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March 2016

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With reports this month from Totem with the 'facts on a year of cruising'; from Escapade with tips for first-timers heading for the Med; from Beach House on Isla Providencia and the San Blas Islands; from Ocean Echo on the passage to Hawaii and life in the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor; from Iolani on completing half a Pacific Loop; and Cruise Notes.

Totem — Stevens 47
Jamie and Behan Gifford and Kids
Cruising Facts From 2015
(Pacific Northwest)

Ten years ago my husband Jamie and I wanted to live minimally and shed things that we didn’t really need. We wanted to live close to nature, sourcing power through the sun and wind, and raise our children — Niall, Mairen and Siobhan — in tune with the environment. So we took off cruising in August 2008 and have been at it ever since.

To give you an idea of what we — including this girl who grew up sailing with her dad on San Francisco Bay — have been up to, here are the 'facts' for our year 2015, during which time we crossed the Indian Ocean and entered the Atlantic:

Summary Log

Distance Traveled: 7,988 miles
Days at Anchor: 249
Days Docked: 59
Days Moored: 20
Nights on Passage: 37


Our best 24-Hour Run: 239 miles, between Durban and Simon’s Town (with an Agulhas Current assist!)

Best Sailing: The west coast of Madagascar. Unparalleled.

Worst Sailing: Everywhere between Malaysia and the Maldives (equatorial calms and the season of no wind).


Countries Visited: Ten in all: Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Chagos, the Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar, South Africa and Lesotho.
Harbors and Anchorages Visited: 70
Islands Visited: 52
Deepest Anchorage: 130 ft., at Gaadhoo Island, Hadhdhunmathee Atoll in the Maldives. As per Murphy's Law, we anchored as the light was fading and a squall was arriving.
Shallowest Anchorage: 12 ft., at Mutsamudu on Anjouan Island in Comoros
Times We Floated the Anchor Chain to Protect the Coral: Three
Most Beautiful Anchorage: Tough call, but Anse Lazio at the north end of Praslin Island in the Seychelles is stunning,


Most Startling Ethnic/Religious Hatred: Malaysia
Least Ethnic/Religious Strife: the proudly diverse Seychelles
Countries Most Marred by Trash Pollution: five-way tie among Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Comoros.


Gas: 104 gallons for the outboard and generator
Propane: 92 lbs.
Diesel: 489 gallons, mostly used between Malaysia and the Maldives as there was too little wind
Cheese: 84 lbs.


Whales: We saw humpbacks (Madagascar), sperms (north of Sumatra), and pilot whales (South Africa).
Coolest Animal Sighting: 97-way tie. Seriously. South Africa, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka have wicked-cool beasties!
Greatest Heart Rate Accelerator: Getting mock-charged by an African elephant, who herded us a quarter mile down the road in reverse at dusk.

Best Unmentionable Story

Pipistrelle on the Reef in Chagos. It was a drama of rescue, repair, camaraderie, lousy seamanship, another rescue, delusion, lies and unfathomably bad behavior. What a story! Wait for the book.

Mostly we’re all grateful for another year living this crazy life afloat, and all the wonder it brings.

— behan 01/15/2016

Readers — Behan is a regular contributor to SAIL and 48° North. She and her family maintain an extremely informative and professional blog at based on having sailed 34,079 miles as a family.

Escapade — Catana 52
Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie
First-Timer's Guide to the Med
(Squaw Valley)

With the value of the dollar having soared against the euro from February 2014 to February 2015, and having since held relatively steady at 1.08 dollars to the euro, there hasn't been a less expensive time to cruise the Med in many years. As veterans of sailing across the Atlantic, and partway across the Med last year, we offer this first-timer's guide.

Getting to the Med can be half the fun, and as long as the appropriate weather season is observed, it can be a relatively pleasant sail that results in a great feeling of accomplishment. Boats generally leave the Caribbean starting the first of May. In our case we left at the end of May, as one of our crew got tied up at work for an extra two weeks. By then the normally consistent tradewinds had backed off, so we waited another week in order to conserve our fuel for the Azores High. It would turn out to be a prescient move.

The trip across the Atlantic — while being subject to the vagaries of the weather — also depends on the boat you have and your cruising philosophy. A few of the boats that left in early May were caught in an unusual late-season storm south of the Azores, and a number of the crews had to be evacuated by the US and Portuguese navies — who happened to be doing joint exercises in the area. Tragically, a young French girl from one of the boats died of hypothermia.

I think this storm pointed out that many of yesterday’s assumptions regarding weather patterns have become less reliable. Nonetheless, we still try to minimize risk of major storms by voyaging in the 'best season' and by not having to meet artificial schedules. Friends and crew come to the boat, not the other way around. That's very important.

On day two after leaving St. Martin for the Azores our Spectra genoa ripped, leaving us with just the small Solent jib and the huge Code Zero for the front of our boat, and thus a large hole in our sail inventory. By day six it was time to turn toward the Azores, as everyone on the boat had had quite enough of bouncing around 24 hours a day. We caught a day of no wind, so we motored, using precious fuel in an effort to get back up to the receding wind.

Another five days of chasing the light winds brought us to calm waters and just outside our fuel range to reach the Azores. Some patience and a little more light wind got us to the eerie flat calm of the Azores High, at which point we had to motor the last 300 miles to landfall.

So much of the pleasure of cruising under sail is in the great people you meet. During the crossing we stayed in contact with three wonderful Portuguese guys on the very first Catana catamaran ever built. They gave us a rousing welcome as 15 days out of St. Martin, we rounded the point at Flores Island and sailed into the anchorage.

