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May 2011

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  With reports this month from Scarlett O'Hara in Malaysia and Thailand; from Blue Banana in Barcelona; from Seabird on getting hailed on in northern Baja; from Coco Kai in Vanuatu, the Solomons and PNG; from Lazy Daze in Lanai; from Windrose in George Town in the Bahamas; from 'ti Profligate in the French West Indies; and Cruise Notes.

Scarlett O'Hara — Serendipity 43
John and Renee Prentice
Malaysia and Thailand
(San Diego)

Langkawi Island was our last stop in Malaysia before heading north into Thailand. The good news is that provisioning in Kuah Town, Langkawi, was excellent, although it required that we visit many small shops. Although Malaysia is a Muslim country, the selling of duty-free booze is a big business on Langkawi. Fortunately, Langkawi is home to many long time cruisers, who have compiled a definitive list of shops and services of interest to cruisers.

We left Langkawi on a Tuesday and motorsailed 44 miles north up the Malacca Strait — which separates Peninsular Malaysia from the huge Indonesian island of Sumatra — to Thailand's Koh Kata at an anchorage in the Butang Island group. The white sand beach was lined with palms and other vegetation, making it very inviting. We were so excited to see clear water again, that we jumped into the 85° stuff almost as soon as the anchor was set. It was beautiful, and we had Jimmy Buffett on the iPod, so what more could you ask for?

Two days later, we headed out to another anchorage 45 miles north. But half an hour into the trip — BANG! — a turnbuckle on one of the shrouds suddenly failed. John did a good job stabilizing the mast, and we continued on to Koh Rok Nok, another nice Thai anchorage. The water was a little green, but still nice for swimming. We explored the beach and found the famous 'penis shrine' that friends Paul and Susan Mitchell, they of the 25-year circumnavigation with the schooner White Cloud and the sloop Elenoa, had told us about many years before. It's a major attraction in this part of the world for those with fertility issues.

Phuket, Thailand, is supposed to be a yachting center, so we're hoping to get several boat issues taken care of there. At the top of the list is the now suspect standing rigging for the mast, which we hope to have checked out and repaired by the famous Rolly Tasker outfit. We also want to get our new roller furling system installed. In addition, one of our PUR watermakers — the "good one", in fact — has died, leaving us with no spare. That's scary. It's things such as this that have us wondering whether Scarlett is ready for the long and often very windy, rough crossing of the Indian Ocean.

We've been in Thailand for a while now, and we love it! We are currently anchored off Monkey Beach on the north side of Phi Phi Don Island, about 24 miles east of Phuket. The south side is very crowded, with tour, dive and assorted speed boats churning the water like a washing machine. But the north side is calm, with only a few tourists.

Phi Phi Don is a tourist haven, with lots of junky tourist stuff, dive tour shops, ATMs, and restaurants. But it has a cool vibe and has been a nice stop — especially since we got the only mooring, and it's free. We paid some park fees at the last island, but have no idea what it covered and don't care.

So far it seems that boat workers in Thailand aren't necessarily very qualified. For example, having drowned our 15-hp Mercury outboard in Indonesia's Kumi River, we gave it to a local 'certified' Mercury agent for repair. After two attempts at this common repair, he gave up, with our 15 horses acting as though they only have the energy of three. We also tried to have two alternators rebuilt, and got them back in pieces. Thailand isn't Mexico. In fact, John has decided that if something is beyond his repair abilities, it's beyond the skills of most yachtie workers in Southeast Asia.

But even when boat problems arise, we're still enjoying this crazy life of ours! And having now spent a couple of weeks in this country, our verdict is that Thailand rocks! Unfortunately, our Thai visas are only good for 30 days, so we'll soon have to do a 'border run' to get our visas renewed. Luckily for Scarlett, nobody cares how long she stays.

— renee 04/15/11

Blue Banana — Gulfstar 50
Bill and Sam Fleetwood
14 Years Into A Circumnavigation

When couples go cruising, things rarely go to plan. Bill and Sam Fleetwood, for example, originally intended to do a seven- to 10-year circumnavigation. "We've been out 14 years now," laughs Bill, "and we've only made it as far as Spain."
Of course, that the two got together as a couple wasn't planned either. "I took out a Classy Classified ad in Latitude advertising for a family to sail with," remembers Sam. "And Bill responded. I guess I should have specified no single men, because he didn't even have a boat at the time while I had three — a Shields, a Mercury and a Laser."

But the two quickly became a couple. In fact, they bought a Catalina 36, also through the Classy Classifieds, and shipped her up to the Pacific Northwest for three months of cruising. They christened the boat Whirlwind in honor of the speed at which their romance developed, and naturally got married.

Upon their return to California, the couple sold Whirlwind and purchased their Gulfstar 50 Blue Banana. The couple did Ha-Ha #4, which was back in '98, and in the spring of '99 crossed to the Marquesas and South Pacific.

"The Gulfstar has been a perfect boat for us," says Bill. "She's always been a perfect lady, and never done anything to harm us. And she's easy enough for an old guy like me and a young woman like Sam to handle."

"We like the ketch rig," adds Sam, "because if the wind comes up, we just drop the main and go with a headsail or staysail and mizzen."

"When we crossed the Pacific," Bill recalls, "there was a period of about a week during which time we didn't fly the main at all. It was always either a spinnaker or genoa and the mizzen."

