April, 2006

With reports this month from Interlude on getting knee surgery in Mazatlan; from Dream Caper on Cruising in Costa Rica and Panama; from Cheshire on refitting in Trinidad; from Breila on the south coast of Chile; from Synergizer on Basta! hitting a ray in Mexico; from Hawkeye on cruising Ecuador; from St. Briged on fun adventures in Mexico; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Interlude - Morgan 382
Don & Peggy Cox
Barra de Navidad
(Marina del Rey)

Have knee surgery while cruising on a sailboat in Mexico - are you crazy? Maybe I am, but it's been two months since my arthroscopic surgery in Mazatlan, and I have nothing but praise for the medical help I received.

My husband and I sailed to Mexico on the Ha-Ha in November. It was when we got to the first stop, Bahia de Tortuga, that I experienced trouble with my left knee. I wore a knee-brace and took Advil when the pain was really bad. During a rather rough passage up to Los Frailes following the Ha-Ha, I experienced a shooting pain in the knee while at the helm. And walking became a chore. By the time we crossed the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan, every other step sent me through the roof. Tom Jones, our friend on Charissa, is a veteran of five knee operations, and recognized my symptoms. He felt that I was a liability on the boat in my condition, and could put my husband and me in danger if my knee tweaked at the wrong time. He urged me to get my knee checked out.

I didn't want to fly home to L.A., so I discussed my situation with Sylvia, the office manager at Marina Mazatlan, and with some of the cruisers who have been at Marina Mazatlan for a long time. I got the names of two orthopedic surgeons from them. The first, who spoke perfect English, advised me to exercise the knee for three weeks and then see him again if my knee hadn't gotten better. The next day I went to see Dr. Eduardo Valle Ramirez, who doesn't speak any English. Since my husband and I speak very little Spanish, I was lucky there was a bilingual American patient there to explain my symptoms and offer the assessment that my meniscus was likely injured. Dr. Valle Ramirez wrote out a 'prescription' for an MRI, and asked us to return with the films that evening.

So off my husband and I went to the laboratory. Just 15 minutes after I walked in, I was having the MRI. In just a few hours, we had the films and a written report by the radiologist. It only cost $250, which is about a tenth of what it would have cost in the States.

That evening we returned to Dr. Valle Ramirez with the MRI films and report in hand. After reviewing them, the doctor used an anatomical model of the knee, broken English and Spanish, and a lot of sign language, to explain that he felt I'd damaged the meniscus. He said the damage could only be repaired with arthroscopic surgery. I told him I wanted to get it done ASAP. He said it wasn't a problem. In fact, if I got the necessary blood work the next day, he could perform the operation the morning after that.

I got the blood work done - $40 - the next day, so the operation was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. the following morning at Sharp Hospital in Mazatlan. The hospital staff was top-notch. During the surgery, Dr. Valle Ramirez discovered that a loose piece of cartilage had found its way into the meniscus area and done the damage. He removed the cartilage and smoothed the meniscus.

Before the surgery, he indicated that I would be able to go back to Interlude right after the surgery. But after findng the cartilage "complication", he suggested that I stay in the hospital overnight. But when he came to my room to check on me later that afternoon, he was so happy with my progress that he said if I wanted, I could go home. But my husband and I decided that since we'd already paid for the room, I might as well spend the night. So I was pampered by the hospital staff - who served me excellent Mexican food - and checked out the next morning.

The cost - including Dr. Valle Ramirez and his assistant, the anesthesiologist, and hospital stay? A total of $3,200.   

When I was discharged, Dr. Valle Ramirez gave me some exercises to do, and told me to use crutches for three weeks. One week after the surgery, the stitches were removed. During the checkup a week after that, he advised me that I no longer needed to use the crutches. In addition to doing the exercises the doctor prescribed, I started to go for walks and swim.

So after two weeks and $3,600 - which was almost less than my Blue Cross deductible - I was in good enough shape to continue cruising. I can't say enough about the great medical care I received in Mazatlan. If you're a cruiser and need health care, don't let the language or the fact that it's a foreign country stop you from getting medical treatment in Mexico. You sure can't beat the cost!

- peggy 02/01/06

Peggy - We're glad you had such a good outcome, and agree that medical care in Mexico can be surprisingly good and affordable. But seriously, language barriers can be a serious impediment to an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. We urge everyone to be careful and use common sense.

Dream Caper - Venezia 42 Cat
Steven Stecher & Portia Igarashi
Costa Rica & Panama
(San Rafael)

We had our bottom painted in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, after hauling in a sandspit at low tide. Unfortunately, a combination of inferior bottom paint combined with very poor workmanship meant that the 12 inches from the bottom of the keels needed repainting. In fact, with the paint flaking off almost everywhere, the whole bottom may need to be redone. For the time being, we've had to regularly scrape the barnacles off the area in question as well as other places where the paint didn't adhere to the hull. So we appreciate Latitude's email response about where to get a cat hauled in Panama.

We're currently anchored at Isla Cavado in Western Panama, having had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. We enjoyed fabulous anchorages in the northern part of that country - Bahia Santa Elena, Bahia Huevos, Playa Panama, and Bahia Ballena - as well as the islands in the Gulf of Nicoya. We also enjoyed a wonderful six-day cruise down the coast from Puntarenas to Golfito. The anchorage at Manuel Antonio Park near Quepos was phenomenal! We saw four sloths and numerous howler, whitefaced, and squirrel monkeys - all just a short walk from where our boat was anchored.

Since we enjoyed Costa Rica so much, and heard that Panama was even better, we decided to postpone our March crossing to the South Pacific. Our plan now is to spend more time in Panama and Ecuador, and then cross to the Galapagos and Marquesas in March of '07. That's the great part about open-ended cruising - you can change your plans whenever you want.

So far, our decision has proved to be a good one, as the islands of Western Panama are beautiful, remote, and sparsely populated. Most of the time it's been just Adventuress, our buddy-boat, and us in the anchorages. The water down here is warm and clear, and the sea life is bountiful. To tell the truth, the visibility in the waters of Costa Rica wasn't very good. Anyway, we're looking forward to the Las Perlas Islands and may even go through the Canal in order to visit the San Blas Islands and Bocas del Toro.

And now for a dental update. The two root canals, three crowns, and one implant that Portia had done in San Carlos and Puerto Vallarta last year have all continued to work out fine. But while in Costa Rica, we decided to have the crown completed for Portia's implant, as we heard there were good dentists in San Jose.

Although the dental work in Costa Rica is not as cheap as in Mexico, the cost was still 70% less than in the States. Portia's crown cost $350 as opposed to $250 in Mexico. Although it's based on only one visit to a dentist in San Jose, we found him to be much more thorough in learning about patient's history than the five dentists we visited in Mexico.

