April, 2003

With reports this month from Jubilee at the first marina in Nicaragua; Force Five on a big transition in the Caribbean; from Saltaire on life in American Samoa; from Feet on a triple-reefed delivery trip to Ventura; from Darcy Whitney on a wild catch in the Caribbean; from Tropicbird on going cruising once again in Malaysia; from Topaz on a new cruising guide to Tonga; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Jubilee - Catalina 36
Linda & Jude Wheeler
The Forgotten Middle
(Lakeland, FL)

We were honored to be the first boat to arrive and dock at Nicaragua's first and only marina, Puesta Del Sol. It's located inside the entrance of the Arredores River a few miles north of Corinto at 12°36'21", 87°21'54". We arrived here on January 24 with two other boats, Larry and Joanie's Synergy, and Dick and Vickie's Chimere.

As of March 1, the marina was almost complete and the official dedication was set for March 15. The marina will have all cruiser amenities, including docks with power and water, moorings, fuel and pumpout stations, a restaurant, showers, a laundry, and Internet access. Immigration and Port Captain officials are already on site to handle check in/out procedures. Clearing officials were friendly and it was inexpensive - just $7 each for 90-day visas. Immigration officials were pleased when we said that we intended to stay for months, and said it would be no problema to extend our visas.

We have been warmly welcomed by the marina owners, Robert and Maria Laura Membreno, who are well known in the Mexico cruising community. Many Banderas Bay Regatta participants have raced with or against them on their Kelley-Peterson 46 Puesta Del Sol.

We had an easy 110-mile trip in 23 hours to here from Bahia Del Sol in El Salvador. The entrance here is a flashing white light, highly visible at night. As you approach it, the red/green flashing channel markers clearly guide you to a calm and easily followed entrance to the lagoon and marina. We stayed one to two miles offshore most of the way down from El Salvador, and went seven miles offshore for the last 20 miles as recommended by Robert to avoid rocks and a reef on the northern approach. Boats approaching from the south do not have to stay seven miles out.

There is daily bus service from the marina to Chinendega, the closest town, which is approximately 20 miles away. It has well-stocked supermercados and open air fruit and vegetable markets, as well as banks, Internet cafes, and frequent bus service to the 80-mile distant capital of Managua.

We feel so secure about leaving Jubilee here at Puesto del Sol Marina that we have decided to fly back to the States for a month. The roundtrip airfare from Managua to Miami is $336.

To backtrack a little, we left Huatulco, Mexico, on December 17 - the day their new marina opened. Although it was very calm in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we still followed the recommendation of never going more than a mile or two offshore. Upon reaching El Salvador four days later, we were assisted into the Rio Lempa - at 13°16'41" 88°52'80" - by other cruisers who guided us through breaking surf. We were warmly welcomed at Bahia Del Sol Hotel by the El Salvadoran Navy and Immigration Officials. They came to our boat and their first words were, "Welcome to our country!" They had big smiles and easy forms, so we were quickly checked in. We paid $10 each for a 90-day visa. As is the case in Panama, the dollar is the official currency in El Salvador.

Bahia Del Sol welcomes cruisers, and we found it to be inexpensive. For example, a hamburger with really good fries was $4.50. The hotel gives cruisers a 30% discount on all food, beverages, and laundry. They have a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Buses run outside the hotel to San Salvador, the capital. It takes 90 minutes.

We left Jubilee anchored in front of Bahia Del Sol while we took two inland trips to Honduras and Guatemala. We've found all four Central American countries we've visited to be beautiful and home to very friendly people. We have been very impressed and are therefore so glad that we stopped to explore. We left Bahia Del Sol at high tide, and did not have to deal with breaking surf. It was a calm and easy exit.

We enjoyed our three years in Mexico, but are glad to be now in Central America. This is our fourth year of cruising, and we're taking it slowly, enjoying every place that we stop. Rushing is not a word in our schedule. We will stay in Nicaragua a few months, then head to Costa Rica in the fall.

- linda & jude 3/10/03

Force Five - Holiday 34
Allison Mahan
S.F. 'Marina Chick' Sets Sail
(Islamorada, Florida)

My boyfriend Curt and I have been cruising here in the Caribbean since May of 2002. What a treat to have San Francisco - in the form of a recent Latitude 38 - pay us a little visit here in the Caribbean. A neighbor in the anchorage here at Anegada saw our San Francisco hailing port and brought us the latest issue. Reading about the sailing scene in the City I love reminded me of how I got here and the crazy path we seem to be taking.

I am a San Francisco 'Marina Girl' turned 'Cruiser', and it came about in a rather reckless way. You see, I had never sailed before we bought our boat in Sint Maarten and set sail south for hurricane season. My transformation from Marina Girl to a Cruiser hasn't always been easy. Swapping my Kenneth Cole loafers and Kate Spade bag for flip-flops and a backpack was the beginning of a long initiation. Although I can now confidently say I'm a happy member of the 'cruising club', on Sunday mornings when I sit in our cockpit not far from yet another white sand beach fronted by gin clear waters - which longingly remind me of martinis - my heart aches for brunch at my favorite spot on Lombard Street with a San Francisco Chronicle in one hand and a decaf latte in the other.

Here's how the strange transformation came about. With true metropolitan city dweller bravado, I fell dramatically in love with Curt Sojka on New Year's Eve 2002 up in Tahoe. It was with passion and both feet first. We mused about sailing off into the sunset, throwing convention and our cares to the wind. Somewhere along the line, the starry-eyed idea began being discussed seriously. Neither of us, we discovered, wanted to be 'those people' who talked about doing adventurous things, but then never did.

It sounded perfect - adventuring to exotic destinations in the Caribbean, sailing from port to port while our Bay Area pallor gave way to golden glows. Never mind that I had no idea how to sail, for I had been to plenty of parties at the St. Francis YC and had spent even more Saturday afternoons on the dock of Sam's in Tiburon. They had to count for something, right? Besides, I just loved the idea of trading in my all-black city wardrobe for a bright palette of Caribbean-style sailing attire. I'm jesting - at least a little.

Since I didn't have a clue how to sail or cruise, I invited sailing gurus Lin and Larry Pardey into my life. "I did well as an undergrad," I thought to myself, "so surely there are enough books out there to help me find my way through life on a sailboat." And the Pardeys seemed to have written just the books for my coursework: Self-Sufficient Sailor, Cost Conscious Cruiser, The Capable Cruiser, and the like. It wasn't until later I realized that I'd read all the wrong books!

Thanks to my 'Pardey U.' education, I assumed that Curt and I would be cruising with other folks on 28-footers that didn't have engines, watermakers, refrigerators, or showers. Foregoing modern amenities such as proper showers is one thing if your cruising brethren are all in the same boat, but it's quite another when everyone else around us - mostly retirees - had 45-ft R.V.-like boats with all the conveniences of living on land. I felt as though I'd been had! I wanted to dinghy over to these other cruisers, shake my copy of The Self-Sufficient Sailor at them, and tell them they hadn't done their homework! Didn't they know they weren't cruising the way it was supposed to be done?

