Latitude 38
Changes in Latitudes

April, 2007

With reports this month on Mike Harker starting his 11-month circumnavigation with Wanderlust III; from Crystal Wind on the skipper having to issue his first mayday in 30 years; from Mico Verde on a punctual cruising from Seattle to Australia; from Aquarelle on a fourth season of cruising in the Caribbean, including Carnival in Trinidad; from Fleetwood in South Africa; from the Wanderer on walking the docks at Marina Vallarta, and all the Cruise Notes we were able to jam in.

Wanderlust III - Hunter Mariner 49
Mike Harker
A One-Year Circumnavigation
(Manhattan Beach)

I've finally gotten my new boat out of the Miami Boat Show so I can start my circumnavigation. It's going to be a quick one, for if all goes well, I'll be in Australia for the Sydney Boat Show in July, then continue on to South Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, and back to Miami for next year's boat show. Even though my boat is going to be displayed at some stops along the way, I'm intending to complete the trip in 11 months.

It sure feels great to get back on the water again! I find it exhilarating to be able to go from one exotic locale to another using only the forces of nature. I really missed that during the 18 months I waited for my new boat to finally be ready. And what a beautiful boat she is! Hunter listens to their customers and dealers, so even some of my design input made it into the 'Bluewater' version of the 49.

There were a few things about my Hunter 466 that I thought needed improving, and a few things I wanted to add to the new boat for my own safety and comfort while single or shorthanding in heavy seas. For example, I carry an emergency rudder that stows away until needed, then fastens to the stern with already-fitted pad-eyes. I also have a Viking 6-person SOLAS liferaft and two EPIRBS, including one that is a personal model. I have two complete charting and plotting systems - the Navionics Platinum charts for the world on the RayMarine E120, and Nobeltec world charts on a laptop powered by an isolated 12-volt battery pack. This gives me options that I hope I never need to use.

The Bluewater version of the Mariner 49 has a 68-ft mast that is seven feet taller than on the standard model, and a deeper keel. I have a full-roach main with three inline reefs, a self-tacking staysail, and a 120% genoa. I also have the 8-gph watermaker, so I changed one of the three 80-gallon water tanks into a reserve fuel tank with transfer pump to the 120-gallon main tank. The water, not the fuel, is filtered through a twin-filter FilterBoss cleansing system.

I have a twin propeller bow-thruster for tight marinas, a Flex-O-Fold three-blade folding propeller, and the Fischer-Panda 12 KW genset. I had the Hunter stainless department build an arch/bimini/davit system similar to the one on my old boat, and added three 75-watt solar panels on the top. By the way, the davit system for my dinghy works really well, no matter if I'm retrieving or launching.

I had three journalists along from German television during my first week of sailing. Although I was born in Southern California and still live there, I have a lot of longtime contacts in Germany, and will be doing shows for German television as I go around the globe.

I'd been so busy preparing my new 49-footer to circumnavigate that I didn't get time to take many photos in the beginning. But now it's different, particularly since I met such a photogenic subject as Kimberly McKeag, who will be sailing with me down to Georgetown. She's 30ish, from Toronto, and I met her at the show in Miami. She has her Power Squadron license, but needs some sea time so she can sit for her Coast Guard license. It was the perfect excuse for her to sail with me to Georgetown. She hopes to rejoin me for another week in the South Pacific.

I'm off for Jamaica and Panama, and on that latter leg expect the typical boisterous conditions. I will be providing regular reports for Latitude 38 and 'Lectronic as I go along. In addition, I'll have my www.sail-wanderlust.com website and blog up and running before I leave Panama. I hope to see some of the Puddle Jump fleet when I reach French Polynesia.

- mike 03/05/07

Readers - Harker used to bike along the shores of Santa Monica Bay. One day he stopped at the Hunter dealer in Marina del Rey and picked up a copy of Latitude. After reading about the Baja Ha-Ha, the non-sailor bought a Hunter 34 and did the Ha-Ha with several friends from Germany. Following a singlehanded Baja Bash, he bought Wanderlust II, a Hunter 466, at the Miami Boat Show. He singlehanded her across the Atlantic to the Med. Sailing with various crew around the Med, he then crossed the Atlantic again to the Caribbean, Panama, French Polynesia, and was headed to Hawaii when the rudder broke. Once that was fixed, he sailed to Hawaii and back to California. Inspired by the experience, he and Hunter worked together so he could do a one-year circumnavigation with the new Hunter Mariner 49 Bluewater model. After the circumnavigation, Harker wants to do another Ha-Ha and a lot more sailing on Banderas Bay in Mexico.

Did we mention that a hang-glider accident left Harker in a coma for a long time, and that for a about a decade he was unable to walk? Although doctors assured him that he'd never walk again, after much tremendous effort and dedication, he proved them wrong. He still has no feeling beneath his knees, and can't stand in one place without touching something. Nonetheless, Harker expects to do much of the circumnavigation short or singlehanded.

We believe in Mike!

Crystal Wind - Brewer 45
Martin A. Vienneau
My First Mayday
(San Diego)

After more than 50 years of sailing, with 30 of them on my Brewer 45 ketch, I had to issue a mayday call.

It all started when I was forced to take Teruo, my longtime Japanese friend and shipmate, to a hospital in Mazatlan. His kidneys had stopped functioning. After watching him suffer in the hospital for several days, I had no choice but, with a heavy heart, put him on a plane back to his native Japan. Teruo was the best crew I ever had - not to mention the fact that for the last four years his sushi had been a big hit at all the cruiser potlucks.

So there I was, with no choice but to singlehand Crystal Wind back to San Diego. On the way up the coast of Baja, I took on fuel at Turtle Bay from Servicos Anabela, a panga that had a big fuel tank with fuel gauges, filters - the works. Their panga looked like a gas station, but they come out to your boat. It's very convenient, but . . .

I told them I had a Baja Filter, but they assured me their diesel didn't need to be filtered - plus it would take too long. After they assured me once again that they filtered the fuel twice while ashore and another two times on the fuel panga, I let them fill my tanks without using the Baja Filter. You live and you learn. At age 76, I guess I'm still learning.

