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May 2015

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With reports this month from Wanuskewin on Chiapas Marina and getting work done inexpensively in Cartagena; from Yvanec on doublehanding across the Atlantic with Monique the chicken; from Curare on sailing to and around Cape Horn; photos from the El Salvador Rally on arrivals this year (pages 112-113); from Profligate on the Caribbean 10 years ago; and Cruise Notes.

Wanuskewin — Catalina 42 Mk II
Michael and Holly Sanderson
Chiapas and Cartagena
(San Diego)

Since the Chiapas area of Mexico has been in the news lately [see this month's Letters], we'd like to share the experience we had there last April.

Enrique Laclette Macias and Memo Garcia Stivalet, who run the Chiapas Marina, are both good friends of the voyaging sailor. Memo took us around to all the various offices — aduana, port captain, migracion. A 'man's man', he knows all the officials, and shares big handshakes each time he sees them. Everything went smoothly between us and officialdom.

We then had the marina haul our boat with their new 70-ton Italian Travelift. The crew did a fantastic job hauling the boat and painting the bottom.

The marina didn't allow you to live aboard while the boat was on the hard, so we needed a hotel. There are two okay hotels on the beach, but they were a little too far to walk. Fortunately, we were able to borrow folding bikes from James and Charlotte of Pegasus while they went back home to Scotland. Apparently we were an entertaining spectacle for the locals as we rode our funny bikes down the highway.

The marina has good high-speed Internet. However, at the time it didn't have individual power and water meters at the slips, so people had to pay a flat daily rate. One rate was for those with A/C, and a lower rate for those without.

The only two negatives about the place had to do with the marina's being in the middle of nowhere. First, the little tienda was so lightly stocked that we had to make an hour car trip to Tapachula to do any real shopping. And while the marina restaurant had delicious food and a wonderful staff, after two weeks we hungered for a little variety.

We toured some of the coffee farms (fincas) as well as the old Mayan ruins. We also hired a tour guide who practices law on the side. For $80/day, he drove us everywhere we wanted to go — including museums, mountain villages, waterfalls, bakeries, shops and so forth.

Our boat, a vet with us of the 2012 Ha-Ha, is currently back on the hard, but this time at the Manzanillo Marina Club at Cartagena, Colombia. In a moment of weakness, we decided to let 'Pedro the Painter', a fellow we met in front of Club Nautico, remove the blue polyurethane paint from our hull and put on 10 coats of blue gel coat. The project is going pretty well, although a little slow.

We've had two years to get used to the Latin American work culture, and things still amaze us. The guys certainly work hard, but as they say in the States, not always too intelligently.

For example, Cartagena has an interesting weather pattern. The wind comes up at noon, by 8 p.m. it's blowing the dogs off their chains, but by 3 a.m. it's calm again. Our workers don't like to plan their work around the wind, so at 4 p.m. each day they have to start putting up plastic sheets to protect their work from the wind. After they leave, the sheets all blow down at the height of the wind. So the next afternoon they have to put the sheets up again. We kind of laughed the first couple of times this happened, saying 'Such is life'. But after it happened every day for a couple of weeks, it drove us bonkers.

Likewise, they'd come to work in the morning — and 30 minutes later would leave to buy the day's materials. Why not on their way to work or the day before? It's just not their way. Since we're paying by the job and not by the hour, our only extra cost for their inefficiencies was extra lay days.

But Cartagena is a very cool old city, and the current exchange rate of 2,500 pesos to one U.S. dollar makes it very reasonable. We're getting new gel coat on the topsides, decks, and cockpit, plus five gallons of antifouling applied, plus a complete polish and wax job, for less than $10,000. That includes the hauling, yard fees, labor and materials.

The Manzanillo Marina Club isn't really a marina or a club as much as it is a working boatyard. But the folks are professional and super friendly.

We have again worked ourselves into a time bind. We'd planned to Puddle Jump this season, but some personal issues forced us to transit the Canal and stay closer to population centers.

It seems so long ago that we wrote Latitude asking where spend our 'career break'. We've now spent a year in Mexico, one in Central America, and the next one will be in the Caribbean — so we'll end up having done both Mexico and the Caribbean after all.

— mike & holly 04/15/2015

Yvanec — 10 Meter Steel Sloop
Guirec Soudee and Monique
Chicken 'Wing-on-Wing'
(Yvanec, Brittany, France

The Wanderer went down to the La Plage Watersports Center at Baie St. Jean on St. Barth to see French sailor Guirec Soudee about a chicken named Monique. A chicken that provided him with 25 eggs while he and the chicken were taking 28 days to sail across the Atlantic last year. A chicken that he brings to work with him each day. A chicken he takes surfing with him. A chicken he plans on taking to Greenland with him. Ah, the French!

