May, 2006

With reports this month from Teal on singlehanding the West Coast of the United States; from Swell on the continued sailing-surfing safari of Liz Clark; from Our Tern on the honesty of the Mexican people; from Silent Sun on a February trip from Seattle to San Francisco; and much more Cruise Notes than normal.

Teal - Coronado 25 Modified
George Benson
Singlehanded The West Coast
(San Leandro & Alameda)

We love guys like 70-year old George Benson, who was born and raised in San Jose, and who for the last dozen years or so has quietly been involved in some interesting sailing projects and adventures. It started out when the former midget race car manufacturer and champion bought a humble Coronado 25 as a lark. "I wanted to do some overnights on the boat, and she had the biggest cruising accommodations for the buck."

Teal was to be the starter boat while Benson spent the next bunch of years sailing other boats offshore in order to discover what he wanted for his ultimate cruising boat. But a funny thing happened. The more he sailed bigger boats in heavy weather and gales, the less he liked them. And the more he sailed his humble Coronado, the more he liked her. He finally came to the conclusion that he already owned his ultimate cruising boat.

Naturally he, in consultation with sailmaker Jim Leech and others, decided to make a few modifications. There was the three-foot scoop added to the transom, moving the rudder post back three feet, and finally putting an Olson 29 rudder into the rudder post. "The original Coronado 25 rudder is useless in big waves. In any event, by the time the modifications were over, friends were calling Teal a Benson 27," he laughs.

After keeping Teal in San Leandro and later Alameda, Benson decided that over time he would singlehand the West Coast of the United States. He started in '02 by sailing south to the Channel Islands and San Diego - and shocked himself at how fast he got the little boat to sail past Pt. Sur. "I wouldn't believe it if anybody tried to tell me this, but while sailing wing-on-wing in about 30 knots, Teal took off surfing at 14 knots. It was like she had been shot out of a gun. But I have to tell you, even on the Bay when the conditions are just right, you can get her in a quasi planing mode."

Benson has a quiet way of telling that story that makes us not doubt him.

The next year, '03, Benson's goal was to singlehand Teal from San Francisco to Port Angeles, Washington - a notoriously difficult and dangerous stretch of coast.

"As I did the pre-voyage research, I was blown away at how many coves, anchorages, and harbors there are on the way north. I discovered that the shorthanded cruiser need not have any legs longer than 70 miles - and the majority could be just 20 to 40 miles."

Benson is the kind of guy who likes to stop at every single place possible. In fact, during his 48-day trip north, he made 21 stops for one or more nights, and 16 exploratory visits to coves, landings, anchorages, and harbors. All these visits, and the lack of a detailed guide to the coast, motivated him to write Cruising the Northwest Coast. Benson describes it as "a comprehensive cruising guide, including images as well as detailed local information on each harbor, to aid fellow sailors aspiring to make the once thought impossible near shore passage to Port Angeles in small yachts." The book can be ordered from his website at

The following season, Benson was joined by his wife JoAnne, who had just retired, for a cruise of all of Puget Sound. "We stopped at every possible place - meaning every little cove - including all the Sunshine Coast and on up to Desolation Sound. Then last summer we did the Inside Passage to Queen Charlotte Sound. Next season we'll do Northern British Columbia, with no particular destination in mind. Like Latitude, we'll go where the wind blows - although we'll be sure it blows us into every nook and cranny. At the end of the year we'll sail down the exposed west side of Vancouver Island on our way home."

George and JoAnne's ultimate goal is to reach Ketchikan and Juneau in the next few years. "There is so much cruising up there, we'll probably leave Teal there for the rest of our lives."

Cruising San Diego to Alaska in a Coronado 25 - if that doesn't take the cake! The thing we love about it is that it once again proves that it's desire, not money, that is the primary impediment to going cruising.

- latitude 38 04/17/06

Swell - Cal 40
Liz Clark
Surfing Safari Under Sail
(Santa Barbara)

After some great times with a lot of people ashore and on the water in Punta Mita, plus surfing a reef we'd discovered with Kemi, a very interesting woman who runs a surfing school at Punta Mita, my crew Shannon and I made our way south along Mexico's Gold Coast to Melaque.

In the last nine weeks, Shannon has proven to be an amazing crewmate and friend. She's been considerate, conscientious, and hardworking. And no matter whether she's scrubbing the bottom or dropping into a set wave after only two years of surfing, she does it with pure determination. Despite being confined to Swell's tight quarters and limited in her daily choices due to our unusual way of travel, Shannon has made the best of our situation. She'll find a way to occupy herself, whether it be free-diving and petting the eels - yeah, she's like a female version of the Crocodile Hunter - or swimming half a mile to land to explore a new beach.

Shannon and I share everything from meals and shampoo, to thoughts about life and the universe. She gives me my space, but she's there in a pinch when I need her. But I know not to ask her to get up early, and wait until she puts her contacts in to start issuing orders. She could sleep through a nuclear explosion, and enjoys cereal, chocolate, and long walks on the beach. The best part is that we were both Environmental Studies majors at UC Santa Barbara and are nerds at heart. Our latest academic endeavor was a simultaneous reading of Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us, two copies of which just happened to be on the boat. Anyway, it's fun to be able to indulge in my nerdiness with another undercover geek.

We spent almost a week in Barra Navidad, touching base with home, provisioning, and making a few repairs. It was perfect timing for a pause, as a norther blew like hell for four days. The lagoon at Barra offered us more protection, so we sailed down from Melaque and up into the lagoon. While there, we spent our days enjoying all-out body-surfing sessions or making the long dinghy ride back to the reef for surfing. There's a plush marina resort next to the lagoon, so we quickly made ourselves right at home. Our hot showers were followed by sipping sparkling water while sprawled on the couches and pillows of the hotel lobby, banging away at our laptops. We got a few glares - but only from American tourists. The folks who run the resort were great.