The first night out, motoring past Cedros, wasn't a problem. But the next day, with 20+ knots of wind on the nose, my Yanmar started talking to me in low RPMs about halfway to San Quintin. I assumed the problem was with my filters, but I didn't want to try to change them in the big seas. The closest anchorage was Punta Cutas. It's not a highly recommended anchorage, but I figured it might be good enough for me to change the filters. Since it was already dark, I decided that I might even spend the night there.

Figuring that I'd drop the hook in 15 to 20 feet to get some protection from the big northwesterly swells, I eased off the throttle. Big mistake! The engine quit. It was a panic situation, as there was no way that I could get sail up in time. I quickly dropped the anchor and 300 feet of chain. It held, but I couldn't get far enough in to get protection from the lumbering swells. So Crystal Wind rocked from gunwale to gunwale all night long while I held Princess, my kitty, in my arms. She cried her little eyes out all night long in fear.

In the morning I determined that it wasn't just the filters, as the injector pump wasn't working. The anchor seemed to be holding, but if it dragged, I would be on the rocks. After a few hours of thinking it over, I decided that I had no choice. So I put out a Mayday.

A 50-something-ft powerboat heading north answered my call. He didn't want to tow me into those seas, but said that if it was necessary, he would tow me to the next safe anchorage. Better yet, he made contact with the Coast Guard in Long Beach, which called the Mexican Navy for assistance. The skipper of the powerboat informed me that a Mexican warship was steaming down from Ensenada, and asked if I could hold out. I said that I could, because at the moment it wasn't life-threatening. I thanked him profusely for his help.

When the warship arrived, they sent over an English-speaking officer along with a chief engineer and four enlisted men. I thought to myself, 'Wow, where does the Mexican Navy get these people?' They all came right out of Central Casting: bright, courteous and cheerful. They were just fantastic. My fears evaporated and I was back in my element - adventure on the high seas!

The officer explained that the captain didn't want to tow me in the big seas because it was too dangerous, which is why he sent the chief engineer over. They were going to try to get my engine going! The engineer and two of the enlisted men spent all afternoon in the engine room, with the boat still rocking from gunwale to gunwale. "Are you all right in there with all that rocking?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, "I love it." He then showed me the filters, heavily saturated with water. Thank God I had spares - two large Racors, plus one on the engine. "But damn," I swore to myself, "there must be at least 10% water in the diesel in my tanks."

"Well, you know they make more money selling water than diesel," replied the chief engineer. I wasn't amused, but I saw the humor in it.

It was getting late, so the engineer said that he'd take the injectors back to the ship and clean them, then bring them back in the morning. Since it was still rough, he asked if I wanted to spend the night on their ship, although it meant I'd have to leave Princess behind. "No way," I said, "I'm not going to leave her all alone. So I had another long night of rocking and rolling.

When the chief engineer returned in the morning, he decided, like me, that the injector pump wasn't working. After talking about the problem on the radio with the captain of the warship, he said, "I guess we'll have to tow you, we've got permission to take you to San Quintin, the next port - but you'll have to sign a release." No problem, I'd sign!

So they towed me out to the ship with a 300-ft hawser. They wanted me to run it through the hawsehole and tie it off to Crystal Wind's samsom post. But I wouldn't let them. "Even though my boat is heavily built," I told them, "the post would be yanked right off in these seas." So we put the line across the deck, through one hawsehole and out the other, making a tow line of about 20 feet in front of the boat. It had a solid grip on the entire bow. The captain insisted that two of his men stay on Crystal Wind during the tow. So off we went, warship, Crystal Wind, crew, kitty and I. All night long and into the next day we went, doing a steady seven knots.

You know how when you're going into the seas there is a hesitation at the crest of a wave before you race down the other side? Well, when you're being towed by a warship the size of a destroyer, there is no hesitation. The Crystal Wind's 22 tons went straight through the waves like a torpedo, rose briefly, then surfed right into the next wave. There was no rock and roll. The ride was quite nice - exciting in a satisfying way. God, I was proud of Crystal Wind.

With three of us now aboard, I asked about night watches. "No need," they repled, "as there are two men on the warship watching us from the fantail." The ship's floodlights were on us all well, so I started thinking about what I would serve my mates for supper. Paella! While in Mazatlan, I'd found this huge tin of paella, with shrimp in the shell and everything. All you had to do was heat it up. I dug a bag of chicken wings out of the freezer and saturated them in a lot of olive oil and garlic. I put them in the wok with the paella and baked some rolls made from Krusteeze Quick Bread Mix. My two crew looked at each other and thought, "He's making paella in these seas!"

Later I heard one of the officers check in with the captain of the ship. The captain must have asked what we'd had for dinner because I heard the officer say, "Paella." Then he started to laugh. When I asked him what was so funny, he said, "The captain says he should have come aboard!"

After dinner, I left the oven on to keep the boat warm. The officers and I settled down for a long, steady night. I gratefully slept in the aft cabin for the first time since Isla Cedros. In the morning we enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice, buttermilk blueberry pancakes, and hand-ground Starbucks coffee for breakfast. That's what I call being a gentleman at sea.

Finally, San Quintin lazily came into view. It was flat, calm and quite beautiful. My new navy friends towed me into the inner bay with their longboat. At long last, I dropped the anchor, safe and sound. After handshakes and many hugs, they left to go back on patrol.

The point that I want to get across is that the Mexican Navy was truly fantastic. They were not only efficient, but had full command of the situation from the moment they arrived until the moment they ever so gently dropped me at San Quintin. The captain and crew were the best, I'll never forget them!

It took me another three weeks to get to Ensenada, and finally to San Diego, where I am now cooling my heels on my private mooring in the bay.

- martin 03/10/07

Readers - The Mexican Navy - like a lot of other government agencies in Mexico - is a much more professional organization that it was just a few years ago. It's great to see.

Now that Martin, who is 76, is back in San Diego, what's he going to do? Get ready for more cruising, of course. You can read about it in Cruise Notes.

Mico Verde - Westsail 32
Warren Johnson and
Stephanie Parry-Johnson
(Seattle, WA)

We bought our Westsail 32 in San Diego in the fall of '03, and had her trucked to Seattle where we planned to live aboard and refit her in time to start cruising by August of '04. We managed to do it, too, without going too crazy in the dreary Seattle winter. There were a few nights, however, where we drifted off to sleep with the help of varnish fumes. In any event, we departed Shilshole Marina on August 16 - on schedule - to start our cruising adventure.

