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April 2015

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With reports this month from Lovely Reta on getting stuck in the mud twice in one week in the channel to the Barra de Navidad lagoon; from Carina on the hard in the Philippines and getting a 31,000-mile refresh; from Beach House on the marvels and mysteries of Cuba, from X in Majuro on getting slapped trying to sail to Honolulu; from Maya on laundry and other issues in the Grenadines; and an unusually generous serving of Cruise Notes.

Lovely Reta — Islander 41
John and Debby Dye
Aground Twice In One Week
(Channel Islands Harbor)

We have been cruising Mexican waters since 2006. Seasoned cruisers, we've been to the South Pacific and never went onto a reef, coral head or sand bar. And we'd been in the lagoon at Barra numerous times and had never gone aground — until this year.

We have all of the waypoints for the channel past the fuel dock, so how could it happen that we would go aground? Well, just past the marina there is a green buoy that marks the channel entrance to the fuel dock, where you turn to starboard to get to the dock. John took that as a sign to keep the mark to port.

"What are you doing?!" I immediately asked. I told him to turn back toward the main channel, and he did. But it was too late, as we drove right up onto the bar. Fortunately, there were several cruisers in dinghies in the area, and we were able to get off in 30 minutes.

Five days later, I, Debby, was at the helm, following the waypoints out of the lagoon. I decided to cut one corner "just a little" to get to the second waypoint. We found ourselves not just aground, but hard aground. It wouldn't have been so bad had the tide not been going out and the moon not been full. Several cruisers came out over in dinghies and tried everything they could to get us off. We had several dinghies pushing our bow around, than pushing the stern. Then pushing the bow and stern. Finally, one of the dinghies took our spinnaker halyard to heel us over while the other dinghies pushed. Nothing. We even tried kedging, where you have one of the dinghies set your anchor away from the boat and use the windlass and engine to try to push-pull the boat off. Nothing.

Because of the minus tide, Lovely Reta eventually heeled over as much as 35 degrees, and we got six inches of water over the rail. Needless to say, we didn't move much while heeled over like that. Several cruisers from the lagoon did come by to console us, however. One even delivered a gallon of tequila to help relieve the pain.

Jake Howard of the Hunter 45 Jake organized a rescue party to begin with a 'de-grounding' at 7:45 p.m. With the help of six dinghies, good directions from Jake, and the power of our engine, we finally got Lovely Reta off the bar at 10 p.m. We then made it safely back into the lagoon, where we anchored for the night.

The next morning we very carefully followed the waypoints out of the lagoon, cutting no corners, and gave a big 'thank you' to everyone as we left for another fabulous anchorage. Once we got to a clear anchorage, we inspected Lovely Reta's bottom, and found there was no damage. We did check the batteries for spillage and the thru hulls for mud, but everything was fine.

Don't be like us. When you enter the lagoon at Barra, use the waypoints as soon as you get past the last channel marker, and don't deviate. Then drop your hook and enjoy the lovely town of Barra.

— john and debby 01/15/2015

Carina — Mason 33
Leslie Linkkila and Philip DiNuovo
Hauled Out in the Philippines
(Kingston, Washington)

After cruising to 24 countries in the Pacific between Canada, Ecuador and Indonesia, and covering 31,499 miles since leaving the Pacific Northwest in August 2003, our 29-year-old Carina is on the hard and we're doing lots of much-needed maintenance here in the Philippines.

On the plus side, we are in a lovely location at the north end of Samal Island, and most evenings the winter tradewinds blow through the cabin, making it a pleasant spot to alight. That's even despite the millions of little red ants that leisurely find their way into every crevice.

Down the road about six miles is the bustling little market town of Babak, where we buy fresh fruits, veggies, locally grown eggs, and meat and chicken. All at moderate prices. Davao City, the third-largest city in the Philippines, and where we can find almost anything except marine products, is just a ferry ride away. So life is comfortable among amiable Filipinos and yachties alike — although more costly than when we are laying to our anchor off some secluded island,

Even though Philip recently turned 70 — and what a wild party that was! — and Leslie is not far behind, we go puttering around on a small used Honda XRM 125 motorbike. We do this on most Sundays, our one day of rest from working on the boat. We try to avoid herds of roaming goats and cows, and enjoy losing ourselves on the island's winding, bumpy, narrow dirt roads. We see the many villages and meet locals, who are among the friendliest we've met in all our travels. Everyone turns their heads and watches as we pass, and if we stop, we get interviewed by locals interested in the strangers in their village.

During our last bike tour we took a slow motion spill — actually a 'wheelie' that went too far — in which we went over backwards while trying to ride up a mountain. We were unharmed and the bike sustained repairable damage, so we anticipate more Sunday explorations to help us to forget our boatyard woes.

A couple of Sundays back we took a dead-ended road up and over a rip-rap limestone path, finally abandoning the bike when the road got too rough. After pushing the bike into the bushes to hide it, we hoofed it further up the road between homes of woven bamboo set among veggie gardens, all in search of a memorial to the passengers and crew of an airliner that had crashed years before.

If we didn't have Philip's new smart phone birthday present and MapsMe app, we never would have found it. But we did, and it was not the stone memorial or metal plaque that we expected, but rather a grove of trees, each representing a victim, tightly packed in lines along the crater caused by the crash.