Like a lot of new cruisers, the Fleetwoods honed their cruising skills as they went along. "We installed an SSB radio in San Diego right before the start of the Ha-Ha, just like a lot of people do," says Bill. "About half an hour before the first roll call, I said to myself, I'd better figure out how to use this thing. But the Poobah said our signal was loud and clear."

"We subsequently started a couple of cruiser SSB nets in the South Pacific and Australia," says Sam, "some of which are still active. We're still using the same Icom 710, although we did have to get some corrosion picked out of it when we got to Athens."

Everybody asks cruisers which are the best places they've ever been, so we asked the Fleetwoods about the worst. It took them a long time to think of any, but finally Bill mentioned the Sudan and Eritrea. "The poverty was so terrible in those countries that it was unpleasant."

"On the other hand," says Sam, "the diving in the Red Sea was fantastic. Even though we had to motor into the wind for the last 500 miles, it was still worth it."
Getting to the Red Sea, of course, required that they transit the Arabian Sea's 'Pirate Alley'. "We passed through there in '07," says Bill, "but I can tell you that we wouldn't do it now."

"It was dangerous enough back then," says Sam, "but it's gotten much worse. We don't know what you're supposed to do now, put your boat on a ship from the Maldives to Turkey for $30,000?"

Curiously, the couple carried a 12 gauge shotgun. "We're not 'gun people'," says Bill, "but we smuggled it onto Blue Banana when we were in Malaysia so we'd have a weapon when we passed through Pirate Alley. Once we left the Red Sea, we didn't want it anymore, as we were certain we wouldn't be allowed to bring the gun into Israel. So we threw it and all the ammo overboard."

Sure enough, as soon as they got to Israel, a security agent came aboard and asked if they had any guns.

"The best place we've been so far has been French Polynesia," volunteers Sam. "It's so beautiful and exotic, and the people are so beautiful and friendly. French Polynesia has a magic we haven't found anyplace else in the world."

"Where else could you see a guy driving a D-6 Caterpillar while wearing flip-flops, a flower behind his ear, but no hard-hat?" laughs Bill.

"Of course," adds Sam, "Thailand is great, too. The islands there are fantastic, and the water is warm and clear."

"We were anchored just off Phuket when the horrible tsunami of '04 hit the Indian Ocean," recalls Bill. "We looked in our rear view mirror, and all we could see were disaster and mayhem. Last winter we were in Tunisia, where the revolutions of the Arab world started. And before that, we'd been in Yemen, the site of current turmoil. Our friends call the disasters that befall as the countries we've been to the 'Blue Banana Effect'. But we haven't been to Libya, so nobody can blame that on us."

"Blue Banana is currently in Barcelona, which — except for the pickpockets — is wonderful!" exclaims Sam.

"Pickpocketing is the national pastime of Spain," agrees Bill. "It's right behind soccer in popularity."

"Nonetheless," continues Sam, "everybody stays out all night and has lots of fun. In Spain, you have a big lunch of two or three hours, then you have a few tapas in the evening, then you socialize the rest of the night."

The couple — the lucky stiffs — plan to spend almost the entire summer in Spain's wonderful Balearic Islands. "This winter we'll be sailing across the Atlantic," says Sam, "so we're planning to see the Wanderer in the Caribbean."

We just hope their plans don't change again.

— latitude/rs 04/15/11

Seabird — Swan 51
Lou Freeman
What the Hail! On a Bash?
(San Diego)

I was enjoying a nice weather window for the last leg of my fourth singlehanded Baja Bash in early April. Both the GRIBs and weather guru Don Anderson were in accord that there should be light winds for the last 80 or so miles from Cabo Colnett to San Diego. But then the sky off Colnett began to look really ugly.

Since I had a cell phone connection, I called my son and daughter-in-law in San Diego, and asked them to email me all the weather info that they could get — and ASAP! I told them that despite my being a veteran of many ocean miles, the look of the sky was making me very nervous. So I didn't care if they were getting ready to go to bed, I needed them to get me the latest weather information.

Before long, squalls began to appear on the radar. When your radar 'sees' weather, you know you're in for something. Soon the wind speed increased slightly, and there was some rain accompanied by unwelcome flashes of lightning.

About 9:30 p.m., my daughter-in-law Jean emailed me a weather warning. According to the weather service, a "cold upper level low will continue to bring scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms capable of producing gusty winds, small hail, brief heavy rains, and potential for water spouts over the coastal waters." I passed the report on to Going South and Marionette, two boats travelling north in company with me. We then settled into a late-night and early-morning period of squalls and shifting breezes.

I went on deck to drive at about 3:30 a.m. because the shifting winds necessitated constant tacking and course adjustments. Fifteen minutes later, it got colder — and hail started pouring down! I was under the bimini, so it took a moment to figure out that it was indeed 'hard rain'!

I eventually looked down to see that I was standing in three inches of icy slush! And I wasn't wearing any socks with my boat shoes. It was all over in less than 30 minutes, but because it was so unpleasant, it seemed to last much longer.

It seems to me that the weather had no respect for the borders between countries. What's the deal with hail off the coast of Mexico?

But as we passed Todos Santos about dawn, the skies were clearing up and life seemed to be much better. When I arrived back home in San Diego the following morning, it was bright and clear.