While in San Jose, Steve decided to jump into the dental scene by having six veneers affixed to enhance his smile. They look great! The veneers cost $400 each. If you're a veteran residing in Costa Rica - and apparently there are some 15,000 of them - you can join a $145/year dental plan that allows for free x-rays, cleanings, and fillings - plus a 50% discount on crowns, veneers, implants and all other treatments. Because the dental office we visited was just beginning this program, they allowed us, because we are U.S. federal government retirees, to take advantage of the discounted prices. As such, Steve's six veneers cost a total of $1,200.

For those who might be interested, we had our work done at the New Smile Dental Spa that is owned by Dr. Mario Bonilla. He is assisted by Dr. Marisela Jimenez, and both of them speak excellent English. The office has its own in-house dental lab, and the lab tech is right next to the chair when the crowns, veneers, and implants are fitted on the patient. Having the in-house lab allows for quick service. When the dentist and lab technician felt that Portia's permanent crown didn't fit properly, they had a new one ready the next morning.

We recommend the cruising - and the dental work - in Costa Rica.

- steve and portia 03/10/06

Cheshire - Spindrift 40 Cat
David and Susan Ames
Time-Out In Trinidad

When we last wrote, we were contemplating hauling somewhere between Trinidad and Panama to install a new engine. We elected to do it in Trinidad, as it also allowed us to complete a lot of other boat projects before undertaking our next series of passages. It turned out to be a long and painful break from cruising, but in hindsight it was a good decision, as we were able to get things done in a familiar place. We were also able to acquire some additional gear - most notably, a new-to-us Avon dinghy with a 5-hp Yamaha to replace our failing, oar-powered Tinker Tramp.

We hauled Cheshire at Peake's Yacht Services in late September, and launched her almost three months later with a new bottom, new engine, and new engine housing. Peake's was recommended to us by other catamaran owners, as they have a trailer with hydraulic arms to move cats around the yard. This gives them more flexibility for placement than would a Travel-Lift or fixed trailer. While on the hard, we also checked Cheshire's other hard-to-inspect areas - such as the thru-hulls, rudder posts, and chainplates. Once back in the water, we repainted the lower deck nonskid, and David finished putting fuel tanks in the lazarettes. The latter jobs took an additional two months in the water, during which time barnacles sprouted on our freshly painted bottom! Thanks to the warm and brackish water from the Orinoco River, it's very hard to keep boat bottoms clean in Trinidad.

Eight-and-a-half months in one place was far longer than we had contemplated when planning our cruise, so we've now extended our trip to at least three years, as we want to enjoy at least two seasons in the South Pacific. But it was hard to see our friends from the summer in Trinidad take off in the fall while we were still deep in projects. This was particularly true of Ken and Gail Klinehoff of Sangreal who, like us, are refugees from the rains of Washington.

We worked every day we were in the yard, and most of the days when the boat was in the water. But we did take time to see some of Trinidad and enjoy the many festivals. I especially enjoyed the Hindu Divali Festival of Lights in early November, which features Halloween-type treats, a Thanksgiving-type communal dinner, and household light displays that would rival any Christmas show. We also took a July trip to the Atlantic coast to watch leatherback turtles nest and hatch. It was awe-inspiring - but we were a bit distracted, for at the time Hurricane Emily was just 36 hours out and less than one degree north. Fortunately, we only got three hours of 40-knot winds.

We also watched Trinidad's version of 'The Game' in November, that being the soccer match against Bahrain which catapulted Trinidad to a coveted berth in the World Cup. The game was a huge deal on the island, and the victory celebration went on for at least two days. We figured the ensuing impromptu public holiday was somewhat of a fait accompli, as not too many people were in good enough shape to work the next day. It's pretty cool when a whole country gets fired up about something like that soccer match - and was a nice change from discussions of the worsening crime situation on the island. Trinidad had more than one murder a day in 2005, a new and unfortunate record.

We decided to depart Trinidad before the country's celebrated Mardi Gras celebration. The thing is Carnival wasn't until late February this year, and we still wanted to spend time in the ABC and San Blas Islands, and get through the Canal before the year was over. Nonetheless, we did attend some of Trinidad's pre-Carnival events. Several friends of ours play in pan (steel drum) bands, so we went to the first round of performances in the Panorama. We also went to the first round of judging for the King and Queen of Carnival. The king and queen costumes ranged from hokey to spectacular, but there were 80 entrants, so it was a very long process. There was also a great concert featuring vintage calypso masters such as Lord Superior. As in many such events in Trinidad, the audience sings along with the performer.

We expected to find a good selection and supply of boat materials and gear in Trinidad, and were generally satisfied. However, it wasn't uncommon for items that had once been plentiful - such as marine plywood - to suddenly not be available for weeks. Some of the shortages were due to major construction being done at Port of Spain's port. We shopped for bargains where we could, but adopted an 'if you see it, buy it' policy when it came to things like tortilla chips, tomato paste in tubes, and the extra large Zip-Lok bags for storing our foul weather gear for the next two years.

Were there any benefits to all the work I did on the bottom and our car-less lifestyle? There sure were, as I lost 30 pounds! So I treated myself to four new bathing suits, a skirt, and a dress. I bought them all from Debbie 'the swimsuit lady' at a total cost of $150.

But for us, Trinidad's real gift was the people we met. The island is a natural crossroads for cruisers, who arrive from Europe, North America, South Africa and South America - and even a few from Central America. When we had questions, we usually got answers over the local VHF net. We also organized two chart swaps, talks on cruising Venezuela, and attended a hurricane preparation seminar from local expert Eric Mackey. As a result of all these activities, we now know over 20 boats headed west with us, and are sharing information on ports and conditions along the way.

Since almost all of the marinas, yards, and boating businesses in Trinidad are located at Chaguaramas rather than Port of Spain, we were probably insulated from most of the increase in crime that has been blighting the country. But it also meant the cruising community could become somewhat insular. So I came to relish my trips outside the Chaguaramas area, and worked to get to know people outside of the cruising community. It was worth it.

Our relatively long stay at Peake's led to us making a number of friendships there, with cruisers, folks in the charter trade, and ultimately some of the local workers. Even the yard dogs began to follow us around! We went to several Friday evening 'limes', for example, with the Travel-Lift crew, who tried to teach us an unusual card game they played. I think it was a variation of bridge, but with elaborate hand-signals between partners. As the time drew near for us to depart, we responded with 'maybe' rather than 'no' when people asked if we were ever going to come back.

After an easy two-day passage, we arrived in Bonaire to enjoy their low-key version of Carnival. We're now spending a week on 'vacation', exploring the azure water, snorkeling among the coral reefs, reviving my Spanish, and savoring the drier and more pleasant weather. Nonetheless, we miss Trinidad more than we thought we would - the Indian roti wraps, the Stag beer, biking in Chaguaramas National Park, the echoes of howler monkeys in the hills, and the friendliness with a little flirtation that laces most interactions with Trinis. Trinidad may not look like the typical Caribbean brochure, but it grows on you - and I plan to go back.