So all in all, despite living eight feet above a parking lot and 'suffering' from all the inconveniences associated with a boat in pieces — we have baggies of parts crowding the cabin sole — we're enjoying our 'tour' of the Philippines. Hopefully we'll later be rewarded with being able to visit some of her lovely anchorages — although the season without typhoons is short and most of these anchorages are vulnerable. As for our next sailing adventure, we can't even thing about it until Carina is back in the water.

What kind of maintenance have we been doing after 12 years of very active cruising? We are replacing two upper and four lower chainplates because of rust and corrosion. We'd had them replaced before in Ecuador in 2007. We are reinforcing the bow roller and making a stern chainplate of thicker material. We know of other cruisers with plastic classic boats who have never pulled their chainplates to check for corrosion. We think they should.

We needed to disassemble all of our rigging terminals, as they appear to have leak issues because of failed sealant. When we removed Carina's windvane for painting, one of the stainless steel mounting bolts sheered off! Lucky that part didn't fail while we were at sea.

We removed a speedo log that hadn't worked in years and plugged and sealed the hole. We've also removed two seacocks — one was frozen in the open position by calcium deposits — and will replace them. A custom stainless steel three-way hose barb fitting below the waterline, which we had worried about for years, turned out to have had a minute hole in it and thin spots. The marina owners also own the ferry company serving the island, and their machinists were able to fabricate a replacement.

Carina's topsides are looking kinda worn, what with constant usage, so we'll paint them with two-part polyurethane. Ditto for the deck and cockpit. Carina is also well overdue for anti-fouling paint, so that is also on the list. But first we have to repair the scattered failings of our epoxy barrier coat that occurred since her last haulout. Some of the varnish on the teak toe rails has been let alone for too long while we were exploring Indonesia. We'll use the boatyard crew of Filipinos to help us address it.

Our life raft went in for regular maintenance service at a Lloyds certified service center here in Davao. Philip and the captains of four other yachts were present to watch three rafts be inflated and tested. During the procedure it was discovered that the line used to pull the pin for inflating Carina's raft was weak and degraded, meaning that if we had had an emergency, it is unlikely the raft would have inflated! We were horrified by the thought and began to question the work of the previous service provider, who had charged us an exorbitant amount of money. The bottom line is that the manufacturer of our raft recalled it and is replacing it under warranty.

The logistics of replacing a raft in the Philippines are complex, as life rafts are hazmat, and customs refuses to recognize 'yachts in transit', and thus imposes duty. We won't bore you with the details, but we should ultimately get a life raft that will work if we ever need it.

Meanwhile Leslie's sewing list doesn't seem to be getting any shorter. The long list includes headsail repair, new dodger, bimini, mainsail cover, preventer, etc.

So you kind of see what we're up against. To keep things in perspective, we've been cruising Carina since 2003 and have been to: Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador including the Galapagos, Peru, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, the Kingdom of Tonga, Wallis, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Philippines and Indonesia.

— leslie and philip 03/03/2015

Readers — Pretty impressive cruising for a retired banker and retired microbiologist with a modest 33-ft boat.

Beach House — Switch 55 Cat
Scott Stolnitz and Nikki Woodrow
The Cuban Slide
(Marina del Rey)

We spent our first full day in Cuba at Marina Gaviota, which is on Cuba's Varadero Peninsula about 85 miles east of Havana. The marina, which is still under construction and is controlled by the Cuban military, will eventually accommodate 1,000 boats. Cuban President Raoul Castro, Fidel's brother, reportedly has a personal financial interest.

The Varadero Peninsula is 10 miles or so of four-star 'all inclusive' hotels. Nearby cruisers refer to it as 'the tourist prison'. It’s not that people can’t leave — they can — but rather that the government controls all the prices and where the tourist dollars flow.

We were told that 65% of Cuba's tourists are Canadian, and the Cubans enjoy their fun-loving nature. The Germans are next, but they are considered not to be very outgoing. They are followed by the British, French and other European tourists. At the bottom are the Russians, whom young Cubans dislike because they claim they are rude, have no class, and act like stereotypes from Cold War movies.

After inquiring at the shipyard about getting some mechanical assistance and being told "mañana", we walked around the hotel area and met some cruisers. Most were from Canada and Europe, but there were a number of American boats, too. Apparently there were a lot of U.S. boats in Cuba before George W. Bush became president, but then he made it clear that Americans who owned boats in Cuba would be in big trouble. Once Obama took office, Americans returned with their boats.

Cubans love Americans! Given the recent pronouncements by Obama promising better relations between the two countries, Cubans are expecting more U.S. boats to arrive. Many, many more.

Dutch friends Tom and Anneke described Canadian cruiser Debbie Armstrong as the 'Mother Teresa of Cuba'. Debbie, whom we met the next day, was flattered by the remark. She lives aboard her boat at nearby Marina Darsena, and was a wealth of information. For example, she told us that the government has closed Marina Darsena to foreign boats and wants them all to go to Marina Gaviota. They say the reason is that the Marina Darsena incinerator doesn't burn hot enough for international cruiser garbage. Most others think it's because Castro and the military have a financial interest in Gaviota but not in Darsena. Welcome to the Third World.

Since we were stuck waiting for mechanical help — which never would arrive — we rented a car and took a two-day tour to the south coast of Cuba to visit the cities of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. The roads, which we were told were built by Americans in the 1950s, were pretty good. Potholes, however, were an issue. But it was a hoot to see all the American cars from the 1950s.