Adjusting to life onboard involved more than downsizing from a San Francisco studio apartment - who ever thought that would be possible? - to a Lavranos-designed 34-ft Holiday racer/cruiser. The world around the walls of our new home - or hull, as the case may be - was drastically different as well. There were no Whole Foods, Molly Stones, or Trader Joes at which to provision. And I have yet to find a single recipe for calabash or salt fish in my monthly edition of Food & Wine Magazine. We'd literally gone from the sophistication of Sonoma to the primitive life of St. Vincent. How was this Bay Area couple to get by without our wine country neighbors to fuel our sundowner cocktails? Something felt terribly awry.

After 10 months without a Starbucks or a shopping spree at Union Square, I had an eye-opening experience. Having just arrived in the British Virgins after a 500-mile sail north from Venezuela - take that all you racers turned island-hopping cruisers with your 45-footers - we walked from North Sound of Virgin Gorda over the hill to Spanish Town to clear-in with Customs. Notice that we walked rather than took a taxi despite the fact that there was a big hill involved? Upon handing the immigration officer our paperwork, he read it over and passed it back through the slot in the glass window.

"Your occupation, please."
"We don't work."
"No, what do you do back home?"
"We don't have jobs."
"Yes, but what do you do?"
"Well, we sail around on our boat."
"Okay, so then you're a 'sailor'."

Me, a sailor? I had to laugh out loud! What would my girlfriends back home say to that? But upon reflection, I decided I must really be a sailor! Marina Girl turned sailor - who would have ever thought? Along our path from Sint Maarten to Trinidad, and from Trinidad to Venezuela, and from Venezuela back up to the Virgins, I somehow must have earned my 'cruiser wings'. Perhaps I was too busy hauling water jerry jugs, adventuring off to find a little market, or plotting our course for an island five days away, to notice.

Just because I've become a sailor doesn't mean that I can't still miss the home we call San Francisco, and it doesn't mean I can't long for just one brisk afternoon hike in Muir Woods or along the Marin Headlands. And it certainly doesn't mean that after everything we've seen and done, we don't wholeheartedly believe San Francisco is our favorite city in the world - all something wanna-be cruisers should remember as they revel in their most recent issue of Latitude 38 while at their Bay Area base. But at least for this afternoon I'll continue to put together our plans for our next big adventure - Cuba.

For armchair cruisers who might be interested in following my cruiser initiation and Curt's endless capacity for patience, our travel log is located at www.forcefiveadventures.com.

- allison & curt 3/05/03

Saltaire - Cal 30
Bill Morris & Marilu Flores
The Cruising Life In Samoa
(San Pedro)

Our nine months of living aboard our 36-year-old Cal 30 Saltaire were finally coming to a close. I had spent eight of those months teaching English at Tafuna High School while my girlfriend Marilu had worked as an office manager for a small trucking company. Although we both had made a sincere attempt to adapt to Samoan culture, it had not been easy.

On the fun side, wearing a lava lava to work and attending impromptu after-school barbecues/drink-a-thons with my fellow teachers made me feel like a character in a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. But the lackadaisical attitude of the Samoan people - students, parents, faculty, administrators, and politicians alike - toward formal education would take many years for a palagi - or outsider - to understand. Marilu also had a difficult time adjusting to the casual, unstructured manner of business in the territory.

Nonetheless, our long stop in American Samoa had definitely paid off. We equipped the boat well enough to get us to Fiji, where we would eventually haul out. And we saved enough money to see us through another year of cruising.

In late June, Marilu returned from a month-long visit to Southern California with a big box of goodies - including canned food, wine, cigars, Scotch, and rigging tape. We were ready to sail! A few days before our departure for Western Samoa, some Filiipino friends threw a bash in our honor. On the way to the party we bumped into recent French arrival Michel Codol, and took the liberty of inviting him along. Soon we all dined on a mountain of charbroiled swordfish and drank Tanduay rum well into the evening. And for the last time, Jess' nephew Jong royally kicked my ass in a game of chess.

After the hugs and tears at the end of the party, Michel, Marilu and I ambled our way past the taxi station and the historic but newly renovated Sadie Thompson's Hotel to Mercury Joe's Bar and Grill, formally the infamous Wong's Bar and Recreation Center. We wanted to continue celebrating. I practiced my now slurred French while our bon ami Michel laughed and shared his observations of American Samoa.

"So thees ees America!" he said. Slightly stung by his remark, I had to explain to him that I could just as easily walk through a seedy district of Papeete and call it France. Michel is an Anglo-European singlehander in the tradition of Chichester, Moitessier, and Tabarly. He's arrogant and tough, but also a visionary. Born in Marseilles in 1952, Michel started to work as an artisan soon after finishing elementary school. Today he is a master sheet metal worker who taught the craft in Tahiti for many years. He'd left France because he considered it tres complique with beaucoups des problemes. Boy, where have we heard that before?

Michel has done two circumnavigations, mostly singlehanded, on boats just over 30 feet. Then, drawing from his sheet metal experience, he spent two years building and outfitting his 53-foot steel ketch Quand On n'a Que l'Amour - which means 'where there is only love'. His intention is to circumnavigate the Pacific Rim, visiting Vanuatu, the Solomons, the Philippines, Japan, Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, the Aleutians, and North and Central America. In very broken French I said that I would be hesistant to do a complete orbit of the Pacific under sail. He slammed his beer mug on the table and admonished me - "Non, Billy! C'est necessaire pour l'esprit!"

After we closed down Mercury Joe's, Marilu guided us back to the Customs Dock, where we paused to contemplate the woefully rough dinghy trip ahead of us. When Michel had come ashore that afternoon, he had left his vessel anchored with 60 meters of chain, 100 meters of nylon rode, and a large plow anchor sunk securely in the sticky Pago Pago mud. Or so he thought. What he did not know was that a steel tube chair and 20 feet of nylon cord had wrapped themselves around his anchor, allowing his ketch to drag when the wind kicked up to 35 knots.

Had we been only half as drunk, perhaps we would have noticed the two worried port officials standing on the dock and watching a near disaster unfold across the harbor. The harbor captain asked Marilu if she had seen the captain of some boat, the name of which he could not pronounce. "No," she responded, tired and perplexed. We oozed down the dilapidated concrete dock steps and slumped into our dinghies. Since I didn't have the energy to row, Michel towed us through the heavy chop with his 10-ft outboard powered skiff.

"La bonne vie!" I shouted.

"Oui, la bonne heur!" Michel sounded off with gusto.

Ah, yes, zee good life.

Only 150 yards away, on the north side of the harbor, Dan, on 50-foot Windwalker II, was finishing his third hour of fending off Michel's 25-ton black behemoth as it bounced against Dan's boat. Acting quickly to prevent serious damage to either vessel, Dan was able to slip some big fenders between the two hulls, preventing anything more serious than a few scuffs. Bystanders on the road looked on as a huge tugboat maneuvered to take Quand in tow to the main commercial dock in Fagatogo. Tres intoxique, Michel returned to his vessel in horror and disbelief, and began screaming at Dan, the harbor police, and the tugboat crew.

"Zees ees French Territory!" hollered Michel, who understood little English and was not in the proper frame of mind to assess the situation. "Get off zee boat now!"

The all-too-patient harbor police acquiesced, permitting a hysterical Michel to pay out more rode and wait until morning before moving his vessel. Bewildered, exhausted, but cautiously relieved, Dan retired to his cabin. Michel passed out, and the authorities left the scene. Marilu and I, having been previously dropped off, did not hear word one of the mess until the following morning.