Flores was a little quiet for our crew, so we sailed over to Horta, where seemingly all the crews crossing the Atlantic stop for R&R. A few days in port were enough to get everyone back on the boat for the next leg, a 6 1/2-day half-sail, half-motor to Portugal’s beautiful Algarve region. It's the most southwestern point of Europe and the closest to the Azores.

It was quite windy as we neared the Strait of Gibraltar, but the wind immediately shut off once we were inside the Med. We were left with a long motorboat ride to Valencia. All in all it, was about a monthlong trip, including stopovers, from the Caribbean to inside the Med. It could easily turn into two months if anyone was hell-bent on sailing the entire way — as some are.

For example, we hailed a French-owned 35-footer on the way to the Azores. The skipper told us they had already been out 30 days just from the Bahamas! The crew had enough provisions for 60 days, as they planned to "save money" by sailing the entire way.

The Atlantic crossing was long and — to me, at least — boring at times. With the autopilot on there really isn’t much to do other than stand watch. We had a crew of five, so I floated and didn’t have to stand a normal watch. The crew still had three hours on followed by nine hours off.

Needless to say, meals become a focal point of the days. My wife Debbie, a fabulous cook who owned a very popular restaurant in Tahoe for decades, cooked multi-course dinners when the boat wasn’t bouncing around too much. When the going got rough, she pulled something hearty out of the crockpot.

What did we do with so much time on our hands? Pablo, our 21-year-old Spanish student, must have watched all 50 movies we have onboard. Debbie and I each read Tolstoy's epic War & Peace. Lance and Robbie, our other two crew, duked it out for hours on end playing cards. All in all it was a very benign passage, which is not to say it would be next time or for anybody else.

Staying in Contact/Weather Forecasts. Once in the Med, we had to figure out the easiest way to get consistent weather forecasts that we could understand, and how to communicate with our friends and each other. Our 'unlocked' iPhones took care of both problems. We have had pretty good coverage within a few miles of the coast everywhere we have traveled in the Western Mediterranean. The drawback is in having to get a new SIM card and telephone plan in each country.

If you have a bank account in a European country, you can get a telephone plan that withdraws payments directly from your account. If not, you have to pay higher fees and recharge your phone once a month. To get a bank account, you need proof of residency. While we have a long-term — one year — tourist visa for France requiring a French address, we haven’t been back to Paris (our French address) to set up the account.

So, we are currently using an Italian SIM card that gives us SMS, Internet access and local phone calls. It doesn't give us foreign calls, but it's not a problem because we use Internet access to Skype. Although we use the Internet access every day, we only spend about 35 euros a month on it.

We're not sure, but Internet access might become more problematic as we enter the Eastern Med this summer.

Languages are an issue. Brush up on your college Spanish, French or Italian, as it will really help. Having said that, most everyone in Western Europe speaks English, and nearly everyone is quite helpful. But you are in their country, so in my opinion they are doing us a favor by trying to converse in our language. It has worked out very well for me to thank people for speaking English, and to ask them if I may speak to them in my language. This has been particularly helpful when talking on the telephone.

The only problem is that people are now trying to be so helpful speaking English that you tend to assume they speak English like a native. Not so. There’s a huge difference when talking about different kinds of salami, cheese and wine, and discussing technical problems with your boat.

I find the translation program apps on my phone to be very helpful, but limited. The translations are largely verbatim and come across as disjointed and odd. But they are often all I have had. (I speak very limited French, and Debbie and I are currently taking beginning Italian lessons four times a week).

When dealing with boat matters, I like to communicate by email, copy the English version of the email into the language translator, translate, and then copy the translation onto the bottom of the email so it arrives in both languages (sort of). Be patient and expect some issues with miscommunication.

I'll have more next month.

— greg 01/21/2016

Beach House — Switch 51
Scott Stolnitz and Nikki Woodrow
Isla Providencia/San Blas Islands
(Marina del Rey)

As we approached Isla Providencia — which belongs to Colombia even though it's 150 miles off the east coast of the much closer Nicaragua — we were hailed by 'Mr. Bush' on channel 16. He is the local agent who handles small craft and is quite famous in the cruising community. He also gives a whole new meaning to ADD.

There are a lot of people with the last name of 'Bush' in town, and they are the descendants of former slaves, Spaniards, Puritans, pirates and privateers. Before he became 'respectable', even the famous buccaneer Captain Morgan sought refuge here from the various navies that were chasing him. Many things on Isla Providencia and much smaller Isla Catalina are named or nicknamed after Morgan. For example, a split in one of the small mountains is officially known as Split Hill, but is locally referred to as Morgan's Arse.

We eventually anchored at a lovely, well-protected, shallow spot off Santa Catalina Island, which is connected by a relatively new footbridge to the much larger Isla Providencia. Providencia/Catalina get an average of 200 cruising boats a year. We were the third of 2016.

For the most part, the people here speak an English-based Creole similar to Belize Kriol or Jamaican Patois, which means they can talk to each other without your understanding them. Many of the older folks speak 'The King's English', but the younger kids are more likely to speak Spanish.

Providencia has a population of about 6,000, a lot of them young kids. Authorities say that over 800 of the island's young men — a shockingly high percentage — have been killed, imprisoned or are missing because of involvement in drug smuggling.

We have been having more than the usual beginning-of-the-season teething issues with Beach House, and have been a bit overwhelmed by it. Currently our generator is out, one watermaker is out, and our port engine has two broken bracket bolts. This means our normally triply redundant battery charging system is down to just a single way to charge the batteries.

