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May 2009

Missing the pictures? See the May 2009 eBook!

 With reports this month from Moonduster on a summer in New Zealand; from Jeff of Sailors Run on singlehanding around Cape Horn; from Talion on being taken to a prison island in Mexico; from Hurulu on crewing across The Pond on another boat; from Thailand on the horrible and senseless murder aboard Mr. Bean; from Moonshadow on cruising Southeast Asia; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Moonduster — S&S 47
Wayne Meretsky
Winter In New Zealand

I can't believe a quarter of a year has passed since I arrived in New Zealand. Nor can I believe it's been longer since I've written. So much has happened that I really don't know where to begin. Among the highlights have been fixing some niggling problems with the boat, finding some great restaurants, meeting a few dozen boatbuilders, racing on Wednesday nights on a carbon-fibre-canting-keel sport boat, racing Moonduster in the Bay of Islands Race Week with a pickup crew of 12 and breaking absolutely nothing except the budget, speeding tickets, whales, dolphins, penguins, mussels, scallops, watching the exchange rate move in my favor by 30%, having my boat in the Auckland Viaduct for the three weeks of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series — perhaps the biggest event in sailing this year — and best of all, meeting a truly amazing woman.

Life up north in Opua and the Bay of Islands was beautiful, slow and relaxing. Unfortunately, it was also fraught with the anxieties of the international cruising community who choose to simply mill about for three months waiting for the tropical storm season to pass so that they could continue their journey through the pages of Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes, the how-to guide for the uninspired circumnavigating cruiser.

I stayed quite a bit longer than I'd wanted, waiting for a small masthead jib halyard sheave to be ordered, sent back, manufactured from scratch, lost, delayed at the anodizer, delayed with the courier, and delivered during three days of howling wind and torrential downpours before finally being installed. By the time it arrived, my plans to cruise the Bay of Islands had to be severely curtailed in order to get the boat ready for Race Week.

Race Week was a blast. We did fairly well, especially when one considers that a dozen people who had never set foot on the boat had to get things figured out with no practice days at all. I took a literal ton of stuff off the boat, dug out the racing sails, ordered crew shirts — hey, we won Best Dressed — and arranged box lunches. We finished mid-fleet, having pretty good boatspeed considering the top wind speed was only about 10 knots. Our big problem was local knowledge, or lack thereof, and, thus, not knowing where the current was or how close to the beach we could sail as we wound our way through the islands. However, big fun was had by me and, I believe, everyone involved.

With Race Week over, I moved south to Auckland for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. On a complete lark, I called the harbormaster at the Viaduct, the centrally located facility built for the 2000 edition of the America's Cup, and got a really great side-tie for only $36 NZ a day, or less than $20 U.S. The Viaduct is an amazing place, right in the heart of Auckland and just a three-minute walk to the LVPS Pavilion where many of the world's best sailors were milling about for 15 days of match racing in IACC boats. The local boys won the LVPS, defeating the Swiss 3-1 in the best-of-five finals on Valentine's Day.

With the series over, the Viaduct has emptied out, and it's time to see more of New Zealand. Within the next two days, weather depending, I'll go back north to Opua to collect some cruising gear and then head even farther north, around the northern tip of the North Island, and then 400 miles south to Nelson, which is located on the northwest tip of the South Island. Nelson is the Santa Barbara of New Zealand — great pinot noir, rich farm land, a thriving art community — and all far enough off the beaten path so as to not get overrun by tourists or even Kiwis.

— wayne 03/05/09

Sailors Run — Baba 40 Ketch
Jeff Heartjoy
Singlehanding Around The Horn
(Longbranch, WA)

After many years of cruising around the Pacific and doing two Ha-Ha's with my wife Debbie, aboard our 1980 Bob Perry-designed Baba 40 ketch, I decided that I wanted to do a nonstop singlehanded passage from Callao, Peru, to Buenos Aires, Argentina — which, of course, would involve rounding Cape Horn. I did this passage of a lifetime between December 11 and January 25, taking 45 days and 10 hours to cover 5,629 miles. That's an average of 123 miles a day.

The sailing conditions the first 2,500 miles were the best, sailing close hauled on a course that kept me 800 miles off the west coast of South America. After 12 days, I reached 90 degrees W, where I attempted to change my course from southwest to a southerly one along 90 degrees longitude.

After three weeks at 45 degrees south, everything began to change. It became much cooler and the humidity was almost 100%. The seas were a minimum of 15 feet, increasing with each new front to about 25 feet. And my estimates of the size of the waves are probably conservative. The typical sailing conditions went from one day of fine sailing, to one day of rough sailing, to one day of survival-type sailing where I just tried to keep the boat speed below 6 knots to avoid broaching while charging down the face of steep waves.

After 3,000 miles I arrived at Cape Horn in relatively calm conditions that lasted about four hours. This allowed me to sail within about 10 miles of Cabo de Horno.

The next 500 miles out to the Falkland Islands were good, with wind on the beam and much reduced seas because I was in the lee of the South American continent. But the last 1,000 miles to Argentina featured some of the hardest miles, as I was facing headwinds with the same low pressure systems hitting me every three days. Once again, the wind, as measured on deck ranged from 20 to 50 knots. Thirty knots was the average windspeed. Because of all this, it took me 1,500 miles to cover the 1,000-mile straight line distance. The seas were smaller, however, seldom exceeding 22 feet. Nonetheless, they were steep, and the pounding was horrific.

It was during a 50-knot gust while I was hove to that I took what was the closest thing to a knockdown. Stuff belowdecks came loose like never before. Some of the oil deep in the bilge found its way up to the turn of the bilge, creating quite a mess.

