March, 2007

With reports this month from Walita on cruisers' health insurance; from Magnum on a trip to Zihua'; from Sandpiper II on crossing the Pacific last year; from Cadence on being hit by typhoon Millenya in the Philippines; from Lanakai on getting a boat rub from a big whale; from Sea Peace on getting a diesel replaced in Mazatlan; from Aquarelle on what to take across the Pacific; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Walita - Joubert 47
Gerard and Veronique Lacroix
Health Insurance For Cruisers

One of the advantages of sailing outside the United States and Europe is that health insurance becomes more affordable. For example, our Medis Elite plan, administered by Global Assurance Group, costs less than the health insurance we had when we were employed in the U.S. - counting employer contributions, of course. For those who worked in high payroll tax European countries - as we did a while back - our plan would be an even greater bargain.

Global Assurance Group has several different Medis health insurance plans to choose from, all underwritten by Generali Worldwide, part of the Generali Group of Italy. The company has assets of $300 billion and an S&P AA rating. So we're rather confident that the claim money will be there when we need it.

Coverage is fine for our needs, with all the major risks covered and subject to no more than the usual exclusions. And after six years, the terms of our policy haven't changed much. This is a relief in an age when many insurance policies suffer from 'exclusion inflation' over time.

But most importantly, we have found claim processing to be relatively easy and painless. The folks at Global Assurance Group have been attentive to our needs and quite responsive. Their quality of service far surpasses anything we experienced in the U.S. and Europe. If you can scan documents, you can process claims by email exclusively, and cruisers know that email is the only efficient way to take care of business with distant providers in the U.S. and elsewhere. For six years now, Global Assurance Group has been processing the claims we send them from the Caribbean and Europe with almost nary a hitch. And when a hitch has occurred, they've been prompt to fix it.

If you're a cruiser and don't have health insurance, we suggest that you go to and investigate the details for yourself. For as far as we're concerned, there is really no excuse for going cruising these days without health insurance. For the suspicious - and in our experience all good cruisers are a little suspicious - we have no connection with Global or Generali, and receive no compensation from them. It's just that when we have tested a product for six years, and found it to work well, we like to share it with others.

P.S. I used to race on a Hawkfarm when I went to school in the Bay Area, and also did a couple of races down to Catalina. I loved sailing off Conception at night with the spinnaker up. Our custom-built 47-ft aluminum centerboard sloop is great, in part because she has a full deck salon. No more 'coal mine' interiors for us. We've been living aboard for six years and love it. Walita is currently in France, but it's too cold for us, so we're headed back to the Caribbean next year. Watch out for the Potato Patch!

- gerard & veronique 02/10/07

Magnum - Peterson 44
Uwe, Anne and Kara Dobers
Where Are All The Kids?
(San Francisco)

Well, we finally managed to liberate ourselves from the daily grind and humdrum existence. It may have been later than we anticipated due to unfinished land projects, but we sailed out under the Golden Gate on November 6 and turned left for a change. So instead of reading about everyone else's sailing adventures in Latitude while soaking in the tub after a Sunday sail around the Bay, we're now living them firsthand. It's true, however, that a few years ago we had a taste of what was to come. We first wrote to Latitude in late '99 after sailing to Micronesia from Australia via Indonesia. We then moved back to San Francisco, where we worked, bought another boat, and had the baby we hoped for. But from the moment we returned to San Francisco we'd been planning our current cruise.

Kara, our little girl, turned four in September. She's adapted really well to the cruising life. Since she's happy puttering around in the water, and her favorite pastimes are collecting shells and scouting for dolphins, she couldn't be in a better place. She invents imaginary friends and even fights with them, so I don't know whether to feel sorry for her or commend her creativity. We think four is a good age at which to embark on a family cruise such as this, as Kara still thinks we're cool enough to hang around with. Sure, there are times when she misses her life in San Francisco, but as time goes by that happens less often.

We moved pretty quickly down the coast of California, as we wanted to get to warmer climes as soon as we could. We're so glad that we have a big hard dodger and cockpit cover on our boat. They protected us from the wind and cold on the way down to Mexico, and now that we're down here in Mexico, they protect us from the sun.

Having left from San Francisco so late in the season, we were a little worried about the weather. We did have a little bad stuff, but nothing too terrible. Even though we were in a hurry, we got to stop at both Two Harbors and Avalon on Catalina, some lovely anchorages, and even spent a lovely day hanging out at our own 'private beach' at Bahia Santa Maria, Baja.

In recent years we've read complaints about the high prices for marina slips in certain parts of California, but, based on our experience, the only place we had to pay a high price was San Diego. And after doing some calling around, we were able to find a place for $35/night, which we think is reasonable. Marinas in Mexico, of course, are another story. South of Ensenada, marinas are usually part of resorts and come with hefty slip fees. As such, we only go into marinas when it's necessary, such as to fuel up and wash down the boat.

We didn't like Cabo at all because the anchorage was uncomfortable and noisy - not our kind of place. But we try to maintain an 'if you don't like it, just move on', attitude, so we left.

Unfortunately, we didn't meet many boats with kids until we arrived at Mazatlan, where Kara was immediately invited to 3-year-old Kendall's birthday party aboard Southern Star. Parents are as happy as the kids to find other 'kid boats', because by working together, the parents of the two boats can take turns giving each other breaks. And we parents need it, too. As such, we buddy-boated with Southern Star until Punta Mita.

From Mazatlan, we moved on to Isla Isabella, which is a well-known bird and marine preserve about 80 miles to the south, and not to be missed. Kara got very excited because she was able to see the baby birds at such a close distance. After the hustle and bustle of a busy city like Mazatlan, it was refreshing to hang out at a peaceful anchorage for a few days. We then moved on to San Blas and anchored in nearby Matanchen Bay. The no-see-ums were a little annoying, so we didn't spare the DEET. But San Blas is pretty nice - in fact, it felt like our first stop at an authentic Mexican town.

Other stops we enjoyed on the way to Z-town were Ipala and Barra de Navidad. While anchored in the lagoon at the latter, we were fortunate enough to meet up with Nate on Daring, who is almost seven. We moved slowly south from there to Las Hadas, Manzanillo, and finally on to Z-town for SailFest. Z-town is more developed than we expected and is pretty touristy. The new thing for boats is that they all had to have dye tablets placed in their heads, which will make it obvious if anybody empties their holding tanks into the bay. This is the same policy that keeps the waters at Avalon so clear.