We spent five months in Mexico, practicing our Spanish, doing some inland travel, and eating some great - and not so great - Mexican food. We began our Pacific crossing from Zihuatanejo in mid-April. As crossings go, ours was pretty uneventful - except when we jibed to port and started heading south to cross the equator at 135 West. The problem is that the boomkin fairleads cracked under the pressure of the jibe. We fixed them with tarred marlin and they held fine for the remainder of our trip. After 29 days and 3,500 ocean miles, we were happy to set foot ashore at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas.

We then spent seven wonderful, awe-inspiring months cruising west through the various island groups - French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, American Samoa and Fiji. Some of our favorite destinations were Tahuata of the Marquesas, Rangiroa of the Tuamotus, and Suwarrow of the Northern Cook Islands. We had great weather, with steady tradewinds the entire season, so we only put 50 hours on the old Perkins 4-108. That November we left Mico Verde at Vuda Point Marina in Fiji for the tropical cyclone season, and flew back to Seattle where we both worked for seven months. When June of '06 rolled around, we couldn't wait to get back to cruising.

Once back in Fiji, we hauled Mico Verde and hired a company to strip off the bottom paint. We think they went through eight colors of bottom paint before they got to the gelcoat, and probably lightened the boat by 100 pounds. Our Westsail had a few osmotic blisters, but they weren't too serious, so we let her dry off for a few weeks while we did some overland travel. We returned just in time to see the workers put on the final layers of bottom paint. We splashed here, spent another week or so attending to a few projects, and then headed off to cruise Fiji.

The weather across the entire Pacific in '06 was a little bit off - at least compared to the previous year. As a result, we sat through a lot of storms on the hook, and had front after front roll through for the whole season. In fact, after a month of trying to cruise the resort-ridden Mamanuca Islands of Fiji, we decided that it was time for a change of scenery and made the 400-mile trek west to Vanuatu.

We had a very bumpy ride, but arrived on the island of Tanna ready to get back to real cruising. Tanna is a beautiful, untouched island with an active volcano, hot water springs, cargo cults and lovely people. Overall, we spent about six weeks cruising through the islands of Vanuatu. In late October, we arrived in the northern port of Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo. When the weather faxes showed a low forming, we decided to leave for Australia a bit earlier than we planned so we didn't get stuck waiting for a better weather window. It turned out not to be such a good idea.

A day after we left, the weather faxes showed the low growing in force - and it was soon declared to be Tropical Cyclone Xavier! We sweated bullets, of course, but the only thing we could do was move away from the low as fast as possible. The wind blew a steady 30 knots, and the waves were the biggest we'd ever seen, with some of them as high as 20 feet and breaking. But we made our fastest noon-to-noon runs ever on that passage, 175 miles each for two days in a row. Within four days we were safely out of the track of Xavier and into steady trades and sunshine, something that was all too rare last season. Those days were a great close to the season, as we arrived in Bundaberg, where we readied Mico Verde to wait while we worked in the U.S. for three months.

We have a few projects lined up for the boat before we start cruising Australia, including replacing our old heat exchanger, getting a boatwright to look over our bowsprit and boomkin, and touching up the brightwork. We've found that our stamina for boat projects is always strongest after being away from cruising, so we'll try to make the most of our time before cyclone season ends in May.

- warren & stephanie 03/08/07

Aquarelle - Feeling 446
Terry & Evelyn Drew
Carnival In Trinidad
(Santa Cruz)

This is our fourth season of spending the winter aboard our Feeling 446 Aquarelle in the Caribbean. We're presently in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, after a 20-hour trip back from Trinidad. We'd sailed to Trinidad intending to spend just two weeks, but ended up spending a month. Carnival in Trinidad, said to be the second largest after the one in Rio - was great. So were the people, both the locals and cruisers.

What an amazing place Trinidad is. And the weather is great. The temperature is 85 to 90 degrees with light winds during the day, then drops down to 72, with dew, at night.

We stayed in Chaguaramas, which is somewhat isolated from Port of Spain, which is where all the Carnival activities take place, but is one of the major yacht storage and repair facilities in the Caribbean. We had to 'commute' to Port of Spain for the festivites, most of which take place in the evening.

The Carnival parades and competitions go on for miles, so it was nice to see the D'john trucks in the middle of the various tribes. We guess that keeping your tail feathers dry is the key thing for revelers. The pan drum bands are in a completely different area, but the music is really great.

After Carnival some of the cruisers opted to go in groups to the Orinoco River in Venezuela, while others continued on to Guyana.

- terry & evelyn 03/06/07

Fleetwood - Naja 30
Jack Van Ommen
Setting Out From South Africa
(Gig Harbor, WA)

Tomorrow I'll be rounding the Cape of Good Hope and entering the Atlantic Ocean, which will allow me to point my bow toward the Americas. The Atlantic will be Fleetwood's home for the next few years.

I hadn't counted on spending nearly three months in South Africa, but I needed to take care of some maintenance in Durban and Simon's Town, the latter just outside of Cape Town, and in this part of the world you always need to wait for weather windows. I spent half of the three months in Durban, which was one of the best and most enjoyable stops on my two-year voyage. The marina was within a short walking distance of the town center, and two yacht clubs, the Royal Natal and the Durban YC, competed for the praises of visitors. And just about all boating equipment was available at the nearby chandleries. Over the years I'd heard rave reports about the hospitality one gets in South Africa and the beauty of the country. Nonetheless, both exceeded my expectations.

We're all familiar with the terrible crime problem in South Africa, so some cruisers prefer Richards Bay over Durban, which is further away from the mostly impoverished native urban population. But the marinas in Richards Bay are far from town and there's not much to do there anyway. Practically all the white Durbanites who formerly inhabited the town center of Durban have moved to the outskirts and become 'SubD(b)urbanites'. They've been replaced in the town center by colored and black Africans. I did see some very attractive residential areas with homes, landscaping, and tree-lined roads that would be the envy of upscale California towns - were it not for the high walls and security systems. Behind these walls white men still live in a world that most blacks can't imagine. I don't like to say it, but after talking with the locals, reading the newspapers and listening to the radio, there seems to be little hope for the entire African continent.