- david & susan 02/15/06

Readers - It's a little hard to believe, but it was a couple of Bay Area sailors, George Gliksman and his then-girlfriend whose name we can't recall, who played a key role in Trinidad becoming a major yachting center. It must have been at least 15 years ago when they showed up at Trinidad aboard their 55-ft Marco Polo schooner Symphony. After falling in love with the area - and particularly the music of the island - they managed to convince local authorities to put a Customs and Immigration facility at Chaguaramas, a remote military facility that had been built by the U.S. during World War II. At the time, there was only a small Peake's facility, Power Boats, Ltd., and a couple of other marine businesses. But when Hugo Chavez staged his seven-month coup in Venezuela, many of the boats looked for another place out of the hurricane zone to store and repair their boats, and Trinidad became it. Over the course of the next several years, Trinidad exploded as a yacht repair center. As we recall, several thousand boats a year come to the island, almost all for extensive work and/or summer storage.

We arrived very early in the explosion to have some significant work done on
Big O. This was during the tremendous buildup to Carnival and Carnival itself. It's a wild and spectacular event on Trinidad that consumes the entire island, and it shouldn't be missed. Alas, even back then it could be dangerous if you wandered into the wrong areas. One of our friends was slashed repeatedly on the arms as he protected his body from a knife attack. His crime? Dancing in a huge group of people in the wrong part of Port of Spain.

And oddly enough, it was on the so-called 'Rainbow Island' that we observed the most blatant racism of our lives. We'd flown some West Indian fiberglass and painting experts down from the British Virgins to do an osmosis and paint job on
Big O, and after it was over, we took them to a restaurant to celebrate the completion of the job. As we entered the restaurant with the guys, we were told that blacks weren't welcome! And this was by the dark-skinned host!

Despite this and the fact that oil-rich Trinidad itself has almost no cruising grounds, we'd still very much love to return. By the way, Trinis are very good sailors and win a lot of races up and down the Caribbean.

Breila - Contessa 38
Mike and Catharine Whitby
South to Chile
(Vancouver, B.C.)

After helping organize the Zihua SailFest in 2003, we sailed south - all the way to Chile - along the coast. It's definitely the 'long way', as it's against the wind and current. Nonetheless, it gave us a chance to really experience Ecuador, Peru and Chile - which we would have missed had we taken the offshore route. Southern Chile is a fantastic place to cruise, although it's completely different from balmy Mexico.

We arrived in Arica, in the far north of Chile, in October of 2004, and last year got as far south as Laguna San Rafael (46°40S) in northern Patagonia. We should reach Cape Horn in early March, and then be on our way up the Atlantic coast of South America.

There are about 35 international cruising boats in the area this season. 'The area' covers South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Argentina, southern Chile, and out as far west as Easter Island. There is a morning radio net run by ex-cruisers Wolfgang and Gabby, so we get a chance to share information and hear where everyone is. The following is the latest report we sent out to friends, which might be interesting to those who knew us from SailFest and those who are considering cruising in our wake:

Breila and her crew have achieved many milestones this week. Some of the highlights include:

1) Rounding Cabo Ráper and crossing the Golfo de Penas. Cruisers treat this crossing with respect because it requires sailing out of the relatively protected waters of the canals and into open ocean in order to round the cape. And the golfo itself can be sloppy, as the long ocean swells come all the way from Australia with no land masses to impede them. What's more, the entire passage is usually along a lee shore.

We arrived at an anchorage 10 miles north of Cabo Ráper at the end of a weather window, so we knew we'd have a bit of a wait. But the anchorage was lovely, and we got to meet several of the guys on the fishing boats that shared our anchorage. It was fun learning about their lives.

We started the 100-mile passage at 9 p.m. in order to arrive at our next anchorage during daylight - and at the end of a front. We were tossed around a bit in 8-foot seas, but we were happy to have put this leg of the trip behind us. There are manned lighthouses at each end of the passage, and it was comforting to be able to talk to a real person over the radio to report our position and get weather information. It also gave us a chance to practice our Spanish.

2) Lovely anchorages with lots of shorelines. This is all new territory for us, as we only went as far south as Laguna San Rafael last season, so we've really enjoyed exploring each anchorage. It takes about an hour each evening to get secured, and then half an hour each morning to get underway. The anchoring process involves circling around to size up the anchorage; getting the dinghy off the deck and into the water; getting oars and lines into the dinghy; dropping the anchor and reversing the engine to set the hook as we back into our 'parking spot'; jumping into the dinghy and rowing to shore to tie at least one - and up to four - lines to trees or rocks; and turning off the engine and watching for half an hour to ensure we're in a good position. We can't imagine how the singlehanders do this!

Caleta Ivonne, which has milky green water from the melting glacier, was one of our favorite anchorages. We were escorted right to our berth by a pod of dolphins.

3) Puerto Edén - which for once was truly a port of sorts. This village, which has a population of 170, is at one end of a narrows along the main north-south canal. For centuries it's been a gathering place for the nomadic indigenas who colonized the area. Sadly, there are only a few mixed blood people remaining. Now the successful Navimag ferry, which runs from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales in the south and back four days a week, is the big industry in town, as it brings tourists who purchase handicrafts. We were invited to tie up to the carabineros' motor launch, so we got a chance to really know Rene, the jefe de los carabineros here. For 170 people, they have eight police, which is a very high ratio. The village is built along the water, with a boardwalk all around the little cove. We walked up to the top of the hill in the national park and got some great shots of Breila in the cove. We were really impressed at how cheerful everyone is. We took on 200 litres of fuel - it was their entire supply, but the canals require lots of motoring - and some fresh veggies, and left the next morning.

4) Harrowing narrows with lots of current. It was raining and there was extremely limited visibility when we transited the narrows north of Puerto Edén. It was a bit of a nail-biter, as it was really hard to make out exactly where the little islets and rocks were located. And we passed the ominous wreck of the motoryacht Leonides just at the entrance to the narrows. The next day we shot through the dismally named Paso del Abismo, which in fact is spectacularly lovely, and we were happy with the good visibility for it allowed us to see the huge ice fields on both sides, with many waterfalls running down very steep cliffs. It's so narrow, however, that traffic is limited to one-way. Here we were passed by a private and very bristol 124-ft motoryacht, and chatted on the radio a bit. We took some photos of them against the stunning backdrops, and they got some of Breila and crew as well. We'll exchange them via the internet.

5) Icebergs, bergy bits, and growlers in the channels. Just inland from us is one of Chile's giant ice caps, so many of the esteros have glaciers at their heads. We'll slow down in the next few days and do some more close-range exploring of some of these glaciers.

6) Crossing latitude 50º south. Out of the Roaring Forties and into the Furious Fifties!

7) Off the beaten path. There is a more or less established route from north to south here, which is well-charted and sounded. However, there are hundreds of canals off this route, many not well-sounded, and we're taking some time now to explore some of these side channels.