Cienfuegos, our first stop on the south coast, is a historic town with Spanish Colonial architecture. We stopped at both the marina and Club Nautico (yacht club) and found them both downtrodden, to put it politely. We soon found our way to the 'new' part of the town, which is only 400 years old. It's being nicely restored and one day will be quite the tourist destination.

We could see that in small ways dreaded capitalism is having a resurgence in Cuba. The young artists, for example, are market-savvy entrepreneurs. But no matter if the Cubans were trying to sell us something or not, they were open and friendly. This was particularly true of those under 35, who didn't seem to have any hesitation in expressing their true feelings about Cuba.

We later drove to the historic colonial town of Trinidad. Founded in 1514, it just celebrated its 500th anniversary! The central area is for walking only, and has quite the tourist scene. As elsewhere in Cuba, there were dozens of buses loaded with tourists. Who knew?

We stayed in a casa particular, which was the second floor of a private home. There was also a young couple from Israel who were doing a gap year of traveling after military service. We had some great conversations, and they wondered why we were staying in a $25/night casa. Because, we explained, there were so many tourists that we couldn't find a hotel room. Even the $450/night Iberostar, a very lovely old colonial-style hotel, was booked solid.

On our way back to Beach House, we stopped at Santa Clara, home of the monument to Che Guevara. It is here that the bones of Che, and of his 40 compatriots killed while attempting to spread the revolution in Bolivia, are interred. Some believe the CIA helped Che get killed. But some Cubans believe it was Fidel who ratted out Che, as Fidel was known to be jealous of Che's cult of personality.

Che's image is everywhere in Cuba, and you'll see 50 of his for every one of Fidel's. It's ironic that the image of the warrior against capitalism is ubiquitously for sale on just about everything.

While Che may be the face of revolution the world over, Cuban kids don't think much of him, believing that he was at least as bad a guy as he was a force for freedom.

When we returned to Beach House, we needed to do some maintenance, so we took the day to try to follow up with the boatyard. It was "mañana" again. This would be the theme for our getting a bit of mechanical assistance while in Cuba.

A weather window started to open the next day, so we checked out of Marina Gaviota and spent an evening with a Canadian and another American boat at Cayo Blanco. It was quite tricky in the anchorage, but pleasant and quiet. Cayo Blanco is where dozens of day 'cattle-marans' bring tourists to snorkel and sun on the beach. When I say dozens, I mean there are literally dozens of these 80-foot Fontaine/Pajot day catamarans. No matter if the weather is good or not, they are usually full of tourists briefly escaping the 'tourist prisons'.

We eventually decided to try to find mechanical help at Havana, 80 miles to the west. The wind was light and the current with us — until we got to about 20 miles east of Havana, when it really turned against us. We arrived at Marina Hemingway late in the day.

Ernest Hemingway used to come to the marina by boat to what was then named Monte Carlo Marina. Fidel Castro renamed it after the great American author's death. When we got there, we once again had to go through a very formal check-in procedure. This time it included a dog. The pooch was supposedly sniffing for narcotics and gunpowder, but I'm convinced was merely the customs guy's domestic pet.

Every time you arrive or leave a Cuban port, officials thoroughly check your boat. We assume they are concerned with people being smuggled out of Cuba, although Cubans are now allowed to leave the island — if they can afford to and if they can get a visa. Those, however, are two big hurdles, as it costs $160 just to apply for a U.S. visa, and the average Cuban makes only $15 a month. Furthermore, most visa applications to the U.S. are denied. Ecuador is the only country in the world that doesn't require Cubans to get a visa in advance, so it's the popular travel destination.

Next we would try to find some mechanical help in Havana. While searching, we did a tour of Havana. That was a real eye-opener that we'll tell you about next month.

— scott 02/20/2015

X — Santa Cruz 50
David Addleman
Palau to Honolulu Denied!

Have I really not sent an update since last July? We — Shayne, my Filipina girlfriend, and I — were then at El Nido in the Philippines. Shortly after that I got the urge to sail to Honolulu. After all, X has not been to a proper yachting center for many years, and her rig has some issues. In addition, 10 years of Third World bottom jobs, plus some scraping on coral, has the bottom wanting a proper refinishing. I could possibly do the work in Southeast Asia, but it wouldn't be easy. I could also sail to New Zealand or Australia, but I didn't really want to get that far east, as I eventually want to do a South Pacific cruise in the 'right' direction. Plus, it would be fun to do yet another Ha-Ha and a Pacific Puddle Jump.

For all these reasons Shayne and I headed east across the southern Philippines, and immediately tore the fancy Tides Marine sail track from the mast. Ten years of tropical sun had eaten it up. We limped 1,000 miles to Palau with a seriously funky lash-up in its place, and properly repaired it there with new slugs in the basic mast slot.

We stayed in Palau for two months, partying and seeing old friends, then sailed east through Micronesia. Sailing east in Micronesia is the wrong way against the trades and current. In addition, it was also still typhoon season, so Shayne and I took a more southerly route, where typhoons are rare, the tradewinds are lighter, and the equatorial countercurrent sets east.