It sure is good to be back cruising again! We feel so lucky to be able to meet people from all over the world, each of them with a unique story. One of the nice things about going into marinas is that they usually have internet access - which is really great. Nonetheless, we'd advise everyone coming to Mexico on a boat to get high-power antennas for their computers to extend the range - and chances - of getting wifi while on the hook.

Like most cruisers, we've changed our plans. Initially, we had figured on sailing as far as Ecuador, then crossing the Pacific from there. However, it would mean that we wouldn't be able to leave Ecuador to cross the Pacific until the following March. So in a last-minute decision, we've decided to cross to the Marquesas from Z-town.

The only thing we really miss - other than a coffee from our local Farley's Coffee Shop - is not being able to pick up a copy of Latitude on the first of the month. Other than that, we are enjoying our new life in our much smaller living space with far fewer 'things'. We look forward to what the next leg of our journey will bring.

- uwe, anne and kara 02/08/07

Folks - Three short comments. First, it's easier to find less expensive berthing in Southern California in the winter low season than during the busy summer and early fall. Second, many cruising families with kids try to be part of the Ha-Ha because there are usually 15 to 20 kids between the ages of 1 and 15 in the fleet. Finally, there is no need to miss out on a single issue of Latitude, as the eBook version, complete and in the same form as the printed version, is available online. Visit for details.

Sandpiper II - Yorktown 35
Tom & Amy Larson
Tonga Is A Breath Of Fresh Air
(Oakland / Sydney, Australia)

I'm inspired to write as my father-in-law just flew in here to Sydney to visit 'Team Sandpiper' and brought our mail - including all the Latitudes we've missed since taking off on the Puddle Pump in '05. Reading the Mellor family's report from Sensei on Niue brought back some great memories of the fun times we've had together since the '05 Baja Ha-Ha. We eventually had to go our separate ways, as they headed south from Tonga to spend cyclone season in New Zealand, and we chose spend the season here in Sydney in order to witness the awesome fireworks display that brought in '07.

We want to thank Latitude so much for bringing all of us Puddle Jump people together in Mexico, as it was a real benefit to be able to meet up with all the other boats making the Jump, making our crossings a lot more fun. We only had two problems coming across. The first was when the head door decided to lock itself shut. We had to break the hinges off to get the door open! We also had an engine mount bolt that sheared. Somehow we were able to tap it out and replace it while sailing. We even lifted the engine back up to realign the shaft. It's amazing what you can fix in a sheer panic and thinking that you might be stuck in the doldrums with no propulsion.

Some of our favorite stops during our Pacific crossing were: 1) Rangiroa in the Tuamotus because it was remote and had the first really clear water for snorkeling. The Marquesas doesn't have it because those islands don't have surrounding reefs. 2) Moorea in the Society Islands, where we snorkeled above underwater tikis and waded among rays that swam up to us to be fed. 3) The tiny island nation of Niue, where you have to anchor in the lee shore of an island in the middle of nowhere, a round island with really high cliffs so there is no protected anchorage when the trades clock around. The Niue YC consists of nothing more than the commodore's house, where he answers the VHF to assist visiting yachts. The old clubhouse was taken out by a wave from a tropical cyclone several years ago. At least they've been able to put in some mooring buoys for visiting yachts, as anchoring can be very difficult.

Number four on our list is the Vava'u Group of Tonga, where the the 40 or so small islands are so close together that you can daysail every day to another island and also enjoy snorkeling in the crystal clear waters. And you sure don't want to miss the Tongan Drag Queen Review every week at Tonga Bob's Cantina. The local businesses also put together unforgettable Full Moon Parties each month, where scantly dressed women force you to drink from bowls of a mysterious liquid known as 'moon punch'. But they even provide a dinghy valet service, so when you can't drink any more moon punch, they get you back in your dinghy again.

Five on our list was sailing across the 'Bligh waters' in Fiji, and spending a week at the $3 Bar at the Musket Cove Resort. You can BBQ every night on the Musket Cove's grills, and they not only provide all the firewood, they even wash the dishes when you are done!

We also had a memorable time in Port Vila, Vanuatu, when Tropical Cyclone Xavier was just 24 hours away and headed right for us. We had a local charter boat try to force us from the mooring buoy we rented, but we stood our ground. Fortunately, Xavier veered away and missed us. We also loved sailing down the east coast of Australia, arriving in Sydney to witness the largest fireworks show in the world to welcome in the new year.

For those interested in a little more detailed 'slice of cruising life', let us tell you about our stop at Vava'u, Tonga. Upon arrival at Neiafu, the only town in the Vava'u Group, all boats must pull up to the docks to check in. It sounds easy but it's not, because the tall docks were made for big supply ships rather than sailboats. During our first week here there were two serious accidents at the dock. One was a cut-up foot that required many stitches, the other was six broken ribs. Ouch! Team Sandpiper made it without injury. We waited patiently at the dock for the Quarantine, Immigration, and Customs folks to come down to the boat to check us in. George, the dude from Quarantine, was a real hoot. He made himself comfortable on several boats, eating cookies, taking bottles of rum, and drinking beer. We made it through the entire procedure losing only a Coke and a lemon.

After checking in, we grabbed a mooring ball, jumped in the dinghy, and we were off into town. Tonga was a breath of fresh air after French Polynesia, as everyone speaks English and the food is cheap. We ate out almost every night our first week. We'd guess that 90% of the local restaurants and businesses are run by cruisers who saw great opportunities. For example, an American couple sets up a sheet at one of the local hotels and projects movies on it. We were fortunate to catch the double feature. Tonga Bob's is the cantina that features homemade tortillas and the drag queen shows. You haven't lived until you've seen a Tongan drag queen show.

When we arrived, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, the 85-year-old King of Tonga, who at 444 pounds was the world's heaviest monarch, was on his deathbed in New Zealand, and the people of his kingdom were ready to grieve. King Tupou IV is best known in recent history for having earned $26 mllion through a scam in which he sold Tongan passports to anyone with money. He was then charmed by American Jesse Bogdonoff, who was appointed the offical Court Jester and given responsibility for investing the $26 mil the king had raked in through the scam. Bogdonoff promptly lost all the money in other scams, such as buying out the life insurance policies of AIDs patients.