We'll have more later, but right now we're underway in the Canal Pitt, Patagonia, Chile. 50°20.9S 074°31.2W. We are about 70 miles south of Puerto Eden, 200 miles NNW of Puerto Natales - as the crow flies.

- mike & catharine 02/01/06

Synergizer - Ericson 28
Larry Weinhoff
Hitting Large Sea Life
(Daly City)

I've always taken reports of boats being hit by large sea creatures with a grain of salt - until last September when I was delivering a boat south from San Francisco to Pillar Point. While motorsailing at seven knots about four miles offshore, we came to an instant stop. There were whales breeching all around us, so I presume we hit one of them. My friend Leonard immediately got on his cell phone and called his ex-wife to describe the playful antics of the cetaceans.

And now I'm even more convinced that boats and large sea life collide, because my friend Doug Nicholson, who is spending the winter in Mexico aboard his Paradise Marina-based Island Packet 35 Basta!, sent me the following report:

"In a freak accident, we ran over a 12-ft manta ray in Banderas Bay while coming back from Tenacatita Bay. We saw four mantas that day, and hit the second of the four. We don't know if it was why so many rays were around, but the ocean temperature had dropped from 77 to 68 degrees just a few days before, and the water had become murky. We left Chamela at midnight with a full moon - and then had thick fog that lasted until dawn! Besides causing the fog, the cooler ocean temps may have driven the rays into the bay in search of warmer water. The water inside the bay was still in the mid-70s. I'd never seen rays in the bay before, although I know that other people have.

"We were sailing along at six knots with the prop locked in reverse when we hit the ray. The impact was so great that the prop shaft got bent, a blade on the prop broke, and the 5200 on the stern tube cracked. The collision resulted in a bit of a leak, so the bilge pump went on about once an hour until we got her hauled out at the boatyard. We've been in the Opequimar Yard for six days now and hope to get out mañana. Our story sounds like a paragraph out of Latitude."

- larry 03/10/06

Readers - Large manta rays can be found in all the oceans of the world, but cruisers see them most out at Mexico's Revillagegdo Islands, in the Sea of Cortez, and around Banderas Bay. About eight years ago, our cat Profligate had a tremendous collision with a manta ray not far from Yelapa. We're not sure why the ray didn't get out of the way, as we'd noticed it - or at least a buddy - following us for 15 minutes. Russ Milleson reports that while on his boat he saw scores of large manta rays off the south coast of Banderas Bay early this year. Mantas grow up to 29 feet in width and weigh as much as 3,000 pounds. Nonetheless, they are harmless. Mantas are closely related to sharks in that their skeleton is made of cartilage rather than bone. Manta rays seem indifferent to divers and often allow themselves to be ridden. Some experts claim that riding manta rays can damage their protective mucous layer.

Hawkeye - Sirena 38
John Kelley & Linda Keigher
Two Years In Ecuador

An increasing number of cruisers seem to be interested in coming to Ecuador. We've been based out of here for two years now, have really enjoyed it, and perhaps can provide a basic introduction.

The two main destinations in Ecuador are Bahia de Caraquez and La Libertad/Salinas.

Bahia is further north, within half a degree of the equator, and the anchorage is in the Rio Chone Estuary, which requires a pilot to enter. Both cruisers and Puerto Amistad monitor VHF channel 69. The first cruiser amenities appeared a little more than two years ago when Gary Swenson, a retired jet-car jockey, sailed in with his cruising boat Quarter Splash and later put a few moorings in the estuary. He's since sold his boat and built a beautiful home outside the nearby beach town of Canoa, where he now resides with his wife Merci, a Bahia native.

Tripp and Maye Martin of the Island Packet 30 Walkabout cruised to Bahia two years ago, and it was love at first sight. It is they who have developed Puerto Amistad. They rent moorings for $150/month, and can deliver water, gasoline and diesel to moored boats. They also pick up and deliver laundry. In addition to hot showers ashore, Maye's open-air restaurant serves delicious meals at reasonable prices. The drinks aren't expensive either, as you can get a large pilsner for just $1. Built over the bay on an old navy dock, Puerto Amistad is not only a hangout for cruisers, but also a place to mix with locals. There is also common space where cruisers can work on sewing projects, take classes, and trade books. The only thing missing is a haulout facility.

Bahia is a small town, but has a number of high-rises that are usually vacant. It's a beach resort for people from Quito to visit during the holidays, at which time it can get a little crowded. The rest of the year it's quiet. Bahia doesn't have any large grocery stores, but most things can be purchased at one tienda or another. There is also a wonderful mercado for fresh fruits, veggies, and meats. We like the freshly-ground peanut butter, the beautiful flower bouquets for $1, and the delicious three-for-a-dollar white pineapples. Transportation around town is by 'eco-taxi', which is a tricycle with a bench between its two front tires. They also have an awning for shade and room under the seat for groceries. A eco-taxi ride from the mercado to the dinghy dock is just 50 cents. Bahia has a long malecon and a beautiful beach where people have found incredible shells, shards of ancient pottery, and petrified shark and whale teeth.

Well south of the hurricane belt, Bahia is a great place to leave your boat while traveling back to the States or inland. For just $9 you can make the eight-hour air-conditioned bus trip to Quito. The five-hour bus trip to Guayaquil is $7.

La Libertad is further south along the coast, and home to the Puerto Lucia YC. The club has a wonderful facility with a nice restaurant, pool, and tennis court. It's about $10/ft/month for a boat - no matter if she's Med-tied with water and electricity or on the hard. The slip fees drop 10% a month until the seventh month. The yacht club also has a 50-ton Travel-Lift and room for about 20 boats. It costs about $350 to haul and launch a boat. The dry storage and work areas are located on a breakwater with a beautiful view of the ocean, so most days they are well ventilated by the refreshing sea breeze. The yard is run by George Stewart, a very helpful and knowledgeable retired Canadian cruiser. His men can do as little or as much work as you'd like. The prices aren't much lower than in the States, but the work is of the highest quality. For those who prefer not to stay on their boat while she's being worked on, there are inexpensive hotels nearby. The El Paseo shopping center is within walking distance of the yacht club, and has boutiques, a supermarket, movie theaters, and a food court.

Guayaquil, which has an international airport and is the gateway to several inland travel destinations, is a 2.5-hour bus ride from La Libertad. Bus travel is inexpensive, and the hotels are quite reasonable.

Teri from Ishi and I, Linda, did a two-week inland trip while Gary and John stayed at the yard to take care of those tear-the-boat-apart jobs. We decided that we'd limit our expenses to $25/day while traveling, and were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't hard to do. We stayed in adequate hostels and had wonderful meals. The scenery was spectacular and the people were friendly. Ecuador offers beautiful beaches, colonial towns, mountain vistas, waterfalls, primary rainforest jungles, pre-Inca ruins and many other attractions. If you cruise on down, we think you'll enjoy this wonderful country and its people.