Before departing Barra, we needed to stop at the fuel dock. I'd been lazy and neglected to program the waypoints for the narrow channel in and out of the lagoon. One of the other cruisers had given me the waypoints and warned that just about everyone runs aground. Having made it in just fine, I thought I had it wired and that waypoints were for scared old people. With the music blaring and me steering with my foot, I watched the fathometer drop from 11 feet to almost nothing! I tried to turn Swell away from the shallows, but actually drove her right into the mud! I tried reverse but she didn't budge. Hot, flustered, and disappointed at my having been so cocky, I wallowed in my stupidity for a few seconds - until a dinghy full of cruisers - including the one who had given me the waypoints - came over to see the dumb blonde girl stuck in the mud.

"Yeah, thanks, I realize that now," I replied to their comments and pointing toward the channel. I did my very best not to implode from irritation and embarrassment, but I could just picture the headline, "Girl cruiser runs aground". So I quickly jumped into the dinghy and used it to shove Swell back into the channel. Scott from Ocean Rose graciously returned with his handheld GPS, waypoints and all.

We sailed 30 miles south, but thanks to a southerly ended up having to anchor in a tight cove overshadowed by a monstrosity of a resort rather than in a secluded bay. The resort came with the usual irritating packs of jet-skiers, pangas hauling kids on inflatable bananas, and sunset cruise boats where 30 tourists were jammed up against each other's absurd orange life jackets. With dinner in mind and a few hours of light left, Shannon and I geared up to free dive. She set off with her shiny new Hawaiian sling looking for lobsters. Before I even made it into the water, she returned like a puppy with its tail between its legs. She'd been swarmed by a zillion little jellyfish and hadn't been able to see her hand in front of her face. So I opted for the other side of the cove.

I'd been given a banded speargun by a good friend, but hadn't tried it because I hate watching anything die. As a young girl, I cried watching my dad and brother delight in beating their flopping, gasping catches on the stern of our sailboat. I'd looked painfully into the wide-eyes of those fish and knew that my compassion was going to be an obstacle to my success as a spearfisherwoman. My father's words echoed in my head as I pointed the cocked gun around the reef, "We only kill what we eat." I know that eating what is close to you is the most environmentally-sound way to go, as it doesn't need to be shipped across country or processed and packaged. I had to get over my sensitivity and learn to shoot to kill.

I finally saw an edible-looking fish and pulled the trigger. I missed and the spear stuck into the sand. But suddenly I felt the challenge, and after that it was 'game on'. For nearly three hours I maniacally chased fish. I couldn't bring myself to shoot the slow moving rockfish or the ones that swam in pairs, as it just seemed too mean. I'm pathetic, I know, but I limited myself to stalking the quicker schooling fish. It was harder, but in the meantime I ran across a lovely turtle, a black-spotted eel, and some beautiful rays. I returned to Swell empty-handed, jellyfish stings from head to toe, and a painful ringing in my left ear from forgetting to clear while pursuing my prey. But I had an unusually large grin on my face. We ate pasta that night, but I knew it wouldn't be long until we'd be enjoying some fresh fish fillets. I am now an underwater huntress.

The following evening I got another chance 50 miles down the coast at a secluded point that had a rocky, fish-laden outcropping. As we donned our gear again, Shannon looked over the side and let out a pained moan. I've learned to deal with the jellyfish stings in Mexico, figuring they are kind of like a wasabi-burn - uncomfortable for about 30 seconds, then forgotten as you continue on with your activity, be it eating sushi, surfing, or diving. But this was different, as we watched in horror as extra large jellyfish indifferently drifted by, nonchalantly moving with the afternoon current. We had no choice but to go to the extra effort of launching the dinghy and rowing over to the rocks in the hopes of finding a less infested place to dive.

I 'Jacques Cousteau-ed' out of the dinghy, speargun in hand. I'd looked at the field guide the night before and had a better idea of what I wanted to eat. Not three minutes had passed when a speedy school of paloma pampano, a tasty type of jack, flashed their silver bellies across my path. I pulled the trigger and - bam! - nailed one on my first try! I could hardly believe it as it wriggled on my line. I hauled my catch back to the boat, screaming and gurgling through my snorkel with glee. I killed it swiftly and looked gratefully into those familiar wide-eyes. It was only about 10 inches long, barely enough meat for fish tacos, but it was a start. As I savored each morsel, I said a quiet blessing to thank the little beauty for giving up its life.

When we headed back out to sea the following morning, the swell had clearly come up. As we pulled into the next bay on our Tour de Mex, I spotted a right peeling across the northwest corner. I quickly forgot about hunting fish and was back to hunting waves. Despite the uncomfortable roll from the incoming south swell mixed with a strong backwash, we dropped the hook in the cove. Had we been on a 747, the 'fasten seatbelts' light would surely have been on. What we sacrificed in comfort, was made up for in the water. Fast, although a bit soft, the wave was fully functional and broke over a flat reef right onto the sand.

The other interesting aspect of the place is that, because it is located in Michoacan, which is mostly governed by indigenous people, officials are notoriously slack about enforcing drug laws. We got our first clue about this when a panganero greeted us shortly after our arrival and wondered if we wanted to buy la mota, not lobster.

Then, after Shannon and I shared an empty lineup the next morning, we decided to check out the town. Everyone was gearing up for Semana Santa - Holy Week - one of the major holidays of the Mexican year. You could feel a bit of a buzz in the air. We came across a group of fishermen and helped them push their panga through a tidal influx toward the sea. To reciprocate, they extended two thick blunts in our direction. We continued on past what looked like a deserted beach, but were then summoned by a man who appeared from the shadows of his palapa. He waves us in like an impatient mother with dinner on the table. We sort of bumbled and mumbled, then found ourselves sitting in the shade of the palapa sipping an apple refresco with a man who called himself the 'Mexican Taliban'. The long, dark ponytail that fell from the back of his well-worn hat gave away his pride in being indigenous.