We would sail along the length of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone rather than the more normal one or two days of sailing across it. We would have a day of nice sailing in light variables, followed by a day of squalls, then have to motor through confused seas under the heavy clouds. The cycle would then repeat, but with entirely new wind directions. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't pleasant either. We did catch plenty of fish — tuna, mahi, and a huge swordfish that thankfully spat out the lure after a few big leaps.

You can find a good plot of the powerful countercurrent on the Web if you search for 'NOAA OSCAR'. I found it to be quite accurate, although it plots an average current. The actual current is obviously in eddies, and the islands in the current leave wakes. At one point the GPS showed speeds up to 10 knots of boat speed when we were only sailing at six, so the current can be powerful. We'd hate to be sailing against that.

This route in the countercurrent and south of the typhoon tracks meant we bypassed most of the islands that were on the more direct route. We sailed straight through to Pohnpei, which is a large, tall, green island mostly visited by wreck divers and big-wave surfers. It's very quiet, the people are friendly, the anchorage is good, and you can dinghy to the bar from the mooring. The only disappointment was that the cargo ship had passed the island because of a typhoon, leaving the grocery shelves barren except for Spam and cups of noodle soup.

We headed for Kosrae, another green paradise, but sailed right on past it because we were enjoying such fine sailing weather. Our goal being 3,000-mile-distant Honolulu, we sailed on to Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

Majuro is a popular stop both for cruisers crossing the Pacific to Southeast Asia and those seeking refuge from the tropical cyclone season on the other side of the equator. Majuro also sees a parade of super yachts. Sun Microsystem's Bill Joy's 190-ft Ron Holland-designed, Royal Huisman-built sloop Ethereal was here, as was Titanic director James Cameron's research vessel and the yachts of two Google executives. One of them, the 240-ft motoryacht Dragonfly, was anchored right next to us at little Emenanet Island. The other yacht was off to some atoll on a surfing safari.

There were about two dozen cruising boats around, as well as yacht racing, good weather, plentiful supplies — and all the glistening coral atolls of the Marshall Islands. Majuro itself is a very busy, with tuna boats unloading onto freighters. It is also the main business, government and industrial center of the Marshall Islands, which makes it somewhat less of a tropical paradise than one might have hoped. Paradise, however, is only an hour sail away.

Majuro is also the end of the road for Filipinos lacking U.S. visas, so the lovely Shayne had to fly back to the Philippines while I set sail for Honolulu.

I had terrible weather — big seas, strong winds and squalls from every direction — trying to singlehand to Honolulu. The conditions would change every hour, and often be much nastier than before. While I did have the counter-current in my favor, it was cancelled by the seas heaping up against it.

After five days of this kind of singlehanding, I had just crossed the dateline. During a pretty pink dawn, coffee in hand, a squall with tremendous ferocity seemed to come out of nowhere. I had no choice but to run off with it. I surfed across spume for two hours, heading in the general direction of Australia rather than Honolulu. The sailing to the southwest was so pleasant that I decided not to turn back, but rather head up a bit and sail 500 miles back to Majuro. I will remain here until the weather changes, allowing me a better shot at Honolulu. Armed with her new U.S. visa, perhaps Shayne can join me.

My Santa Cruz 50 X is fine, and doing very well in the Mieco Beach YC's racing season. The course is "around all the tuna boats" in tradewinds on flat lagoon water.

— david 02/25/2015

Maya — LaFitte 44
Rick Meyerhoff
Laundry and End-of-Season Issues
(Sausalito / Caribbean)

I was up early, as I had to get Maya ready for her end-of-season haulout at 1 pm at Spice Island Marina, Grenada. I started by going over to the marina laundry machines to finish getting my clothes and other boat stuff clean. I'd done two loads yesterday, and with two more today, I'd be done with that.

Getting laundry done — as was noted by a cruising woman in the March Changes — is a major project when cruising. For me at this time, it involved getting into the dinghy and motoring a couple of miles to the machines in the boatyard. The problem was some Neanderthal female had taken my stuff, including my beloved vintage aloha shirts, out of the dryer and jammed them into the garbage bag that I'd tucked under my Tide container.

I was very angry. So when nobody was looking, I opened the door just a tad to the dryer that her clothes were in, then closed it, stopping the cycle. I hope she came back to find her clothes were still wet, and had to spend more time doing something that she obviously was in such a hurry to do that she 'woman-handled' my aloha shirts into a plastic bag. It was such a stupid thing for her to do — as was, I'll admit, my reaction. But I had to do it, for a California boy can't let these idiots get away with something like that. And she wasn't even French! One day I'll report what the French did to us in the Tobago Cays.

It would be nice if the services industry in cruising areas got the message about laundry facilities and services, too. The only facilities here for the 100 or so cruising boats in the area are the two washers and dryers at the Spice Island Marina boatyard. It's a terrible ratio of machines to cruisers, so if you want to use one, you have to get there early. Try 7 a,m. Why not get more machines?

By the way, how can they get away with calling it Spice Island Marina? It's just a boatyard at the north end of Prickly Bay, Grenada. They don't have slips.

Anyway, with the laundry done, it was time for me to get Maya ready for her final movement of the season. I was pretty organized and prepared, and had carefully thought out the progression of how I would get the anchor up with the wind blowing 20 knots. And since I had plenty of time to make my appointment, what could possibly go wrong?