The final hurdle was the 200-mile sail up the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires. This was a very long distance to have to dodge heavy ship traffic, follow channel buoys, and avoid numerous shipwrecks. It was complicated by the fact that the diesel had seized up, so I had to dodge ships while under sail.

The collateral damage from the passage is as follows:

1) The Perkins 401 diesel seized up. The cause was oil draining out of a cracked dipstick tube while under extreme angles of heel for long periods of time in rough seas.

2) The Monitor windvane's main vertical support tube broke off after being slammed by a huge breaking wave.

3) Wind generator blades were broken after the mizzen halyard blew into them.

4) The 110% genoa was torn in the area of the clew while rolled in 85%. It was the result of flogging while gybing in 50 knots of wind.

5) The Boom Brake line parted during a gybe in heavy winds. Fortunately, it had already absorbed the energy of the gybe.

6) The depthsounder failed upon reaching the shallows of the Rio de la Plata. The failure was caused by water — from waves breaking into the cockpit — being forced into the instrument.

My greatest fear during the voyage was personal injury that might have incapacitated me. My injuries were as follows:

1) A minor gash to the head while being tossed around belowdecks.

2) A smashed finger, the result of getting it caught between the main traveller and the stop for the main traveller.

3) A fractured hand when I took a tumble on deck into the Sampson post in rough seas in the Rio de la Plata. Fortunately, this happened on the last day of my adventure.

This singlehanded trip around Cape Horn has been the greatest challenge of my life. It tested me to my limits — and at times, beyond my limits. The highest winds I saw were about 50 knots, the biggest seas about 40 feet. The hardest thing to deal with were the cold and damp conditions south of 40 degrees latitude. I had a good diesel heater, but it wasn't safe to operate in those extreme conditions. A vented propane heater might have worked. I burned 40 gallons of diesel during the trip.

The most amazing thing? According to my trip odometer, the highest recorded speed, averaged over a period of five seconds, was 28 knots! I just don't know how this could have happened other than ripping down the face of one of the huge waves.

My loving wife Debbie — who supported me from land and who rejoined me here in Buenos Aires — and I both hope solo passages are behind me for a long time to come. It took me more than a week to recover from the weariness I felt upon arrival, but I've since healed and mustered the energy to replace the diesel and get Sailors Run back into shape for future adventures.

Would I do it again? "Hell no!" is my resounding answer. Once was enough. Furthermore, I believe that I was lucky to have had it as good as I did.

— jeff 05/24/09

Jeff — Congratulations on a tremendous personal achievement! Having now done it, we can only imagine the appreciation you must now have for the likes of Francis Joyon, who singlehanded around the entire world, including rounding Cape Horn, in just 57 days aboard his maxi trimaran IDEC.

Talion — Gulfstar 50
Pasty Verhoeven
Getting Taken To A Prison Island
(La Paz / Portland)

About 80 miles NNW of Punta Mita on the rhumbline between Banderas Bay and La Paz is a group of four islands that are collectively about 50 miles long and five miles wide. Why four islands are called the Tres Marias is a mystery to me. What is well known is that there is a prison on one of these islands, and the sailing directions and cruising guides warn all vessels to stay clear of them. If you don't, the guides say you'll be subject to interception and detention.

I've hated detention ever since grade school, so we've always passed to the south side of the islands. We've never seen any sign of life ashore, but the sea life in the area — probably because even commercial fishing boats are prohibited — seems abundant. Since nobody seems to know how far off the islands you're supposed to stay, or even which one is home to the prison, and since we've never been inclined to follow the rules, we've gotten closer and closer every time we've passed by. And we've still never seen anyone. That is until the end of March, when we left Banderas Bay after the Banderas Bay Regatta, and headed to La Paz for Sea of Cortez Sailing Week.

My crew consisted of me, Allison Cary, and her 20-year-old daughter Mercedes. Yes, we were an all-women crew. Anyway, the wind took us north of the islands, so as we closed on them, we plotted a course that would take us three miles off the north side of the islands. When I came on watch just after midnight, Allison had us on a course five miles to the north of the islands. We could see lights on one of them.

Ten minutes after Allison went below, a white light approached the port side of Talion. Not wanting any trouble, I smiled at it and waved in an attempt to be friendly. As the light got closer, I could see that it was coming from a panga with about eight men aboard. Three of the men were dressed in camo with big black boots, and they carried automatic weapons.

Before long, the panga was so close that she was slamming into the side of Talion. I wasn't very happy about that. The men started screaming in Spanish, and the ones holding the automatic weapons looked to be about 17 years old and their eyes seemed to twitch. Given the narco violence in certain non-tourist areas of Mexico, members of the Mexican police and armed forces have reason to be twitchy. Since I only know enough Spanish to order a taco and find a bathroom, I called out for Allison. She didn't have much success communicating with them, so she yelled for Mercedes, who grew up in La Paz living aboard the boat Free Run. She knows her Spanish.

After a few minutes, two men, one of them with a gun, jumped onto Talion. Things seemed to be getting worse! One guy crouched down near Mercedes and started talking to her. After short time, Mercedes reported that we'd passed too close to the prison island for their liking. They wanted us to turn around and follow them to the island for an inspection. At the time, we were motoring away from the islands as quickly as Talion could go. "Tell them we apologize, we'll leave right away, and we won't do it again," I told her. I suggested they could inspect the boat right where we were.

Alas, the man told Mercedes that the guy who needed to do the inspection was on the island. Deciding that the men were just following orders and couldn't free us, we felt our only choice was to go to the island. So we turned Talion around.

