanoma, and our advice to cruisers with fair skin is simple: Slip on a shirt, slop on the sun block, and wear a hat. Skin cancer can be deadly!" Cruisers - even those with dark skin - should also get their entire bodies checked regularly for potential problems. If discovered early, most skin cancers can be treated successfully.

Speaking of George Backhus of the Sausalito-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow, in his most recent report he says, "We're cruising the New South Wales coast of Australia from Pittwater to Jarvis Bay. But the other day I had lunch with some cruiser friends who told me a wild story about an Italian yacht that sank enroute from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. The way it was told to me, the Italian boat carried no liferaft, no EPIRB and no SSB. The boat suddenly developed a leak the pumps couldn't keep up with, and began sinking. Despite not having any real emergency communication equipment, the Italians were rescued by two nearby yachts - who only happened to be listening to the VHF because they were using it to play Trivial Pursuit. What luck!" A 'Lectronic Latitude reader reported he'd also heard about the story, but couldn't remember where or any specific details. Can anybody help?

"We were in the Baja Class of '96, the Red Sea Class of 2000, and hope to be back in La Paz, Baja, about a year from now," write John and Ingrid Traylor of the Jackson Hole-based custom 65-foot cutter Beyond. "Do you know of any good paint contractors in the La Paz area that could give us a good deal on spraying our faded Awlgrip? I know there's a yard in Ensenada that does good work, but we plan to be in the La Paz area for several months." After emailing a copy of this month's letter from recent circumnavigators Ernie and Emily Mendez of the Moss Landing-based Cal 46 Quiet Times recommending Abel Bercovich and his yard in La Paz, we asked John and Ingrid to comparecruising today with how it was 20 years ago when they sailed through the South Pacific.

"First, there are lots more cruisers today - at least on the well trod paths. Mexico and the 'Coconut Milk Run' through Polynesia were very busy. We often thought there were three to four times as many boats anchored in our old favorite spots as there were in '81. However, it's still a big ocean and there are plenty of great places to find solitude. For example, we cruised through the fabulous Louisiades Group of Papua New Guinea for nearly a month, and only saw one other cruising boat. Secondly, the average cruising boat is bigger and has more gear, electronics, and complications. GPS has naturally revolutionized navigation, and is a godsend in tricky places such as the Tuamotus. But for many of today's sailors, it's the only method of navigation that they know. Another major innovation is that HF digital email, which makes it possible to keep in touch with home. That's not always a plus, however. Thirdly, the very popularity of cruising has spawned a host of incremental fees and charges that were unknown a generation ago. Another big change is the large flotillas or rallies that have become so common. We were anchored at Atuona, Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas when the '97 World Cruising 'Round the World Rally' came through. Within 24 hours, there was no more diesel, no more fresh produce - and most important, no place left to anchor! And mind you, Atuona is normally a spacious anchorage. As we've continued to sail west, we've seen similar things again and again. Finally, because there are so many more people cruising today, we think cruisers tend to be a bit more reserved in putting out the welcome mat.  When two cruising boats met in some far-off anchorage years ago, they nearly always socialized. Today - with perhaps six or ten boats in the same place - some folks come and go with nary a wave. It's understandable considering all the crowded places we've sailed away from, but still a change from before."

"We left our boat in La Paz," write Thor and Tanya Temme of the 45-ft trimaran Meshach, "so we could return to our home in Kauai for the holidays. But we'll be back soon. We had some amazing adventures during the past year cruising in Mexico, and really enjoyed the Banderas Bay Regatta. In fact, we'll be doing it again this year before heading off to the South Pacific. For those who will be staying in Mexico, we highly recommend the train trip to Copper Canyon. What an exciting adventure!"

"To clear up a common misconception about the Sea of Cortez, it's not tropically warm in the middle of the winter, and the water is far too cold for snorkeling. The air and water usually stay warm around La Paz until early December, then plummet. The air temperature starts coming around in late February and early March, but the water stays pretty chilly until late April or May. The air and water temperatures soar, of course, during the summer. As such, March, April, May and June, as well as October and November, are the best times in the Sea of Cortez.

