May, 2005

With reports this month from Lady B on getting ready to cross the Atlantic; from Bella Via on budget cruising; from Learjet on sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas; from Altair on crossing the Indian Ocean; from Scirocco on the Dry Tortugas; from Ushuaia on going north from San Diego to Sidney, B.C.; and Cruise Notes.

Lady B - Norseman 447
Helmut & Mary Draxl
Getting Ready For TransAtlantic
(Newport, Rhode Island)

We are furiously getting Lady B ready for the St. Augustine, Florida, to Portugal ARC Europa, which is the less-popular version of the November Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) from the Canary Islands to the Eastern Caribbean. We leave May 5, stop at Bermuda for a few days, then sail to the Azores where we have another short stop. The final leg is to Lagos in southern Portugal. We have lots to do: get a new EPIRB, update all the safety equipment, have the liferaft inspected, buy a new radar, check the rigging, and do a last haulout. Nonetheless, our crew - Helmut, Mary, and our daughter Jenny Draxl, who just graduated from Yale - are very much looking forward to the trip.

We did the Ha-Ha with Lady B in 2001, so we've taken our time getting to Florida. We spent lots of time in Mexico, coming home each year for hurricane season. Last year we left Lady B in Barillas Marina in El Salvador. We were very impressed with the marina, its staff, and their concern for safety. We highly recommend it as a place to leave a boat for the season.

We left Barillas in October for Santa Elena, Costa Rica, and then made a quick trip down to Puntarenas. We left Lady B on a Costa Rica YC mooring while we flew home for the Christmas holidays. Once again, it worked out great. In mid-January we headed south to Panama. We had good weather until we got near Punta Mala at the entrance to the Bay of Panama. We waited out gusts to 50 knots at the nearby Benea anchorage with several other boats. It hasn't been a great year for weather, as it seems all we've done is wait for windows.

Our Canal transit went very smoothly. We center-locked the entire way, and spent the night on Lake Gatun before arriving at the Panama Canal YC the next day.

Our trip to Florida was pretty uncomfortable, and there was lots of ship traffic. Now that we're in Florida, we understand about shallow draft boats, as it's tough for boats that draw more than six feet. It's not something we expected, but we arrived at St. Augustine in a fog that's as dense as we've ever seen on San Francisco Bay! We're now in St. Augustine Marina, with Max, our trusty sea dog, who has been with us since the Ha-Ha and who will sail to Europe with us.

You may remember that we cruised the Caribbean for six years back in 1979 aboard our old boat Genever, a 35-ft steel sloop. In fact, our daughter Jenny spent the first four years of her life cruising. In retracing some of our stops in Costa Rica and Panama, we've found that not too much has changed in the last 20 years. In fact, they seem to be using the same diesel engines for the launches at the Balboa YC.

We're excited about our trip to Europe - especially since Jenny is joining us for the passage. We plan to spend the next three years in Europe.

- mary & helmut 04/05/05

Bella Via - 44-ft Junk Ketch
J. Carson & Monica Guildersleeve
Cruising On A Budget
(British Columbia)

Artists see things in a different light. Here's proof.

In 1995, artists Jack Carson and Monica Guildersleeve of British Columbia had been home for two years following an inadvertent five-year circumnavigation with Monica's daughters Payana and Isha aboard the Swain 36 Island Breeze. It had been a great trip, but reentry into the 'real world' had proved to be surprisingly difficult. The couple was lonely because they no longer had much in common with their old friends, and they were broke.

In November of that year an opportunity presented itself. If they could find a suitable boat and be ready to go by the following May, they could have a reasonably lucrative contract doing survey work for the very lucrative geoduck clam industry in Canada. The boat would have to be extremely rugged, as the job would require that they live and work aboard on the rough and weather-lashed west coast of Canada between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska.

After several months of looking in vain for the right boat, and with the May deadline looming ever closer, the impoverished Jack came up with a strictly right-brain idea. He would build a new boat from scratch. The only thing more surprising than that wild idea is that he completed the boat - the 44-ft cat-rigged junk ketch Bella Via - on time. Out of the need to keep costs to a minimum, many recycled materials were used. The identical masts, for example, are aluminum light standards from the Vancouver airport. "We got the last two," laughs Jack, "all the others had been sent to the Far East to be melted down."

Jack and Monica used the boat for survey work for the geoduck clam industry that first year, and got the contract renewed every year for the next six years. Two years ago they were underbid which, given the difficult and dangerous nature of the work, didn't exactly break their hearts. When we bumped into the couple at Punta Mita on Banderas Bay a few months ago, they were in the early stages of their second long cruise. "This time our plan is to have no plan," says Monica.

"We'll go a lot slower than the last time, and stay in places longer," adds Jack. "And this time we may keep a foot in both worlds."

That Jack built a boat to suit a job opportunity is not that surprising, as he and a partner had built seven boats in the '80s, all of them out of steel to Canadian Brent Swain's 'origami' construction process. "The idea is that you fold a big sheet of steel the way you do paper in order to make a very simple and inexpensive hull," explains Jack.

"Swain is a real character who more people in the sailing world ought to know about," adds Monica. "He's the kind of guy who would think nothing of leaving B.C. in September - single-handed, of course - to spend the winter in Tonga and then sail home in the spring. He's an inventor who lives so closely off the land that I bet he doesn't spend more than $200 a month. Yet about 150 of his designs have been launched in the last 25 years, and our current boat is Jack's further development of Brent's original origami concept."

It was working "too long and hard" on building boats in the '80s that encouraged both Jack and his partner to go cruising on their own boats. Jack's was a 36-ft twin-keeled Swain origami prototype that he and Monica christened Island Breeze. Departing British Columbia in '88, Jack, Monica, and Monica's daughters Panaya, 14, and Isha, 11, took off on their cruise without any intention of doing a circumnavigation.

"The funny thing is that our cruise never would have gotten anywhere were it not for the good people of Northern California," laughs Jack. "When we got down to the Bay Area in '88, we took a berth at Garvie's on the San Rafael Canal. But thanks to a welding mishap while tied to a dock, there was a fire inside the boat that melted the windows, destroyed the electronics, and ruined most of the preparations we'd made during the previous year. We didn't know if we could go on."

"But then the locals pitched in and did so many nice things for us," remembers Monica. "One guy let us use his warehouse to store our stuff, a stranger gave us the keys to his car - it went on and on. Plus, I got hired right away by Starbuck Canvas.

"In reality, the incident really tuned us up for a circumnavigation," says Jack, "although doing a circumnavigation had never crossed our minds. We only had $20,000, so we figured that we'd make it to Australia after a couple of years and that would be the end of it."

The five-year trip ended up costing them $40,000 - which is a ridiculously low $2,000/person/year. But it was still $20,000 more than they had started with, so they had to work along the way.