— lou 04/15/11

Coco Kai — 65-ft Schooner
The CocoNuts
Vanuatu, the Solomons and PNG
(Long Beach)

Greetings Wontaks! We are now in Madang, Papua New Guinea, "one of the prettiest towns in the Pacific". It's nice to be back in a town, enjoying finding things such as ice cream and whole wheat bread, after being completely off the grid for most of the past six months. Our last update left off in June of '10, with Jen and Coco off to the States, and Greg and Ducky boat-sitting in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The gals got back to Vila just in time for the celebration of Jen's 'Big-0' birthday, which happened to be the same Saturday as the annual charity horse races, the social event of the year! The ex-pat community, and lots of locals, turned out in their finest attire to sip Moet champagne, place a few bets, and compete in the best-dressed contests. Coco got tapped to enter the young lady's competition, but alas, didn't have enough feathers and baubles to compete with the outlandish attire of the locals. The racing wasn't up to Kentucky Derby standards, with fewer jockeys than horses finishing most races, and Mother Hubbard dresses for those entering the lady's race.

We left Vila a short time later to spend several months working our way up through the amazing western isles of Vanuatu. We spent three more months moving northwest through the 'savage' Solomons, then continued on to the eastern islands of PNG, and are now working our way down the west coast of the 'mainland', with our goal being to reach Australia by the end of April.

These travels have taken us to some of the most remote and primitive places on earth. The people in these areas are darker Melanesians than the 'butterscotch' Polynesians we encountered in the Eastern Pacific. Outside a few larger cities, the locals live in small, family-based villages — as they have for thousands of years. Magic still abounds, and competes with the Christianity that was introduced by missionaries.

The islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons, and Papua New Guinea are so mountainous and rugged that hundreds of different languages have evolved over the centuries. Pidgin is the common tongue, and we have picked some of it up along the way. 'Wontaks' — or 'one talks' — are the small group that speak your local language, and as a result are your responsibility. This has the advantage of creating an amazing social safety net. The downside, however, is there is no private property. If you bought an extra bag of rice, any of your wontaks can — and will — help themselves. The ex-pats who marry local ladies soon find that the rest of the woman's extended family — man, woman and child — move right in with them. It makes the "horrible mother-in-law" stories of the States seem tame by comparison.

We had to laugh when a local kid asked us if our friends on another boat were our wontaks. Considering how we cruisers all look out for one another, we suppose it's true. But it's been an amazing nine months full of insights and adventures.

Vanuatu is made up of two parallel chains of islands. We had worked our way down the eastern group to Port Vila last spring, and after returning from the States last June, began working our way up the western chain — meaning Epi, Malekula, and Espiritu Santo. We stopped at many amazing anchorages, where we met friendly locals, traded for fresh fruits and vegetables, visited 'magic sites', and snorkeled all the remote reefs. One magic site had a tall rock holding the spirit of a powerful chief. It gives off a ray of light that is only visible in the developed film.

In the sheltered Lamen Bay of Epi, Coco and Jen had the honor and the privilege of snorkeling with the resident dugong, which is the endangered cousin of the manatee. This gentle giant was just snuffling his way along the bottom, eating weeds with his weird and wonderful vacuum cleaner of a snout.

At Malekula, we met Kristine, a lovely Norwegian 'Margaret Mead' who had been living with a local family for a year. As their culture dictates, she was adopted as an official member of their family. We enjoyed dining with her family for our first taste of laplap, which is the, well, interesting national dish. It consists of a doughy paste made from local root vegetables, and is mashed into a flat circle a few feet in diameter. It's then stuffed with fish or pork — the later sometimes with the hairy skin still attached. After being wrapped in large leaves, it is buried and baked on hot coals for a few hours.

Every village seems to have a slightly different version, and competition is fierce on whose is the best. We were schooled in the etiquette of eating the finished product. Rich coconut milk is squeezed into an indentation made in the middle of the baked laplap, which is then cut into big chunks. You pick your chunk, then break off small pieces to dip into the warmed milk. No finger or double-dipping please!

Some of the best laplap we tasted was at a village fund-raiser to help a local lad meet the 3,000 vatu price for his beloved on another island. Marriage is an expensive proposition here, too, and sometimes it's only after many years of cohabitation and arrival of children that the marriage is finally official.

Our last stop in Vanuatu was Luganville on Espirto Santo, which was a large U.S. bomber base during World War II. We dove the famous — and amazingly intact — wreck of the USS President Coolidge, the holds and decks of which are still littered with Jeeps, landing craft, machine guns, helmets, dishes — and even a crusty typewriter.

Another Santos highlight was the Millennium Cave Tour. The Lonely Planet Guide made it sound like just a nice stroll through the rainforest. But it ended up being a grueling five-hour, mud-infested hike, involving slipping and sliding up and down ravines, clinging to rough branch "ladders" to avoid plunging to certain death down steep cliffs, and sloshing in thigh-deep water for a mile through a bat guano infested cave. It finally came to an end with a boulder scramble through river rapids to the start of the 'hidden valley', an incredibly beautiful river gorge. We had a relaxing float on our "Dora the Explorer" or inflatable dinosaur doughnut rings (Greg put up a serious battle to avoid getting stuck with a "girly" ring) down this most beautiful, peaceful bit of heaven, only to have our float end too soon with a hike up the "steep bit" — the scaling of a water fall — before the final 90-minute hike back to the van. Coco, of course, had a fabulous time scampering ahead with a couple of "20-something" backpackers while Jen brought up the rear, and Greg amused himself by recording all the embarrassing moments on film! Oh, to be 11 again!