When the Wanderer got to the watersports center, he completely ignored the girl in the tiny bikini pole dancing above the sand a few feet away and asked Water Sports owner Jean-Michel if the ‘chicken guy’ was around.

“You just missed him. He took this guy named Puo Kaire to his boat anchored off the Eden Rock Hotel.”

“Puo Kaire?”

"You know, the famous American sailor.”

“You mean Marin's Paul Cayard, the guy who won the Around the World Race, had his own America’s Cup campaign, and was the head of the Artemis Syndicate in the most recent America’s Cup?”

“Oui, oui, him.”

The Wanderer was able to guess it was Cayard because we’d seen him eating dinner with his lady friend at Eddy’s the night before. And he’d been tactician on Rupert Murdoch’s 150-ft Perini Navi Rosehearty during the St. Barth Bucket the week before.

The Wanderer thought it was pretty cool that Cayard, used to getting paid to sail on the most luxurious and/or fastest boats in the world, and his girlfriend, would be curious enough to visit a 33-ft hard-chine steel boat with a chicken aboard, particularly one that was rolling beam to the short swell off Baie St. Jean.

While the Wanderer missed 'the chicken man' that day, we caught up with Guirec Soudee a few days later and grilled him like a chicken. What an impressive guy! Young, personable, unpretentious and quite clearly fearless.

38: Where are you from?

Brittany, France.

Where all the great French sailors are from.

{Laughter.} Yes. I'm actually from the little island there of Yvanec, which is also the name of my boat.

38: Tell us about your boat.

She's a heavy10-meter hard-chine steel boat. But very safe if you're inside.

Where have you been on your trip?

After Brittany, I sailed to Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canaries, then across the Atlantic in 28 days. During that time my chicken Monique provided me with 25 eggs. [Laughter.]

Why a chicken?

For companionship and fresh eggs.

I was going to take a chicken from Brittany, but people there told me that if I did, it might get stressed and not lay any eggs. So I got Monique in the Canaries.

Why would a chicken from the Canaries experience less stress than a chicken from Brittany?

I have no idea. [Laughter.] But Monique laid an egg the very first day, and then one egg almost every day for the rest of the voyage.

Was Monique comfortable or do you have to worry about PETA?

She was very comfortable. She lived on deck and never went below. Sometimes she'd go on the foredeck when it was rough even though I tried to call her back. Once she went forward all dry, but came back soaking wet. But she would often sit on my leg while I drove.

Did you have any rough weather?

We ran into 70 knots of wind off France, and later on 50 knots of wind. She didn't seem to mind.

Is Monique like a domesticated pet?

Almost. She follows me everywhere, and I take her surfing, SUP-ing, and just yesterday I took her skateboarding.

What does she eat?

Chickenfeed. But when I caught a tuna and later a dorado, I fed some to her. She loved it. She's crazy.

Did the eggs taste different after she ate the fish?

Yes. They tasted like fish.

How old is Monique?

She was six months old when I got her, and she's now 18 months old. Chickens live to be five to 10 years old, but they only lay eggs for the first three years.

Where are you going next, and will Monique be going along?

GS: Next month I leave for Greenland, and Monique will be with me. I think I'll pick up three or four more chickens in Canada and maybe a husky. I plan on getting to Greenland in July or August and being stuck in the ice by October. I expect I'll be stuck for eight months, after which I'll complete the Northwest Passage.

Stuck in the ice for the winter like Tristan Jones? Why would you ever want to do that?

Yes, like Tristan Jones, but I'm not going to bring any food. I want to do it for the experience.

No food!

I plan to catch it all myself. But I'll probably have an emergency cache just in case. But I won't have any satellite communication equipment or anything.

[A gorgeous woman walks by in a sexy little black bikini.] You're 22 years old, what about taking a woman along?

No, they are too much trouble. But I'll have fun with girls while I'm still in St. Barth.

We're still trying to understand why you want to spend eight months in the ice with a few chickens and a dog.

I just want to learn as much as I can. It's my school. I'm only 22, I have no wife or children, so this is the perfect moment.

How much sailing had you done before you set off across the Atlantic?

GS: I spent about 90 minutes trying to figure things out just outside the harbor, then I took off. I'd never been on a sailboat before, but I had done some boardsaiing.

Was it hard for you to learn how to sail by yourself as you went along?

Yes and no. Having only been on a sailboat for 90 minutes before I took off, I had a lot to learn. For example, I had no idea how to fly a spinnaker. My autopilot broke when I was still close to Brittany, so I went back to get it fixed, but I didn't want to ask for help learning to sail because I thought they might prevent me from taking off again. I started picking things up around Madeira.
But I had worked on a big fishing trawler off the west coast of Australia, so I wasn't new to the ocean.

Is that where you learned to speak English?

Yes. I went to Australia at age 18 with $200 and no English. I slept in the streets. Then I got a bike and rode it for about 1,200 miles. There are only about 20 people in Australia who speak French, so I was immersed in English.