While having dinner at a restaurant one night, we overheard the owner say that the crown prince was coming in to have one last party before becoming king. The prince had eaten at her restaurant before, so she knew to get his special chair beforehand. He was several hours late for dinner, but we waited around anyway. I thought he would be dressed in traditional Tonga wear, but he wore a sports jacket. He looked just like his father. The prince's full name is Sia'osi Taufa'ahau Manumata'ogo Tuku'aho Tupou, and he's a mid-50s playboy who was educated at Sandhurst and loves dabbling in everything.

On Friday nights they have friendly sailboat races in Neiafu Harbor. So while the guys got our friend's boat Zafarsa ready, we ladies went to my, Amy's, favorite restaurant, the Compass Rose. There we could enjoy cocktails on the balcony while cheering our captains on. Well, they never even got Zafarsa off the mooring ball! They raised the sail before untying from the ball, ran over the line, and then got the line wrapped around the prop. The race was almost over by the time they got the line undone and the boat moored back to the ball. It's another example of why cruisers shouldn't race.

Another hot spot in town is The Mermaid, which is a restaurant, the Vava'u YC, and a big cruiser hangout all in one. One night we all signed a Puddle Jump shirt that they will hang in the restaurant for all to see. Neiafu so caters to cruisers that local businesses get on the daily 8:30 a.m. net with commercials about their specials of the day.

The Vava'u Group is interesting in that you have over 50 different anchorages to explore, all within very close proximity of each other. It's so convenient to be able to go out for a few days, come back into town to reprovision, then go back out again. This is exactly what we did during most of our stay. During our first week we explored Ofu Island and spent the night. While there, we met a gentleman named Moses. He's looking for someone to lease his land and open a bar, so if any of you out there are interested . . . The next day we were off to Tapana Island. We made a reservation for La Pallea restaurant, which we'd read rave reviews about in a famous cooking magazine. The couple that own and run this restaurant were cruisers who sailed here from Spain 15 years ago and decided to settle. We had an excellent meal in this middle-of-nowhere restaurant. Since the islands and beaches are so close around here, it is a fantastic kayaking area. Finally!

The Vava'u part of Tonga is an awesome place and the land is cheap, so we can see why so many people - and cruisers - are making it their home. The Full Moon Parties might be another reason. About 150 from 40 boats showed up at the one we attended. After using the dinghy valet service, we went ashore where they had a big outdoor kitchen and small stage. It was BYOB, but you you could buy cups of ice for your drinks. At sunset there was a Tongan BBQ. We had a lot of fun and saw a lot of people we'd met during our crossing - including the crews of boats from as far back as Mexico. After the sunset there were fire dancers and kind of a Tongan rave with Moon Maidens walking around with large punch bowls of some unknown liquid. As usual, Team Sandpiper was one of the last crews to head back to the boat. After that, we were off to Fiji.

At 8 a.m. on the morning we departed Tonga for Fiji, the king finally passed away. We left just in time, as Tonga went into 100 days of mourning, during which time all the businesses were to be closed. That would make it hard to get beer. And as it turned out, there was a bit of violence, too, as not everyone approves of the successor.

Our current plans are to slowly cruise back up the east coast of Australia, participate in July's Darwin to Indonesia rally, then welcome the new year in at Phuket, Thailand.

- amy & tom 02/08/07

Cadence - Apache 40 Cat
Frank Ohlinger
Typhon While on the Hard
(Monterey / Philippines)

My Apache 40 catamaran Cadence was on the hard for a refit at Subic Bay in the Philippines when I first learned about the approach of Typhoon Millenya. I read about it in the September 27 edition of the Manila Bulletin, the day before we got hit. The paper said that the storm was northeast of the Visayas, heading due west for Manila and Subic Bay.

Storm warnings had already been posted by the Philippine Meteorological Office for the east coasts of Luzon and Leyte, and wind speeds of 120 kph (65 knots) were being reported. However, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Guam measured the winds at winds at 120 knots, with gusts to 150 knots. The major discrepancy was widely attributed to someone in Manila having confused kilometers per hour with knots per hour. Whatever, based on the satellite photos it was obvious that Millenya - known elsewhere as Xangsane - was a huge beast that covered a good bit of the Western Pacific. It was also obvious that she was coming our way.

The next day dawned calm and overcast. We got out to the boatyard on Subic Bay early and found it to be a proverbial hive of activity. Bert and Johnny, the forklift guys, were busy moving anchor blocks into place and carrying out the trash cans. The rest of the boatyard guys hustled around to tie down loose stuff. Rain tarps were taken down and stowed, and the two dozen boats in the yard - sitting beam-to-beam - gradually sprouted a web of tie-down lines. Several boatowners remarked how neat the place was starting to look. The boats out on the floating pier had their lines doubled and were give extra fenders.

By 10 a.m., the drizzle had become constant, with a light but fitful wind from the north. The crew finished up and broke early for lunch, hoping to eat before the power went out. The first strong gusts came with moderate rain just before noon, and as expected, the power did go out. I noticed that the barometer was plunging, and that the lower clouds had a shredded look to them. We retired to the shelter of the open-sided hut by the sari sari store, and found the large karaoke machine to be an excellent windbreak. We made ourselves comfortable amid a pile of plastic yard furniture, and started into the first bottle of Emperor brandy, the typhoon party drink of choice. The wind was blowing about 20 knots, gusting to 25, still from the south.

Subic Bay is well sheltered by decent-sized ridges and hills to the north and east, with the south and west being more open to the bay. The karaoke hut is opposite the guard shack on the road into the boatyard, which is oriented roughly north-south. For most of the morning the wind and rain funneled down the road from the north.

By 2 p.m., the winds were an honest 35 knots, with the occasional attention-getting gust to 50. The rain came down in sheets. We were in an awestruck mood, and variously told sea stories and other lies, and said disparaging things about whoever wasn't there. We also sang karaoke-inspired songs. (Even with the power out, I figured that only stakes through hearts would end that practice.)