Christmas in Durban was a memorable experience. The Sacred Heart Cathedral had a wonderful service in both English and French. The Cardinal, a black African, had gone to seminary in Louvain, and celebrated parts of the mass in French. There was also a French-speaking Flemish priest. The choir part that sang in French were mostly Congolese refugees. Because the cathedral is downtown, the congregation had changed from mostly white to mostly black. But it's a vibrant and close community led by some truly caring pastors.

Christmas was also made special by the four Polish female crew of two Mantra 28s, Asia and Ania. The two boats are doing a doublehanded around-the-world race. The two boats arrived in Richards Bay from Mauritius a few days after me, flying the Polish ensign. The two on Ania were Joanna Raczka, skipper, and her 22-year-old crew Aleksandra Peszkowska. The duo on Asia were Joanna Pajkowska, skipper, and Karolina Bratek, her 20-year-old crew. Pajkowska had done the 2000 OSTAR from England to the Caribbean without any sponsorship, and finished respectably. She has also been a volunteer crewmember in the Royal National Lifeboat Society on the South Coast of England. She showed me the burgee from the Mazurey, which was left here at the Point YC by fellow countrywoman Krystyna Choynowski-Liskiewicz, who was the first woman to singlehand around the world. Naomi James is usually credited with that record, but she actually didn't do it until three years later.

The two boats are owned and sponsored by the Mantra yard, and the circumnavigations are being run as a race between the two. In any event, the four ladies cooked up a storm on Christmas Eve, and I happened to be the only non-Polish guest. They served borsht, piroghees and special pastries, and sang Polish Christmas songs. What fun. Having launched the two boats in the Italian Adriatic port of Monfalcone, I learned that they had sailed to Panama, across the Pacific, spent the cyclone season in Australia, then continued on to the Chagos, Reunion and Mauritius before arriving at Richards Bays. They are now on their way across the South Atlantic to Brazil.

While in Durban, I also had the unusual opportunity to be joined by five other sailors who have either been sailing solo all the time or most of the time. Starting with the oldest, they were Georges Prat, 75, of Bayonne, France-based 39-ft Lerges; Philippe Blochet, 71, of the Paimpol, Brittany, France-based 35-ft steel sloop Ar Sklerder; myself; Bill Hughes, 67, of the Fremantle, Australia-based Westsail 32 Kymika; Dieter Pollak, 66, of the Vancouver-based Amazon 44 Amazon 1, and Noel French, 58, of the Plymouth-based Bavaria 44 Tigem.

Prat, alias 'Six Fingers', is the oldest and, having lost the use of four fingers on his left hand in an industrial incident, is the only genuine singlehander. He's on his second circumnavigation. You could never tell when he was being serious or mischievous, because he always had this mocking squint in his eyes. He doesn't look anywhere close to 75, and most conversations start with your having to try to guess his age. Someone once told me once that for every year you're on the ocean, you rejuvenate a year. Blochet, who is the second oldest, is also on his second circumnavigation. He started his first one in '96, and was rendered unconscious by a mild stroke while between Cape Town and St. Helena. He didn't bother to see a doctor until he returned to France, where he had an operation. He sold his boat and bought a camping trailer, but after a few years had the irresistible urge to do another circumnavigation.

Bill Hughes immigrated to Australia from North Wales when he was 29, and his ultimate destination is Hollyhead, Northern Wales. Dieter Pollak, a German-Canadian, was born in Sudetenland and grew up in Westphalia. He started building Amazon steel sailboats in Vancouver, then took off aboard one. His wife joins him from time to time. Noel French, who at 68 is the youngster in our group, is classified as handicapped, having been run over by a car 10 years ago. He was clinically dead twice because his heart stopped twice during operations, so he jokes that he's been resurrected more times than Jesus Christ. He broke his boom on the way from Panama to Alaska, and was dismasted near New Zealand, so he's had some troubles.

Several of the six of us have taken crew or passengers on part of our voyage. Bill Hughes, Noel French and I haven't taken anyone else aboard until now.

We left Durban in a 10-boat fleet, taking advantage of a good window along the 'wild coast'. As many know, the coast here is infamous for enormous waves that are created when a southwesterly gale or more builds up against the fast south-flowing Aghulas Current. We all listened carefully to weatherman Fred Meyer on the Peri-Peri Net at 7 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. to get the green light for a long enough window to carry us to whatever the next port would be. From Durban, in particular, it's a long stretch with no place to hide, and it's dangerous, because if a southwesterly does kick up, it does so with a vengeance.

Our first stop was East London, a true river port. We were locked in there for 10 days by the weather. Most boats then made it to Mossel Bay. But the three slowest boats, my 30-footer, a 31-footer, and a 32-footer, stopped in Plettenberg Bay to sit out the southwesterly. From there I made it all the way to Simon's Town. 'S-Town' is in False Bay, and is just a short train ride from downtown Cape Town. 'S-Town' is a delightful old town with a large navy base and older homes at beach level and newer ones on the surrounding hills. The False Bay YC treated us with the then-taken-for-granted South African-style hospitality. Some of the boats of our group had gone on to Cape Town, but the S-Towners all agreed that we'd picked the better spot. Besides, the Royal Cape YC is far from town, and the moorage is more expensive.

I celebrated my 70th birthday on February 28. My cruising pals spoiled me with a party, dinner, gifts, cards and their attention. It was very special. For my birthday, three couples and I toured the wine country near Cape Town. The wineries and vegetation reminded me of Sonoma County. I made three trips into Cape Town in the commuter train that follows the breathtaking coast for part of the way. They even have a restaurant car. Cape Town is beautifully laid out beneath Table Mountain.

But now, it's time for me to head north into the Atlantic.

- jack 03/04/07

Puerto Vallarta Marina
Walking The Docks
The Wanderer

In the two years since we last visited Puerto Vallarta Marina, which is located at the busy edge of Puerto Vallarta near the airport, much seems to have changed. While the marina was pretty much full two years ago, there were lots of empty storefronts and restaurants, and many of the condos surrounding the facility looked empty and rundown. As for the restrooms, they were disgusting. In just two years, just about everything but the deplorable condition of the restrooms has changed. The marina is jam packed, the marina-front restaurants seem busy, the condos looked occupied and spiffed up - it's hopping.

