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April 2014

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With reports this month from Ppalu in Sint Maarten, where one hull was holed; from Pincoya on the hard way back from New Zealand; from the Wanderer on the differences between Mexico and the Caribbean; from Cocokai on passage from Cape Town to St. Helena; from Maya on the charms of Bequia; from Mintaka on hauling in Panama; and Cruise Notes.

Cat Ppalu — Spronk 75 Cat
D Randy West, 'HQ' Roberson
The Partial Sinking of Ppalu
(Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles)

There was bad news out of Sint Maarten on March 8, which was also the second day of racing in the three-day Heineken Regatta. D Randy West, noted Caribbean character and big-cat racer, had spent the day racing aboard the Gunboat 62 Tribe. Joanne, aka HQ, his girlfriend as well as the quiet yin to his loquacious yang, picked him up after the race. They planned on returning to their 75-ft cat Ppalu for dinner.

Ppalu is the 13th and largest of the 50 or so catamarans designed by the prolific Dutchman Peter Spronk, who designed many of the early big charter cats in the Caribbean after moving to the West Indies from South Africa. "If it's not a cat, it's a dog", was the taunt back in the day. Many of his cats are still in full charter service.

Having been built on the shores of St. Martin's Simpson Bay Lagoon, Ppalu was carried to the water by human hands — including those of D Randy — in 1975. French sailing legend Eric Taberly was slated to race her across the Atlantic in the Route de Rhum, but something came up, so she was raced as Paul Ricard with Marc Pajot, French sailing legend in the making, at the helm. While Ppalu/Paul Ricard was very fast, she didn't do well, as her starboard hull was holed.

As was the case with many old racing cats, Ppalu took her old name back and began many years of day chartering in the British Virgin Islands. Tens of thousands of non-sailors took their first sail on her. After nearly 40 years as a 'cattlemaran', and indifferent maintenance, Ppalu came on the market last year for very little money. It was the opportunity that D Randy, who has pined for Ppalu for decades, had been waiting for.

D Randy bought Ppalu, after which he and HQ spent seven months at the yard in St. Kitts, investing lots of tropical sweat and money in bringing the huge cat back to sailing condition. Their only break was to come to San Francisco to watch the America's Cup. They left with Oracle down 1-8, the New Zealand victory a foregone conclusion.

Just prior to the Heineken Regatta, D Randy and friends sailed Ppalu from St. Martin to St. Barth. Despite her age, the typically low-slung Spronk ketch-rigged cat still hit 11 knots to weather and easily 20 knots off the wind.

Returning to the present, when D Randy and HQ got back to Ppalu that second night of the Heineken, their worst nightmare had come true. A reversal in the normally reliable easterly tradewinds had resulted in Ppalu's starboard hull swinging around and onto the sand and rocks of Simpson Bay's Kim Sha Beach.

A salvor promised to come with air bags, but arrived without them. A second salvor arrived, but the two salvors refused to work with each other. All the pumping in the world couldn't have kept the decades old marine-ply starboard hull from submerging to deck level anyway, for as a diver soon discovered, she was badly holed. And with all of D Randy's tools in that hull.

"Buzzard luck on the sinking of Ppalu," D Randy later wrote. "My bad as it was I who put out 60 feet of chain 59 feet from the corner of the reef. I had anchored there many, many times with my 60-ft Spronk cat Shadowfax and never had a problem, but Ppalu's 4-foot wider 28-ft beam made all the difference in the world."

The next day the big wounded cat was hauled at Bobby's Mega Yacht Yard, where the full extent of the damage became obvious — 20 feet of the bottom of the starboard hull ripped open and a couple of stringers badly damaged. It's all repairable, of course, as all it takes is marine ply, glue — and a pile of money. There are lots of very wealthy people sailing the Caribbean on big sailing yachts, but D Randy is not one of them. He's been trying to restore and run a very large older cat on a budget and with donations from many members of the marine industry. This is a very big hit.

Did we mention the cat's insurance had just lapsed? After all, what could happen to her?

The day after the sinking, D Randy —whom the Wanderer and de Mallorca have known separately longer than they have known each other — was uncharacteristically discouraged. "HQ and I are going to drink a couple of bottles of wine and figure out what we're going to do," he told Latitude by telephone. A few days later, they still didn't know exactly what they were going to do.

D Randy knows more people in the Caribbean than anyone. If they could all just chip in $20, D Randy and HQ's dream would be sailing again. We'd sure be in. And for a lot more than $20. Ppalu was going to be our ride for this year's Voiles. We're hoping that she will be ready for next year's Voiles.

— latitude/rs 03/11/2014

Pincoya — Island Packet 44
Gene and Gloria Watson
Return From New Zealand
(Salt Lake City, Utah)

After three years in the South Pacific, it was time for us to head back to Mexico for more cruising and to pursue land adventures in South America. How to get back to Mexico was a common subject of discussion among the cruising fleet in the South Pacific. We always returned to the idea of taking the more adventurous route: sail east from New Zealand at 40°S around the end of May when the westerlies have moved farther north, toward the Australs or Gambiers of French Polynesia. From there we would sail to Tahiti and the Tuamotus, and then continue on to the Marquesas, the northeasternmost islands of French Polynesia. We would then sail northeast from the Marquesas in November, when the hurricane season was over in the Northern Hemisphere and the trades would — hopefully — be lighter. We could then make landfall anywhere along the long mainland coast of Mexico or Central America.

