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March 2009

Missing the pictures? See the March 2009 eBook! 

With reports this months from Miela on the good life along Mexico's Gold Coast; from Coyote in the Caribbean on 13 years of 'six-and-six' cruising; from Eupsychia on a whale encounter so close it almost caused a urinary tract malfunction; from Sanderling on seven years of cruising in the Caribbean; from 2 Extreme on the culmination of a 7.5-year, 70-country circumnavigation with a 31-year-old boat; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Miela — Moody 44
Bill and Karen Vaccaro
Life On The Gold Coast

We're on our way from Tenacatita Bay to the Barra Lagoon on Mexico's Gold Coast so I, Karen, can do some work tomorrow. The wi-fi is more reliable at Barra than Tenacatita, plus we'll get to visit with friends we missed our last time there. It's cool and cloudy this morning, be we know it will be hot in the lagoon in Barra as there is less air circulation.

Tenacatita Bay remains one of our favorite places in Mexico. The anchorage is beautiful, it's usually calm, and the Mexican disco music at the Blue Bay Hotel ends at 10 p.m., so we can get a full night's sleep. Chipper the dolphin and his two friends still patrol the anchorage each day and chatter at us. Chipper, who is easy to recognize by the notch in his dorsal fin, has been here since our first visit over four years ago.

While at Tenacatita, we did the traditional jungle ride in our dinghy with friends Terry and Vicki Fahey of the Richmond-based Pearson 424 Tenacity. The snorkeling at 'the aquarium' part of the bay, after the jungle ride, was some of the best ever. It’s been a good year for water clarity, so we've managed to capture some wonderful underwater video.

The cost of cruising is pretty low in Tenacatita Bay. For example, there is no fee to anchor. We paid 10 pesos — about 70 cents — for freshwater showers and to rinse our gear before having lunch on the beach. The fee for dinghy parking has gone up this year from 10 to 20 pesos, but that's still only about $1.50. We aren’t using dollars as much as before, since the exchange rate is now over 14/1. If we do use dollars, we've found that businesses try to give change at the old 10/1 exchange rate. We bought cantaloupes from a little boy on a dirt road and paid $1.50 for five. What a treat! That night we celebrated Karen's birthday aboard Miela with ceviche, steak and dessert of fruit tarts from the French Baker in Barra. So we're not suffering.

After Tenacity headed north yesterday morning, we made our way across Tenacatita Bay — it's only a couple of miles — to explore Tamarindo, the famous golf resort. As we came into the Tamarindo anchorage, the rays were jumping in front of us and schools of huge needle fish were swimming by. The resort is so beautiful, with white sand beaches and palm trees. We often anchor in beautiful areas, but most aren't as green as Tamarindo at this time of year because it's the dry season. As a bonus, we also picked up a lickety-split fast wireless connection. Oddly enough, there's nothing about this place or anchorage in the cruising guides.

We anchored about 200 yards off the beach in 15 feet of clear water. We love it when we can see right to the bottom! Primadonna, the 145-ft megayacht, came in for the afternoon, and their deck crew of about eight unloaded jet skis and other toys for their guests. They almost filled the small anchorage, and we — LOL — were probably in their 'spot'. In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, we pumped up our kayaks too, and did a little fishing from the dinghy. We caught a huge triggerfish, but released him.

Our biggest challenge this week? Fresh fruit management. Fruit ripens so quickly that it's sometimes a race to finish the avocados, pineapples and bananas before they’re past their prime. Limes keep well, but you can never have too many for beers, cooking and ceviche! 

For those who like numbers, I, Karen, have only been here about a week, but we've enjoyed 21 cerveza, caught five fish, spotted two whales and three pods of dolphin, had two meals of guacamole and two meals of ceviche, drunk five piña coladas and have gotten 26 mosquito bites and one little sunburn. But I've yet to wake up with a headache.

— karen 01/18/09

Coyote — Freedom 44
Fred Evans and Robin Whitley
Six-and-Six for 13 Years

You could call Fred Evans of Mendocino ‘Mr. Six-and-Six’. Back in ’95, he spent a week with his dying father at an Intensive Care Unit in Oxnard, during which time his father warned him that life passes very quickly, so that if Fred had any strong interests — such as going cruising — he shouldn’t postpone them.

Evans, now 64, and who had already cruised to Mexico in the early ’80s, took his father’s message to heart. He bought the Freedom 44 Coyote, did the Baja Ha-Ha II, and has been cruising between 5.5 and 7 months a year for the last 13 years. The rest of the time, he and Robin Whitley, his sweetheart of nine months, live on his five-acre farm in Mendocino. When they are on the boat, a caretaker watches their place on the North Coast. “There are a lot of lesbians in the Mendocino area,” advises Fred, “and let me tell you, they make the best caretakers."

Fred and Robin met at a New Year’s Eve Party in Mendocino a little more than a year ago. “I overheard him say 'San Blas Islands', and I had just returned from there, so I boldly sidled up to him," says Robin. "We talked, and it was friends at first sight. Our first date was at Moody’s Coffee Shop in Mendocino, where I had an exhibit of molas from the San Blas Islands on the walls. We’re not married, but this is sort of our honeymoon.”

Many women who start cruising later in life have a hard time adjusting. Not Robin, who is a caregiver for children with special needs when she's in California. She grew up in Evergreen, Colorado, lived off-the-grid in Questa, New Mexico, and then spent another 13 years off-the-grid at Pavones, a renowned surf spot in Costa Rica, where she raised two sons. "There were no cars in Pavones when we got there, and we got our water from a well." Given her background, Robin characterizes cruising on Coyote as being "luxurious."

After 45 days of 'test cruising' in the Caribbean aboard Coyote last winter, Robin took sailing lessons at OCSC in Berkeley last summer. “It was great,” she said. "I love sailing, being on the water and surrounded by nature. It's been the surprise of my life."