As we sat, he told us about his town, his paradise. He explained there were no police. This beach was where people came to 'fuma la mota, hace la coca, y baile'. Fully-stocked for Semana Santa party-goers, he laid a huge green bud on the table between us. He motioned for Shannon to smell it. She 'mmmm-ed' it politely, as though she'd sampled his prize-winning chili. He continued on while a few of his friends filtered in to check out us newcomers. There were two loud Italian brothers and a quieter Mexican guy who asked us all about sailing and marveled at our story.

Then the Mexican Taliban pulled out another strand from his horticultural enterprise, and laid it next to the other. It was my turn to critique, so I smelled both, raised an eyebrow, and nodded in agreement that I could surely smell the difference in quality. By this time we'd finished our sodas and were itching to continue our exploration. So when the Mexican Taliban pulled out a thick brick of hash and broke off a piece to sell to the red-haired Italian brother, I pulled on my ear, signalling Shannon that it was time for us to leave. The Mexican Taliban immediately insisted upon giving us a tour of his beach, so we ended up visiting what indeed was a spectacular lookout over the two bays.

Shannon and I later laughed at our land adventures. Nearly every time we go ashore we seem to acquire an overeager, unrequested tour guide.

Once back aboard Swell, the fishermen we'd helped earlier in the day appeared towing one of the inflatable 'bananas' they use to tow tourists around. They graciously offered us a ride. I quickly pointed to Shannon, explaining in Spanish how much she'd been dying to ride the banana - and practically shoved her overboard. As she mounted the banana, she shot me a look that could have killed - but before long was loving the ride she was sharing with a bunch of screaming 14-year-old boys. Our day was complete.

- liz 04/07/06

Our Tern - Valiant 40
Danielle Winslow, 16
Stolen Dinghy
(Everett, WA)

When we - Vaughn, my dad, Natalie, my mom, Brooke, my 13-year-old sister, and I - cruised to Mexico, the last thing we figured we'd have to do was get our outboard out of 'motor jail'. But that's what happened.

It started after our family had enjoyed a wonderful Sunday night of food, friends, and fun in the lively plaza at Melaque, a small town located between Tenacatita Bay and Barra de Navidad, and it was time for the four of us to return to our boat in the somewhat rolly bay. As we stumbled down the unstable sand to our dinghy, we giggled about our festive evening, and our eyes began to adjust to the darkness. Brooke was the first to fall silent and silence my jabbering.

"Where's our outboard?" she asked in a soft voice.

I drew a sharp gasp, while mom wailed, "Oh no!"

Dad didn't say anything as mom and I suggested that he go back to the closest restaurant to ask if they'd seen anything. As we watched him slink back toward the restaurant, Brooke, mom, and I sat on the pontoons of our dinghy, stunned. Not having a dinghy outboard is a very serious problem when cruising. The folks at the restaurant hadn't seen anything, so our row back to the boat was quiet. We all went to bed with our thoughts about friendly Melaque, one of our favorite places, somewhat shattered.

Mom was rejuvenated the next morning, and began to formulate plans for spreading word of the theft. I wrote flyers in Spanish reporting that our 6 h.p., Johnson outboard had been stolen from the transom of our dinghy between 8 and 11 p.m. on the night of February 11. After Dad reported the theft on the local cruiser net, which covers Barra de Navidad, Melaque, and Tenacatita, Mom and I went to shore to pass out the flyers.

I set off into town, passing out notices to town friends, acquaintances, and every other person willing to take one. When our friends at El Jefecito Pescaderia heard the news, they were outraged. The father and sons who ran the fish market offered some suggestions and quickly posted our notice. We later learned that one of the sons, who works in the advertising department at Barra's Channel 10 News, put the word out there, too! Pancho, who runs the internet cafe in the bus station, offered to help with the police report. My friend Erica, who owns a store, let us use her cell phone number as a way for people to contact us with any news. The locals were very sympathetic.

Once Mom and I returned to the boat, Dad left for the Ministerio del Publico office in Chiuatlan to file a public notice. While he was gone, the folks on Maestro del Mar came on the radio to relay a message that our outboard was at the police station! We were so excited, and many friends, including the crew of Rosita, Daydreams, and Dawn Treader, kept our spirits high.

Dad was exhausted when he returned, and we were puzzled because the police officers at Barra, Chiuatlan, and Melaque knew nothing about a returned outboard. Our enthusiasm wavered, but we tried to keep our spirits high. Dad and Mom went to the police station in Melaque, which is next to the town square but isn't much more than a desk and a place for the police to meet while patrolling the little town. Nobody there knew anything about a returned outboard.

We finally managed to contact the original source - some RV cruisers in the motor home compound - who initiated the news that our outboard had been found. They said a thief had taken the motor from the transom of our dinghy and was carrying it down the beach when he was spotted by a restaurant worker. The worker yelled at the man with the motor because it didn't seem quite right. The thief must have been spooked, because he dropped the outboard and ran. Everyone assumed that he'd stolen the motor hoping to sell it to get money to buy drugs, and it was later rumored that he was caught and sent to prison.

In any event, Dad made another trip to Chiuatlan the next day, where he saw our outboard - behind bars! Our Johnson was in 'motor jail'. Nothing in Mexico happens quickly, so even though Dad presented his certificate of ownership with the correct engine serial number, he wasn't able to get the engine back that day. The problem was that he first had to go to another building and fill out a bunch of paperwork, but by then it was the middle of the afternoon and the lady in charge said he'd have to come back the next afternoon!

Dad returned to Chiuatlan the next day, and received the necessary papers to get the engine released. Nonetheless, before he could return to our boat, he was escorted, carrying the engine, back to the Ministerio del Publico to file another public notice saying our engine was no longer missing.