"I don't know what it's like out there now," says Monica, "but 15 years ago it was certainly easy to get jobs. We tended bar, fixed things on boats, painted signs, and even picked gherkins in New Zealand. And because I'm an industrial seamstress, I got a lot of jobs fixing sails and making canvas products. In addition, Jack and I are artists, so we sold a lot of our art work at $100 each. We mainly sold art of whatever area we were in to tourists, but some cruisers bought Jack's renditions of their boats."

The Island Breeze circumnavigation followed the usual path, at least for the first half of the trip. "We sailed the standard route to New Zealand, back up to the South Pacific for a season, then to Australia, the Chagos Archipelago, Madagascar, and South Africa. The latter two stops were quite interesting, as Madagascar had just opened up to foreigners, and Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison in South Africa. We later sailed up the islands of the South Atlantic to the Caribbean, then through the Canal to Costa Rica and Hawaii."

"We really enjoyed cruising Hawaii," says Monica, expressing an opinion seldom heard. "The Big Island was our favorite, but all the islands are beautiful and the people were wonderful. We finally left from Kauai for B.C. in the summer of '93. When we got back to Canada we just kept cruising for a couple of more months because we couldn't face the reality of being home."

While returning home was very difficult for Jack and Monica, the trip seemed to have done a good job of preparing Monica's two daughters for adulthood. "We had both of them actively involved in the running of the boat from the very beginning," explains Jack. "They stood their watches, had days when it was their turn to cook, and so forth. We treated them like adults."

"I think they enjoyed it," says Monica, "as we didn't make them do schoolwork for more than three hours a day, and there were so many new and interesting places and people for them to see and meet. Compared to their peers, they seem to be better around people and more mature. And their cruising background seems to have helped them step right into their careers. One is a geographer and the other is an aircraft engineer."

As for Jack and Monica's post-circumnavigation career using their latest boat as a home, office, and dive platform, it was pretty interesting.

"We were hired to do survey work by a consortium of guys with permits to take geoduck clams in Canada," explains Jack. "Typically, geoduck clams are palm-sized with two-foot long siphons that, from the rear, bear a striking resemblance to women's genitals. Perhaps because of this, the clams are prized in the Far East as an aphrodisiac. They also make the best clam chowder you've ever tasted. Long ago, the clams were also found in California and more shallower waters, but most of the ones left now are in the rougher and deeper waters of the west coast of Canada. Some grow to be two feet across, and they can live to 150 years."

"The industry's big problem," continues Monica, "is that when there is a certain algae bloom, the clams may develop a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning - which results in horrible deaths for humans. George Vancouver's men learned this terrible lesson the hard way at Vancouver's Mussel Inlet in the 1700s. Because the toxin-causing bloom varies from time to time and place to place, the industry and the Canadian government need to have the clams continually tested to make sure they are safe for human consumption."

In other words, divers like Jack are needed to continually provide the industry and government with clam samples for analysis and testing. Interestingly, Jack would always have a bag of California mussels with him when he dove, because when it comes to the toxin, the mussels are like canaries in a cave in that they show the effects first.

The survey work required Jack to dive to as deep as 60 feet three to 20 times a week, often in severe conditions. "I had to wear a 3/8-inch drysuit because the water was so cold. In the winter, I often had to dive when there was ice on top of the water. But the cold was just one problem, as from October on the wind blew at hurricane force almost constantly. Naturally, that's when the clams were worth the most. The divers, who make about $1,000 a day, would even wear headlights underwater in order to be able to continue working. Those guys live the sea adventure of a lifetime - and they do it every day! Lots of them get hurt, and about one of them dies every year."

"Just as crazy," Jack continues, "are the crews of the two packing boats that constantly make runs with the clams across the 125 miles of open water between the top of Vancouver Island and the bottom of the Queen Charlotte Islands. They run those packers no matter how horrible the sea conditions. I once sat - because I couldn't stand - on the deck of a packer while they were loading her. It was blowing 85 knots and it was unbelievably cold. Like the divers, the crews of the packers get paid well - but still not enough."

"Wind speeds are relative," says Jack. "During our five-year circumnavigation, we only had a few blows over 40 knots. One of them, however, was a three-day, 60-knot storm off New Zealand. We put out a drogue and ran with it. When the wind shifted from the south to the southwest, we experienced the classic 'pyramid waves', where every now and then the waves would come together in such a way that the boat seemed to be at the pinnacle of a watery pyramid. After that, 40 knots seems like hardly anything at all. You just put up the smallest sail and run with it."

"It wasn't so different working off the west coast of British Columbia," continues Jack. "When you need to dock your boat in 80 knots of wind, the technique is simple - you ram the dock as hard as you can with the bow and jump off. After you've been in some 80-knot blows, 35 knots seems like a light breeze."

"Anyway," says Monica, "it was into this world of extremely harsh conditions that we entered as babes after our circumnavigation. It was just our luck that geoducks like exposed rough water. Thus we had to go up and down the west coast of British Columbia's islands, often anchoring on a lee shore in 40 knots of wind so Jack could dive for samples. There was a lot of pressure, too, because often times the industry had planes, boats, and crews waiting for Jack to provide samples that would prove the clams were safe. Time could be money - big money.

Given Jack and Monica's vast experience both pleasure sailing and working on the water, we were interested in their review of marine equipment. They love their John Deere diesel - a common engine on Canadian tractors - because it's industrial strength. They also note that they use a commercial fisherman-style self-reeling hydraulic winch for the anchor. "It's the only way to go," says Jack. "We use oversize one-inch line and have 150-ft of 3/8-inch chain.

Although they used a sextant to navigate their way around the world, Jack and Monica prefer the more modern method of navigation. "GPS is the best thing ever!" she says. "In fact, we bow down to it every day. But we still carry charts and a sextant."

"We also believe that radar is a must rather than an option," says Jack. "We have an old cathode ray depthsounder as opposed to a digital one because they give the most accurate picture. We have a little red Honda generator for backup power. It's a beautiful little thing."

The couple are also very proud of the hand-carved Bella Via nameboards on the hull. "They were made by sailor-carver Godfrey Stephens of Victoria and obtained through barter," says Jack. "He has his carvings on many pubs in Canada and throughout the world. He's painted murals everywhere from Greece to Yelapa. He built a Wharram catamaran on the beach at Tofino, the famous surfing beach on Vancouver Island, and christened her Tompax. He sailed her all around the Queen Charlottes in the early '70s without an engine - which was quite a feat. Everybody thought she was the Kon Tiki. He now has a 40-ft junk-rigged steel boat named Mongo II, which was named after Mongo I, which he lost on a beach in Baja in '88. At age 65, Godrey is painting and carving more proficiently than ever."