Evans has enjoyed an interesting life. Despite having polio as a child, he became proficient at water sports. He surfed when he was young, and then became an accomplished sailboarder in Hawaii — until he started having hip problems. He began sailing in the ’70s after buying a Pearson Triton 28, which he curiously never bothered to name. It was at the same time that we started publishing Latitude. “I loved Latitude because it was so hip and different — and I still read it because it’s still the only hip and different sailing magazine.”

Well, thank you!

Fred has also had an interesting work history. “I started out as a social psychologist,” he says. "That was such difficult work that I had to live in a teepee and go canoeing for three months a year to get my head straight. Then I got into a door and window business in Cleone, which is near Mendocino. When I brought my Javelin 35 up to Noyo Harbor, County Supervisor Norman duVall suggested that I must be a drug smuggler. As if I would smuggle drugs with such a boat, and leave her in Noyo Harbor. For the record, I have never smuggled drugs. But while in Mexico, I was twice offered $150,000 to bring drugs to California on my boat.”

Over all these half-years of sailing, you can imagine Fred has had some wild experiences. One of the craziest was in Costa Rica shortly after doing the Ha-Ha in '95. His daughter Freda and a stepson were flying down to cruise with him, and he was going to pick them up at the airport in San Jose the next day. "The night before, I smoked my first pot in ages," Evans remembers. "Naturally, as soon as we — the woman who was going to watch boat while I went to the airport and I — got high, there was a horrendous lightning storm, with huge bolts striking all around Coyote. We finally took a direct hit. The bolt came down the carbon fiber mast, blowing a hole in it, and showering the forepeak — where the woman was trying to hide — with sparks from the windlass. The bolt continued up the mizzen to the radar, then down to the engine. I could see it all even thought I had my eyes shut. Finally, after the deafening noise, there was dead silence. Then I heard the comparatively soft sounds of things like lights and antennas falling off the masts and onto the deck. Finally, all the pumps in the engine room started going on and off of their own volition, and the hull sounded like Rice Krispies in milk. To top it off, it was the first time in 30 years of owning boats that I wasn't carrying insurance."

Ironically, when Freda and Fred’s stepson arrived the next day, it was the start of their best time ever on the boat. “When they'd been with me on the boat before, everything was working and they didn't have much to do. But that time they really needed to lend a hand, and the responsibility made it way more fun for them. After the kids left, I continued on to the Pedro Miguel Boat Club inside the Panama Canal, where I rebuilt the boat. Over the years, my daughter did a lot of three-month cruises with me, and then would return to California for three months. Once she got her driver's license, her interest in cruising stopped."

Fred would spend six months a year for the next six years based out of Panama, his favorite country. "I did six-and-six there from ’96 to ’01, and loved it for the wilderness sailing. Three times I spent six months in the San Blas Islands. Diana Redwing was with me at the time, and she created a Kuna Yala-to-English dictionary. I also have to credit her with convincing me to cruise six-and-six as opposed to full time, as she said full time would burn me out. Diana later gave up cruising to be with grandchildren."

"I later spent time at the Bocas del Toro, Panama. When you go from the Canal to Bocas del Toro, you sail about 100 miles along the coast where you don’t see a light. I loved it. The only place I didn’t go in Panama was the Darien, because I had been told it was too dangerous. I wish I'd gone."

When Fred ultimately decided that it was time to move on, he sailed to Cartagena, Colombia, where Coyote got her first bottom job in — get this — six years! Once he left Cartagena for Aruba and the Eastern Caribbean, he was to face his biggest sailing challenge ever — the dreaded upwind smash from Cartagena to Aruba. “I’d done the Baja Bash several times, and let me tell you, that's nothing compared to going east in the Caribbean. I was singlehanding and had 25-35 knots of wind the entire way. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do with a boat. But my Freedom 44 was cool. I double-reefed both sails, centerlined them, and motorsailed as best I could.”

“Prior to leaving Cartagena, I sat around with the skippers of six other cruising boats, and they questioned me about what kind of firearms I was carrying," recalls Evans. "When I said that I wasn't carrying any, they told me it was unarmed cruisers such as myself that caused other cruisers to be attacked. But I later talked to three other cruisers in Cartagena, all of whom had been attacked. One defended himself with bear spray, another with flares, and another with something else non-lethal. All said that, had they fired guns at their more heavily armed attackers, they surely would have been killed."

Nonetheless, there was one time Evans was anchored off the coast of Colombia when he thought — at least for a minute — that he should have some weapons. "These masked men in fast powerboats suddenly appeared on the horizon and raced directly at me. When they got close, the crews reached under a ledge on the boat as if they were going for their automatic weapons. I thought I was dead. But instead of pulling out guns, they pulled out huge lobster and fish they wanted to trade with me. It turned out they were just fisherman who wore scarves around their faces to keep out the dust from the desert."

Evans thinks that cruisers need to stay away from big cities with bad reputations — such as Baranquilla — but that anchoring off small villages is safe. In fact, over the years he's gotten so sick of people telling him that this place or that was too dangerous to visit that he actually sails to those places intentionally. "It started in Mexico when several cruisers warned me not to stop at Ipala. I went there anyway and the people couldn't have been nicer. Then, after having a safe trip along the coast of Colombia, I finally gave up listening to SSB security nets and made a habit of going to places where I was warned not to go — including the northeast coast of Venezuela."

Ironically, Fred would be attacked and beaten severely in Venezuela, but under circumstances where it would be least expected. He’d taken a plane into the capital of Caracas, loaded down with cruising goodies, and hopped into a brand new taxi at the airport. "As we came out of a tunnel on the way to town, the taxi suddenly pulled over, and a group of five men dragged me out of the car and beat me. I fought back, just as I learned to fight bullies when I was younger, but there were too many of them. I was beaten very, very badly, having been repeatedly kicked in the face. After the attackers left, I was a bloody mess standing along the side of the road. Nobody would stop for me, not even the two police cars that drove by. I had to walk all the way back to the airport."

As a result of that beating, Evans temporarily went blind in one eye, and still only has 80% vision with it. "The beating cost me $25,000 in medical bills, and really messed me up mentally. I started smoking cigarettes and pot, and really was in a terrible state. It had been my first such incident ever, and like a lot of victims, I blamed myself, and kept asking myself what I'd done wrong. I finally got counseling to help me mentally recover."