The problems started when I couldn't get the chain snubber off the anchor, because it had somehow gotten completely tangled. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to get it untangled — until I fetched the big hammer and started swinging as if I was an old time steel worker. The links finally came free.

Since time was now slipping away, I weighed anchor as if I knew what I was doing — even though it's a bit of a trick on my boat when you're alone. Then I was off to the yard. Or I was for awhile.

When you're in the Prickly Bay vicinity, you need to pay particular attention to avoiding the shoals, which have claimed many boats. So I was following my chartplotter intently as I entered the narrows to the haulout area. That's when I noticed the sounder showing just three feet beneath the keel. I was coming in at low tide, which nobody thought of when I made my haulout reservation a couple of months before, so I had to pay close attention to where I was in relation to the mudflats.

The problem was the yard wanted me to back my boat into the haulout slip. Boats are different, but sometimes Maya just plain won't back down no matter how hard I try. Seriously, if you're not confident in your boat backing down, it's like taking your case before a jury as there is no telling how things are going to turn out.

With the depthsounder reading zero, I watched anxiously as the gusts swung the bow around. The williwas were like the march of the 300 at Thermopylae. Seriously. I wasn't confident what Maya was going to do when I backed down, plus I kept running aground. I must have gotten stuck in the mud about eight times. I could only imagine what the raw water intake filter looked like.

Finally I said the heck with it and just brought Maya in bow first. Why couldn't I have done that in the first place?

Did I mention that I'd tied my dinghy — just six weeks old — to the bow? I'd had to leave it in the water in order to take it to the dinghy guy so he could make a cover for it. Once I remembered the dinghy tied to the bow, as I was easing the boat forward, I raced forward to untie the painter that held the dinghy to the boat. In my haste, I forgot that I'd left the transmission in forward. So there I was, doing the Three Stooges Shuffle.

Maybe you're thinking, 'what's the big deal?' Well, the place you back into at Spice Island is all concrete, and the concrete pilings have lots of razor-sharp barnacles on them, eager to eat a nice, expensive new dinghy. Then, too, concrete just loves the fiberglass of boats. To make things even more interesting, there's a restaurant right there on the water at the haulout area, so I was the entertainment for the lunch crowd. They are probably still laughing at what they saw.

Anyway, I finally got the boat swung around, the dinghy in the back of the boat, and with my tail between my legs, started throwing lines to the Travelift crew. And they threw some lines back. As you might imagine, sometimes the lines fell short of outstretched hands reaching for them, and embarassingly dropped into the water. It was such a cluster f--k that I would have given anything for a place to hide.

So it was, after four months of incident-free cruising, my West Indies season had to come to an end like this, and with everybody watching. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it, but I'm glad you weren't.

— rick 03/15/2015

Rick — Who among us hasn't had a morning fiasco such as yours? We've found that with time, they fortunately happen less often. But when they do, we now find it more amusing than humiliating.

Last month we had a similar 'CF' when we attempted to take the Olson 30
La Gamelle off her mooring in very rolly and windy conditions for the first sail of the season. After we got the main up, the sheet got hung up on a winch, propelling the boat forward. Without our realizing it, the mooring line had gotten wrapped around the keel. Shoot! So we stripped down, dove into the water, and wrestled to get the mooring line clear. Once we did, we climbed back onto the boat, at which point the mainsheet got snagged a second time, powering the boat forward again. Double shoot! This time the mooring line got wrapped at the top of the rudder against the hull.

As we got ready to dive into the water for a second time, we could tell that several of the people watching from their boats in the crowded anchorage, having taken pity, were about to jump into their dinghies to come over and assist the helpless fool. We waved them off. After all, the water was 82 degrees, blue as blue could be, and we were actually having a pretty good time. Once we got the boat free and the sails up, we tacked and gybed through the crowded anchorage at speed and in close quarters — just to demonstrate that we weren't as incompetent as our earlier antics had suggested.

Yet it still wasn't over. Thanks to some recalcitrant mainsail slugs, we had to drop the main in a quiet cove while under sail to get that sorted out. It served as our excuse for being late for a sundowner party aboard the great S&S 72 yawl
Bolero. Built in 1949, 30 years ago she reportedly had been owned by a woman in San Francisco.

All in all, it had been a fabulous day of messing around with a boat — with a couple of unexpected but delightful swims in the warm Caribbean for good measure. What more could anybody ask for?

Cruise Notes:

Literally hanging on for dear life. While in St. Barth, we were told about a hurricane survival story the likes of which we hadn't heard before. The subject was a middle-aged woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, who was living aboard a Camper-Nicholson 31 sloop in the mooring field just outside Gustavia. While her then-partner was in France, along came hurricane Gonzalo, which took almost all boatowners in St. Barth and St. Martin by surprise. Since her boat didn't have a working engine, she and the boat were soon blown onto the Little Friars, a group of low-lying rocks about 200 yards from St. Barth proper. As the boat broke apart and sunk, the woman scrambled onto the rocks and clung to them. It was extremely difficult, as there was no protection, and thus she was lashed all through the night by hurricane-force winds and regularly drenched by massive waves. Despite terrible cuts to her hands and arms, and being repeatedly nipped by crabs, she managed to survive. Talk about unusual strength, determination and will to live.

