April, 2005

With reports this month from Annie's Song on completing a 15-year circumnavigation; from Paloma on going on the beach under autopilot in Mexico; from the Pirates For Pupils fund-raiser at Punta Mita; from Namache on being ripped off by Customs in Mexico; from Shayna on her adventures on both sides of the Panama Canal; from the 25th Annual Heineken Regatta in St Martin; from Reba on a couple of differences between Mexico and the South Pacific; and Cruise Notes.

Annie's Song - Valiant 40
Stu & Annie Yellen
15-Year Circumnavigation
(San Francisco)

Please add Annie's Song and our names to your list of Bay Area boats and sailors that have circumnavigated. It was actually because of Latitude that we got up the nerve to sail under the Golden Gate and turn left in the first place! I didn't know anything about sailing when I met Stu, but he soon corrected that. We bashed around the Bay aboard an O'Day 26, then a Dufour 27, reading Latitude cover to cover every month. One day I told Stu that the people who were out there cruising weren't rich or super-talented, but rather ordinary people like us. That meant we could do it, too, so we have!

We left San Francisco in October '88 for Mexico, the South Pacific, and New Zealand. The lifestyle was so wonderful that we never even thought about turning back. It wasn't until May 9, 2004 - 15 years and 79,000 nautical miles later - that we crossed our outbound path. At the time we were on a slow and light-winded 43-day passage from Panama to Hawaii.

Having completed our circumnavigation, we've started a new adventure - exploring the myriad shorelines of the great Pacific Northwest. We love this beautiful area and will eventually sail to Alaska. We'll also explore the U.S. and Canada by RV for a couple of months each year.

Because it will take us years to get to see all that we want, we've established a new homebase here at Windslow Wharf Marina on Bainbridge Island. It's an interesting and lovely area, and just a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle. The air here is so fresh and clean, and after a rain smells of evergreen. We're finding Seattle to be a neat city, too. It's small enough not to be overwhelming, but big enough to have many things to see and do.

Seattle is a big contrast to Miami, which is where we were one year ago. But what a fun place that was! The basic requirements for yachties - a secure anchorage, easy access to shore, and a good public transportation system - were all there just around the corner from the entrance to Collins Canal. The harbor police came around frequently, and if someone was anchored illegally, they'd help them get legal.

After a short dinghy ride, we'd be just two blocks from the heart of South Miami Beach - an even more interesting place. It has lots of fascinating shopping, many competitively-priced restaurants, and best of all, great people-watching. We first noticed there were many beautiful women, most of whom were young and skinny. Miami needs women like that because it's a center of the fashion industry. Next we became aware of the bodybuilders, all of whom seemed to have just left the gym because they were all puffed up. Because they were so big, they walked with their arms well out from their sides and their legs spread apart. Transvestites, ladies of the night, and a few ordinary people such as ourselves completed the parade.

The folks in South Florida have a fascination with Al Pacino and the movie Scarface. We saw three stores devoted to Scarface memorabilia. But what a vibrant and lively city Miami is. It's full of immigrants, and we learned that Spanish truly is the local language. This became clear to us when we went into a kosher bakery and heard both the staff and customers speaking in Spanish! Naturally, there are many foods and restaurants representing the Latin countries. Of these, the Cuban restaurants serve the biggest meals. They are even bigger than American meals!

But now we're in Seattle and learning to love it. The weather has been much better than we expected, as it's not as cold and doesn't rain as much as we thought it would.

- annie & stu 3/8/05

Paloma - Pacific Seacraft 37
John Morris And Patricia Castillo
Error on Tenacatita Bay

This is the story of how a minor oversight can, if it happens at the wrong time, lead to terrible consequences. On the afternoon of February 9, John Morris and Patricia Castillo were returning to the main anchorage at Tenacatita Bay after visiting the little village of La Manzanilla to take care of internet business. Although it was no more than a couple of miles, they had put the autopilot on. At some point both of them went down below and became distracted or otherwise lost track of time. For the next thing they knew, the autopilot had driven their boat through the pounding surf and up onto the beach next to the Blue Bay Resort.

As this unfortunate accident was happening, about half of the Tenacatita cruising fleet was ashore, engaged in the daily rituals of playing bocci ball, taking walks, and playing dominoes. When Paloma was spotted floundering on the sand, everyone ran to try to help in some way. Some got in their dinghies, such as Bruce of Fifth Element, who set his big Fortress anchor in deep water and ran a line back to Paloma. This helped keep the bow turned in the general direction of deep water. Rob from Cat 'n About, a retired fireman, got a VHF and acted as the coordinator between Paloma, the helpers on shore, and the helpers in the dinghies.

Darryl from Overheated climbed aboard Paloma and closed all the ports and hatches, which had been allowing seawater to pour in. John from Scarlett O'Hara got his 300-ft long one-inch line - which had towed Scarlett six days last year after her rudder had broken on the way across the Pacific. He offered it to a big boat to try and pull the Pacific Seacraft off the beach. Another cruiser also had a large line, and in the end both of them were used. George from Clare de Luna swam lines to and from dinghies and the boat, and tried to pull Paloma's masthead over to temporarily reduce her draft.

It quickly became apparent that dinghy power alone wouldn't be enough to get Paloma off the beach, so Blarney, a DeFever 49 trawler, was asked to assist. They were able to get Paloma turned around, allowing John on the boat to start to grind in the anchor line. Alas, a cleat broke.

It was time for a new plan. The owner and captain from the 106-ft Attitude Adjustment came over in their 115-hp powered inflatable and offered their services. It was decided that they should pull the top of the mast over to make it easier to pull the boat. Meanwhile, Bob and Janie from the 40-ft trawler Amiga offered to try to tug the sailboat off the beach. A bridle was rigged to the trawler's two stern cleats, and with the powerful Attitude Adjustment dinghy pulling Paloma's mast over, another attempt was made. Scarlett's one-inch line broke under the stress, but thanks to a combination of forces and good timing with the surf, Paloma was pulled back into the safety of deep water.

The rescue had taken the help of about 50 people - including some guests from the hotel - over a period of about three hours.

It was immediately apparent that Paloma had suffered damage, as John was unable to steer her. So she was towed to a calm part of the bay and anchored. John from Scarlett and Jay from Alkahest spent several hours assessing the damage to Paloma's skeg, which had separated from the keel by about an inch. They tied lines in an effort to prevent any further separation, and reported that they felt the boat would be able to motor slowly, on her own, in calm weather, to Puerto Vallarta.