"In order for my eye to physically recover," he continues, "I underwent this treatment with gas to help reattach my retina, a procedure that required my lying face down for about a month. Prior to the beating, I'd never really thought about money, but being forced to lie face down, I had nothing to do but read, so I read about money. As a result, I'm now confident about my financial future."

Fred doesn't want readers to think he’s a wacko — and he's certainly not — but he bet a friend $50 that in three years the United States will no longer exist as a single country. “It was a stupid bet on my part,” he laughs, “because the $50 I win won’t — like the rest of U.S. currency — be worth anything.” Such an outlook has drastically affected Fred and Robin's cruising plans. For as much as they love the sailing conditions in the Caribbean, after a hoped-for stop at Cuba, they'll be headed back to the Pacific. You see, if the U.S. currency ends up not being worth anything, Fred worries they might not be able to pay for a Canal transit, and therefore wouldn't be able to sail back to Mendocino without going around the Horn. Fred believes in gold and particularly silver rather than any currency.

But if everything goes to hell, why does he think Mendocino will be a safe haven? "Believe it or not, the people and officials of Willits have a plan to, if necessary, blow up all the bridges to prevent outsiders from coming in. And we'll have our farm in Mendocino, and our boat from which we can fish. I even have a little Freedom 21 in Noyo Harbor that would be ideal for fishing from."

While Fred and Robin share a more apocalyptic vision of the future than do we, you have to admire their style. "We enjoy living small and being self-sufficient by growing our own food,” says Fred. “And by raising chickens and goats,” adds Robin. That’s when they’re not sailing, of course. When they're on Coyote, they continue to live a simple life. “I only recently installed two 135-amp solar panels," says Fred. “Thanks to their generating so much electricity, and thanks to the stoutly-built Coyote's being such a good sailing boat, we almost never have to run the diesel."

Evans’ choice of a Freedom 44, which is a cat-rigged ketch with unstayed carbon fiber spars, is interesting. When in Mexico aboard his Javelin 35, he rolled his brains out so much in one anchorage that he temporarily took refuge aboard a friend’s Wharram catamaran, which was hardly rolling at all. Convinced he should buy a catamaran for his ultimate cruising boat, he did a test charter on a 42-ft cat in the Bahamas — and hated it! “I love to sail, and it was like sailing a Winnebago,” he remembers. As luck would have it, he stumbled across a Freedom 44, bought it, and has absolutely loved her ever since. He and Robin delight in sailing into anchorages, something they find very easy to do with the self-tacking Freedom. What’s more, the boat is very fast. “I sailed in company with two 42-ft catamarans from St. Martin to Grenada,” Fred says with pride, “and I beat them boat-for-boat on every single leg.”

With 13 years of perspective, Evans has a surprising view on the Ha-Ha. "At the time, I didn't appreciate how great it was. But I had a wonderful time, and surfed the coast on the way down. In fact, when all the rest of the Ha-Ha fleet continued on to Cabo, we were glad because we stayed behind for a couple of days and had the surf all to ourselves. In all my years of cruising, Bahia Santa Maria remains one of my all time favorite spots."

So two replacement hips later, Fred is still going at it, and Robin is happy to be with him. As for Freda, now a journalist in Mexico City, if Fred doesn't call her every two weeks, she'll call the Coast Guard — something she's done once before.

— latitude/rs

Eupsychia — Cal 36
David Addleman & Heather Corsaro
Back To The Tropics

Damn, it feels great to be back in tropical weather! Currently, we're at Chacala heading to Banderas Bay, where we'll repair our diesel. But my report is on our trip from La Paz to Isla Isabela, and the excitement we had on the way and once we got there.

After pulling into La Paz with engine troubles, David did some troubleshooting and discovered that we had a bad rod bearing. Once he made sure the engine was still good enough to charge our batteries, we decided to head south as strictly a sailboat to find the tropical weather we'd been missing for far too long. After storing the transmission in the bow, we waited for favorable current out of Bahia de La Paz, hoisted sail, and blew out of there. Our destination was one of our favorite places in Mexico, the bird and marine refuge at Isla Isabella, which is about 45 miles off the coast of San Blas.

We had a couple of nights of minimal wind, but we still made the 350-mile passage in three nights. Our welcome to the island was a startling one. We'd been watching a pod of about 16 humpbacks a couple hundred yards away when we decided to drop the jib for better maneuverability for whale watching. I guess the whales wanted to people watch, because when David and I were up on the foredeck securing the jib, we were startled like never before. The whales surfaced four feet from our port side!

"Jesus!" I shouted. "Turn the boat babe! Turn the boat!" My body surged with adrenaline and terror. My fingers fumbled with the sail tie, my knees turned to rubber, and I knew as soon as I saw a humpback go underneath the boat that we were going to be in real trouble. The whale was so close that I could make out every knob on the humpback's flipper as he went under the bow. I almost peed my pants, but David kept his cool and returned to the helm to relieve the autopilot. I held onto the forestay waiting for the inevitable collision, but thankfully it never came. The pod of whales that surfaced next to us continued on their way as quickly as they'd approached. Welcome to Isla Isabela!

Once we got settled in at the island, we started thinking about starting a search and rescue squad for frigate birds. For in the course of a week, there were three times while we were out kayaking that we came across frigate birds flailing in the water. The problem is that frigate birds can't really swim. On the rare occasion they touch the water with their bodies, it's only for a few seconds. Any longer than that, and they end up like our three feathered friends who were too waterlogged to fly.

Freddy is the name we gave to the first bird we rescued, followed by Xena and Leyla. Each time we started the drying out process by getting the frigates on the bow of our kayaks. While pondering what to do with the newly-acquired frigates, David tossed out the idea of leaving our cat Maui behind and adopting the birds. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. As it turned out, we were able to make successful beach landings with all three birds. Then David put his long arms to good use by placing the birds high up in trees away from the water. After a day or so of drying out, all three frigates were able to fly away. Hey, we're suckers for happy endings!