Sometime later, the sky began to lighten and the winds abate. When I noticed the lull, I wiped my glasses and peeked out from behind the karaoke machine. Up the road to the north the lower clouds were now shredded east to west along the ridge in heavy rain. Slowly a thought formed in my head: 'So that's what the eye-wall of a typhoon looks like!' A scattered flock of seagulls passed overhead in silence.

A while later Bob W., the ex-pat who is managing the construction of several large yachts in the back of the yard, pedaled by earnestly on his bike. He was trying to manage a large open umbrella while he rode, and looked like a cross between Mary Poppins and the witch in The Wizard of Oz. I told him that I hoped he would make it home safely.

The lull lasted what seemed to be a good half hour. The yard guys, thinking it was over, started setting up the plastic furniture in the hut and stretching out. I noisily and intentionally made a big deal about moving my chair to the other side of the karaoke machine, and loudly predicted that the furniture they were setting out would shortly be in the trees on the other side of the Argonaut Highway. I got uncomprehending looks, but I persisted in setting my chair deeply into the corner on the north side of Mr. Karaoke.

We cracked a new bottle of brandy while I tried to explain what I was seeing in terms of counter-clockwise flow of low pressure systems in the northern hemisphere and the east-to-west track of the storm. I'm not sure that any of the boatyard workers comprehended what I was saying before the first gust blew up the road from the south. It was followed rather quickly by a gust that could have been 60 knots. There was a scramble for the plastic furniture, as it started a take-off roll. Then the rain came pelting down. Snug and dry in my corner, I poured more brandy and took quiet satisfaction in another display of the power of 'whiteman's magic'.

The wind continued to howl from the south for the rest of the afternoon. After a couple hours, the waterlogged soil began to lose its grip and large trees started coming down. These brought more power lines with them, damaging some buildings and blocking streets. Many streets were already flooded and otherwise impassable in places. Despite a very close call, the boatyard had still been spared major damage. Just before dark, we had to rally to lasso the floating dock, as it had lost its mooring and was headed up river.

I was wet, cold and tired, so a hot shower seemed like a priority. I retired to my cat. It is in a situation such as this, I thought to myself, where you see the advantages of living 'off the grid'. Other than a few persistent drips, life onboard was as cozy as ever.

When I drove around Olongapo the next morning, I had to take several detours around fallen trees and power lines. I noticed that all the Christmas decorations, which had been carefully hung, had been blown down. Yes, Christmas season in the Philippines starts in September and doesn't end until February.

(By the way, Christmas is even bigger than Mardi Gras in the Philippines, although for some reason the latter is celebrated four times a year. Octoberfest is in October, but it's nowhere near as big as Halloween. They also have Wild West Days, which features western clothes, horses, and girls wearing feathered headdresses and high heels. There are a number of other big celebrations. Nothing slows these people down! Even at the height of the storm, there were kids playing in the streets, wading in the gutters, and having a good time.)

The television came back on the following evening, and it was apparent that Manila had been badly hit. That city of 1.5 million, reeling from infrastructure catastrophes for decades, had been clobbered by the worst storm to hit it in 50 years. Dozens of deaths were attributed to the floods. Many of the huge billboards that mar the cityscape fell, although that was attributed as much to shoddy construction and illegal permitting as the storm. The storm gained strength in the South China Sea, and a few days later came ashore in China, where it also did significant damage.

Crews continued cleaning up, and by the third day it was difficult to tell a major storm had just come through. The broken power pole out by the 14th Street Gate, for example, had already been pushed into the weeds and replaced. Even the neon halo on the full-sized statue of the Virgin Mary, mounted high up in the ancient nara tree by the old Cubi Point Officer's Club, was illuminated again. However, the loud buzzing from the halo's ballast reminded me that nothing in the tropics is meant to last for long. But so long as anything lasts, it's enough of a reason to celebrate.

- frank 10/06/06

Frank and Readers - Sometimes we screw things up. Although we received this report almost immediately after the typhoon, for some reason we failed to publish it. It also occurs to us that in his previous missives, we've been identifying Frank Ohlinger as Frank Leon. We're as embarrassed as we are apologetic.

Lanakai - Saga 43
Mike and Leilani Costello
Having a Whale of a Time

Well, here we are, first-time cruisers in Mexico. Thanks in part to Latitude 38 being a great publication, we left our homeport of Oxnard on November 1, and are now cruising the west coast of Mexico.

One of the most exciting experiences we had was our whale encounter. Shortly after dropping the hook at Cabo San Quintin in northern Baja, we were surprised by a loud 'whooosh' not 30 feet from our starboard bow. It was a baby gray whale about 30 feet in length. He proceeded to rub against the hull of our boat for about 30 minutes. It became a little unnerving when he bumped the rudder a few times. He eventually left, but not without a good coat of our recently applied blue bottom paint.

Life is good. The fishing was great down the Baja coast, we just need more surf.

- miguel y lupita 02/03/07

Sea Peace - Passport 40
Don and Donna Case
Replacing Our Diesel in Mexico
(Menlo Park)

Last November's Baja Ha-Ha turned out to be the shakedown cruise for our recently-purchased Passport 40 Sea Peace. We'd lived aboard since November of '05, but didn't really sail or motor her much before the start of the trip because we were fitting her out with new equipment.

We had problems with the old Isuzu diesel all the way down to the Ha-Ha start in San Diego, but Don was able to fix them. But once we got 60 miles north of Cabo, the water pump went and the head gasket blew. We sailed to Cabo Falso, then lashed the dinghy to the side of the boat to use as a tug to get us into the anchorage for the night. The anchorage was full of Ha-Ha boats, but we found a spot and were able to anchor safely.

After that incident, we'd decided that we needed a new diesel. Don wanted a Yanmar, and we found a flyer in the Ha-Ha literature from sponsor Total Yacht Works in Mazatlan, a Yanmar dealer. We contacted owner Bob Buchanan by phone from Cabo, and he ordered a new Yanmar. Buchanan wanted a deposit, but I was a little wary about sending thousands to a stranger in Mexico. That's when we bumped into the Grand Poobah in a restaurant in Cabo, and he told us that he had a lot of faith in Buchanan.