The inside of Paloma was a heartbreaking mess, as there was sand and saltwater everywhere and in everything. John and Patricia lost their computer, television, VHF radio, and many personal items. But at least they'd saved their boat. They expressed their thanks by hosting a dinner for everyone at the palapa on the beach the following week.

The couple were able to make a long and slow trip to Puerto Vallarta without help, and at last word were making preparations to haul the boat, make repairs, and replace damaged items. The whole works. For the duration of the ordeal, the couple have remained upbeat and have accepted their losses with a sense of humor. This is remarkable, for in another case of unfortunate timing, they had allowed their boat insurance to lapse a short time before the accident. They are nonetheless thankful they still have a boat, and plan to continue cruising Mexico in the future.

We all wish them well.

- renee prentice, scarlett o' hara

Pirates For Pupils
Spinnaker Run For Charity
Punta Mita To Paradise Marina

After a one-year absence, the renamed Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run For Charity returned to Banderas Bay as a good-time for a good cause, and as a tune-up for the Banderas Bay Regatta that would start two days later.

About 80 folks participated, mostly rounded up by Ronnie 'Tea Lady' and Lupe Dippe of the Catana 47 Moon & The Stars. The concept of the event is that folks who donated money come out from P.V. or Paradise Marina on boats, go ashore at Punta Mita in pirate outfits for lunch at the Dorado restaurant, then head back out to the boats for the always wonderful spinnaker run back to Marina Paradise.

There was one near glitch with this year's program. The surf was up - really up - at Punta Mita's Mexican Malibu right in front of the Dorado restaurant. This has been one of the best winters for surf at Banderas Bay, and the March 11th day of the Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run turned out to have one of the biggest swells of the year. Combined with a very low tide, it meant dinghies and pangas shuttling folks in and out had to dodge closeout sets and flying surfboards while avoiding paddlers in their path. To the best of our knowledge, nobody was killed. That might have been because some folks elected to stay out on the boats and not come ashore at all.

The pirate costumes were a new feature this year, and a few folks really got into it. Jeff Nelson of the trimaran Moon Me, who seems to have a large wardrobe of sketchy outfits, won a lobster lunch from Dorado Restaurant for the best men's costume, while local girls Katie and Michelle took honors for the best women's costumes. We expect a lot more costumes next year as Disney's upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest will have everyone thinking and dressing more like pirates.

Four catamarans and one monohull carried the bulk of the folks who donated money. The boats were Mai Dolich's Belvedere-based Marquesas 56 Dolce Vita, Blair and Joan Grinols' Napa-based 45-ft Capricorn Cat, David Crowe's Puerto Vallarta-based Morrelli/Choy 70 Humu-Humu, John and Nancy Moore's Puerto Vallarta-based Hunter 50 Break 'n Wind, and Latitude's 63-ft cat Profligate.

The Pirates For Pupils is more a parade than a race, so there were no losers. In fact, the sailing conditions on Banderas Bay were so typically good that everyone who got out on any of the boats was a winner. The wind blew at 10 to 17 knots, the seas were pancake-flat, the air temperature was 85, the water temperature was 81, and there were blue skies. It proved once again that Banderas Bay has the best sailing conditions - by far - in Mexico.

In fact, the only good thing missing were the coeds from Dartmouth on Spring Break. Some of you may remember that in the 2003 Pirates For Pupils, one of the crew of Profligate invited four lovely young - and rather voluptuous - girls on Spring Break from Dartmouth to come with us. Shockingly, they agreed. It seemed like they had a good time - they came out and did one Banderas Bay Race with us, too - but we couldn't really tell. Then the day before this year's event we received an email from one of the girls. She wrote that they had all graduated and were now working in "dreary New York City". She said the only thing that made their lives bearable was remembering the Spring Breaks they'd enjoyed together, and that the best Spring Break they ever had was the time they sailed on Profligate in the Pirates For Pupils. So it was nice having their good vibes along with us.

In fact, maybe the only thing cooler was the fact that all the boats arrived at the entrance to Nuevo Vallarta at a very low high tide a big swell running. In fact, the waves were breaking and even closing out all the way across the entrance, providing great entertainment to hundreds of people. Boats surfed in like crazy. Getting the two of the best rides of the afternoon, and on the same wave, were the 'cattlemaran' Geronimo and Bill and Karen Vaccaro's Chico-based Moody 44 Miela. It was a mini-Southern Ocean for them. The skipper of Geronimo had so much fun on his first ride that he dropped all his passengers off and came back out to catch another wave. Harbormaster Dick Markie, who had been conscientiously guiding each boat in from his post on the north jetty, was fit to be tied. But it was a great way to end the day.

A total of about $1,700 was raised. Some $1,200 of it from individuals, and $500 in the name of the participants in last year's Baja Ha-Ha. The money will go to various school projects around Banderas Bay, with $500 of it earmarked specifically for the village of Emiliano Zapata at Punta Mita. We know it's a modest amount, but we'll be back year after year to help grow this worthwhile cause. We hope you'll be able to join us sometime.

We'd like to thank everyone who contributed their boat, money, or time to help organize this year's event.

- latitude 38

Namache - Catalina 42
Lee & Sharon Kochert
Shakedown In Mexico
(Phoenix, Arizona)

There may be less corruption in Mexico today than there was four years ago when Vincent Fox assumed the president's office, but Lee Kochert of Namache knows for a fact that it has not been eliminated. A few months ago, he was shaken down for nearly $10,000 by corrupt customs officials just south of Nogales, Mexico.

Lee and his wife Sharon have cruised Mexico for the last five years, and are very fond of the Mexican people. The only little problem they ever had were some false charges on a credit card, and that was quickly taken care of. But this was before early December, when Lee attempted to drive south from the United States to their boat at Marina San Carlos with some boat gear such as radar, an SSB radio, and an EPIRB. They needed this gear in order to sail across the Pacific to Brisbane, Australia.

Rather than use the main route through Nogales, Kochert decided to use the trucker's bypass at 8:30 in the morning. He immediately began looking for a customs office. The first he saw was at kilometer 21, so he went in with a list of all the gear, intending to pay the appropriate duty. Nobody had instructed him to stop. Indeed, if he would have just kept on going - as a lot of cruisers would have done - nothing would have happened. He was about to learn the truth of Mark Twain's adage: 'No good deed goes unpunished.'

But Kochert is a guy who likes to play by the rules, so he gave an official a list of stuff he was importing and asked where he needed to go to pay the duty. The official - who Kochert describes as "about 30, arrogant, and pretending to only speak Spanish" - told him that it was too late, he'd already gone too far into Mexico without paying. When Kochert was asked where he was supposed to have declared the goods, he was told on the other side of the customs building, the one closer to the United States!