It took us two years to prepare for the trip, as we had to spend six months in Fiji, then a month in Vanuatu, so we could arrive 'late' in New Zealand. This meant we could stay our six months in Kiwiland and not have to leave too early for our jumping-off weather window.

We left Opua last May 30. The first thing you realize when you leave the comfort of land for the Southern Ocean is that you are on your own. There isn't much vessel traffic down there. Second, you have to deal with the unpredictability of the weather, as there is no shelter for thousands of miles. You also have to wear fleece and flannels the whole time, as we had air temps of 55° to 60°.

We left on a beautiful, light-air day, and had the same mild conditions for a number of days. This was a good thing, because we hadn't been at sea for six months, and because even though Gloria takes Stugeron, she still gets seasick. The mellow start might have helped her keep from getting seasick the whole time — despite the very rough weather we would encounter later.

We expected the voyage to take 20 to 25 days. Rene and Cheryl on Gypsy Blues left when we did, so we set up a local net. We also checked in with the Pacific Seafarer's net daily.

The second day out, the wind freshened from the west and we were able to sail a rolly wing-on-wing course. Our water world was wonderful a week later, as we'd adjusted to our daily routine of watches, getting weather GRIBs and faxes, and periodic updates from weather guru Bob McDavitt. And we did plenty of reading. To think we had worried endlessly about making this supposedly adventurous passage!

But we should have worried, as day eight found us preparing to deal with the changing weather pattern. Our 2500-mile journey from New Zealand to French Polynesia was almost entirely within that part of the wind world known as the Southern Variables, aka the 'horse latitudes', which feature traveling highs and lows. In this part of the Southern Ocean, high and low pressure systems move from west to east at a pace of several hundred miles a day. We could travel about 100 to 150 miles a day, so we were continually being overtaken by alternating highs and lows.

Nine hundred miles into our trip, at about 37°S 168°W, we had two weather systems go over us. The wind had increased to 25-29 knots from the ESE, and we steered on a close reach heading northeast. We carried just a triple-reefed main and a staysail. There were 12-foot swells, and waves occasionally broke over the whole boat.

We thought we were in control and moving along nicely — until McDavitt sent us an email instructing us to do a U-turn and sail 300 miles to the northwest! This was to avoid a low forming to the northeast of us that was causing a significant Squash Zone — dreaded words — between it and the 1042 high in the direction we had been going. The narrowing isobars meant very strong winds and big seas.

It blew between 30 and 35 knots the next couple of days, with gusts to 42 knots and seas to 18 feet. We carried a triple-reefed main and put out a Delta Drogue in order to reduce our speed to 5 knots, making steering easier for the autopilot. There was complete cloud cover and it was ugly outside. We moved into the cabin and used the autopilot remote and the belowdecks chartplotter to steer Pincoya.

Waves hitting the boat sounded like logs colliding, and blue water was going over the entire boat. Fortunately, neither of us got seasick — probably because we took Stugeron twice a day.

We were nervous when the storm first hit, but after the first 24 hours it felt as if we could make it through the next four days. But was disheartening to have to backtrack. Wetnose was on the same passage that we were, but a day ahead, and thus not positioned to turn back. They ended up in the Squash Zone with 50-knot winds. They hove to and survived.

Another huge high approached us after that. McDavitt said it's only been in recent years that he's seen such highs in this part of the Pacific, with hardly a low in between. It was just our bad luck, as the next couple of days the conditions worsened. It was amazing to go out into the cockpit and look out at the huge waves, spray and spume, with the storm petrels dancing through the watery mountains and valleys. Pincoya still had a triple-reefed main and was towing the drogue. We were having constant 30-40 knot winds and seas to 24 feet.

Gloria was thrown out of her berth and got a black eye to go with a sprained wrist. Gene ripped a finger tip from trying to hang on to a post. Everything on the boat found the lowest possible place to rest — including us! We had to switch computers as one took a dive to the cabin sole and would no longer print.

The huge waves that crashed over our boat sent blue water coming in through sealed dorade vents. They also sent water sideways under our dodger and our closed and covered companionway cover, soaking our galley floor and aft stateroom sole. Getting around on the boat was a serious adventure that had to be timed with the waves, boat pitches, and how far it was to the next handhold or foothold. Four-point contact was highly recommended in these conditions. For instance, two feet, one butt, and one hand, or two hands, a shoulder or thigh, and one foot.

During the first part of the passage, when everything was wonderful, we had seriously contemplated sailing east to the Galapagos via the Southern Ocean, instead of our original plan of the Marquesas and directly to Mexico. That plan had been totally forgotten in the bad weather.

After 13 days at sea, we had sailed 1,200 miles, but had only made 880 miles to the good. Doing a 180° turn back toward New Zealand, with a northerly twist to circle around the 1042 high, and the Squash Zone resulting from a collision with a low, caused us to lose a lot of forward progress.

When the storm abated, we were alive and well at 25°S 174°W, with only minor injuries. And we still had our big Jordan Series Drogue in reserve in case things got really bad. Our Island Packet 44 was holding up well, as we only found a couple of small leaks.