At about 0830, I called Dan's wife Marianne on VHF 68 to thank her for the two new pillows they had left for us early the previous evening. "Where were you guys?" she asked, a bit annoyed. "I tried all night to call you. We did an all-nighter fending off Michel's boat. The harbor police were here and everything, but you're the only one around here who can talk to him in French!"

Although we were not a party in any way to the affair, Michel's hanging out with us the night before, and my ability to speak a tad of French, somehow made me feel partially responsible. I told Marianne where we'd been the night before and how Michel and I had gotten so drunk that we could barely walk. But I emphasized, "Yes, Michel is our friend, and yes, I speak some French, but I do not speak for Michel, nor do I condone any aberrant behavior that he may have displayed."

A short while later, five harbor police officers boarded and thoroughly searched Michel's vessel, checked his papers, and left. Because we were already two days past our checkout date, I decided not to row over to see Michel until after the authorities were well out of sight. When I later rowed over to Quand and listened to Michel's account of what happened, it was virtually the same as Marianne's. Same account, different perspective.

With Quand still swinging precariously among 52-foot Windwalker II, the 24-foot Mowana, and the 30-foot Desperado, Michel and I agreed that first on the list of priorities was to fix a pot of coffee and roll a couple of cigarettes. We calmly discussed the previous evening's events, from the superb swordfish to the continuation of festivities at Mercury Joe's, to the melee between Michel and the Samoan authorities. Ready for battle, we gulped the last of our coffee, snuffed our cigarettes, and sprang to the deck.

Michel started the engine and took the wheel while I started hauling up the nylon rode, first by hand, then by manual windlass. 'Crazy Cal' from Desperado leaped up on deck to help me recover the anchor. With the extra rode Michel had paid out the night before, Cal and I figured we had hauled up at least 700 feet of anchor line by the time the fouled anchor broke the water's surface. It was a great workout - especially since it was still blowing 18-20 knots. After we had reset the hook in deeper water away from the other boats, Michel dinghied over to Windwalker II and apologized to Dan and Marianne, bringing the episode to an end. Fortunately, there was no damage to either vessel. The same could not be said for egos.

On the morning of our departure two days later, we broke the fast with a delightful bowl of canned menudo, fresh tortillas that Marilu brought back on the plane from L.A., and freshly brewed coffee. Michel joined us for the little repast before we cranked on the engine, slipped our mooring lines, and headed out. Friends on other boats poked their heads out of hatches and smiled as we passed, and Jong stood on the Customs Dock, waving as we aimed for the buoy marker off the Rainmaker Hotel and finally the open sea.

Five months later, one day after we arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia, we had the unexpected pleasure of running into our friend Michel. He supposedly had been more northerly bound, but had found a good paying job in Noumea and decided to hang around for a while. The following evening he joined us for a spaghetti dinner on Saltaire, and we caught up with each other's adventures from the intervening months. Since we had left only a couple of days after the incident between Quand and Windwalker II, we were just finding out about the $800 tugboat bill that Michel was forced to pay before leaving Pago Pago Harbor. Ouch! As many cruising sailors eventually find out, getting a boat towed doesn't come cheap. We finally said au revoir to our unusual French friend and New Caledonia as we set off on the last leg of our Pacific crossing to Australia.

- bill & marilu 06/01/03

Feet - Hughes 39 Catamaran
Bill Andersen
S.F. To New Home In Ventura

I did the trip from San Francisco to my homebuilt catamaran's new home in Ventura, a distance of 300 odd miles in just under 50 hours. That doesn't seem very fast, but I did the first 100 miles with just the jib and triple-reefed main, and the last 200 miles with just a triple-reefed main.

Three crew and I motored out the Gate in early March due to light wind. By the time we cleared the South Bar, it was blowing 20 to 25 knots and the sea was lumpy. Since it would be hard to reef the main while sailing downwind, I played it conservative and went with just the jib and a triple-reefed main.

The forecast called for 10 to 20 knots, so we expected things to lighten up. Our plan was to stay two to five miles offshore and enjoy the ride. The wind was consistent and stronger than forecast, so we continued on through the day averaging seven to eight knots while sailing with the triple-reefed main and jib set wing on wing. We didn't stand watches during the day, but at night we did four on, four on standby, and four off.

As I came on for the 0200-0600 watch, we were almost abeam of Pt. Sur. My new-to-me TillerMaster amazed me with its ability to steer the boat while sailing downwind, and it would end up driving 90% of the trip. During this time we had one surf in the darkness up to 17 knots, but we didn't feel as though we were overpressed.

The forecast for south of Sur was for 15 to 30 knots. Before long, we ran over a big patch of kelp that wrapped around the port daggerboard and trailed all the way back to the rudder. Talk about putting on the brakes! It was still blowing over 20 and the seas were steep and close together, so turning upwind and drifting backward to try to shake the kelp off wasn't a very attractive option. Because of the kelp, the boatspeed was down to six knots and I wasn't sure we could even come around into the wind. We let the jib out to help balance the drag from the kelp and let the TillerMaster drive while we went over our options.

One possibility was to head into the anchorage at San Simeon until the weather blew over and where we could remove the kelp in comfort. Another was to try to get the kelp off while sailing. But Mark Axen, having harnessed up and climbed out onto the transom, was able to grab big clumps of kelp and haul them up to deck level where I was able to cut the ends of them off. This freed up the steering a little, and we stopped to talk over the next step.

Meanwhile, a big wave came along while there was still lots of kelp wrapped around the daggerboard, and we did about 10+ knots. Suddenly, the kelp came off the daggerboard and Feet instantly accelerated to what seemed like warp speed. Even worse, the autopilot had us pointed to the bottom of a big trough. Scrambling, we managed to disengage the autopilot and steer across the face of the wave to keep the bows from digging into the wave in front. We then sheeted the jib to the centerline and dropped it on the net to reduce sail. Back to just the triple-reefed main, it was a more practical rig that resulted in less stressful speeds. After we caught our collective breath, we checked the instruments - 21.8 had been our top speed.

We ran the rest of the day under triple-reefed main alone, and still averaged seven knots. So we decided to carry on past San Simeon. By noon it was clear that we'd be reaching Point Conception by early evening, so we thought it was a good time to try my tire drag device. We deployed it by dropping it off the back of the cat with a few coils of line and secured it to the winch, which we used to feed it out. We positioned the tire a couple of waves back and worked great - in fact, it saved my ass. We would still do eight to 12 knots down the front of waves, but then the drag line to the tire would tighten and pull us back off the face of the wave. On the back of the wave we'd slow down to two to five knots. The TillerMaster continued to steer just fine.

We rounded Conception just before midnight in eight foot seas at eight foot intervals with about 30 knots of wind. About an hour later, the wind and seas began to drop as they usually do past Conception. We finally shook out the reefs and rolled out the screecher. Then the wind died completely, followed by wind on the nose. We tacked into it awhile, had a pod of about 200 dolphins come by to say hello, and also saw some whales. When it looked like our ETA would be pushed back until the next day, we started the outboard and motored the rest of the way to Ventura.

After covering 310 miles in 50 hours under greatly reduced sail, we tied up for much appreciated hot showers and dinner out. After a good night's sleep, we went out sailing again the next day.