— heather 01/24/09

Sanderling — Cabo Rico 38
John Anderton
Seven Years Cruising The Caribbean

John Anderton left Alameda eight years ago to start cruising, and he's spent the last seven of them cruising up and down the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. “There are only two things I miss from life back in the States,” he told us during a lunch at Le Select in St. Barth. "The first is my ’95 Ford Mustang. It was the only car I could downshift at 75 mph in order to quickly get up to 110. The other thing is cowboy boots. I lived aboard in Alameda for 12 years, and even then I wore cowboy boots all the time."

After eight years of cruising, the 68-year-old has no plans to stop. "Two years ago I returned to Portland and other cities where I had family and friends in the States, and I felt sorry for all of them. They might have had nice houses and cars and wide-screen televisions, but most of them seemed to be bitching and moaning about everything. They need to visit some Third World countries to see how good they have it. As for me, I don't have a lot, but the cruising life is a hoot!"

One of the reasons the cruising life is so appealing to him is that it’s so affordable. “I can live entirely off my Social Security checks," he says.

Even health care outside the United States is affordable. “I sort of tore the top of my foot off as a result of getting it caught in the electric windlass," Anderton says, "so when I arrived at Bequia, it was swollen to the size of a football. Every day for the next two weeks I visited the clinic, where I was treated by a Cambodian doctor who give antibiotics and other medicines. I wasn't charged a cent. Nonetheless, I happily gave them a $500 donation."

Back in '04, John had to have two passes through a state-of-the-art CAT scan machine in Trinidad. "It cost a total of $380," he laughs, trying to imagine what it would have cost in the States. He then received what he considers to have been excellent follow-up treatment from an Indian doctor at similarly low prices.

That’s not to say the cruising life is all sweetness and light. "We haven’t had the best weather this year. In a normal Caribbean winter, you can sail for four days, then you need to sit out rough weather four days. This winter, I’ve been able to sail for two days, but then I’ve had to sit out bad weather for six days.”

While every island in the Eastern Caribbean has its attractions for Anderton, his current favorites are Bequia, Curaçao, St. Barth, St. Martin . . . well, the list goes on and on. "Having been to all these places so many times, I've made as many good friends ashore as I have on the water." Nonetheless, he's thinking about changing his routine a little. "I might try the East Coast of the United States this summer."

Lots of people are concerned about personal safety in the islands of the Caribbean, but Anderton hasn’t had a problem. “I don’t walk down dark alleys late at night," he says, "but I’ve had more trouble in California, where my identity was stolen once and my car was stolen twice.”

A singlehander, John says there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. “You can be lonely in a crowd, or you can be alone and still have many friends. I'm in the latter category. Every time I drop the hook in an anchorage, I put my dinghy in the water and row over to the next boat and say ‘hello’."

— latitude/rs 02/10/09

2 Extreme — Corbin 39
Henry and Mattie McAlarney
7.5-Year Circumnavigation
(Hudson, Florida)

You would think that after doing a 7.5-year circumnavigation, which included visiting 70 countries, a couple would return better sailors than when they left. But according to Henry McAlarney, that’s not true — at least not with them.

"Mattie and I got married in October of ‘01, a month before we took off on our cruise. At the time, she rated zero as a sailor on a scale of 1 to 10, and I, having done a Maxi Worlds, a Fastnet Race and some other things, would have been an eight. But after all these years of cruising, I'd say that Mattie has gotten up to a 2, while I’ve regressed to a 5. Cruising, you have to understand, has almost nothing to do with sailing. When you're cruising, once you have the sails up and the windvane set, you start reading. It's when you get somewhere that the adventure begins."

Despite being an experienced sailor at the time they left, Henry, who, like his wife, took early retirement from the State of Florida, says being an experienced cruiser is an entirely different thing. "Ignorance was bliss for us with regard to cruising knowledge when we started what we intended to be a three-year circumnavigation," he admits. Among their bits of ignorance was somehow assuming they needed to bring all their food staples with them, as if there were some places where people didn't have food. As such, they made it all the way to Fiji without having to replenish any staples. In addition, McAlarney departed Florida computer illiterate, but with a cabin full of computers, printers, digital cameras and other electronic gear. "The sales guy didn't bother to tell me that the various electronics didn't automatically talk to each other. I had the same experience when I hired a guy in the South Pacific to connect our Pactor modem with our SSB radio in order to get SailMail. After the guy said the job was complete, I asked him to prove that it worked. He said I'd only hired him to hook them up, not to make them work together. That cost extra!"

Nonetheless, Henry and Mattie agree that the only way to learn about cruising is to go out and do it. "Experience," they laugh, "is the knowledge you gain after you no longer need it."

Not everyone has the same goals when going cruising. In the case of the McAlarneys, it was to visit friendly but out-of-the-way cultures. As a result, their list of favorite places might have some surprises. At the top of the list are the rugged and remote Marquesas, followed by Vanuatu, New Zealand — where they seriously thought about settling — and Thailand/Malaysia. Two of their peak experiences were at regional cultural revivals — one at Alor, Indonesia; the other at Ambae, Vanuatu, the original 'Bali Hai'. "These cultural events were intended for the people themselves, not tourists, but we just happened to be there."

Topping the list of places they didn't care for was Australia, which was "too much like California"; Papeete, where the first thing they saw was a McDonalds, which made them decide to "not even buy a beer there"; and the Galapagos Islands, which they felt "looked denuded and where visitors are charged to swim with turtles." Indeed, right at the beginning of their cruise, they learned that you don't know what to expect of a place until you get there. "When we got to Panama's San Blas Islands, we peeked through the cracks in one of the shacks to see a group of Kuna Indians watching The Simpsons. We were so disappointed. But that's a strong argument for not waiting too long to get out there," Henry says.

