March, 2003

With reports this month from Örnaerie on the polluted coast of Spain; from Starship on cruising while a teenage girl; from Blue Banana in Australia; from Kynda on the resurrection of Nepenthe; from Geja on another happy summer cruising in the Med; from Ram on Fiji; from Mendocino Queen on Kenya; from Chewbacca on the challenges of provisioning while south of Mexico; from Bird of Punk Dolphin in New Zealand; from Bravado on La Paz in winter; and the most Cruise Notes ever.

Örnaerie - Rassey 31
Ivan Rusch
Cleaning Oil In Spain
(Moss Landing)

I'm back here in California recuperating while Örnaerie is waiting for me in Nieupoort, Belgium, and spring weather for a safe passage down to the Med. I'm recuperating from an unusual sort of cruising adventure I had in Spain last November.

When the single hulled junk tanker Prestige started breaking up in a storm off Spain, her crew took a helicopter to safety. Rather then keeping the stricken tanker in shallow water where the oil could have been contained and pumped out, a Spanish minister sent the vessel 30 miles offshore - where she sank in deep water and created an ecological disaster. It now looks as though her toxic cargo will pollute the shores of Spain and France for many years to come. Local tourism and fishing industries have been badly hurt or destroyed.

Wanting to do something, I spent December 20 through January 2 in the small fishing village of Camarinas as one of the many oil cleanup volunteers. I was given meal tickets, housing, and daily issues of protective clothing - including a respirator and goggles - in return for working five hours a day scooping oil into buckets so it could be hauled away. The working conditions weren't good, as it was cold, rainy, and windy - so windy, in fact, that it would knock people over.

It finally became took much for this old guy. As you might remember, I didn't start sailing until I was 74, and didn't sail my boat from Moss Landing to Panama and then to Sweden until I was 76. In any event, I flew the coop to Madrid, then took a train to Barcelona to visit some old friends, then took a bus back to Belgium and my boat. A short time later, I flew back to California, where a Veterans Administration doctor said x-rays showed I had developed a mild case of pneumonia while doing oil cleanup in Spain.

As soon as the weather permits - probably March - I'll fly back to my boat and head to Portsmouth, England, Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and into the Med. Naturally, I plan on giving Cape Finisterre a wide berth.

- ivan 2/15/03

Starship - 50-ft Trimaran
Darci Carter
Cruising While A Teenager
(Santa Cruz)

For the past two years of my life - I'm now 14 - I have lived aboard a 50-ft trimaran with my dad, Don, my mom, Deborah, and my dog, Daisy. Although we're currently at Pedro Miguel Boat Club inside Miraflores Lake on the Panama Canal, we've been traveling down the Pacific Coast of Latin America. Having already been in the marina here for seven months, we're ready to resume our lifestyle by cruising on the ocean some more.

I'm originally from Santa Cruz, where my mother and father raised me on this wonderful boat since I was a little girl. We took many sailing trips on Monterey Bay and along the California coast. People always tell me that this educational experience will change my life, and it has. Not many of my friends back home have spent hours running along deserted islands, climbing coconut trees, and diving on beautiful coral reefs. I don't think life in the States will ever be the same for me.

The things I like to do most with my free time are art work, play the guitar, sing, dive, surf, fish, and explore desert islands. So far my family and I have already traveled through seven different countries, but this is only the beginning. We plan on going to Europe, too. First, of course, we have to get through the Canal.

My favorite places we've been so far are Panama and its beautiful islands, the Galapagos Islands, and Cocos Island, Costa Rica. I love these places because of their amazing beauty, but also because while there I met other kids my age who were cruising, too. The 'kid boats' that we have met and had a wonderful time with are Scalawag, who we've been traveling with for a year now; Kela, and Lady Star Light, who we met in the Galapagos; Wild Blue, who we met in Panama; and Chewbacca and Cruzing Time, who we met in Mexico.

After we complete our transit of the Canal, I'll write about what it's like to be a teenager on a boat in the Caribbean.

- darci 2/15/03

Blue Banana - Gulfstar 50
Bill & Sam Fleetwood

Remember us? With the Crew List coming up, some readers may be interested in our story. Sam took out a Cruising Crew List ad, and Bill emailed me a response. We hit it off, and four months later bought the Catalina 36 Whirlwind together. Then we got married, sold Whirlwind, bought Blue Banana (ex-Piper), sailed in the '97 Ha-Ha and have been out cruising ever since. We did the Puddle Jump in '99, and have never missed an issue of Latitude. We've been having a fabulous time!

Since we last wrote from the Cook Islands, we have visited Niue, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We arrived in Mooloolaba, Australia - affectionately known as Oz - just before Christmas 2001 after a five-day motorsail from Noumea in no wind. Six months and many boat upgrades later, Blue Banana headed north to the fabled Lizard Island, our northernmost destination for the year.

What an incredible season of cruising we've had here along Australia's famous Queensland coast! When we left Mooloolaba (pronounced Mah-LOO-la-ba), it was June and the weather was down to the mid-40s here at latitude 26°S. Time to head north to warmth. Our first challenge was crossing the Wide Bay Bar in the late afternoon of Day One. This much discussed and dreaded escapade turned out to be a piece of cake because it was calm - although there were breaking waves on either side of us. We anchored for the night between Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, and the Australian mainland.

The next part of our adventure was traveling about 40 miles in water not much deeper than our keel, as we made our way up what is known as The Great Sandy Strait. Just to make things more interesting, the strong wind warning that had been forecast filled in about noon with 40 knots - but we still had to wait two more hours until the tide was high enough for us to travel. By that time the anchorage had become untenable due to the wind and waves, and we had to depart. There were buoys and leads to follow, but it was not easy because we had to do eight knots to maintain steering in the strong current and the water was too cloudy with silt to see the bottom.

Three days and two anchorages later, we arrived in Bundaberg. We visited the famous Bundaberg Rum Factory, not because the rum was so great, but because it's just what you do. From there we sailed in day hops up to the Whitsunday Islands. The Queensland coast has islands by the hundreds to choose from for overnight anchoring. The farther north we went, the more protection we got from the Great Barrier Reef, so the water became flatter and the sailing more pleasant. The Whitsundays are a charter boat mecca, and are famous for their beauty and their white sand beaches - especially Whitehaven Beach. They lived up to their reputation. The currents are strong in these islands, though, and the wind frequently blows in the 15-25 knot range - so there are often a lot of unhappy charterers to entertain us on the radio. However, there are excellent anchorages for all wind directions, and the views from Whitsunday Peak are well worth the hike to the top.

We kept moving north 40 to 60 miles a day, leaving early in the morning, and sailing or motorsailing all day in light to moderate southeast trades. We went to Airlie Beach, a haven for the young and the restless known as 'backpackers', then continued past all the places named by James Cook 230 years ago: Double Bay, Gloucester Island, Cape Upstart, Cape Bowling Green, and then Townsville. Only five miles off of delightful and very civilized Townsville is Magnetic Island, where we saw our first koalas in the wild.

Continuing north, we visited Orpheus Island before crossing our second bar entrance into the Hinchinbrook Channel, another shallow winding strait. Once out of the channel and still just day hopping, we visited Dunk Island, Fiztroy Island, the town of Cairns - which is very tourism oriented and where we anchored in the river - Port Douglas, Hope Islets, past Cape Bedford and finally, at 14° 39' south, we arrived at Lizard Island on August 26. We had come 1,100 miles, and it was worth every one of them. We climbed to the top of the island which is called Cook's Look because back in 1770 Capt. James Cook climbed up to see if there was a way out of the Barrier Reef - which at this point starts coming closer in to the mainland. Sure enough, he found Cook's Passage and headed out that way the next day so as not to risk "embayment" in the relentless southeast trades.