- bill 3/5/03

Readers - There is great variety even among cruising catamarans. At one extreme you have the typical heavy French charter cats in the Caribbean, most of which sail only marginally faster - if that - then similar-sized monohulls. Bill's Feet - excuse the play on words - being very light for her length and sail area, is at the other end of the spectrum. We took the accompanying photograph the second day he took his new boat sailing, and from the way she accelerated with even a moderate puff of wind on the Bay, we knew she was the kind of cat that would need to be constantly throttled back when sailing in big winds and seas. When you have a cat that will do nearly 22 knots with greatly reduced sail while sailing deep in not particularly strong winds, you know you've got a boat that has the potential to get out of control. We know you're going to have a lot of fun, Bill, but please be careful out there! By the way, we hope you join us at the starting line of the Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race the first weekend in August.

N/A - Moorings 48 Cat
Darcy Whitney
Fish Broth
(Lake Tahoe / British Virgins)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning off Buck Island, St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgins, when Peter and I decided to set off on the six-hour sail back to Tortola in the British Virgins. In preparation for the tradewind beam seas we would encounter, I put the designer fish bowl - home of Killer, my beloved bata fish - into the galley sink. I surrounded the bowl with a bath towel to cushion it in case we slammed against some seas. Then, after weighing anchor, I got out The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne and settled in for a good read. By the way girls, you must read Browne's book, as it's my new favorite.

We run a crewed charter catamaran for The Moorings, so during the crossing we hoped to catch a fish to serve to our upcoming charter guests. As soon as we hit what we call 'bluewater', Peter let out the fishing line, It was a beautiful day with about 15 knots of wind and just a few rain squalls, and we were sailing about seven to eight knots, before a fish hit our bright pink and purple lure. Peter hopped over the cockpit to grab the line while I ran down below to grab a bottle of alcohol and a garbage bag. The alcohol wasn't for me, but to pour into the fish's gills, to almost immediately send him to la-la land.

After bringing in 150 feet of line from the blue Caribbean, we could see that we'd caught a good sized tuna. After bringing the fish close to the boat and giving him his shot of alcohol, we jammed him into the garbage bag. Bundle in hand, I hurried inside to prepare the fish for storage in the refrigerator. I temporarily put the fish, still tightly secured in the garbage bag, on the galley counter in order to reach for a second garbage bag. Fish need to be double-bagged or they give off a fish stink that permeates everything.

It was when I grabbed for the second bag that all hell broke loose, for all of a sudden the tuna spasmed so much he broke through the side of the bag! I guess he could hold his liquor better than I thought. I swore a couple of times and screamed for Peter. The fish continued to bounce and flap on the counter with surprising force. Try as I might, I was unable to hold him down. He then flopped down the counter, onto the dish drying rack, and then into the double sink. By this time there were bits of fish blood and goo everywhere, and after his tail hit the faucet handle, water started spraying all over the salon sole. Despite having been out of the water for some time, the not-quite-drunk-enough tuna kept going ballistic.

I shouted for Peter again in horror as the fish jumped from one part of the sink into the other where I had Killer in his fish bowl! I thought the stupid tuna was going to eat my pet. Oh my God, I didn't know what to do. Finally, I hit the fish so hard that he landed on the other counter, and then continued over to the top of the stove. "How convenient," I thought to myself, "now all I have to do is light the stove."

Just then Peter, finally having decided to look into the cause of all the yelling, stuck his head through the cockpit door. And you know what he did, girls? He just laughed at me! I told him to come in and hold the stupid ass fish down. Still laughing, he grabbed the fish while he surveyed the blood and guts all over the galley, ceiling, floors, and even in our cabin. My husband's eyes were bright with laughter and he had a big smirk on his face. I'd have liked to just . . . well, you know.

I spent the next 20 minutes cleaning fish bits and smells from the galley while we continued on our way. If you're trying to help someone get seasick, having him/her pick up fish blood and guts while you bounce across the ocean is a good way to do it. But all's well that ends well, as I made fish stock out of the stupid ass fish, and it was delicious. Love to everyone from the British Virgin Islands, home of the Original Stupid Ass Fish Stock.

- darcy 3/17/03

Tropicbird - Wilderness 40
Leslie King
Langkawi, Malaysia
(Santa Fe, New Mexico)

After a land visit to Penang, Malaysia, on my way to my boat, I took a ferry to Langkawi Island, caught a taxi from the dock over to Langasuka, where the hotel's boat shuttled me out to Rebak Marina, which is on another island. Having left Tropicbird on the hard for a year, I was pleased to see that she was still in decent shape. It's true that some wasps and mozzies had set up housekeeping, but I wouldn't have been surprised if some monkeys hadn't taken up residence. Fortunately, the hotel had started trapping the more inquisitive and aggressive monkeys the year before and shipping them off to one of the many unpopulated islands in the archipelago.

In the course of cleaning the boat and putting her back together, it was obvious that the tropic sun had caused a lot of wear and damage. The worst was to the solar panel, as the plastic covering the silicon cells failed, ruining the panel. Thus the batteries were dead. I really can't complain about the solar panel, which has been on the boat since '95, or the batteries, which date from early '97.

Between the many trips up the boatyard ladder to Tropicbird and then down again, I enjoyed some refreshing swims in the pool. I also met the crowd of yachties who were keeping their boats in the marina. Now that I'm back at this wonderful place, I wonder why I ever leave. It's warm, the scenery is wonderful, the cost of living is low, and the standards are high. The only negatives are that this marina is a little isolated and that the hotel food is a little boring compared to what you get in Penang. To get an idea of how lovely it is here, readers should visit www.rebakmarina.com.

When I say it was warm at Rebak Marina, it's not overly so. It got to the high '80s, which meant it was pretty hot in the sun, but fine in the shade. The pool is so warm that when I got out of the water after an evening swim, the air seemed cold by comparison.

After spending a week cleaning the boat, putting everything back together, and freeing up stuff that had seized, I kept finding more things that 25 months of disuse had not been good for. Initially, the most scary thing was that the motor wouldn't start once Tropicbird was put back in the water. Peter, the 'engine guy' among the yachties, figured out why the engine would turn over but not catch. The switch that controls the relay for the glow plugs had become so corroded that it was a 'no glow' situation. Further, all the fuel had drained out of the system and back into the tank. The fixes were simple - emery paper and lots of WD-40. The diagnosis was worth Peter's rate of 60 RM an hour - which comes out to about $15.50 U.S. It would have been more if I had watched, and heaps more if I'd tried to fix it first. The sun also split the stitching on my awning - an item that's a necessity in this part of the world. Ben, the local canvas guy, zig-zag stitched a webbing patch over the split for $15 U.S.

I also got some help getting the boat back in top shape from Kirstie, a young Aussie girl with a backpack, spiky bleached hair, and bits of metal here and there. Other than the really little kids, she's the youngest person among the yachtie types at Rebak. She was pleasant enough, and in return for a berth, food, Tiger beers, and regular dips in resort pools, she was quite willing to organize, scrub, and go at things with metal polish. And did the stuff need polishing! She spent most of one day working on the stove, and several hours another day on the sink. Then there were all the deck fittings, shackles, and stanchions.

Meanwhile, I spent a couple of hours with WD-40 just to get the clamps that hold the outboard to the dinghy transom to loosen up. Then there was another couple of hours freeing the head, which had frozen. I soaked it in vinegar first, followed by fresh water and salad oil. I also had to replace the regulator for the propane system, but wasn't able to find a safety solenoid, which had frozen, too. In the interim, we did without.