The island did not have the best yacht facilities. In fact, we were instructed to tie to a massive ship dock, with truck tires for fenders that were larger than Talion. After I said, "No way!", they offered a crumbling concrete pier with rebar sticking out as an alternative. Right. Finally, they agreed that we could anchor. Naturally, the first time we tried to set the anchor, we dragged. We held on the second attempt, but as we were setting it good, the panga came along our starboard side, slammed into Talion, and a bunch of men screaming in Spanish jumped aboard. Letting go of the wheel, I stood up on the cockpit seat and screamed at them to back off. They might not have understood my words, but they picked up on my mood. They let us finish anchoring, at which time we opened the lifeline gate and motioned for them to come aboard.

So there we were, three beautiful women having be taken to not just a prison, but a prison on an island in Mexico. It seemed like the beginning of a plot for a movie a lot of guys might enjoy watching. In any event, we were told that the Director could not inspect our boat until morning. Until that time, we would not be allowed to remain on the boat. Let's see, they wanted us three women to leave the safety of our boat to spend the rest of the night at a Mexican penal colony. No way! We argued. We pleaded. We begged. “Señor, por favor, deja al compromiso, por favor."

They told Mercedes that if we did not cooperate, they had the right to confiscate Talion. "Okay then, give us a minute to pack. Martha Stewart wasn't around, so we had no idea what to pack to spend a night in a Mexican prison. Let's see, jammies, change of clothes, toothbrush, jewelry and cash. What about the flare gun? Hair-dryer? Sheets, for god's sake. Would we need our own food. Let's see, camera, boat papers, computers, cell phone . . . should we set off the EPIRB while we're at it? We were tossing suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks, groceries, and anything else we could think of in the cockpit. The pile was huge. It was 3 a.m. before we decided that we had all the necessities, so we went up into the cockpit.

As we got topsides, the men looked at the pile, waved their arms, and said something to Mercedes. Apparently the big pile had changed their minds. They'd decided we could stay on the boat! Before they left, they did a short inspection, took down some information and kept our passports.

We were awakened the next morning at 8 a.m. Seeming to be in a big hurry, they gave us our passport and said we needed to leave right away because another boat was coming. As we left, we took the opportunity to pass as close as possible to the remaining island. We saw whales breaching, schools of dolphins, birds, and the beautiful topography of these remote islands. There has been talk of making the islands a maritime park or even a resort with casinos. We hope they leave it the way it is.

Before we left, we were told that all vessels are required to stay at least 12 miles from the Tres Marias — but that it's possible to obtain a permit to visit the islands and the little village near the prison.

— patsy 04/15/09

Hurulu — Islander 36
Nathan and Naomi Beckord
Another Boat Across The Puddle

After doing last November's Ha-Ha aboard our boat, we spent an excellent couple of months cruising the Sea of Cortez and Mexico's Gold Coast, making it as far south as Zihuatanejo. The highlights included Isla San Francisco, Tenacatita and Chacala, and the fact that the exchange rate went from 10 pesos to the dollar to nearly 16 to the dollar — making Mexico extremely affordable.

By mid-February we were back in La Cruz Marina on Banderas Bay, berthed next to multi-Puddle Jump veteran Bob Bechler and his wife Caryl on their Gulfstar 41 Sisiutl. Without intending to, we found ourselves getting seriously swept up in all the Puddle Jump excitement, what with all the seminars, slide shows, and rooftop sunset happy hours. However, we had only budgeted for a seven-month 'sailing sabbatical' and had never planned to make the Jump. Further, we didn't want to deal with getting our Islander back home from French Polynesia.

Fate stepped in and provided a solution to our new desire to sail to the South Pacific. One afternoon I helped Mike and Veronika, new arrivals, dock their Jeanneau 46 Apple. During a dinner of street tacos, we were invited to do the Puddle Jump with them! Almost before we knew it, on March 10, we set sail for the Marquesas.

The first few days were a little rough, as we had choppy seas and we were all still getting our sea legs. We were also working out the kinks in our watch schedule, and trying to keep the autopilot, SSB, radar, and fridge all powered up without running the diesel too often. By the 10th night, we were in the groove, and spent day after day flying the spinnaker in 8-12 knots of wind, trying to catch Bravado, the fleet leader. Other boats in this first wave of Puddle Jumpers included Love Song, Carinthia, Avatar, Milonga, and Hypnautical. Our radio check-ins were always fun because Roger on Hypnautical brought a DJ-like presence to the net.

By Day 13, at 3 degrees N and 128W, the wind suddenly shifted to come from the southeast. For the next two days we flew along at 8.5 knots. Could we have already made it across the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone? Alas, we were not, as just south of the equator — where we all became shellbacks — the puffs died out and we were effectively becalmed in 1 to 3 knots of wind. For three days and nights the sails flogged.

Finally the calm broke, at which time we started to have some of our fastest runs yet toward the Marquesas. We finally arrived at Hiva Oa on the morning of March 31, having taken about 21 days to cross. After all that time, the smell of land — a mixture of bougainvillea, citrus and earth — was wonderful. Lovesong and Bravado were already in the anchorage, and Carinthia and Hypnautical sailed in that afternoon. That night, a vibrant and boisterous party took place on Carinthia. By midnight, the big Lagoon 440 catamaran was awash with empty rum bottles, all the captains, and crew, which included at least eight kids and five dogs.

After exploring Hiva Oa a bit, Naomi and I hopped a plane to Papeete, and as we write this are waiting for our friends Roger and Tobe of the Redondo Beach-based Catalina 440 La Palapa to make it across. They recently took off as part of the second wave of Puddle Jumpers. Once they arrive, we'll join them for a couple weeks of cruising the Marquesas. Then we'll fly back to our boat on Banderas Bay to wrap up our cruising season.

Overall it was a fun crossing — much easier than I had expected — and was a nice way to break up the cruise on our boat. I just wish there was a way to bring Mexican prices — and street tacos — to Polynesia.