"We just pulled into Marina Palmira, La Paz this morning, and will hopefully get out of here in about three days," report Steve and Charlotte Baker of the formerly Sausalito-based Catalina 27 Willful Simplicity. "We're picking up food and drink for another five to six weeks up at the tiny village of San Evaristo about 70 miles to the north, where we've been based for five years.

"Wow, is civilization ever a shock each time we come back to it!," continues Steve. "We find the Internet, for example, to be overwhelming. But we don't miss 'civilization' or the Internet when we're at tiny Evaristo. Having lived the California suburban life, we think we're now living the best way money can't buy. We've all but forgotten the old 'luxuries' and have truly discovered a new definition — for us, at least — of wealth. Money is certainly an important tool, but time is the most valuable commodity. For one thing, I've been able to read over 100 books."

The Bakers at Evaristo remind us of longtime man-of-the-world San Francisco sailor Christian Buhl, who years ago did a Pacific Cup to Hawaii aboard the great 145-ft ketch Mari-Cha III. A number of years ago Christian somehow ended up at another tiny fishing village, this one San Juanico on the Pacific Coast of Baja. And he stayed there for four years without ever leaving. We're not sure how he was able to do that, although the presence of great surfing waves certainly must have helped. Buhl currently hangs out in Newport Beach, which is about as un-San Juanico like as you could imagine.

While the Bakers are into the simple life, Heather Tzortzis of the San Francisco-based Lagoon 470 catamaran Family Circus is into simple pleasures.

"It was so nice to pull into the Marina Riviera Nayarit last night," she reports, "because I was able to take my first real shower in six f--king weeks! I loved it. But oh, my God, I can't believe that I'm going to leave things like real showers in order to do the Puddle Jump — with five children — and thus won't have another real shower for eight months. It's the little things that I really miss when cruising, such as nice showers, not getting my feet sandy and wet when coming home, and good beer. I'm not complaining, as I love being at anchor — but I so love being in a marina, too."

Why is it, we at Latitude wonder, that hot showers feel so good, even in the hot weather of the tropics?

One of the most fun things you can do with a boat is to share sailing with non-sailors and novices — as Brian Charette has been doing at Bahia Chamela, Mexico with groups of people aboard his Jackson, Wyoming-based 36-ft Cat2Fold. And for fun, not money. But as he learned, even experienced surfers such as himself can get fooled by waves.

"My last group sail had the most exciting start yet, as the waves on the way out to the cat were huge!" reports Brian. "With two guys and all the food, drinks and bags of stuff aboard the dink, we tried to carefully time a lull between sets of waves. The only problem was there really weren't any lulls between the sets. So we took off when it seemed clear. But then a nine-foot wave — and I'm saying that as a surfer — came right at us. With nowhere to run or hide, my dinghy was back-flipped, ejecting everyone and everything. Everything included the electric motor, which somehow kept on running underwater. Luckily a panga came along and gave my friends and me, and our soaked stuff, a ride out to Cat2Fold. We lost five bottles of champagne and wine, some ice, my sunglasses — and my confidence. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a great afternoon on the water for everyone — particularly since the swell had subsided when it was time for everyone to go back through the surf to shore."

"It was hot in Thailand and we were anxious to get into the water," report intrepid cruisers Sheri and Gene Seybold of the Stockton- (long ago) and Honolulu-based Esprit 37 Reflections "I jumped in first," says Sheri, "and my hand hit something, I looked around and there were these jellyfish-like things, except they were as much as eight feet long! I didn't know if they would sting or not, but I got out of the water immediately. I Googled the creatures and it turns out they are sea salps/salpa, which are non-stinging plankton eaters. Nonetheless, in the future I think I'll look before I leap."

"I was wondering if Latitude could tell me what's involved in importing a watermaker into Mexico for my boat," asked Charlie Phillips. "We have cruised from Portland to Ixtapa, and I was hoping to bring a small watermaker from the States in my suitcase. Will that work?"

We forwarded Phillips' questions to Dennis and Susan Ross of the La Paz-based Endeavour 43 Two Can Play. Winners of the Seven Seas Cruising Association's Cruising Station of the Year award, the Rosses are experts in this kind of stuff. Their response:

"Things have changed in Mexico regarding the amending of the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) to allow bringing replacement parts into the country without paying duty. The current policy covers only replacement of equipment that has model numbers and serial numbers affixed, and then only if the equipment is specifically listed, with the serial number of the old part, on the boat's TIP.

"That said, we have many clients who have brought parts down in their checked and carry-on luggage without any paperwork and they didn't have any duty issues. A lot depends on where you fly to. Officials at La Paz seem to be more lax than at Cabo, where everyone thinks all tourists are rich. If you are driving, importing stuff is almost a non-issue — unless your vehicle is packed with boat parts in their original packaging. In any event, you are permitted a personal exemption for items brought into Mexico of about $500 US per person. Customs agents often Google the item to get some idea of the true value.

"For those attempting to bring in parts," the Rosses continue, "we recommend that you have a package prepared that includes your boat document, her TIP, your passport, receipts/list of values (real or self-generated), and copies of your latest marina bills. Many Customs agents are not up to date on the changes, and once they see the TIP, and you tell them the stuff is for your boat, the issue goes away. And remember, nine out of ten people get the green light anyway, which means their bags aren't inspected."