The six months that we'd spent in New Zealand replacing the standing rigging, reworking the sails, and getting a new dodger, bimini and stern pulpit lee cloths to help keep water out of the cockpit, really helped. So did rebuilding the wind generator and adding new batteries. Part of good 'luck' — and survival — is a result of thorough preparation.

After the high moved east, and with the top of a low approaching, we finally got to turn NE on a reach with winds at 15 to 20 knots out of the WNW. This allowed us to sail at 6 to 7 knots, and finally east in the direction we wanted to go. Forty-knot squalls developed at night to keep us entertained.

Day 15 brought a sunny morning followed by more clouds in the afternoon. It seemed to be a pattern in this area. We were now at 29°S 165°W, and well east of our previous most easterly position. And we were still riding the top of the low that was moving by. After receiving another passage update from McDavitt, we made sail changes to broad reach to the east. This was more comfortable and would get us east faster — which was important, since McDavitt was predicting a new low forming northeast of us that would give us easterly headwinds! We needed to be far enough east to be able to use the easterlies to go NNE to Raivavae.

As the new weather pattern approached, we had several brilliant days sailing with westerlies. Then the breeze gradually clocked around to WSW, SW, and S, and increased to 20-30 knots, rising higher in squalls. We were in a minor Squash Zone and sailing with a third reef, staysail, and hanky of a jib. Our downwind sail became a beam reach, and as the winds rotated to the east, we became close hauled, forereaching into 20+ knots, with Pincoya frequently getting buried under waves. It was a rough ride once again.

Abovedecks, chafe was an issue, as several lines were damaged. Some spots were wrapped with sail-repair tape to get them through the passage. We forged on, hoping the high would move east soon, and allow northerlies to scoot us the last 120 miles to our destination. We were so looking forward to the three-inch waves of a lagoon!

The sky finally cleared and the weather changed. With northerly breezes at midnight, we turned SE to begin our approach. The wind gradually changed to more NW. Now motorsailing, we were able to close haul the last 30 miles to Raivavae with beautiful sunny skies.

After 23 mostly hard days at sea, we arrived on June 22 to anchor in the calm waters off the village of Roirua. To say the least, we were glad to be away from the high winds and large seas of the 30th to 40th latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere! But we never feared for our lives.

Although this had been our longest and roughest passage to date, in overall terms it sure was better than our Puddle Jump in 2010. The difference was fewer repairs because Pincoya was far better prepared for real blue ocean cruising — although she had been as well prepared as most boats for the Puddle Jump.

For the record, prior to starting the Puddle Jump, Gloria, 62, had only done two two-week sails on Gene's (68) Balboa 26 in the Sea of Cortez, and only one overnight passage. Nonetheless, we'd both take the same route back from New Zealand again.

— gene and gloria 01/15/2014

Mexico and the Caribbean
The Wanderer
The Differences Between The Two
(Mill Valley)

Our having just come from several months in Mexico to several months in the Caribbean, the differences are striking:

1) The wind blows in the Caribbean. According to Scotty DiBiaso, skipper of the 65-ft schooner Juno, and many others who have been around all season, the 'Christmas Trades' started blowing hard mid-November, a month earlier than usual, and didn't let up until late February. "It wasn't blowing 20 to 25 knots for a week and then lightening up for two days before blowing hard again," said Scotty, "it just never stopped blowing." So no, this isn't a Pacific Coast breeze that blows onshore in the afternoon, offshore at night, and dies in the wee hours.

2) The open ocean is rougher in the Caribbean. See item #1, plus the fact that swells pour in from the open Atlantic.

3) There are countless more sailboats in the Caribbean. We take 'the Caribbean' to mean the ellipse of islands on eastern fringe of the Caribbean Sea, starting with Puerto Rico in the northwest and ending with Trinidad in the south. This includes nine separate countries and more than 20 major islands in about a 600-mile arc. As you might imagine, there are also more anchorages, chandleries, boatyards and every other sailboat-related thing in the Caribbean.

4) Even though there are many more anchorages in the Caribbean, there are also many more boats, so it's easier to find an uncrowded or empty anchorage in mañanaland, particularly in the Sea of Cortez. Charter bases in the Caribbean mean packed anchorages.

5) People are much more friendly to strangers in Mexico. Except for a few bureaucrats, Mexicans are happy to do whatever they can do to help you, whether it's carry a couple of heavy boxes up the dock or run to the store to buy something for dinner that isn't listed on the restaurant menu. And they do it with a genuine smile.

There are friendly and helpful people in the Caribbean, too, but the percentage isn't nearly as high as it is in Mexico. And so help us, there is a legion of people in the West Indies, many of them inexplicably in the service industry, who are put out by even the most basic requests that fall well within their job description. Service with animosity. And while once again there are exceptions, don't even get us started on some of the customs and immigration officials.

6) Mariners in the Caribbean — be they fishermen, big boat crews running crew dinghies, or locals with powerful joyboats — recklessly drive their boats at top speed, even through crowded anchorages. Forty knots through the Soper's Hole anchorage at night? "Ya mon! Did you see me?!" You'd expect people to get killed, and it happens. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, at Tortola's Road Town Harbor at 5 p.m, for God's sake. Panga fishermen in Mexico often drive like cowboys, but compared to many in the Caribbean, they operate boats like cautious old ladies.