The metal rings on my bosun's chair had rusted away, so we borrowed one from Michelle, the skipper of Simpatico. Michelle made the first trip up to the masthead to take off the cover I'd put up there. A couple of days later Kirstie got the spreader tips taped and the Windex back atop the mast. With that, we were a sailboat again.

I've had Tropicbird out three times now. First, for a few hours motorboat ride after Peter got the motor started. Then, for a gentle sail reaching back and forth between the west end of Rebak Island and the far western tip of Langkawi Island - where we could see the cable cars that go to the top of the peak, and also a bunch of little red-roofed bungalows on stilts out over the water, all of which are part of some resort complex. And yesterday, we sailed all the way up Kuah Harbor (also known as Bass Harbor) to Kuah Town and the Royal Langkawi YC.

The sailing is great here. It blew 10-15 knots all afternoon during our sail up the harbor. On the way, there were steep limestone cliffs with forested peaks off to the sides, and lots of little islands sticking up out of the water. With the exception of a couple of marked rocks and shallow spots, the harbor has good depth. The wind - which flows over and between the mountains and islands - has fluctuations in direction and velocity, making the sailing challenging and fun. During the day, the colorful little Malaysian fishing boats - with their long nets out, marked at the ends by a pair of matching flags - are just another mark of the course. It's too pretty to sail around here at night . . . and have to worry about the unlit nets.

We pulled into the Royal Langkawi YC an hour before sunset. I hadn't been back since 2001, and found that it had really grown. For example, a breakwater has been added to accommodate 150 new slips. It's a pretty nice facility, with a pool - too small for laps - overlooking the water, and an open air bar and grill at the water's edge. It's pretty, but potentially mozzie country at sunset.

Despite the new breakwater, there is unfortunately surge at the docks. The yacht club is only a few hundred meters from the main ferry dock in Kuah, and there is a lot of ferry and other boat traffic all day and throughout the night. It's nowhere near as bad as the Republic of Singapore YC, but it's pretty much constant motion. Yet one can adapt. You leave the wine bottle standing in the sink, not on the counter. And rather than cooking onboard, you dine out. You know, real hardship adaptations.

The yacht club is right off one end of Kuah Town, which is a pleasant change from the isolation of Rebak. It's an easy walk from the club to a big park with lots of street food vendors, and to Langkawi Fair, a cruise ship mall with all that that entails. An easy walk or $1 U.S. taxi ride further along is the commercial center, with banks, shops, laundries, hardware stores, travel agents, and so forth. I sent this report from a kid's gaming and internet place in the commercial center.

By the way, Sunsail has a charter base here. Visit www.sunsail.co.uk to check out the possibilities.

- leslie 2/10/03

Topaz - C&C 38
Ken Hellewell
Tonga Cruising Guide

My late 2001 cruising season in Tonga was the perfect tonic for the post 9/11 blues that took the fun out of what had, up until then been, a perfect Coconut Milk Run across the Pacific. My memories of Samoa will always be colored by the day I spent in front of the big screen television at the Pago Pago YC following the tragic events on the East Coast of the United States. After a short stop in Apia, Samoa, I continued to Niuatoputapu, Tonga. I cannot imagine a better place to begin my return to normalcy.

Nuiatoputapu is where my cruising fantasies came true. It's mostly untouched by Western influences and those of the southern groups of Tonga - Vava'u, Ha'apai, and Tongatapu. 'Niua' is visually dramatic, as the volcano cone of Tafahi looms five miles in the distance, and making an imaginary trip back in time is as easy as opening one's eyes. The locals and their traditional lifestyle support the mental time travel, as the residents of Niua and Tafahi fill their lives with fishing, weaving, and tending to their plantations. They are an incredibly friendly people, and the infrequent arrival of a cruising boat always creates a stir.

Until I travelled 160 miles south to Neiafu - which is Tonga's 'cruiser central' - in the Vava'u Group, I would never have imagined Tonga was host to a place so vastly different from Niua. Neiafu is home to bases for The Moorings and Sunsail charter outfits, and hundreds of cruisers on their own boats spend time in Neiafu each year. Waterfront bars and restaurants line the shore, and all have dinghy docks. If I had to describe Neiafu in one phrase, it would be, "Too much fun!," as I can't remember hearing Betty Ford mentioned more times than I did that season. In any event, Neiafu has been forever changed by its appeal to sailors.

Although I'd visited Niua, which most cruisers don't, and although I'd spent a month in Tonga, which is more than most cruisers, I, like the other cruisers, had to leave for New Zealand by November 1 or face the threat of tropical cyclones. It's not that any of us wanted to spend so little time in Tonga, it's just that French Polynesia is assumed to be the big thing in the South Pacific, so most cruisers treat Tonga as a last quick stop on their way to New Zealand. This is unfortunate. I fell in love with Tonga and knew that I would return. At the time, however, I had no idea that I would return to spend all of the 2002 cruising season in 'The Friendly Isles'.

The combination of spending six months between the 2001 and 2002 South Pacific cruising seasons living the high life in New Zealand and watching the economic downturn in the United States inspired my money-making fantasies. While in a Kiwi bookstore looking for a cruising guide to Tonga's fabulous but sometimes feared Ha'apai Group, I discovered there was no cruising guide for all of Tonga. The Moorings has its guide to Vava'u, and other guides include parts and pieces of Tonga, but a comprehensive guide did not exist. Further, even The Moorings' guide to the most popular cruisers' spot lacked the kind of basic information most cruisers expect when choosing a cruising guide. So I decided that I would spend all of the 2002 cruising season in Tonga creating the definitive cruising guide to that country.

I must confess the project was a result of both inspiration and desperation. I knew that by the end of my six months in New Zealand I would be out of money. The guide needed to get done, and I needed somehow to get it published and sold. I had no idea how it was going to happen, just that it would. Having made the decision that this was something I was determined to see through, I set aside enough money for a plane ticket and set sail for Tonga. Although my return to Tonga began as a scheme to make money, it evolved into a passionate personal mission to help share all of Tonga with future cruisers.

You have no idea how much work is involved in creating a cruising guide. You will never hear me complaining about Charlie's Charts again. So what if he blew a waypoint? My guide ended up with well over a hundred waypoints, and regardless of how hard I tried, I can't imagine that there wasn't an error or two. It's simply a lot of digits. Recording the waypoints confirmed the advice seen on most all charts - never rely on just one aid to navigation.

In some ways it was a miracle the guide got completed at all. I documented over 90 anchorages, and this can be hazardous work. Topaz's keel carries the scars of the unintentional discovery of several coral heads. My dependence on electronics also made the guide's completion tenuous. The digital camera I was using to photograph each anchorage succumbed to a rainstorm. I overcame the loss with a film camera and a scanner. A wayward splash took out my laptop's keyboard, but fortunately I carried a spare. A slippery coffee cup tried to kill my laptop monitor, but a quick disassembly and drying saved the day. Friends wisely suggested backups, and a mothballed zip drive was recommissioned, so I treated disks with the 150 mg of cruising guide with as much care as I'd give to an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Although the project was more work than I ever imagined, it also forced me to see more of Tonga than I would have otherwise. This was a very good thing, for the more I saw, the more I realized how magnificent Tonga really is! From the remote and topographically dramatic Nuiato-putapu, through the island wonderland of Vava'u, amongst the reefs shoals and lagoons of the Ha'apai, to the often missed beauty of Tongatapu, Tonga is truly one of the most interesting and rewarding cruising grounds in the Pacific. No two anchorages are the same, and all have something to offer. Nowhere else in the Pacific are the islands more varied and remote without being so far apart.