There's more that's curious about Bella Via than her origami construction.

"Like our previous boat, she has twin keels," says Jack. "This doesn't make her sail to windward any better, but it does allow her to be safely grounded in a tidal area or even up on a beach. For example, when we were coming down the coast of Baja last fall our depthsounder transducer broke. So when we got to Turtle Bay, we simply ran our 44-ft boat up onto the beach near the pier. When the tide went out, we changed the transducer. When the tide came back in, we floated her off again. The locals couldn't believe their eyes."

As for the junk rig, Jack's not religious about it. "It performs well in 15 knots of wind and is very easy to use, but it's not particularly good in heavy weather or trying to sail to weather. I just wanted to try the rig because I'm curious about all different kinds of boat design. I like Garry Hoyt's sail design ideas. I also like freestanding masts."

Jack and Monica are surprised at how long some of their friends from their first cruise stayed out. "Ralph and Phyllis Nansen of Seattle were out sailing on the 1970 Sampson ferro cement boat Fram. They took off when they were 60 and recently came back at age 74 - looking younger than ever. We don't know if we'll stay out that long on our second cruise, but our main objective is to be physically and mentally active, and to do a lot more walking, swimming, reading, listening to music and doing artwork. These are all things we didn't have enough time to do while we were working and chasing money."

In closing, the couple wanted to put in a good word for Richardson Bay Harbormaster Bill Price. "We stayed in Richardson Bay from September to March of last year, and Bill did everything he could to help us out. What a cruiser-friendly harbormaster. We sure appreciated it."

- jack & monica 02/15/05

Learjet - N/M 55
Glenn Andert & Chris Vandever
San Diego To Hiva Oa

It's March 27th, and we and our four crew have made it the 2,900+ miles from San Diego to Hiva Oa in French Polynesia. We did it in 18 days, surprising even ourselves with our speed. We're now anchored between the beach and the orange range markers in Taahuku Bay near the town of Atuona.

Last night saw us moseying along at roughly six knots under staysail and double reefed main, a much-reduced sail plan to prevent us from making landfall before dawn. But long before first light we were able to pick up the island with our 48-mile radar. The first person to see land with their naked eye was Christine, who saw it 15 miles away just before dawn. The sunrise was quite spectacular as the islands greeted us. Soon we were able to see the tiny Fatu Uku, which is due north of Hiva Oa, and the large island of Mohotani, which is to the south of Hiva Oa. Both are uninhabited.

Hiva Oa is typical of the Marquesas in that it's volcanic and it has very steep cliffs and spires. For example, Mt. Temeti, which is adjacent to the anchorage, rises to 3,000 feet and is normally shrouded in its own cloud. Unlike the Tuamotus, the islands of the Marquesas don't have fringing reefs - it has something to do with the water temperature.

We sailed close to Hiva Oa for a long time, making our way from the east end of the island to the anchorage at Taahuku. It took so long because we were gybing downwind under just the main. The slow speed allowed us to enjoy the amazing sight of the island after nearly 3,000 ocean miles. Then a nice cloud appeared and drenched us and the boat. It was welcome, however, as it refreshed the crew and washed all the salt off the boat. During the downpour we saw a double rainbow over the island.

We had the fishing line out while going along the island. This was the same bulletproof line - 500-lb monofilament - that I had used on a passage from Hawaii to San Francisco in 2000. I also used the same lure - with a hook that looks big enough to catch a whale. Our technique was simple: throw the lure overboard and tie the other end of the line to a winch. Every now and then we pulled on the line to see if there was anything there.

Suddenly there was something there. A monster, in fact, by our standards! It turned out to be a 34.25-inch yellowtail tuna. God only knows what it weighed, but it was heavy. After Glenn cleaned it, we had four one-gallon Zip-Loc bags filled with fillets. Clearly Poseidon had been happy with our offerings at the equator.

As we were finishing cleaning up the mess - and such a big fish leaves a big and bloody mess - Glenn dropped the big sponge overboard. Geez! Since we'd already lost a bucket doing this, Glenn jumped in and rescued the sponge. He said the water felt refreshing. We went back and picked him up.

Anyway, Grant put the line out again as he gybed along the coast to spend a lot of the time in water 200 feet deep. He did this both for the sightseeing and figuring that he might catch a cousin of the fish we'd just caught. Sure enough, 30 minutes later we had another yellowtail on the line. This one was 35 inches, which meant Grant beat Glenn in the biggest fish contest.

We saw the most amazing sight on arrival outside the anchorage - a swordfish breeching! It jumped almost completely clear of the water several times.

We had some confusion when it came time to enter the bay. Elan had very carefully taken GPS coordinates off the chart, and we were looking for a range light up on a hill. Elan spotted a tower on the hillside, which matched perfectly with the bearing on the GPS - but Glenn was uneasy because the visual landmarks didn't make sense. Plus, he doesn't trust the GPS to match the charts. It was a good thing he was skeptical, because as we continued double and triple-checking, it became clear that something wasn't right. Eventually we found the real range light and the visual indicators did make sense.

After we anchored, I checked our position against what it indicated on the electronic chart. The latter indicated that we were halfway up the nearby mountain! It was another case of the charts not being accurate. Many of the charts are from World War II, but the one we were using for the anchorage was from 1960 - and it still wasn't right.

The depths in the anchorage were 9 to 14 feet. Learjet draws 8.75 feet, so we anchored in 11.5 feet - which didn't leave a lot of water beneath the keel. There were three boats in the anchorage when we arrived, and not much room for more. After a little while the two large boats - one French and one from Belgium - weighed anchor and left. Had we offended them, perhaps with our American flag?

As soon as our anchor was down, we scrambled to get all the canvas up. It's quite a bit of work, but without it up it would have been almost unbearably hot on deck. You need lots of shade in the tropics. Then we all took a welcome swim. And shower. And relaxed to music, the last of Grant's port wine, and the last of the chocolate. Our landfall dinner was sashimi and sticky rice. There were many requests for sake, but we had none. We found that the soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger were almost gone, too.

Now, for the results of our various pools. The women were clearly the pessimists when it came to guessing how long the passage would take, as they bet 22 to 26 days. The males guessed 19 to 21 days. It turned out that we were all pessimists, as it only took 18 days. Glenn was the closest. If we're not mistaken, the record for San Diego to the Marquesas is something like 14 days, and was set by a Whitbread boat. The boats in last year's Puddle Jump from Mexico to the Marquesas - which is a couple of hundred miles shorter - did it in anywhere from 19 to 30 days.

Glenn also won the pool about how many hours we'd run the engine. He guessed 40, while everyone else guessed substantially more. But Elan won the bet for our best 24-hour run made good, as she guessed 201, which was just two miles less than we actually covered. We also had one day where we covered 221 miles, but not directly toward the Marquesas.