7) The Caribbean is waaaay more expensive than Mexico, especially when it comes to dining out. Doña and the Wanderer could dine out all over the place in Mexico at sit down places for less than $25, drinks included, or where we are allowed to bring wine without a corkage charge. And many times dinner for two — as in delicious tacos on the street — comes to $7 or less. There is no cheap food in the Caribbean. Any kind of sit-down place is going to be well over $50 for a couple of drinks and appetizers, and basic dinners for two are going to start at $100 with a couple of drinks and wine. Furthermore, the food in Mexico tends to be better and fresher — particularly the fruits, veggies, fish and meat. On the other hand, the food in Mexico tends to be similar throughout the very large country, while there is more variation in the Caribbean. Creole, French, Indian, or Chinese, anyone?

8) Cruisers in the Caribbean are a much more international group than in Mexico. See this month's Changes from Maya for confirmation. In Mexico, almost all cruisers are from the United States or Canada.

9) The partying is far more exuberant in the Caribbean than in Mexico. Much of it is thanks to the countless 'party-'til-you drop' folks on bareboats, plus the hormone-driven young crews who work on the many big yachts. Train Dominoes with friends often constitutes a big night for folks on boats in Mexico. In the Caribbean, it's heavy drinking and smoking, and dancing on tables until sunup.

10) Boats are bigger and newer in the Caribbean. No matter if you're in the BVIs, St. Martin, Antigua, or St. Barth, 150-ft sailboats and 250-ft motor yachts are not uncommon. Plus the charterboat fleets are constantly being upgraded with the latest in monohulls and multihulls.

11) Personal safety on boats is a real concern in the Caribbean, whereas it hasn't been an issue in Mexico. For reasons we don't understand, gratuitous violence, in addition to robbery, is too common in the Caribbean. In just the last six months, a woman from San Diego was slashed in the face and back with a machete while on her boat near Union Island; an older Brit man was slashed to death on his boat in front of his wife at St. Lucia; two older cruising couples were attacked with machetes on their boats in supposedly lovey-dovey Bequia; and a shot fired by fleeing thieves struck the mast of the victim's boat in the normally safe British Virgins. The chances of your being attacked on a boat in the Caribbean are relatively low, but if you're attacked, it's likely the perpetrators will try to kill you just for the fun of it. This isn't true in Mexico.

12) The waters in the Caribbean are clearer than in most of Mexico.

13) Mexico has far more fish, and way more sea and bird life.

Mexico and the Caribbean are about as different as two places can be. Both have their pros and cons. We can't live without both of them.

— latitude/rs 03/15/2014

Cocokai — 65-ft Schooner
Greg King and Crew
Cape Town to Brazil
(Long Beach)

[Editor's note: While this Changes backtracks a little, we thought it was worth doing because of the unusual speeds attained sailing down the east coast of South Africa.]

I haven't done an update about our travels since October, so I had one of my crew write up his perspective on the trip. Currently we are halfway across the South Atlantic on our way from St. Helena to Salvador, Brazil. We are cruising along in light tradewinds, which are a pleasant change from the wild conditions we had coming down the coast of South Africa. We have 1,200 miles to go, so hopefully we'll reach Salvador in eight or nine days. Now, for crewman David Hochstadter's report:

It was a dream come true for Michelle Robb and myself to do a transatlantic crossing. We met Greg after a Wednesday night race at the Royal Natal YC in Durban, South Africa, in October of last year. A friend of mine had told me that there was an American on a 65-ft schooner moored at International Jetty who was looking for crew. I approached Greg and introduced myself that evening. Over a beer, I asked if we could join him. We visited Cocokai the next day, and at the end of the visit were invited to join the boat for the trip to Brazil.

We set sail from Durban on January 26, and headed down the South African coast toward Cape Town in a nice15-knot northeasterly breeeze. At first I was a little apprehensive, as only two of us on the big schooner were competent crew, and because from previous racing experience I knew that the 'Wild Coast' has a nasty reputation for infamous for southwesterly storms that create huge seas in a matter of hours. And there is nowhere to hide.

Fortunately, Greg timed our departure perfectly. The northeaster behind us built to 25 knots on day two, and we were clocking the miles. We were sailing about 50 miles offshore of the Transkei, with the Mozambique Current running five to six knots. So our over-the-bottom boat speed averaged 9 to 14 knots! Day three saw the wind build to 45 knots in the afternoon. We shortened the mainsail down to a second reef, and with only our main and staysail pinched back to the coast on a broad reach. We had to come in to get shelter from the coast; otherwise we'd be sailing in big seas through the night. High cirrus clouds glowed pink, orange and red as they raced past us, and 'Rocko' our reliable Autohelm autopilot, strained to keep us on track as 12-ft seas knocked us onto our starbard rail. I could tell we were off Port Alfred!

We were all changing into dry clothing and wet weather gear for the night when Greg popped his head out of the companionway. Suddenly a huge wave sprang up over the side and dumped a copious amount of water over all three of us in the cockpit! it looked like a bath, as there was water up to the height of the table. We all hung on, but we all got soaked.

Greg ran back to the helm to drive for the next few hours. He later noted that we had wind speeds up to 48 knots, and speed over ground of up to 14.8 knots! As we got closer to the coast, the wind and waves both died down. We all changed and settled in for the rest of the night.