Kochert said he'd go back and pay, but the agent wouldn't let him. There were other agents around, and he tried to show them the list of equipment he'd made up, the Temporary Import Permit for his boat, and a letter from San Carlos Marina explaining that he was importing the gear for his boat. The other officials pretended they didn't understand English.
Kochert was made to understand that they were turning the issue over to their 'legal department', so he was forced to wait and wait. About 10 hours later, the official told him customs was confiscating his $5,000 worth of marine gear, and were going to hold his car until he paid an additional $2,700 in fines!

Not knowing what else to do, he caught a ride back to the U.S., got the money for the fine, and returned to the customs office. When he gave the officials the money, the situation became even worse. Once the cash got into the officials' hands, a miracle occurred - they all suddenly became fluent in English. They told him that the computer had made a mistake and that he owed an additional $1,700 in fines!

"Before that point I had been scared," he remembers, "but that made me mad! I told the officials, "You fined me for my mistake, but now you've made your own mistake. I demand to speak to your superiors!""

They disappeared behind a door. When they came out 45 minutes later, they announced that there had been a new ruling. They were still going to keep all the marine gear and the $2,700 fine, but he was now free to leave with his car. And he did. "I was in such shock about the incident that I drove to Magdalena, 60 miles south of Nogales, before I called Sharon," Kochert remembers.
Once Kochert got to Marina San Carlos, Lee and Sharon spoke with an attorney who directed them to an attorney in Hermosillo. After meeting with the second attorney, they learned that he wanted a $1,000 retainer. They decided this would be throwing good money after bad, and declined. The attorney finally agreed to take the case in return for 40% of whatever might be recovered. "But he hasn't done anything on the case and we don't expect that he will," they say.

Over the years, Kochert had previously been across the border about 25 times, never with anything to declare, so he never stopped. The one time he was required to stop, he did, and he got screwed. "It hasn't changed my opinion of the people of Mexico, as they are terrific. It's officialdom that you can't trust."

Still needing the marine gear, Kochert returned to the States and bought replacement stuff and some other marine gear. He crossed the border again at Nogales on February 4, but this time at the main crossing rather than the truck route. Despite having been screwed out of almost $10,000, he stopped at the customs building again. "I just like to do things the right way."

This time the agent didn't try to assess any fines. On the other hand, he refused to sign a document saying that Kochert had tried to pay duty. "He just wasn't interested. When I tried to insist, he gave me the impression that if I didn't like it, I could go back to the United States. He was a surly guy with a chip on his shoulder."

As Kochert says, the problem in situations such as he was in is that you're completely vulnerable - especially if you don't speak the language well. If you obey the law and declare the stuff, you might get shaken down - as he was. But if you don't declare the goods and get caught, you might get put in jail.

Actually, we've never heard of any cruisers getting put in jail for failing to declare they were importing marine gear. In fact, we've never heard of any cruiser who has had to pay even a fraction of what Kochert paid for trying to do the right thing.

So what should a cruiser do in a situation like that? Abide by the law, or adhere to the Mexican proverb that says it's easier to ask forgiveness than it is permission? Each person has to decide for him/herself. The only thing that's for certain is that corruption is extremely corrosive to the well-being of any society.

- latitude 03/18/05

Shayna - Hylas 45.5
Larry Hirsch & Dorothy Taylor
Still Cruising At 76 & 78
(San Diego)

When we came back through the Panama Canal in April of last year, it meant we were finally in the Pacific again after spending most of five years in the Med. Here's a little of what we'd been up to before and after that Canal transit:

Before transiting the Canal we spent two months in Cartagena, Colombia, followed by some interesting dallying at the nearby Rosario Islands. From there we made the near-obligatory stops at the San Blas Islands, Linton, and Portobello, all of which are in Panama. It was with some reluctance that we continued west into the Pacific, as it meant that it would be the completion of our 12-year odyssey from San Diego.

In our opinion, the best part of the Caribbean isn't the Eastern Caribbean that is so popular with charter sailors, but rather from the ABC Islands - Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao - to Panama. Yes, the passages can be rough in those waters, but we've met other yachties who feel the same way as we do. Indeed, some of them have spent three or four years enjoying these less-heralded waters.

Our Canal transit itself was uneventful - although we had a bit of a stickler for a Canal advisor. He would only drink from his own water bottle, and required a full-course cooked meal during the transit. He is also known for leaving boats mid-transit at Lake Gatun if he feels the line-handlers aren't up to his standards.

We also enjoyed the islands on the Pacific side of Panama. Bahia Honda was the same as we remembered from 10 years before, but some of the other islands had become national parks and others were restricted because they were now privately owned.

Moving north, we stopped at Land & Sea Yacht Services at Golfito, Costa Rica, which is run by Tim and Katie. Ex-cruisers, they understand the needs of cruisers and thus provide moorings, boat-watching, a club house with cable TV, a beer and juice bar, and a dinghy dock. All for a minimal daily fee. They have just one space at their tiny dock for a cruising boat to hook up with electricity and water, for which they charge $7/foot/month. We left Shayna there for two months to attend the graduations of our multiple grandkids back in the States. Banana Bay Marina, right next door, charges $18 to $20/ft for berths. K & B Marina, which is new and located on the other side of Land & Sea, had negotiable rates. But we were never able to find out what they were.

Golfito is on a bay within Gulfo Dulce, and is extremely well-protected. It is one of the few places we've been where we'd feel safe leaving our boat unattended at anchor. The winds are usually light and Tim is extremely conscientious in checking the boats if a squall comes up. We've seen him out in his panga at 0200 making sure everything is fine. It's a good place to hang out for hurricane season - they develop further north - and we know of six or seven boats that did just that. Mold is a problem in the rainy season in Costa Rica, but Katie has a cleaning gal who wipes everything down with vinegar for very little money. When we returned, Shayna was cleaner than when we left.

U.S. citizens are allowed 90 days on both their cruising permit and visa. The cruising permit can be renewed once, but it must be done the day before or on the day the original one expires. Some marinas are able to keep boats in bond. If you want to get a new visa, you take a short ride to La Frontera - the border with Panama. It's a fun trip, and if you really want to do it right, continue on the bus to David and spend a couple of days in Panama's second largest city.