We hiked and snorkeled and scuba'd and abseiled, and hung out on the incredible fine white sand beaches. The lagoons were full of more different kinds of sea creatures than we had seen anywhere - including psychedelic-colored clams so huge you could easily climb into one! We stayed 10 days at Lizard Island until the springtime northers began, at which time we up-anchored and worked slowly all the way back down to Mooloolaba, stopping at places we had missed on the way north and revisiting a few of our favorite islands. Now back in the marina, we are readying the boat for the next phase of our trip: Papua New Guinea, Darwin, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand - where we hope to be by Christmas of 2003.

- bill & sam 2/15/03

Kynda - Passport 40
Peter & Linda Young
The Resurrection Of Nepenthe
(Vancouver, Canada)

We are currently on the Pacific Coast of Panama enjoying this great country and the friendly and helpful people. We were at Balboa for Christmas, and the hospitality of the Pedro Miguel Boat Club was terrific. We had a wonderful holiday turkey dinner with great cruising friends.

While here, we've learned about the interesting tale of the resurrection of the Islander 37 Nepenthe - which some readers may recall was one of two boats that was badly damaged in the Panama Canal almost two years ago. At the time of the accident, John Pearlman owned the boat. His boat and another were rafted to a tug whose stern line got loose, allowing the sailboats to be pulled broadside beneath the stern of a big ship inside one of the locks.

Bengt and Anne Fries are ex-pat Canadians who live near Playa del Coco in northern Costa Rica. Although they own a beautiful house overlooking the Pacific, Bengt always wanted a cruising sailboat as well. Unfortunately, the import duty for sailboats is very steep in Costa Rica. Then he heard about Nepenthe.

Bengt purchased the Islander in Panama in July of '01, and while at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club spent many hours cleaning the boat up. He also had a new bow pulpit put on and the stanchions repaired. Since the boat no longer had a mast, he had the engine checked out to make sure it was all right. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a poor diagnosis. After buying a good dinghy, he and some Costa Rican friends began taking Nepenthe north toward his home in Costa Rica.

About 30 miles offshore of Quepos, Costa Rica, the engine quit for good. Bengt and his crew spent about five hours trying to hail passing fishing boats for assistance. That afternoon, a fishing boat - fully provisioned for a fishing expedition - responded and towed them in to Quepos. Despite the long tow, the fishermen refused compensation except for the fuel they had burned.

Nepenthe stayed in Quepos until November for engine repairs, which unfortunately were never completed. So Bengt pulled the engine himself, and took it to Playa del Coco for a rebuild. He then arranged for some local fishermen to tow the boat to the Costa Rica YC at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, which has good facilities and competent labor.

It took 10 months to get the Volvo MD2B rebuilt, in part because getting parts was sometimes a problem. While the engine work was being done, a Selden mast, complete with both standing and running rigging, was ordered from Florida Rigging & Hydraulics. Bengt then had to modify the furling gear and fittings to get everything back in working order. He also had to have the sails repaired.

On November 22, 2002, Bengt and his wife moved Nepenthe - which will soon be rechristened Pura Vida - to her new home on a mooring in Playa del Coco. Now they can watch the boat from their home, which overlooks the water. In the future, they plan to take the boat up to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, to have her hauled for interior and exterior cosmetic work. By spring they hope Pura Vida will be ready for some short cruises.

It was a wonderful feeling for us to see that someone's misfortune has become someone else's dream, and to see new life breathed into an older boat.

- paul & linda 1/25/03

Readers - And now for the $64,000 question: How much, if anything, was John Pearlman, the original owner, compensated for the damage to his boat?

Geja - Islander 36
Dick & Shirley Sandys
Croatia, Italy, Sicily
(Palo Alto)

We returned to our boat in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in May, 2002, after spending the winter in the United States. Our boat weathered the winter in the Dubrovnik Marina without mishap, and we only had to haul her for bottom painting before continuing our cruising. The marina is getting crowded because it's not expensive, it has a swimming pool and restaurant, and is a short bus ride to the beautiful walled medieval city of Dubrovnik.

While in Dubrovnik, we met our friends Rik and Lewjean of Window, and John and Lynnette of King Harold, to celebrate Shirley's birthday before sailing off in our various directions. We're not proceeding too quickly, but we continue in a westerly direction. The coast and islands of Croatia were as beautiful this year as they were last. When we got tired of enjoying clear blue anchorages and rocky or sandy beaches, we would stop in a medieval walled city and enjoy a rack of lamb/goat dinner for $10 each. We cruised with Lars and Birgitta of Lady Albatross for a week, then hurried with King Harold up to Pula, Croatia, which houses a beautiful Roman Amphitheater.

We later crossed the Adriatic to Venice, where we tied Geja to the 'posts'. The location of our mooring provided us with a view of St. Mark's Piazza from our cockpit. These moorings were supposed to be free, but boats that came after us were charged. Unfortunately, the waves from the passing ferries and gondolas made it impossible to get a good night's sleep. But the water didn't smell and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves: good food, concerts, the Doge's Palace, street artisans, museums and churches.

We returned to Croatia and cruised the islands Losinj, Dugi Otak, Koronot, Hvar, and Lostovo. All of them offered lovely anchorages that we would like to visit again sometime. Our special discovery was Luka Krivica, which has beautiful clear water, is sheltered from all winds, and has a restaurant a short walk through the pine woods. We checked out from Velji Lago on Lostovo, Croatia, and made our way for the southeastern part of the boot of Italy. This part of Italy was all right, but it wasn't very green and didn't have the boating facilities of Croatia. Nonetheless, we liked Vieste, Brindisi and Otranto along this part of the coast, and began to learn Italian.

Along the sole of the 'boot', we got stuck trying to cross the Gulfo di Squillace - or Gulf of Squalls. We tried to cross it early one morning, but had the wind shift 180° when we got 10 miles offshore. We turned around to go back - gentlemen and ladies do not go to weather - but after 100 meters got another 180° degree windshift, so we turned around again. Another 100 meters and, yep, another 180° windshift. The wind gods were determined to make us go to weather. So we headed back to our original port of Le Castella and waited for a windless day so we could motor. This was a fairly typical scenario in the Med, but much more dramatic then anything we'd experienced previously.

One more hop got us to Sicily, where we anchored with a view of Mt. Etna. Taormina is toured from here and we met up with King Harold again. We looked down at turquoise/dark blue bays from the heights of the oldest Greek settlement in Sicily. Leaving Taormina Roads, we sailed through the Messina Straits and the dreaded whirlpools at Skylla and Kharibdis. As usual, modern weather and tide forecasting made easy what used to put fear into the hearts of the ancient Greek seafarers. On the north side of Sicily is the harbor of Portorosa, an upscale protected harbor with seven restaurants and bus service to quaint towns. From here we cruised to the Aeolian Islands, Tindari, and took a train ride to Palermo. We plan to be back on Geja in June to continue westward.