It's quite beautiful here in the Marquesas. Green. Very tropical - duh. And quiet. Frigate birds circle overhead and fish dart about beneath the surface.

- chris 04/05/05

Altair - Cal 35
Paul Baker And Suzette Connolly
Australia To Africa To Brazil
(Seattle, Washington)

Here's a short update from we vets of the 2000 Ha-Ha, who have put many miles under Altair's keel in the last 12 months or so.

December 2003 found us entering Sydney Heads after a great passage directly from Noumea, New Caledonia. Sydney was a most excellent landfall, as it's an awesome city to see from the water. They also put on one of the best fireworks displays on New Year's Eve.

We then sailed up the coast to Brisbane, where we left Atlair for 2.5 months to go home and visit our parents. We returned in May to haul out and complete the boat projects that were best done in a First World country. From there we continued up the East Coast of Australia. The trip up the inside of the Great Barrier Reef featured some of the best sailing we've had so far, as it was downwind day-hops in flat water. Lizard Island was our favorite stop. We also got a thrill from hiking out to Cape York itself, while our boat was anchored in the bay. Once 'over the top', we enjoyed Darwin and explored inland to Kakadu National Park.

Finally, it was time to head off on the approximately 6,000-mile passage across the Indian Ocean to Africa, with five stops at nicely-spaced islands to break up the trip. Each stop was special in its own way. Ashmore Reef, in the middle of the ocean, had excellent snorkeling, and at one point we had nine turtles swimming around us. Cocos Keeling had a beautiful anchorage off an uninhabited tropical island, and we found a pay phone on a coconut tree where we were able to call family and friends using the last of our cheap Aussie phone cards. Rodrigues Island was quiet and relaxed, and home to some of the friendliest people we've met in our four years of cruising. Mauritius had the hustle of a big city, a blend of different cultures, and good but cheap rum. Reunion was like a visit to 'Le Metropol' as everything was very French - but there was also great mountain hiking, plus an active volcano. Although it was sometimes bumpy, Altair held up well all the way across the Indian Ocean.

We made landfall at Richard's Bay, South Africa. What a fantastic time we had exploring the game parks, which are only an hour's drive away. Seeing the animals of Africa up close in their natural environment is an experience we will never forget!

With lots of patience and excellent local weather information from Fred in Durban, our trip around the capes was uneventful, with stops at Durban, Mossel Bay, and Cape Point. The push from the Agulhas Current added a boost of up to four knots at times. Cape Town was fantastic, as there are incredible views of Table Mountain from the Royal Cape YC. But the wind howls through the marina at 30 knots on a regular basis. And when the 'Cape Doctor' is blowing, you have to expect gusts to 60 knots. It makes for a wild ride - even when tied up to the dock!

As there are limited places to anchor along the coast of South Africa, it was nice that every yacht club we visited was so welcoming to foreign cruisers. We left Cape Town in early March, had a great one week stay on St. Helena, and are now headed across the Atlantic to Fernando de Noronha off Brazil. From there we'll continue on to Tobago.

P.S. Suzette's dad picks up a copy of Latitude every month, and faithfully forwards it to wherever we are in the world. It's been a great way to keep up with the sailing scene in the States, as well as cruising information around the world. Keep up the good work!

- paul & suzette 04/05/05

Scirocco - Morgan Out-Island 41
Greg Retkowski & Crew
Visiting The Dry Tortugas
(San Francisco Bay)

Greg Retkowski and I, Cherie Sogsti, both two-time Ha-Ha vets, have been cruising the Florida Keys for the past few months aboard Greg's Scirocco. Our sailing buddies, Rennie Waxlax and Anne Blunden of the Southern California-based Swan 65 Cassiopeia, came out to join us in Key West. Then the four of us decided to sail to the most difficult U.S. National Park to get to in the Lower 48 - the Dry Tortugas National Park.

Six cays make up the Dry Tortugas, home to America's most pristine living reefs. Garden Cay, the biggest of them all, is 70 miles west of Key West and is graced by Fort Jefferson, America's largest coastal fort. The Dry Tortugas were discovered by Ponce de Leon, who named them after the abundance of sea turtles in the area.

As we sailed up to the spit of sand that is Garden Key, we recognized one of the four sailboats on the hook. It was '99 Ha-Ha vets Brian Randolph and Lisa Ritchie aboard their Kelly-Peterson 46 Wasabi. We jumped into our dinghy and reunited with our Ha-Ha friends, letting 10,000 miles of sailing tales spill out into the cockpit. Throughout Greg and my sailing adventures down the Pacific Coast, through the Canal, and up to Miami on Scirocco, we have reunited with numerous Ha-Ha friends along the way. Ha-Ha friends are friends for life! No wonder Rennie and Anne will be taking their Swan 65 on their fourth one this fall.

None of us - except maybe Rennie - travelled all the way to the Dry Tortugas just to see an old fort. But Fort Jefferson, which was built with 16 million bricks, is actually pretty interesting. It was started in 1846, but never completed because it was made obsolete by the invention of the rifled cannon. But in its day, the fort's cannons could hurl shot three miles out to sea. Eventually the fort was abandoned, and later became a haven for pirates, drug runners, and an inspiration for writers such as Ernest Hemmingway - and me, Cherie Sogsti.

If you like bricks, the fort was cool. But I preferred to cool off by jumping overboard and swimming with the monstrous jewfish that love to congregate under the hulls of the anchored sailboats. Greg wanted to know if the jewfish was circumcised. Questions like that prompted the more politically correct of us to change the name of the fish to goliath grouper.

"I didn't know that fish barked," said Rennie after he'd swum with a massive grouper for a while. "But when I got into his territory, he 'arfed' at me." Could the fish have been angry because the smell of Rennie's seafood dinner from the previous night was still on his breath?"

The clear waters of the Dry Tortugas are also the home to a colony of peaceful nurse sharks. Although nurse sharks pose little threat to humans, our conditioning from the movie Jaws was enough to get our hearts pounding! As we peered over the side of our inflatable dinghy and watched three nurse sharks circle below us, Anne said, "We need a bigger boat," stealing a line from the movie.

But the sharks and massive grouper didn't scare Rennie. When the captain of a neighboring boat yelled, "I'm sorry, we pulled up your anchor," Rennie recognized an opportunity. Realizing that the captain of the other boat hadn't snagged our anchor at all, Rennie knew there had to be something interesting - maybe a pirate's treasure? - down there. So with a glint in his eye, he slipped on his mask and snorkel and braved the nurse sharks to jump into the water. The 'treasure' turned out to be a Danforth anchor with 25-ft of chain attached. "All in a day's work," Rennie proclaimed.