You speak very well, and without much of a French accent.

I worked on the fishing boat to earn money for my boat, which cost $29,000 euros. I have a new engine coming that costs $13,000 and some new sails that cost $9,000. It's crazy how expensive sailing is.

Have you done similar adventures before?

No. Just the little bike thing. But I want to do many things.

Like what?

I don't know, maybe swim around the world. [Laughter.] I'm not scared to do things. I just want to do them.

Thank you.

Curare — Bowman 36
Geoff and Linda Goodall
Around South America
(Vancouver, B.C.)

Like a lot of cruisers, retired geologists Geoff and Linda dreamed of cruising the South Pacific. But when they learned officials would make it difficult if not impossible to do it with Jessie, their admittedly large-for-their-boat Great Dane-Lab cross, they changed their plans. Instead of cruising the South Pacific, they would circumnavigate the more dog-friendly — if chillier — South America, rounding celebrated Cape Horn in the process.

"It worked out great," the couple told Latitude during an interview last month aboard 'ti Profligate. 'Great' even though it meant they didn't swim in the ocean during the three years they went around the South American continent.

The Goodalls' adventure began in 2007, when they sailed directly from Vancouver to Ensenada. By chance they crossed paths with the Ha-Ha fleet in both Turtle Bay and Cabo San Lucas, which is where we first met them. They seasonally cruised Mexico, including the Sea of Cortez, in 2008 and 2009. After cruising Central America, the couple sailed their now 40-year-old English built boat to the Galapagos and then Easter Island.

"We had a nice wind angle and fine sailing to Easter Island," says Geoff. "The 2,300-mile trip east to Valdivia, Chile was just as nice, with mostly broadreaching in tradewinds — although there were a couple of times when we either had to head up or head down to avoid what would have been much stronger winds."

"The most wind we ever saw was 35 knots," adds Linda. "Once we went to storm sails, and the other breezy time we just shortened sail."

By the time they reached Valdivia, a city of 125,000 that in 1960 had been hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, they were at latitude 40, which is south of both the Cape of Good Hope and the Australian continent. Valdivia is 75% of the way down the west coast of the South American continent, which meant they had bypassed Ecuador, Peru and northern Chile. It was a conscious decision, as to do otherwise would have meant they would have to battle the north-flowing Humboldt Current and a lot of fog.

"Although Valdivia is about 600 miles closer to the equator than our homeport of Vancouver, it was wet and cold, so it felt like home to us."

"The summers were great," says Linda, "but it can really rain there."

The coastal area of Chile south of Valdivia is widely considered to be the most beautiful part of the country. The city, which has a heavy German influence, is located 100 miles south of the capital of Santiago, and 130 miles north of Puerto Montt, which is the gateway to the Chiloé Archipelago, Chile's most popular cruising ground.

"Chilean sailors from affluent Santiago keep their boats in Puerto Montt, and fly there to start cruising in the northernmost part of the fjord-studded Chiloé Archipelago," says Geoff. "The cruising area very much reminded us of the cruising area around Vancouver, where the islands offer excellent protection from the swells of the Pacific."

"It was at Valdivia and Puerto Montt that we started to see other cruising boats, most of them from Europe," says Linda. "We did, however, cross paths with American Richard Bylaw, who had built his wooden boat in Tacoma and sailed her to the Horn and back. I wish I could remember the name of his boat."

"Because it's the gateway to Chile's most popular cruising ground, Puerto Montt has some good marinas for cruising boats," says Geoff. "The region is completely safe, as there is no piracy or theft, and the people are very friendly. For example, the fishermen aren't allowed to take alcohol out fishing with them, so sometimes we were able to trade a bottle of wine for a five-gallon bucket of clams. The clams would last us as much as a week."

"We stored Curare on the hard at Puerto Montt one South American winter while we looked after a 500-hectare ranch in central Chile that is owned by a Brit ex-cruiser," remembers Linda. "He'd wanted to return to Old Blighty for the summer.

"We'd heard about the opportunity from a gentleman named Wolfgang on a SSB net that many of us cruisers listened to. It really wasn’t a working farm anymore, as most of the land had been rented out to others who took care of the sheep and cows. We mostly walked around with the dogs, although I had to learn to take care of horses. In fact [laughter], I had to get on the Internet to learn how to trim the horses' hooves."

The transition from living in a home in Vancouver, to cruising on a relatively small cruising sailboat, to taking care of a ranch for the first time in their lives wasn't difficult for the couple. After all, they are both experienced in geology project management, exploring for gold, silver, copper and other precious metals in the more remote parts of Canada, Europe, South America, Australia and even the Solomon Islands.

"Our work lives were good backgrounds for cruising," says Linda.

Toward the end of the Southern Hemisphere winter, Geoff worked hard on Curare in Puerto Montt to get the boat ready for the Patagonian Channels, which are at the bottom of South America and just a short distance north of Cape Horn.