- dick & shirley sandys 1/03

Ram - J/130
Robert & Kim Milligan
Fun In Fiji For A Second Time
(San Francisco)

Although Ram is back in New Zealand, we had a great summer season in Fiji. We started the last cruising season with a fast seven-day passage from Opua in New Zealand's Bay of Islands to Savusavu on Fiji's big island of Vanua Levu. Savusavu was a wonderful place to check into the country, as the officials were friendly, the town is small and mellow, and because the Corpa Shed Marina has just about everything a cruiser needs. In addition, it meant we were able to begin cruising Fiji from the windward end.

Our time in northeastern Fiji was characterized by great diving in clear waters and by challenging sailing. We only saw a small portion of this part of the country, but especially enjoyed Viani Bay, Makogai and Rambi. A lot of the land in this area is freehold, so the traditional village structure was lacking. Nonetheless, the welcome was still warm.

We had family onboard for a whirlwind tour of the Yasawa Group, and found having kids with us opened a lot of doors in this more touristy part of Fiji. The Musket Cove Resort at Malololailai Cove made us very welcome, and as hard as it was to believe, the place has gotten even better than it was 10 years ago! We found Ram's first place on the Round Malolo trophy from 1992 when we raced our J/35 - so we decided to give it another go. This is a no handicap, line honors race, and they put something in the water that made us lose - some very big and fast boats! Ram had a great crew and we sailed smart, but alas we were beaten by Rubino, a Martin 63, the 80-ft Kialoa III, and Morpheus, a new Kiwi-built Schumacher 50. Oh well, we've surely been beaten by worse boats! Race Week was a hoot with lots of other games and general silliness.

The absolute highlight of our time in Fiji was a return visit to Solotavui, our favorite village on Kandavu Island. It was great to be greeted by name on the beach after 10 years of being away, and getting to see our old friends again as we made our sevusevu! We jumped right back into village life, working on the plantations, playing petanque with the kids, and telling stories around the kava bowl in the evening. Solotavui has a strong community spirit, and people work together on many projects. Robert helped out doing some fiberglass repairs on the mayor's boat, mostly just teaching our friends so they'll be able to do it themselves in the future. Jo, the chief, has asked us to extend an invitation to any yachties who would like to see the real Fiji to come and visit. These people will renew your faith in mankind. Kandavu is often cloudy, which is why it's lush, but it's still beautiful. Even though it's not a sandy beach and palm trees kind of place, it's still one of our favorite spots, and we hope to return!

With a little bit of luck and a lot of Internet weather, we headed back to New Zealand. We had a decent enough trip, with some headwinds and some motoring required. Now we are enjoying watching the pohutakawas bloom and the Louis Vuitton races - when the conditions permit them to be held. As we write this, we're waiting for warmer weather.

P.S. Robert used to do a lot of racing on San Francisco Bay with Tom Thayer and Dick Watts, and he misses it!

- robert & kim

Mendocino Queen - DownEast 38
Allen & Kate Barry
Lamu, Kenya

We crossed the Indian Ocean in 2002, enjoying stops at Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Chagos, and the Seychelles. We spent last New Year's Day at Lamu Island, Kenya, watching - along with hundreds of locals - 10 Arabian-style dhows race around the bay. Prior to the beach start, we could see that all of the 30-ft dhows had patched and tired sails. It was going to be a hard race on the boats, as it was blowing 30 knots and they would carry 10 crew rather than the normal three, with most of the seven extra acting as ballast on the moveable hiking boards. Conditions were so harsh that only six of the 10 boats finished. The dhow from Shela village won first place, so the residents celebrated for the rest of the day. We'd been cheering for the boat from Lamu village, as Simba, one of the crew, had taken Allen sailing on her from Lamu to Shela. They got third.

Lamu is a hot, sunny, sand dune island with a large Muslim village. The white-hot sand dunes, coral buildings, mosques, and dhows make it look quite exotic. The anchorage is well-protected, so it was comfortable for us to lie in the hammock under the sunshade and watch the dhows sail by. Most are fishing dhows, although some transport commodities such as sisal rope or take tourists for sails. There are only a few small hotels here, some very expensive, and some for backpackers. But there are no more than 100 tourists in all. We anchored in front of the Peponi Hotel at the smaller village of Shela. There are a total of three other cruising yachts here - one Canadian, one French, and one German.

Allen's mom and nephew flew into Mombasa from the States, then sailed up here to Lamu with us for the holidays. Each day we take a sailing or motorized dhow for the two kilometer ride to the market at Lamu town. It's a colorful place where most of the women wear patterned kangas or bui buis. Some have their faces covered. The Muslim men wear the kopi or beaded cap. Some wear the khanzu, which is the long white gown, but most wear shirts and a kickoi, which is a plaid wrap. Everyone is friendly and many were wishing us a Merry Christmas. A small percentage of the population is Christian, but everyone seems to tolerate differences. The national elections for president were on December 27, so there were political posters everywhere and there had been lots of political discussions taking place under mango trees and in the market square.

We enjoyed the Lamu Museum, which is in an old Swahili house built of white coral stone, making it cool and airy inside. Instead of interior walls, they use columns for support, which create galleries for privacy but still allows the air to circulate. The old kitchens were placed on the second floors of buildings so the charcoal smoke could blow outside rather than heat and smoke up the interiors. The rooftops are always the coolest places with the best views.

The Muslims are called to prayer many times a day. We shop in the morning when it is cooler. The men go to prayer at 12:30, so the shops close and everyone naps until about 4 p.m. Stores then open up again, but we watch from our boat, enjoying sundowners after the sun descends behind the sand dunes and it's no longer so bright out. After a short twilight, the night turns black until whatever moon there might be rises. Star gazing in this area is terrific. Saturn, the closest its been in 30 years, has been particularly bright.

Food is not expensive here. Lamu fishermen bring in plenty of seafood, so we've been enjoying lobster, jumbo prawns, mud crabs, kingfish, and snapper. The latter two fish are only 150 Kenya shillings per kilo - or about 85 U.S. cents a pound. The other seafood is more expensive, but it's always less than $3/person for the best. There's a variety of fruit, veggies, and rice in the markets, and it's almost free. While in Mombasa, we were able to buy South African wine by the box.

This year - which will be our 10th out cruising - we are planning to sail to Tanzania, the Comoros Islands, Madagascar, and South Africa. The following year we plan to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Atlantic, then up to the Caribbean.

- allen & kate 1/15/03

Chewbacca - 30-ft Crowther Cat
The Winship Family
Provisioning South of Mexico

As we prepared to head south and leave Mexico, we provisioned heavily in Zihua and Acapulco because of the great selection of food and the ease of schlepping our provisions back to the dinghy landing. What we didn't realize is that soon we'd be leaving a 'land of plenty' and start visiting countries where provisioning could be a real adventure. It's true that everyone has to eat and that you could find food in any small town, but in some places in Guatemala and El Salvador it was difficult to find the variety and high quality of food we had become accustomed to in Mexico.

Our first stop south of Mexico was Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. We had a wonderful 12-day adventure exploring the Mayan Highlands, where the most beautiful produce was available. But back at the lowlands by the port, there was only minimal provisioning from a 7-Eleven type junk food store. Luckily, we were still well stocked with Mexican provisions when we took off again for Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. The Navy base at Puerto Quetzal did top off our water tanks and had some coconuts.