We think Dennis and Susan's response, which is basically 'you never know for sure what's going to happen in Mexico', is accurate. Indeed, even if you have all the paperwork and follow all the rules, there is still is not 100% guarantee that you won't be charged duty by some uninformed customs official. The uncertainty of it all is part of the charm of Mexico — at least after the fact. Good luck!

Two years of hard time. "What’s important about the photo below, besides the smile on Alene's cute face?" asks Bruce Balan of the Northern and Southern California-based (long ago) Cross 45 trimaran Migration. "It's the anchor chain going down from the bow, which means we're finally — just a couple of days short of two years — away from Ao Po Grand Marina and Boatyard in Thailand. Two years on the hard for a refit is a long, long time anywhere, but it seems even longer when you're in Thailand, where it's not always easy to get things done. But what a great feeling it is to be at anchor under a beautiful moon, as we are doing this evening! Yes, we still have plenty to do on the boat, but at least we can now do it while living the life we love. We’ll head to Langkawi, Malaysia in a couple of days to renew Migration's visa, then return to clear out our storage area in Phuket. After that and some cruising in the region, we'll slowly make our way back to French Polynesia."

"When we started cruising the Eastern Caribbean back in 2002 aboard our Beneteau 40 Eaux Vives, we met a couple who were spending their 15th and final season cruising," write Lance Batten and Susie Bowman of the Berkeley-based Oyster 45 Queen Emma. "We interviewed them and took notes as they marked little dots on the charts denoting their favorite anchorages. When they got to Antigua, the man said, “it's complicated, as you could spend a whole season there.

"After 13 years we're still in the Caribbean," Lance and Susie continue. "This year has been unusual, with lots of very windy weather. We launched in St. Lucia, and then meandered up the island chain to Antigua. We usually stay no more than a few weeks at any island, but we've been here at Antigua for over two months — and have come to understand what the man said when he claimed you could spend a whole season here. We've been around the island several times, and over to remote Barbuda twice, and have enjoyed much lovely sailing in big winds and flat waters. We see a lot of megayachts, both power and sail, so it's always interesting."

Since the publisher of Latitude is going to move both his Leopard 45 cat 'ti Profligate and the Olson 30 La Gamelle to Antigua for the off-season, we asked Lance and Susie what they thought of the current crime situation in Antigua, which has been troubling at times in the past.

"I would say that it's not as safe as St Barth," replied Susie, "largely because there are more poor people here. It is probably safer than Sint Maarten — and definitely safer than Berkeley. I love Berkeley and Oakland, but don't ask me how many home/car burglaries and bicycle thefts I have suffered in those two places."

Another Northern California couple that haven't been able to kick the winter sailing in the Caribbean habit are Terry and Evelyn Drew of Santa Cruz. "This is our 12th year spending four months a year on our Kirie Feeling 446 Aquarelle, and we're still having fun. We just arrived in St. Lucia from St. Anne, Martinique on a slow trip to Grenada and back. We know the Wanderer spends most of his time between the BVIs and St. Barth, so we hope it's true he's going to come 'down island', where we hang out, next year."

"We just updated the TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for our Denver-based Whitby 42 Odessa Mamma, which is currently in Ensenada," write Victor and JoAnn. "Because our new TIP is an update of a 10-year TIP that would have expired in 2018, the new one is only good for three more years. Customs officials told us that there is a new rule in Mexico that limits the number of TIPs a boat can get in a lifetime to two. If this is correct, it would negatively affect many cruisers who spend time in Mexico. Can Latitude please verify this?"

We referred the question to Tere Grossman, head of the Mexican Marina Owners Association, who has long battled for the interests of foreign boatowners in Mexico, even those who have never put their boat in a marina. Tere's response:

"Mexican officials told me that when you get a TIP, it’s good for 10 years, and it can be renewed only once. However, if you take the boat out of Mexico and come back, you can get a new TIP good for another 10 years."

Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz, our second primary source for boat legal matters in Mexico, cited specific Mexican maritime law in agreeing with Grossman's conclusion that there is nothing to fear.

Grossman added that everyone needs to keep in mind that a 10-year TIP for Mexico costs just $50. Just between us, that's almost unspeakably inexpensive.

You can't always trust GRIBs. Rob Murray of the Vancouver, B.C.-based Beneteau First 435 Avant sent us NOAA GRIB chart for Friday, March 13, that called for 100+ knot winds in the Sea of Cortez. As that would have been unheard of in winter, we checked with Passage Weather, and found that they were only calling for nine knots. Guess which was more accurate. Actually, as you might have surmised, there was something wrong with NOAA's GRIBs for that Friday the 13th.

"The tropical storm that formed atop us last weekend in Majuro is now named Bavi," reports David Addleman of the Monterey-based Santa Cruz 50 X. "Fortunately for Majuro, Bavi only hit with 40-knots and torrential rain, and has since moved out of the area toward Guam. Guam is more accustomed to such weather — and the land there is more that just a couple of centimeters above the high-water mark.

"As Bavi was forming on Monday, a 35-ft trimaran arrived, 23 hard days out of 2,000-mile-distant Honolulu. She successfully negotiated the pass to make it into the lagoon. But once inside the lagoon, the tri went onto the reef, perhaps because of steering or engine issues. [See the photo earlier in Changes.] The local cruiser community had the tri patched up and floating again on Wednesday, but on Thursday morning the main hull was full of water again. Once again local help, assisted by the crew of the Google-owned megayacht Dragonfly, which helped with divers, repairs and towing, helped get the trimaran to a commercial dock. I'm just a cub reporter, so I didn't get the name of the couple aboard or even the tri."