When we returned from the States, we brought along one of our grandsons who was just out of high school and wanting a taste of the world for 10 days. He especially wanted to do the rain-forests, and Larry obliged. The two of them did a tour that including sliding on an aerial cable through the treetops 60 feet off the ground, some rappelling down the face of a cliff, and even a bungie jump. There's no fool like an old fool, but my 73-year-old sailor did it all - and even lived to tell about it.

We finally left Golfito in early September, stopping in Bahia Drake and Quepos, which are both in Costa Rica. We'd enjoyed these anchorages 10 years ago, but this time a strong southerly swell had the anchorage - and us - rolling like crazy. We finally went up to the Gulf of Nicoya to get some rest. It was still too rolly at Bahia Ballena, our favorite anchorage, so we moseyed on up to Punta Naranja. For a small fee, we once again had all the facilities of the hotel, including a pool, hammocks, restaurant, and phones. Plus, they have a truck that will take diesel jugs to be filled. They'll even take you to the ferry for the short ride across the gulf to Puntarenas.

While at a boat show, we heard from a developer that San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, is an up-and-coming place for cruisers, and that once you anchor, they'll send a boat out for you. Well, we anchored, let the people ashore know we were there, but nobody came for us. The swells were still going strong - in fact, they were surfing all along the bay. They later did provide a shoreboat service. We checked into Nicaragua at San Juan del Sur with no problem, but they charged about $25 more than to check in at Roberto Membrano's Marina Puesta del Sol Resort and Marina, which is a little further north. You also have to walk around to all the offices, whereas the officials come to you on your boat at Puesta del Sol. U.S. citizens are given 90-day visas in Nicaragua, while there is no limit on how long a boat can stay.

After rolling for several days, we headed to Puesta del Sol, which is located on the smooth waters of an estuary. The entrance is a piece of cake. Coming from a northwesterly direction, head for 12 35.386N, 087 25.724W. This is a spot five miles offshore that will help you avoid a reef. You next head to a sea buoy at 12 36.4N, 08722.42W. Set a course of 72 degrees from there for the entrance to the estuary and follow the well-placed red and green markers to the marina. They monitor channel 16 and will help if you need it.

Membrano's place is a world-class marina in the making, with two pools, a restaurant, and much more to come. And it's all done very well. Roberto and his wife Maria Laura, originally from San Diego, are veterans of numerous Banderas Bay Regattas with their Peterson 46 Puesta del Sol, and are charming hosts. They treated us like family, with happy hours, dinners, and much more. Puesta del Sol is a bit remote, but the hotel's air-conditioned van will take you on the a bumpy road to Chinandega for shopping. And from there, you can find buses to Leon, Grenada, Managua, and other places in the country.

Puesta del Sol offers a well-protected marina with gorgeous views of volcanos, good surfing a short dinghy ride away, remote beaches, tennis courts, horseback riding, and they've even planned a golf course. The only problem is that the area seems to be prone to lightning strikes during the rainy season. Shayna was struck, and it fried all of our navigation equipment. There are very few companies in Nicaragua that can work on marine electronics, so it necessitated a quick trip to San Diego to pick up $10,000 worth of new equipment. We'd just switched insurers to Markel, and they could not have treated us better. They asked us to send an estimate of our repair costs, which we did. They sent us a check for the full amount - minus our deductible - before we'd even purchased the replacement stuff. And they allowed us to keep the claim open until we were sure we were aware of all the damage.

Senor Membrano notified customs that we'd be bringing the replacement equipment into the country and that we were a boat-in-transit in his marina. But nobody stopped us or questioned our baggage when we returned. Once we got the equipment to the boat it took a couple of weeks to rewire and check everything. We had lots of help and advice from others in the marina - especially John of Lady Geraldine.

One of our more exciting experiences was installing the depthsounder transducer while the boat was still in the water! The job required two toilet plungers, a yachtie with a sledge hammer in the boat, and Larry with his air hose in the water. We only took in about a quart of water. The most exciting part was when Larry ran out of air halfway through the job, requiring us to run around the dock scrounging another tank.

By the time we got our work done it was almost Thanksgiving, and Roberto and Maria Laura had planned a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. So we stayed longer. And by this time the north winds had started, so we non-macho cruisers decided to leave Shayna in the safe marina in Nicaragua rather than make the December bash up to Mexico.

We're about to return to our boat, with Mexico being our destination. We're looking forward to visiting our old haunts there, hoping it hasn't changed much since we last visited 11 years ago. We expect to spend the summer in the Sea of Cortez, and perhaps an entire year in Mexico.

P.S. We've got one tip for anyone planning to do any bluewater cruising but who can't justify the expense of a satellite phone with an email hookup: don't leave home without ham email (Winlink) or SSB email (SailMail). You really want to have one or the other, as they are really great.

- dorothy & larry 3/15/04

25th Annual Heineken Regatta
West Coast Sailors Kick Butt
Cherie Sogsti
(Southern California)

A record 261 entries representing 23 countries duked it out in the 25th Annual Heineken Regatta at St. Martin on March 4-6. Alas, all of the nearly 2,000 sailors on everything from beach cats to Peter Harrison's 115-ft Farr ketch Sojana had to deal with uncharacteristically light winds from everywhere but the normal tradewind direction.

The glamour of this year's big boat spinnaker division was no match for that of last year, which featured the debuts of the two MaxZ86s. Nonetheless, there was good competition between Puerto Rican Tom Hill's R/P 75 Titan 12, fresh off a new course record in the Miami to Montego Bay Race, and Joseph Dockery's R/P 81 Carrera, which was loaded down with rock stars like Ken Read, Chris Larsen, and nine others with America's Cup experience. Titan took three of the four races to walk away with honors.

Nobody, however, had more fun than the mobs on the 122 boats in the six charterboat divisions. Surprisingly, only 10 of the 122 were skippered and crewed by North Americans. Nonetheless, San Francisco skipper Jim Barton and his Bay Area Team Big Dog, featuring Northern Californians Marc Rosenfeld (helmsman), Daniela Ambrosi, Damian Emery, Dan Neff, Jessica Kirkoff, Kevin Kelly, Val Lambert and Monique Lafleur took first in Bareboat 3. Team Big Dog performed the best when it counted the most - they beat all 121 other charterboats in the last race.

Southern Californians Mark Duranty and co-captain Phil Otis, who were champions of the entire bareboat fleet last year, finished second. This was the duo's fourth straight year at the Heineken. They returned with eight of the same Southern California crew from last year: Papa Otis, Manolo Selma, Gerard Kraakman, Arjan Stoof, Dale Shrout, Carol Benassi, Els Kraakman, Mary Stoof, Jean Leitner, and me, Cherie Sogsti.