For the month we were at Bahia del Sol, finding food was an adventure, as we spent two or three days a week going one place for a frozen chicken and then another day hunting for veggies at a small village market up a river. In the mercado, we saw venders liberally spraying Raid bug spray on their vegetables to keep the flies off! We suspect the butchers did it to the meat, too. If we'd had the money to rent a car, we could have driven to San Salvador and loaded up at Price Mart, but it was not an option for us.

When I eventually ventured into the city to try to provision, I did find some well-stocked grocery stores. Unfortunately, I could only carry as much canned food as I could get in my knapsack and stand up with for a three-hour ride on a crowded bus back to the boat. Potable water had to be purchased in five-gallon bottles - for $3 - because the anchorage water was too murky to run the watermaker. We managed to survive, of course, but there wasn't much variety in our diet. Our kids remember Del Sol as "the rice and beans" place. By then, I was certain that the national food of El Salvador was the hot dog!

We then sailed down the coast 30 miles to Barillas Marina, also in El Salvador, where provisioning improved dramatically because the nearby town of Usultan has two modern grocery stores, one with a bakery inside. There was also a fairly large local mercado where it was possible to buy everything from veggies to live chickens. We found a limited selection of cheeses and all the jelly or yogurt one would want - assuming one liked strawberry. The marina store stocked Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Skippy peanut butter, and other familiar foods, but these were beyond our budget. But the marina did offer free potable water from the hose. The food in this part of El Salvador wasn't bad, but the variety and quality were nothing compared to Mexico.

Before leaving Barillas, we set aside lots of canned goods for those weeks when we might be trapped at an isolated anchorage by high winds. It was a wise move. Our weatherfax indicated a beautiful weather window when we started out on a straight shot to Costa Rica, but halfway there we got hit by the infamous Papagayo winds. We enjoyed two weeks at Bahia Santa Elena, living off of our canned goods while 30-knot winds whistled overhead. There is a small fishing village near the anchorage called Cualjiniquil that has limited provisions, and diesel and gas are available from the fishermen. With provisions again running low, we headed on to Playa del Coco.

Our first visit to a Costa Rican grocery store put us in heaven, as it was well supplied. We loaded up with gouda cheeses, spaghetti sauces, pickles, and meat that didn't come in a tube. You have to understand that Costa Ricans are very well off compared to their neighbors to the north. We found all kinds of nuts, dried fruits, and gourmet items that we hadn't seen since Mexico. Provisioning in Costa Rica has been great, as we've found well-stocked stores in even small anchorages. The quality of the meat, veggies, and fruits is very high, and the whole grocery store experience has been very positive. We've seen no smelly meat counters or questionable sanitation practices.

Another pleasure of traveling in Costa Rica is that all water is potable. We've found good tasting, clean water right from the hose everywhere we went. Starting in Bahia Del Coco, we found well stocked stores in Bahia Ballena - which also has a visiting organic veggie and fruit truck - Montezuma, Paquera, Puntarenas, Quepos - which also has an excellent farmers' market - and Golfito - which also has a veggie truck that stops at Land & Sea.

Finding diesel and gasoline was never a problem in Central America. However, those of us with 'North American' propane tanks have had to wait from two days to a week to have our tanks filled. They use a different valve/regulator down here and simply exchange the empty tanks for full ones at almost any grocery store - even in the smallest villages. Several of the cruisers have opted to switch over to the Tropi-Gas bottles to simplify their lives.

As for what lies ahead, fellow cruisers tell us that we should provision heavily for the island groups around Perida and Secas because that water is so clear and the diving and snorkeling so good that we'll want to spend several months exploring the area. So Chewbacca is sitting heavy in the water ready to enjoy Panama.

- the winship family 2/6/03

Bravura - X-442
Jonathan 'Bird' Livingston, Crew
Adventures In New Zealand

The Traveling Bird is back in the northern hemisphere after a scouting trip to New Zealand's sailing playgrounds. Suzie and I were supposed to sail down to New Zealand on our Wylie 38 Punk Dolphin after the West Marine Pacific Cup and getting married in Lahaina last summer, but this and that happened, and suddenly it was too late in the season. So Punk Dolphin is still in Lahaina, and we did our sailing in New Zealand with Garrett Loube - son of the late San Francisco Bay legendary racer Irv Loube - aboard his X-442 Bravura. Also part of the Bravura crew was Russell Long, head of the Bluewater Network to protect our waters.

One day, the four of us left one of the many perfectly protected pocket anchorages on the east coast of the North Island because the wind was fair for a southerly course toward Auckland. Unlike in the Bay Area, which gets westerlies in all but the winter, the wind blows from all directions in New Zealand. So folks here typically leave the anchorage, see which way the wind is blowing, and then pick some off the wind anchorage to sail to. In other words, they like to go where the wind blows.

Anyway, we noticed that the wind was moderate enough for the half-ounce kite, and that if we kept the pole just off the headstay, we could make Garrett's boat romp. So we set the chute and settled into a groove at about 7.5 knots. The course took us just where we wanted to go - Man O' War Passage and Fitzroy Harbor on the Great Barrier Island some 60 miles off the coast of Auckland. What a great day, with the autopilot holding a perfect curl in the luff of the kite, a robust wave peeling off the bow, and everybody moving to reggae tunes.

After dousing the kite at the end of the day, we motored through a very narrow passage and inside magical Fitzroy Harbor. It's about the size of Richardson Bay, but has deep water all around and many bays within. The neat thing is that from the outside you can't even tell there is a protected harbor, but once inside, you see all the many protected anchorages.

Scanning the shore for the most appealing anchorage, I noticed a particularly fine looking yacht a half mile ahead fine off the port bow. Looking through the binocs, I told Suzie that it looked like a Schumacher design - as in Carl Schumacher, the very fine Alameda naval architect who died way to soon a little while ago. The dark-hulled boat had a beautiful shear, a fractional rig and wide spreaders, and a low cabin house and nice windows - sort of like the Schumacher designed Surprise. But since we were in New Zealand, I assumed she was a Kiwi boat - until I saw the American flag. Then I remembered that Jim Gregory, a good friend and Bay Area Etchells sailor, had just had a Schumacher 50 built by Dave Norris in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"Hard left, Baby, we're going over to have a closer look," I told Suzie.

As we closed in on the splendid looking boat gracefully laying at anchor, I knew it had to be a Schumacher. The boat was indeed the Gregory family's 50-ft Morpheus. Her lean and low profile, smartly raked carbon rig, and lack of cruising clutter seemed to harken back to the aesthetical nautical protocol of the Herreshoff years - but in a modern way.

The Gregorys - Jim, Debbie, and two sons - were aboard. Having heard that I was in the area, and seeing a sailor drooling at their boat and acting strange, they knew it had to be me. Having last seen them in Richmond when I was dumpster diving for an Etchells jib to use for a staysail in the Pacific Cup, it was a shock to see them on their Schumacher magic carpet, where they have been home-schooling their boys in the waters of New Zealand and Fiji. I got the tour of the boat, and found her to be as beautiful as she is functional.

The Gregorys report that Morpheus will be arriving back in the Bay Area in July of this year, and will be racing - minus the family's prodigious library - in the '04 West Marine Pacific Cup.

- birdman 02/15/03

Bravado - Elliot 46
The Breed Family
La Paz In Winter

In the real estate industry, it's said that the three most important things are location, location, and location. In sailing, it should be weather, weather, and weather. Our best sailing experiences seem to align with good weather, and that's exactly what we had while in La Paz, Mexico, and more importantly, while coming back up the coast from Cabo San Lucas to San Francisco this February.