Which is the better place to stop, Bahia or La Libertad? They're so different, why not try them both?

- john & linda 02/15/06

St. Briged - Piver Victress Tri
Roger and Celia Guiles
Cruising Mexico On A Budget

We can't remember the last time we met a cruising couple as entertaining as Roger and Celia Guiles of the Seattle-based Piver Victress 40 trimaran St. Briged. Their tales of sailing down the coast of Baja and elsewhere in Mexico had us in stitches. They don't have a fancy cruising boat or a fat cruising kitty, so they are living proof that it's attitude, not money, that is the key to a great cruising experience.

Unlike most cruisers, the couple took a long time coming down the coast of Baja. "A fellow in San Diego asked us if we'd deliver his anchor down to La Paz for him," remembers Celia. "We said we would, not knowing it weighed about 300 pounds. When we put it in the stern of our boat, the bows almost came out of the water! A while later we got a message from the guy asking when we were going to get there because the season was almost over. We didn't even know there was a season. It took us four months to get from San Diego to La Paz."

One of the reasons it took them so long is that they stopped just about everywhere, and stayed long enough to meet the locals and have adventures. For example, they stopped at the lagoon at San Quintin because of what seemed like an impeller problem, and ended up damaging the propeller on a sunken wreck. So they beached their tri on a sandy spot, and used the ladder they carry to clamor down to the sand.

The way Roger tells the story, he gave Celia $20 so she'd have some money, then took off by bus to Tijuana and then by trolley to San Diego. Once he got to 'America's Finest City', he hopped aboard a transit bus in the mistaken belief that he could ride all night long. Alas, the system shuts down at 2 am, so he had to sleep on a bench. "It was Southern California," he said, "so it wasn't that bad."

With just three dollars in his pocket, Roger headed to the mission. They fed him, but were full and couldn't offer him a cot to sleep on. He tells this story in the same matter-of-fact-tone that most cruisers would use to describe flying home to the States and staying at a Holiday Inn while picking up boat parts. While the folks at the mission couldn't accommodate him, they were kind enough to give him a blanket and recommend a good overpass he could sleep under.

After about an hour of pleasant sleep, Roger was awakened by a black woman and white man, who informed him that he was sleeping in their spot. So he moved. The woman then proceeded to pull extensive bedding out of her grocery cart and make up a very nice place to sleep. When she noticed Roger didn't have a pillow, she took pity and loaned him one of the three that she had. Awoken early the next morning by the sound of traffic - and being fed a breakfast of fruit cups that some guy was handing out - Roger returned the pillow to the sleeping woman and left her one of his remaining three dollars.

By now it was Monday morning, and "the pittance of a pension" Roger gets from working 13 years at Boeing and another five years at a shipyard had been deposited in his bank account. Using his ATM card, he got what money he needed to buy a prop, then took the trolley back to Tijuana and caught a $28 bus back to San Quintin and Celia.

During a stop at Cedros Island, Celia came across a woman who was driving around in a pickup truck giving dental exams to the fishermen. When done with the fishermen, the dentist examined Celia's teeth. She found that Celia had a gum problem that was going to eventually cause one of her lower front teeth to fall out. At least it wasn't infected.

But by the time they got to Turtle Bay, Celia had a wicked toothache. Fortunately, it happened to be the day the roving dentist was in town. "This tooth hurts so bad that I haven't been able to sleep for four nights," Celia told the dentist.

The dental office was too basic to provide even bibs, but at least the dentist had some novocaine. After waving some instrument that sort of looked like vice-grips in front of Celia's face, the dentist grabbed the ailing tooth, and after a lot of tugging, managed to wrestle it out of her mouth. Holding it up in front of her face, the dentist said, "You'll sleep tonight!" His fee was $25.

In January of this year, the Guiles stopped at San Blas on mainland Mexico - and stayed for seven wonderful weeks. "We loved the place," said Celia, "because it's real Mexico." But almost immediately they began to clash with Norm Goldie, the self-styled 'cruiser-helper' who is much loved by some and much unloved by others.

"Norm would get on the radio and tell everyone that he could help them with their paperwork," says Celia, "and a lot of the newer cruisers fell for it. Suddenly, he's telling them what wonderful stuff he does and all that. The truth is that nobody needs help with their paperwork because the girls in the port captain's office do it in just a few minutes. It's easy."

"Then Norm clashed with an Aussie couple who had sailed all over the world," Celia continues. "He started telling them they didn't know how to anchor. He waved his finger in the woman's face - he loves to do that - and gave her the old 'Listen to me, young lady . . .' condescension. His big deal is guiding boats into the estuary by flashing a mirror at them - as if boats can't get in on their own. But if people wanted to enter the estuary - or do anything else - on their own, Norm would get mad. 'If you don't do what I tell you,' he'd threaten, 'we're going to close down the estuary.' He was always inferring that he has some kind of official status with the Mexican government and the U.S. embassy. He has neither."

"Another thing that really made us mad is that Norm told cruisers not to use Roberto's free dinghy dock, saying that Roberto had mental problems and his mother had tuberculosis. There is nothing wrong with his dock. Then Norm claimed that cruisers had to use the navy's dinghy dock, and touted the 24-hour navy guards. The truth is that nobody has to use the navy dock, and sometimes the guards were too lazy to keep dinghies from getting damaged beneath the docks when the tide changed."

"The people of Mexico have been absolutely wonderful to us, so what really made us mad is when Norm would tell cruisers not to let Mexicans on their boats because they'd steal everything! As such, we had to laugh when the local paper reported that Norm has been accused of illegally having antiquities, firearms, and doing other bad stuff. Some people say they don't like San Blas because of the no-see-ums. Well, we think Norm is a lot worse than the bugs."

The big thing in San Blas while the Guiles were there was the week-long Bird Festival. "You should have seen how the little town came to life! People came from all over, and there were all these floats, parades, musical performances, and bird-lovers. It was a really fun week-long party."

A while back, Roger was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. "The doctor told me that 50% of the people with my condition die within three years - but most of them are still drinking and taking drugs. When I told the doctor I stopped doing that stuff 17 years ago, he said, "Chew your food slowly and you'll probably be all right." He was an old Jewish guy, and I really liked him. But this cruising is great because I'm 60 and I've never felt so good in my life. When I worked in the shipyard, I was around all kinds of bad stuff and used to get sick all the time. Since we've started cruising and have been in a clean environment and have been active, I've hardly gotten sick at all."

In a typical example of being active, Roger had to row ashore with the 4 hp outboard, carry it to a bus stop, and then wrestle it over to an outboard shop to find the right replacement seal. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line he was bitten by a dog and had to be taken to the emergency room for stitches. Some American dog owners probably would have blamed Roger for getting bitten. But this was Mexico, so the dog's owner asked Roger if he'd like the dog killed.

The Guiles may not be typical cruisers - "We're the Clampetts of cruising!" laughs Celia - but they are having a great time, and the world of cruising is richer for them and folks like them.