We'd taken a $2 bus in from 40-minute-distant Punta Mita at the tip of Banderas Bay to visit our old friend Barritt Neal aboard his Peterson 44 Serendipity. We'd last seen him and his lady Renee Blaul on the hook in St. Barth three years ago. Having had to resort to using WD-40 to start his 26-year-old Perkins diesel on the way up from Panama, Barritt decided he'd better come up with a solution to his engine problems before making his sixth Baja Bash.

Shortly after entering the marina perimeter, we were idling in front of a Yamaha repair facility trying to decide whether they might have a small fastener we needed. An attractive woman came up behind us and said, "Can I help you find something?" We were a little taken aback because we're seldom approached by women who aren't hookers, and this woman clearly wasn't in that business.

The woman turned out to be Caroline Del Mar, not all of which is her real name. Like a lot of Americans in Mexico, she had a story. Having once had the great big house, the luxury car and all the material things, for one reason or another - we didn't really want to know - she'd given it all up to sail south from San Diego 18 months ago. Because it didn't turn out to be the best crewing experience, she prefers not to name the 41-footer or the captain whom she and the other girl aboard abandoned in San Blas. The other woman took off for Costa Rica, while Del Mar found herself working on a whale-watching boat out of Vallarta.

"I love it here! I'm a Mexican now," says Del Mar, who has enough enthusiasm and positive attitude to power a megayacht. "I love the weather, the people, the bay, the food, the popsicles, the tranquilo atmosphere. It's just a wonderfully different vibe from the States. Plus, I never want to be cold again in my life."

Although Del Mar now works for Mr. Mahi Mahi fishing charters, an outfit opened up with the proceeds the owner win in a fishing contest, she does way more than just book fishing charters. "I am," she says with utter confidence and a winning manner, "the 'go to' gal in Puerto Vallarta for charters and tours, vacation planning, boat sales and real estate, and everything else you can think of. I'm always happy to answer questions, solve dilemmas, assist travelers - whatever."

Indeed, with there being only a slim possibility of any future benefit to her, she'd interrupted ordering a lemonada from a nearby bar to see if we needed help. She then took us inside the Yamaha shop to help us get a fastener from a place that normally doesn't sell fasteners. 'Go To' Del Mar explains that she only works in her marina front office part of the time. The rest of her waking hours, she's busy meeting as many people as she can - even if it's just confused-looking people such as ourselves - in order to increase and broaden her client base. Among other things, she's looking for clients to charter La Evasion, a Beneteau 456 that's well-known on Banderas Bay and was recently purchased by her brother to put into charter service. If you've got any questions for the Go To Gal, .

After wishing good luck to Del Mar, we headed down to F-Dock to find Barritt. As we entered the gate, we were met by Joe Lacey, who had done the '95 Baja Ha-Ha with his wife Lori aboard their Reno-based Island Packet 40 Dos Amantes. They'd planned to sail to the South Pacific, but something came up.

"When we got to Mazatlan," Joe explained, "we discovered that we'd fried all the batteries. So we limped down to P.V. to get them replaced. After spending a couple of months here, we looked at each other and said, "We really love this place, let's not go to the South Pacific right away." So they decided to see if they could make some money chartering their boat. As we understand it, Americans are now allowed to own 100% of Mexican corporations - except in certain sensitive areas such as maritime activities. So the Laceys had to find a Mexican partner to own 51%. Yet through some legal process, that person signed over 100% of all future profits. We're not entirely clear on the details, but it took them about six months and $7,500 to become legal. That's a lot of cash, but it hasn't taken them long to start recovering it and more.

"We've been slammed since the end of October," says a proud Joe. "We usually go out six days a week, but several times we've worked more than 10 days in a row." While the couple can take up to 15 people out at a time on their 40-footer, they would be packed in like sardines - as are the typical charter boats on Banderas Bay. Seeking a better clientele, the Laceys limit their boat to six to eight guests, and only accept groups in which everybody knows each other. They do four, six and eight-hour charters, for which they charge $400, $575, and $750, respectively.

"And we love doing it, too," says an obviously happy Lori, "because we get to sail all the time, see whales, dolphins, turtles, and manta rays, and be surrounded by people who are having a wonderful time."

The couple say there are three things that set their charters apart from most others: 1) They won't do 'cattle charters', 2) They let their guests do everything on the boat, including backing her out of the berth, and 3) Lori serves gourmet food instead of the usual ham sandwiches. "Our signature," confirms Lori, "is that I serve just baked chocolate chip cookies and strawberries on the way back in. And not just any chocolate chip cookies, but ones with chocolate chips and brown sugar imported from the States."

Apparently word has gotten around that the Laceys do a 'cut above' kind of charter, so they've been very, very busy, and have been getting repeat clients. "One woman from Washington had so much fun that she chartered our boat for five days in a row," laughs Lacey.

About this time we bumped into Barritt, whose Serendipity is berthed just across the dock from Dos Amantes. He confirmed that late just about every afternoon he sees a group of very happy-looking people disembarking from the Laceys's Island Packet. If you ever might be interested in a charter aboard Dos Amantes, you can contact them .

At 67 years of age, Barritt, like many older active cruisers, appears to be in excellent shape. It might have something to do with the fact that he's been cruising almost nonstop from '91, in Mexico, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the East Coast, back in the Caribbean, and back in Mexico again. And he makes an effort to stay in shape. "I got my mile jog in this morning," he said.

Unfortunately, Serendipity's Perkins 4-154 - not a lot of the 62-hp engines were made - wasn't doing so well. Convinced that he and Renee couldn't do a Bash with the engine, the question became whether to install a new Yanmar or rebuild the 26-year-old engine. It's a no-brainer, right? You go with the new engine. Or do you?

Barritt explained that while he originally dreamed about putting in a new Yanmar, it wouldn't be so simple - and it would be about three times more expensive. "The biggest problem," he said, pointing down into the engine cavity, "is that most of the old stuff wouldn't fit. I'd have to redo the refrigeration, watermaker and all those things. In addition, I'm sure that I'd need a new shaft, new cutlass bearing, new prop and other stuff."