They also had an unusual cultural experience at Palmerston Island, which is a coral atoll some 300 miles northwest of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. "There are only six families on the atoll, and they all compete to see who gets to host any yachties who might come along. Whichever family sees you first, gets you. And they are such thorough hosts that they won't even let you put your dinghy in the water. They chauffeur you everywhere, feed you, give you a tour, and jealously keep you away from the other families. I made the mistake of saying 'hello' to a family other than my host family, and was quickly served a parrotfish dinner. When I got back to the host family, there was a big ruckus over what I'd done. 'You missed dinner,' they said, and insisted that I sit down and have another one with them. Parrotfish is delicious, but it's all they eat, and I don't understand how they don't get tired of it."

Because the McAlarneys' preference is to anchor out rather than stay in marinas, to sail whenever there is any wind, and to eschew tourist hot-spots, they cruised comfortably on $1,500/month. This included doing just about every budget tour they came across.

"One of my favorite tours," says Mattie, "was the bus trip from Saigon to Hanoi in Vietnam. The way it works is that you can get off as many times as you want along the way, and have a full year to complete the trip. When the bus got to a city, the driver would stop at a hotel to see if anybody wanted to get out to spend the night there. If nobody liked the hotel, he would drive to another one. The cost for the whole bus trip was just $18, and rooms were about $5 night. These weren’t five-star rooms, of course, but they were clean and had their own bathrooms."

While in the Chiang Mai area of northern Thailand, the couple did a multi-day tour that included elephant rides and, most interesting of all, a raft trip down a very chilly river. “While we were standing there," remembers Henry, "the guides started chopping bamboo with machetes, then used vines to tie them together into a raft. When they found out there were going to be more passengers than they thought, they just cut down some more bamboo and made the raft bigger. It was a fantastic experience."

While in the region, the couple also visited the immense 12th century temple complex at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. "We visited about a million temples in that part of the world," says Henry, "but let me warn everyone that they should visit Angkor Wat last of all. The thing is, it's so spectacular that all others pale in comparison. In fact, the Pyramids of Egypt were a letdown after Angkor Wat."

The McAlarneys have a second warning for folks visiting tropical Southeast Asia. "We're from Florida, but we still had no idea what hot was until we got to that part of the world."

Somewhat unusually for circumnavigators, the McAlarneys also cruised the Black Sea. "Bulgaria was beautiful, and you could stay in marinas for just $5/night. Romania was lovely, too, as was the Ukraine. In fact, based on our experience, Odessa is the most beautiful city in the world." Located in southern Ukraine, Odessa was the fourth largest city in Imperial Russia during the 19th century, and the architecture has more of a French and Italian Mediterranean flavor than a Russian flavor. It's also home to the spectacular Potemkin Stairs, which are an optical illusion and were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin.

Another wonderful stop in the Black Sea was at Balaklava, which is actually part of the city of Sevastapol in the Ukraine. Although the town is perhaps most famous for the suicidal British cavalry charge, it was made even more famous by Alfred Lord Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade. Nonetheless, the thing that knocked the McAlarneys out was the Russian Naval Museum in what had been an operational nuclear sub base until '93. "The base was located inside of a mountain," remembers Henry. "The nuclear subs could enter underwater, surface in the inside for repairs and loading of nuclear missiles, then exit underwater from another opening. Something like two miles had been carved out of the inside of this mountain for the base, and even nuclear blasts couldn't have destroyed it. It was fascinating."

Speaking of security issues, the couple only had one minor incident in all their travels. "We were anchored near Mafia Island, Tanzania, when somebody tried to board our boat at 2 a.m. and then again at 4 a.m.. We chased him away. But we loved Tanzania, and seeing the great animals was another highlight of our trip."

Lest anyone thinks you need a new or expensive boat to cruise the world, the McAlarneys' Canadian-built Corbin 39 is 31 years old — and still has some original equipment. For example, the Autohelm 3000, an autopilot that steers via a belt to the wheel. "2 Extreme is old, heavy, slow and comfortable," says Henry. "But performance wasn’t a problem, in part because of the lack of upwind sailing we had to do. We don’t sail upwind. Well, sometimes we had to, but only about 2% of the time. When sailing off the wind, we'd usually use twin headsails — a working jib and a staysail — winged out. Even though we didn't set the main, we'd scream downwind. While it's true we did have a rudder problem, the rudder on our Windpilot self-steering vane got us 1,200 miles from New Zealand to Fiji."

A lot of cruisers are big fans of GRIB files for weather, but Henry isn't one of them. "GRIB files might be better than a poke in the eye, but not much, so we did most of our own forecasting. We did end up in some gales, but didn't go through any storms — at least per the definition of storms. We didn't want anything to do with those."

What observations would the couple like to share with others considering a circumnavigation? 1) "Everybody in the cruising community is equal because nobody cares what you did in your 'past life'. But most everyone is caring. While we were in the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Henry became so sick that after a month he was too weak to lift a glass of water. Nonetheless, a retired German doctor came over from his boat to check in on him every day. For free." 2) "You'll never see better fruits and vegetables than those available in Turkey." 3) "Malaysia is both a wonderful gateway to the Orient and a good place to keep your boat while traveling inland." The couple spent an extra year there. 4) "No matter where you are in the world, the people with the least are the most giving." 5) The worst sticker shock occurred when buying fuel in Turkey after having bought some in Egypt. "It had only been 45 cents/gallon in Egypt, and it was $12/gallon in our next stop, which was Turkey." 6) "We have a 3-hp outboard and a 5-hp outboard. They filled our needs for 99% of the time." And lastly, 7) "My doctor told me to travel while I could still carry my own baggage," says Mattie. "It was good advice."

— latitude/rs 02/05/09

Cruise Notes:

Go girls! Last spring, Susan Travers and Elba Borgen, who refer to themselves as "Lucy and Ethel", sailed their co-owned and co-skippered Cape George 31 Infinity some 3,000 miles from Mexico to the Marquesas as part of last year's Puddle Jump group. Just before they arrived, their engine crapped out. After dropping the hook at Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva, they spent quite a bit of time with the Canadian couple on the Cape George 40 Mist, a boat that was about to complete a seven-year circumnavigation. The gals must have developed a strong case of boat envy for Mist, because several months later they bought her in the Pacific Northwest, and put Infinity on the block.