You don't have to be the most experienced sailor in the world to crew in the Heineken. Jean Leitner and I, for example, started our offshore sailing careers during the 2001 Baja Ha-Ha as cooks aboard the Swan 53 Mistress - positions that were a result of the Latitude Crew List Party. Our lives have taken a turn toward the horizon since then, and we've never looked back.

The Heineken has always welcomed woman racers, and this year there were no less than four all-female teams: Lipstick, Something Hot, Team Clima Airco, and Good Girls from Curaçao. Girl power on the water is more powerful than ever.

The drinking and partying at the Heineken is legendary. After the first race, the 12-pak of Heineken and litre of Mt. Gay next to me somehow disappeared. Prior to the start of the second race the next morning, I didn't feel so good. I had bananas and ice cream for breakfast because I figured they wouldn't taste that bad if they came back up. But like the countless other sailing wounded, I toughed it out.

After three days of racing in the tropical sun and four nights of wild partying, the Heineken culminated with an awards party on Kim Sha Beach followed by a live performance by singer Jimmy Cliff. His unforgettably charged performance inspired the crowds to hoot, holler and scream with whatever voices they had left. Through the haze of Heinekens, sailors raised their arms and joined the reggae legend in singing I Can See Clearly Now - even though many of them couldn't.

- cherie 03/09/05

Reba - Celestial 48
Steve & Jamie Sidells
Mexico & The South Pacific
(Incline Village, Nevada)

If you are wondering about the differences between cruising the South Pacific and Mexico, who better to ask than Steve and Jamie Sidells. For after four years of enjoying themselves wandering around the South Pacific, they recently had their boat shipped from Auckland to Mexico on a Dockwise Transport ship.

First, why ship the boat back? "There is no good way back to the United States from New Zealand," says Steve. "The usual route is Auckland, Guam, Midway, and the North Pacific, but we didn't want to make that long a trip. Shipping by Dockwise costs about the same as it would to have hired a crew, but the boat doesn't have to endure three months worth of wear and tear. Shipping the boat worked out well for us, and more and more cruisers are taking that option."

Now, about the main differences between Mexico and the South Pacific.

"The passages are definitely more challenging in the South Pacific because of the longer distances as well as the stronger winds and bigger seas," says Steve. "In addition, there aren't really any boat services to be found out there like there are in Mexico, so you have to be more self-sufficient. If something breaks, you have to fix it yourself or be carrying the spare part. On the other hand, there's much less bureaucracy in the South Pacific."

"For example," Steve continues, "we shipped our Furuno radar to Portland for repair. I told Furuno that we didn't want to use DHL because of the long history of problems cruisers have had with stuff shipped to Mexico by DHL. But Furuno insisted. Sure enough, when they sent it back, it got held up in Customs in Guadalajara - like so many other peoples' stuff. The Customs agents are claiming they didn't get this or that paperwork, but we carefully included all of it. We're not sure we'll ever get our radar back."

"Had we been at an island anchorage in New Zealand," says Jamie, "we could have ordered a new radar from West Marine, and it would have beaten us back to Auckland. They get stuff to New Zealand in 48 hours. Plus, we wouldn't have had to pay California sales tax, and because we're a boat-in-transit, we wouldn't have owed duty in New Zealand.

"Marine gear is no longer cheap in New Zealand," says Steve. "When buying stuff from West Marine and having it shipped over, we save anywhere from 10 to 40%. The days of the weak Kiwi dollar are over."

"The cost of living in New Zealand is high," agrees Jamie, "and it surprises some people. When you go out to a restaurant, it costs 10% more than a comparable one in the States."

"But," Steve points out, "there is no tipping."

Then we got into a discussion about the bureaucratic mess of clearing in and out of Mexican ports. For example, the two of them believe that if you check out of Puerto Vallarta for Acapulco with "intermediate stops", you can stop at Tenacatita Bay without having to check in with the port captain at Barra de Navidad. But if you just check out of Puerto Vallarta for Acapulco, you need to check in at Barra if you stop at Tenacatita. Well, as least maybe you do. Crazy, isn't it?

The bottom line is that the three of us agreed that: 1) Clearing in and out of Mexican ports is both ridiculously expensive and a waste of time; 2) That nobody really knows exactly what the clearing rules are; and 3) Even when they do know the rules, they are enforced differently in the different port captain districts. In other words, it's a mess that you don't find in the South Pacific.

We gave the Sidells another example of bureaucratic inconsistencies in Mexico. David Crowe of Humu-Humu is going through all the paperwork to make sure his catamaran Humu-Humu is legal to do surf charters in Mexico. It's going to take months and cost thousands of dollars, but he wants to do it right so he won't have trouble with any port captains. It just so happened that we'd just finished speaking with another American boatowner who had started the same process about six months before. When the port captain asked this individual why they were going to all the trouble, they said that they wanted to be legal. "Don't worry," the port captain reportedly said, "you don't need to do any of that." Furthermore, he said it wasn't even necessary to adhere to the requirement that only a Mexican national could be the skipper if the owner wasn't aboard.

Ah Mexico, the land of inconsistency.

One of the things Jamie has enjoyed about both the South Pacific and Mexico is learning to prepare meals with local ingredients and in the local ways. She particularly liked Fiji, where the Indian influence means there is a lot of variety. "I don't understand why so many cruisers are thrilled about Sam's Clubs and Wal-Marts opening in Mexico. When you go to the real local markets, the food is more interesting and delicious, and less expensive. Plus, it's a wonderful way to experience the culture and meet people."

We couldn't agree with her more. For those who will be visiting Puerto Vallarta in the future, make note that there's a great local market about three blocks behind the Sam's Club. It's a little funky, of course, but it's authentic and it's fun. And you can get incredibly delicious meals for almost nothing.

Steve and Jamie even raved about a bakery down in Barra that's run, of course, by a Frenchman. "When we're in Barra, we take orders over the radio for the cruising fleet up in Tenacatita," laughs Steve. "The last time we brought back 115 pastry orders! The baked goods are that delicious."

So what will it be, Mexico or the South Pacific? Steve and Jamie say the only solution is to cruise both of them. But having done four years in the South Pacific, for the foreseeable future they'll base their boat out of Paradise Marina, splitting time between their Incline Village home and their boat.

- latitude/rs 03/15/05

Cruise Notes:

A change in the wind? It's hard to come up with exact figures, but the number of people heading across the Pacific from Mexico this spring seems to be down slightly from previous years. We think one reason is that so many people are deciding to continue on down the coast to Central America instead. After all, there is no long passage involved, it's much less expensive than the South Pacific, and it's easier to get home. Then again, it's not the South Pacific either. We've got a scrambled list of Southbounders that we'll try to get sorted out for inclusion in the May issue.