I am in San Jose while Topaz swings on a mooring in Neiafu. I have managed to raise money to get the guide printed, and it's now available online from www.cruisetonga.com and will soon be available at all the usual places that carry cruising guides. Thanks to both friends and family - and a lot of begging on my part - I have been able to make the guide available to those headed across the Pacific this season. As for myself, I plan to return to Tonga before May, pick up Topaz and continue west. I have hopes of making Cape Town in a year, but one never knows when one is cruising. See you out there!

- ken 1/15/03

Readers - David Kennedy, an expert on cruising guides, advises that Hellewell did a good job.

Cruise Notes:

The bad news is that five yachts - including one from Sausalito - were shot at off the coast of Yemen. The good news is that nobody was hurt. We got the report from Don and Katie Radcliffe of the Santa Cruz-based Beneteau 456 Klondike, currently racing in Royal Langkawi International Regatta in Malaysia, who received it from their Aussie friends on Penyllan. The following is an edited version.

"At 0800 on March 9, we were in the company of four other yachts 50 miles off the coast of Yemen, about 100 miles from Somalia. The other yachts were Sea Dove with Rod and Karyn from Brisbane; Gypsy Days with Brian and Margaret Horwell from Melbourne; Narena, with Bruce and Cheryle Matthew from Phillip Island, and Imani, with Mark and Doreen, and children Maya and Tristan from Sausalito. As I was about to give a routine position report to a SSB net, we spotted three fast motorized dhows coming across our track from the direction of Somalia. By chance, Mike, skipper of Bambola, a yacht which had been attacked near our position the week before, happened to be on that SSB net describing the attack on him. I broke into his conversation and asked for a quick description of the pirate's boats. His description was consistent with that of the ones approaching us - local dhows, 20 meters long, probably made of wood, inboard powered, and covered with bright blue and orange plastic sheeting, possibly to conceal their identity or their cargo. By this time the boats in our group had formed a very tight circle and increased our speed to 6.5 knots, the maximum we could sustain as a group. One of the three dhows diverted from their original course and began heading directly for our port quarter. When it was about half a mile away, we could hear shots being fired. We immediately put out a Mayday; Karyn on Sea Dove via VHF, while I called the skippers of Skive and Bambola, who were in direct communication with the German Navy headquarters in Djibouti. They informed us that help was on its way, but that it would take several hours. Further repeated calls of Mayday on other channels brought no response.

"The dhow that shot at us was only very slowly overtaking us, so an anxious 10 or 15 minutes followed. There were no further shots. As we tried to coax more speed from our engines, the one dhow remained in pursuit, but the others, appearing to be heavily laden with people, did not. Our continuing barrage of Maydays resulted in a response from a Panamanian registered freighter, which said it was turning toward our position. Then a U.S. warship reported they would be at our position in three hours. The attacking dhow finally gave up the chase. Maybe it was because it was going to take him a long time to catch us, or because we were grouped close together, or because of the appearance of the merchant vessel Royal Pescadores.

"Less than 90 minutes after the shots were fired, a Coalition Forces four engine Orion Navy aircraft made contact. Ultimately he was unable to tell the pirates from other small boat traffic in the region. Thankfully, we escaped attack unscathed and will pass the worst danger zone by tonight. We have two to three days to go before we enter the 'Gates of Sorrow' at the southern end of the Red Sea and near the relative safety of Eritrea. As you can imagine, our adrenaline is up, but we are all pleased that we all handled things well under pressure, and are very grateful that we have been so lucky."

As most Latitude readers know, historically, the Gulf of Aden has been the scene of a number of violent attacks on yachts, some of which resulted in injury and death, and several which left boats riddled with bullet holes. As such, yacht convoys are common. There was fear that there would be many more attacks after 9/11, but there were not - at least until very recently.

As for the Radcliffes, they're having a ball at the Regatta in Muslim Malaysia. "Even without a spinnaker we're doing well in Cruising Class B, and can hardly keep up with all the parties! It's just like the King's Cup in Phuket, Thailand."

"Latitude was a great help in getting me prepared to cruise Mexico for the last two years," reports Larry Pascoe of the Del Mar-based Catalina 36 Sabbatical. "I left with the 2001 Ha-Ha fleet and have had a great time cruising the Sea of Cortez and as far south as Barra de Navidad. During this time the Mexican officials and people have been very kind and generous - except for a recent incident at the El Cid Marina fuel dock in Mazatlan. I topped off my fuel tanks there in February - but was politely told that I could not take on water! When I stopped at El Cid again while heading north, they still had the same policy. The manager told me they'd had problems with boaters taking on too much water, so they currently weren't allowing it. When I suggested they should limit the amount of water or even charge for it, he said he thought all cruising boats had watermakers. He may install a water meter to control usage. I was disappointed with their poor attitude and will limit my fuel purchases to more friendly sources - such as the nearby Isla Mazatlan Marina, which has fuel and water for cruisers."

Taking on unlimited water is a given when buying fuel in the United States, but it's not the case elsewhere, particularly in dry areas. Some marinas in Mexico - probably including the El Cid - make all their water, so it's not free. Maybe they have a quota for the marina that keeps being exceeded. There's also the problem with ultra thrifty cruisers who will buy $5 of gas as an excuse to try to take on 200 gallons of machine-made freshwater. If the El Cid folks were polite - as you say they were - it's their business if they don't want to give out water. But they'll soon learn that it's bad business once the word gets out and everybody starts buying their fuel at Isla Mazatlan Marina. This is an example in a nutshell of why free markets are so much better than monopolies.

"We're sending some photos of February 24 Cruiser Appreciation Day at the Nextahualcotyl School in Zihuatanejo," write Paul and Kathi Marak of Ryokosha. "This event was held in appreciation of the $23,000 raised by cruisers during the recent Zihua Sail Fest. Appreciation Day was wonderful and lively, and the children were very grateful.

"A belated Happy New Years!" write John, Cynthia, and Mattie the boat dog in the Bahamas aboard the Jeanneau 45 Utopia - which replaced the Utopia they'd cruised in Mexico for three years. "After spending the month of January outfitting our new Utopia, we had a great sail across the Gulfstream to the Bahamas. We're currently holed up in Georgetown due to the weather. The air and water temperatures here are perfect, and it's very different from our three years of (motor)sailing on the west coast of Mexico. In the Bahamas, you pay $100 for a one-year cruising permit, which includes a fishing license for the boat and crew. After that, you don't have to check in again. What's crazy is that they will only give you a visa for 90 days. They can be renewed, but not for a total of a year. I guess they want to keep the airlines going, as you have to leave and then come back. Nothing is perfect."

"We were among those who felt Mexico was starting to cost too much," continue John and Cynthia. "How wrong we were! Gasoline is $3.44 a gallon in the Bahamas, while diesel is $2.41 a gallon. It's $3 U.S. for a beer, and $36 for a case. You can take the stateside price of any food item and count on it being double here. A roll of good toilet paper costs $1.35, a roll of bad paper towels is $1.95. The one good surprise came when we needed to buy a new outboard - just $1,600 for a new Johnson 15 hp. Good sailing to all our friends!"