"Please announce that we're opening up a new marina on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia," writes Ted J. Glenn, part owner and temporary commodore of the Yacht Club of Yap. "We're located in the Western Pacific and are often visited by yachts moving in a westerly direction. The facilities here were constructed in the late '80s, but a tropical storm damaged the slips and they have yet to be fully restored. I was involved in the project back then, and have recently joined another investor in taking over the facilities. Our plan is to refurbish the food services, lounge, and immediate exterior now, and later move on to a breakwater with the installation of new docks and finger slips. Showers, restrooms, and some power and water are already available, but currently boats have to moor on the hook a short distance from the marina facility. All the needed services are within walking distance of the marina and Colonia. Yap is a small community and the most traditional of all the islands of Micronesia. Visiting yachts can travel freely to the remote outer islands - provided they clear Quarantine and Immigration in Yap proper or the southerly island of Wolleai. Vessel arrival must be applied for in advance to the FSM Government in Colonia, Ponhpei. Oh yes, free welcome grog to the first person to bring a copy of the Latitude featuring this announcement."

"We left San Diego, and after a peaceful and problem-free run down Baja, finally made it up to La Paz," report Glenn Aitkens and Paul Moench of the Sausalito-based Hans Christian 38 Endeavour." Like everyone says, La Paz is 'cruiser central'. But January is too cold for us here, so we're leaving for the mainland later this week. We'll be going as far south as Z-town, and from there will head across the Pacific. We just got email capability on our boat, and what a treat! We've only been cruising a very short time, but already know what people mean when they say the people they meet are the best part of cruising."

"We're two years into our cruise and having a great time," report Lloyd Banta and Lucy Dey, who have Ben and Lucy Banta along as crew on their San Francisco-based Chance 50 Warrior. "We're currently at the Mooloolaba YC in Australia, and trying out marina life for the first time. In fact, we just bought a camper van and will drive around Oz until the end of cyclone season, then head north, targeting Thailand for next year." One of the few times the Wanderer ever sailed on a boat with high-powered crew was about 20 years ago at Long Beach Sail Week on Bill Clute's Belvedere-based Peterson 48 Annabelle Lee. A very young Paul Cayard was driving, Lowell North was telling us to try to get the runners in a little quicker, and a couple of America's Cup guys did the grinding. The point of this little story is that one of the boats we raced against was Al Cassel's Brit Chance-designed Warrior. We've gotta believe you're now cruising that boat.

"Cruisers have new friends in Polo and Veronica de la Rosa, who have opened the Vepo Grill and Beer Garden in Puerto Angel, Mexico," report Barry and Kathy Devine of the Oxnard-based Joss, and Ed and Norma Hasselmann of Heather K. "Polo and his wife are new to the city, but are very enthusiastic about catering to cruisers. Their place, which opened late last year, is located at the ocean end of Playa Panteon, which has the calmest dinghy landing in town. Polo and Veronica keep their eye on the dinghies left in front of their place, are happy to organize supplies of fuel, ice, water, beer, soda, and will dispose of garbage. The couple speak English as a result of having travelled internationally on business. In addition, Veronica is a wizard at designing and making bikinis from the wonderful Brazilian fabrics left over from the swimsuit company she used to own. Puerto Angel - located 200 miles southeast of Acapulco - is a wonderful port of call, especially since the growth of the panga fleet at nearby Puerto Escondido has left cruising boats without any room to anchor." Regrettably, we also got a negative report out of Puerto Angel.