We appreciate the Poobah's advice, because he was right. Bob and his helper Rafael did an outstanding job of constructing new fiberglass engine mounts and enlarging the exhaust to accommodate the new Yanmar. The engine fit perfectly and runs great. Not only were Bob and Rafael great mechanics, they were very pleasant folks to have around during the 41 days we spent in Marina Mazatlan. We can highly recommend Bob and Total Yacht Works, which will be opening a shop at the new haulout facility in Mazatlan later this year.

We're now on our way to SailFest in Zihua, after which we'll head south to explore Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama on our way to Ecuador for the summer and fall. Thanks for Latitude, as we've not only enjoyed reading it over the years, but have clipped many articles with suggestions for our trip.

- donna & don 01/27/07

Donna & Don - Thanks for the kind words, we're glad the engine replacement went so well. And trust us, you didn't want to be making the trip you'd planned to Ecuador with an unreliable engine.

We'd also like to remind you that just because you're out cruising doesn't mean you can't get
Latitude anymore. All the articles and ads are there just like they are in the print version; the only difference is that the photos look much better. You can subscribe by visiting our eBooks page.

Aquarelle - MT-42
Ken and Diane Kay
Tips Based on Our First Year
(Boerne, Texas)

Bula! from Fiji: We've covered 9,000 miles since leaving the United States to do the '05 Baja Ha-Ha and the '06 Puddle Jump, and have averaged catching a fish every 4,500 miles.

With so many new cruisers about to take off, we've put together some tips based on what we've seen, experienced or discussed with other cruisers. We wished we'd had this information before we left. They are just our opinions, of course, and some are specific to the South Pacific and therefore not pertinent to Mexico.

1) Your watermaker is too small. Yes it is! I don't care if you can survive on four gallons of water a day, once you have a watermaker, you begin to take more and longer showers. Carefully plan on how much water output you'll need - then double or triple it!

2) Honda (or similar) portable gas generators are wonderful, even if you already have a diesel genset. The Honda makes a great backup, as we often hear tales of main generators failing. Besides, you may need it to run your extra large watermaker.

3) If you leave the continent, be prepared for 220-volt electricity, because that's what the rest of the world seems to use. If you do end up in a marina - and most of us do for some amount of time - the only way to get juice is to be prepared with a transformer or a complete 220-volt system. By the way, 110-volt replacements are also impossible to find, so be prepared.

4) Bring spare 110-volt plugs, receptacles and extension cords, as you'll not be able to buy them in the Pacific. And make sure none of your outlets face up in such a way that they could collect water.

5) Yamaha seems to be the most popular outboard brand in the South Pacific - and there were a lot of them in Mexico, too. That means parts and repairs are more readily available than with other brands. If we're not mistaken, Yamaha also makes a quiet gas generator, too.

6) Know how to sail your boat. You shouldn't have to have someone tow you into an anchorage. Be able to sail on and off your anchor. Engines do fail, and always at a bad time. (Is there a good time?) Practice heaving to. This isn't a technique that has to be used much in Southern California, but we've heard from a number of sailors who hove to for a day or two to wait out bad weather, and thought it was the best response.

7) Rechargeable AAA and AA batteries are great. Our charger works off of 12 volts and is always on. I was able to purchase Nickel Metal Hydride batteries on Ebay for the same price as alkaline batteries, and they have lasted nearly two years. Rechargeable C and D batteries are also good, but we do without them.

8) Bring lots of spares. If you have too many thingamajigs, someone else might trade you for a watchamacallit you might need.

9) Bring U.S. postage stamps. Someone in the cruising community is always flying home, and he/she won't mind dropping stamped mail in the box at the airport. If the stamp isn't something exotic from an island in the Pacific, it's more likely to reach its destination.

10) If you're going to the South Pacific, collect good recipes for canned corned beef. If you can't figure out why, you shouldn't go cruising.

11) Ice cubes and frozen foods are wonderful, but most cruisers aren't able to carry enough of either. If you don't have a big and reliable freezer, see Tip #10.

12) Brings jugs for water - even if you have a good watermaker. Cruisers with big watermakers are guaranteed to make friends quickly and easily if they announce they have an extra 20 gallons of water to give away, and jugs to transport it in.

13) Install and know how to use SSB, marine and/or ham radio. Maintaining contact with home is wonderful, and the variety of weather products available is pleasantly staggering.

14) Keep a few oil lanterns on board. Not only do they supply light, but also heat. We've been amazed at how often we have gotten cold on our trip across the South Pacific. We also use lanterns to dry out parts of the boat that have gotten wet. (Of course, we're sure your boat never leaks and that you will always close all ports and hatches when it rains.) We like liquid paraffin for lanterns because it doesn't have a smell. But bring plenty, as it's not available in many places.

15) Bring lots of small-diameter line, as you'll be surprised at how much you'll need.

16) Is your inverter big enough for your needs? For emergencies, bring a few small inverters.

17) LED lights are available online for a fraction of what they sell for in marine stores. You may not be able to use them to replace all the lights on your boat, but when you can, you'll save a lot of electricity. We use amber lights when making night passages. They provide plenty of light but don't hurt our night vision.

18) Carry lots of wind-resistant lighters. Small disposable lighters are available everywhere, but there are plenty of instances when only wind-resistant and long barbecue lighters will do.

19) Don't forget the butane soldering iron. They work very well and can often be used as a mini-torch for doing things like melting the ends of lines before whipping them.

20) Similarly, don't forget the resealable plastic bags, such as Zip-Locs. Off-name brand bags in other countries are inferior. Even two-gallon size Zip-Locs come in handy.

21) Heavy-duty trash bags are great - especially as you may have to store trash for a long time. Contractor bags, designed for construction trash, are particularly strong and long lasting. For smaller bags, trash compactor bags are also quite strong, although a little pricey.

We hope these tips help.

- ken & diane 11/07/06

Cruise Notes:

"To say we are excited to be back in our own ocean, the Pacific, would be an understatement," write Buddy and Ruth Ellison of Sausalito who, after following the '96 Baja Ha-Ha, have sailed almost all the way around the world aboard their Hans Christian 48 Annapurna. "We only have about 1,000 miles to go until we arrive in Acapulco, at which point we will cross our outbound track and finish our circumnavigation. We should be there by April or May. The other reason to stop in Acapulco is that we visited the Wal-Mart there 10 years ago and bought some cushions for the cockpit. They are threadbare now, so we need to replace them. While we wouldn't keep going for a second time around, ours has been an incredible adventure to which nothing can compare. We've covered 45,000 miles in the 10 years, and visited close to 40 countries. But it's not over yet, as we still have to travel through Central America and Mexico." We'll have more details on the Ellison's most recent adventures in the March issue.