"In preparation, we insulated the interior of the hull with camp mat-like foam, using glue or double sided tape to attach it behind the hull liners — although up in the v-berth area we just stuck it on the liner," says Geoff. "And it worked."

"It didn't keep the boat any warmer," says Linda, "but it's the constant dripping, not the cold, that really gets to you. The cold isn't too bad because you can just keep putting on more clothes, but the drip, drip, drip — that's awful. And since we hadn't intended to sail around Cape Horn, we only had a small propane heater. But it wasn't bad."

"What do you mean it wasn't bad?" counters Geoff. "You were the one who kicked me out of bed each morning to light the stove."

"Yeah," says Linda laughing, "and to make the coffee. But the Patagonian Canals were excellent."

"They really were wonderful," agreed Geoff. "The area was again very similar to the Pacific Northwest, with lots of small channels. But the mountains — to 4,500 meters — were much taller. In addition to once again being protected from the ocean swells, we always had the wind from behind, and it was very consistent."

"We did have squalls, but only at night," says Linda. "Since the anchorages were only big enough for one or maybe two boats, we really made sure we were secure. We would work our way in, drop the hook, then Geoff would row ashore with the first of four 3/4-inch three-strand poly lines. The first time we did it, it took an hour. By the end of our time there we had it down to about 20 minutes,

"Most West Coast sailors aren't familiar with the Patagonian Canals," says Linda. "To give a rough overview, they are about 100 miles north of Cape Horn. We went down Smythe Channel, which hits the Magellan Channel, which runs east-west and bypasses the Horn. After sailing down the Magellan Channel, we worked our way through islands farther south to the Beagle Channel. The Beagle Channel parallels the Magellan Channel about 100 miles to the south, but it takes you to Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, which are the gateways to the Horn."

Ushuaia is the Argentine city in the south, while Puerto Williams is the last outpost of Chile. The latter is also home to the famous Micalvi YC, on a retired Chilean Navy ship. All the expedition ships tie up there.

"We were in this area during the Southern Hemisphere summer, which is November, December and January," says Linda. "It rained a lot. I also remember that it was 12 degrees Celsius (56° Fahrenheit) at 12 noon on December 12. But it also got down to 6 Celsius (42°) one morning. It's not horribly cold, but you're wearing a lot of clothes all the time.

"And one morning when we were in Ushuaia, there was fresh snow in the mountains behind us," adds Geoff.

Contrary to what some people might assume, you can't just sail to Cape Horn anytime you feel like it.

"The 'Cape Horn Circuit' is strictly regulated by the Chilean Navy," says Geoff. "There are only three anchorages in the approximately 90-mile Cape Horn Circuit, and each one can only hold about three boats, so the port captain regulates who can go and when. When you are doing the Circuit, you also have to report in regularly on VHF. They monitor it closely."

The Goodalls estimate that only about 10 regular cruising boats go west-to-east around the Horn each season, while none go in the opposite direction. In addition, Skip Novak has two charter sailboats that go around the Horn, and there are expedition vessels.

Other than a 28-ft German boat, Curare was the smallest boat that the Goodalls saw.

"We hung out in the Drake Passage for two nights," reports Geoff. "When the man on duty at the Horn reported it was mas tranquilo — meaning 18 knots of wind and 10-foot seas — we went for it. It was lumpy going around the Horn, but not too bad.

"We anchored off the Chilean Navy Station, near the memorial to sailors lost in the area. The water is quite deep, so I rowed Linda and Jessie ashore. Even though it was calm, I decided to stay with the Curare."

"There is a guy who lives at the station there with his family," says Linda, "and they stay for a year before being rotated out. I was the first person they'd seen in two weeks. But you have to go with him — he almost holds your hand — and walk on a boardwalk so you don't ruin the vegetation. The problem is that many cruise ships call there, and everybody wants to climb all over. So they have to protect the flora."

"If anyone is thinking of doing the Horn, the thing they need to realize is that there is a lot of waiting involved," says Linda. "We had to wait a week, but we knew a window was coming, so we had raced to get through the Beagle Channel to be in time for that window."

"People also need to realize that the weather can go bad quickly," says Geoff. "For example, we were west of Puerto Williams and thought we’d go just six miles down the coast. As we turned into anchorage, it was blowing 35 knots and Linda couldn't keep the bow into the wind. So we just had to run with it, all the way past Puerto Williams because there was nowhere to stop. We hid out behind a tiny knob of land on the Argentinean coast until it blew out the next morning. The force of the wind wasn't unexpected; it was the fact it blew to 50 knots so quickly."

"The other thing that many people don't know about Cape Horn is that it's not attached to the South American continent, but is the southernmost of a group of islands to the south."

[Next month: The east coast of South America.]