"There was a distressing incident aboard my boat last December at the beautiful anchorage of Puerto Angel, Mexico," writes a singlehander who requested that his name be withheld. "While cruising up the Mexican coast from the Panama Canal, I was warned by another singlehander not to stop at Puerto Angel. He'd had lots of his boat gear ripped off there, and when he later confronted a person who was trying to sell his binoculars, dive gear and fishing rods, he was told he would be killed if he didn't leave town immediately. Three other cruising boats, he told me, had also been robbed. I nonetheless decided to pull into Puerto Angel for one night and leave early the next morning, because I felt there wouldn't be a problem as long as I stayed aboard. Boy, was I wrong! Sometime during the night I was awoken by a noise. I sat up in my bunk - which that night was in the main salon - and listened intently. Hearing only the slap of the waves on the hull and on the beach, I went back to sleep. But when I awoke the next morning, I discovered that my boat had been boarded and that many items in the vicinity of the companionway had been taken: binoculars, backpack, camera and flashlights. I wasn't happy about this, because when thieves board occupied boats, it's only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt. I didn't report the theft to the authorities, as I didn't want to get caught up in red tape, nor did I want to stay there longer and become a victim for a second time. I just wanted out ASAP. I'm still cruising Mexico, and I would appreciate it if you withheld my name and my boat name."

Robberies on occupied cruising boats are rare in Mexico, although Blair Grinoles' Capricorn Cat catamaran was boarded by an armed robber a few years ago off Buffadero - an anchorage with something of a sketchy reputation. Speaking of Blair and Joan, here's the latest from them. "We been in the Barra/Tenacatita/Manzanillo area for the past couple of months, mostly entertaining family and guests, and will look forward to seeing everyone again at the Banderas Bay Regatta at the end of March. Right after that, we'll be heading across the Pacific once again, this time to the Line Islands. We'll spend a couple of weeks there, and then island hop to Malden, Starbuck, Penrhyn Atoll, Manihiki Atoll, Suwarrow and Samoa, at which point Joan plans to fly home for her 'grandma fix'. I'll spend most of the season in Tonga, then a friend will join me for cyclone season up in the Tuvalu, Kiribati and Marshall Islands. We're looking forward to the wreck diving in the Marshalls. Then, if I can convince Joanie that it's the thing to do, I want to go back down and do Vanuatu and New Caledonia." If most people had outlined cruising plans such as these, we'd be a little skeptical. But Blair and Joan have sailed to Mexico for each of the last five - maybe even six - winters, and have still managed additional trips to Hawaii and the South Pacific.

"The racing boats only take a few days to sail from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania," write Rob and Mary Messenger of custom 46-foot sloop Maude I. Jones, "so our taking a month didn't break any speed records. Our crossing of the notoriously dangerous Bass Strait wasn't too bad, as we had strong winds but no dramas. We're now in Hobart, and have met some really wonderful folks. Tassie is like the South Island of New Zealand, because the scenery is spectacular and the hospitality is fantastic. As such, we hate to have to push on to complete our circumnavigation of the island, but if we're going to complete our crossing of the Southern Australian Bight the summer, we can't dillydally. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was here for five days, and we rendezvoused with an officer that we'd met 20 years ago when he was cruising the South Pacific with his parents. He was only 12 back then. It was interesting to talk with him and see how he's grown. Yesterday we toured a factory that builds 300-ft fast catamarans for ferry service around the world. It was totally awesome to see how they start with aluminum plates and get to the finished product. We're now off to see more spectacular Tassie scenery."

"I'd love to get in contact with the folks we knew in Mexico or the Pacific to see what they're all up to," report Matt Sponer and crew Erik Golts of the San Diego-based Passport 40 Mary Frances. "After the '99 Ha-Ha, we sailed through the Pacific, Australia, then motored through Indonesia. The boat is currently in Singapore. We had a wonderful time, and want to do it again and again. The parts I enjoyed the most were the passages and the weird places you get to visit. Lucy, who was born in Zihuatanejo, grew into a wonderful sea cat. However, I'm now going to live with my lovely girlfriend in Tucson and be normal for a while. By the way, I'm a big fan of how Latitude strengthens the West Coast sailing community - specifically through the Letters, Changes and editorial that wraps it all in a mellow context. Yeah! Imagine an icky alternate reality where there were only the national glossies. If I ever do the Ha-Ha again, I will seek out this mysterious Grand Poobah person and buy him drinks. As for all my old cruising friends, I can be reached ." Thanks for the nice words, and we do hope you'll do another Ha-Ha.