"We absolutely love Latitude, and have read it faithfully whereever and whenever we've been able to secure a copy during what will soon have become our circumnavigation," write Kris and Sandra Hartford of the Alberta-based Nomotos. "We're currently in Venezuela planning our passage to Cabo San Lucas, at which point we will have completed our circumnavigation. According to the most recent news we've gotten from Mexico, the onerous system for clearing in and out of Mexican ports remains intact. What's the possibility that the system will be eliminated in the near future in favor of something like an annual cruising permit? We're hoping to do a couple of more years of cruising in the Sea of Cortez - our favorite cruising ground - before making our final passage home to Canada. But if the clearing system is still so bad, we may pass it up."

The same clearing system that has been wasting cruisers' time and money for so many years, remains in place. Legislation to eliminate all domestic clearing is pending in Congress, but is apparently caught in a legislative stalemate caused by recent battles between President Vincente Fox and Mexico City Mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador, who hopes to succeed him as president in 18 months. There is also talk that domestic clearing may be eliminated by a mere regulamento, which doesn't require the approval of Congress. But only time will tell. The negative effects of the current clearing requirements are most harsh on very active cruisers who frequently move from one port captain jurisdiction to another. If you're just going up to the Sea of Cortez to kick around for a few years, the system is much less onerous.

There's finally good news coming out of Puerto Escondido, Baja. And it's just in time for Loreto Fest, April 28, 29, 30, and May 1. Top officials at the Singlar organization, which has control of the moorings and anchorage, have apparently finally gotten the message that cruisers will leave a place rather than pay exorbitant rates. So first Singlar cut a special deal of $55 for any size boat for the duration of Loreto Fest week. Then on March 15, Singlar told Hidden Harbor YC Commodore Ralph Cadman that the $55 rate would be good for a total of 18 days, not just seven, making it an even better deal. Two days later Singlar told Cadman that the rates for many boats would be even lower. The new formula is about one peso/day/foot, plus 10% tax. As such, a 40-ft boat would pay a total of about $120 a month. That's not dirt cheap, but if Singlar follows through on their promises of opening the fuel dock and installing bathrooms, showers, and a laundry room, it wouldn't be too bad - especially since water and parking are included. The new rate will be effective through September 30 - and maybe even the end of December. If Singlar is wise, the rate would be in effect for two or three years.

Jeanette Heulin and Anh Bui of the Emeryville-based Bristol 32 Con Te Partiro offer this report on the condition of the previously-mentioned moorings at Puerto Escondido:

"Alvin dove on the mooring today and gave a good health report. The moorings are concrete blocks 5' x 5' x 5' with a 4-inch PVC pipe molded through the middle. A chain runs through the pipe and is shackled on top with a large swivel. A 25-foot long one-inch line runs from the swivel to a 25-ft length of chain, and the chain connects to the mooring ball with another swivel. Apparently the 25-ft chain was supposed to attach to the swivel on the bottom and then the 25-ft line on top of that, and I've been told they will fix it. In any event, there's also a length of one-inch line from beneath the mooring ball that's intended to tie to the bow of the boat using the mooring. That's the scoop. Boats are starting to move back into Puerto Escondido, and two came in today. The people in the Singlar office couldn't have been more helpful with us."

Antonio Cevallas, the new harbormaster at Marina Mazatlan, was one of our crew aboard Profligate in the three Banderas Bay Regatta races last month. Having come out of the sardine fishing industry, Antonio was in town getting some mentoring from harbormaster Dick Markie of Paradise Marina - who suggested he sail with us to better understand cruising and sailing. Antonio is a very nice guy who we believe wants to do all he can for cruisers. For example, when we advised him that his marina was losing business because the required ship's agent in Mazatlan was charging so much money, he decided to do something about it. He tells us he's worked out a deal with the port captain, where the port captain will let his office handle the paperwork. Apparently there will still be a fee, but hopefully it will be much less than the exorbitant $75 the agent was charging for his services for clearing in and out.

Antonio also wants everyone to know that Marina Mazatlan, along with the Mazatlan YC and others, will be hosting the first ever International Mazatlan Regatta on April 19-24. There are going to be so many activities that there is no way we could list them, so interested folks need to go to www.marinamazatlan.com for the details. While on the site, check out the ambitious plans the new owners of the marina have for the surrounding areas.

Shadowing the Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run charity fleet from Punta Mita to Marina Paradise in the middle of March was Bill Anderson's Northern California-based catamaran Feet. Anderson built the Hughes 36 himself, stretching the design to 40 feet before launching her in 2001. While Profligate was able to waterline Feet under a chute in the moderate conditions, we bet the little cat with a whopping 24-foot beam really flies in a strong following wind. After all, she's very light and her hulls have a 13:1 length to beam radio.

"My crew for the San Diego to Cabo leg were Mark Axen, who is finishing a complete rebuild on a Piver 40 tri in the Delta, and Tammy Burcar, his partner in the boat," said Anderson. "We made eight stops between San Diego and Cabo, and got to see a lot of the country. Mark got off in Cabo, while Tammy just moved ashore here in P.V., so I'm picking up a Mexican national for the trip south. I'm going to have to slow him down some, because he has boundless enthusiasm and energy. I'm still planning to spend the season in Costa Rica or Panama, and take my time getting there. My cat is holding up fine, although a combination of skipper error and a missing bolt cover on the dock in Mazatlan resulted in a hole being punched in the port hull. But it was no big deal."

"This year I left Trinidad on December 15 and have, once again, sailed to most of the islands in the Eastern Caribbean," reports John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling. "I have to tell you that I've discovered a delightful cruising area in the Caribbean that has no resorts, no hotels, no marinas, and no charter operations. It just has pristine anchorages being enjoyed by the crews of a few smaller cruising boats enjoying the peace and quiet before continuing on to the hassles of the more popular islands. The U.S. military used these islands for training until just a few years ago, and the cleanup is still underway. This area, known as the Spanish Virgins, consists primarily of the relatively small islands of Vieques and Culebra, is just a short sail from either the U.S. Virgins or Puerto Rico. The area is well charted in one of Don Street's cruising guides, so you can safely make passage between the many reefs and rocks.