Amazingly, we got our engine back within a week and without having to pay a ransom. Our faith in Melaque had been restored by all the help and sympathy we received. But we learned the hard way that we couldn't get too complacent about leaving our dinghy. No matter where you are or how familiar you are with the place, it's always better to be safe than sorry - and lock your dinghy and outboard. Still, every time I return to the dinghy, motor, and gas tank waiting on the beach, I can't help but give a sigh of relief.

- danielle 03/15/06

Silent Sun - Crealock 37
Rob Tryon & David Walsman
South From Seattle

A sailing passage from Seattle to San Francisco can never be taken lightly - not even in late summer, which is statistically the most likely time of year to be blessed by fine weather. The problem with the 850-mile coastal passage, which features the dreaded capes at Blanco and Mendocino, is that the waters are subject to being lashed by unexpected gale-force winds that often develop at a moment's notice. There are also the matters of fog, crab pots, and unnecessarily cold temperatures. For most sailors, a Seattle to San Francisco trip is not at all about the journey, but rather getting to the destination in one piece.

February is potentially one of the worst months to make this passage south, but that's when Rob Tryon needed to get to San Francisco Bay with his Crealock 37. The timing of the trip was work-related - his lady needed to start work at Latitude, and the boat is their home. Friends thought Tryon was nuts for not taking the Inland Passage - meaning having the boat trucked south on the I-5. But he's just not that kind of guy.

Since the passage isn't one that can be passed off as a pleasure cruise, Tryon assumed that he'd have to do it singlehanded. But when good friend David Walsman offered to help, it became a doublehanded adventure. Having already sailed he and his wife Betty Lou's Hunter 420 Decade Dance from San Diego to Alaska three times, it would come as no surprise that Walsman didn't get sick or scared, and that he was able to cook in heavy weather.

The pair left Seattle on February 2 hoping to reach Maple Bay, B.C. as their first leg. They would have made it, too, had they not had to hunker down in Sidney, B.C. because the 75-knot winds of the worst winter storm since '99 made a mess of Puget Sound. As it turned out, they wouldn't be leaving Maple Bay until February 7, after which they made the big mistake of anchoring off Port Renfrew. "The leftover swell from the storm rolled right into the bay, violently rocking and rolling Silent Sun the entire night," remembers Rob. "I've anchored in some pretty sketchy places in our travels to Alaska and back, but this was one of the worst. We should have checked back into the States at Friday Harbor and gone to Neah Bay instead.

Weather forecasts between the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and San Francisco often prove to be inaccurate - and this was the case for Silent Sun. Having started down the coast of Washington with a forecast for light northwesterlies, they weren't halfway down the coast before the wind started coming up out of the east. They beam-reached under a double-reefed main, staysail, and mizzen, until dawn, at which time they further reduced sail and hove-to in order to get some much needed sleep.

"When I awoke we were 40 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River, it was blowing hard, and the beam seas were so big that there was nothing we could do but run with it," Tyron remembers. The coastal forecast was finally updated to include a surprise easterly gale with accelerated winds off the coastal gaps - the Columbia River being the largest gap of them all.

Tryon isn't sure how hard the wind was actually blowing, but he figures it was 50 knots based on the noise in the rigging and the fact that the wind generator kept stalling out - which it's supposed to do at 50 knots. Portland, further to the east, recorded 80 knots of wind, felling trees and causing widespread destruction.

Tryon and Walsman battled the gale for 24 hours before the winds finally eased enough to allow them some easting by beam reaching in 12-foot seas - a very wet point of sail. Both men had water up to their knees in the cockpit more than once while on their watches. "It was the roughest weather I've ever seen," says Walsman. The two finally limped into Newport a full 24 hours after their expected arrival time, which had left family and friends concerned if not worried.

After a few days in Newport resting, cleaning up, and waiting for yet another storm system to pass through, they made a pleasant 40-mile hop to Eureka, fueled up, and continued south. The forecast called for light northwesterlies all the way down the coast but they got another unwelcome surprise when they reached Pt. Arena - getting slammed by 25-30 knot southeasterlies that hadn't been forecast. "We beat into those winds for 12 hours under double-reefed main, staysail, and mizzen, but still only managed to make 20 miles toward our destination," reports Tryon. "What's interesting is the forecast kept calling for light northwesterlies even as the buoy reports were telling a nearly opposite story."

Then somebody flicked a switch at sunset, and the wind died completely - which meant that the duo had to motor the rest of the way to San Francisco.

When Tryon came on watch at midnight of the first night of calm, he found Walsman had been tracking a large blob on radar that appeared to be on a northerly collision course. This provided the perfect opportunity for him to play with one of his newest nautical purchases, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, which appears on the Nobeltec charts on his computer screen. The AIS presented all the information about the approaching ship on the Nobeltec screen - her name, type of ship, speed, bearing, and estimated passing distance - the latter being just 100 yards! Tryon immediately hailed the ship on VHF and worked out coordinated course alterations with the captain. "The most sobering part of this incident is that even though we have a new mobri-style radar reflector, this guy couldn't see us at all," says Tryon. "As far as I'm concerned, the AIS receiver paid for itself that night."

According to Walsman, "the ocean was like a lake" for the rest of the passage."

- latitude/LB

Cruise Notes:

About 200 people turned out on the evening of March 27 for the founding of the Punta Mita Yacht and Surf Club at - where else? - Punta Mita at the northwest tip of Banderas Bay, Mexico. Most of the time the club masquerades as Hector's on-the-sand Margarita Restaurant, but on certain days and nights, starting again in the fall, it will magically transform into the PMY&SC. Some of the great features of the club are that there's always unlimited room to anchor out front, the sailing is terrific, and when there's a big swell running, the surfing can be great for everyone from novices to experts. In addition, the club will provide wireless high speed internet access to boats in the anchorage.