— nathan 04/09/09

Mr. Bean — 44-ft Sloop
Malcolm and Linda Robertson
Murder In the Land Of Smiles
(Hastings, England)

Attacks on cruisers are fortunately very rare, but if it seems like more cruisers have been attacked or murdered lately, it's true. The most recent incident was the attack on the 44-ft British sloop Mr. Bean in southern Thailand waters on the night of March 34, which resulted in the death of Malcolm Robertson, 64. How and why it happened is absolutely pathetic on several levels.

Robertson and his wife Linda, 57, had owned a number of coffee shops in East Hastings, England. It had been Malcolm's lifelong dream to retire at age 50 and cruise the world. The couple had started with their dream in '98, and had made it about three-quarters of the way around the world before spending the last three years based out of Langkawi, Malaysia. They planned to sail back home later in the year and, in fact, had put out feelers for other boats to join them in a convoy for the dangerous approach to the Red Sea.

Prior to the tragic incident, the Robertsons had been making their way from Phuket to Langkawi. They stopped to spend the afternoon and evening on a mooring at Tarutao National Park off Butang Island. Unfortunately, it was off this very island where three teenage ethnic Burmese — Eksian 'Ek" Warapon, 19, Aow, 18, and Ko, 17 — had been working until three days before on a Thai fishing boat. After committing the murder and being captured, Ek explained to several journalists, including Andrew Drummond, how — at least superficially — the tragedy came about.

Ek, who had been born in Phuket to Burmese parents, said that both his parents had been killed in a car crash when he was 14, so he, like the other two, who are Burmese immigrants, were working on a Thai fishing boat to survive. Burmese immigrants, many of whom have tried to flee the pogroms of the military junta in Myanmar — formerly Burma — are generally hated by the Thais. Indeed, human rights groups have accused the Thais of treating them terribly, often sending them away to die.

In any event, Aow and Ko said they had been in a immigration detention center when a Thai policeman sold them, for $150 each, to an employment agent. They were put to work on Chai 6, a Thai fishing trawler based out of Phuket, along with Ek. Ko claimed that he'd been working on the ship for eight months with little food and no pay, during which time he'd not been allowed to go to shore. As horrible as minors being treated as all but slaves sounds, it's not uncommon in that or other parts of the world.

Having been on the Chai 6 for months with little food or pay and made to work extremely hard, the Burmese trio noticed a light on at the ranger's office at Tarutao Park, not far from where the fishing trawler was anchored for the night. Dressed in nothing but shorts, the three swam ashore in search of food and freedom. At this time Mr. Bean was still on her way from Phuket, nowhere in the vicinity.

The boys made it to the ranger's office, but unfortunately discovered that not only was nobody there, there wasn't any food either. Having been marooned on the island for two days without food, by the time the third day rolled around, they thought they were going to die. It was on that day that Malcolm and Linda showed up with Mr. Bean and took a mooring. Desperate, Ek said the three young men decided they would wait until dark, then swim out to the yacht and steal some food and the dinghy.

Why in the hell they didn't just swim out to the boat during the day and beg for food is not clear at all. Or just swim out and beg the Robertsons to call authorities to take them off the island. But for whatever reason they didn't, and it would cost Malcolm his life.

"At midnight," Ek said, "we swam to the yacht and climbed aboard. At first we looked for food on deck, but there was none. Then I found a hammer and decided to go downstairs to look for food. When I got below, I found a flashlight. Then I opened one door and saw a woman sleeping. I quietly shut it before she woke up. Looking around again, I found a knife that I could use to cut the line to the dinghy.

"Then I heard a cough from up front, and figured that the wife must have been sleeping in one room and the man in the other. Initially the man just turned over and didn’t wake up. So I crouched down and started looking for food again. But the man turned over again, and quickly sat upright. Our eyes met. He came towards me shouting. I struck him twice with the hammer, knocking him semi-conscious. He fell down, and I went straight for the ladder. The lady must have heard, because as I was going up the companionway, she came out and screamed. Showing her the knife, I shouted 'Stop!' in English. She stopped, and after making her go back in her room I tied her up."

"I shouted for Ko to check to see if the man was dead. Ko said that he was not dead. I told the boy to watch the lady, then went to see the man myself. As I went in that room, he stumbled into me, sort of head-butting me. I was shocked and scared, so I hit him with the hammer three or four more times. The final blow cracked his skull, and he collapsed to the floor. Police claim that I slit his throat, too, but I just used the hammer.

"After that, we got the lady to start the boat. Then we sent her back to the room and tied her up again. We drove the boat for what seemed like only a couple of minutes before we put the engine in idle. I went down below with Aow, and we pulled the man's body up on deck, then threw him overboard. We did it because there was blood all over the boat and people would get suspicious.

"I don’t know why or how I could have done it," said Ek, who readily confessed that he alone was responsible for the murder. "From then on we ate everything we could find, and decided to motor far away. After about nine hours, we got near a port, which we found out was Satun. Deciding to leave the boat, we left the woman tied up naked in her cabin, but loosened the ropes a little because she complained of the pain. Then we got into the dinghy to motor away. But it broke down about 30 yards away."

Once the trio had left, Linda Robertson managed to untie herself. Knowing the 2-hp outboard was notoriously unreliable and that only her now-dead husband could get it to run, she rushed ondeck to weigh Mr. Bean's anchor. The young men were already trying to paddle back to the boat, but fortunately they had only let out about 30 feet of chain. Robertson was able to get the hook up quickly and motored away.

She then motored over to some fishing boats tied up not too far away. Her yelling and gesticulations initially frightened the fishermen, so she ultimately had to jump from her boat to theirs to make them understand. They quickly called the police, who responded immediately and in force. The three young men, who had made it to shore, were quickly picked up. Once the local Thais learned what was going on, a mob formed and tried to beat them. As mentioned before, there is a lot of bad blood between Thais and immigrants from Myanmar, made worse by the terrible refugee situation.