— latitude/rs

Profligate — Surfin’ 63
The Wanderer and De Mallorca
Ten Years After
(Tiburon/Pt. Mita/St. Barth

While perusing some of our hundreds of thousands of sailing photos, we came across some that we took exactly 10 years ago. Was it ever a shock — and not a pleasant one — to be reminded of how quickly time passes and how much we change. But 10-year yardsticks are good, as they remind us that not a day is to be taken for granted or wasted.

Ten years ago was the winter that, immediately following the end of the 2004 Ha-Ha, a Profligate crew with Doña de Mallorca took off like a bat out of hell for the Panama Canal and Antigua. Despite having to replace both saildrives in Panama, they managed to cover the 4,000 miles in just under 30 days. De Mallorca would spend the entire winter in St. Barth, working all day on the boat and partying all night on the island. She never slept. Meanwhile, the Wanderer worked to pay the bills and commuted between the boat and Mill Valley.

Woody Allen once said that “80% of life is just showing up”. We don’t know if that’s true, but being on the scene of anything has its advantages. For example, while de Mallorca was working on the boat one afternoon, when Chris, the hard-working captain of the 92-ft R/P Leopard of London, asked if she would keep an eye on Leopard until they got back from lunch. And if there was a problem, she was to call a certain number. When they didn’t come back on schedule, Doña had to get to town to party, so she called the emergency number. She got the owner's wife in Antigua. "Oh don't worry about the boat," she said, just go to town." So de Mallorca did.

It’s through experiences such as that that you bond with other sailors. The following winter Chris would ask the Wanderer and de Mallorca to help crew for him aboard Leopard for the New Year’s Around the Island Race. We did, too, and in the most minor way helped the boat take first.

We hadn’t seen Chris in about five years until this winter, but it was like having seen him yesterday. “Make sure you look me up when you get to Antigua,” he said. “A lot of sailing pros I know would love — like me — to charter your cat on their days off.”

We had such a great winter that there was no way we could ever let another Caribbean season slip away. By the same token, there was no way that we could take one month each winter to get from Cabo to the Caribbean, and then another month to get from the Caribbean to San Francisco, for a four-month season. The solution was to bring Profligate back to California, and put a Leopard 45 cat in a yacht management program in the Caribbean for three years. It worked so well that we kept the Leopard in the program for nearly a decade.

The accompanying photos are from exactly 10 years ago the beginning of May, which means Profligate’s trip from Antigua to Panama, including a stop at the San Blas Islands and a transit of the Panama Canal. We had a group of about 14 aboard, including old friends, friends of friends from Tahoe, new friends from Vancouver, and we can’t remember who all. It was a good group.

It blew in the high 20s and low 30s much of the way, with pretty good seas, as it often does on that passage. When one woman was asked what she wanted for her birthday, she asked if it would be possible for her to be taken off by helicopter. But she was a great sport, and we never even heard about it until later.

Given the wind and seas, it was no problem getting into the 20s with just a double-reefed main and a 75% headsail. Sometimes we found ourselves looking for a brake pedal. This was particularly true about 150 miles off the mouth of the Rio Magdalena one evening, where there was a ‘river’ of logs and other debris flowing deep into the Caribbean Sea.

As is often the case, the wind and seas finally backed off just past Cartagena.

After the five- or six-day passage from the Eastern Caribbean across the breezy and bouncy Caribbean, it’s always nice to gain the shelter of the San Blas Islands. The one thing as sure as the sun rising in the east is that the Kuna women will latch onto your boat and patiently wait there either forever or until you buy what they think should be your quota of molas and such. The men selling lobsters and vegetables aren’t as patient.

The primary feature of Porvenir is the airport. Actually, it’s just a runway. Planes make their approach at about the height of the first spreader on a lot of boats. When a plane lands, everybody rushes the plane, either to greet arriving guests or to get off. It’s a miracle people haven't gotten chopped up by the props. Maybe they have.

The San Blas Islands enjoy beautiful flat water because they are protected from the Caribbean by a series of reefs. The reefs don’t allow for mistakes in navigation. Unfortunately, to err is human, so there are wrecks.

Even by Caribbean standards the 365 islands of the San Blas are primitive. Most of the people live in huts where food is cooked over open fires. It gets very smoky inside the huts. The Surgeon General reports it’s equivalent to smoking 140 packs of unfiltered Camels a day.

The waters of the San Blas are incredibly clean. About as clean as the waters near the main islands are littered with paper and plastic debris.

Our boats have been through the Canal several times before, and the paperwork wasn’t difficult. This time was different, as all our crew were required to be photographed and fill out all kinds of forms. It’s was though we were suspected of being merchant seamen or terrorists. Fortunately, Dracula, a taxi driver with a lazy eye, guided us through the process.