- latitude/richard 03/10/06

Cruise Notes:

"Greetings from the Panama Canal YC," writes Jim Casey of Tomatillo, "where today the admeasurer told me it would be 17 days before we'd be able to transit the Canal! When we do transit, our boat, like all others under 65 feet, will have to overnight on Lake Gatun - although there will be no extra charge. He also informed me that an agent has to be used when starting a transit from the Pacific side, but not the Caribbean side - unless a skipper has a bad attitude. There is an agent named Stanley who, when you net out the cost of the lines he provides, charges just $150. On the other hand, Roger, the dockmaster here at the club, says you don't need an agent, just the right information. We think he's right, as we did all the paperwork ourselves in just 90 minutes."

We're not sure about the reason for such a long delay, but limited Canal capacity is a likely reason. Historically, the lack of port capacity on the west coast of the U.S. has forced ships with Asian cargo to go through the Canal to get stuff to the east coast, taxing the Canal in the process. Experts estimate that the United States needs to build additional port capacity equal to that of the Port of New York & New Jersey every year for the next 20 years in order to keep up with demand - but that's not happening. For what it's worth, small boats are often able to get through the Canal earlier than first scheduled. In addition, there are no delays at some times of the year - such as December - when ship traffic is traditionally lighter. Nonetheless, the long term solution is a no brainer - use modern boat-moving equipment to eliminate recreational boats having to use the locks.

Lynne Stevens, who sailed south with the '02 Ha-Ha aboard her Juneau-based Islander Freeport 36 Wildflower, has had it with boat insurance. "I had full boat coverage when Hurricane Marty threw Wildflower on the beach at Puerto Escondido in September of 2003. My boat ended up spending 87 days in the yard in La Paz, although she was only worked on 27 of those days. And after the deductions, exemptions, depreciation, and everything else, my insurance only paid 25% of the bill! So now all I carry is Mexican liability insurance."

If it hadn't been for Marty, Lynne would have continued on to Panama that winter. But thanks to the hurricane and other things, she ending up spending the next two winters in Seattle and Belize, and the summers in the Sea of Cortez - which is backwards, of course. "It sure was hot in the Sea of Cortez, but the diving was great!"

You know how romance strikes at inconvenient times? It was the same for Lynne. On December 29, when she was about to set sail from La Paz to Mazatlan, she bumped into Cal Bergen of the Vancouver-based Coronado 35 Windom. And they hit it off. Their cruising schedules were in conflict, but the attraction was strong enough for them to align them. So the singlehanders buddyboated down to Banderas Bay. "It's actually easier for two people to move two boats one at a time than it is for two people to move two boats at the same time," she says. At last word, the two were going to take one boat to one place for the summer, then the other boat to another place for the summer. Then each would head off to jobs in separate parts of the world. Nothing comes easily, does it?

From Townsville to Cairns, Australia's Northern Queensland coastal lands were devastated by Tropical Cyclone Larry - the worst in 30 years - during the third week in March. His 180-mph winds - much stronger than those that Katrina unleashed on the Gulf Coast of the United States - created tremendous destruction. Yet the early reports are that nobody was killed and only 30 people were hurt. Officials attribute this to the fact that people living in the path of hurricanes got religion after Katrina. But it might not be over for Northern Queensland yet, as Cyclone Wati began threatening the same stretch of coast a few days later.

What's the difference between a tropical cyclone, hurricane, and typhoon? Nothing. People in different parts of the world just have different names for the same thing,

If you've been reading 'Lectronic and Latitude, you know there has been controversy over the La Cruz Yacht Club Marina that is being built at the town of La Cruz on Banderas Bay. So Philo Hayward, who did the Ha-Ha and sailed across the Pacific aboard his Cal 36 Cherokee, decided to hold a community meeting on the subject at his Philo's Bar & Restaurant. Pedro del Valle, one of six partners - five Mexican and one American - told the audience that he's dreamed of building such a world class marina for the last eight years, and has spent the last five years getting all the necessary permits. At that point, an American whose home will now overlook the marina rather than the bay objected, saying that del Valle and his co-developers did not have all the necessary permits. Del Valle countered by saying everyone could inspect them at his office. Before the meeting deteriorated into a 'he said, she said' waste of time, moderator Hayward stepped in to move the program along.

Del Valle went on to tell the packed house that there would be 386 berths from 30 to 400 feet in length. Forty-five percent of them would be available for 10-15 year leases, while the other 55% would be rented out on a short term basis. In addition, mooring buoys would be placed outside the marina proper, and the boats would be serviced by Catalina-style shoreboats. Since no berths or moorings will be available until December of '07, the prices haven't been determined. Del Valle said that there would still be plenty of room for boats to anchor outside the marina at no charge. Other features of the marina include a fuel dock and boatyard, a fish market, a malecon that will be 18 feet wide and 1.5 miles long, a five-acre hotel site, condos, a fish market, and accommodations for all 135 panga fishermen in the area. While some buildings at the edges of the project will be as tall as six stories - the height limit is 10 stories - del Valle stressed that all the streets leading to the marina would have good view corridors, as the concept is to make the marina an integral part of the town, not a separate entity.

Based on our conversations with locals, the project has tremendous support. The reasons are economic. People need jobs and the marina will create hundreds of them. Depending on who you talk to, La Cruz is either a romantic or rundown town, but just about everybody agrees that it could use some development and sprucing up. And it's not like the marina is the driving force behind change in the area. Just a short distance to one side of the village, bulldozers are clearing the land for the addition of 400 homes, and there's major development on the other side, too. We doubt that any legal challenges to the marina will get far. The state of Nayarit is one of the least populated in Mexico, and has long been considered sort of a hick place. Projects such as the marina and all the other development on the north shore of Banderas Bay will not only bring it lots of income and jobs, but be a source of pride. They really want it to happen.

If the developers really do build a world-class marina, we think it's going to be a huge asset for the community and all of Banderas Bay. If they skimp on quality so that it quickly starts falling apart - as happened at Nuevo Vallarta Marina and is happening at Marina Vallarta - it will be a disaster for everyone. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

When it comes to performance, how do cruising catamarans compare to cruising monohulls? It's always going to be an apples and oranges comparison, but in a recent Multihulls Magazine Jim Howard reported that he sailed his 40-ft aluminum cat Savannah from New Zealand to North America in five days less than he'd done it 10 years before with his Ohlson 38 monohull Denal. This despite the fact that he sailed - for unspecified reasons - an additional 1,500 miles with the cat. It's an interesting comparison - made all the more so by Howard's 'tell it like it is' attitude. "Why, oh why do we have to try to maintain the myth that catamarans sail to windward as well as monohulls?" he wonders. "They don't, they won't, and they can't. At least cruising cats won't, don't, and can't. And don't let anybody tell you that they can . . . There are so many good things about catamarans that it blows me away trying to understand all the denial concerning windward ability."