In late August we left Vanuatu to head north to the Solomon Islands. More on that next month.

— jen 03/15/11

Lazy Daze — Ericson 41
Rick Daniels
Cruising Lanai
(San Diego)

I've been having a great time here in Hawaii since arriving after my 24-day crossing from San Diego back in July of last year. Manele Bay, a very small and sheltered harbor on Lanai with just 22 slips, is one of my favorite places. Most of the slips are rented out, but there are a few available for short term use. It's also possible to Med moor to the seawall. The harbor has power and water on the docks and in restrooms, but no hot water. The latter doesn't matter, because water comes out of the tap about at 78 degrees.

It's when swimming off the beach at Manele Bay that you'll most likely have an encounter with the very friendly spinner dolphins. Whale season just ended here in the islands, and for the previous three months there were literally hundreds of whales and calves, breaching and blowing everywhere.

One of the great things about the 15-by-15-mile island is that it's virtually deserted, with just over 3,000 residents. The island used to be a Dole pineapple plantation, but is now privately owned. For the most part it's just open fields, forests and jungle. And you might not expect it, but there are lots of deer, too.

The only town is Lanai City, which is so small and quiet that it doesn't even have a stoplight. The town originally provided housing for the plantation workers. It's laid out around large and open Dole Park, which has some of the most beautiful fir trees I have ever seen. They are hundreds of feet tall and straight as an arrow. The town surrounds the park, and is just two streets deep. That's it.

There are also two luxury hotels managed by the Four Seasons group, and two world class golf courses.

The hiking on Lanai is awesome. There's also a ferry that runs between Lanai and Maui four times a day. There are no buses on the island, but the hotel shuttles go everywhere. Of greater interest to sailors, there are anchorages all around the island.

Before I got to Hawaii, I'd heard lots of talk that sailing here wasn't much fun. But I've found it to be awesome. Sure, there are fewer full service harbors, and slips are hard to come by, but that's slowly changing. Harbors are being repaired and rebuilt, and most of the damage from the recent tsunami has also been fixed.

Most of the harbors on the west side of the Hawaiian Islands were damaged by the March 11 tsunami. Fortunately, most of the boatowners took their boats out to sea to wait it out. It was the boats that weren't taken out to sea, for one reason or another, that were damaged.

In addition, docks were ripped from their pylons, electrical service was flooded and shorted out, dock boxes were washed away, and parking lots were flooded. The seawall in Lahaina kept the water out of the downtown area, but the harbor and 'sport boat row' flooded.

My Lazy Daze was on a mooring, and I was delivering a Cal 43 from San Diego to Maui when the tsunami hit. Luckily, I had some good friends watching over my boat. They took her out to 2,000-ft-deep water with all the other boats from Lahaina. They waited out there for two days until the harbor was reopened.

My view of Hawaii is that these islands are every bit of all the good things I'd heard about them — and more! And it's always warm.

— rick 04/19/11

Windrose — Tatoosh 42
Steve and June Jones
George Town Cruising Regatta

Steve and I have been anchored here at Stocking Island, off Great Exuma in the Bahamas, for more than a month. We stayed so that we could participate in the George Town Cruising Regatta, along with the crews of 300 other boats. It's been a lot of fun. The weather has been good, too, with sunny and breezy days only interrupted by two rainy afternoons. Steve quickly became brown as a nut, and I even got a very light tan. We've both become accustomed to walking barefoot.

Every morning Steve would get up early to listen to the weather forecast by Chris Parker from Florida. (When Parker later showed up at the regatta, we attended five of his seminars, learning lots about radio and satphone equipment, as well as software and forecasting. We also attended seminars on other subjects dear to cruisers, such as fishing, battery charging, cooking aboard, and so forth.)

After the weather, we'd listen to the George Town cruisers' radio net. As is the case with most nets, local businesses, regatta organizers, and cruisers would call in with information, and cruisers would call in with reports of things they wanted to buy or sell. Those who needed mechanical, electrical or other assistance could usually find help from someone in the community who either had or knew what they needed. The net was a great way to keep up with what was going on around the harbor.

We'd follow the net with breakfast, then try to complete a few boat chores, such as cleaning, organizing, varnishing, sewing — and Steve's endless equipment repairs. Usually we'd also have to run the engine to cool down our refrigeration.

Every third day or so, we'd take our dinghy to town, which was a mile to the southwest on Great Exuma Island. We'd stop at a small beach inside the Government Dock to drop off our garbage, and then head for a bridge with a narrow stone tunnel that led into enclosed Lake Victoria. It's on the shore of this lake that Exuma Market maintains a dinghy dock. The market provides free water for cruisers, so there were usually several dinghies lined up next to the hose waiting to fill their jerry jugs. Typically there are about 30 dinghies tied up to the dock, so you can't help but make cruising friends.