"We're still in Panama City, on the Pacific side of Panama, on a mooring ball at the Balboa YC," report Frank and Shirley Nitte of the San Diego-based Freeport 36 Windsong. "We've been enjoying ourselves immensely here, but are about to head out to the Perlas Islands. After that, we'll be heading to the Darien jungle to visit the indigenous people who live on the shores of the jungle rivers. In preparation, we painted Windsong's bottom and increased the size of her engine exhaust hose - which hopefully will make the engine feel better in the 88-degree water. Our trip to the Perlas and the Darien will be a test of all of Windsong's systems, including all our new equipment - radar, chartplotter, dinghy and outboard."

What's the difference between the jungles of Costa Rica and the Darien jungle? For one thing, some Costa Rican jungles are visited by as many as 700 tourists a day, while the Darien jungle, which is five times the size of Los Angeles, only gets visited by about 700 visitors a year. And the Darien is much more wild and dangerous. Scott Doggett laid it out in a terrific article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times on September 21, 2004:

"I've come to retrace the old gold route through one of the most formidable slices of jungle in the hemisphere, and witness the forces gutting this once-forbidden realm. With each step, blisters ignite and mortal ambitions falter. No surprise. The Darien jungle has never taken kindly to drop-ins. In 1699, 900 Scottish settlers rushed headlong into the jungle. Indians or malaria killed most within months. In 1854, an American expedition began hacking through the tangle of deadly snakes and Gordian roots in search of a canal route. They wound up lost and so hungry they ate their dead. Even now, the 60-mile-wide Darien Gap is a chaos of deadly snakes, caimans, crocs, narco traffickers, mercenaries, guerrillas and bandits. Despite these deterrents, the Darien has long been coveted, first by Spanish conquistadors driven by gold lust, and now by loggers and settlers who threaten to destroy one of the Americas' richest wildernesses. The conflict pits politicians and poachers against the indigenous Embera, Kuna and Wounaan who make the Darien their home, and environmentalists and eco-entrepreneurs who see forest green as the new gold, luring future flocks of adventure travelers and bird-watchers - there are almost as many species of birds in the Darien as there are in the entire U.S. and Canada. The key threat at the moment is Panama's accelerating effort to lay asphalt and improve a stretch of road that dead-ends at this jungle. The Darien Gap is the only break in the 16,000-mile Pan-American Highway, a string of roads proposed by the United States in 1923 to whisk American goods south, and endorsed by the South American nations through which it now passes."

"We've just made a direct passage from Ecuador to Mexico, and believe that other cruisers should be alerted to the fact that it's not a good one," report Roy and Winona Rombough of the Tacoma-based Westerly 36 Saucy Lady. "The problem is that you cross an 'alley' of no wind that is 1,000 miles long and 450 miles wide. As such, it took us 30 days to get to Zihuatanejo from Ecuador, and we arrived with just six gallons of fuel left. We were actually headed to Puerto Vallarta, but by the time we got close to the coast it was blowing 20+ knots with large seas and we couldn't make it." Thanks for the warning. That area of the Pacific is notorious for light winds.

"We just received a couple of Latitudes from Doug Duane, and it was great to get updates on friends and acquaintances that we haven't heard from in many years, " write Michel (Shelley) and Jane DeRidder of the New Zealand-based 40-footer Magic Dragon. "As for us, Michel says he can't wait for global warming, as it's been too cold here in northern New Zealand. There have been other weird climatological events, too. Huge icebergs have broken off from glaciers in Antarctica, for example, and are drifting as far north as coastal Otago on the South Island before breaking up and melting. And monster jellyfish the size of dining room tables have been stranding themselves on the Great Barrier Island. Once again we elected not to head offshore to the tropics this winter, being content to stay around the Bay of Islands, cozy in our carapace, with the diesel heater keeping us warm and dry during what turned out to be a frosty winter. We reckon our way of life must be life-enhancing, but we've finally gotten around to putting Magic Dragon on the market. It's not because we want to sell her, but rather that after 42 years of living aboard we perhaps need to begin to act our age. Trouble is, this way of life will be difficult to replace with something as satisfying. Fortunately, we're in no rush to sell, as we haven't found anywhere else we'd like to hang our hats. Some people may remember Doug Duane, who built Hinano behind his house in the Bay Area, then had to have it lifted over his house to get it to the water. He finally sold Hinano a couple of months ago to a farmer on the South Island, a farmer who has since sailed her over the top of New Zealand and down the west coast."

For readers who may not be familiar with the DeRidders, they started cruising in the late '50s on a 24-footer when there were only about seven other people out cruising. Having gotten some real world experience, they designed their own boat, which turned out to be a light-displacement, flush deck, 40-ft twin-keeler. When launched in '63, she was decades ahead of her time. Most unusually, she was designed around the ability to carry a Honda 90 Trail motorcycle! Despite dire warnings, in 1966, long before the new road was built, the two of them rode this motorcycle all the way from Acapulco to Mexico City. Not only were they not killed, they only had to drive into the ditch a couple of times to avoid oncoming traffic. If you're interested in buying Magic Dragon, you can .

"Conditions at the entrance channel to the San Blas Estuary have changed considerably over the last two months," reports Captain Norm Goldie from San Blas. "Ian and Lynn of the English yacht Cloud Nine attempted to enter at low tide yesterday without my help, and went aground. Fortunately, there was no damage done to their boat. Visitors who want my assistance in guiding them into the estuary can call me on VHF 22 and I'll be happy to help them, something that I've been doing for over 41 years. I don't charge for this or any other services that I have provide mariners. Nonetheless, we continue to collect clothing for the needy people of this area, so if any visitors care to contribute, it would be greatly appreciated." Goldie also reports that the Singlar marina and boatyard planned for San Blas are coming along slowly.