Bravado joined the 2002 Baja Ha-Ha with our family of four, including Catherine, 9, and Alexandra, 7. They completely enjoyed the trip down - as well as seeing a photo of themselves in the January Latitude. For those who think the Ha-Ha is a two-week booze cruise for adults only, you don't have a clue. My young daughters would do the Ha-Ha every year if they could, and would do it over going to Disneyland.

We only stayed in Cabo a short time before moving on up to La Paz, which only took a day. There we spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years cruising the islands off La Paz. We have been doing the Baja thing for over 15 years by car, so we know the peninsula well. We chose La Paz for our base because it is by far the best all-around 'base-camp' in Baja. It has excellent weather, complete marine supplies, lots of restaurants, a decent airport, and isn't too touristy. We met lots of fine people, all of whom were willing to lend a hand if someone else needed it.

We decided to keep Bravado in Marina de La Paz for the holidays while we flew back and forth to the Bay Area. Mary made us feel at home, and could solve any problems that typically confront cruisers. After paying up the whazoo for one year's worth of fishing permits, Immigration documents, and clearing in and out, we were legally set. We didn't find it to be a hassle but rather quite a waste of money - $600 to be exact. Those fishing permits and licenses, in particular, are very expensive.

The islands off La Paz offer excellent cruising grounds for diving and hiking. Our kids swam with young sea lion pups for an entire day. A most incredible thing happened: a seal pup dove down to the bottom, got a long-legged starfish, and handed it to Catherine! Not once, but twice. Good diving and hiking can be found on most of the islands.

Despite all the fun we were having, in the back of my mind I was always a little stressed about the inevitably awful trip back to San Francisco that is the price for cruising fun in Mexico. For this one thing I envied folks with trailerable boats or seats on jets. But we had no choice but to either sell the boat or motor her home. Since we still like the boat and are planning to race her in this July's TransPac, we opted to sail her back.

Once our best 'Bash' asset, Rick Shema of, told us there was a window, we booked the travel and had the crew fly to Cabo. We used the same folks who brought the boat home after the Pacific Cup last year - Henning, Cindy, Victor and John. They did a great job, as always. Other than seeing what looked to be a big drug drop off near Ensenada - huge plastic wrapped containers with sea anchors - it was an uneventful trip.

We'd actually broken the trip into two parts with two crews. The first non-stop passage was from Cabo starting on February 1. The boat arrived in San Diego on February 6, which is just five days later. The second delivery crew started late that night and finished in San Francisco on the 9th. Nine days from Cabo to San Francisco - that's not bad.

If we Mexico cruisers could always have prior knowledge of such perfect weather windows, we'd be all set. Until then, we'll take the good luck when it comes our way.

- charles 2/16/03

Cruise Notes:

The report was as good as it was brief. Tony Johnson's Richmond-based Ericson 39 Maverick - which had suddenly sprung a serious leak from a crack in the bottom of her hull at the end of a transAtlantic crossing - has been repaired and is now back in the water at Carriacou in the Eastern Caribbean. We'll have a more detailed report on the repairs next month. After the hull has been put to the test, Johnson and Terry Shrode will sail to Panama and back up to the Bay Area by June, completing their circumnavigation.

It's only a month or two until boats in Mexico start the Baja Bash from Cabo San Lucas up to San Diego. We've never heard a good explanation of what macro weather pattern would be the best for a long term weather window to head north from Cabo. For example, should Bashers be looking for a strong or weak Pacific High? A high to the east or to the west? Or some other condition. Can anybody help?

Speaking of the Baja Bash, you never want to check out of a Mexican port directly for the United States, because that's an international clearance and can be more complicated and expensive than clearing out to another domestic port. So no matter if you check out of La Paz or Puerto Vallarta, with "intermediate stops", or from Cabo San Lucas, always clear to Ensenada rather than San Diego. What do you do if you don't want to stop in Ensenada? Just don't. The folks who have just continued on to San Diego report they haven't had any problems. By the way, when we were in Cabo San Lucas in November, we were told that vessels stopping in Cabo just to take on fuel did not have to clear in and out.

If you're lucky and will be heading to French Polynesia instead of up the Baja coast this spring, we strongly encourage you to acquire a copy of Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia, a new book by Patrick Bonnette, former ship captain, sailing instructor, and Harbormaster for the Port of Papeete, and Emmanuel Deschamps, a travel writer and photographer in French Polynesia for 20 years. This book covers the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambiers, Societies, and Austral Islands, and has beautiful color photographs, many of them from the air, as well as excellent charts and all the current and historical information you'll need. Other than the fact that we can't vouch for the accuracy of the chartlets, we can't give this book high enough praise. It's beautifully done, and is printed at a place in France that's been in business since 1640! No, that's not a typo. Initially this guide was hard to find, but is now available at most places that sell marine books.

"We plan to cruise directly from San Francisco to the Marquesas - not stopping in Mexico - at the end of April aboard our Oakland-based 46-ft ketch," say 'A & H' - who wish to remain anonymous because the "huge companies" they work for don't know they are leaving yet. "We're wondering if anyone else is planning a similar cruise for about the same time so we can compare radio skeds and weather information. We can be reached ." Yes, their email address starts with the letter 's' eight times in a row. It has something to do with preventing spam.

While in Tenacatita Bay last month - where a huge fleet of cruising boats was having a great time, with Robert (and Virginia) Gleser of the Alameda-based Freeport 40 Harmony serving as 'mayor' - we bumped into Ha-Ha and surfing friends Chris van Dyke and his wife Chris van Dyke of the Ventura-based Valiant 40 Spirit Wind. Chris - the male - told us that he started to experience some discomfort in his ear after cleaning the waterline of his boat a few months before. He assumed it was an infection. When the pain became worse, he poured some alcohol drops into his ear. That brought immediate relief - because it drove out the little crab that had taken up residence in his ear! Needless to say, Chris now uses drops each time he comes out of the water. On a happier note, he reports that when a south swell rolled into Tenacatita Bay, he got some nice right hand rides near the 'jungle ride'.

Just a reminder to everyone that the cruiser-only Banderas Bay Regatta - the major cruiser sailing and social event of the year - will be held from March 20-23 out of Marina Paradise just north of Puerto Vallarta. We can't recommend this event enough, as it's free, the facilities are fantastic, and the sailing conditions are terrific in a mild sort of way. Since the racing is truly mellow, we also highly recommend that you race your own boat rather than crewing for somebody else. It doesn't matter that it's full of cruising gear or you're not really a racer, just think of it as a parade around a set of buoys. But no matter if you race or not, you really don't want to miss this one. Visit for details.

In addition, Profligate - and hopefully some other boats - will be participating in a Spinnaker Cup for Charity the day before the Banderas Bay Regatta. This event will start with lunch at Punta de Mita - most people will take the bus out - followed by a 12-mile spinnaker run back to Paradise Marina. Lupe Dipp of The Moon and Stars is in charge of organizing and will have all the details. All proceeds go to the local school for developmentally challenged children. If you'd like to contribute to this great cause but won't be able to make it in person, please contact .