Exuma Market has a good selection of foods, but the prices are sometimes double or higher than Florida prices. For instance, zucchini was $4/lb and a small box of mushrooms was $5. Fortunately, rum was a bargain! A couple of local farmers sold fresh tomatoes, cabbage, papayas, onions, and so forth. There is a laundromat about a block from the dinghy dock, and it's also an easy walk to the liquor store, gas station, small hardware store, a couple of banks, a few restaurants, a post office, the propane place, the WiFi spot, and a few shops. It's a small town, centered around the government buildings and the dock where ferries and small shallow draft island frieghters dock.

We always enjoyed our trips to town, but the dinghy ride back across the harbor — and into the wind — got pretty salty. Because of this, the groceries and backpack had to be put into plastic bags, we had to put on rain gear, and I often removed my shorts to keep them from getting wet. We'd then motor across the harbor as quickly as our little dinghy and 4-hp motor could manage. Once back at the boat, we'd jump into the shower at the back of the boat and rinse all the salt off.

As you might imagine, both planned and informal parties sprang to life almost every evening during the regatta. There were quite a few good musicians in the group, plus we enjoyed Rockin' Ron's collection of dance music at several dances. These dances were usually held at the Chat 'n Chill bar and restaurant on the beach just ashore of our anchorage. The place serves up delicious burgers, conch burgers, and rum & tonics.

The beach curves around behind the restaurant and frames three small hurricane holes. From the center of these, there is a short path to the windward side of Stocking Island, which has a long, sandy beach that's a good place to look for shells. Sometimes we hiked to the summit of the island — all of about 70 feet — to the monument that overlooks the harbor.

Adjacent to the Chat 'n Chill are a couple of volleyball courts, a bunch of picnic tables under the trees, and a bulletin board. This was ground zero for the Cruising Regatta. Sometimes we also went to the nearby St. Francis Resort for events and seminars.

During the regatta, we participated in the Coconut Challenge, which consisted of teams of four collecting coconuts and paddling inflatables with swim fins. We also did the around-the-harbor race, and the around-the-island race with Windrose, taking third in our division! Nor did we miss the small boat races, Trivial Pursuit night, an 'all sand trap' beach golf tournament, and the arts & crafts events.

Steve was a star at the dinghy races. He spent a couple of days rigging our 8-ft dinghy with old El Toro parts and a sailboard mast, and I awoke the day of the races to the sound of him hacksawing away at the mast. Despite having never sailed our dinghy before, he took third in that race. He also got second in the dinghy and kayak paddling races. So we now have several red and yellow regatta award flags flying with our Richmond YC burgee below our port spreader.

Saturday night was the regatta's grand finale — a variety show and picnic staged at the park in town. This event was a benefit for the Family Island Regatta, the native Bahamaian sloop races in April. The Cruising Regatta also presented hefty donations to other local causes. Cruisers sang, played music, danced, and put on skits and a short play during the variety show. Steve and I sat on cushions on the ground in the front row, snuggling together against the cold night wind, and really enjoyed the show.

But the best part of the regatta was the opportunity to become fairly good friends with a lot of cruisers, and getting to spend time with them ashore and on their boats. Steve and I really enjoyed the community aspect of the gathering.

This week we've been waiting out a stiff easterly wind, but hope to leave soon for St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgins. Meanwhile, we've been working on the boat. This weekend there is a local music and cultural fair at the park, so we will get to hear some good 'rake and scrape', which is what they call Bahamian music in these parts.

— june 03/20/11

'ti Profligate — Leopard 45
The Wanderer and de Mallorca
Au Revoir To Spray And Wet Butts
(St. Barth, French West Indies)

"Get off your ass!" It's not just an admonition to do something with your life, but it's also — if you're careful — a good way to enjoy cruising more. We — lucky us — get to spend a couple of months each winter at the Latitude office in St. Barth aboard the publisher's Leopard 45 cat 'ti Profligate, which spends the rest of the year working her butt off in a yacht management program in the British Virgins. For years now, the biggest — and about only — pisser of the whole season in St. Barth has been getting wet each morning when going ashore in the dinghy.

Our routine is as follows: wake up, jump into the warm blue ocean, wash up on the back deck, rinse with fresh water, get dressed, then hop into the dinghy for the ride ashore to put in eight hours of hard work in the chaotic internet cafe. Because the wind always blows in the Caribbean, and it's always upwind from the cat to the harbor and the dinghy dock, it would usually take all of about 30 seconds of our being in the dinghy before our freshly-washed upper body got at least a light coating of salt spray. And/or a wavelet would come over the inflatable tube, soaking our asses for the rest of the day. While the water was always plenty warm, we nonetheless found it an extremely exasperating way to start the day.

Thank God the solution — which is certainly not a new one — was simple and cheap. We bought a three-foot section of PVC tubing and two hose clamps. We made four three-inch cuts in one end of the tube to make it flexible enough to fit over the outboard's tiller, then used the two hose clamps to secure the tube in place around the tiller. Total cost? About $5. Total amount of labor? About 15 minutes. Degree of difficulty? Even a publisher can do it.

Thanks to the tiller extension, we could then stand up in the center of the dinghy, firmly holding onto the painter to help maintain our balance. Bending one's knees upon the dinghy's contact with any wakes was critical. The net result was that we no longer got our ass wet, and we rarely got any spray on our freshly-washed body. And if we did get spray, it was only on our lower legs, which for some reason didn't seem to bother us. If you don't believe small things can make a huge difference in the quality of your cruising life, you've never tried this.