"I thought Latitude readers might be interested in the accompanying photo of a large whale, presumably a blue, impaled on the bow of a containership," writes Skip Allan of the Capitola-based Wylie 28 Wildflower. "The ship had been southbound from Seattle to Oakland when the bridge watch noticed the engine rpms had dropped from 100 to 90, the speed had dropped from 22 to 20 knots, and the ship had developed an abnormal wake pattern. Shortly after daybreak the whale was spotted stuck just above the bow bulb. The ship backed down to clear the unfortunate whale, then continued on its way."

Say 'ah'. If anyone is looking for a dentist in La Paz, Rene and Dorie Pittsey of the San Francisco-based Morning Star recommend Dra. Martha Lorenia Estrada Talamantes, whose office is upstairs at 222 Altamirano, between Nicolas Bravo and Ocampo Streets. She can also be reached at (612) 125-5304. "Lorenia has a very clean and nicely-decorated office, and seems to have the latest in dental equipment. She has a good bedside manner, listens carefully and really tries to help with your dental problems. She's fluent in English, having gone to high school in Marin County."

"In January's Changes you quoted Dave Kane, Russ Novak, and Chris Mellor as saying they were the only '05 Baja Ha-Ha skippers to make it to New Zealand," write Doug and Jo Leavitt of the San Francisco-based Jeanneau 43 Jenny, currently in Z-town. "But that's not so. We had the pleasure of meeting Ken and Diane Kay of the Boeme, Texas-based ME-42 Aquarelle in San Diego before the Ha-Ha, then did the Ha-Ha with them. They also made it to New Zealand. In fact, here's an update from them:

"We just left Westhaven Marina in Auckland this morning and are out on the loose again. Aquarelle had a few repairs done, but she's now ready to tackle the tough stuff. We're joining a three-month rally beginning in January that will circumnavigate both the North and South Islands, and in April we plan to sail to Sydney. After that, we've decided to take the 'longcut' back to California, and therefore plan to meander through Southeast Asia, tackle the Red Sea, then go the Mediterranean on our way to leaving our boat in Croatia for a few months. We feel blessed that we have enjoyed such a spectacular year of cruising. We've covered over 10,000 miles since we left Los Angeles, and have loved every minute of it. We hope our good fortune continues."

People never fail to amaze us. We met the Kays while on the hook at Chacala after the Ha-Ha in '05. In fact, we took the photo of them with their inflatable surfboard that appears with their Changes this month. They are nice folks, but we didn't peg them for the type that would be interested in going all the way to New Zealand - let alone put up with rough stuff to make it all the way around the world. It just proves that we should never underestimate our readers.

"I think it was John Lennon who said that life is what happens when you were planning to do something else," writes John Haste of the San Diego-based Perry 52 cat Little Wing, currently in Panama. "So after a sudden change of plans on Saturday, we've decided to sail to Puerto Vallarta to, among other things, participate in the Banderas Bay Regatta. I hope Profligate is planning to attend and that we can arrange a suitable bet."

"You don't really have the quote right, and we don't believe John Lennon is the one who coined the phrase, but who cares? Profligate will be at both the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run and the Banderas Bay Regatta, and we'll be more than willing to 'make things interesting'. We encourage everyone else who loves not-too-serious cruiser racing and a good time to participate in both the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run, but especially the Banderas Bay Regatta. The former will be held on March 21, with the latter on March 22-25. You won't find a place with a better venue and better mellow racing conditions. We've sailed in the regatta for something like seven out of the last eight years, and wouldn't miss it. For complete info on the Banderas Bay Regatta, visit

During the 190-mile motorsail from Las Hadas (Manzanillo) to Zihua for the Zihua SailFest, Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack of the Santa Rosa-based Valiant 50 Raptor Dance saw plenty of dophins, a few whales and a big group of turtles. "We didn't immediately recognize the turtles because initially they looked like big floating coconuts or markers for long-lines. There are some areas of that coast that must be good for long-line fishing, however, as we saw a dozen or so long-lines on our passage south and about the same number on our way back north. Each long-line can be two miles or more in length, and every 30 or 40 feet along the main line is a 10 to 20-ft leader with bait. The main line is usually supported by empty 2-liter soda bottles that serve as floats. Typically, the whole assembly will have a black flag at each end with a panga in attendance. If we can see the long-line in time, and if we can see the end flag, we try to go around them. Most of the time the main line sinks a little, and so long as our motor is off or the transmission is in neutral, we can carefully pass over a section by heading between two soda bottle floats. Unfortunately, we found some lines floating just under the surface. Coming north from Zihua, Raptor Dance managed to pass over one of these long-lines, but the three hand-lines that we were dragging caught the main line. That made it necessary to go into neutral and pull in our lines - which pulled Raptor Dance backward to the long-line. Then we had to unhook our 200-lb test lines. We decided not to fish for the rest of the trip. Zihua looked a lot different from the early '80s when I was there last, and although it's much busier and gets cruise ships three times a week, it's still charming. In addition to Nathaniel operating his valet service for dinghies, an enterprising fellow named Ishmael would bring water, fuel, drink and whatever else you wanted to your boat. He'd also pick up and deliver your laundry. With 100 boats in the anchorage, both these guys and their wives were kept very busy.

We love to hear that the turtles are doing well. The truth is, from Baja to mainland Mexico to the parts of the Caribbean we were in recently, we'd never seen so many turtles - and big ones, too. In fact, while snorkeling across Columbie Bay at St. Barth, we were approached by a large dark object, which turned out to be a big turtle with two yellow fish swimming directly beneath it. We swam no more than five feet away from this guy for a couple of minutes, and it didn't bother him at all. A few minutes later we came across another big turtle, who didn't have any problem with our swimming next to him either. What a terrific experience.

In an awful segue, a few minutes later we found ourselves next to Ti Kanot, which looked to be about a 40-ft catamaran. We immediately recognized her as the cat that was custom built in Trinidad for Chris Doyle, the author of the Cruising Guide to the Windward Islands and the Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands. We'd seen photos of the cat before and, if the truth be told, were kind of lukewarm about it. But having now been aboard, our opinion has changed 180 degrees. Ti Kanot turns out to be a really cool cat, with all kinds of innovative features that you'd just have to see to appreciate. She might not be the right design or layout for group charters in the Caribbean, but for Doyle, who usually singlehands, and/or up to four adults, she'd be terrific. Although Ti Kanot is quite light and is powered by an outboard on a 'sled', Doyle says she's extremely strong. For example, his leeward shroud doesn't go slack when sailing to weather. Being light, she's also very fast. Doyle, who for many years cruised a monohull he described as having been "the original Caribbean charter boat", says the cat rejuvenated his interest in sailing. He spends six months a year updating his cruising guides, the other six months in Vermont, and loves the arrangement. When pushed, he admitted that Dominica is one of his favorite islands in the Caribbean, as it's still very unspoiled. Nonetheless, he insists that all the islands have something to recommend them.