Sailing in the warm waters off the Florida coast motivated Rennie and Anne to start planning their Ha-Ha to the warm waters of Mexico this fall. "We can't wait to head south again," he said. "In fact, we're looking to buy a new dinghy next week."

After our visit to the Dry Tortugas, we sailed back to Key West, which, because of the eccentric local population, is also known as 'Key Weird'. It's the southern-most city in the continental United States, and in addition to being weird, has the most bars per capita of any city in the United States. Cheers!

- cherie sogsti 04/16/05

Ushuaia - Hunter Passage 42
Jerry & Chris Zerr
San Diego To Seattle
(San Diego)

I'm writing in response to a request for information about sailing north from San Francisco to the Seattle area. Some of us can't afford to truck our boats north, so we have to do it the hard way. My wife and I made the trip from San Diego to Sidney, British Columbia, starting on May 12. We were under no illusion that it was going to be an easy trip. But I'm a licensed captain and have done more Baja Bashes than I care to remember. We viewed the trip north to be an extension of the Bash.

We got beat up - 25 to 30 knots of wind on the nose - at all the usual places the guide books talk about, but particularly between San Diego and San Francisco. The further north we got, the easier our trip became. We waited in San Francisco for what seemed like forever hoping to get good weather. We passed the time by taking daysails, enjoying the Marina District, and dining at all the great restaurants. Finally we got a southerly.

We made the most of the southerly, sailing past Cape Mendocino with 25 knots from astern rather than on the nose. From San Francisco north, our main headache was the crab pots. Avoiding them was like having to go through a minefield.

Almost all the ports north of San Francisco have bar crossings that can be dangerous under certain conditions. Contacting the Coast Guard for a bar report is usually recommended. We managed to enter all the ports we wanted, usually because we had to refuel. My main gripe about Ushuaia is that she only came with a 72-gallon fuel tank. We usually carried at least two jerry jugs of diesel for an emergency, although we've never cut it close enough to require using them. We found that some of the fuel docks are mainly set up for rough commercial fishing boats, making refueling hazardous to a more nicely finished recreational boat. Long fenderboards help.

We left Coos Bay-Charleston, Oregon, with a forecast of several days of fairly calm weather. We decided to push as far and fast as we could because the forecast also called for several days of gale force winds approaching the Washington coast after the calm. We arrived off Newport, Oregon, at approximately 4 p.m. with seas so flat we thought we were on a lake. I took that opportunity to dump those two jerry jugs into the tank, and we motored on. We crossed the Columbia River-Cape Disappointment area at dawn with flat seas and no wind - and feeling extremely lucky.

Pushing on, we arrived off Cape Flattery at dawn again, only in fog so thick that we couldn't see the bow of the boat. There is an incredible amount of large vessel traffic in places like off the Columbia River or in the Straits of Juan de Fuca - something San Francisco Bay sailors are familiar with. When running at night or in the fog, we were thankful for our radar, which I consider essential on any cruising boat.

We pulled into Neah Bay - just inside Cape Flattery - debating whether we should stop and catch up on our sleep or keep going. But by this time the weather was changing fast, with gale force westerlies forecast for later in the day. We refueled and crossed over to Vancouver Island while the winds were still pretty calm, being careful to hug the island as we proceeded east. At 11 a.m. the wind started to build, and we soon had 30 knots from aft, which gave us a great sail all the way to Victoria.

After we turned the corner and into the lee of Vancouver Island, we had 15 knots off the port beam and had several hours of great sailing. During this time we called ahead to Port Sidney Marina and got a slip assignment. Upon arrival in Port Sidney, we pulled into the Canadian Customs Dock, called from a dock phone, and were set for the entire summer. Go figure, Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m., no hassles, and no fees.

Although we actually were underway for only 16 days, including three overnight passages, we covered - according to our GPS log - 1,280 miles. But the total trip took a lot longer, as we spent several days waiting out gale force winds in various ports. But remember, we started from San Diego, not San Francisco.

We spent several days in Sidney, which is in the heart of the Canadian Gulf Islands. It's a lovely community and a terrific spot to base out of. We spent the summer cruising in British Columbia, and loved the beautiful anchorages and many marine parks. Probably the only disappointment was how crowded it was! It seems like everybody in Puget Sound and southern B.C. owns a boat and is also out cruising.

It started raining off and on in August, and by mid-September the crowds had started to thin out. We kept cruising until late October, deciding to finally park the boat in Anacortes, Washington, for the winter. We have decided to cruise farther north this coming summer, as the crowds thin out the farther up you go. It has a lot to do with the hazardous rapids and currents.
Would we do San Diego to Victoria again? Definitely!

- jerry & chris 04/09/05

Cruise Notes:

We regret to have to report the passing of Anet Martin, who was the cook for many of the great adventures aboard Big O when the Ocean 71 ketch was owned by Latitude. Although she's been out of sailing for about 10 years, she sailed both ways across the Atlantic and the Med, did the first Baja Ha-Ha, did several Antigua Sailing Weeks, and even walked the decks in exotic ports such as Casablanca. We have vivid memories of her smoking, drinking, and laughing up a storm at such places as the San Blas Islands, the Grenadines, St. Barth, Ibiza, St. Tropez, Monaco, Elba, the Corinth Canal, Marmaris, and Knidos. She was a fine cook in even rotten weather - we recall the complete Thanksgiving turkey dinner she prepared in the middle of the Atlantic - had a great sense of humor, and was wonderful to the boat's two kids. When the time comes each year to recall all those who sailed aboard that magical ketch, Anet will not be forgotten.

He's much better, thank you. Blair and Joan Grinols, the subject of this month's Latitude 38 Interview, are up in Oregon supervising the construction of their new home. Many of their friends have been inquiring how Blair is feeling after he took a nasty fall in the cockpit of their 45-ft catamaran Capricorn Cat while sailing north from Cabo San Lucas. Athough Blair was in extreme pain at the time, x-rays later indicated that nothing was broken. He's now pretty much back to his energetic self. As for Capricorn Cat, she's in La Paz until the couple find time to bring her north.
And just after the Latitude issue came out with the story of the 83-ft sailboat Windward being wrecked on the beach at Yelapa back in 1958! "While enjoying some drinks and ceviche at Yelapa last month, Lisa and I heard a scream for help from a crewmember aboard the 110+ foot motoryacht Panache," remembers Leif Vasström of the San Francisco-based Beneteau 51 Solar Planet. "A few minutes before I'd told Lisa that Panache was either dragging or the crew was deliberately letting her get very close to the beach. But by then I knew the boat was dragging, so I ran down the beach to help, screaming at the top of my lungs and pointing to Panache slowly backing ever closer to the shore. I finally got the attention of a water-taxi with two 200-hp outboards, but because of the language barrier, for the longest time I couldn't get him to understand that I didn't want him to take me to Panache, but wanted him to hurry over and try to pull the big yacht to deeper water. Finally, another gentleman ran down to the beach and translated - at which point the water-taxi took off like a rocket to try to help. After what seemed like an eternity of Panache being just a few feet from dry land, the water-taxi got a line to a crewmember, and ever so slowly was able to pull the huge yacht away from the shore. It took two tries, though, because of the wind and because the water-taxi had trouble getting the bow of the yacht facing into the wind."