"The small town of Culebra makes for an excellent place to resupply, leave the laundry, and get an internet fix," continues Anderton. "Local customs are observed, so the grocery store closes from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., reopening until 6:30 p.m. Happy hour is well-attended by cruisers as well as locals. These islands are part of Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth of the United States, so it was my first exposure to the new Homeland Security regulations. Everything went well, but the foreign-flagged boats had to deal with a few more layers of paperwork. I'll be continuing on to the 900-berth Puerto del Rey Marina on the east coast of Puerto Rico next week, so I'm getting ready for culture shock."

We used to hang out in Culebra in the '80s and '90s with Big O. In fact, had we not been hauled out in Virgin Gorda when hurricane Hugo hit, our Ocean 71 ketch surely would have been one of the 320 or so boats destroyed on the shores of Culebra Harbor. To our knowledge, Culebra was the scene of the largest concentration of destroyed yachts anywhere, even greater than last year in Grenada. In recent years charter companies have tried to market the area as the Spanish Virgins, but based on your observations, they haven't been that successful.

Speaking of Big O, after we sold her to Tom Ellision of Vancouver, he rechristened her Ocean Light II, and has been using her to take eco-tourists to see spirit bears along the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. Apparently he's done very well, for his website reports he's refitted the boat to the tune of $1 million. Somebody also told us that they recently saw outakes from one of Ellison's tours - and Latitude's old boat - featured on a National Geographic Explorer television program. We'd have liked to have seen that.

"In the February Changes in Latitudes, Bill and Cynthia Noonan of the Half Moon Bay-based Island Packet 380 Crème Brûlée reported that they weren't very happy with their experience of trying to get a slip at the Acapulco YC," writes Humberto Garza Ochoa, General Manager of the Acapulco YC. "Unfortunately, we weren't aware of their unhappiness at the time. We would like to apologize for their inconvenience. In the future, cruisers should contact us in advance by mail, letter, or phone for a reservation. Many cruisers inform us in advance of their arrival, and we're able to confirm a slip and services on that date. All cruisers are important to us and to our members. I hope I have the opportunity to welcome all visitors coming to Acapulco."

We had lunch with John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal of Mahina Expeditions last month just before they held another of their weekend Offshore Sailing Seminars in San Francisco. They told us that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had had a major negative effect on both their seminars and on the offshore teaching expeditions they do aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. They're happy to report that everything has picked back up again. In fact, they only have one berth left in one leg of the season that will see them sailing from Auckland, New Zealand to Victoria, British Colombia. And they've already taken reservations for some spots on next year's passages from Victoria to Spitzbergen and the Nordic countries by way of Panama. Some folks teach sailing on lakes or in protected waters. John and Amanda teach it on some of the roughest waters of the world - including rounding Cape Horn - and they've been doing it for years.

"I've been spending some time in Sarasota lately," writes David Demarest, "and have become friends with an older gentleman named Morgan Stinemetz, who writes a sailing column for the Sarasota Times-Herald. He and I have talked at some length about sailing to Cuba, as I want to sail there before Castro leaves and the Disney Corporation moves in. I hear that you've sailed to Cuba twice. I'm jealous."

Actually, we've only cruised Cuba once. We're angry that President Bush is making it almost impossible for Americans to go to Cuba, because it denies Americans an ideal opportunity to see firsthand what it's like to live under massive repression and without any human rights. Did you hear Castro's latest edicts? Cubans working in the tourist industry are no longer permitted to speak with foreigners, nor are they allowed to accept tips. No, we didn't make that up. To show you how much of a lunatic Castro has become, he then announced that every woman in Cuba will receive a free rice cooker. Gee whiz, thanks Fidel. If Castro allowed Cuban men and women the right to think, speak, work, and travel freely, they could buy their own damn rice cookers if they wanted them. Plus, they'd be able to afford the rice to cook in them. If anyone gets a chance to go see Cuba, they shouldn't let it go by.

Speaking of Cuba, we just got another email from our amigo José Miguel Díaz Escrich, Commodore of the Hemingway International YC near Havana. A man of flowing prose, let's just say that Jose welcomes everyone to Cuba, and asks that you email him if there is any way he might be able to facilitate your safe crossing to Cuba and sailing among the thousands of islands and cays of the Cuban archipelago. "We are at your disposal to make your dreams come true," he writes. Contact him .

If you've read this month's Sightings, you no doubt read about the pirate attacks on the yacht Mahdi and Gandalf near the entrance to the Red Sea. The good thing about those is that they aren't that frequent - at least compared to pirate attacks on commercial shipping. No matter if it's in the Malacca Strait, off Yemen, or up near India, the latest trend is for pirates to board big tugs or ships, kidnap some of the crew, and take them away to be held for ransom. Six such attempted attacks were reported in one week in March of this year. Two were successful. In previous years, the pirates went for the ship's money. Now they seem to strictly be going for hostages.

A few years ago, about half the people in any year's Puddle Jump said they were thinking about sailing around the world. Thanks to such attacks and the dangers in the Middle East, that number has plummeted. Just two boats out of about 40 in this year's group reported that they were interested in going past Australia.

"As promised, here's a photo of me holding a copy of Latitude by the Vlatava River overlooking the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle," writes Geoff Dolphin of the Berkeley-based Hunter 25 Currency Lad VII. "You can get to Prague from the North Sea by entering the Elbe River at Cuxhaven, Germany. You'd have to drop your mast, of course, before motoring past Dresden on the way to Prague. It would also be possible to take a detour to Berlin. Other canal hops could put you on the Rhine River, which can lead to further canal hops that would take you to the Danube and eventually the Black Sea. Shoal draft boats are recommended, of course. Prague is about the end of the line on the Elbe/Vlatava, as there only a few navigable locks upstream, and after about 12 miles, you would run into the 200-foot concrete wall of the Slapy Dam. As the Czech Republic is an entirely landlocked country, it's all lake sailing here. Bohemia is one giant valley, so the wind is always very light. While few Czechs can afford it yet, there is a growing interest in chartering, primarily to Croatia, which the Czechs are familiar with from the Communist era. Prague is beautiful and worth a visit - but only by plane and only in the summer. I won't be able to linger here that long for as soon as my work is done I'm heading back 'down under' so I can resume sailing on Sydney Harbor and the Pittwater/Hawkesbury River area. I've been away too many years."

What do you think the chances are that you could capture a photograph of a ray that has jumped out of the water in mid-flight? About zero, wouldn't you think? Well, check out the accompanying photo of a ray taken at Tenacatita Bay by Nick and Nic Bushnell of the Concord-based Morgan 38 Stargazer. That's pretty amazing. What's even more amazing is that they're got three more photos of rays in mid-flight. "You just can't believe how many were jumping out of the water," they say. Judging from the photos, we indeed can believe it.