Is there anyone with more ants in their pants for long ocean passages than John Neal and Amanda Swan-Neal of the Seattle-based Halberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare III? In the last 21 years, they've sailed a collective 350,000 ocean miles - lots of them in not so mellow places such as the Roaring Forties and the very high latitudes. During that time, John, and later with the help of Amanda, has held 113 weekend Offshore and Coastal Cruising Seminars, sharing his/her vast knowledge - and their 350-page Offshore Cruising Companion - with 7,500 students. In addition, for the last 14 years, they've taken hundreds of students all over the world on their Mahina Expeditions, sometimes to places with sweet sailing, but also to places as rough as the Roaring Forties. Last year they had a pretty mellow season, taking six groups on different legs from Honolulu to Auckland. Starting in May, they'll be doing their normal loop east in the Roaring Forties to the Austral Islands, then up to Tahiti, the Cooks, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and back to Auckland by December. "You may think we're nuts," John writes us, "but we had so much fun in Scandanavia and Europe last time that we'll be heading back across the Atlantic in 2006 and then up as high as 80°N in 2007. The high latitude stuff is a blast - especially when there is not too much ice."

We love John and Amanda, and have tremendous respect and admiration for what they do, but we do think they are nuts. The only ice we want to see while on our boat is that floating in a sea of rum when the sun touches the horizon. Be that as it may, John and Amanda - along with noted sailing author Nigel Calder - will be presenting their annual Offshore Cruising Seminars in Seattle on March 15 &16, in San Francisco on March 22 & 23, and in Annapolis on March 29 & 30th. If you're interested in an intensive introduction to offshore sailing by some regular folks with an irregular amount of offshore experience, or in one of the Mahina Expeditions, visit

And now for some unpleasant news in the Sea of Cortez. In November of 1981, the Wanderer was sitting at the Ensenada Grande anchorage at Isla Partida with his then wife Kathleen McCarthy aboard their Freya 39 Contrary to Ordinary, when he said, "You know, there ought to be a 'sailing week' out here at the end of the cruising season like the one they have in Antigua." So the Wanderer announced his modest plan in Latitude, and come the following spring, 64 boats showed up for the first ever Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. Thanks to great support from cruisers in the area, the government, and local businesses, the following year there were over 200 boats. The early years of Sailing Week were pretty wild, with big fleets, big boats, and even some big name sailors racing three times during the week. There was also some hilarious men's bikini contests, some often very saucy women's wet T-shirt contests, and all kinds of other activities. After about five years of participation, the Wanderer wearied of the political squabbles and people trying to make big bucks out of the free event, so he backed away from it entirely.

For the last 10 or 15 years, the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week has been run under the auspices of the Club Cruceros de La Paz, and has evolved into a very different event. There's been very little big boat racing, the shore activities aren't as wild and crazy, and the number of participants is a small fraction of the glory days. From what we've been told, in recent years it's mostly been a very relaxed and mellow social gathering on the beach at Caleta Partida with lots of games. Nonetheless, on the years when there was an effective event chairperson and no intraclub squabbles, we've been told that participants have had a great time. However, in the years there wasn't an effective event chair, Sailing Week apparently wasn't very good and didn't attract many boats.

Here's where things get sticky. Clarke Waters and Slade Ogletree of the Paradise Found YC Bar and Restaurant in La Paz - which has an endless number of services, activities, and deals catering specifically to cruisers - decided that they wanted to revive some of the old time Sea of Cortez Sailing Week pizzazz and numbers. So they decided to host their own event called Sea of Cortez Island Madness in early April a couple of anchorages over from the one being hosted by the Club Cruceros. We at Latitude - thinking that what the Sailing Week could really use is some of Clarke and Slade's high energy and enthusiasm - suggested they try to combine forces with the Club Cruceros for one great event.

The two groups did meet, but weren't able to work anything out. "The Club voted us out despite what I thought was popular support," writes Ogletree. "So the Paradise Found YC Island Madness at Ensenada Grande will happen April 7-14 as planned. End of subject." Marta Sutton of the Club Cruceros writes, "Clarke did come to the club with a proposal for a merger, but it was unacceptable for several reasons: 1) His choice of the Ensenada Grande site; 2) His decision to exclude anyone from the site who wished to bring their own beverages as opposed to buying them from him; and 3) Most important of all, our club's charter prevents us from joining forces with a profit-making organization." Sutton says the Club Cruceros will hold Opening Day for their 20th Sea of Cortez Sailing Week on April 5th in La Paz, and their event will be held through the 14th at the traditional site of Caleta Partida.

That the two events will be held nearly side by side on the same dates will, in our opinion, soon spell disaster for one of the two events. Given the fact that the Club Cruceros is rather moribund compared to its heyday, and that the energetic Waters and Ogletrees are fueled at least in part by the profit motive, we'll give you one guess as to which is likely to come out on top. Nonetheless, we wish the best of luck to both sponsoring organizations and all participants.

If you're a Southbounder who will be in the vicinity of Nicaragua on March 15, consider stopping at the new Puesto del Sol Marina, where Nicaraguan President Ingeniero Enrique Bolaños will be doing the groundbreaking on the complex's 40-room hotel. The project is the passion of retired San Diego engineer Roberto Membrano, who still has his Kelly-Peterson 46 Puesto del Sol at Paradise Marina near Puerto Vallarta, but already has his 67-ft motoryacht Carino del Mar on the site in Nicaragua. Membrano reports that there is currently a 120-ft header for the marina, with which the addition of several 60-ft fingers will mean they'll be able to accomodate about 16 boats. In addition, there are a number of mooring buoys. The berths and moorings are free while the yacht club, restaurant, and hotel remain under construction. They already have water and electricity, showers and a laundry, and fuel can be trucked in. With 250 people working on the project, progress is rapid. Puesto del Sol Marina is located about five kilometers north of Corinto. When you get to 12°37'17"N by 087°20'30", call the marina on 16 for directions on coming in. The complex has already been named a port of entry for the country, and officials are there waiting to clear boats in. Knowing Membrano, we suspect this hotel and marina - far, far from the bright lights of anywhere - have a stellar future.

"I'm singlehanding from Puerto Rico to Miami right now," reports Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 466 Wanderlust. "Currently, I am about to enter the Old Bahama Channel off the north coast of Cuba, and will be in the shipping separation zone in about one hour. I'm taking Wanderlust back to the Miami Boat Show where I bought her, as she'll be on display again this year. I loved last month's cover of Latitude, which was an aerial shot of my boat sailing out of English Harbor, Antigua. In fact, Hunter wants to send a copy of the magazine to all their dealers around the world! Latitude was the first sailing magazine I ever read, and it's your fault that I'm doing all this!"

Here's what Harker means by "doing all this". He took up sailing shortly before the 2000 Baja Ha-Ha, which he did with his Hunter 34 Wanderlust. The following spring he did the Baja Bash singlehanded back to Southern California. In February of last year, he bought his new Wanderlust at the Miami show, then singlehanded her to the Azores. With crew, he continued on to the Med, as far east as Italy, before sailing west to the Canaries and back across the Atlantic to Antigua. That was 12,000 miles in 10 months. Harker is obviously a very quick study, and an inspiration to those of you who want to jump into cruising with both feet.

Mike Miller of the Ventura-based Vanguard 33 Uhuru, who lovingly became known as the 'Lonely Guy' of Puerto Vallarta for his dating habits, reports that he's sold Uhuru to some great folks in Monterey. That means he's about to pursue his dream of going to the Caribbean to try to find a Catana 43 catamaran. He's bummed, however, because there's already an Uhuru II in those waters.