"We're going to be going across the Pacific again this season," the girls write, "but we'll be leaving from Washington in March, so we'll be doing a different course than the Puddle Jumpers who are leaving from Mexico and Central America. We'll be stopping in Hawaii, Palmyra, Tonga and Fiji. We wanted to fast track to the South Pacific this season in order to pick up where we left off in '08. While we loved our time in Tahiti and the Society Islands — both with and without a working engine — we're going to skip them this time."

For the record, Susan is an East Coast girl who moved to California in the '70s and became mesmerized by the beach culture, which included board surfing and sailing a variety of Hobie Cats. She always knew she'd sail oceans. Elba is a San Francisco native who drew up sailing dinghies on the Bay with her dad, and later competed in the Bird boat class. She knew she was going to get a bluewater boat a dozen years before she and Susan finally bought theirs.

Last year's revival of Sea of Cortez Sailing Week went so well that it's being held again this year, starting on April Fool's Day, with sails to and lay days at Caleta Partida, Isla San Francisco, and La Paz. The 'nothing serious', no-entry-fee event is for cruisers who love to sail, play volleyball, throw biodegradable water balloons, and have costume party potlucks. There is an entry limit of 20 boats because Profligate has a self-imposed limit of 80 people for potlucks and sunset cruises. If anyone wants to enter, they need to contact ASAP to make sure there is room. As of February 18, the following boats and crews said they would attend the Ha-Ha and Banderas Bay Blast-style event:

1) Talion, Gulfstar 50, Patsy Verhoeven, La Paz / Portland; 2) Dreamseeker, Beneteau Oceanus 411, Tom Lilienthal and Karen Tenorio, San Francisco; 3) Full Quiver, Beneteau First 40.5, Steve and Pam Lannen, San Francisco; 4) Beach Access, Lagoon 380, Glenn Twitchell, Newport Beach; 5) Bombay, Pearson 34, Oscar Berven, San Carlos, Mexico; 6) Waveglider, Gemini 34, Barry Baird, San Carlos, Mexico; 7) Escapade, Catana 52, Greg Dorland & Debbie McCrorie, Lake Tahoe; 8) Capricorn Cat, Hughes 45, Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly, Brisbane; 9) Endless Summer, Corsair 41 cat, Steve May, Gualala; 11) Cirque, Beneteau First 42S7, Louis Kruk and Laura Willerton, Hayward; 12) Destiny, Catalina 42, John and Gilly Foy, Alameda/Punta Mita; 13) Eupsychia, Cal 36, David Addleman and Heather Corsaro, Monterey; 14) Serendipity, Peterson 44, Barritt Neal and Renee Blaul, San Diego; 15) Catatude, Lagoon 42, Tom Wurfl, San Diego; and 16) Profligate, Surfin’ 63 Cat, Doña de Mallorca, Punta Mita, Mexico.

That first week in April is going to be a pretty busy one for sailors in the La Paz area, as the good folks at Club Cruceros de La Paz will also be holding their La Paz Bay Fest that week. Visit their website at for complete details. And we might as well take this opportunity to remind everyone that Loreto Fest, the big gathering of musicians, cruisers and RV folks, will take place at Puerto Escondido, Baja, from April 30 to May 3. Go to their now un-hijacked website at for details.

"If you experienced spotty service from your Iridium satellite phone after February 11, you're not alone. The trouble was a result of one of Iridium’s 66 in-orbit satellites colliding with a defunct but fully intact Russian military satellite about 485 miles above Siberia. The 2,000-lb Russian satellite slammed into its 1,000-lb counterpart at a mind-boggling speed of 25,200 mph. The collision will likely add hundreds of bits of ‘space junk’ to the 18,000 pieces of the stuff already tracked by the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center. Since the collision, Iridium has worked to cover the gap left by the crash with one of eight spares flying in a lower orbit. By the time you read this, the problem should have been solved.

Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House recently returned from a lengthy and fully-permitted cruise to Mexico's Revillagigedo Islands, which are about 300 miles south of Cabo San Lucas and home to many huge manta rays and sharks. The couple had a fantastic time swimming with and videoing the fantastic rays and sharks. We hoped to have an article about it for this issue, but we screwed up, so all you get for the time being is the accompanying great photo of Cindy swimming with a big and friendly manta. Unlike in years past, the Mexico government wants responsible private yachts in the islands, believing they can keep an eye out for and report boats fishing illegally.

"We spent a very enjoyable month in Zihua," report Barritt Neal and Renee Blaul of the San Diego-based Peterson 44 Serendipity, "and thought Latitude readers might enjoy an update. Rick's Bar, which had been the cruiser center for many years, is no longer, as Rick had some problems with Immigration. But the same bar has reopened as El Faro, and is owned by Memo, who was Rick's old partner, and Memo's partner Tarol. When they opened for the first time on Christmas Day, there was a full mariachi band entertaining a full house of locals and cruisers. Only time will tell how successful the operation will be, as Trisha Thompson, an ex-pat Canadian, has been building a nice cruiser following at her Sunset Grill. Unlike El Faro, the Sunset Grill is right on the beach to the south of the basketball court, which is an excellent location. In addition, she has several televisions tuned to sports and news, serves delicious food and drinks at reasonable prices, and provides free wi-fi, both to patrons of her establishment and all the boats anchored in the bay. And it's fast. When it comes to cruiser-pleasing dining, Renee and I would like to put in a good word for the Puerto del Sol restaurant on the hill above Madera Beach on the road to La Ropa Beach. This place is very special to us, as the food is delicious, entrees and salads are prepared right at your table with flair, and the prices are reasonable. Their pièce de résistance is bananas flambé, which is prepared by having flaming Kahlua drip down a long orange peel onto the bananas and ice cream, and makes a truly decadent sauce! As for Zihua itself, it was just as quaint, friendly and enjoyable as ever, leaving us looking forward to our next visit."

We wish all the cruising news we had to report was good, but it's not. In fact, we're about to run a streak of bad news items, so gird yourself, aware that the overwhelming number of cruising experiences are very positive.