We wonder if most people realize how lucky we cruisers are to have so much incredible marine life right next door in Mexico. When we were in Banderas Bay last month, the fish boils were like something we've never seen before. They were maybe 100 feet in diameter, and they'd gone on for hour after hour without stopping. Similarly, every time we went sailing we saw whales. And one afternoon the folks on the beach at Punta Mita had a great view of whales breeching just 200 yards off the beach. We don't claim to be experts on the status of sea life off the coast of mainland Mexico, but it looks as though it's thriving to us.

The entire state of California had pretty crappy weather in the second half of March, with lots of rain. For some boats doing the Baja Bash, that wasn't a bad thing, as it screwed up the normal weather pattern that often causes day after day of 25+ knots of cold northwesterly winds. One of the lucky ones was Doña de Mallorca and her four crew - Christian Buhl, George Cathy, Chuck Hooper, and Ray Catlette - aboard Profligate. They departed Puerto Vallarta on the afternoon of March 16, and 6.5 days later tied up at the Customs dock in San Diego not too much worse for the wear. The first 300 miles to Cabo wasn't bad at all. Still having plenty of fuel, they continued on up to Turtle Bay without stopping. You know how rough and cold it can be heading north from Cabo? Thanks to the unusual weather, they were still wearing swimming suits 200 miles north of the Cape! De Mallorca reports that the Servicos Annabel floating fuel barge is temporarily out of service because of continuing licensing disputes with the federales. So it was left to Ernesto, his outboard still broken, to row out with fuel at Turtle Bay. "Ernesto looked better than he has in a long time," said de Mallorca, "but still asked for a beer as soon as he said hello." Once Profligate and crew reached Cedros, the wind was back to normal 20-25 knots for a day or so, but then settled down again just south of Ensenada. All in all it wasn't a bad trip. They hope yours goes just as well.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Blair and Joan Grinols of the 45-ft Capricorn Cat. They departed Puerto Vallarta a few days after Profligate, intent on taking the offshore clipper route back to California. Alas, there was no wind at the start, so they had to motor to Cabo. Then 100 miles north of Cabo, Blair - who is in his early 70s - took a nasty fall in the cockpit. In severe pain and fearing a broken hip or ribs, he turned back to Cabo looking for a doctor. The x-rays revealed no broken ribs or hip, which is a good thing. Nonetheless, the boat will be put in a berth in La Paz until Blair recuperates.

By the way, we have a long Latitude Interview with Blair and Joan ready to go. After two postponements, we promise it will run in the May issue.

"One morning last week at Great Harbor, Jost van Dyke, I was up on the flybridge of the Moorings 6200 catamaran Sea Leopard when I spotted a shiny mast in the distance," writes Peter Whitney, formerly of Northern California. "What's the big deal about spotting a mast here in the British Virgins where there are thousands of them? Well, this mast was at Henley Cay off St. John in the U.S. Virgins - 6.5 miles away! I decided that the mast could only be the carbon fiber 297-footer - world's tallest - on Joe Vittoria's 247-ft Mirabella V. I'm on a quest to see all the great yachts - sail and power - of the world, so I was eager to clear out of the British Virgins to confirm the sighting. This area is unique in that eventually all the great yachts come to the Virgins, where it just so happens my wife Darcy and I run a charter boat. So we're in a good position to be able to see all these incredible boats. Sure enough, a couple of hours later we passed by the vessel in question, and she was Mirabella. We waved, and an elderly gentleman vigorously waved back at us from the stern. Mirabella is an awe-inspiring sight. After reading all the grief this fine yacht has been through since her launch a year ago, I'm sure her owner and crew were happy to be in the bright and sunny British Virgins. Now there's just one great yacht that I haven't yet seen - the 286-ft three-masted schooner Maltese Falcon that is being built for Thomas Perkins of Belvedere. I'll just have to wait until she's launched.

We've been to the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence, and all the rest, but because of the way our brain is wired, we think the greatest art and design in the world can be found in some of the yacht harbors of the Caribbean. Sharing your enthusiasm for seeing the great yachts is one of the main reasons we go to St. Barth for the start of each year.

Mirabella V has gotten off to a bad start. That she was allowed to drag anchor onto a lee shore at Beaulieu sur Mer in the South of France last September and be so badly damaged is almost beyond belief. Captain Johnno Johnson has been faulted for waiting too long to move the huge boat further away from the shore. The design of the boat has also been criticized, as the engines could only be started by the engineer in the engine room, not from the helm. Because of the noise, the engineer didn't hear the frantic calls to get the engine started until the giant sloop was already on the rocks. Although it seems to us that the blame for the incident rests squarely on the shoulders of Capt. Johnson, owner Vittoria is standing by him. More recently, blame has also been put on the size of the anchors. When the windage of the vessel was calculated, the gigantic mast, boom, and rigging were inexplicably ignored. As a result, the primary and secondary anchors are said to be only about half as big as they need to be. Having already undergone very expensive repairs, we hope Mirabella's future is brighter than her past.

From Kurt and Katie Braun's of the Alameda and New Zealand-based Deerfoot 74 Interlude: "In October we had Katie's mom, sister, sister's husband, and mother visit us for a tour of the North Island. After a while we headed south to Waitomo Caves, and after the standard tours, the four 'kids' - Kurt, Katie, Karen and Dave - took a Tuma Tuma Tubing tour. A guide led our small group for several hours through one of the hundreds of local caves. We all donned wetsuits, miner's helmets, and rubber boots, then hiked a half mile through a sheep pasture to the cave opening. We descended 25 feet via ladder into the cave and spent the next several hours hiking, climbing, swimming, floating on inner tubes, and crawling along an underground stream admiring mineral formations and glow worm colonies. This is typical of one of the many adventure sports offered in New Zealand - facilitated by New Zealand's tort system which is completely different from ours in the United States. The disclaimer a participant signs really does indemnify the tour operator in the event of an accident. If an accident does occur, the government pays for the healthcare. A plaintiff could still sue for further damages, but would win only in the event of gross negligence. The fact that the losing party pays all legal fees discourages frivolous lawsuits. All of this has created an environment where tour operators adhere to safe practices, but can offer cheap activities because of the lack of having to carry expensive liability insurance. This 'personal responsibility' attitude is pervasive within the New Zealand culture - which is one of the things we love about the country. People here challenge themselves aggressively and have a lot of fun doing it."

Enjoy your summer cruising - and don't forget to write!

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