Ten years ago the Panama Canal YC, which had slot machines, still existed. It was funky and wonderful. It was also the safe haven in Colon, one of the more dangerous cities we’ve been to. Each cash register at the El Rey Market, for example, was guarded by a man with an automatic weapon. But it was still plagued by snatch-and-run thieves.

The Panama Canal is a great crossroads, and you meet all kinds of other boats and sailors there. One of the boats we met — and later shared a lock with — was the canary-yellow Tropic Cat, which had just been completed by Gold Coast Yachts in St. Croix. She was headed for Cabo San Lucas, where she continues to do charters. Unlike Profligate, she had a waterslide down the back steps of one hull. It made us jealous.

As always, while locking up and locking down, we couldn’t help but admire the skills of the engineers who designed the Canal over 100 years ago. In all that time it’s hardly been improved. Of course, transiting the ‘Ditch’ consists of locking up at one end, locking down at the other, but mostly motoring across a 40-mile long man-made lake. The sight of a Panamax container ship rumbling down narrow passageways of a lake surrounded by jungle is an unusual one.

Our transit was notable for two things. First, the new Bridge of the America’s hadn’t yet been completed, so it looked similar to those old photos of the Golden Gate Bridge before it was completed. Second, we weren’t doing the transit with Antonio as captain of our old Ocean 71 Big O. The last time we’d done it with him, he rejected the Canal authorities' specific order to spend the night at Lake Gatun. “We’re going through today,” he told them, “and that’s all there is to it.” This was the equivalent of a Cessna 172 pilot telling the control tower at JFK that he was taking off in front of a line of 747s, no matter what.

Actually, the transit was notable for a third thing. Because Antonio wasn’t with us, we didn’t pass a ship in the narrow Gaillard Cut, something that was strictly prohibited, but something that Antonio did anyway. We expected to be arrested at the Miraflores Locks, but nobody said anything.

If anybody likes heat and humidity, Panama would be right up their alley. One of our most vivid memories on the Pacific side is bending over our laptop, sweat pouring off our brow onto the keyboard.

The last thing we remember of the trip from Antigua to Panama was getting paperwork done in Panama City, where the three biddies who ran the office recorded everything in a giant book instead of on a computer. While there, we ran into Pat and Ali Schulte of the Wildcat 35 cat Bumfuzzle. They had just started their circumnavigation and still didn't know what a two-speed winch did. Anybody remember them? They made it around.

Looking at our photos makes us realize that in just 10 years we’ll be . . . well, we don’t even want to think about how old we'll be. There are so many places to sail to and things we want to do before then that we’re rushing out the door right now to get started. We encourage you to do the same.

— latitude/rs 04/15/2015

Cruise Notes:

Mike and Deana Ruel of the Dover, Delaware-based Manta 40 cat R Sea Kat now know that sometimes the failure of expensive gear and/or equipment can be a blessing in disguise. Having cruised from the East Coast to Southern California the 'long way' — meaning via the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Galapagos and Alaska — the couple set sail from Marina del Rey in mid-April on a 3,300-mile nonstop passage to the Marquesas. But the boat's port running light failed the night they took off, so they had to pull into Newport Beach to get a replacement. Mike picks up the story from there:

"We woke up to low voltage in the house battery bank, and unsuccessfully tried to start the generator to run the battery charger. We had to start both engines to get some charge on the house batteries, then fired up the generator and battery charger. Next we called Lifeline, the battery manufacturer, which just happened to be located only 15 minutes away in Costa Mesa. Their technician determined that our batteries were 10 years old — ancient for AGM deep cycle batteries.

"Without hesitation we ordered eight new batteries — two engine batteries with a total of 1000 CCA, and six 6-volt batteries in parallel for 1095 CCA. The guys from Lifeline delivered the batteries to the public dock on the Balboa Peninsula, and we loaded the 500 pounds of them into the dinghy and ferried them out to our boat. Two hours later all the batteries had been exchanged and the new ones topped up by the generator. This morning the bank voltages were 12.6 — 12.8v on all. We avoided a disaster waiting to happen."

No kidding. We can only imagine how long, difficult and expensive it would have been to replace such battery banks in the Marquesas or even Tahiti.

Sometimes it seems as though everyone is going cruising cat crazy. Bill Gibbs of Ventura, who set many Southern California elapsed-time records with his smokin' 52-ft cat Afterburner, had his new 46-ft Schionning G Force cat put aboard a ship in Cape Town in April for the trip to the British Virgin Islands. The hulls of the cat had been built several years before for the owner of Knysna Catamarans, and Gibbs bought the project on the condition that the cat be completed by December 2014 so he could use her in the Caribbean in early 2015. That schedule went by the wayside, of course, but the cat is finally on her way to Tortola — with a mast Gibbs specified that "scares" the builder. The thing that 'scares' us a little is that she only displaces 15,000 pounds.