The next morning Greg managed to get a five-day weather GRIB that showed another front coming up from Cape Town, so we put in at Port Elizabeth. A fisherman friend organized a free berth next to the fishing boats. So the first leg of our voyage was complete, and it included a 235-mile day. Greg said they hadn't done that in eight years of cruising. Hats off to the old South African coast for a bit of excitement.

Another precarious area of sailing was our next leg, the 483 miles from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, where the Agulhas current runs from Mossel Bay to Cape Point. We decided to wait two days for the front to pass, then ignored superstition by leaving on a Friday morning. The rest of the voyage was easy, and we sailed by the famous surf towns of Cape St Francis and Jeffreys Bay. Four days later we arrived in Cape Town, rounding the Cape of Good Hope early Monday morning in 20 to 25 knots of wind.

This is where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Oceans meet, and there is a spectacular view from sea, with the tip of Africa towering above us. We rounded with the first sighting of Table Mountain, and sailed up into False Bay with a howling 35-knot breeze on the nose.

The Royal Cape YC told us Cocokai was too big for their floating docks. Due to the high wind, Greg decided that anchoring at Clifton Bay was a safer option than taking a mooring. To his dismay we'd lost the large Rocna 55 kg anchor while underway. But we had a couple of cocktails, grilled burgers on the BBQ, and cracked a bottle of vino. Except for the anchorage being swirly, we had a good evening.

Early the next morning we motorsailed into the Victoria Waterfront Basin, where we would spend a week, dining and wining. One memorable evening local chef Johno cooked ostrich steaks on the boat. We also gained another crewmember, David Nichols, for the trip to Brazil.

After a week, we set sail for St. Helena, a British outpost that would be our halfway stop to Brazil. Eleven days and 1,700 miles later, we arrived at the island. This leg couldn't have been more different from the one down the coast of South Africa, as we were pushed along by 15-knot southeast trades. Pleasant!

We were happy to see land after 11 days, but St. Helena is no paradise. It's a barren volcanic rock without any beaches. Fresh provisions weren't available, and what food was there was very expensive. There was no cell coverage and the Internet was really slow. Although we couldn't wait to get back to the boat and sea, we did the tourist rounds: Napoleon's home in exile, Jonathan the 200-year old tortoise, and 699-step Jacob's Ladder.

Greg said St. Helena sort of reminded him of Catalina. He was also surprised that he knew about 20 of the boats in the anchorage. After loading on bread, butter and water, we left the next morning for 2,100-mile-distant Salvador, Brazil.

— greg and david 03/12/2014

Maya — LaFitte 44
Rick Meyerhoff

We finally left Bequia after Audrey — my most awesome crew courtesy of the Latitude 38 Crew List— painted the town with Shel, my Swedish friend on the boat on the neighboring mooring, through most of the night. Yours truly was a good boy, as I stayed home and minded my own business. Besides, due to my advanced age — I just turned 67 — I find it difficult to stay awake past 7 p.m.

For those not familiar with Bequia, despite being a mere seven square miles, it's the second largest of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. The island population of 4,300 is made up of people of African, Scottish and Carib Indian descent. Natives of Bequia are allowed to catch up to four humpback whales per year using only traditional hunting methods: hand-thrown harpoons from small, open boats. However, it's been years since they've been able to land to whale. Thanks to a sheltered harbor and the presence of cedar trees, there has been a long tradition of boatbuilding on the little island. Bob Dylan's boat was built there.

As for Bequia, sigh, it's great in much the same way Aspen was in the early 1970s. It's very international, with lots of Brits, French, Dutch, Swedes, Germans and Norwegians. Plus the coffee shops, bakery, and restaurants serve high-quality food for — unlike the French islands — reasonable prices. The restaurant food is fabulous, and if you prefer to dine aboard, there are outdoor markets that sell fresh fruits and veggies. And Doris' store carries the hard-to-find speciality items that are rare anywhere in the Caribbean.

Another plus is everybody speaks English — except for the morning net controller. He speaks in such a strong island patois that he's almost impossible to understand. Sometimes I thought I was starting to get it, so I listened really hard. I also turned up the volume to the point I wasn't sure if I didn't understand him because of his patois or the distortion.

But as any cruiser will tell you, it's the people who make a place. The people of Bequia, both the locals and expats, are super friendly. And every night of the week there are different adult activities to enjoy.

It can be hard to stay sober on Bequia, but that's half the fun. One night there might be dancing to a steel drum band, the next night is movie night, the third night there is dancing to the music of a rock 'n' roll band fronted by a guy who won the Caribbean version of Make Me a Star. He rocked! Plus, there are many musicians who can pick up a guitar and sing to a group around a bar. Sort of like Rick's was in Zihua when his bar was a cruiser center in Mexico. And for sailors who appreciate beautiful women, there are a lot of lovely Europeans, both young and no longer quite so young, who are very attractive.

Daytime life on little Bequia is just as good as at night. There are many great walks to take around the island, and the beaches are to die for.

We moored 20 feet off the Whalebone Bar, which made for an easy swim ashore. If anyone really wants to, it's possible to swim down to the Plantation House Beach. Rumor has it the last owner was a money launderer on the lam, and now the place and all the out-buildings look abandoned. The government has taken them over but doesn't seem to know what to do with them.

If you can swim farther — I do Master's Swimming — you can continue on down to Princess Margaret Beach, and even Lower Bay. The waters are a turquoise-tinted crystal clear.