"Thanks for the ride aboard Profligate at Zihua Sail Fest, which was a great event that benefitted everyone," writes Joe Scirica and Pipsqueak the cat of the Redondo Beach-based Beneteau 40CC Music, currently anchored in Zihuatanejo. "One of the activities of Sail Fest was the creation of a Southbounders Guide on CD - with all kinds of information for those of us heading south. Some of the cruisers here in Zihua then asked if some of us Sea of Cortez vets could do a similar Northbounders Guide for those headed to the Sea. So a group of us got together and presented a two-hour seminar for about 30 skippers at Rick's Bar. Then Jerry King of Mirador spent many hours putting together a web page from the web pages of four other boats, and then made an auto-run CD. The CD contains a wealth of information, pictures, personal accounts of passages and anchorages, wind histories, and net schedules. This was purely an amateur endeavor so the CD is not perfect, and it was made to supplement rather than compete with the fine cruising guides that are available. Now we're just trying to figure out how to get them distributed. Any suggestions? By the way, my cat and I spent the summer on both sides of the Sea of Cortez, crossed from La Paz to Mazatlan for Thanksgiving, continued down to La Cruz for Christmas, then anchorage-hopped to Zihua by the end of January. Keep up the good work, for Latitude is currency down here."

When last year's Puddle Jump group created the massive and informative Puddle Jump Guide, they - based on the creation of the two new guides - seem to have really created something. Hopefully we'll be able to review both of them next month. As for distribution, Joe, we'd just give a few copies to boats headed to the Sea of Cortez. Since just about everybody has a CD burner aboard these days, copies would spread like wildfire.

Speaking of the Sea of Cortez, while we were in Zihua last month we spoke with a number of couples who spent most or all of last summer in the Sea, and they didn't just like it, they loved it! In fact, three of the couples had such a great time they have rearranged their cruising plans to spend another summer in the Sea.

One of the couples was Patrick Abreu and Diane Ferguson of the Seattle-based Hylas 42 Springbok. "Perhaps the best thing we did was get scuba certified while in La Paz in March," says Diane. "During our May to October time in the Sea - we spent the five hottest weeks back in the States - I did 60 dives while Patrick did 50. The water was unbelievably clear and there were lots of fish. We did many dives with Terry Kennedy, who has been diving in the Sea for the last 20 years. We did one dive at Isla Fonsa, where we swam with about 40 hammerhead sharks that were 10 to 12 feet long."

"Our favorite place in the Sea was San Marte, just south of Agua Verde," adds Patrick. "It has a great reef and beach, and the diving, hiking, and fishing are all wonderful." If you ever meet the couple, ask them how hurricane Kenna wiped out their Mexican wedding.

Other couples who loved the Sea of Cortez were Michael and Catharine Whitby of the Vancouver-based Contessa 38 Breila; Jimmie Zinn and Jane Hanawalt of the Richmond-based Morgan 38 Dry Martini; and Chris Goode and Becky Swan of the Seattle-based Crealock 40 Bonne Idée. The first two couples are returning to the Sea this summer. All of these folks have very nice, well-equipped cruising boats, and none of them are ultra low budget cruisers. Nonetheless, they all remarked at how inexpensive it was to cruise in the Sea - in part because there was hardly any place to spend any money. All of the four couples said they could easily cruise on $750/month, while some said there were months where they only spent about $350. How many of you are able to live a relaxed but adventurous, healthy, and exciting life in the States for so little money?

After 30 years of the charter business and visits by an ever growing number of cruising boats, many of the island-nations of the Eastern Caribbean have awoken to the fact that sailing brings in money. Lots of it. Governments in places such as Sint Maarten, Antigua, the British Virgins, Martinique, St. Lucia, and Grenada are realizing that small boat sailing and chartering brings more revenue to their islands than do cruise ships. The Moorings, for instance, is said to bring $100 million of revenue to the Eastern Caribbean economies each year. As a result, several of the islands have been investing in their sailing infrastructure, and others are about to. One of the more recent examples is that Grenada, the island of spices at the bottom of the chain, is poised to approve plans for a new 360-boat harbor in St. Georges. For their part, cruisers are trying to inform governments that raising clearing and other fees is a way to drive away rather than attract sailors.

When Jonathan 'Bird' Livingston and Susie Grubler of the Richmond-based Wylie 38 Punk Dolphin, currently in Lahaina, flew to New Zealand to take in the last of the Louis Vuitton racing and do a little cruising, they were guests aboard Garrett Loube's San Francisco-based X-442 Bravura. As Bird laughingly tells the story, a third guest was San Francisco's Russell Long, who was best known in his youth for being the owner-driver of his own America's Cup campaign - Liberty, 198X - when he was just 21-years-old. Now that he's older, Long is best known for starting the Bluewater Network, a very effective environmental organization that didn't quite succeed in getting all two-stroke outboards outlawed, but was instrumental in getting legislation passed that paved the way for the popularity of low horsepower four-stroke outboards. The funny thing is that Loube had been using a two-stroke Yamaha outboard for his dinghy until he learned that Long was on his way. By the time Long arrived, the two-stroke had been replaced by a 2 hp Honda four-stroke.

"We're in Tahiti again after a six-month absence," write Al and Debbie Farner of the San Francisco-based Valiant 40 Different Worlds. "We'd left the boat in Pt. Phaeton, which turned out to be a great experience. We'd recommend it to anyone, but it's a small place so get your reservations in early. We'd also like to tell this year's Puddle Jumpers that if they stop in Fatu Hiva before the other islands in the Marquesas, the officials will make you leave after a day or two to go to an official port of entry. At least this is what happened to one of the first boats that came across this year, arriving on February 18th."

We emailed the Farners back for the very latest on the visa situation in French Polynesia, and this was their reply: "We've heard that you can get only a 30-day visa here, but we've also heard that you can get a three-month visa, so we don't know for sure. We arrived with a three-month visa we'd obtained from the French Consulate in Los Angeles, and didn't have any problem. Friends of ours got their three-month visa from the French Consulate in Panama, although it took them three days. To be on the safe side, we suggest getting a three-month visa in the States before coming over. Three months is still not nearly enough time for such a wonderful place, but we'll see how it works out."

Tired of the relatively murky waters of the Pacific Coast of Mexico? Then you might want to try the Revillagigedo Islands, where Pete Boyce of the San Francisco-based Sabre 402 Edelweiss III reports he could clearly see his anchor in 65 feet of water. The Revillagigedos are a chain of volcanic islands roughly 250 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, which puts them out in the middle of nowhere. Formerly a popular spot for the long term charter fishing boats out of San Diego, the islands are now a marine and wildlife preserve. It's a good thing, too, because they are home to lots of whales, huge rays, sharks, and countless other forms of sea life. You can't go to the islands without a permit, and in the past getting a permit has been tricky if not impossible. But Boyce got one in just 90 days - hey, it's Mexico - through John M. Riffe in La Paz. Here's the catch - the permit cost $600 for about 10 days! So it's not for economy cruisers.