The engines are still burning a bit of oil, with the starboard worse than the port. The starboard fuel tank has 'bug', but fortunately is getting cleaner at the expense of many fuel filters. The new fuel-polishing system wasn't initially plumbed properly and hadn't been doing its job, but is now working. We have a few electronic gremlins and a water system gremlin, too, but other than that, everything more or less works fine or will be repaired in Panama before we take off across the Pacific for Australia again.

We rented an ATV and went around the three- by six-mile Providencia. With all our stops it still only took about two hours. The diving here is apparently excellent, and the Colombian mainlanders use this as a tropical vacation getaway. Some of the reefs are lovely, and you can motor around the island in plenty of water — inside the reef, which is a real plus. The main town of Isabel can be walked in about 10 minutes. A supply ship comes from the sister Island of San Andreas 40 miles to the SSW. With 40,000 people, San Andreas is much bigger and more commercial.

A great — and huge! — guy named Manfred has been our host here. He helped us get 100 gallons of diesel and a mechanic to sort out our dinghy's electrical issues. A fisherman by trade, Manfred says water and medical care are the only two big problems on the island, which he says, "is otherwise paradise".

They actually do have enough water; it's getting it to the residents' homes that is the problem. They also have a hospital and an X-ray machine, but don't have any experienced doctors who know how to use the equipment. So when a girl broke her arm the other day, she had to wait overnight to be flown to San Andreas to see a trained doctor.

Webster Archibald is Manfred's full Christian name, and he's a descendant of either escaped slaves from Africa or slaves of the pirates who were left here to guard the island. It’s possible that 'Archibald' was his great-great-great grandfather's owner. He’s not sure, but it’s quite fascinating.

Manfred got involved in politics and became a council member to get the 150-meter footbridge built between Catalina and Providencia, as well as some other community projects. Once he'd accomplished his goals, he quit the council saying that all the local politicians were corrupt. What else is new?

Manfred is charming, entrepreneurial, muscular and hunky-handsome. He’s married to a gal from Nicaragua, but still turns the heads of all the young women. He also runs a 'round the island' tour boat, which seems to be packed with young girls. Go figure.

No matter how we timed our departure, our trip to Isla Porvenir in the San Blas Islands of Panama was going to take two days and two nights. The first six hours were a bit too hard on the wind, but the wind backed and we sailed pretty much the rest of the way. Crossing the path to the Panama Canal, we figured we'd see a lot of ships, but we didn't.

The first thing we learned is that there is no way to get cash in the primitive San Blas Islands. As a result, we couldn’t check in with customs and immigration at the airfield. Panama is quite pricey, as it costs us $365 for two people, the boat, and the small Guna Yala Council fee. Given our water shortage due to both watermakers having gone out of service, our stay in the San Blas will be shorter than we'd like. Many cruisers spend weeks, months — and sometimes years — in this 40-by 15-mile area sprinkled with 365 small islands.

The 50,000 or so Guna Yala (or Kuna Yala) who live in the San Blas are an anachronism in the modern world. They are one of the few peoples of Central America who staunchly refused Christianity. The Guna Yalas' religious beliefs include village shamans, and they are known for being very superstitious.

There are three male chiefs of various geographical areas, and one big chief for the entire people. Nonetheless, it's a matriarchal society, with home life ruled by the women. Only a few speak Spanish or English, and they have a very unusual language of their own. A swastika, which is actually an ancient symbol, is promintent in their flag.

The Kunas' grandparents fought against the Panamanian government, and the San Blas were declared an independent autonomous region in 1925. The people seem to have a high natural resistance to diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, which killed tens of thousands of Westerners, and they are known for living long lives.

It's an absolute must to buy some mola cloth from the Guna Yala. Two of the most famous mola artists are Lisa, a transvestite, and Venancio, who is a “master mola maker”. We didn’t meet Lisa, but transvestites are not unusual among the Guna Yala. In many cultures — Tonga and French Polynesia come to mind — if there are too many male children, one is chosen to help in traditional female roles. There is no stigma to sexual orientation in these islands.

The Islands of the San Blas are very much like the Tuamotus of the South Pacific in that everything here is owned by someone. This includes all the land and the ocean surrounding the islands, as well as the fish, the lobster, the conch and even the coconuts. So we technically needed permission to go ashore, but we actually saw few people on shore of whom we could ask permission. Only the Kuna Yala are allowed onshore after 6 p.m., because they are strongly against intermarriage and other foreign influences on their culture.

We wish we could have stayed longer, but we were getting low on water and knew we had boat projects to work on before crossing the Pacific again, so we took off to Portobello and the Panama Canal before we really wanted to.

— scott and nikki 01/09/16

Ocean Echo — Hallberg-Rassy 45
Hellmuth Starnitzky
The Ala Wai Yacht Harbor

[Editor's Note: While the following information may be a little dated, we don't frequently get reports on Hawaii, and we don't think things have changed much, so we're publishing it anyway.]

In May 2014, three friends and I completed a 3,118-mile crossing from Puerto Vallarta to Honolulu in 23 days. The sailing was pretty dismal the first week as we had to use the engine at low revs to get from longitude 105W to longitude 120W before we found reliable wind. Once the wind kicked in, it first blew from the NNW, then slowly clocked around the farther west we sailed. By the time we approached the Hawaiian Archipelago, it was out of the ESE and generally blowing at 20 to 28 knots true. Squalls were numerous west of 130W, and they brought gusty winds and rain. Once they passed, they had sucked all the wind out of the area for awhile.