The primary goals of the club are to promote mini-cruises and fun racing on the waters of Banderas Bay along with the Vallarta YC and other organizations, and for the membership to take life easy. The club can already claim some stellar atheletes. Rob Machado of Encinitas, long one of the top-rated and most admired surfers on the planet, is a member, and may even show up next fall with his buddy Kelly Slater, who has been the king of all surfing for many years, for a little sailing and surfing fun. Another member is Greg LeMond, who won the Tour de France numerous times before anybody ever heard of Lance what's-his-face. As one yacht & surfie joked, "Now all we need are a couple of good sailors." Yeah, it's that kind of club.

Membership requirements are stiff. You have to sail to the club from somewhere else, and once you arrive, the initiation fee and lifetime dues are $1. Further, Commodore Linh Goben, easily the most beautiful commodore in the world, and a vet of the '04 Ha-Ha, has decreed that everybody who enters a boat in the Ha-Ha automatically qualifies for membership. "I'm going to make sure the membership cards go out with all the Ha-Ha entry packets, so everyone will be a yacht club member when they sail down the coast to the San Diego start of the Ha-Ha."

The club's first event was the following day - sponsoring the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity, with the proceeds to benefit deserving kid's programs around the bay and particularly at Punta Mita, and to help keep the beaches clean. With Ronnie Tea Lady doing most of the heavy lifting, arranging for the boats and for contributors to get rides on boats, the participant contributions came to $1,238. The Yacht & Surf Club donated the $76 it collected in membership fees the night before, the Punta Mita Beach Club and Punta Mita Realty pledged $1,000, El Faro Condos pledged $500, and the '04 and '05 Ha-Ha's donated $500 each - for a total of $3,785. Commodore Linh and Ronnie want to thank everyone for their generosity. Ronnie will be in charge of evaluating requests for materials from the community to make sure the money get spent intelligently. Next year's Pirates For Pupils will be . . . well, we're not sure. It will be sometime in March just before the Banderas Bay Regatta, but the dates of that event are now up in the air because host Paradise Marina has just landed the prestigious J/24 Worlds for about the same time period. So stay tuned.

Rush to misjudgement? "As you know, we've been receiving a lot of complaints about the port captain at Isla Mujeres on the Caribbean coast of Mexico," writes Tere Grossman, president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association. "The problem was that he has asked mariners to either go to the Banamex in Cancun - a lot of time and expense - or use an agent to take care of the clearing fees. I forwarded the complaints to Jose Tomas Lozano, El Director de Marina Mercante, in Mexico City for review. I just received a response from him, in which he explained that the problem is that if you are coming into or leaving Mexico, you have to pay a fee at El Terminal de punta de venta (TPV). I'm not exactly sure what this is, but I assume it's a special desk at the port captain's office with authority to receive money, or a special desk at Banamex, Mexico's largest bank. The problem is that Banamex doesn't have a branch at Isla Mujeres, so the port captain has had no option but to suggest that cruisers either use an agent - who guarantees payment - or send them to the Banamex in Cancun. The eventual solution is to install a TPV at Isla Mujeres, but until then, everything remains the same. It's very important that cruisers understand two things: 1) That the problem has not been corruption on the part of the port captain, but rather a situation that the authorities in Mexico City did not foresee; and 2) Very soon there will be a TPV at Isla Mujeres so that cruisers will be able to check in without using an agent or having to go to great expense."

We at Latitude think we owe the port captain at Isla Mujeres an apology, as we suspected there was some nefarious reason for the problems. We're indeed sorry.

The folks at Two Harbors, Catalina aren't kidding when they say the job of replacing the old pier is almost complete. True, they are still working on the permits for the office on the dock, and probably won't have fuel until just before the Memorial Day weekend, but it's come a long way. It's a good thing, too, because if you check out their website, you can see they've got a long list of events plannned right through the end of the year - not the least of which is the notoriously fun Buccaneer Day on October 7.

My, hasn't he done well! Some of you will remember that when Mike Harker of Lake Arrowhead did the Ha-Ha with his Hunter 340 Wanderlust in 2000, he really didn't know how. Nonetheless, he cruised Mexico singlehanded, did the Ha-Ha Bash singlehanded - by which time he was hooked on sailing. He bought a new Hunter 466 from the Miami Boat Show, singlehanded her to and around the Med, then sailed across the Atlantic and Caribbean to the Galapagos and South Pacific, and finally to Hawaii and home. It turns out that Harker, who was the subject of the Latitude Interview in October and November of '04, has just gotten started on his sailing adventures. He's been hired by Hunter to be a testing captain, along with sailing legend Steve Pettengill, to evaluate and demo the new Hunter 49, the queen of the Hunter line. As such, starting next month Harker and Pettengill will be taking the Hunter 49 prototype up the East Coast to show her to dealers. Later in the year, they'll be bringing another new Hunter 49 down the Pacific Coast to show to West Coast dealers.

This fall, Harker will be given the first Hunter Offshore Mariner 49 - a completely offshore outfitted version of the regular 49 - to sail around the world. Check out some of the highlights of the itinerary: St. Barth's Around The Island Race on New Year's Eve, Heineken Regatta in St. Martin, BVI Spring Regatta, Antigua Classic Regatta, Antigua Sailing Week, across the Atlantic to the Med, Valencia for the America's Cup, many of the major ports in the Med, down the Red Sea and across the Indian Ocean to Thailand and Malaysia for the King's Cup, and many more stops in the region before sailing to China for the Olympics. After that, Harker will sail the boat across the North Pacific to the Pacific Northwest, down the West Coast, do the '08 Ha-Ha, continue on to the Canal, and finally across the Caribbean to Florida to complete a circumnavigation. Outstanding plan, don't you think? It's all the more amazing if you remember that about 20 years ago Harker all but died as a result of a terrible hang-glider accident in Grenada, and was thought to be permanently paralyzed. The story of his miraculous recovery - and continuing complications, such as having no feeling below his knees - can be found in the Latitude interviews.