Figuring that it would cost $12,000 for just the new engine, plus another $8,000 for installation and necessary modifications, he decided to go with a $6,500 rebuild. One of the considerations is that he'd bought a full rebuild kit back in '98. When 'Teapot Tony' gets done with the job in a month or so, Barritt expects to be able to get another 7,000 hours out of the old Perkins.

"She was a good engine for a long time. In fact, I got saltwater into her twice many years ago, but it didn't do any permanent damage. The first time happened while crossing to the South Pacific. But I just pulled the injectors, put a towel over the top of them, put a drop of oil in the injector holes, and hit the starter a couple of times. It took four hours and a lot of oil changes while in eight-foot seas, but it fired right up and ran great. I think the cause was a clogged anti-siphon valve."

Barritt figures that running the engine without load for all these years - to charge the batteries and run the refrigeration and watermaker - have done more damage than the saltwater.

Despite going with an engine rebuild, Barritt has spent many hot and sweaty hours in the Peterson 44's engine room, and not just cleaning things up.

"Ours is the last of the 200 Peterson 44s that were built, and she's been a tremendous boat. In fact, the only gripe I've got is that the engine bilge is so shallow that when we heel over in rough weather, the water spills onto the cabin sole. So, I decided to fix that by making the bilge deeper. I got a big surprise when I started digging down there and found that the manufacturer had put cement over the top of the lead. I felt like John Henry for a few days chipping away at that stuff." After talking to some other owners, he learned that all the 44s - for whatever reason - have cement on top of the keels.

Current plans call for the couple - Renee, an RN, was in San Diego at the time keeping her finger on the pulse of that line of work - to do the Baja Bash, something Barritt has already done about five times. "It's no big deal - and certainly nothing compared to taking the Thorny Path from the East Coast to the Caribbean. That's 1,300 miles rather than 700 miles, and you have to start your day at 3 a.m. and quit by 10 a.m. We just hated that. If we had to do it again, we'd definitely take the offshore route."

Does the fact that the couple are heading back to San Diego mean they are swallowing the anchor?

"No, no, no, no!" says Barritt. "We're going to spend about a year giving Serendipity a complete refit. She's been an absolutely wonderful boat, with no serious problems, but she deserves a refit. It will take about a year, at which time we'll head back to Mexico for more cruising. We'll base out of Banderas Bay, but we'll be cruising the entire country. In fact, we even liked Huatulco a bit when we came through this year. The people in Mexico are the sweetest and most friendly that you can imagine, the music is fantastic, and the food is outstanding. The thing I can't understand is how Mexican food can be so interesting, while the food in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica is so boring."

Shortly after getting back to San Diego in June, Barritt and Renee will join a group of friends on a catamaran charter out of Raiatea. He's really looking forward to visiting the places he cruised years ago with Serendipity and, after the charter, will take Renee to Cook's Bay, Moorea, one of the most beautiful places he's been to. "But nobody needs to worry about us going over to the 'dark side' on catamarans. We sailed a lot with Blair Grinols on Capricorn Cat back when he used to take everyone on those snorkeling trips out of Z-town, and that was great, but Renee and I love our Peterson 44 too much to ever give her up." The couple have also already made reservations for the Annapolis Boat Show. "We loved Annapolis when we were back there with our boat a few years ago - except it was so cold when we left that we had to wear socks on our hands. We can't wait to return."

Having spent well over five years cruising both in Mexico and in the Caribbean, Barritt is the perfect one to ask which is better for cruising. "They are so different but so good that the only solution is to have a boat in both places."

- the wanderer 02/28/07

Cruise Notes:

"We gave ourselves two years to decide whether or not we would really like cruising," report the Nichols family - parents Carl and Yvette, and kids Joel, 14, and Kyle, 11 - of the Friday Harbor, Washington-based Formosa 46 Liberty. "But after seven months, we're going back home. Having made a unanimous decision, we're going home to literally sell our farm so we can do long term cruising." By the way, Carl and Yvette told us there were two things that made them buy their boat, which is actually a near copy of a Kelly-Peterson 46. The first thing was the solid pilothouse-like enclosure around the cockpit, and the second was a special helmsman's seat that fits into the aft companionway.

Let's talk about the cost of cruising, shall we? During our interview with Barritt Neal of the Peterson 44 Serendipity, he told us that he was paying about $870/month - everything included - for his berth at Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta. That's based on a three-month stay in the high season. It's not cheap, is it? In fact, he says it's about $70/month more than he paid at Crew's Inn, a very nice marina in Trinidad, which has all the amenties, including a crew lounge, gym, pool, and everything else. It's true, many marinas in Mexico - particularly those in places such as Banderas Bay where the demand for slips far exceeds the supply - are more expensive than typical marinas in California.

But before you get too discouraged, consider the report from Martin Vienneau of the one-time Sausalito-based Brewer 45 Crystal Wind, who has also been cruising in Mexico, and who is also featured in this month's Changes. According to Vienneau, he and his Japanese pal Teruo spent the last five years having a great time cruising in Mexico on just $15,000 a year. That includes "everything", says Vienneau, including a trip back to the U.S. for him, a trip back to Japan for Teruo, dining out frequently, and all the maintenance for the boat. But here's the critical thing - they only stayed in marinas about 1% of the time. As always, the key to budget cruising is staying out of marinas - it's easy in Mexico because there are so many free anchorages - and avoiding tourist restaurants and bars. Some cruisers lived on less and some lived on more, but he figured the average is about $23,000 a year. Hmmm, that's not too bad, is it?

By the way, having made it back to San Diego, Vienneau is about to return to Mexico in the fall for more cruising - with his ex-wife of 20 years! "She's the head honcho for her husband's architectural magazine, but she's giving it all up to go cruising with me. We remained good friends even after we got divorced, and her husband has told her, 'Go for it!'" How civilized.

So what's it cost to circumnavigate? We'll have an excruciatingly detailed report on that in the June issue. But it's probably less than you think.