Yes, Bequia has it all — culture, safety and convenience. Alas, we didn't find the same things as we headed south to put the boat away in Trinidad after our four-month season. More on that next month.

— rick 03/15/2014

Mintaka —Triton 28
Stefan Ries
Hauling and Surfing

Hey now! I've been so busy sailing and surfing that I haven't had time to write about my haulout at the Balboa YC in Panama, where I had scheduled two days on the rail in February.

Two friends and I sailed Mintaka over to the yard from the Las Brisas anchorage, then anchored just outside the boatyard to wait for high tide. The wind was light, but the current coming out of the Panama Canal was so strong that I decided to spring for a $5 tow from the club's water taxi to get into the cradle. Four line-handlers took our lines and winched Mintaka into the cradle. It was my first time to get my boat hauled on a cradle. Somehow it felt safer than having her lifted into the air by a Travelift. All went smoothly.

Later that day we started scrubbing, sanding, and cleaning the bottom. The next day we put on some primer, and then the first coat of red anti-fouling. I paid a local worker to polish the hull. On the morning of the second full day, we put on another coat of bottom paint. After we'd let it dry, Mintaka was relaunched.

I was charged $50 to be hauled and launched, and the daily rate for being on the hard was $133. The bottom paint was $220 for two gallons. All in all, this haulout was even less expensive than my last one on Banderas Bay — and we were able to stay aboard.

After Mintaka was back in the water, we sailed back to Las Brisas, and after provisioning, took off for Isla Chepillo. Just 25 miles east of Panama City, Chepillo has a nice right point break. We had the whole place to ourselves in all the sessions we surfed there. We also found some cocos and platanos. It seems like a safe anchorage for the dry season.

Right now we're anchored at Playa Venao, where the waves have been on the small side. Tomorrow we plan to set sail for Santa Catalina, as a swell is expected to arrive this weekend.

— stephan 03/17/2014

Cruise Notes:

"Our World ARC around-the-world-rally is going well, and we'll soon be leaving on the third leg for French Polynesia," write Charlie and Cathy Simon of the Spokane- and Puerto Vallarta-based Taswell 58 Celebrate. Celebrate is one of 40 boats currently in the rally, and one of nine of them from the United States. The Simons got left behind by the fleet in the Galapagos for two days waiting for a replacement autopilot. They put the time to good use, however, as Charlie was able to diagnose the problem with the autopilot on Ko-Ko, another rally boat, so that a local mechanic could fix it. Celebrate subsequently caught up with the rest of the fleet part way to the Marquesas.

So what does it cost? It's common knowledge that St. Barth, French West Indies — where Latitude maintains a winter office — is one of the more expensive islands in the world. After all, small but chic homes on the tiny island start at about one million euros — about $1.4 million dollars — per bedroom. And vacation homes selling for tens of millions are not unheard of. On the other hand, we pay $300 a month, on a three-month contract, to anchor our 45-ft Leopard cat 'ti Profligate off Gustavia. Turtles are our neighbors. The fee includes the use of the dinghy dock, restrooms and showers. It's a deal, as far as we're concerned. If we wanted to save money — like Juliano Darbe and Lisa Featherstone of the San Francisco-based Challenger 40 Serendipity have been doing for years, or Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie of the Lake Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade are doing again this winter, we could anchor at nearby Columbie, which is within dinghy distance of town, for free. Columbie is a Marine Reserve and you're not supposed to use the free buoys for more than a week per month, but nobody cares. Scratch that last sentence, for they just started "caring". You have to leave for a week before you come back for up to another week.

We're convinced living aboard at St. Barth is better than on land for two reasons besides the fact it costs a fortune less: 1) You need a car if you live on land. The high-season traffic has gotten out of hand, and there is nowhere to park in Gustavia, On the other hand, you can walk everywhere you need to go from the dinghy dock. And, 2) Unlike a home on dirt, you can move your floating home to new surroundings — Shell Beach, Baie St. Jean, Columbie, Corossol, Île Fourshue — on a whim. Yes, it suits us.

If you ask the previously mentioned former San Francisco restaurateur Juliano Darbe which is a better type of dinghy, a flat-bottom 9.5-ft inflatable Avon, or a 9.5-ft AB with an aluminum floor, he'll emphatically say it's the latter.

"The AB with the aluminum floor has a bit of a vee-shaped bottom, so it cuts through the water better, and there's much less spray," says Darbe. It doesn't hurt, of course, that Darbe got a great deal on the three-year-old AB. "It had some scratches on the bottom, so the previous owner just gave it to me," he laughs." Owners of big yachts often give away the most valuable stuff, as they can't be bothered to sell it. "And I was able to sell my Avon, which I bought 12 years ago from West Marine in San Diego, and is now falling apart, for $500."

"I have a 15-hp Yamaha to power my inflatable," Darbe continues. "I know the Yamaha 15 is really a souped-up 9.9-hp, and doesn't have the power of the Tohatsu 18-hps, which are getting really popular down here. But one's a Yamaha and the other is a Tohatsu. I know what I like."

Freezing cold in the Caribbean? That's the report from Scott Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House, which he has pretty much sailed around the world over the last eight years or so. "Nikki and I did a hike up to a volcano crater on St. Vincent, and most of the hike was in the mist. The temperature in the forest was a humid 85 degrees, but when we got above the canopy, the rain came down, it blew, and so we were freezing. I know it sounds strange for the tropics, but it was way too cold for shorts and light shirts. As I write this, we have been to St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadaloupe, Antigua, and Barbuda. We are currently back in Antigua in a very private and calm bay with gin-clear water."