Harker 'blames' his entire sailing career on us. "It started when I picked up a copy of Latitude at the Hunter dealer while innocently riding my bike around Marina del Rey, and really got up a head of steam with the Ha-Ha and later cruising on Banderas Bay," he says. As such, the professional cinematographer will be providing us with reports and photos during the trip. We might even see if we can stow away for a leg or two.

"As I write this on April 17, my good 'ol Morgan Out-Island 41 Blessed Be! is actually sailing toward Rangiroa," reports skipper Jessica Stone of Gig Harbor, Washington. "We're only doing about 3.5 knots, but even that is pretty amazing considering that her mast is folded in two, and is being held away from the hull by a large chunk of wood. The shrouds and stays are wrapped around the deck, and every line crisscrosses others, forming a giant red, white and blue spiderweb. We're flying a storm jib from a forestay we made from a dockline, and have managed to hoist about a quarter of the torn main from it. My beautiful boat is literally being held together with duct tape, bungee cords, and string."

We'll have a full story and photos on the dismasting of Blessed Be! next month, but owner Stone, who made a lot of cruising friends in Zihua last winter, and crewman Mike Irvine, report they had a "perfect sail" for 2,290 of the 3,000 miles from Mexico to the Marquesas. With less than 10 miles to landfall at Hiva Oa, they were hit by a squall at 3 a.m., at which point they mistakenly thought they'd lost the rudder. Eventually, they discovered it was actually a temporary problem with the steering system. Unfortunately, they'd started the engine in the interim to keep away from Hiva Oa's rocky coast, and somehow the jib sheet and then jib managed to get fouled in the turning prop. Working like an out-of-control electric winch, the turning prop pulled the mast down! Thanks to lots of help and moral support at Hiva Oa, Stone and Irvine all but duct-taped the boat together. Now, with Mike Nestor, his son Nicky, and artist Karla Matkze as crew, they are making their way to the boatyards of Rangiroa. While everyone else will be leaving, Stone will stay on to try to replace her rig.

"My adventure isn't going like I'd planned," she writes, "and I don't know what direction the wind will blow during the next phase of this journey. Maybe I'll go on toward New Zealand, perhaps I'll turn toward Hawaii, and maybe I'll even head back toward the cool Northwest. But whatever adventures await, I know one thing for certain - at this moment we're headed in the right direction, the sun is rising in a burst of gold and copper, and Blessed Be! is sailing. Life is good."

That's living in the moment. The loss of Blessed Be!'s mast left Stone unable to contact her many friends. She can now be reached - and would love to hear from everyone. Don't hold back on the encouragement, as it would be tragic if, having come so far, she were to retreat to the cool Northwest. Be steadfast girl!

"We'd like to thank the City of Santa Barbara and Harbor Patrol Officers Troy Kuhlman and Eric Engebretson for saving our boat - with us aboard - on March 28," write Richard and Sofia Smiley of the Sausalito-based Mariner 31 Azuressence. "We'd been anchored to the east of Stearns Wharf when debris cut our two anchor rodes, so we grabbed a nearby mooring. Then, while asleep at 6:30 a.m., our boat broke loose from that mooring. We were awakened by the sound of a Harbor Patrolman banging a boat hook while attaching a towline to our boat. We were only in about five feet of water at the time, and just seconds from being in the surf line, so they only had one chance to hook us. Officers Kuhlman and Engebretson had been alerted by Stearn's Wharf maintenance employee Doug Coston, who'd noticed us drifting toward the beach. Earlier in the year, we'd had another embarrassing incident in Santa Barbara. Both our oars broke while rowing back to our boat one night, leaving us to drift with the outgoing tide. We tried to make a paddle from the floorboard, but it didn't work so well. We used our flashlight to send an SOS to the crew on an oil rig support boat, and they called the Harbor Patrol. We'd like to thank the Harbor Patrol for all their help."

With all due respect, Richard and Sofia, we think our readers will have three understandable questionsl: 1) What kind of "debris" can cut two anchor rodes? 2) How is it the knot you tied to the mooring buoy came loose or failed? And finally, 3) Even if your oars broke, couldn't you have used the pieces to row? We're not criticizing, we're just curious.

"Singular opened up their fuel dock at Puerto Escondido, Baja on March 30," reports Connie Sunlover, "and the vessel Merry Dolphin was the first to take advantage of the much-needed new service. The fueling docks still aren't here, but in the interim, Endless Summer's dock is being used. Diesel is being sold for 10% more than at the Pemex station in Loreto. Boats can be fueled between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. by advance appointment with Singular until it's fully manned. Credit cards and checks won't be accepted until later on. The opening of the fuel dock is perfect timing for all the boats that will be coming for early May's Loreto Fest.

Speaking of Mexico, some of you know there will be a presidential election in Mexico this June, but few of you are probably aware of how tight the race has become for what will be a single six-year term. Just a month ago, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftwing candidate who is the former mayor of Mexico City, and who has expressed admiration for Venezuela's Hugo 'Condi Rice Wants to Have Sex With Me' Chavez, seemed to have an insurmountable lead of eight percentage points in what is a three-man race. The most recent polls, however, show that Felipe Calderon, the center-right candidate, is now just four points behind. The big factor has been a major advertising campaign associating Obrador's politics with the economic chaos of Chavez's Venezuela. Under President Fox, the Mexican economy has done quite well, and Calderon would seek to encourage even freer markets.

"Since November '05, there have been 22 applicants who have taken tests here for the General Class license needed to utilize the Airmail/Winlink system, and 12 of them have passed," report Bob and Karen O'Hara of the Puerto Vallarta-based Promises. "Radio Rob Ladner conducts code training/practice in the two weeks preceding the monthly exam. The next exam will be in the fall."

In light of this month's letter from George Backhus saying that after 12 years of cruising, he didn't feel he needed a Ham license any more than he needed an ex-wife, we asked O'Hara about the value of a Ham license.