"I believe that the yacht captain and the others were on the beach," Vasström continues, "initially unaware of what was happening. To the best of our knowledge, the two crew who had been left on the yacht didn't know how or didn't have the authority to start the engines. But once the captain realized what was happening, he and the others rushed back to the boat. When we left for P.V. a short time later, a diver was getting ready to check for damage to the powerboat's props, struts, and rudders. The crew was standing around the back of the boat looking somber. But they gave us a 'thank you' for spotting their dragging boat and getting the water-taxi to pull her out of danger. We later heard that everything on the boat was all right, and later saw Panache at the dock. We were happy we'd been able to assist. The strangest thing was that hundreds of people could sit on the beach watching but not getting involved. Of course, once everyone realized there might be a problem, they all rushed closer to get a better view."

Can you name the modern monarch who expanded his kingdom by 23% - much of it to the benefit of yachties - without firing a gun? That would be Prince Rainier III of tiny Monaco, who passed away last month at the age of 81. Although best known for marrying American actress Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier transformed the just-over-half-the-size-of-Golden Gate Park principality from a fading gambling resort to a modern and vibrant little state. Early in Rainier's reign, Monaco was described by W. Somerset Maugham as "a sunny place for shady people," but he transformed it into a much more diversified little haven, with broad tourism, conventions, and a grand prix race. Nonetheless, Monaco remains a sunny place for tax exiles and suspected money-launderers. Monaco has always been dominated by Hercules Harbor - recently expanded with a large new breakwater extending far into the Med - which has long played host to many of the world's great yachts. But the principle expansion was the landfill beneath Le Rocher that created Port Fontvielle Marina at the base of a sheer cliff. Although often perceived as a snobby place, when we visited with Big O, the Port Captain was pleasant and assigned us a slip in a premiere spot on the front row - at a price of less than $1 a foot! The people were a lot of fun, and the government put on a giant Fourth of July celebration for Yanks that featured a U.S.-style BBQ with corn-on-the-cob, square-dancing, country music, and what looked like the world's largest American flag on the side of the hill. It was a very enjoyable stop - even without the above-mentioned Anet taking a photo of her then boyfriend Jim Drake inadvertently dancing with Claudia Schieffer and Prince Albert. We very much look forward to returning some day.

"We had a fantastic time cruising here in Mexico starting with the 2004 Ha-Ha," write Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack of the Santa Rosa-based Valiant 50 Raptor Dance. "We particularly loved the anchorages at Tenacatita, Chamela, and Ipala. Nuevo Vallarta's Paradise Marina was our favorite marina, as Harbormaster Dick Markie and his wife Gena do a fantastic job! We'll be leaving Mazatlan tomorrow, April 16, to cruise the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez before heading to La Paz to have Raptor Dance put aboard the May Dockwise Yacht Transport ship for the trip up to Vancouver.

"I'd like to make a correction to last month's article on the Banderas Bay Regatta," continues Finkelstein. "Class Four actually had three starters - at least for the first race. We started that race with our Valiant 50, but had to retire when the webbing at the head of our genoa failed. Without a spare jib or genoa, we had to retire. We were unable to repair the sail ourselves or get it repaired before the end of the regatta. We tried three Sailrite machines, but none was able to put stitches into the head of the Spectra headsail. So we tried to hand-stitch it. Unfortunately, we couldn't even drive our biggest needle through the fabric - not even when it was encouraged with a hammer! After the regatta, Barry of UK Sailmakers in P.V. made a great repair. With our own boat out of action, we raced with Chris and Heather Stockard aboard their Saga 43 Legacy in the second race, but were knocked out by flu for the third race."

"You got Gene and Sue Osier, who are my son-in-law and daughter, started on long distance cruising when they joined the 2000 Ha-Ha with their Serendipity 43 Peregrine," writes Miles Lewis of the Alamitos Bay-based Ericson 39 Miles Ahead. "After the Ha-Ha, they did the Puddle Jump to the Marquesas, New Zealand, and Australia, then continued cruising to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Maldives, Oman, and Yemen. At the very end of my daughter's March 16 email from Aden, she wrote: "I have a hair-raising pirate attack story to tell you. We are now at anchor with two boats - Madhi and Gandalf - that were fired upon by pirates. The cruisers fought back, however, and disabled the attackers!" She and Gene left Aden for the Red Sea before she could email a follow-up, and I've not heard from them since. But when I saw the Pirates Repelled story by Rod Nowlin in the April Sightings, I realized that she'd been scooped by Latitude."

"By the way," Lewis continues, "Gene and Sue had their own big adventure in Thailand, as they surfed the big tsunami waves that claimed so many lives. They were leaving Chalong Bay at the south end of Phuket to reanchor at Nai Harn Beach on December 26, when they were surprised by the tsunami waves coming over the shallows between Ka Cape and Koh Lone Island. 'Surfing Sue' describes what happened next:

"I saw a five-meter black wall of water coming down the channel toward us, and I could see another one just behind it. The tops of the waves were breaking and the whitewater boiled furiously. The wind was blowing up against the waves, and the tops of the crests were blowing off. It looked like a gale in the Pacific Northwest! The first wave was nearly upon us when Gene decided to turn and go with them rather than try to go over them." Obviously the couple survived.
As for Sue's father Lewis' sailing adventures, he says, "After spending over half of my professional career as an oceanographer, singlehanding to Catalina's Hen Rock or White's to anchor for three or four days is about all I can stand a month."

"Check out the accompanying photo of something good and new here in El Salvador," write Bill and Doreen Gord of Lanikai. "It's Tarazed from Anacortes, Washington, the first boat ever hauled with the new Travel-Lift at the yard in Estero de Jaltepeque - better known to cruisers as Bahia del Sol. The nearby Bahía del Sol Hotel has local busses that stop at the front gate, so it's convenient to get to the city of San Salvador or begin a longer land journey inland. It's also only 30 minutes to the airport. From what we understand, the rainy season here isn't as wet as it is further south. In any event, we've been enjoying our stay here, and plan to head south after the rainy season ends in late October."