Other than a spell of strong wind and very large seas, the passage was rather uneventful, as nobody got seasick or hurt, and nothing of consequence broke on the boat. We mostly sailed under a double-headsail configuration, with staysail to leeward and the genoa poled out to windward. It worked well. My Hydrovane wind-steering gear worked superbly, even in the following winds and large swells, keeping the boat at an apparent wind angle of about 160 degrees. It was really quite remarkable, and a boon for the crew and autopilot.

We did have a period of winds to 36 knots and seas to 20+ feet, brought on by a squash zone between the North Pacific High and a low to the northeast.

A potential problem with the boom vang attachment was our only boat problem, and resulted in our diverting from our original destination of Hilo on the Big Island to Honolulu. We figured there was a better chance to get repairs in the big city.

Our passage from Puerto Vallarta took longer than we'd anticipated — we only averaged 135 miles a day — and by the time we entered Ala Wai Harbor we had almost no food left. But no one had gone hungry, so the amount of provisions was just about right. We did catch three modest-size fish — one ahi and two mahi-mahi — which provided a welcome change to the menu. We saw no vessels during the last 20 days of the passage.

We arrived at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor on a Sunday afternoon, so the harbor office was closed. I had been in touch with the port captain’s office by SSB email to arrange for berthing, but was told that slips are handled on a first-come, first-served basis upon arrival — after our filling out an application form and having the boat inspected. Since the docks at Hawaii YC were packed with cruising boats rafted three-deep, and with no slip readily available, we docked across the way at the Waikiki YC. We found a temporary home there for a few days, by which time arrangements were made with the port captain for a temporary slip. The folks at Waikiki YC were most accommodating and gracious in allowing us to use their fine club facilities.

We checked in with Immigration, Customs and Agriculture the first thing the day after we arrived, which was a Monday. The process was easy and efficient, from the first call to let authorities know we had come from another country, to completion of the paperwork and the inspection by the woman from Agriculture. All the officers were professional, polite and quick, which was good, because two of my crew were traveling on non-US passports and were slated to fly out at noon.

It was very important that we'd gotten a zarpe, which is the clearance document from Mexico. I thought I'd read that US authorities do not care about foreign exit permits, which is obviously wrong. [Editor's note: We've checked back into the United States at San Diego something like 30 times over the years with our boats, and have never gotten or needed a zarpe from Mexico. Hawaii is different.]

I remember Latitude 38’s lamentations years ago about the difficulty in getting a slip at the Ala Wai Harbor, and getting a slip still is not easy. The waiting list for permanent tenants is long, and the possibilities for temporary moorage are limited. After I'd filled out an application, a physical boat inspection of my boat was conducted at the loading dock to establish that my boat was in compliance with USCG safety regulations and in seaworthy condition. Part of this process is to physically establish the overall length of the boat with a tape measure, then go through the items the USCG prescribes for vessels of her size. After passing the at-the-dock test, a boat is then required to motor out of the harbor to the no. 1 buoy in the entrance channel to demonstrate engine functionality. The assistant harbormaster explained these measures to be necessary to ensure that boats are able to leave port under their own power in case of a tsunami warning.

Once those things were done, I could take possession of a slip on a renewable 15-day temporary permit that was good up to 120 days a year. The Ala Wai has three types of transient slips: what appear to be rather new floating docks in the middle of the basin; older fixed concrete docks along the cityfront; and moorage where the boat is tied to a stern buoy at the breakwater, requiring exit and entry via the bow. While no floating dock slip was available, I consider myself lucky to at least have been assigned a fixed concrete dock side-tie, as entry/exit via the bow is not possible on my boat — except by acrobats.

Water comes with the very reasonable slip fee of $22.80 /day for my boat, which included the davits measuring in at 50 ft. A security deposit of $75 for dock key and shower card needed to be paid in cash and was refunded by check. The concrete pier where Ocean Echo was berthed was 45 ft. long and three ft. wide — and led to a public street immediately beyond the gate.

Security consisted of an old-fashioned padlock. I was glad I carried a fender board to protect my fenders from the rather rough surface of the concrete and its vertical wooden 'fenders', some of which have nail heads and bolt nuts protruding.

Bathrooms from my side of the harbor were a 10-15-minute walk — hardly convenient. Trash could be deposited at the loading-dock dumpster 300 yards or so away, which wasn't convenient either. There was Wi-Fi. Fortunately, I have a Wi-Fi booster installed on top of the aft radar mast and was able to purchase Internet access from a public service provider.

Electricity, however, has to be arranged directly with the city’s power company, which entails establishing an account (pre-payment on credit card not possible), a physical mailing address for the bills (port captain’s office), and a $20-$35 hookup fee (depending if one wants same-day hookup or can wait for a day or two). The process via phone was quick and easy, although having to do so at all was a hassle.

We stayed at the Ala Wai until June, at which time we set sail for Sitka, Alaska.

— hellmuth 10/15/2015

Iolani — Hughes 48 Yawl
Barry and Sylvia Stewart Stompe

With Latitude's old friends Barry and Sylvia having completed half of their North Pacific Loop — Mexico, French Polynesia, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and back to Sausalito — we thought we'd pitch a few questions their way. In addition to being very successful racers with their Islander 36 and Hughes 48, they virtually rebuilt the entire boat.

1) Assuming just the two of you did the crossing and trip to Hawaii, are you comfortable with long passages, such as the upcoming one to Alaska?

"We are comfortable doublehanding the passages. We do three-hour rotations from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and fatigue has not been a problem. Daytime is more casual, but either one of us is always on deck or just ducking below if need be. We did the Nuku Hiva-to-Hilo passage from December 27 to January 13 and only had one bad squall. It blew 45 to 55 knots, so it was lucky we had been sailing with just the jib and jigger. We also had two days of 24-30-knot sustained trades. In the midst of those conditions, we questioned our sanity. But when conditions get nice again, or we make landfall, we love it again. Our 22-day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas was great — except for a couple of days of unpleasant sea state near the end. We are hoping Kauai to Vancouver in late May or June is as good a passage."