Ek made no bones about who was responsible for the senseless murder. "I did it, and I did it alone," he said. "First I knocked the farang [foreigner] down with a hammer. Then when I learned he was still alive, I hit him several times until I heard his skull crack."

In a truly unmoving coda, Ek said, "Please tell the lady that I'm sorry. I know I do not deserve to live. If I ever get out of jail, I'm going to lead a good and proper life." Wonderful.

Robertson wasn't moved by Ek's confession. "It's easy to confess to a crime when you've been caught red-handed. The youngest of the three was the only person who showed any remorse. He brought me food and drink, and stroked my feet which were in agony because they were so tightly bound. I was trussed up naked like a chicken. It was humiliating. After killing my husband, these people had a picnic aboard our boat. I could hear them laughing and joking as if they didn't have a care in the world."

Ironically, Robertson says she doesn't want any of the three to be put to death for their crimes. Ek, on the other hand, says he deserves to die. We're siding with him on this one.

"Malcolm was unique," said Linda. "He was a wonderful, caring man. He wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we all loved him. He was a warm, kind person with a loving heart — and a bit of a temper."

When one's boat is boarded or one is being attacked, there is always a difficult strategic decision to be made — do you fight back or do you try to comply enough with the attacker's wishes so they let you live? Speaking of her deceased husband, Robertson said, "He was not the sort of man who would just sit back and let something happen. I really wish he'd been that way. The fact that he tried to get them off the boat was a mistake."

With all respect to the grieving Mrs. Robertson, they might well have killed Malcolm anyway. Desperate people do desperate things.

The attack shocked yachties in the southern Thailand and Malaysia region. For despite their being in the Malacca Strait, which has a long history of piracy, there hasn't been a yacht attacked in the area in recent memory. Almost all yachties there usually feel safe.

Curiously, Tarutao National Park, about 15 miles off the coast of mainland Malaysia, and about 15 miles north of Langkawi, was an area notorious for pirates during World War II. There were two prisons on the island, and the guards and the prisoners joined forces to go into the piracy business. The well-known Thai novel The Pirates of Turatao is based on this era. British troops eventually stopped the piracy.

"I'm trying to close my mind to the bad memories and relive my fond ones with Malcolm," said Robertson. "Malcolm was a great kidder. He had everyone convinced that Rowan Atkinson — the actor who played Mr. Bean, the very popular comedic film character in England — sent him a sizeable cheque every year for using the name Mr. Bean. Of course it was tosh, but he earned a few drinks out of that one."

— latitude 38 (based on information from multiple news sources)

Moonshadow — Deerfoot 63
George Backhus
Looking Back At SE Asia

Shortly after we arrived in Croatia last fall, we put Moonshadow in mothballs, so we haven't done much cruising here yet. But we plan to spend at least two months cruising the Dalmation coast this summer.

You asked for my impression of cruising in Southeast Asia, and I have to say that it was one of the highlights of my 16 years of cruising. I didn't think I would be all that interested, but I have to say that between the beauty of the area, the fascinating cultures, the wonderful people, and great food, we totally enjoyed it. We still look back on those years fondly and miss the places where we hung out.

It's been a few years since we were in Southeast Asia, but that said, I believe it has to be about the least expensive place to cruise these days. I don't know what Mexico is like, but when I left P.V. — many years ago — I was paying about $800 for a 62-ft slip. When we were in a full service marina — with wifi and all the usual amenities — a few years ago, we paid $300. I'm sure the prices have gone up since then.

We got to Southeast Asia by joining the Darwin to Kupang, Indonesia, rally. While Indonesia was beautiful and interesting, it was very hard work to cruise there. The officials are difficult to work with and corrupt, the people are poor and hassle tourists endlessly, and provisioning — even if not expensive — was a real mission.

Our next stop was the big city-state of Singapore. The prices for berths were high, but Singapore has a lot to offer the city slicker. We spent a lot of nights on the town. The good restaurants there are probably on par with the States for price, but the adult bevvies were very expensive. Singapore heavily taxes sinful things such as booze, gas, tobacco and so forth. That said, a lot of bars did 2-for-1 happy hours, and we enjoyed many delicious meals at the 'hawkers' stands' all over the city. And it was only $3 to $5 for a main dish. The variety of food was tremendous, and this being Singapore, the hygiene was second to none.

We then headed up the Strait of Malacca to Malaysia, where life was much less intense and way less expensive. The people were great and the prices are very reasonable. We hauled in Penang for half of the quote we got for hauling in Phuket, Thailand, and were pleased with the work. Penang is an epicurean heaven, with Thai, Malay, Indian and many other cuisines all within a short walk of the marina. Marinas in Malaysia were very reasonable — if a bit rough around the edges. But hey, it was part of the ambience.

We left Moonshadow at Langkawi, Malaysia, on numerous occasions in order to take land trips to China, Vietnam and Cambodia. I paid a minder about $70 a month to check in on the boat and wash her weekly. We took an Intrepid Journeys tour in China because of the language issue. We spent a month in Vietnam, planning our own trip as we went, traveling by bus, train and plane from top to bottom. It was fantastic! We found clean and comfortable hotels for $15 to $20 a night with A/C, wi-fi and breakfast. Food in Vietnam and Cambodia is very reasonable if you eat like the locals. If you opt for the better places with a French influence, you might spend near U.S. prices. I would not recommend Vietnam by yacht, as they have no facilities to speak of.