It will be interesting to see if Gibbs' new cat ever crosses paths with the new all-carbon 53-ft Paul Bieker-designed cat that Seattle's Greg Slyngstad, another very successful West Coast racer, is about to have launched for him by Gold Coast Yachts of St. Croix. All the cat is waiting for is her mast to arrive from France.

By the way, Gold Coast has built 116 boats, most of them passenger-carrying catamarans to U.S. Coast Guard specs. They must be doing something right.

Then there is the Horangic family — parents Basil and Caroline, and children Theodora, 14, Helen, 12, and Basil, 6 — of Menlo Park. As a result of responding to a small ad in a multihull sailing publication, they rented an Outremer 49 cat for 15 months. They started in the Black Sea, of all places, and spent last summer doing mostly Turkey and Greece. They then sailed across the Atlantic for a winter in the Caribbean. Enjoying the family cruise so much, they have extended the rental for another nine months. They will soon be headed back across the Atlantic to do the Western Med. The kids are doing well in school, and getting an education not found in books. All three of the children scuba dive, and all three of them kiteboard. Yes, even six-year-old Basil. In addition, 'Teddy' and Helen both compete in international Opti events, so they carry two Optis on the cat to keep in practice. We'll have an interview with the family in the July issue.

Charlie and Cathy Simon of the Spokane- and Puerto Vallarta-based Taswell 58 Celebration report they have just completed the 2014-2015 ARC World Rally. They covered 26,000 tropical miles in just 15 months — a fast trip around. How did they feel about going around so quickly? Tune in next month and read all about it.

"I'm not a low-budget cruiser, so I could have easily afforded the $3/ft dock fee that IGY Marina Cabo San Lucas wanted to charge me for the use of their fuel dock on April 4," writes Curtis Johnson of the Reno-based Hylas 46 Aurora. "Since I only needed 20 gallons to top off before starting the Baja Bash, there was no way I was going to pay a $140 fee. So I said something to the effect of "Thanks, but no thanks," and cast off our lines.

"In typical Mexican hospitality and openness, the fuel dock attendant informed me that we could also get fuel at the fuel dock on the southwest side of the harbor, where they don't charge such a fee. The other fuel dock had been heavily damaged during last fall's hurricane, and had a marginal temporary dock surrounded by pilings. I didn't feel comfortable trying to get my boat into that fuel dock, so we anchored the boat in the bay and used our dinghy and jerry jugs to bring diesel out from the Pemex station.

"Marina Cabo San Lucas not only lost the sale of fuel to me, they lost the revenue from the two nights I had planned on staying in their marina. And they have made sure that the next time I come south, I will bypass Cabo completely. Over-the-top service fees are not going to bring the marina more customers."

"We just stopped in Cabo to fuel up before heading north on the Bash, and the marina has instituted a new docking fee at the fuel dock," reports Jim Milski of the Schionning 49 Sea Level. "I had to pay $140 for the privilege of buying fuel from them. I will never stop in Cabo for fuel again!"

The Grand Poobah is going to encourage the Marina Cabo San Lucas to reconsider their policy, which might well be costing them, rather than making them, money. Especially with regard to Ha-Ha boats.

Speed limits for daggerboards? A couple of months ago we reported that both the daggerboards on Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrories's Lake Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade broke while sailing upwind in 25 knots from Curaçao to St. Barth. When they contacted Catana to get two new ones — at $9,000 each — one of the technicians asked if they had read the owner's manual, because the owner's manual advises owners not to use the daggerboards when the boat is sailing at more than eight or nine knots. Curious. Anyway, Catana finally shipped the two boards to Escapade in St. Martin. End of story? Not quite. Not only were the boards different widths, both were too thin for Escapade's daggerboard cases. Catana says they will provide two new boards. Fortunately, Greg and Debbie are sailing to Europe, and can pick up them up there instead of having to have them shipped across the pond.

To put this month's letters about dinghy thefts at Stone Island (Mazatlan) in perspective, dinghy theft is much more of a problem in the Caribbean. Our friend Pierre on Kris had his dinghy stolen two nights in a row. End-of-season dinghy theft is a real problem in the French Islands, even chic St. Barth.

"My blonde mermaid Alyssa [Alexopolous] and I are prepping our boat Ellie to leave Hawaii for the South Pacific next week," writes Lewis Allen of the Redwood City-based Tartan 37 Eleutheria. The couple previously sailed down to Mexico, across to the South Pacific, then up to Hawaii.

"We have all the tanks topped off, the systems are in good order, and the boat is well found," Lewis continues. "We plan to sail to Fanning Island and stay as long as it takes to decompress back into cruising mode. Once at Fanning, we'll take a look at the charts and see what lies downwind.

"Our current plan is to head to Australia by the end of the South Pacific season. Because we're young, we were both able to get work visas. That's good because we'll need to replenish the cruising kitty. Neither Alyssa nor I have been to Oz, but we expect we'll stay about two years.