But — and this is as big as a butt on a Kentucky Fried Chicken-eating 500-pounder — standing up while riding in a dinghy may be dangerous. For example, it's probably easier to fall overboard if you're standing up — particularly if you hit a confluence of boat wakes — at which point your dinghy might do a 360 and come back and run you over. To prevent this, we always lean back, holding onto the painter with our right hand, and keeping our left hand on the throttle extension. At least as important, we keep our knees bent, as they are the shock-absorbers. Probably doubling the risk is the fact that de Mallorca also stands in front of us, holding onto the same painter. But what the hell, life is full of risks. And on a scale of risky things done on boats in the Caribbean, this doesn't even register at the bottom of the scale.

Because of the possible danger — hey, people fall off their dinghies when sitting down, too — we don't recommend that anyone else make this modification or use this technique. We're just reporting what's worked great for us.

— latitude/rs 03/15/11

Cruise Notes:

If somebody had asked us a month ago what the safest cruising destination was in the world, we'd have said it was St. Barth in the French West Indies. But as if to prove there is no place that is immune to senseless violence, particularly the senseless kind fueled by drugs, there was a murder on the nearly always carefree island of 10,000 on April 3. Not only was it an atypical crime for the island, which hadn't seen a murder in 12 years, it was atypical of most murders in that a younger white woman violently murdering an elderly black woman. Specifically, a 32-year old white French woman from Guadeloupe stabbed the helpless 57-year old Haitian housekeeper Maricèle Vincent over 30 times. Further, it took place on the main road not 200 yards from where we were taking an evening stroll on the quay.

According to Sonja, a French-Canadian friend who had gotten a ride into town with a French guy, they came across a white woman stabbing an elderly black woman in the middle of the road. When the driver jumped out to confront the reportedly drug-crazed assailant, the bloodied Haitian woman stumbled into the passenger seat with Sonja. Confused by the situation and fearing for her own life, Sonja hopped over into the driver's seat, then ran off down the road to the quay, where she bumped into us. By the time we got to the scene, the authorities had arrived. But in the meantime, the young French woman had somehow managed to fend off the driver, and repeatedly stabbed the Haitian woman, resulting in the poor housekeeper bleeding to death on the street.

Maricèle's three sons, all of whom live on nearby St. Martin, denounced what they described as the incompetence of the St. Barth authorities. After all, the assailant was well known to police and mental health authorities, and had become increasingly aggressive to others, doing things such as making racist insults, pulling a knife, and throwing stones at people and pets. The island's vice president of social welfare said the gendarmes couldn't have done anything because nobody had filed an official complaint — an assertion disputed by several people who said they had done just that. Further, when there's a law enforcement emergency on normally peaceful St. Barth, the 911 call goes to the island of Guadeloupe, which is 150 miles away. If someone there decides action needs to be taken, they call the island of St. Martin, which is 15 miles from St. Barth, and where someone makes the final decision whether or not to call someone on St. Barth. As a result of the inefficient system, it apparently took a very long time — perhaps more than two hours — for gendarmes on St. Barth to respond to reports of a crazy woman threatening people with a knife. When they finally did respond, it was too late. Even then, the assailant managed to stab a gendarme on the wrist before trying to swim away. It was a murder most foul, and hundreds of people, black and white, turned out for a memorial service at the murder scene.

Despite the appalling murder of an innocent woman, if anyone asked us what the safest cruising destination in the world is, we'd still say St. Barth. We view the incident as being as random as getting struck by lightning.

A tip of the Latitude hat to John and Janet Colby of the Portland-based Hylas 42 Iris. After both had been back in Portland and undergone cancer surgeries, it was unclear if they'd be able to sail again. But not only did they sail again, they did something few cruisers do — they sailed east to west along the entire length of Australia's Great Southern Bight. More in next month's Changes.

What are the differences between cruising in Mexico and in the Eastern Caribbean? The sailing conditions comprise one of the biggest ones. The wind never really stops blowing in the Caribbean, with 20 knots the average in December and January, and 10 to 18 knots the rest of the year. Naturally, you get big seas with a big breeze. The wind tends to be much lighter and less consistent in Mexico, and there are frequent periods of calm. The Caribbean water is also much more blue than off the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and the water stays warmer throughout the winter. On the other hand, Mexico is much less expensive, the people of Mexico are about 100 times more friendly, and there is infinitely more sea and bird life. In addition, it almost never rains in Mexico in the winter, while in the Caribbean you get squalls every couple of days. You might think that winter squalls are a bad thing, but they are actually a very good thing. Just ask anybody in Mexico if they wouldn't want their boat to get a complete freshwater washdown every couple of days.

What kind of vessel do you need to make an open water passage or sail across an ocean? That's a common question. The answer is that it depends on which ocean and which way you're headed. If you're going to sail the Baja Bash, for instance, you're going to need a real boat, preferably one that sails to weather pretty well. But if you're going to sail 2,800 miles west across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Eastern Caribbean, which is almost always all downwind, just about anything that will stay afloat will do the job. This was proven in March by Anthony Smith, John Russell, David Hildred, and Andrew Bainbridge of the sailing raft An-Tiki. The 40-ft raft was built of four 40-ft long PVC pipes and 14 cross-pipes, and the power was supplied by a single 400 sq. ft. sail on a 40-ft mast. Crude as the raft sounds and is, the old men — ringleader Smith is 85 — made it across in 66 days, averaging about four knots. "What else do you do when you get on in years?" explained Smith, who funded much of the project with money he got in a settlement after being hit by a van. "There was nothing to be scared of," said the 61-year-old Russell, "we're old men." Sixty-one is old?