Thailand is not much of a bargain anymore. That said, with Tesco, Carrefour, and Costco-type warehouse stores, provisioning is as good as it gets. The marinas are a bit more pricey, but first class. We rented a Suzuki Samurai for about $240 for the month to drive around. The cities like Phuket and Bangkok were way cheesy and mostly catered to sexual tourism. We saw lots of fat old Yanks running around with 'Thai-takeaway'. We liked the small islands in Phang Nga Bay and off the west coast much better than the mainland.

For those who enjoy cocktails, Langkawi is the place to stock up. It's duty free, so everything is very inexpensive. Mt. Gay was $11 U.S. for a quart, the same as Bombay Sapphire. We also found a good range of New Zealand wines. Provisioning was easy, and because of tourism there are plenty of decent restaurants at reasonable prices. Langkawi is a cruiser's paradise. There are lots of beautiful anchorages short distances apart, but there is also an international airport, so friends could easily connect to and from anywhere in the world. The Langkawi area was our absolute favorite!

To sum it all up, I would say Southeast Asia is the new Mexico — but it's a very long way from the States. I would recommend that people get here by a Puddle Jump and Coconut Run down to New Zealand, then enjoy a southern hemisphere summer before continuing on.

If I have any of my portfolio left after we finish our circumnavigation, I plan to take Moonshadow back to Queensland, Australia, for a couple years, then head back up to Malaysia and leave her there permanently.

— george 02/05/09

Cruise Notes:

Coming home from work last night, we bought half a barbecued chicken from Whole Foods. Our feathers got a little ruffled because the somewhat scrawny half bird cost $5.99. Whole Foods isn't nicknamed 'Whole Paycheck' for nothing, of course, but nonetheless we'd just come home from La Paz, where we'd bought plump and delicious rotisserie chicken at CCC for about $4.50 USD. It's indicative of how inexpensive food can be in Mexico — even when dining out at almost everywhere but the tourist traps. Take Bandito's, a pleasant outdoor restaurant among the palm trees behind Marina de La Paz, where they cook on a grill that's been installed under the hood of a Chevy pick-up truck. Here are some sample prices: Quarter-pound hamburger — $1.75. Club sandwich — $3.50. Fish filet — $8.50. Fourteen-ounce rib-eye steak dinner — $12. Taco, burrito, or chimichanga dinner — $4.50. It's so inexpensive to dine out in Mexico that many cruisers seldom cook aboard. Frugal cruisers have had a couple of great things going for them in Mexico this last season. First, the exchange rate between the dollar and the peso turned in the favor of gringos by up to an astonishing 40%. The second is expressed in a truism that somebody at Sea of Cortez Sailing Week — we can't remember who — came up with: The less expensive the food in Mexico, the better it tastes. Speaking of other good deals, we had to take the bus from La Paz to the airport in San Jose del Cabo via Cabo San Lucas. The bus was nothing short of luxurious, with seats out of business class on an airplane. The three-hour trip only cost $16.

The one cost that is headed in the wrong direction, at least in the La Paz area, is berth rates. "Marina Palmira in La Paz has changed hands, with the guy who built the marina, then lost it to the bank, having regained ownership," write a couple with a boat in the marina who wish to remain anonymous until they leave. "The previous harbormaster and office staff have all left, reportedly because they did not agree with the management principles of the new owner — which included being expected to work 12-hour days. In addition, the new management has become, at least in our opinion, unfriendly to cruisers. For example, they immediately raised the rates dramatically, cancelled discount agreements announced for the summer, and are not honoring the quoted prices for those who had prepaid. Worse still, they are not returning the deposits of people who have arrived and don't want to pay the higher rates. If that wasn't bad enough, they are now charging $1/day for water! All of this was done without notice to tenants. Trying to discuss the situation with the general manager is difficult, as he wants people to believe that he doesn't understand English. But the marina's response to most complaints is that they are a new company, and therefore agreements with the old company are no longer valid! Needless to say, lots of boats have left, and there are many open slips."

We were in La Paz shortly after the Marina Palmira ownership and policies changed, and it's true that many customers were very unhappy, and that the berth rates — which had been the lowest in town — have skyrocketed. For example, the berth fee for a 40-footer, including water and electricity, has gone up to $738/month. Compare this with Marina de La Paz, a longtime cruiser favorite, where it's $530/month, or Marina Costa Baja, which is much more luxurious and offers many more amenities, where it's $745/month. Cruiser after cruiser has told us that Marina Palmira is now "half empty". What makes this so puzzling is that when we called Marina Palmira on April 18 and asked what it would cost to berth a boat for the next three months, the woman who answered was apologetic. "We might be able to find a berth for you for a day or two, but we have almost nothing in the 36- to 50-ft range." Who knows, maybe they are trying to get slips vacated in order to begin much needed maintenance. By the way, Eduardo Corona Arballo, the former harbormaster at Marina Palmira, says he misses all his friends, but wants everyone to know that he is the corporate dockmaster for Grupe Marinas de Baja, which has two small marinas in Cabo San Lucas, and the marina at Rocky Point.

Before anybody planning to head south freaks out about marina prices, we want to remind everyone that it's still possible to anchor right off the La Paz waterfront for free. About 100 skippers were doing it when we were there. We should also point out that berth rates for the summer in Banderas Bay, where the supply ratio is much different, are considerably less expensive. Harbormaster Raffa Alcantara at the nearly new Riviera Nayarit Marina reports they are charging $552 during the summer for a 40-footer, and that Marina Paradise is just a few cents per foot less than that.