"We finally did get our radar from DHL here in Mexico after some 21 days of trying, but only after paying more than $200 in customs 'fees' - an amount that both Paperman and the manager of Aduana at the Puerto Vallarta Airport said shouldn't have been charged," write Steve and Jamie Sidells of the Incline Village-based Celestial 48 Reba. You may remember that their radar being held hostage by customs in Guadalajara was the jist of an April issue Changes.

"Ah, those bureaucratic inconsistencies in Mexico," sighs Sidells. "But that was not all. The real kicker was when DHL lost our mail shipment from Incline Village. It seems that either Aduana or DHL - neither will confess - switched the air-bills on two packages, and ours went off to parts unknown. Our package contained very personal stuff - all our financial records for three months, our 1040 Form, and all our First Class mail and cards since December 15. What an amazing set-up for identity theft - but one which DHL wouldn't do anything about because it was during the two weeks of Easter celebrations in Mexico. After 10 days of many, many calls, we found the other switched envelope. It only contained a check for $2,200, but fortunately it also gave us a way to find out who had our package. Fortunately, they were also in Puerto Vallarta. So off we went on a bus, and successfully - and most fortunately - recovered our package! This kind of stuff just seems to go on and on down here. The folks here, from Paradise Marina Harbormaster Dick Markie on down, have learned that DHL is not the cruisers' choice for shipments in and out of Puerto Vallarta. I don't want anyone to think that I'm complaining, I'm just passing along some seriously funny things that have happened along the way."

For those who haven't been reading Latitude for the last 18 months, there have been numerous reports of problems with DHL shipments to and from Mexico, particularly those that pass through Guadalajara. It's not always clear whether the problem is being caused by Aduana or DHL, but it's clear there have been a lot of problems.

Oh no, not again! Susan Meckley of Dharma has some more bad news: "Federal Express and DHL both are very unreliable for shipping things to Puerto Vallarta, so most of us order stuff from Southport Marine in San Diego. Then Raul walks the items across the border and puts them on an AeroMexico flight. Customs is also very bad down here. My kids sent me a very large Christmas package, but it arrived with just four magazines in it. All the rest of the stuff had apparently been taken by customs. I also ordered a $286 Top-Climber from ATN in Florida. Customs wanted me to pay $186 in duty for it. So if they don't steal the stuff, they rob you blind! Since we have a 10-Year Import Permit, Mexican law requires that we take defective or broken boat items to customs at the P.V. airport to have officials verify that they're broken before we're allowed to import duty-free replacements. Oh yeah, we also have to get a letter from a Mexican national saying that they will be responsible for our not abusing the system! If you go through all this and get the proper papers, you're supposed to be able to import items by air without paying duty. But it doesn't work that way, because customs charges you anyway. That's one of the reasons we're leaving Mexico and going to Hawaii."

It used to be that the screwy clearing regulations were the worst thing about cruising Mexico. Since that's almost completely been rectified, the theft and mordida on gear shipped by air to Mexico is now the worst thing. Fortunately, there's no longer anything in second place. Mexico is a wonderful place to cruise.

"The cruising season has been winding down here in Tenacatita Bay, Mexico" reports Terry Bingham of the Eagle Harbor, Washington-based Union 36 Secret O' Life. "A few days ago my boat was the only one in the bay, and that happened again today. At least the water, which had dropped to the low 70s, was back up to the high 70s and getting clear - giving me reason to pull out the snorkel gear. But the biggest surprise has been the return of the sea and bird life. The fish boils have started again, the birds have resumed the nesting ashore, but get this - I was recently visited by a young deer that swam past the port side of my boat. I observed her step off the beach, calmly swim about 30 yards off the beam to circle around the front of my boat, then make landfall on the rocks southeast of me. She shook herself off and started working her way back along shore towards the beach she had started her swim from. So was the purpose of the swim to cool off, exercise, get the tics off her fur? We'll ponder those questions over the next few days while enjoying chilled Pacificos at sundown. I finally leave the anchorage tomorrow to head north to Mazatlan where my girlfriend Tammy will be flying to rejoin the boat the first of May. Then we're off to La Paz and the Sea of Cortez for the summer."

Where's Butchie and Bitchie? "I was once the neighborhood kid who built a treehouse with tongue & groove siding, a skylight, a second-story deck, and a rope ladder," writes Tom Lion of Cloverdale. "Chuck Levdar knocked on my front door and requested to meet the builder. A few months later - this was in the '70s - I helped him build his dream home in Los Altos Hills on a seven-acre lot. Chuck was a brilliant, somewhat hyperactive, multi-talented engineer married to Kathleen, an eccentric psychologist with a doctorate. In '73, after we'd done some rock-climbing together, I went to the University of Montana to explore my love of the outdoors. Chuck got divorced, had a short stint as Black Oak Construction, and later attended my first wedding with Carla, his second wife. The only thing I'd heard from Chuck since was that he'd sailed to the South Pacific a number of years ago with a woman named Bitchie aboard his Lapworth 40 Contenta. So I was very entertained to read about the couple's exploits in the September '04 Changes. But what's this about Chuck, apparently now known as 'Butchie', having come back to the States and marrying someone besides Bitchie? Can it be true, and can you put me in contact with him?

Sorry, we can't put you in contact with him. But in any event you've been misinformed, because Chuck came back to the U.S. a year or so ago and married Bitchie. They've been spending a lot of time since then on their boat in New Zealand, but may be back in the States for a few months now on vacation from cruising.

It's not 100% sweetness and light out there in the world of cruising, as the following two brief reports prove:

We got a report in late March from Richard Donaldson-Alves, controller of the Mobile Maritime Net, that the U.S.-flagged sailing vessel Cosmic Muffin had lost her mast and sails over the side some 240 miles southwest of Hawaii. Skipper Steve Russ reported they were in a bit of jam, as they were a long way from anywhere and only had five gallons of fuel left. We were unable to get further details or an update.

Sixty-three year-old South African singlehander Martin 'Pops' Mynhardt left Trinidad last Christmas Eve intending to sail north to St. Martin aboard his steel Van de Stadt 45 Marsal. He never made it, and his boat was found aground a few days later at Carupano on the north coast of the Peninsula de Paria in Venezuela. This has sometimes been a dangerous area for yachties, but there was no sign of foul play, and all personal and boat papers were still aboard.

"I hope Latitude will encourage the owners of all cruising catamarans to enter the 86-mile Santa Barbara to King Harbor (Redondo Beach) Race on August 5," writes Scott Stolnitz, who will be doing the race with his Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 cat Beach House. "I know Latitude has done it with Profligate for about the last four years, and will be doing it again this year. It's my understanding that if we get five cruising cat entries, we'll get our own class and maybe our own start."