2) How often, if ever, did the two of you fly a chute?

"On the way from Mexico, just a couple times, and only during the day. We tried it for a few hours on the way from French Polynesia to Hilo, but gave up as it was fluky and lumpy. With just two crew, who may need to get some chores done or take a nap, it's not always a top priority to fly a chute. But if the seas are orderly with a long swell, and wind is 10-16 knots, we love to fly the chute. For example, we had a great six-hour sail between the Marquesas and Tuamotus during which time we flew both the asymmetrical and mizzen staysail. We did the same thing during a 25-mile run inside the atoll at Makemo. We cherished both of those times. When we've raced during our cruise — such as at the Banderas Bay Blast — we do fly the spinnaker."

3) There aren’t that many ketches out cruising any more. What did you like about the rig and not like about the rig?

"You know why they call them ketches? Because they're always trying to catch up! That's why we have a yawl. We love our yawl because there are so many possible sail plans. Sparkman & Stephens, who designed our boat, primarily did sloops and yawls, but not many ketches.

One downside of a yawl is the extra expense for rigging and sails. A second is that there isn't much room for the 'Jungle Gym' aft. You know: dinghy davits, solar panels, engine hoist, windvane, radar, surfboard holder, antenna array, fishing rod holders with cleaning station, wind generators, and all the other gadgets that slow a sailboat down. Although we did put some of that stuff on Iolani's mizzen mast. Sylvia's answer, which follows, is better."

"We love our yawl rig because the jib and jigger combination is great, not only in heavy winds, but in light and fluky stuff, too. When it's rolly and light, the mainsail slatting and battens popping is not only unbearably annoying, but also damaging. We busted our outhaul in the ITCZ on this last passage due to it. So we go with mizzen and jib in light air to give the mainsail a break. The mizzen staysail — which you hoist up the mizzen — is great fun to fly because it's so easy in all respects. The loads are reasonable, it's easy to trim, deploy, snuff, and is a great training sail, too."

4) Anchoring in French Polynesia can be difficult because of the deep water. Any tips or learning experiences? And have other boats had a lot of trouble?

"We had some anxieties about the anchoring in deep water, but it really wasn't a problem. There were only a couple of times when we had to anchor in 80 to 100 ft. with a mud bottom. After that, anchoring in 45 ft. is no problem! A good windlass is key. If you have all chain and it's 3/8", you can't control lowering it by hand. You have to have a windlass.

"Anchoring among coral heads was a much greater issue than anchoring in deep water. The folks on Soggy Paws taught us to pick up pearl farm floats that had washed ashore and use them to buoy our chain above the 'bommies'. We dove on our chain often, and especially before pulling the hook to see if our chain had wrapped around coral. We didn't hear of any boats that had anchoring issues this year.

"However, John on Whitehawk told us the hair-raising tale from 10 years ago of having his chain wrap during a 50-knot blow at Fakarava, and having to release his anchor and chain after the stainless bow roller was destroyed! He then had to transit the lagoon in those conditions to find protection 30 miles away. Yikes!"

5) How difficult was it to get/find Internet in the Marquesas/Tuamotus/Tahiti?

"There is barely any fast Internet, even in Tahiti! Almost all islands and atolls have slow Internet, but not all anchorages. You need to be in town and you get used to the slower speeds. You do much less Internet surfing. We mostly used Wi-Fi from cafes — such as the dockside Snack on Nuku Hiva — because it's so social an experience. There are pay-for-time cards available from the post office or other providers, so you just need to be in range of antennas. Many people use boosters to pick up signals when they are in the anchorage."

6) What is your dinghy/outboard combination? Is it adequate?

We have a 10-ft inflatable with an inflatable floor, and the 8hp outboard gets two of us on a plane. We have planed with three adults and free-diving equipment. We like to roll up and stow the dinghy and motor for passages. I've been out cruising two times, and each time I bought a 10-ft inflatable with an 8hp outboard. The first time I paid $850. Mostly recently we paid $1,000. Each time the dinghy and motor were in almost-new condition. Thank you, Latitude 38 Classy Classifieds."

7) What do they not have in Polynesia that you should have brought more of from US/Mexico?

"Alcohol! Booze is very expensive in the islands, as they tax it heavily to dissuade locals from drinking. Specialty foods, snacks, and nuts are all expensive, if available. For example, a bag of Doritos for $14! So bring your favorite munchies. Food staples are reasonably priced; even produce, which is not cheap, is mostly comparable to prices at farmers' markets in California. Boat parts, hoses and fasteners are metric, so bring them if you don't want to substitute sizes. Other than that, we were able to get what we wanted."

8) What was your favorite stop in each of the following: 1) The Marquesas; 2) The Tuamotus, and 3) The Society Islands?

"Daniels Bay (actually called Hakatea) was our favorite in the Marquesas for the magnificence of the setting and the nice locals. Fakarava was our favorite in the Tuamotus, because the free drift diving in the south pass with the sharks was a high point in our lives. Huahine was our favorite in the Societies because it has so many good anchorages, it is mellow with friendly locals and a nice town, and has archaeological sites and superb walking, snorkeling and surfing. Huahine has everything!"

9) Did you have just snorkel gear or scuba gear, too? Happy with decision?

We love to free dive. So we use a mask, snorkel (simple is better, so not the ball in cage with multi turbo flush ports), fins, shorty wetsuit, and weights. We have scuba, but save the air tank for emergencies."