"Mexico is still a great place to cruise, and the weather is turning really nice," writes J. Mills of the San Francisco and Newport Beach-based Catalina 470 Location. "At the end of the month, I will be heading north to the Conception Bay to begin a singlehanded sailing adventure. Given the poor economic times, it seems like the best of all possible strategies right now. The economy in California is so bad that I had to close up one business, my consulting prospects are thinning out, the job market is bleak, and the stock market and political news are on a short-loop repeat cycle of fear and recession. What more can you say than 'Time to go cruising!' I haven’t listened to the news for four days, and I'm already sleeping better. Now if I can only figure out a way to pay for my boat. But the nice thing about regular cruising, as opposed to 'commuter cruising', is that you don't have to have a schedule and there are no time constraints. After going north into the Sea, south would be the obvious direction to go, with Costa Rica or Panama looking pretty good and doable by July. At that time I'll decide if I need to return to work or will continue on. I've always wanted to sail around the world, so why not now?"

July in Costa Rica or Panama? Yikes! Unless you love heat, humidity, rain and lightning, you might want to be somewhere else. Southern California or Ecuador come to mind. Indeed, a surprising number of folks who did the Ha-Ha, Banderas Bay Blast and Sea of Cortez Sailing Week tell us they are headed back up to California for the summer to say 'hi' to family and friends, do boat projects, and then come south as part of another Ha-Ha. On the other hand, we have to agree with Mills, because for sailors interested in cruising who don't have family or job obligations in the States, now is the great time to cruise. Life is truly more relaxed, less expensive and more upbeat on the water south of the border. For those who have a little cash left, it's also now possible to play the stock market from many anchorages. For example, an investor, whose identity we're not going to reveal, trades as follows:

"I have several accounts, each with a different purpose, so I can trade wherever I am. When I'm in remote areas in Mexico, I have a full-service account with a brokerage firm and a broker who is a sailor, so she understands my situation. The account isn't large, but it provides daily quotes to my Blackberry and my OCENS satellite email program. So no matter where I am each business day, I can pick up my quotes — which include the Dow, S&P, TSX, the dollar and about 10 companies that I follow closely. My Blackberry also has two financial news services — FOX and the Financial Times — where I can pick up headlines and additional stock quotes. It isn't a perfect scenario, but it does allow me to keep informed and take advantage of peaks and dips. For instance, right now I'm 50 kilometers east of Muertos in the Sea of Cortez, and I just bought ABX shares through my broker via my Blackberry. I also have a trading account for when I'm in port, an options account — I live off the premiums — and a general investment account. But I only use the full-service one when I'm sailing because this Blackberry — using Rogers/Telcel — is amazing."

Obama does the Cuban Slide. On April 13th, President Obama made a much-awaited announcement on policy changes with regard to Cuba. Most people we know cheered when they heard the news that he had lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba. But they weren't as happy after reading how narrowly focused the lifting was. "It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime." Despite a few philosophical differences, we're generally very supportive of President Obama and think he's the right man for the job, but WTF?! The nitty-gritty is that Obama is saying unlimited visits to Cuba are to be allowed — provided that you have a relative there who is a second cousin or closer — or live with a person who has such a relative! So what, are we now going to see Cuban-Americans renting space in their homes just so houseguests can qualify to legally travel to Cuba? And how strange to see an African-American president, of all people, announcing that different groups of Americans have different rights. If that policy doesn't require the illegal torturing of the Constitution, we don't know what does. And how insanely ironic it is that the people of Cuba aren't allowed to leave their own country, and that Americans, "land of the free", are prohibited from travelling as they wish.

Screw it, if our Leopard 45 'ti Profligate didn't have charter obligations in the British Virgins, we'd sail her over to Cuba right now — and spend money, thereby intentionally violating the U.S. Treasury Department's ridiculous prohibition against "trading with the enemy." For we're convinced that if push came to shove, the Obama Administration would turn a blind eye to U.S. boats sailing to Cuba — just as President Clinton did when he was in the White House and we sailed our boat to Cuba for the first time. One of the big reasons people want to go to Cuba, of course, is that they're not supposed to and they all want to be 'bad'. But a word to the wise: we think many of the people who say they'd like to go to Cuba might be disappointed. If you went looking for wilderness sailing and meeting people one-to-one in mostly rural areas, we think you'd really enjoy it. But as anyone who has been there can tell you, Cuba has literally been crumbling for decades, so it doesn't have the infrastructure for a surge of visitors, the food is largely dreadful, the service terrible and, as one tourist industry expert put it, "there are only five hotels on the entire island that would satisfy typical Americans." We're in no way saying this as a criticism of the Cuban people, who for more than four decades have had to live under a "Stalinist version of Carirbbean caudilloism", and therefore haven't had the raw materials with which to keep their country patched together, prepare good food, and develop a tradition of service. Everybody says they want to visit Cuba before it changes. We say don't worry, it's a very large island — over 1,000-miles of coastline — so there will be "unspoiled" areas for decades to come.

"Latitude asked, so I'll answer — careening is great!" writes Steve Phillips of Southern California. "In '01, our family bought a Brown Searunner 37 trimaran in Michigan that we named Fidgity Feet. The tri was a fixer-upper, and we worked on her for 5.5 months in Michigan. Nonetheless, we didn't finish the fixing until we were in the Bahamas. We probably careened Fidgity Feet three or four times on the fine Bahamian sands in '02 to do maintenance. It sure beat doing the work in a boatyard. For nine months my wife and I cruised with our sons, who were five and eight at the time. Boy, was it ever hard to come back!"

Here's an update from Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House, who got us started on the recent round of discussions about careenings. "We arrived back in El Salvador at 7 a.m. on the flight from L.A., having gotten about three hours sleep. We made it back to Beach House at 10 a.m., slept until 4 p.m., had dinner, then went back to bed. We awoke at 11 p.m. to set the anchors in the dark for our second careening, which would take place at 1 a.m. By 3 a.m. we were high and dry. We slept until 5:45 a.m., at which time we started to put on the new props. At 1 p.m., we motored off the bar. The props worked great! Once we got back to the dock, we put the crap away, cleaned the boat, filled the water tanks, yada, yada, yada. By then it was 8 p.m., and I was ready for my first complete night's sleep in three days. Besides, we were getting up the next morning at 6 a.m. to go the big market — which was an hour's drive each way. Our plans are to visit Nicaragua briefly, spend about three weeks in Costa Rica, then head out to Cocos Island, the Galapagos, and the Marquesas. I'm no longer a young man, but we're heading west anyway. But after this harried week, I'm surprised that we're going anywhere."