"In addition," Stolnitz continues, "Mike Leneman puts on an Indian Summer Splash Regatta for multihulls over 20 feet September 16-18 from Long Beach and Marina del Rey to Cat Harbor, Catalina, then back to the mainland. It's a great time, with BBQs, nature hikes, an oceanography presentation, and such. I think they had 45 multihulls entered last time, which apparently made it the largest multihull gathering in the world. While most of the boats are racing boats, cruising multihulls are also encouraged. Nobody needs to belong to a yacht club, have a rating, or anything like that, as it's all about fun. Mike can be reached ."

We at Latitude do indeed love the Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race, as you get to kick around Santa Barbara during Fiesta Week, then sail between Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands, bounce off the mainland near Zuma Beach, and try to make it across Santa Monica Bay before the wind fades at sundown. It's like a mini-Ha-Ha with conditions similar to the Ha-Ha. We'll be there with Profligate, Stolnitiz's Beach House, and Blair Grinols' Capricorn Cat, and apparently the folks from Yachtfinder/Windseakers in San Diego will be rounding up two or three more, so hopefully we will get our own class. If that's the case, Chuck Tobias of Pusser's Rum - who started his sailing career with multihulls in Southern California - has promised to put up the cruising cat trophies - not that winning is going to be the main intent of anyone. We're out for fun! Anyone with a cruising cat interested in the King Harbor Race should contact for encouragement and visit the Santa Barbara YC Web site for details.

"I want to thank you for all the help and concern you sent my way last year after my Islander 32 Sound Decision was lost on the rocks of the Big Island at the very end of her passage from Tahiti to Hilo, Hawaii," writes Tom Wilkinson, originally of the Pacific Northwest. "It has taken nine months of brutally hard work and much searching, but I have finally acquired a replacement vessel, the Hans Christian 38T Love Song. By the time you read this I'll have flown to the West Indies to pick her up. I hope to get through the Canal and back up to Mexico in time to meet some of this year's Ha-Ha boats in Cabo or La Paz in November. Despite the fact my boat was looted in the few days before she broke up and disappeared, I have to say that the people of Hilo have been incredibly warm and helpful. I cannot imagine a better place to lose everything and have to begin anew. Once again, thank you to everyone who sent support and positive wishes to me during one of the low points of my life."

We're glad to hear you got a new boat. But what's the deal with rushing back to Mexico? There's a lot of great things to do and people to meet in the Caribbean.

"We finally got the bugs worked out of my new Kiwi-built 70-ft Shuttleworth catamaran My Way," reports Don Engle of Lafayette. "She's really beautiful. It didn't take so long because there was so much to do, but rather because the New Zealand builder went into liquidation before everything was done. So we had to hire their workers to finish some of the jobs. It was a hassle. But now we're scheduled to leave for Fiji on May 9, weather permitting."

"We happened to be at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard when the brigantine Irving Johnson had her unfortunate grounding," write Robin and Jimmy Roser of the Hawaii-based Perry 65 Icon. "The day before we'd sailed our boat in the channel. Normally, we would have motored in with our keel in its raised position and thus drawing 8 feet, 10 inches. But our Seattle to San Diego delivery was interrupted by our Sillette saildrive blowing a seal - for the second time. So with just the mainsail up, we sort of surfed in the harbor entrance with our keel down and drawing 13 feet, 10 inches. Fortunately, the least water we ever saw was 29 feet. We did have to correct course abruptly when we got between the jetties, as the breaking waves were forcing us to the same rocks that the Irving Johnson ended up banging on 24 hours later. It broke our hearts to see the brigantine on the beach and being hammered by northwesterlies for three days, so we were delighted that she got off."

If your boat draws nearly nine feet with the keel in the up position, we guess you won't be cruising in the Bahamas anytime soon.

"In last month's 'Lectronic, the editor wondered if the Mushroom Rock at Ballandra Bay near La Paz - which vandals had knocked over once, and then had been restored - was still standing," notes Rich Greenawald. "I was down there in January sailing aboard my friend's Sabre 34 Fancy Free, and there was no Mushroom Rock standing in Ballandra Bay."

"Well, it's been a lot of work, but somebody had to do it," writes '04 Ha-Ha vet Jeannette Heulin of the Emeryville-based Bristol 32 Con Te Partiro. "Since Mushroom Rock at Ballandra Bay near La Paz has been knocked over for awhile, I took some time from my very busy schedule to carve out a new Mushroom Rock - but this one up at Pyramid Cove on Isla Danzante."

In the last few years, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, has become the sunny place to cruise during the rainy season at mainland Mexico, Central America, and Panama. Herman and Nancy Ford of Sea Tern report there are already 32 cruising boats in Caraquez - a big increase over last year - and more are on the way. The people are said to be very nice, and the cost of living is very low. Ecuador, of course, is in the midst of political upheaval, as the third president in eight years is now hiding for his life after he dismissed the Supreme Court, people took to the streets, and the military withdrew its backing. It hasn't helped that one former president, deposed by Congress after three months in office because of "mental incompetence", returned from exile in Panama and announced that he's "older and crazier than ever." Oh good, just what Ecuador needs. To our knowledge, this incidents have had no effect on cruisers.

Similarly, there's a big stink brewing over the June '06 presidential election in Mexico. Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the charismatic mayor of Mexico City who is the clear favorite, has been accused of violating a relatively minor court order. If the charge stands, Obrador won't be allowed to stand for president. The problem is that 80% of the population - including those who don't agree with his leftist and anti-NAFTA views - think this is bogus. Expect this controversy to be in the news for the next 14 months. Once again, it shouldn't affect cruisers, as everybody in Mexico knows that tourism is as important as oil to their economy.

Right as we went to press, we received a news flash that some for-pay weather companies, such as Accuweather, are lobbying Congress to introduce a bill that would ban the National Weather Service from 'competing' with private weather services. In other words, it would prohibit them from making weather data available for free on the Internet. According to one analyst who says he wouldn't like to have to pay twice for his weather information, this would possibly mean the elimination of NOAA's Web presence. We don't think this is going to happen, but it's something to be aware of.

We've always been disgusted by the California Coastal Commission's failure to get more artificial reefs established off the coast of California. We're told that 90% of fish habitats have been destroyed. If that's true, why are they using their bullypulpit to help create new ones? During the last discussion we had with them about it, Executive Director Peter Douglas told us - without laughing, mind you - that artifical reefs were "unproven technology." As such, it would do well for the entire Coastal Commission to read the following Associated Press item from April 23:

"The Mahi, a scuttled Navy minesweeper off Hawaii's Waianae Coast, has grown into a 190-foot artificial reef that is home to corals, leaf scorpion fish, pufferfish, triggerfish, eels and magnificent eagle rays. The nearby LCU, a 100-ft landing craft utility ship, houses two timid white-tipped reef sharks that flee when divers approach. "Marine life tends to like these wrecks because there are nooks and crannies to hide in," Wiltshire said."

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