"There are two email systems that I know of," he replied, "One of them is Winlink, which has 50 stations worldwide and is growing. In fact, the Vallarta YC Radio Club is currently trying to establish a Winlink station in Jarretadarus for cruisers on Banderas Bay. Using Winlink requires a General Class Ham radio license. The other is Sailmail, an SSB system that has 16 stations worldwide and does not require a license - just something like $200/year to subscribe to their system. I've used both, found them both to be easy and reliable to use, and therefore wouldn't want to pick between them. But currently I only use Winlink."

When you hang around an island that's a megayacht magnet in the Caribbean such as St. Barth, you can't help but start to get the impression that money can buy anything. But that's not true. As pop philosopher Julian 'Ju-Ju' Chatneuff - who splits his time between Orinda, St. Barth, and providing the snooker tables for the Rolling Stones while they are on tour - noted after this year's St. Barth Bucket, "No matter how rich you are, you can't buy wind." In what had been shaping up as the greatest Bucket ever, with 29 boats ranging in size from the Frers 84 Metolius to the 178-ft Perini Navi Parsifal, the trades went AWOL, resulting in all three of the races either being shortened or cancelled. "In terms of sailing, it was a bigger bust than Dolly Parton," said Ju-Ju.

You may remember that last month Jim Casey of Tomatillo wrote in from Panama to say that he was going to have to wait 17 days to transit the Panama Canal. There's a good explanation for such long delays - lack of capacity. An astonishing 5% of the world's trades passes through the Panama Canal, and if you've not been comatose lately, you know world trade has been booming because of the exploding economies in China and India. On April 12, the Panama Canal Authority reported that there were 104 vessels waiting to transit the Canal, which only has a capacity of 38 to 40 ships a day. And new ships were arriving all the time. "Present congestion is due to abnormally high arrivals," said a spokesman. Right, it's the same problem that afflicts the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza every weekday morning.

At least Panama is doing something about it. On April 5, the Panama Canal Authority announced that they had approved plans for $7.5 billion in improvements to the 100-year-old facilities. The most important improvement will be the addition of new three-chamber locks at each end of the Canal, locks that will be 160-ft wide in order to accommodate the new generation of Post-Panamax ships. Those monsters will be capable of carrying twice the cargo of current Panamax ships. In addition, there will be a 'third lane' added to the Canal - although it's not clear what this means. There are places in the Canal - such as the Galliard Cut - where we can't imagine it would be economically feasible to dredge it wide enough for three ships at once. Who knows, maybe they'll have special passing zones. The project is expected to take seven years to complete.

If the Canal Authority is smart, they'll use about a million of the $7.5 billion to buy some hydraulic trailers to pick up all yachts 55 or less in length, then trailer them around the locks at each end of the Canal. The current system of using overcrowded huge locks to lift recreational boats 84 feet at one end of the Canal and lower them 84 feet at the other just doesn't make any sense. A new, better, and less expensive system could be up and running in a couple of months.

"Thanks in part to our education from Latitude, we have quit/retired, sold the house, and are headed to Mexico via California," writes Simon Foster of the British Colombia-based 50-year-old Garden-designed Seascape. "Although we've owned our boat for 15 years, covered 27,000 miles, and spent 600 nights aboard, it's all been in B.C. waters. So we don't know about cruising in Mexico. Perhaps you can answer a question that I haven't seen covered in any letter or cruising guide. Can I bring crew/guests into Mexico if they are going to leave the boat in Mexico and fly home? If so, how do I fill out the crew lists, and how do I amend them to account for our eventually leaving Mexico without those crewmembers? I have seen references to the possibility of huge fines if you leave crew in Mexico and, for that matter, the United States."

You've got nothing to worry about, Simon. Owners of boats aren't responsible for their crew in Mexico the way they are in a few other places. When you check into Mexico, you fill out a crew list, and each member of the crew purchases a tourist visa for about $20. Everybody needs to keep possesion of their visa, because if they lose it, they're going to have to buy a replacement and perhaps pay a small fine. If the boat is moving on to the next port and some or all of the crew are flying home, you just leave them off the new crew list, and they're on their own. You can add or subtract crew as much as you want. The clearing process in Mexico is far easier and less expensive than it was just a year ago.

Things have been different in places like French Polynesia, where the government has always been worried about crews jumping ship or getting kicked off boats, then never leaving or having the funds to repatriate themselves. That's what cumbersome and expensive bond requirements for each member of the crew is all about. In the old days, it was incumbent upon skippers to hold the passports of all their crew to prevent themselves from getting into hot water if a member of the crew fell in love with a native girl and split to a thatched love shack without telling them. To be honest, we're not sure if it's still important for captains to hold onto all the passports or if procedures have eliminated the need. By and large, most countries are more like Mexico than French Polynesia when it comes to who is responsible for crew.

"The Marina Mazatlan Chili Cook-off and Bloody Mary Contest raised $5,000 pesos - about $450 - for the local orphanage on March 11," reports Liana Buchanan of Total Yacht Services. Of the 10 entries, the following were the top three: Joann of Orient Express, Tom and Kathy of Ahawahnee, and Mike and Mizuzu of Tortue." Despite not having quite the obvious charm of some other Mexican ports, Mazatlan remains tremendously popular with many cruisers.

Anybody interested in free internet access in the Marina Vallarta area? If so, Lupe Dipp, who owns the Catana 47 Moon & Stars with her husband J.R., has an offer you can't beat. She reports they just moved into a house that's next to the Flamingos Hotel, and have gotten wireless internet. "I'm letting anybody who wants access to use it for free," she says. "There is no password." Lupe, you've always been a sweetheart.

With so many more people and businesses offering free wireless internet access, even out in many of the anchorages, we're curious if there is ultimately going to be less traffic on both Winlink and Sailmail. It seems logical, but so did the concept of computers creating the 'paperless - ha-ha - office'.