"I received the following report from friends Dave and Marcia Meyer of the Pacific Seacraft 37 yawl Juaniata, and thought Latitude readers should know about it," writes Mellisa Davids of the Berkeley-based Hylas 47 Pura Vida:

"3/22/09 — As pleasant as Mantanchén Bay (near San Blas) appeared at first glance, this Sunday afternoon provided a road bump to remind us to always be vigilant and aware. Friends anchored nearby dinghied over to welcome us. After dropping his wife back at their boat, our guy friend took a tour around the bay. Suddenly three jet-skis converged on his dinghy, one bumping the side tube, forcing our friend to slow and stop. Pinning him, the three jet-ski operators demanded money from him. Our friend picked up his oar and swung it like a madman, startling one jet-skier so much that he fell into the water. The trio then took off, but not before they ran circles around the dinghy, filling it with a foot of water. Our friend was badly shaken by the incident. Multiple attempts to reach the port capitan or Mexican Navy base in San Blas by VHF went without any response. Fortunately, the harbormaster at the new Singlar Marina provided assistance, as he contacted the assistant port captain, who contacted authorities. Before long, three different groups of heavily armed military and police arrived to confront the culprits. Our friend, who was very satisfied with the response of the authorities, accepted the apology of the jet-ski guys and declined to press charges. The authorities remained on shore until the offenders, who were not locals, left the small fishing community. The remainder of our afternoon and evening was pleasant and quiet, as the weekend revelers slowly drifted away."

What a curious story. These guys had to be muy loco to: 1) try to rob a guy in a dinghy, as he would be unlikely to carry much of value, and 2) try to do it while sitting on very visible and easily traceable jet-skis. We bet a nickel they were rich Mexican punks from inland. It's been our experience that the Mexican police and military are very responsive to complaints by tourists. Citizens and officials in Mexico know that tourism is their number one money-maker, so they don't like it when visitors are robbed or hassled. We hang out at Punta Mita a lot, and the little military contingent there — which sometimes patrols the beach carrying automatic rifles — couldn't be nicer or more reassuring.

Since we're on the subject of cruiser safety in Mexico, we spent half the winter in Mexico between the mainland and the Sea of Cortez, and never once felt threatened. What's more, not one of the hundreds of cruisers — or land-based tourists — we spoke with felt any danger either. So far close to 7,000 people have been killed in the narco wars in Mexico. Some 6,000 of them are narco warriors who were killed by other narco warriors — the same type of drug turf-related killings that take place in Oakland and San Francisco. About 1,000 police or soldiers have been killed in Mexico. Most, but certainly not all, of these police were in the employ of one narco gang or the other, and killed by opposition narcos. The leading cause of gringo death in Mexico? Car accidents — and by a huge margin.

We suppose many of you saw the wire service story about the dog, named Sophie Tucker, that fell overboard from a sailboat off Queensland, Australia, survived on an island alone for four months, and then was found by rangers and returned to its owners. Jan Griffith reported that after the dog had gone overboard in rough seas and disappeared, her whole family was devastated. Yet somehow the dog managed to swim five miles to St. Bees Island. Having been domesticated, the dog had a rough time of it for the four months on the uninhabited island, but then apparently survived by eating baby feral goats. When the dog and family were reunited, they both went crazy with happiness — as you might imagine.

There are many cruisers who seem to love their dogs as much as, if not more than, their children. But it can cause some problems. For example, the rangers for the Marine Reserve at Caleta Partida welcomed the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week fleet, but asked everyone to please respect two very important rules in particular for the ecological health of the island: No BBQs and no dogs. We'd like to say that all cruisers follow these rules, but we'd be lying if we did. Cruiser dogs on the island have the potential to become a real problem, and not just on ecological grounds. You see, the rangers spend a couple of nights a week in a little shack at Caleta Partida, and they can sure as heck see that cruisers do bring their dogs ashore. The long term fallout could be restrictions on cruisers visiting the islands. We wish we had a solution.

"This will be my last crossing of the Pacific starting from Mexico," reports Bob Bechler of the Kent, Washington-based Gulfstar 41 Sisiutl, who is already a veteran of three of them. But as he notes, "I've previously said that I wouldn't do another one after the first three, and here I go again." Bob and his new wife Carylina plan on crossing to French Polynesia, and later to the Marshall Islands. They'll see where the future takes them from there. "Wherever we go, Latitude will be our companion," they say.

Sometimes readers in Mexico, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and other far off places complain that they aren't always able to get copies of Latitude 38. We tell them they can, because every issue of Latitude, in magazine form — and in brilliant color — is available free online. All you have to do is get a good internet connection, go to and look for the download instructions on our home page. But online isn't good enough for some people. Unfortunately, we can't have unlimited free distribution all over the world because it's prohibitively expensive. One partial solution is for boatowners back in the States, who are about to return to their boats in Bongo Bongo, to pick up a handful to share with fellow cruisers in Bongo Bongo. Not only will the recipients of the magazines in Bongo Bongo thank you — perhaps with a sundowner or more — but you'll become part of Latitude 38 distribution history. Gracias, merci, etc.

No matter where you cruise, we want to hear from you, so send us your brief email reports, hopefully accompanied by a couple of high resolution photos.

Missing the pictures? See the May 2009 eBook!


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