Leo Sherman, an educator from Illinois, appears to be the only survivor after the homebuilt 43-ft Hugo Myers designed cat Queequeg II capsized 200 miles east of Madagascar in late January. The boat was apparently bound from Durban to Mauritius with three aboard. The other two were owner Quen Cultra, who had built the cat in a barn on his Illinois farm, and crewman Joe Strykowski. Cultra was in the course of retracing an adventure of his from 40 years before, when he built a 35-ft cat in the same barn, took her down the Mississippi River, then around the world. The voyage was documented in his book called Queequeg’s Odyssey.

According to news reports, Queequeg II had been hit by very rough weather. It was tropical cyclone season in that part of the Indian Ocean, but we've not been able to ascertain if they were hit by such a storm. In any event, a large wave knocked Cultra overboard. As he was trying to swim back to the cat, a second even larger wave capsized the boat. Cultra was never seen again. After setting off the EPIRB, Sherman and Strykowski made their way inside the overturned vessel, and stayed inside for 36 hours. When the cat seemed to settle lower in the water, they decided to swim out. Sherman went first and made it out safely. When he surfaced, he gave the rope a tug, indicating he'd made it. Strykowski tugged back. Alas, Strykowski was never seen again. Sherman was rescued 48 hours later, still clinging to the overturned cat. While cut and bruised, he was not seriously injured.

"As we progress down the coast of mainland Mexico, we're still enjoying the wonderful fruits of having done the Ha-Ha," report Scott and Linda Brear of the San Francisco-based Nauticat 38 Samantha. "It was all a great experience until February 12 at Chamela, which is about 15 miles north of Tenacatita Bay. Linda and I were strolling along a paved road from the beach to the small village in the middle of the afternoon, with other people within 100 feet, when a real ‘Frito Bandito’ jumped out at us from behind a tree with a large caliber revolver in his hand. He was very agitated, so we did not quibble when he asked for our money. He took about 950 pesos — about $60 U.S. — and ran back into the woods. We reported the incident to the local village leader, who got the police involved. Within two hours, a panga was sent out to our boat so Scott could meet with the police and try to identify the suspect. Yes, they said they’d already found him, and that he was an ‘outsider.’ In fact, they had the guy in shackles in a police pickup. Scott told the police that he could not positively identify the thief, but he knew how much money had been taken and that one of the bills was a fairly rare 500 peso note. One is guilty until proven innocent in Mexico, and when the police found a 500 peso note, as well as other money, on the suspect, they were sure they had all they needed to nail the guy. The officials were all very apologetic, and said that things like that never happen in Chamela. We’re inclined to believe them. Even though we've never been attacked or robbed before in all our travels, we still consider Mexico to be very safe and would not want to discourage others from travelling there. Perhaps we should have walked in a larger group — Linda and two others had made the same walk only 60 minutes earlier. Or maybe this was just bad luck. If others report this incident, it might get corrupted in some way. Please accept our account as a statement of simple facts."

One of the worst things that can happen to a singlehander offshore is to suffer a heart attack. According to Jack van Ommen of the Gig Harbor, WA-based Naja 29 Fleetwood, that's exactly what happened in January to a Brit singlehander named Terry, last name unknown, who was sailing his 37-ft sloop Marigold from Preston, England, to Martinique. When at about 14°N 42° W, or almost 1,000 miles from the Lesser Antilles, Terry contacted Herb Hilgenberg of the Southbound II net to report he'd suffered a mild heart attack. Terry informed Herb that while he was weak, he seemed to be getting better by the day, and wanted to stay aboard to make it to the nearest landfall, which was Barbados. A twice-a-day radio schedule was established, and the Coast Guards in both Martinique and Barbados were alerted. After about two weeks of being in contact, there was a radio silence with Terry for about 10 days. Then, in the middle of February, Marigold was found washed up on a beach at Trinidad, the remains of her dead skipper aboard.

Van Ommen writes, "When in Durban, South Africa, I met and did a story on six older men who were doing singlehanded circumnavigations. The second oldest was Frenchman Philippe Blochet, who suffered a heart attack during the long passage between Cape Town and St. Helena during his first singlehanded circumnavigation. He passed out because of the heart attack, then awoke a day later. After making it back to France, he had an operation. After several years ashore, he decided to return to the sea, and was on his second singlehanded circumnavigation when I met him in Durban."

As for Van Ommen, he was in Salinas, Puerto Rico, hoping for the wind to lay down before continuing on to Ponce. The completion of his circumnavigation has been delayed by what he expects will be a five-year detour to Europe.

"We had a great cruise along the Pacific coast of Colombia," report Eric Baicy and Sherrell Watson of the Seattle-based Pacific Seacraft Mariah 31 Sarana. "Not many boats travel this coast, so we took some notes to share with everyone. In hopes that it will encourage others to give the Pacific Coast of Colombia a try, we are offering our online guide, which we call The Lesser Known Coast — Pacific Colombia, free to everyone. Since this guide is free, we didn’t put in as much research or as many finishing touches as we did with our Central America guides, but it will definitely get you started as this information isn’t available anywhere else."

We perused Eric and Sherrell's guide and found it very informative. One of the reasons that the Pacific coast of Colombia is rarely cruised is that it's long been considered a dangerous place for the following reasons: 1) It's a major narcotics trafficking center; 2) It's home to many former and current FARC rebels; and 3) It's home to large numbers of extremely poor people. Indeed, as was reported in the December '08 issue of Latitude, Eric and Sherrell were attacked one night on their boat behind Punta Pedernales. It's likely the only reason they survived the attack was the response of John Gratton and Linda Hill of the Redwood City-based Hans Christian 33 Nakia, which was anchored nearby. As a result, Baicy and Watson's thoughts on personal safety along the Pacific coast of Colombia are quite interesting.