10) Any piece of gear that surprised you for being more valuable than you expected?

"A plastic two-inch putty knife for cleaning the prop and bottom. More than once we were mortified to find barnacles covering everything."

11) Is there any piece of gear that you didn’t have, but wish you had?

"Next time we'll have a bimini. Iolani is one of the few boats that didn't have one. We have resorted to using an umbrella for sun relief while on passages."

12) What’s your favorite food from French Polynesia?

"The excellent fresh fish, which can be purchased direct from the fishermen for $5/kilo! Tuna prepared as poisson cru (raw fish) with coconut cream costs $8-$15 on shore. The best cooked dish was tuna with a vanilla cream sauce at Chez Tara, a nice restaurant at Avea Bay on the southwest side of Huahine. It was just $17 for the entree, and it was amazing! The traditionally cooked pig is great, but the side dishes can be heavy with lots of starchy stuff and not much fresh green veggies or salad. All in all, the prepared food in French Polynesia is no more expensive than here in Hawaii, and some things are even cheaper."

— latitude/rs 02/03/2016

Cruise Notes:

A law was passed in 2007 requiring for the first time that US citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda have a passport. As a result, 18 million passports were issued in the US in that year alone, and a total of 49 million in a three-year period. Adult passports are only good for 10 years, which means that 49 million passports are going to expire in the next three years. As a result, officials expect a flood of requests to get passports renewed. It costs $110 to renew a passport and it can be done by mail. First-time passports cost $135, and the applicant has to show up at a designated post office, court or other agency. Children's passports are good for just five years. Please remember, many countries will not accept your passport unless it is valid for six more months. So don't miss out on a great foreign sailing adventure because you don't have a current passport.

It was just a few months ago that Howard and Lynn Bradbrooke of the Vancouver, BC-based Sabre 452 Swift Current reported that having completed a five-year loop of North America — ending with their boat being trucked from Milwaukee to Vancouver — they were done with long-distance cruising. They said they would stick to cruising in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right when he wrote the novel You Can't Go Home Again, because the former lawyer and his wife seem to be having a change of heart. Looking at a map of their five-year trip, they write, "On the one hand it looks like a very long way to travel on a slow-moving sailboat. On the other hand, we are thinking that maybe we should start over again." Memories of the sun-drenched tropics can do that to folks living in a dark and damp Pacific Northwest winter.

John and Geri Conser of Newport Beach report they will join Eric and Tamara Barto on the latters' Aikane 56 catamaran Sea Child for "the trip of a lifetime". In early February they were slated to join Sea Child in Phuket, Thailand for passages to the Maldives, the Red Sea, Port Sudan, the Suez Canal, and Corfu, Greece.

John Conser designed and built Warrior 29 and Conser 47 catamarans in Southern California. Geri has been a marine photographer for many years. The Bartos are from Maui, where they own Paragon Sailing Charters, a successful sailing/snorkeling company.Having owned Sea Child for six years, they've been breaking their circumnavigation into two to three months of cruising followed by two to three months back working on Maui. They started their trip in Trinidad, and have so far sailed throughout the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and to Phuket.

As we recall, Aikane was the first or second in what was to be a line of catamarans built in Trinidad for Catana. That idea never panned out, but Sea Child looks great.

Using the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to get to the Med used to be the preferred way to go around the world until about 2000, when Somali pirates started hijacking private yachts as well as ships. Cruisers gave up the Red Sea route entirely for going around South Africa in 2011 after four West Coast sailors on the yacht Quest were kidnapped and then murdered by Somali pirates. Although the Somali piracy has been almost eliminated, concerns about trouble at other places from Aden to the northern end of the Red Sea have almost eliminated private yacht traffic. A few boats are again taking that route, but we personally still consider it fairly risky. We wish the best for the crew of Sea Child.

Northern California's Jeff Zarwell was in Cuba recently to run the Conch Republic Cup, which included racing from Florida to Cuba, off Cuba, and from Cuba back to Florida. While in Cuba, Jeff ran into a Cuban problem. There was no Wi-Fi, so the only Internet access was via the government computers in hotels. These computers would not allow him to get weather reports from the usual Internet sites or post the race results. Ah, life on the prison island some refer to as the 'Workers' Paradise', where the only human activities allowed are those specifically approved by the government. We think all Americans, particularly students, should be required to visit Cuba.

After enduring the notorious strong winds along the southeast coast of South Africa for months, Mike and Deanna Ruel of the Maryland-based Manta 42 R Sea Kat hauled their boat at Cape Town in anticipation of a long sail across the much more mellow South Atlantic.

"The cost of a haulout here in Cape Town is about the same as it is in the States," Mike told Latitude, "but the labor is about 40% less."

What's on the couple's 'to-do' list? "We've got a saildrive leak to repair and our bottom paint is 30 months old. In addition, we're getting new rigging, new sails, a new mast track, new batten cars, a new StackPack for the main, curtains with Strataglass, and maybe a new AC/heater. We're also getting a new damper for the port engine, having had to replace the one on the starboard engine."

That's a lot of work, but keep in mind the Ruels have sailed many thousands of ocean miles, many of them hard ocean miles, in just the last few years.

The Ruels report that rough weather isn't the only danger around Cape Town.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of two members of the Royal Cape YC, who perished early this morning when their sailboat ran aground in a fog, breaking the vessel into pieces."