Why is it that outboards are so cheap in the Bahamas and Caribbean when compared to the United States and Mexico? A 15 hp Mercury two-stroke in the West Marine Catalog is about $2,100, which after tax comes to nearly $2,300. Since there's no tax at many places in the Caribbean, that's almost $700 more.

What does it cost if you're afflicted with a serious medical condition and need to be airlifted back to the United States immediately from the Eastern Caribbean? Try $50,000. A couple of years ago it was about $25,000 from Puerto Vallarta to San Jose. By the way, if you've got an ultra gold-rimmed platinum American Express or other super credit card that you think entitles you to a medevac flight, read the fine print first. You can't just call up a jet on your own and have them pay for it. You have to get approval first. Judging by the time it sometimes takes to get through to credit card companies, you'll probably die before you get approval.

"In the February issue you wrote about our wonderful trip to Isla Soccoro in the Revillagigedo Islands off Mexico," writes Pete Boyce of the Northern California-based Sabre 402 Edelweiss III. "You mentioned that a permit is required, but not how to get one. We got ours - it cost $600 U.S. - through John Riffe in La Paz. His phone/fax number is 011-52-112-55108, and people can . Riffe is also a member of Sea Watch, an organization dedicated to a healthy Sea of Cortez. Their website is www.seawatch.org."

Thanks for the info. The Sea Watch website is an excellent one that all Mexico-bound cruisers should check out. Among other things, it explains how longliners fish the Revillagigedos, even though it's a Marine Reserve. Unfortunately, Mexico doesn't have the resources necessary to effectively patrol their offshore islands or the Sea of Cortez.

"While in Mexico last year, I met Jerry Lumbard, owner of the Lagoon 38 cat Beyond Reason," reports Bernard Slabeck of San Francisco. "I later sailed with him from Cabo to La Paz, then down to Puerto Vallarta. I just now - after some flight delays and missed connections - joined him again, this time in Roatan, Honduras. It blew 25 to 35 knots the first few days, so we stayed in the marina at what is called the French Harbor YC. Like a lot of 'yacht clubs' outside of the United States, it's not a yacht club at all but rather a private hotel, restaurant, and marina. From what I've seen, it's typical Third World down here - a mix of local shack life and beautiful beaches. Of course, I haven't been to the big city or the bigger resorts. A couple of days ago we went on a scuba dive - what a mind blower! I had heard that the diving was incredible, and it's no exaggeration. The guy at the marina dive center said the water was a little stirred up from all the wind but that it was still "okay". I figured they would never want to say the diving is bad in order not to lose any business. But as soon as I entered the water and experienced 60-foot visibility, I thought 'this is just okay?' I saw some sponges that were as big as garbage cans! I went 90 feet down a wall - I only wish I had a dive camera. Yesterday we left the marina for a sail around the lee side of the island. It was a lovely sail in 15 to 18 knots of wind. We did a little snorkeling around the boat before sunset, then had stir fry chicken and veggies for dinner. It's the good life!"

"My husband Ben and I met you and Doña de Mallorca in Careyes last month," writes Lisa Newton of the Berkeley-based Cooper 416 Waking Dream. "You took some photos of us, and some others of Michael and Mary Brooks of the San Francisco-based Ericson 38 Danseuse de la Mer, as we were all planning on going to the South Pacific in March. We've had a change in plans. Waking Dream will be heading into the Sea of Cortez for the summer season. Come October, we'll be putting the boat up on the hard in San Carlos or Mazatlan, and will spend the hurricane season backpacking through coastal Central America, especially Costa Rica and Peru. In March of 2004, we'll head across the Pacific for French Polynesia and ultimately New Zealand."

Since you and Ben are on a 10-year cruise, it's smart to take your time. But may we make a suggestion? July, August, and September are hotter than Hades in the Sea, and therefore the best time to be travelling elsewhere. By early October the temperatures have dropped and it's actually one of the best months in the Sea. So to our thinking, it would be better to take your vacation from cruising earlier rather than later. True, October is still hurricane season, but they are relatively rare in the Sea and you generally get plenty of warning - particularly if you are in the upper Sea. No matter what you do, have fun.

Under the heading of great minds think alike . . .

"We met you last month in Careyes with Ben and Lisa on Waking Dream," write Michael and Mary Brooks of the Ericson 38 Danseuse de la Mer. "Because of insurance problems, we're going to spend the season in the Sea of Cortez and cross the Pacific next spring."

"Here's some good news from Mazatlan," report Jan Loomis and Geoff Wickes of the Valiant 40 Meridian Passage. "The entire cruising community here has been involved in a major fund-raising effort for the Bomberos de Mazatlan, better known as the Volunteer Fire Department. It's hard to believe, but this city of over 500,000 has only two fire stations, 10 hydrants, and 60 volunteer fire-fighters. Thanks to fund-raising activities such as fire extinguisher demonstrations and certification, photos with Santa, a Chili Cook-Off, a Bake Sale, an auction, and sales of shirts embroidered with 'Amigos de Bomberos, Mazatlan' on the back, cruisers raised $2,300. Fund-raising efforts will continue through Carnival until we reach our goal of $4,000 so they can buy a 'Jaws of Life' apparatus used to extricate accident victims from inside crumpled cars. The Fire Department in Mazatlan's sister city of Santa Monica has agreed to match whatever funds we raise."

"When I last wrote, I was worried about the oil spill in Trinidad," writes John Anderton of the Alameda-based Sanderling. "But now I've spent the last two weeks in Sint Maarten enjoying the pre, during, and post Heineken Regatta parties. As you probably know, the bridge into the Simpson Bay Lagoon has been enlarged for the megayachts of the rich. To pay for the expansion, Dutch Sint Maarten has decided to implement a tax on all boats, "creating a hole" in Sint Maarten waters, both inside and outside the lagoon. Currently it's not known when the fees will be instituted or how they will be collected. But the fees will be $40 U.S. a month for up to a 40-ft boat, $60 for boats between 45 and 63 feet, on up to $300 a month for boats over 90 feet. The French or St. Martin side of the lagoon is free, so it's a no brainer where boats will congregate. However, the Dutch may consider the whole lagoon to be theirs. I leave tomorrow for St. Barts to continue island hopping south for hurricane season."

Earlier in this issue there's a Changes from Allison 'Marina Chick' Mahan about sailing the Caribbean with her boyfriend Curt aboard Force Five. During a followup email, she mentioned they were in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, a place we kicked around a bit back in the early '90s. During the day, the downtown area was crowded with shoppers. But when the shops closed at 5 p.m., people fled as if leaving a war zone. We asked her if it was still as dangerous. "Charlotte Amalie is still pretty rough after dark," Allison said. "Curt and I went looking for a watering hole one night when we first arrived, and when we finally found one, they looked at us as though we were nuts. On another subject, the Virgins - meaning both the U.S. and British - have a lot of 'charter boat anchorages', such as Foxys at Jost van Dyke, and then 'cruiser anchorages' that are more out of the way. We liked the islands, but are definitely happy to be back in some grittier spots with salty-dog ex-pat types. We've since moved down to Culebra, which, along with Carriacou in the southern Caribbean, has become one of our favorites. The characters here are right out of a movie. We're next off to Isla Culebrita for a few days, then maybe to Vieques, all in the 'Spanish Virgins'.