"Jon Feldman of Eugene died of cardiac arrest on March 12 while aboard Gertrud, his beloved Bristol Channel Cutter, while near Loreto, Baja," reports Mark Reed of the Portland-based Southern Cross. Feldman and his partner Cathy Ellis had just weighed anchor when Feldman began experiencing chest pain. Ellis, an RN, issued a mayday, began treating Feldman, and then altered course for Loreto. Feldman went into cardiac arrest 30 minutes later and could not be revived. Jon and Cathy had purchased Gertrud in Seattle approximately seven years ago, and had sailed extensively in the Pacific Northwest, including a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in '04. They passed through the Bay Area in the fall of '05 on their way south, spending a month or more in Oakland. This was their second season cruising in Baja. Feldman was in his mid-50s."

Sean and Kathryn Kennedy, who sold Gertrud to Feldman and Ellis years ago, report they are heartbroken at the news of his death. "We'd bought a larger boat, and had hardly put out the word that Gertrud was for sale when Jon and Cathy knocked on the hull. It took no time at all to know these were the right people to adopt our little jewel. I've often thought that selling Gertrud was one of the great mistakes of our lives, but it has always been easier to bear knowing she was with the right people. We had too few opportunities to sail together, but we knew the three of them were made for each other. It's sad to know now that Jon is no longer with them."

More than a year later, some of the boat is still on the beach. Neil Steinbrenner, who reports that he had a great time on the last Ha-Ha aboard the S&S 80 Kialoa III, and his wife took a trip to the Caribbean this winter, where they made an interesting discovery on deserted Morgan Lewis Beach on the boisterous northeast shore of Barbados. It was a number of relatively large pieces - including the transom - of the J/44 First Light that had been owned by Andy and Jill Rothman, formerly of Tiburon. You may remember that, a little over a year ago, the couple's boat suffered a broken rudder when they were only about 1,100 miles from completing a nine-year circumnavigation. Despite their valiant efforts to steer and save the boat, she ultimately had to be abandoned."

A lot of armchair sailors harshly criticized the trio - Bruce Ladd was along as crew - for abandoning the boat, but we don't think the people in chairs have any concept of how difficult it is to steer a fin-keel boat that's lost her rudder in the trades. At least two boats lost their rudders crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean last November. One was scuttled, and the other was abandoned after their crews didn't have any better luck trying to steer the disabled boats than did the crew of First Light. Three years ago, the rudder on Mike Harker's Hunter 466 Wanderlust II broke while enroute from the Marquesas to Hawaii. Had another boat not come to their assistance, Harker and his crew may not have been able to make it back to land. If you read the first Changes this month, you'll note that Harker is off on an 11-month circumnavigation aboard the Hunter Mariner 49 Wanderlust III - and he's carrying a complete replacement rudder onboard. Yeah, that's how important a backup rudder is to a guy who has already lost one at sea.

"We're spending four sunny, summery months Down Under in wonderful Hobart, Tasmania," report Steve and Dorothy Darden, who years ago lived in Tiburon, but have called their Morrelli & Melvin 52 Adagio home since 2000. "While we're down here, our cat is snugly berthed at Bainbridge Island near Seattle, awaiting our return on May 1." After their boat was launched in New Zealand, the couple sailed to Tasmania, and absolutely fell in love with the place. In fact, it was years before they could tear themselves away for the trip up to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where they have cruised the last several years.

Speaking of cats, Wayne 'the Mango Man' and his partner Carol Baggerly, who have often crewed aboard aboard Profligate, surprised us last month by reporting they have purchased Blair Grinols' well-known and much travelled 45-ft cat Capricorn Cat. Blair will help them bring the boat north from Newport to her new home in Brisbane next month. Wayne and Carol hope to sell their Cross 45 trimaran Little Wing soon, as it would enable them to do the Baja Ha-Ha in late October. No matter what, they intend to cruise Mexico with their new-to-them cat next winter. The couple have become great friends with Blair, and plan on upholding his tradition of taking lots of folks sailing. The new owners offered Blair the opportunity to use the cat he built whenever he wants, but after a couple of reasonably serious health issues, Blair has decided that it's time for him to swallow the anchor completely. So the 70-something-year-old bought some motorcycles and quads for himself and Joan, and will soon be tearing up the deserts. While those two may now be gone from the cruising scene for good, it will be a long time before they're forgotten. Roy and Marlene Verdery of the Sausalito-based Pearson 36 Jellybean appear to have come down with a case of cat fever. "We're heading to Florida to look at Manta cats," they told us while in La Cruz. Then there are J.R. Beulter and Luprecia Dipp of Gudadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, who two years ago bought a Catana 47 cat and christened her Moon and Stars. After having so much fun cruising the cat from Florida to Panama, they've put her up for sale because they've sprung for a brand new F/P Eluethera 60 catamaran. She should be completed in France in about eight months. In other cat news, tune in next month and we'll tell you about Peter Brown's sort-of new Seattle-based Grainger 48 cat Taj. We say 'sort of new' because it was started something like 10 years ago.

Seaward, the 82-ft Sausalito-based steel schooner owned by the nonprofit Call of the Sea foundation, left Banderas Bay in March for Sausalito via the offshore or clipper route. We hope to have a report next month on how it went. If you've done a 'clipper route' trip back to California from Panama or Mexico lately, we'd enjoy hearing how that went ().

"In the March issue, the crew of the Tacoma-based Westerly 36 Saucy Lady reported very light winds on their way from Ecuador to Mexico," recalls Carol Baardsen of the Napa-based Offshore 40 Mary T. "But in February of '05, my husband and I had a beautiful, 16-day, moonlit passage from the Galapagos to Barra de Navidad. We departed in company with the Peterson 44 Mamouna, which took less than two weeks to reach Zihuatanejo. One night, while 400 miles off the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we had 35 knots of wind, but fortunately it was on our quarter. Close to shore it was blowing 60 knots. Otherwise our trip consisted of broadreaching in 10 to 15 knots of wind. We also got lucky, as the ITCZ was quite narrow and moving south as we moved north. Five rainbows, one distant waterspout, a few squalls, and 12 hours later we were out the other side. It helped that we motored judiciously from squall to squall, usually for an hour or two. I don't know what time of year the Rombaughs made their passage from Ecuador to Mexico, as the wind varies depending on the season and sometimes the year, but I recommend that people read the North Pacific Pilot Charts before writing off the direct route from Ecuador to Mexico. We thought the offshore trip was a good way to skip the coastal bash in winter."