"Last June my girlfriend Sara wrote Latitude 38 a letter titled Money Seems To Be The Only Obstacle about how we were trying to figure out how we could afford to go cruising," writes Will Sitch of the San Rafael-based Gulfstar 37 Wanderlust. "By the time the letter was printed, we'd bought a Gulfstar 37 and were refitting her. We worked every weekend from May until October, and there's nothing we didn't examine, repair, or replace. By the way everyone, check your steering cables and rigging, as ours were ticking time-bombs. It was a lot of work and money, and I'm not sure how we managed, but I know it wouldn't have been possible without the support of our great friends and wonderful family. We gave notice at our jobs, sold everything, and left our San Rafael slip in October for the start of the Baja Ha-Ha in San Diego. The Ha-Ha was a riot! Our best stories are when whales surfaced just a few feet from our starboard beam one moonlit evening; when our rope-to-chain splice failed at Bahia Santa Maria and we were woken at 4 a.m. by neighbors warning that we were drifting toward the rocks; and, of course, the Here to Eternity Kissing in the Surf contest. After the Ha-Ha we spent a month traveling from Cabo to the islands off La Paz to Puerto Vallarta. These are places where our snorkeling gear really saw some use. In addition, Thanksgiving in La Paz was awesome, Espiritu Santo is paradise on earth, and we broke 10 knots surfing down a huge wave while crossing the Sea of Cortez. December found us on Banderas Bay, where we parked the boat and spent three glorious weeks with friends and family. Then, on the 18th, we got married on the beach at Bucerias. It was the best wedding either of us have ever been to."

"Now we're asking for more of your advice," continues Sitch. "How do we stay out here cruising? Money is short. In fact, we're pretty much broke. We have jobs waiting for us if we want them, but to tell you the truth, we really don't want to go back yet. We'd love to make a bid for Hawaii, but we have no watermaker, no liferaft and no SSB radio. Should we cruise until May and park our boat for hurricane season? Should we piss off our employers and go into debt to further outfit the boat in order to sail to Hawaii? Should we turn around in Zihua and sprint back up the coast?"

It's just our opinion, but we think you have three good options - and going into debt at this time to continue on to Hawaii is not one of them for several reasons, but primarily because Hawaii is not such a great place to cruise. Option One is to sail up into the Sea of Cortez and spend a summer exploring and diving there. You've got to love the heat, but you can - no kidding - get by on well under $500 a month. Option Two is to put your boat in a marina in Mexico from May to October while you return home to your jobs in order to rebuild the cruising kitty. Option Three is to sail your boat back to San Rafael, where you can a) resume your jobs; b) live aboard to save money; and c) have her handy in order to install additional cruising gear. Then do another Ha-Ha and more cruising starting in the fall. We think the latter two options are probably the best, as if you work hard and live thrifty, by next October you will probably have been able to set aside enough money to further fit out your boat and economically cruise for another couple of years. Or, if you like the 'one foot in both worlds' way of life that is popular with so many cruisers, you could continue cruising for six months and working for six months for pretty much as long as you want.

Check out Singlar's now operational Travel-Lift at Puerto Escondido. But don't sign up for dry storage until you read the rates - such as a reported $1,248/month for a 40-footer. With ridiculous prices like that - what's next, $15 soft drinks? - you don't have to worry that they'll run out of space.

Australian John Hayward of Interlude reports that he sat through a court case in Brisbane late last year that, for the first time, made him ashamed to be an Australian. He explains that Bram and Magda, last name and boat name unknown, an elderly Dutch couple enjoying a retirement cruise around the world, made the usual radio contact with the officials as they approached Brisbane after a rough, 13-day voyage from New Zealand. Aussie Customs officials took their details and directed them to the Quarantine Dock for yachts. Everything seemed to be routine. On arrival at the dock, the couple passed the Quarantine inspection and had their passports and visas ready for the Customs. However the Customs officers greeted them by reading Bram his rights! Asked what he had committed, Bram was told that in June of last year Australia had introduced new laws making it compulsory for aircraft and shipping to give between four and 10 days notice of their impending arrival."

Hayward notes that while such a law might be appropriate for commercial shipping and airlines as an anti-terrorist measure, it's ludicrous for it to apply to vessels such as cruising yachts with two or three people aboard. "In the 30 countries we visited during our recent circumnavigation, we never had to give more than the usual VHF contact as we approached a recognized port of entry. And even if a yacht skipper had been aware of this unusual Australian requirement, in most cases the skipper would not be able to give notice as required by fax, telephone or email during the four to 10-day period prior to arrival because: 1) The voyage takes an indeterminate time due to the weather conditions, and from most countries this would be more than 10 days, and 2) Many cruising yachts don't have fax, telephone or email capabilities."

Nonetheless, Bram was treated like a criminal, and had to appear in court to face charges that he had failed to give notice of the arrival of his yacht and that he had failed to give notice of the arrival of his crew. The maximum penalty he faced was $6,600, so his wife had to hire a barrister. Taking the advice of a young barrister, Bram pleaded guilty and hoped for a warning and a small fine. But the magistrate found Bram guilty of the charges as laid. Saying that he was being very lenient because Bram was elderly and because English isn't his first language, the obviously clueless magistrate fined the old man $2,000, plus court costs of $1,000, plus the barrister's fees!

What makes the whole thing so pathetic is that Bram and Magda inadvertently proved that Australia's hard-core anti-terrorist program is a complete and utter failure. Indeed, is there anyone fool enough - other than members of Congress - to believe that the borders of any country - particularly such as the United States and Australia, which have borders like Swiss cheese - can be sealed to prevent the entry of terrorists with things like backpack nuclear devices?

Having now reached the midst of the winter cruising season, we want to remind everyone that we'd love to hear from you and publish some of your photos. As for us, it's time to head back to Mexico once again. We hope to see you there.

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