If Stolnitz thinks that's cold for the tropics, the temperature in Puerto Vallarta dropped to 59 degrees early on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. And that was at sea level. Fortunately it got up into the 70s later in the day, melting the snow that had covered all the roads and docks. Four hundred blood-thinned locals had to be treated for frostbite.

Just before we went to press, we got an update from Greg King of the Long Beach-based 65-ft schooner Cocokai, who contributed a Changes in this issue.

"I predicted that we'd make the 2,008 miles from St. Helena to Salvador, Brazil in two weeks, and that's what happened. The South Atlantic was everything that I expected — gentle tradewinds all the way across from Cape Town. We only got wet one day; otherwise it was sunny with cumulus clouds all the way. What a change after the rough Indian Ocean! Salvador is a big city — nearly four million in the area — and it is both one of the oldest cities in Brazil and the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. It's also known as Brazil's 'Capital of Happiness' because of the countless outdoor parties."

Also making the crossing from Cape Town to Brazil via St. Helena at about the same time as Cocokai was longtime Latitude contributor Kirk McGeorge of the Virgin Islands-based Hylas 49 Gallivanter, McGeorge and crew left Cape Town on March 4 and arrived at 1,770-mile-distant St. Helena 11 days later.

We just remembered two things we forgot in our list of differences between Mexico and the Caribbean piece earlier in Changes. 1) Rain squalls, sometimes torrential ones, are common in the winter in the Caribbean, giving boats a welcome free freshwater bath. Such rain is rare in Mexico during the winter. Well, except for last December. And, 2) People in the Caribbean — the French, at least — smoke like chimneys! Despite the law prohibiting smoking in restaurants, sometimes there is so much cigarette smoke pouring out it looks as if somebody is burning a cane field.

What are the top five countries in the world for "affordable and efficient health care"? According to International Living magazine, they are, starting with the best, France, Uruguay, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Mexico. Yeah, Mexico.

"Mexico’s affordable and top-notch health care is a huge benefit to living there," wrote the magazine. "Pretty much across the board, health care in Mexico costs a quarter to a half of what you would pay in the U.S. And medical insurance with Mexico’s national health care service costs less than $300 a year. Private insurance will cost more, depending on your age and pre-existing conditions, but it will still be a fraction of what you’d pay for similar coverage in the U.S."

Where did the United States' health care rank? Twenty-two countries behind Mexico at #25. Impressive.

Steve Black, who founded the Caribbean 1500 from Virginia to the British Virgins in 1990, recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. He ran the event, which pre-dated the Baja Ha-Ha by four years, until about two years ago when it was purchased by World Cruising Ltd. Black had a long career in sailing, including many singlehanded offshore races. He had also been the executive director of U.S. Sailing. Black was a good guy, who was more passionate about the sailing than the money.

"My wife and I decided to change oceans, and brought our Atlantic 55 cat Javelin through the Panama Canal," reports Chris White, the influential multihull designer of Chris White Designs. He splits his time between Dartmouth, Mass., and Javelin. It was White who came up with the concept of forward cockpits on catamarans. While we've never quite understood the concept, others have embraced it, most notably the high-end Gunboat line.

"We're currently in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico," continues White, "and it sure is a long coastline coming north! A couple of days of good reaching winds would help, but it doesn't seem like that will be in the cards. I have my eye on the Banderas Bay area as a place to keep the boat while we return home to work. Javelin is in desperate need of bottom paint, and as Latitude knows, there aren't very many options to haul a boat with a 28-ft beam in Mexico. What are my options? Dry storage over the summer might be attractive, too, but that is secondary to getting some fresh bottom paint."

We told White that we believe that the La Cruz Shipyard, which can handle boats with beams to 30 feet, is about the only game on the west coast of Mexico. In any event, we're looking forward to meeting him and touring Javelin.

"I was sleeping aboard on the Caribbean side of Panama at 6 a.m. on March 11 when I heard / felt several loud percussions," reports Louis Kruk of the San Francisco-based Beneteau First 42S7 Cirque. "After the second or third one, I decided to investigate. Once topsides, I could see that some large fuel tanks, once owned by a U.S. company but now owned by Panama's Aeronaval, had exploded. The lovely buildings, which looked to be about seven stories, were being consumed by flames. No yachts were close enough to be affected, but the Internet was knocked out for a long time.

"A couple of days before, I was offered a paid crew position for a Canal transit aboard Moksha, a Shipman 72 sloop that is all carbon fiber and epoxy, from the hull to the spars to the standing rigging. Naturally I accepted the offer to join the paid crew of three. We had to spend the night halfway through at Lake Gatun, where I went swimming in the clear 83-degree water. Maybe it was the mention of crocodiles, but I was the only one who took a dip. The weather has been beautiful in Panama. I plan to cruise Portobello, Isla Linton, and the San Blas Islands until my season ends on June 1."

"The fifth annual Cruisers Rally to El Salvador kicked off March 17 with an afternoon party at local restaurant Mar y Sol," report organizers Bill Yeargan and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mitu Kuuluu. "So far 26 rally boats have arrived at Bahia del Sol, with six more expected in the next few weeks. Most of our events are fully booked. Although the total entries are down from past years, a larger percentage have managed to finish. El Salvador is wonderful, and the officials have been great."