"There was a little excitement on the afternoon of March 25 at the very popular but normally quiet anchorage of La Cruz on Banderas Bay," report Tom and Lori Jeremiason of the San Francisco-based Catalina 470 Camelot. "Word went out on the cruisers' net that a vessel, Fire Fox from Boulder, Colorado, had slipped her anchor, floated east, and made a soft grounding on nearby Punta Pelicanos. At least four cruisers responded in their dinghies as soon as the announcement was made. Others, including Philo, went around La Cruz in search of the distressed boat's owner. Within 10 minutes of the report, the vessel had been pulled off the sand and moved into Marina Riviera Nayarit. Her anchor and rode were missing, leading to the conclusion the anchor line had failed in the afternoon winds. Just another sunny day in paradise!"

"I'm now based in Cartagena, Colombia," reports John Haste, who many years ago sailed out of San Diego aboard his Perry 52 cat Little Wing. "Our original intention was, after selling our house in Panama, to buy a house with a dock in Fort Lauderdale. But with no bottom in sight in the real estate market, we decided to buy a Toyota Land-Cruiser and explore South America. But cruising plans change as swiftly on land as they do at sea, particularly when the chance fell into our lap to buy a gated estate with a 5,000 sq ft house, pool, and a spectacular 180-degree view of Cartegena and the ocean. And for the price of a one-bedroom condo in a not-particularly-good-neighborhood of San Diego! To maintain my passion for sailing, we decided to join the local races they have here every Saturday. Unfortunately, there aren't many people with big boat sailing experience, particularly on big cats in the trades, around to crew. Actually, it wasn't a problem until we had to jibe in from sea to cross the narrow channel at the seawall off Boca Grande, a place where the wind both increases significantly and comes forward. In any event, we found ourselves crossing the sea wall at 20 knots, flying a hull so high that the weather rudder came out of the water! It's the closest I've come to a sailing disaster, and has me thinking that perhaps I should go back to racing light 30-footers. It's been a very difficult decision, but I'm now willing to consider offers on Little Wing, which has hit speeds — with photo evidence — of over 29 knots. If anybody is interested, they can contact me at ."

Kristina Westphal of La Jolla has had a rather exciting life. Born in Germany, she and her family moved to La Jolla when she was four, and she grew up in that pleasant town. Twenty years ago, she traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to be a volunteer English teacher to the Vietnamese. While there, she met and fell in love with Andre von Bijsterveld, a Dutchman who was building a brewery for Heineken in Vietnam. This most international of couples now have two children, Amanda, 6, who was born in Amsterdam, and Isabel, 4, who was born in Cambodia while her dad was doing construction on a skyscraper. Anyway, the family of four has taken a year off to cruise their Beneteau 473 Uno in the rarely-visited Andaman Islands about 400 miles off the west coast of Thailand and Myanmar. We'll have a more detailed report on their adventures in the next issue.

That Kristina turned out the way she did almost certainly has something to do with her father Reinhard, who retired as a shipbroker at the ripe young age of 35, and who has been pursuing various hobbies ever since. For example, he's one of the few adult males in La Jolla who attended a year's worth of auto mechanic classes at a community college just for the fun of it. Reinhard loves sailing, too, which is why he did the '99 Ha-Ha with his Panda 40 Taka Ko.

"After doing the Ha-Ha," Reinhard told us during a telephone interview, "I singlehanded Taka Ho to the Galapagos and Tahiti, but my South Pacific cruising plans had to be cut short because my mother-in-law passed away in Germany. I eventually sailed back via Hawaii to San Francisco, where there was a buyer for our boat waiting on the dock. I had to sell her because my wife said my sailing days were over since we had grandkids. But I later learned about a Hallberg-Rassy 42 for sale in Turkey for just $100,000 — in part because at the time the euro and dollar were trading at parity. It was such an amazing deal that when I flew to Turkey and saw the boat, I had to buy her. I got around my wife's objections by telling her I wasn't buying the boat for fun, but rather as an investment. Indeed, I would sell the boat three years later in Florida for $180,000.

"Of all the places in the Med, my wife and I had the most fun in Turkey. Greece was more beautiful and is more interesting, but the Turks were so much nicer and more polite than the Greeks. It's sort of like the difference between the Vietnamese and the much warmer Cambodians. I didn't think the Med was that expensive, and certainly not as expensive as northern Europe. Slips were about 30% less than in the States — of course, this was back when the dollar bought so much more than it does today. Nonetheless, I'd still recommend cruising the Med. Having singlehanded on almost all my other ocean crossings, I took three crew for the passage across to Florida, as the Atlantic has more ship traffic than the Pacific. I took three friends who had never sailed before as crew, because that way they wouldn't argue with me."