After 15 years of cruising aboard Aztec, Bob and Ginnie Towle, originally from Mill Valley, have swallowed the anchor in La Paz. Bob, an architect who had wearied of corporate management in the mid-'80s, and Ginnie decided to chuck it all by flying to Europe and buying a cruising boat. As we recall, they ultimately ended up purchasing the first one they looked at, a 46-footer vaguely similar to a Peterson 44. We first met them in Antigua seven years later, where we remember them saying, "Our seven years in Europe was just scratching the surface." In more recent years, they've been cruising in Mexico. In '99, they lived aboard Aztec while building Casa Axteca at Comitan on inner La Paz Bay. Their boat Aztec was finally sold in Long Beach in January. "We are enjoying our life in Mexico, playing tennis several times a week, gardening, finishing the house, and watching sunsets over our margaritas." The Towles are wonderful folks, we wish them all the best.

"We have an update from our February report on the marina situation in Cartagena, Colombia," report Tom and Kathy Knueppel of the San Francisco-based Island Packet 40 Tai Tam. Effective January 1, the Club de Pesca - the other marina close to the more cruiser-oriented Club Nautico - has raised its slip fees as follows: 1 to 15 days, .80 foot/day; 16 to 30 days, .60 foot/day; 31 days or more, .45 foot/day. Prior to January 1, it was just .35/foot, and it's still that if you were here before the price increase. We've been unable to determine why these rates were raised to such an unreasonable level, but suspect it's the old supply and demand coupled with greed. The Club Nautico continues to charge a reasonable .25/ft per day plus $ 2.00/day for water and electricity - which works out to be about .30 foot/day for a typical 40-ft boat. They deserve all the business they get. It is unfortunate that Club de Pesca has seen fit to start charging such exorbitant rates, and we feel that this will eliminate one of the options for cruisers to stay in this wonderful city, and as such will possibly impact the number of boats coming to Cartagena, a place we really enjoy."

What's it like aboard a small boat on the ocean during heavy weather? Tony Johnson of the Richmond-based Ericson 39 Maverick, now most of the way through his circumnavigation with Terry Shrode, offers the following description:

"Imagine a carousel that, instead of horses, has platforms that go up and down about 12 feet every eight seconds. On top of one of these platforms is a playground merry-go-round being swung back and forth like the motion of a washing machine. On top of the merry-go-round is a rocking chair that has its back cut off so another rocking chair, oriented at a 90° angle to the lower one, can sit on top of it. You're in the top rocking chair. Each stage of this tower is remotely controlled by a nine-year-old boy. He is told to jerk his control back and forth in a manner calculated to produce the most discomfort possible to the passenger. He is told he is allowed to have no mercy, and that in fact the passenger is his six-year-old brother. Heavy metal music is being played at a deafening volume. This pattern needs to be sustained for about three days. The nine-year-olds may get tired before then, but the sea doesn't."

It's not surprising that this topic crossed Johnson's mind, as he's recently been sailing from the Eastern Caribbean to Panama during a time of year when the trades usually blow hard. He continues:

"We were on the radio to the famous Herb of Southbound II, the weather guru who helped a lot of people, including ourselves, cross the Atlantic. We were saying to Herb, "Please make it stop." So he says, "Well, you sail this-a-way and that-a-way and pretty soon or in a day or so when you hit longitude 76, you should see some moderation of the conditions." Herb's a genius, almost, but he told us we'd see 20-25 knots out there and we were seeing 30-35. The funny thing was, he seemed not to believe us. He had predicted 20-25 knots, so that's what it was, and anyway you know how those sailor guys lie. But we were down to a double-reefed main with about four feet of headsail showing, and Maverick was never seeing the south side of eight knots, but surfing to 12, 13, and even 14 knots. I don't think it was even blowing 20 knots, it was going down the waves. At least we were going fast. The first three days out of Grenada heading west, Maverick turned in days of 158, 177, and 170 miles. After leaving Aruba, we did 204, 175, and on the third day, the last half of which saw us in somewhat lighter winds, 155 miles. We're now anchored in the storied San Blas Islands on the north coast of Panama at the very end of the Atlantic Ocean. We're also at the end of another phase of the voyage, one that had a little more adventure to offer than we would have liked."

"We're sailing once again, and it sure feels good!" reports Blair Grinols of the Vallejo-based 46-ft catamaran Capricorn Cat, currently in the Marshall Islands. The cat had partially gone on a coral reef about a month ago after a severe windshift in the middle of the night. Both rudders and daggerboards were damaged. Having built the boat, Grinols knew how to fix them. "We reinstalled the rudder late yesterday afternoon, provisioned the boat, and got underway this afternoon about 1 pm. The wind is about 10 knots across the deck from the starboard quarter, so it's cool and we're making about eight knots under the small spinnaker. The seas are moderate so we're very comfortable. It also sure feels great not to be itching all the time from working with fiberglass. It's been a busy couple of weeks, but now I finally may be able to open a book again."

"I've enclosed a photo of my new trimaran Even Kiehl," reports Stuart Kiehl of Santa Rosa. "I bought her not far from the Alaskan border. Her diesel stove will be removed in San Diego, hopefully just in time so I can enter her in Baja Ha-Ha X in late October."

Dear Readers, please keep the Cruise Notes editor from going nuts. If you send in a photo, make sure it's reasonably high resolution. We can't use photos that go jaggy when bigger than one inch by one inch. In addition, remember that the essential elements to any report, no matter how short, are who, what, where, when, and why. Thus, the editor would have greatly appreciated it if our friend Stuart had written a report like this:

"I'm Stuart Kiehl of Santa Rosa, and am proud to announce that on March 1, I purchased a 1987 Brown Searunner 36 trimaran - renamed Even Kiehl - in Juneau, Alaska. Between now and the end of October I hope to sail her to San Diego for the start of Baja Ha-Ha X, which I've done three times before."

It's all there - who, what, why, when, and where - in just two short sentences. Thanks for remembering.

Looking to go cruising? Leslie King, who sent in the Changes on Tropicbird earlier in this issue, is looking for a "40-ish sailing partner to join me for the rest of the year in Asia and then after Christmas up the Red Sea to the Med." King wouldn't be looking for crew were his ladyfriend in San Diego still not afraid to travel after 9/11. King does have experience. In addition to having done the Singlehanded TransPac, since '93 he's sailed his Wilderness 40 to Mexico, then did a 10,000-mile summer from Pensacola to Key West to Isla Mujeres to Panama to the Galapagos to Hawaii to California. In '99, he sailed from San Diego to Hawaii to Fiji to Bribane. In the summer of '00, he and his ladyfriend sailed up the coast of Oz to Gove, Bali, Singapaore, and Langkawi. So he's not a novice. He can be reached .

If you've never done the Baja Ha-Ha Cruisers' Rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, consider attending the Grand Poobah's Sail Expo Ha-Ha Seminar at 4:30 p.m., Friday, April 25, in Tent B. You'll come away with an understanding of what to expect in the upcoming Ha-Ha X, and you'll meet plenty of Ha-Ha vets.

Note also that the Wanderer/Poobah invites all Rally vets (and others who are interested in the event) to join us at Latitude's Sail Expo Ha-Ha party, Friday, April 25 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in Seminar Tent "B." There's guaranteed to be a whole lotta Ha-Ha'in' goin' on.

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