As if anybody needed a reminder how rough the ocean can be off South Africa, and why so many people wish they could still safely go around the world via the Red Sea and the Med, in mid-January Sunsail Yachts received notification that one of their Leopard 44 cats had been spotted overturned 40 miles off the coast of Cape Agulhas. It was four days short of a year since her South African crew of Anthony Murray, Reginald Robertson, and 20-year-old Jaryd Payne had last been heard from on what was to be a 6,000-mile delivery of the new cat from South Africa to a charter program in Thailand.

The families of the deceased men are furious on two counts: First, when the families hadn't heard from the men in several days after the start of the voyage, the company told them they were "overreacting" because the boat had encountered "a little bit of bad weather" — not mentioning they might have been in the path of the 100-knot winds of cyclone Bansi. Secondly, it took four days for the company to inform the family that the hull had finally been found.

There is more. In October of last year, the 52-ft catamaran Lama Lo, type unknown, was hit by a whale 50 miles off the coast of South Africa. After taking on water in one hull, the then unbalanced cat flipped in strong winds and heavy seas. The older Frenchman who owned the boat and his younger South African crew grabbed the EPIRB and got into one of the boat's two dinghies, thinking a dinghy would be safer than the life raft in the rough sea conditions. They were quickly separated from the overturned cat — and her life raft. The dinghy eventually flipped, causing them to lose most of their supplies. The dinghy later flipped again, this time landing right-side up! Thanks to their EPIRB, the duo were rescued by a French ship 12 hours later. As you can see from the photo in the upper left, the cat, like the Sunsail cat, did not sink. That is not to say either was necessarily habitable.

At this point, we'd like to proclaim that Windyty, which creates worldwide animated weather maps for free, is one of the greatest educational and safety tools ever created for sailors. For example, we were trying to think how anybody in their right mind would want to try to deliver a cat from Cape Town to Thailand, given that it's challenging enough to sail from Thailand to Cape Town. Thanks to Windyty, we could see that in January, it's not that bad at all, as long as you can make it a little north and into the following winds across the top of Madagascar and into the westerly trades of the lower latitudes. The huge challenge, of course, is making the first 500 or so miles upwind into the following winds.

But that's just one example of how Windyty makes worldwide, regional and local wind patterns understandable through animated graphics. Want to understand Northers blowing down the Sea of Cortez — and sometimes jumping across Baja near La Paz to the Pacific? It's there. Want to understand the sequence of wind coming through the Gulf of Tehuantepec from the Gulf of Mexico? Bingo. Want to understand why sailing east from Cartagena is so difficult? No problem. Want to get a decent understanding of the wind patterns anywhere in the world? Windyty is the tool. Simply brilliant!

Intrepid — but perhaps somewhat incompetent — American sailors Bob Weise and Steve Shapiro, both 71, left Norway last July aboard the 40-ft, 18-ton Nora hoping to sail to Maine. Things have not gone well. So far they’ve only made it to Hayle, Cornwall, England. What’s worse, they’ve had to be rescued nine times in seven months. To date they've been rescued in Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland and England. It’s unclear if they’ve made it by a country without having to be rescued.

The most recent January incident was particularly troubling. According to the local harbormaster, “'They either didn't understand or couldn't properly [secure the boat in advance of a severe drop in tide] because the yacht fell over when the tide went out.” Not only was neither man aboard when the boat went onto her side, but they’d left a candle burning inside the boat! The candle started a fire, which apparently took three hours to put out.

Shapiro described himself as a “screenwriter and author originally from California,” while Weise is a former helicopter pilot for the US Army. Shapiro downplayed the damage, saying the fire was limited to some clothes. Yet the tipped-over Nora and fire precipitated a response from firefighters, two rescue boats and an ambulance. Brits started to grouse, as a typical rescue response in England costs about $22,000. The local harbormaster said he was concerned about not only the mens' safety, but that of those who might have to rescue them yet another time.

This is not the first time an older American sailor has created inordinate problems for rescue services in Britain and on the Continent. It’s been something like 10 years now so we can't remember the details, but an elderly yet game sailor from Northern California became infamous for having to be rescued so many times he was asked to leave.

A wicked boat fire broke out one afternoon in mid-January aboard the powerboat Rhum Runner, which was berthed at the Island Water World Dock in Cole Bay, St. Martin, in the West Indies. Thick black smoke could be seen from the decks of the many megayachts and smaller boats in the area. The fire on the powerboat quickly spread to the adjacent powerboat Lo Emma and the Lagoon 42 catamaran Naughty Dreams. All three boats were complete losses.

“We were at Lagoonies when the big fire broke out at the closest dock to leeward of us,” report 2014 Ha-Ha vets Dave Hayes and Rose Alderson, formerly of the Gabriola Island-based Catalina 34 Aussie Rules. “The three boats went up in quick succession. Some brave folks, who got much closer than most would have dared, untied the next boat in line and pulled her away. This created a fire break, allowing the firemen to keep the flames from spreading further. Thankfully the fire started on the end of the dock and the wind was blowing away, or many more boats would have been destroyed.”

In mid-January, many news outlets were gleefully taking potshots at Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, after the anchor chain of his 303-ft motoryacht Tatoosh reportedly damaged 14,000 sq ft of coral in the Cayman Islands. Before the sniggering had stopped, Vulcan, Inc, Allen's company, responded as follows:

"Vulcan Inc. and Paul G. Allen have a long history of responsible exploration and a commitment to ocean conservation. On January 14, 2016, Tatoosh was moored in a position explicitly directed by the local Port Authority. When her crew was alerted by a diver that her anchor chain may have impacted coral in the area, the crew promptly, and on their own accord, relocated their position to ensure the reef was protected."

Frankly, we tend to believe Allen's side of the story, and suspect that all radio transmissions to and from the ship were recorded so that he could prove it. Tatoosh is the smaller of Allen's motoryachts. He also owns the 415-ft Octopus.