Based on having cruised and raced our catamaran Profligate for nearly 10 years, we couldn't agree with Howard more. The truth shall set you free.

Colin Hiller of the Alaska-based Endeavour 38 Dream III has one of the worst looking dinghies we've ever seen in Mexico. "She was stabbed with an 8-inch knife," he explains, "but I patched her up and she works great. The dinghy had been stolen by two security guards at Marina Vallarta, and I had to pursue them for a year. They were finally thrown in jail. After just one night they agreed to compensate me in order to be released."

The incident hasn't soured Hiller on Mexico. "I sailed down here as part of the '96 Ha-Ha with two Eskimos as crew, and my boat has been here ever since. As far as I'm concerned, they can bury me here - I love Mexico that much. I have rental property in Alaska that requires I be home four to six months a year, but like a lot of Americans in Mexico, I always dread going back to the States. In the 10 years I've been here, I've kept my boat anchored in the entrance to Marina Vallarta for all but six months - and haven't paid a cent. Hurricane Kenna in '02 did do some damage to my boat, but she's fine now. In fact, I now charter her out at $300 for four hours. And I'm legal, too, having spent eight months and $1,500 to get the necessary permits." Among Hiller's other attachments to Mexico is a 4.5-year-old child by a local woman.

What's your favorite cruising spot in Mexico? For Leonard and Beth Wahlquist of the San Pedro-based Pearson Countess 44 Godspeed, it's Barra de Navidad. "Edgar, the owner of the Sands Hotel, is one of the reasons we love it so much. He allows cruisers anchored in the lagoon - and there were about 40 of us - to land our dinghies at his place. And if we bought a little food, we could use the pool and facilities all day long. Another wonderful person in the Barra area is Maria, who drives to the Costco in Guadalajara every week or two, and therefore is able to stock odd items such as kitty litter and pickle relish that are otherwise hard to find. And she'll pick up stuff for you at Costco for just a very small charge. We also like La Cruz. In fact, we had the local vet fix our cat for just $35, which is cheap compared to the States. Of course, the next day we learned they were doing it for free out at Punta Mita."

Sam Crabtree did the Singlehanded TransPac aboard his Martinez-based Cal 39 Catch the Wind way back in 1980 - and even managed to break some ribs along the way. But he obviously didn't hold it against his boat, as now, 26 years later, he's cruising her in Mexico. We bumped into him in La Cruz where he was about to celebrate his 71st birthday. "I'm really enjoying Mexico," he said, "except for New Year's Eve, when they played incredibly loud music until dawn." It was also nice to see that the cruising life since the Ha-Ha appears to have taken a few pounds from Sam's frame.

If you travel to Costa Rica to visit friends on their boats, you'll surely expect to see lots of birds and animals, the rain forest, and a lovely coastline. The last thing you'd probably expect to see are signs outside the airport warning you not to engage in sex with children. But after all these years of presenting itself as being an eco-loving country that is so democratic it doesn't need an army, the child prostitution problem has become so bad that authorities decided they needed to burn some of the country's reputation in order to address the seriousness of the problem. Authorities admit that most of the people having sex with children are Costa Ricans, but now the country is attracting sex tourists from Britain, Spain, and other countries. Don't get the wrong idea, Costa Rica is a wonderful place to cruise and has much to offer - but it's got its problems, too. Non-confrontational crime and child prostitution are two of them.

"A sailing buddy of mine recently bought a '70s era 45-ft sloop, and wants me and his girlfriend to join him in mid-April for a sail from St. Barts to Nevis," writes Joe Bunker of San Rafael, a self-described "Latitude addict" who owns a Catalina 30 on the Bay. "I think trades are mostly out of the east at that time of year. Knowing how much you love St. Barth, do you think this would be a fun sail or a sickening one?"

The trades blow out of the east all year in the Caribbean, but often with a northerly or southerly component. In the dead of winter, they are usually more out of the north and can blow hard; in the summer, they are more out of the south and lighter. It's most likely you'd have a broad reach to Nevis and a close reach back to St. Barth. If there is too much south in the trades, you can always get to Nevis by way of the lee of St. Kitts - which in any event is very lovely. You'll even pass in the shadow of Fort Brimstone, one of the more historical places in the Caribbean, and get to imagine what it was like to have cannonballs raining down from above. Chances are you'll have a wonderful sail. In fact, you'd be nuts to pass on the opportunity.

"It was great to read the letter from Tom Scott of the Folkes 39 Nepenthe that appeared in Latitude a few months ago," write Anne Kilkenny and Jon Naviaux, formerly of Folle Independence and now of the Ted K in Portland. "We became friends with Tom in New Zealand and Oz 16 - yikes! - years ago while cruising. If you could forward our regards, we'd appreciate it."

We don't like to give out addresses, so we'll tell him to you. Your letter reminded us of the time Scott sailed into St. Barth and raced with us aboard Big O - and that must have been a dozen years ago. Yikes is right!

Life saved by a broken watermaker! Gary Cook of the Ventura-based Beneteau 461 Navigator was about to become part of the Southbounder Class of '05 when he had a problem with his watermaker. During a trip home to get replacement parts, he decided to get a stress test on his heart. It was a good thing he did, because the doctor found that 99% of his right cardial artery was closed. "Had I sailed south, I almost surely would have had a heart attack," he says. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, he had a stent put in, and has been cleared for further cruising.

So why is Cook looking so bad in the accompanying photo? Some think it was a result of all the flogging he received while tied to the forestay of Scarlett, Russ and Jane Eichner's Benicia-based CS40, during the Governor's Big Boat Parade on March 4 along the Puerto Vallarta waterfront. Actually, Cook is a diabetic, and a week before his blood sugar got so low that he collapsed, face first. "I was taken to a clinic where I was treated very well. In fact, the doctor has come out to check up on me twice since then."

By the way, the parade was a big hit, with over 100 boats of every kind - from pangas to mini mega-yachts - participating. The best decorated boat - a panga with a green Neptune and lots of cute little mermaids - won a cash prize of $1,000. That's big bucks to a Mexican panga family. Those of you from Santa Barbara would have recognized another of the participants, Vaquero II, which used to shuttle cattle between Santa Cruz Island and the mainland. She's now a party boat on Banderas Bay, carrying a different kind of cattle.

"Ron Smith, MD, of Reno, was quoted in the March Changes as saying that the AAA Plus membership includes Emergency Medical Transportation Coverage up to $25,000," notes 15-year subscriber Jim Cox. "I just called my Oregon/Idaho AAA Club office in Beaverton regarding my Plus membership, and they told me that no benefit of this kind exists for OR/ID Club members - except for travel arranged with and paid for via AAA. The rep I spoke with speculated such a benefit, if it does exist with the Plus membership, is club-specific. So perhaps the California/Nevada club does provide this benefit for travel not arranged via AAA."