Let's talk about sketchy memories of unusual and seemingly impossible maritime feats, as well as towing boats. We've long had a vague recollection that maybe 25 years ago a guy had restored a large, maybe 100-ft, classic yacht and sailed her to the Caribbean. Shortly after arriving, she caught fire at St. Martin and the interior was all but destroyed. The owner vowed to restore her again, but first had to figure out how to get his big boat back to England. As we recall, she was towed all the way across the Atlantic by another sailboat.

For a long time we haven't been able to find anyone else who remembered it. Fortunately, last month we ran into John Everton of the 50-ft wood ketch Gaucho, who confirmed that the impossible-sounding story was indeed correct. He even recalled that one of the boats was named La Aventura. John has unrivaled credibility when it comes at all matters sailing, as he learned to sail at the Rangoon (Burma) YC a million years ago and met his lovely English wife Ronnie at the famed Le Select Bar in St. Barth.

But if you think that's an incredible towing story, Andy 'Dali Lama' Keys, an ethnic Chinese friend from South Africa, who lives in Dominica with his South African wife Melissa, at least when they aren't working on boats in San Diego, reports that when he was running a big Jongert ketch, he towed the big boat's suitably large inflatable dinghy all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Not once, but five times! That said, we still recommend against towing dinghies in open waters.

We enjoyed the following post by Shelly Rothery Ward, commodore of the Club Cruceros de La Paz, and partner with Mike Rickman in the Peterson 44 Avatar:

"Thirty years ago I developed a desire to sail to the South Pacific. Maybe it came from reading the The Last Navigator, but it has stuck with me. Two years ago my partner Mike Rickman and I set the date of March 21, 2016 to take off for the South Pacific aboard Avatar. With two years to get ready, it seemed that we'd have plenty of time to prepare. But now it's only one year away.

"We'd been working furiously to get our ducks in a row to make our cruise happen," Shelly continues. "but hurricane Odile hit La Paz in October, claiming lots of boats, but more importantly the lives of our cruising friends Paul Whitehouse and Simone Wood. As commodore of the Club Cruceros de La Paz, it became my responsibility to identify the bodies for the authorities, and do a lot of other unpleasant but necessary stuff. Those events set our cruise departure date in cement — we will make it happen! By the way, anybody want to take our places as yacht brokers in La Paz?"

"Several other cruisers who have been longtime residents of La Paz plan to take off the same day as Shelly and Mike, They include Patsy 'La Reina del Mar' Verhoeven of the Gulfstar 50 Talion; Pedro 'the carpenter', who has been in La Paz for 32 years with the boat Jade; Barry on trimaran Christina, who has been in La Paz for 20; and possibly Tom on Seasure, also 20 plus years in La Paz."

The rapidly increasing value of the dollar compared to the Mexican peso and the euro means that the cost of cruising in both Mexico and Europe has been plunging. As recently as late 2013, you got 12 pesos to the dollar. As of the middle of March, the exchange rate was a delightful 15.54, and an increase of about 30% for the dollar. No wonder that Connie Quesada of the Newport Beach-based Cardinal 46 La Sirena was able to get a haircut — and a nice one — too in Barra de Navidad for just $3. We used to have to pay an outrageous $4 for a haircut in Punta Mita.

As for the euro, in eight months the exchange rate has gone from a dollar's not even being worth 70% of an euro to nearly 95%. And many financial wizards are predicting parity and beyond of the two currencies.

So no matter if you want to cruise to Mexico or Europe, both have become nearly 30% less expensive. Except, of course, for things like marina slips where, in Mexico at least, the price is always in dollars. When it comes to stuff like food, we've been finding that you can buy lots of things in groceries in chic St. Barth for less than in Mill Valley. A coffee au lait and a warm-from-the-oven pain au chocolat at the Choisy Patisserie, where every morning is a fashion parade, costs all of $3.15. Eat that, Starbucks, home of stale baked goods that taste as though they were made from cardboard.

There are two major cruising events left in the Mexico season. La Paz Bay Fest, which is lots of fun and includes a nothing-serious sailboat race, will be April 8-12. Then there is Loreto Fest, May 1-2.

"We're inviting everybody to join us on May 1-2 at Puerto Escondido for the 'New' Loreto Fest, reports Diana Ferraro. "We have downsized and refocused our objectives to be more cruiser friendly. There will be the traditional bay cleanup, a swap meet, a cruiser jam session, and an arts & crafts display. There will be outside food vendors, but also a potluck each night. But unlike in the past, there will be no live band, no pasta dinner, and no pancake breakfast. We're keeping things more simple. There will be a 100 peso fee."

We're not exactly sure what's going on at Puerto Escondido, but according to the minutes of the January General Meeting of the Hidden Port YC, the club's future is uncertain. While a vote to disband the club lost by an 11-to-8 vote, it was hardly a vote of overwhelming confidence.

If you've been out cruising this winter, we'd love to hear from you and share a couple of your photos. It's easy. Just a blurb to Richard about what you've been doing, which we can polish or flesh out as necessary, and a couple of high- resolution photos.

Missing the pictures? See the April 2015 eBook!


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