Allen has loaned Octopus, which is equipped with a submarine and ROV, for a variety of rescue and research operations. These include assisting in a hunt for an American pilot and two officers whose plane disappeared off Palau; loaning his yacht to scientists to study the coelacanth, a "living fossil" that was once believed to be extinct; and loaning his ship to the Royal Navy in their attempt to retrieve the ship's bell from HMS Hood, which sank with 1,400 crew in 9,000 ft. of water in the Denmark Strait during World War II. The bell was located but not recovered because of bad weather. Three years later, Octopus's ROV recovered the bell, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. An Allen-led research team also announced that it had found the Japanese battleship Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea off the coast of the Philippines. Musashi and its sister ship Yamato were the largest and most heavily-armed battleships in naval history. Neither survived the war.

The bottom line is that it's not right to hate people because they are beautiful or because they are rich. Being beautiful and rich, however, is unacceptable, isn't it?

Errata: Last month we reported that private yachts can get a permit to visit the Marietas Islands, home to Playa de Amor, and stay overnight up to four times a month. That's incorrect in the sense that the park closes at 6 p.m.

In January there was an incident when as many as three boats were on moorings that failed in the deep waters of Yelapa cove on Banderas Bay. Fortunately, there was no damage.

"My catamaran was the first to break free," reported Brian Charette of the Jackson Hole-based Cat2Fold catamaran. "I was awakened by someone yelling 'Ahoy!' In a daze, I thought the boat near me was drifting toward the beach. In reality, my boat and I were being blown out to sea with a 150-ft line, and an inadequate mooring weight hung from my bows. I ultimately dropped the mooring in about 500 ft. of water. The bottom is very steep and deep at Yelapa.

"Then I grabbed the only other mooring that I could see. It also soon became dislodged from the sea floor. I dropped it, then found another one, this one very close to the beach. I hooked onto it, and stayed put for the rest of the night."

From Dominica, to Niue, to the Caribbean, to the Pacific Northwest, to Europe — we can't recall how many times we've had to report on boats being lost because they tied on to mooring balls skippers assumed were safe or had been assured were safe. Be skeptical and careful! This is especially true in Mexico and in Yelapa, where we believe some locals rent out moorings made for pangas to owners of cruising boats.

How inexpensively can you cruise Mexico? Here's a hint. Brian Charette reports he recently spent $5 for eight grapefruit, three avocados, one cantaloupe, one papaya, one mango, and a bunch of hot peppers. It proves once again that Whole Foods really isn't the low-cost leader.

If you think Brian is exaggerating, Victoria Bradford of the San Francisco-based Cal 43 Conviva, who did the 2011 Ha-Ha and the 2012 Puddle Jump, reports that she still has the receipt showing that she paid only about $100 for about 200 pounds of fruits and veggies just before they Puddle Jumped. The couple are now in Southeast Asia.

What about the cost of meds? We paid $10 for one hundred 100mg tablets of Metroprolol, a common blood pressure medicine. That's a 200-day supply for us. Friends told us it's even less expensive at the Wal-Mart in Puerto Vallarta.

Like father like daughter. In La Cruz we bumped into Bob Stanic of the San Pedro-based Cal 46 Aerie, who was with his lovely 24-year-old daughter Kali. She works for a big environmental company in Washington, D.C., so she was delighted to get away from the frigid capital to join her dad for two weeks in Mexico. Dad and daughter started in La Paz, and had a wild ride down to Isla Isabella in winds from aft to 35 knots. "Kali did great!" said her proud father. "And so did my Cal 46."

Readers may remember that Bob did the 2015 Ha-Ha with his charming stepdaughter Erin Grayson. It turns out that in early February Erin was just about to depart Cabrillo Beach aboard her Catalina 30 Fairy Tale to sail down the west coast of Baja. She was possibly going to buddyboat part of the way with Holly Scott aboard the latter's Cal 40 Mahalo. Erin expects to have two novice male sailors as crew. Stepdad Bob says Erin is a fine sailor who honed her cruising skills by doing a circumnavigation of all the Channel Islands but San Miguel last summer. "She got into some heavy wind on the west end of Isla San Jose, which was good experience."

It's amazing how ignorant people can be about Mexico. Even Mexicans. We were recently on the phone with a T-Mobile tech in Houston, and when we told him we were calling from Puerto Vallarta, he repeatedly warned us how dangerous it was. "I'm a Mexican," he said, "I can tell you that everybody is getting decapitated or otherwise killed." We tried to explain that as in the United States, certain areas are dangerous but many are extremely safe. But he wasn't believing us.

Speaking of T-Mobile, we've had tremendous success getting unlimited free data in the Puerto Vallarta region as part of our T-Mobile non-contract plan. And unlike the unlimited free data T-Mobile gives you in Europe, it's mostly 3G and thus pretty darn fast.

A month ago we were surprised to receive a letter from Laura Golden, who had sailed across the Atlantic with us on our Ocean 71 Big O 20 long years ago. Hadn't heard from her since then. If we thought that was a long time ago, we just got a note from Virg Erwin, who reminded us that we'd met once before.

"You stopped by the Sausalito Cruising Club to offer me some advice the day before my wife, one-year-old and I set sail for the Marquesas with our Westsail 32," wrote Erwin. "Don't worry," you told me, "you're not sailing off the edge of the world. You find other sailors willing to help you anytime you need it."

"That was so comforting," he continued, "and it was true."

It was also 39 years ago! Where did all the time go?

Missing the pictures? See the March 2016 eBook!


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