Thanks for the heads-up. Anybody else with information on this topic?

How is the average European cruiser different from the average American cruiser? Some folks have told us that Americans cruisers are more anal about following rules for checking in. For example, a lot of cruisers get 90-day visas for French Polynesia in advance, and the 90-day clock doesn't start clicking until they first check in at French Polynesia. The first thing most Americans cruisers do when arriving in French Polynesia is - as required by law - check-in at one of the ports of entry. A lot of Europeans, we're told, take days, weeks, and even months before they first check in, thereby postponing the start of the clock ticking on their visas - and perhaps preventing them from having to get a renewal. Not checking in is illegal, of course, and one could get into a lot of trouble. But we're told that many Europeans view the law as more of a suggestion than a requirement.

Someone who only identified himself as a "longtime reader, first-time caller," writes, "I'm planning on bringing my new-to-me Cal 29 from the Bay Area to Portland in late May or early June, and am curious about the options."

The three options are harbor-hopping up the coast, taking the offshore route, or trucking the boat up. We think the first option is the best. But you have to have enough time to wait out strong northwesterlies, and be able to deal with fog and bar crossings. Weather forecasting has gotten much better over the years, but up around Cape Mendocino prognostications are often inaccurate, so you'll always want to be prepared for the possibility of heavy weather. But if you've got time, patience, and a good diesel, it shouldn't be too bad.

"Hello from the 'Catcher's Mitt of the Pacific'," report Kurt and Katie Braun of the Alameda/New Zealand-based Deerfoot 74 Interlude. "We had a boisterous 30-hour sail from Bikini Atoll, and are now safely anchored at Kwajalein Atoll Army Base. After a KPD dog sniffed all over the boat, we are clear to get our identification badges in the morning. Katie is looking forward to the snack bar. Kurt wants diesel - we're down to 40 gallons."

Kurt and Katie promise to explain the 'Catcher's Mitt of the Pacific' description in their next report.

"On February 4, Dick Sandys made his last sail beneath the Golden Gate, aboard a Bird, accompanied by other Birds," reports Shirley Sandys. "His ashes were then scattered on the waves. Dick started his sailing life on the Golden Gate 24 Caprice in '63, and several years later moved up to Bird #16, Cuckoo. He eventually won two season championships. In 1989, Dick and I ventured forth on an around-the-world cruise aboard our Islander 36 Ge Ja. Our 16 years of cruising were adventurous and exciting. Our boat's final resting place will be Empuriabrava, Spain."

Reports from Ge Ja were featured in Changes a number of times over the years. Dick will indeed be missed.

"I was saddened to see an obit on Desmond V. Nicholson, of Nelson Dockyard and Nicholson Yacht Charter fame," writes Andrew Macaulay of New York. "Desmond was an integral part of the efforts to save the Dockyard and preserve the history of Antigua, as well as build the charter business in the Caribbean. Many sailors who passed through Antigua will remember him fondly."

While Desmond probably isn't known to too many Latitude readers, we knew him from our days kicking around Antigua that he was indeed a great guy who did a lot for the island, the Dockyard, and the industry.

"Don't burn the people who help you," is the advice from a cruising couple in La Paz. According to them, a couple of guys pulled into La Paz, having blown two sets of sails out in Hurricane Otis aboard a larger-than-normal-cruising boat. The owner said he had to go north, and asked the couple to keep his crew in food and his boat in diesel if he wasn't able to return in a week. Having left very little food and no money for his crew, the owner was reportedly gone for 2.5 months. "During his absence, it cost us about $1,500 to keep the crew person in cigarettes, beer, and other stuff," the couple claim. "But when the owner finally returned, he said he didn't owe us anything for helping him. We think this was wrong. Now they've got no money, no food, no sails - and no friends."

We can't confirm the alleged facts of this story, but as a general principle, it's certainly not wise to burn the people who assist you when you're in a jam.

"You won't find anything about this in the guidebooks or on the internet, so it came as a big surprise to us here in the Bay of Panama," report Herman and Nancy Ford aboard the Portland-based Cape Dory 36 Sea Tern. "But the locals know to expect it every February and March." The 'it' the Fords are referring to is the sudden arrival of cold water and a red tide. "We really enjoyed anchoring in the Perlas Islands in January, as the air and water temperature were both about 84 degrees. We'd often dive overboard for a snorkel or swim, and the fishing was so good that we could catch a sierra or triggerfish nearly every day. And with our big tarp slung over the boom, we could enjoy the shade and a cool breeze. At night we slept under a sheet or nothing at all. It was great! Unfortunately, all of this changed in mid-February when the cold water and red tide arrived. First the water turned blood red, then brown, and now it's green. Plus the visibility is only about two feet and it smells bad. Furthermore, both the water and air are a chilly 67 degrees, and with the wind regularly blowing out of the north at 15 to 20 knots, we now sleep under a blanket. What fish are around now aren't safe to eat. Locals tell us that after the green algae bloom, we can expect a jellyfish invasion. That means we won't have warm and clear water for another six weeks!"

The Fords have been out cruising since '94, and have enjoyed the coasts of Mexico, Central America, and Ecuador.

"After departing La Paz on January 10, we fast-tracked it down to Zihuatanejo, arriving on January 28 and in time for SailFest," report Mark and Debra Wilson of the Long Beach-based DownEast 45 Seangel. "A very good time was had by all at SailFest. Since we were also present for the '05 event, we can report that this year's was better attended, as there were 99 boats registered. The massive amount of money raised speaks for itself about the success of the event, and everybody is to be congratulated. By the way, Rick's Bar is now providing wifi to the entire bay here in Zihuatanejo - in fact, I'm sending this from our anchored out boat. The wifi is a great convenience, and we cruisers sure are grateful for it! So life is good down here in Zihua, and we just wanted everybody to know how easy it is to make it down for ZihuaFest."

We said it last month, and we'll say it again - everybody who has been associated with the Zihua SailFests is to be congratulated for doing such a wonderful work on a great project. Brilliant!

Rick sending out the wifi to Zihua Bay is also great. If all goes well, Latitude and Margarita's restaurant, with a thanks to Radio Rob, will be providing wifi to all the boats anchored out at Punta Mita. And if things go really, really well, in a couple of months those people - and everybody else with high-speed internet access - will be able to download the entire issue of Latitude 38. Don't hold your breath, but it could happen.

"The Seven Seas Cruising Association will be hosting a Weather for Mariners, with an Emphasis on Cruising, seminar by Lee Chesneau, Senior Meteorologist at NOAA, on June 3-4 at the Del Rey YC in Marina del Rey," report Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House. The two-day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seminar will include a continental breakfast, lunch, and snack. There will be a $250 fee for SSCA members, and $300 for non-members. The SCCA is the largest cruising yacht club - non-profit, paper yacht club - in the world, with 5,000 members. For details on the event, visit www.ssca.org."

Enjoy your spring cruising and keep sending in those stories!

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