Boyce sailed to Isla Socorro from Puerto Vallarta with Stef and Marilyn Thordarson, who cruised their Tacoma-based Tayana 37 Circe in Mexico for years, and Sue Strembitsky of Calgary, Canada. It took the foursome 2.5 days, mostly under sail, to reach the islands. It was predominantly close and broad reaching in winds under 17 knots with gentle three to six foot seas. They hooked a 50-lb yellowfin tuna 100 miles out. Fishing is not allowed at the Revillagigedo Islands, and neither is going ashore. The friendly Mexican Navy, which maintains a base on the islands, checks in with visiting boats each day. Boyce reports the snorkeling was excellent, as they saw many tropical fish, white tip sharks, dusky sharks, a whale with two calves, and lots of other interesting stuff. The water was pleasant, in the high 70s, but the anchorage was always a little rolly. Also at the islands were Steve and Barbara Campbell of the Leadville, Colorado-based Valiant 40 Blue Chablis. Apparently they sail out to the Revillagigedos every year. If you're looking for tiendas, restaurants, hiking, and white sand beaches, the Revillagigedos are precisely the wrong place. But if you want to get away to great diving that few others get to experience, and you've got a pile of big bucks laying around, you might consider applying for a permit. Boyce says he hopes to return. The group's return sail to Puerto Vallarta was a beat followed by a close reach in winds up to 20 knots. It took three days, about 30% of it motoring.

"That was a great 'Lectronic Latitude piece on the Revillagigedo Islands on February 7," write Dave and Merry Wallace of the Redwood City-based Amel Maramu Air Ops. "The mention of Steve and Barb Campbell on Blue Chablis reminded me of a conversation we overheard on a Ham net last winter. A cruiser asked Barb if Steve was having any luck fishing. "Well, he's catching a lot of heads," was Barb's reply. Of course, that generated the obvious next question, for which the answer was that he was catching lots of fish, but the sharks were getting most of each fish before he could land them. Steve does most of his fishing from their dinghy, and reported that another time a shark took a bite out of one of the air chambers. Fortunately, the other two chambers held enough air so that he could get back to Blue Chablis! Steve truly does know how to catch fish, and last year gave an excellent fishing-for-cruisers presentation at Loreto Fest. I imagine they will be there again this year, the first weekend in May. Barb sells a terrific cookbook with all the recipes being from cruisers."

If you think that Revillagigedo Islands are the only place where sharks steal the majority of your fish, check out the accompanying photo of Laurie Matthews. She and her husband Mark of the Sausalito-based S&S 35 Althea were getting ripped off by sharks at Panama's San Blas Islands.

A great new cruising destination on the Pacific Coast of Mexico? David Jensen of the Mazatlan-based Hopalong reports that the Tres Marias Islands, currently a penal colony about 60 miles north of Banderas Bay, may become "a nature preserve open for the promotion of eco-tourism." This according to a February 13 article in Noroeste, a daily Spanish language newspaper in Mazatlan. The article said prisoners would be moved off the islands by mid-March, and that a private concessionaire is expected to operate the reserve. Emilio Azcarraga, president of Televisa, is said to be the principal investor in the project.

Who is Emilio Azcarraga? If we're not mistaken, his father - who died young of cancer several years ago - controlled much of television in Mexico. Apparently his son does now. We've also heard that the father once gave Dennis Conner several million dollars at the end of an America's Cup campaign that was critical in Conner hanging onto the Cup. On the victorious trip back to the dock, Conner held up a huge sign that read, "Thanks Emilio!" You know Larry Ellison's ultra-luxurious 235-ft motoryacht Katana that was his home base in New Zealand? It was originally owned by Azcarraga.

The Tres Marias are three - duh - islands an average of seven miles in diameter, with a number of smaller islands including sizeable Isla San Juanito. The three main islands are volcanic and quite barren, but have peaks as high as 2,000 feet. They are spread out along a stretch of water about 45 miles some 60 miles west of San Blas. They would be a spectacular addition to the cruising delights of Mexico - and surfers would be sure to attack the place in search of new breaks. However, we don't have any details on how or when the islands might be accessible, and if the permits to go there might be as expensive as those to go to the Revillagigedos. One last juicy tidbit; Jensen says that, "according to legend, the Tres Marias were once the home of a tribe of women - beautiful, of course - who only had contact with males a few times a year, and only for commercial and procreation purposes."

"We took delivery of our new Amel Super Maramu 53 ketch Notre Vie - 'Our Life' - in La Rochelle, France, on January 13," report Ken Burnap and Nancy Gaffney of the Santa Cruz YC. The couple used to own the SC 50 Roller Coaster. "It's hard to believe we've been here two weeks, as it's gone so fast. At times it's been depressing, but mostly it's been exciting and fun. It was bitterly cold but sunny when we arrived in La Rochelle. Then the weather turned ugly: colder, no sun, ripping wind, and pouring down rain. It wasn't rainy the day we moved aboard, but it was cold. Sometime during our first night, we were awakened by crunching footsteps on the deck. It turned out to be a very large bird walking on the ice on the decks! Because of the weather, our one week indoctrination took two weeks. But it's now complete, the weather has made a huge turn for the better, and we've had some great sailing. We are really starting to have fun."

Also having fun is Blair Grinols and friends aboard his 46-ft Capricorn Cat in the Marshall Islands. He's diving and sailing like a madman, and sending so so many daily reports that we haven't had time to distill them all. Maybe next month.

Flash! Oh no, not more of that nonsense! Thanks to the efforts of overzealous ecologists, on December 31 a law was passed in Mexico instituting a $2/person/day fee for going ashore on any of the islands in the Sea of Cortez. If that weren't bad enough, visitors are supposed to get a permit - which as in the case of clearing in - requires that same old silly business of going to an agency to apply for a permit, going to the bank to pay for the permit, and going back to the agency to pick up the permit. Further, you have to specify in advance what days you'll be going ashore. Fortunately, at this time there is nobody to collect the money or enforce the law, but it's on the books, so eventually you can expect it will be enforced.

Oddly enough, in the face of these anti-cruiser regulations and procedures, there seems to be an explosion of marinas in La Paz. Fonatur is apparently beginning to develop the marina basin far inside the bay that's been dormant for years. In addition, the luxury Costa Baja project at the entrance to La Paz Bay - complete with high end condos and golf courses - had President Fox come from Mexico City for groundbreaking. Finally, we're told that all the permits have been obtained for yet another marina next to Marina Palmira. These three marinas would add about an additional 750 berths to the area, far in excess of what there's actually a market for - particularly since the Mexican government seems intent on making life a pain for visiting mariners.

"We're in Ft. Myers, Florida, after having had our 30-ft Catalac catamaran Spindrift trucked from San Carlos, Mexico, to Houston, Texas," report Ron and Linda Caywood. "We spent last winter at South Padre Island, Texas, and most recently took Spindrift from Texas to Florida via the IntraCoastal Waterway. You motor every step of the way in the Waterway except for 150 miles across the big bend of Florida. Be ready for major price increases as you move east. West of Mobile Bay, we paid between $6 and $20/night for berthing. East of it, prices skyrocketed to $1.75/foot/night - because of all the powerboats coming down the Tenn-Tom Waterway on their way to Florida. Here in Ft. Myers, we pay $1.25/ft/night, plus a $50 liveaboard fee, plus $15 for electricity - for a total of $418 a month. We emailed a marina near Annapolis for a quote on a month's stay - it was $975 for a 30-footer! So we plan on doing a lot of anchoring out. Then there's the bugs. It's not even summer and you have to wear mosquito repellant because of West Nile Fever. We don't mean to sound negative, but going to the East Coast isn't like we imagined. Tell our friends in Mexico that we'll be back!"

Don't forget, there will be a Ha-Ha Reunion at Sail Expo in Oakland on Friday, April 25, 6-8 p.m. We hope to see you there!

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