Sixteen years of cruising, and still loving it! "Greetings from Auckland, where Merima and I are enjoying a beautiful New Zealand summer," writes George Backhus of the Sausalito-based Deerfoot 62-2 Moonshadow. "Merima and I are currently planning our itinerary for the 16th year of Moonshadow's 'world tour'. Our plan is to return to Croatia — Moonshadow is currently tucked away in the ACI Dubrovnik Marina for the northern hemisphere winter — to cruise the Dalmation Coast, the Adriatic coast of Italy, Sicily, and Malta, and finish the cruising season in Tunisia in October. Our tentative long-term plan — which like all our long term plans is drawn in sand at low tide — is to cross the Atlantic Ocean late in '10. For those who have followed our travels for the last 10 years via Steve and Linda Dashew's website, there have been changes. They've informed us they are streamlining the format of the site, and will no longer host bloggers. So after thanking Steve and Linda for their support all these years, we've started our own site at Please visit!"

Lest anyone think that a 16-year partial circumnavigation comes without obstacles or challenges, we'll remind everyone that thanks to a navigation error by one of the crew, Moonshadow slammed into and up onto a reef in the Tuamotus in April of '98. Backhus then spent a year in "boatyard and insurance settlement hell." But as they say, it's how you respond to adversity that counts, and he's responded well.

"I'm having problems finding correct information on doing a Panama Canal transit this year from the Caribbean side to the Pacific, my home ocean," writes Ray Martin of the CT-47 I'm Dreaming. "The fee charts from the Canal Authority don't make sense to me. One way looks as though it would cost about $1,800, and the other way looks like it will cost $3,800+ — a big difference. Can you help? Also, do you know of an agent in Colon who can handle the paperwork? I already have my four 125-ft lines and linehandlers. I'm looking forward to getting back to the West Coast with my new-to-me CT-47."

According to the Panama Canal Commission site we visited, and which seems accurate to us, there is a $500 transit fee for boats under 50 feet. This is after the ‘damage deposit’ is returned, but does not include relatively small fees for admeasuring, cruising permits and so forth. This information was current as of October ’08. As for agents, you might try Tina McBride, Pete Stevens or Enrique Plummer. Just Google their names along with 'Panama Canal' and 'agents'. Over the years we've used all three for transit of Latitude boats, and found them all to be competent. The last time we came through, Plummer was offering significantly lower rates for cruisers, but we've since heard that McBride and Stevens have dropped their prices for cruisers, too. If, however, you enjoy life on the wild side, you can hire a taxi driver/guide to walk you through the paperwork process for not much more than the cost of a taxi. To give you a hint of the kind of experience you'd be in for, our driver/guide was a wild-looking guy who went by the name Dracula. But he knew his stuff and was a fun guy.

"Do you think the Latitude readership would be interested in a follow-up article on the making of our hybrid electric sailing yacht?" write former Marin residents Russ and Suki Munsell. "We left California in June of '00 to begin retrofitting Harmony, our 46-ft cat, which had been designed by Jacques Fioleau and built in Brazil. The March '02 issue of Latitude reported on our initial efforts to convert her to an electric drive system. After two failures with that type of system, we hired professionals to assist Russ in the design, engineering and installation of a new electric drive propulsion system. The 'Harmony System' Russ developed features industrial quality off-the-shelf components for reliability and ease of replacement, and we'll be showing it at the Miami Boat Show. Our Harmony now utilizes electricity from solar, wind and diesel sources."

Yes, we'd by all means love to get an article on the electric propulsion system Russ has developed.

“Ours is a story of a sailboat and two lunatics who somehow came to live and sail on her,” write Julie and Slater — no last name(s) given — of the Richmond-based Brent Swain 31 Xenos. "Our story starts in a squat in a dodgy Bristol, England, neighborhood that we called home for many years. Life there was good, as it was a fine base for many adventures. In fact, life was so good that we eventually decided that our lives were too easy. We figured the best solution was to buy a sailboat, even though we knew nothing about them. Would it surprise anyone to learn that the idea came to us one particularly drunken evening? When it dawned on us that we love traveling and the sea, getting a cheap sailboat and heading off to sea seemed like the only sensible thing to do. Because we’d been squatters and hadn’t paid rent in years, and because we’d worked at various random jobs, we’d managed to save a small amount of money. We figured that we could buy a small but somewhat neglected boat, put a bit of work into her, and then sail off into the sunset. As experienced sailors know, we had no idea.

“We soon discovered that we couldn’t afford anything promising in the United Kingdom,” the couple continue, “and that the least expensive place to buy a boat was the United States. A few months later, we were in Richmond, California, moving our bags onto Xenos, our new boat. Less than a year later, we were thinking of selling her. Slater described her as follows: '1995 Brent Swain steel sloop. Tough as nails, go-anywhere cruiser. Nice lines, sails great. Overhauled, upgraded, ready to go. New in 04/05: Rig, mainsail, Camberspar jib, Garmin 188C, new bottom, topsides and deck, Volvo MD2, Monitor, windlass, much more.' Julie described her this way: ’1995 Brent Swain sloop. Pathetic cooker w/o standing room, half a head, galley, v-berth, nightmare engine, dings in the varnish, antiquated VHF, new chart plotter, noisy new rig and dismantled windvane, smeary paint job (decks, top and bottom sides). Work, money and love black hole. Yours for merely $ money.”

“Some months the only things that kept us going were the Letters and the Changes in Latitude sections of Latitude. But by the end of ’05, and after a tremendous learning curve, we set sail for Mexico. We enjoyed a couple of fantastic years cruising down the Pacific Coast to Panama, then transited to the Caribbean in ’07. Xenos is currently in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and we’re not sure where we’re headed next. For now, it’s fun to just kick back and think of the possibilities. There’s a whole world of them out there!”
For anyone interested in learning more about this couple and their unusual adventures, visit And if you find their last name on the site, drop us a line.

Want to be a hero to your cruising friends? It's easy. The next time you fly out to meet them in 'bongo-bongo', remember to bring along a bundle of the latest issue of Latitude — or better still, an assortment of the last five or so issues. Trust us, they'll love you for it, and their cruising friends will almost always stand you for a drink in return.

Missing the pictures? See the March 2009 eBook!


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