If at first you don't succeed . . . When we asked readers what was so special about cruising in the Pacific Northwest — the many replies are to be found in the May issue — respondent John Howard suggested that we check out the blog of Chuck Rose and Laura Wong-Rose of the Vega 27 Lealea. They now live in Seward, Alaska, where Howard reports they started their cruising season on March 15 in temperatures as low as 21 degrees! Brrrrrr. Previously the couple had spent time in the Pacific Northwest and the Bay Area, having originally taken off from Oahu in 2007. It's a wonder they continued after their difficult beginning:

"Everything went according to plan when we left the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor — until the engine quit when we reached the outer channel buoy. I expected to get seasick — I always do — but I never imagined that I would remain sick for a record 21 days. Nor did I anticipate that it would ultimately take us 55 days to reach Cape Flattery, Washington."

For what happened later, you'll have to visit Chuck and Laura's website at But after seven years they are still cruising aboard their rather tiny yacht and still enjoying it. "There is nothing mysterious or difficult about our lifestyle," writes Laura. "We try to keep it as simple as possible with the least amount of anxiety, and it seems to be working. After nearly 13 years of marriage and 16 years of living aboard, we're closer than ever." How many folks on big boats can say the same?

"No camera can capture the visual stimulation that Debbie and I experienced last evening off Banderas Bay's Punta Mita, Mexico," writes Glenn Twitchell of the Newport Beach-based Lagoon 380 Beach Access. "A large portion of the bay is surrounded by mountains, and just as the sun was setting we watched one of the boats cross the finish line of the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Race. Just then two humpback whales commenced to breach nearly a dozen times! A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a picture is still limited in that it cannot capture the enormity of the vista. We are happy and grateful to be cruising in Mexico."

Dutch St. Maarten / French St. Martin is different — actually wilder — than most islands in the Eastern Caribbean. It's not just the "Drunken Caribbean Pancakes" at the St. Martin YC, which are "Homemade Pineapple and Coconut Pancakes Infused with Mt. Gay Rum & Served with Our Tropical syrup and your choice of bacon, ham or sausage. $12." In addition to that 'hair of the dog' breakfast, there is topless and nude sunbathing at Orient Beach on the French side, topless ladies drinking for free at the Sunset Bar on the Dutch side (where you can also watch 747s blowing tourists off the beach and into the ocean), strip clubs, lots of ganja — and unfortunately, a few too many dinghy thefts and too much violent crime. But yeah, St. Maarten is different.

"We hauled our Esprit 37 Reflections at 'Phuket's Premier Boat Yard' to put on some much-needed bottom paint and take care of some other projects," write Gene and Sheri Seybold, who were originally out of Stockton but have more recently been out of Honolulu. "The Thai workers were the best we have ever seen anywhere! We celebrated our first morning back on the water at anchor with Bloody Marys and eggs Benedict. Ahhhh!"

Can somebody explain to us what the deal is with gratuitous violence in parts of the Eastern Caribbean? In just the last six months we're aware of an elderly Brit cruiser being stabbed to death in front of his wife aboard their boat in St. Lucia; two slashings of elderly couples on their boats in normally lovey-dovey Bequia; an elderly couple attacked with a machete by four men at Bloody Bay, Tobago, who then shot at a woman who came to the victims' aid; a bullet striking a mast at Penn's Landing in the BVIs following a failed robbery attempt, and a woman slashed in the face with a machete aboard her boat off Frigate Island, which is next to Union Island. Petty theft and even robbery are one thing, wanting to kill or maim is another.

When we went sailing with friend Warren Stryker off St. Thomas in late February, one of the women crew had a nasty scar on her left cheek. After the sail, she wanted to tell how she got it — "to try to prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else."

Tina Curtin, formerly of San Diego, was only in her third month of cruising with her boyfriend Mark Belser when they were anchored aboard his sloop Rainbow off Frigate Island in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in late September. Around dinner time, she heard a noise outside the boat, so she stuck her head outside the companionway to see what was going on. Without a word being spoken, she was immediately slashed in the face with a machete, and then, when an attempt at her neck missed, on her back. Her boyfriend, Mark Belser, grabbed a steak knife, shoved her out of the way, lashed back at the assailant. A healthy cut on the arm sent the man fleeing. We use the word 'man' loosely, because he was actually just a 15-year-old boy. He had been accompanied by two friends, one of them 15, the other 17. After the perpetrators fled, Belser rushed Tina, who was in the process of losing two liters of blood and bleeding to death, to Carriacou. The next morning she was flown to a supposedly better facility in Grenada, and released 30 hours later. Belser stayed behind with the boat and to report the heinous incident to the police. When the assailant was brought before Belser, he showed no remorse whatsoever. In addition, the police seemed shockingly indifferent. Locals, however, hailed Belser as a hero. Tina is being flown back to the island, where she is given bodyguards, to testify at hearings and the trial. But we'll bet a nickel the youth is free in hardly any time at all.

Although you might expect the couple to give up cruising, they haven't. "We have new safety measures, though," says Tina. "We have installed a large halogen light for the aft deck and an aluminum barrier gate for the companionway.

Missing the pictures? See the April 2014 eBook!


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