The April 20th Chronicle / had an article by Christine Delsol that actually provided some balance and insight into the personal safety situation in Mexico. "No, we're not recommending a holiday in beautiful downtown Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, or a romantic getaway in Tecalitlán, Jalisco," Delsol wrote. "Even I admit that when I had to fly into Acapulco and drive across the city on my last trip to Mexico, I was just as happy not to be lingering there. But it's still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico's death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place, and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced. The concept hasn't changed: Stay away from the trouble spots and exhibit some common sense, and you're more likely to perish in a tequila-fueled jet ski mishap than at a homicidal drug trafficker's hands."

Delsol reports that outside of the nine violent states, the murder rate in Mexico ranges from 1.1 to 29 per 100,000, with Mexico City's drug related murder rate at just 2.2. For comparison, the murder rate in Washington, D.C. is 24 per 100,000. In Oakland, where at least four people were murdered during the week of the Strictly Sail Boat Show, the murder rate has been about 24 per 100,000 in recent years. In Richmond, which is home to the popular Richmond YC and where we keep a boat, the murder rate has recently been as high as 41 per 100,000. It's something to think about the next time somebody says you'd have to be suicidal to go to coastal Mexico.

"We returned to southern Italy to wake up our Leopard 47 catamaran Azure II for our second summer of cruising the Med," report the Pimentel family of Alameda. "Other yachties are also trickling back to begin their seasons. Fortunately, we became friends with another family boat, Tara from Canada. They stumbled across our blog while searching for information on Stromboli. The kids connected and were kept busy for days while we grown-ups traded information on the places to see and avoid. After scrubbing the boat and putting the bimini back on, we headed to Crotone, at the foot of Italy, on our way to Greece. The wind was crazy though. We had wind from every direction, and with speeds up to 35 knots. With the wind blowing 25 knots on our beam, it took six people over an hour to tie-off our bucking bronco. Then we sat out strong winds in the squeaky, creaky, turbulent port. It was blowing 30 knots from the southeast in the morning, but by afternoon was coming out of the northwest at over 35 knots! Fortunately, we've been able to commiserate with a lovely English couple on Kajtulla, which is also headed to Corfu. After waiting out more windy weather at Santa Maria di Leuca on the edge of the heel of Italy, we stopped at a tiny Greek island to break up the trip to Corfu. It must have been irrational exuberance that propelled Rodney and Leo to jump in the crystal clear water. Leo lasted about 20 seconds in the cold water, while brave Rodney stayed in to clean the bottom. Chilly water aside, we're all excited to be in Greece, as leaving Italy felt as though we were shedding our winter coats.

"Arriving in Corfu," the family continues, "we found it was just like the travel brochures. The mountainous island was green and lush, and the sun is shining! The marina was bustling with Brit workers getting hundreds of charter boats ready for the Easter holiday. The chandleries and stores were stocked up, people were friendly, and they work hard. Most people speak English, which is a real treat. We've been kicking ourselves for not coming here sooner, because the living is easy ­— except for a half-day spent doing all the paperwork, during which time Greek officials loved stamping the many pages of official documents."

Forget Palmyra, let's go to Palma de Mallorca! When we were in Mexico in February and spoke with the ever-charming Cita Litt, owner of the Newport Beach-based Rhodes 90 Sea Diamond, her plan was to sail in the Aloha Division of the TransPac this summer, then cruise the South Pacific. The next thing we knew, she had used her woman's prerogative to change her mind, and told Capt Rob Wallace that the new destination for her magnificently-restored 55-year-old A&R ketch was the Med. Citi wasn't kidding, for by March 24, Sea Diamond was already aboard a Dockwise ship and headed to Florida. And a short time later, she was on another Dockwise ship headed for Palma de Mallorca, Spain. "Sea Diamond was offloaded in Palma on April 9," reports Capt Wallace, and we're now berthed at the Club de Mar. Our new Baxter & Cicero 140% genoa was delivered today, and with Cita expected in about a week, we're cleaning, cleaning, cleaning!"

Just between us, we think Cita and her fun-loving sidekick Sharon are going to have way more fun in the Med than they would have had they gone to the South Pacific.

Let's see, Sea Diamond is going to Europe, the Pimentel family is cruising in Europe for the second summer, and Andrew Vik of the San Francisco-based Islander 36 Geja will be going back for his fourth summer — albeit for half his normal stint. Is this a good time to cruise to Europe? Based on the currency exchange, which as of the middle of April had the dollar within a smidgin of an all time low against the euro, the answer would be no. On the other hand, if one were going to cruise to Europe with the plan of eventually selling one's boat there — as is the case with the Pimentels — nothing could be better than a super weak dollar, as it would make dollar-based boats dirt cheap to Europeans. The same is true for Australia, which is why Aussies are coming to California to buy boats.

"It is with some sadness that we announce the sale of our Jeanneau 45 Utopia," report John and Cynthia of Hermosa Beach. "The sale of our boat — she sold within two weeks of our putting her on the market in St. Martin — ends my 35 years of sailing in the Caribbean and Mexico. Mattie the boat dog will miss her morning swims, but at 13 years of age, it's probably time she became a land dog. We just got the news that Mike Harker of Wanderlust 3 had passed away. While we often sailed in close proximity, we never ended up in the same place at the same time. But we've followed his adventures with interest, as his Manhattan Beach base is right next to ours. It's sad he's gone, but at least he was doing what he loved."

Missing the pictures? See the May 2011 eBook!


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