"We wanted to let all the Puddle Jumpers know that we're back in La Paz and provisioning to leave for the Marquesas around mid-March," wrote Terry, Heidi and Carly Kotas of the Gig Harbor-based Cetus. "We will be checking around La Paz to find others heading across, and are hoping to get information on the radio skeds being set up by the larger group in Puerto Vallarta. Can anybody help us with this?" No worries, folks. When Latitude's Andy Turpin returns from the March 3 Pacific Puddle Jump Party at Marina Paradise, we'll put that information on 'Lectronic Latitude so everybody can see it.

"We have been cruising the Sea of Cortez for over five years, and have spent time in many of the larger coastal cities in Baja and on the mainland," report Laurence and Bonnie Sheldon of the La Paz-based Magic Moon. "During this time, it's been obvious that stray dogs are a perpetual problem in the cities. Individually, each abandoned dog is constantly seeking food. As a pack, they become a social block that is dangerous to those outside of the pack. Here in La Paz, the dog packs run the streets and endanger themselves as well as humans. But at least there is now a new organization, Mascotas de La Paz, that has been formed to spay and neuter these animals and to place them. In the last 18 months, more than 150 dogs and cats have been placed in good homes. If any cruisers or animal lovers would like to support the organization's work, they can write to: Mascotas de La Paz, c/o K.M. Mitton, 2314 Carriage Circle, Oceanside, CA 92056-3604. Or visit the web site at Or call Rayo Blanco on 22 in La Paz."

"We know it's March already and a little late to write about Christmas, but what the heck?" write Alan and Patsy Mosley of the Long Beach-based Sedona. "In the true cruising spirit, about 25 Pacific Puddle Jumpers - those who crossed the big ocean from Mexico to the South Pacific - gathered once again for a huge potluck dinner at Tauranga Bridge Marina, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Many of us were from the Class of '99, but there were also crews from '98 and '00 that joined in. Santa - Kiwi cruiser Allen of Jenny M - made a visit to the delight of 24 happy children who came together, literally, from all over the world to celebrate this special time. Party organizer Diane Bain of Illusion persuaded her husband Peter to be the master of ceremonies and to lead the Christmas carols. Entertainment included a piano and flute duet by Dave of Redwing and Debbie of Romance. Rod and Brenda of the San Francisco-based Glory Days were Santa's assistants. The '99 Puddle Jumpers who just couldn't - or didn't - make it out of New Zealand this past year included Ballerina, Brisa del Mar, Veronique, Juana Lucina, Red Wing, Ricka, Romance and Sedona. European boats included Panacea, Sea Light Star, Oris, Queen Tala, Scaffhogg, Neptune III, Nardis, La Zoe and Iyala. Visiting from northern New Zealand marinas were Billikin (Fred & Beda from Alaska), Tatanka (Wally and Kathleen from Southern California), Toujours (Tom and Bonnie from Southern California), and Escapade. Recent arrivals from 2000 were Lucid Dream, Equinox and Loafer. Most of us are trying hard to break ties this year to go offshore again, back to the islands and cruising lifestyle we love so much. But 'overstaying' a year in New Zealand is a memory that will always be close to our hearts. Tony Arnold, Tauranga Bridge Marina manager, and his various assistants, as well as chandlery owner Debbie Thoms, go out of their way to provide friendly, helpful and affordable service. Tauranga and Mt. Manganui are 100 miles south of Auckland and centrally located for visiting the many thermal areas and the east coast of the North Island."

Before we sign off for this month, yet another plea: When sending a Changes or Cruise Notes, please, please, please include the boat name, boat type, skipper and mate, and hailing port. Gracias!

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