"Yesterday our dear friend Yani died of a heart attack while doing something she loved - heading out to the race course on a friend's boat - in a place she loved - Banderas Bay, Mexico," reports Steve Gnehm. Yani will be deeply missed by all who knew her, as she had a way of making people near her smile. She brought a tremendous amount of happiness into all our lives."

Bob Botik of Austin, who works the Amateur radio nets to help cruisers, called us up one afternoon to report that Jim and Sue Goodman aboard the vessel Adelante were curious about where to clear into Mexico when coming north, and if they would be stuck on their boat all weekend to avoid overtime fees. We advised them to go into Puerto Madero, and not worry about checking in until the following Monday. Here's how things turned out, as reported by Botik:

"The Goodmans told me over Ham radio that the port captain and Mexican navy at Puerto Madero couldn't have been more courteous. Even though it was Saturday of Easter Weekend, their clearing was efficient and flawless."

After having their Pathfinder engine rebuilt in Panama with less than complete success, Les Sutton and Diane Grant of the Sausalito-based Albin-Nimbus 42 Gemini had their boat Dockwised from Costa Rica to Ensenada, where they will be installing a new 54-hp Yanmar diesel. "When it's all over, we'll let you know how things went getting the old engine out of Mexico and bringing the new one in without - hopefully - having to pay any duty," says Les. "By the way, our old engine, complete with a Borg Warner 71C transmission and Walter V-drive, is for sale in San Francisco. The engine was running just before we took it out of Gemini, but it was burning a quart of oil an hour. If anybody is interested in the whole package, including a lot of spare parts, I can be reached by . If it doesn't sell, I'll be parting the engine out."

The Ha-Ha has the first confirmed entry - for '07! Normally, reservations aren't accepted, but this was a little bit different. The Grand Poobah was enjoying a sushi dinner at the Kama Kazi restaurant counter in San Rafael one night, when the couple that sat next to him made a positive identification. The couple turned out to be Steve and Lori Dana of the Friday Harbor-based Sceptre 43 Pacific Wind. The next day, Steve sent the following email:

"We can imagine how tough your job is, given the continual deadlines and Latitude's consistent quality, as for the last 10 years we have slaved to start, manage, and grow a 24-hour, 60-person emergency and specialty veterinary facility in Marin. It's probably decreased my lifespan a few years, and added 65 pounds to my frame. After years of wondrous bareboating in the Caribbean, New Zealand, Southern California, and the Bay Area, and having researched and purchased our ideal 'life raft' last summer in Seattle and sailing her around the Pacific Northwest, we are dedicated to making the '07 Ha-Ha. If it's possible, we'd like to be the first to sign up for that event as part of our planning and dedication to the process. We also plan to crew this year for some lucky captain, and are therefore looking forward to the Crew List Party in April."

How could the Grand Poobah turn down a request like that? So he contacted Lauren Spindler, the Ha-Ha Honcho who makes all the major decisions, and she said she would be happy to accept the Danas as the first entry for '07.

"We're writing this aboard Lawur, our Santa Cruz-based Holland 43, on the last day of our Puddle Jump from Mexico to the Marquesas," report Robert, Niki, Sebastian, 9, and Benjamin, 7, Schmid. "We'll be making landfall at Fatu Hiva after a little bit over 20 days. That's fast, but not quite as fast as our friends the Martins - Bruce and Lisa, with sons Tristan and Matthew - aboard the Port Orchard-based Catalina 42 Ohana Kai. They did it in something like 19 days. Anyway, the reason we're writing is to let everyone know that we've been using a feature of Google Earth that allows our family and friends to follow our track - a feature similar to what was used in last year's Sydney to Hobart Race. We know that you've already written about Google Earth in Latitude, but this is something that is available to all cruisers for free. More designed for family and friends than YOTREPS and other similar yacht tracking services, no call sign is required. Many of our friends have used it to follow the progress of our cruise - especially during our Pacific crossing. We tend to send email location updates at least twice a day, with detailed info such as our speed and course. People can check it out at"

For those who are curious, lawur means 'little bathtub' in Viennese, as in the boys' grandfather saying, "You're taking my boys on the big ocean in a lawur?"

"Thanks for the April issue article on the Pacific Puddle Jump," writes Dave Kusmik of San Jose, "as it's very inspirational for all of us potential cruisers to see ordinary folks like us out there doing extraordinary things. Speaking of extraordinary things, I'd like to alert your readers to Cruising Tracker, a very cool tool that some of the Puddle Jumpers have been using to allow friends and family to track their progress across the Pacific. Cruising Tracker is the creation of ex-technology consultant Robert Schmid of Lawur, and uses Google Earth technology (free download) to allow anyone with internet access to view the track history and current location, course, and speed of any boat that wishes to participate. Updates are sent from the boats via a simple email sent over SSB. To view that status of a participating boat, just install Google Earth on your computer, then follow the instructions that Schmid has provided by going to Initial setup takes about five minutes. I've really enjoyed the ability to track my friends - and I'm guessing that a lot of future cruisers would get a kick out of it as well."

Cruising Tracker is indeed cool - and perfect for all the boats during the West Marine Pacific Cup or Singlehanded TransPac this summer, and the boats doing the Ha-Ha this fall.

John Haste of the San Diego-based Perry 52 cat Little Wing used to do a lot of sailing in Mexico - Ha-Ha's, Banderas Bay Regattas, and the like. Then we had a gallon of rum bet with him that the other wouldn't show up in St. Barth with their cat the following New Year's Day. Well, we both did. Having sort of dropped out of sight for awhile, Haste emails from Panama: "How about a new bet. This time for showing up with our boats in Thailand for the King's Cup. The wager, two gallons - because of the longer distance - of whatever the local hooch is?"

Tempting. Very tempting.

Top / Subscriptions / Classifieds / Home

©2006 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.