A reader who prefers to identify herself only as 'Angie D' reports that she'll become a 'pollywog' next month, meaning she'll be sailing across the equator for the first time. "I've done a bit of research on the rites and rituals associated with transforming from a pollywog to a shellback, but crawling through garbage and/or being dragged behind the boat is not that appealing. I'd be interested in what other cruisers have done - or had done to them - on their first crossing."

The ritual will be entirely in the hands of whoever plays Neptune on the boat, Angie. If you're lucky, it will be your husband or Significant Other, because in that case you could hold the 'you're never going to get laid again' sword over his head to prevent the rituals from becoming too intense for your liking. But no matter what happens, remember to send some high res photos. By the way, that applies to everyone, as we're always looking for pollywog photos.

"We're just back from a quick recon around Cabo and up into the Sea of Cortez," report Steve and Linda Dashew of the Southern California-based Wind Horse. "The offshore islands were as alluring as ever. On the way back up the coast we stopped at Mag Bay, then worked south inside the bay, past the navy base to the Rehusa Channel. If you take care and watch the tides, you can find your way across the shallows to Rehusa. There is protection from the north for anchoring, and the whale watching was wonderful ­ but we wouldn't want to be there in a southwesterly. We examined the options for going out to sea via the Rehusa Channel - which has been previously discussed in Latitude - but they didn't seem appealing. The local navy contigent confirmed that the channels going out to sea were only deep enough for pangas. After six weeks in Southern California, we're off to Kodiak, Alaska."

If you're near a computer while reading this, check out the Google satellite view of the Rehusa Channel, which is at the extreme south end of Mag Bay near Punta Tosca. The satellite view gives a terrific view of the different depths and channels. Fascinating.

Plenty of Southbound cruisers are headed for Ecuador, knowing that in previous years cruisers have found Bahia de Caraquez to be an excellent alternative to spending the summer in Central America and even mainland Mexico. The problem with Central America, in addition to the heat and humidity, is the lightning. It's not at all uncommon for boats in places such as mainland Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama to be hit. Ecuador, on the other hand, enjoys an entirely different - and pleasant - climate during the summer. A potential downside is that the always politically unstable Ecuador may be closer to civil war than normal. Whether this would affect cruisers in Caraquez is unclear, as the capital of Quito is, at 9,200 feet, almost twice the elevation of Denver, making it almost a different world from the coast. The problem is that newly-elected President Rafael Correa ran on a platform of rewriting the constitution, and wants to disband the Congress, a legislative body in which his political party doesn't have a single seat. This doesn't sit well with the members of Congress he wants to oust, so there has been hand-to-hand combat around the capital's government buildings. Personally, we don't think it's going to be a problem for cruisers. But if things heat up, they can always take off.

Sayulita, which is just to the north of Banderas Bay but still considered to be part of the Vallarta Coast, is one of the hippest spots in Mexico. It's full of surfers, backpackers, neo-hippies, dogs and more dogs, and fans of reflexology. While standing on the beach there last month, we fell into conversation with Patricia, a middle-aged woman who, along with her husband, runs a surfboard rental and panga fishing charter business from the beach. She claims that when they moved to Sayulita 10 years ago, there were only five cars. Now there is nowhere to park. But Patricia still loves the place because it reminds her of Santa Cruz, where she used to live a few decades back. Make that a tropical Santa Cruz. She seemed surprised when we told her that we've anchored Profligate off Sayulita and brought our dinghy through the surf to eat and walk around. "Most boats anchor for a few hours and move on," she said. "It's calm today, but we're on the open ocean, so it's often rolly." It turns out that Patricia has some sailing in her past. She made the passage from Tahiti to Hawaii via the Marquesas aboard an engineless 41-ft wood yawl in the '80s. She remembers it as a good trip, even though they got hung up in the ITCZ for about six days. She declined to continue the delivery back to California, which may have been a good thing, because the boat sank off Maui a short time later.

We'd seen one of Patricia's fishing pangas come in the day before - the operators drive them through the waiting surfers at about 150 miles an hour and right up the steep sand beach - and marveled at the size of the two dorado a client had landed. The next day, they were pushing a panga back down into the water, but it was full of palm fronds rather than a fishermen. We asked what they were doing. "We're building a palapa on the ocean," Patricia replied, as if everybody did it. We had to ask her to explain. "They take the stuff out about four miles, where they build more of a raft than a palapa, take the GPS position, and leave it out there. Fish such as dorado like to swim in the shade of things like the raft, so when we bring our clients back out in the pangas, they are more likely to catch fish." Hmmm - does that seem only halfway sporting to you, too? Anyway, if you're sailing down the coast from San Blas to Punta Mita and t-bone something that looks like a raft made of palm fronds, take it up with Patricia.

The next day we were walking through Paradise Marina where we saw Bill Vaccaro of the Chico-based Moody 44 Miela with a huge smile on his face. No wonder - he'd just caught 16 dorado. We told him about Patricia's fish-rafts. "We know where it is," he replied. "That's where we caught these".

Speaking of fishing pangas, Rudi, a Swiss-German fellow who works at the Mañana restaurant in Punta Mita, but, because he is married a Mexican woman, belongs to a local fishing/tourism cooperative, told us he just bought a new panga. Care to guess how much they cost? We don't know how much the typical 27-footers used by fisherman cost, but Rudi's 32-footer, to be used for local fishing and tour groups, and which comes with a bimini top and toilet, ran $15,000. But that's without the engine(s). Because Rudi mostly stays inside the bay, he settled for a single 90-hp Mercury. That cost another $12,000. So they aren't cheap.

There are two problems with Galileo, the European GPS system that is/was supposed to be operational by 2010. The first is that a survey has revealed that not one of the seven companies in the five-nation consortium are working toward completion of the project! The second is that they want to charge for it, which is going to be a tough sell since the U.S. provides GPS service to everybody for free. True, the commercial version of Galileo would be a little more accurate than the U.S. system, but at this point nobody thinks there are enough potential users of that service to turn a profit. While Galileo may take until 2011 to come on line - if it ever does - China has announced that their Beidou GPS system, which initially will only cover China and her neighbors, should be working by '08. The primary reason for alternative GPS systems is simple - the on-off switch of the current one is controlled by the Department of Defense.

Remember the old saying, "The best things in life are free"? We never understood it - until GPS and then Google came along.

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