"I've got other cruising news," Lewis continues. "On March 7 I flew to Tahiti to help Eric Laakmann, a friend from Redwood City's Bair Island Marina, sail his new-to-him 1999 Outremer 55 Light catamaran Zephyr up to Hawaii. He had purchased the boat in Raiatea just a week before my arrival. Mutual friends Jason and Johnny rounded out the all-Bay Area crew. It took us 11.5 days to cover the 2,100 miles."

"A Mayday call recently came in over the VHF after a large dive boat had hit a sailboat about 10 miles out of Ao Chalong, Thailand," report Gene and Sheri Seybold of the Stockton/Honolulu-based Esprit 27 Reflections."There were injured people in the water, and the sailboat had a hole in her hull. We're told the dive boat picked one man, who was in shock, out of the water — then made him jump back in! Then the dive boat took off. Fortunately, assistance was soon on the way, but it was all private assistance, as there was nothing from the government. We're not surprised by the incident, as we've had some very close calls with local boats in Thailand. They scare the hell out of us. If you're headed this way, you've been warned."

"We enjoyed Latitude's March issue feature on optional places to head during the South Pacific tropical cyclone season," write Brent and Susan Lowe of the formerly Seattle-based Royal Passport 476 Akauahelo. "We took the alternate route north to Hawaii twice, and found the Islands to be a great place to stay, get boat work done, and even land a job to replenish the kitty.

"On our first 'dash' through the South Pacific, we got as far as the Marquesas," the Lowes continue, "and found them to be too incredible to rush through. After a five-month stay, we sailed north and reached Hawaii’s Big Island in 16 days. We stayed in Hawaii for 18 months before heading back south. The passage south can be a little tougher, but we just fell off when the wind and seas got real nasty. We figured there are a lot of islands out there, and that we would find at least one of them. It turned out the wind made a favorable shift just after the ITCZ, and we had a nice sail back to the Marquesas.

"We spent the next 2 ½ years exploring many of the islands before reaching Tonga," the Lowes continue. "Once there, all the cruisers talked about was whether to go on to New Zealand or Australia. After agonizing, we decided to head back to Hawaii again, visiting the Samoas en route.

"The most dangerous thing about Hawaii is that once you get here, it's very hard to leave. We're proof of that. We've now been in the Islands seven years, but just haven't been able to figure out how to leave. After all, the weather is great, the water is clear and warm, and the many anchorages are almost always deserted. We now return to the Islands from our home in Mexico every summer, and spend the five months exploring the Islands. Although many of our anchorages are repeats, we have always been able to find a couple of new ones nearly every year."

Latitude thinks a lot of cruisers would be interested in a book titled Akauahelo's Guide to Hawaiian Island Anchorages.

The early forecast for the 2015 hurricane season in the Atlantic/Caribbean calls for one of the least active ones in decades. According to scientists at Colorado State University, which is nowhere near the ocean, there will be seven named storms, three hurricanes, and one major hurricane — the latter meaning Category 3 or higher. The 30-year average is for 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Hurricane forecasting is notoriously inaccurate, so we encourage readers not to put too much stock in this forecast. As far as we know nobody makes detailed hurricane forecasts for the Eastern Pacific (Mexico) hurricane season because: 1) Almost all of the hurricanes head out to sea, and 2) There are so many hurricanes every year.

We're glad to learn that Peter and Susan Wolcott, who have cruised the South Pacific with a Farr 44, a Santa Cruz 52, and a M&M 52 catamaran, are heading that way again, this time aboard Kiapa Nui, the Looping 48 catamaran they've been restoring.

"Our new-to-us cat is a pretty interesting design by a Frenchman who employed a couple of tricks that we think are pretty remarkable." the Wolcotts write. "She's low because she's bilge-less, with accommodations very low in each hull. She's not a hot-rod, but so far we've liked her. We got down to the Sea of Cortez in November, and have been painting the boat at Puerto Los Cabos. With no more excuses, we hope to make the Marquesas by May."

Easter Sunday was especially festive at Tenacatita Bay, Mexico, as federal officials removed fences that for five years had blocked public access to popular Tenacatita Beach at the northwest part of the bay. Prior to the abrupt and highly controversial beach closure in August 2010 because of a property dispute, the beachfront was a thriving vacation site, with many beachfront businesses. But the businesses were bulldozed and electrified fences were erected to keep people out. Given the value of the property and its contentious history, it wouldn't surprise us if we haven't heard the last of the struggle for the land.

The numbers game. Land Ho! The Tzortzis family aboard the San Francisco-based Lagoon 470 catamaran Family Circus arrived in the Marquesas from Puerto Vallarta after 19 days, 60 flying fish on deck (two of which hit people on watch), 30 squid, three showers, 15 squalls, three birds hooked birds on fishing lines, one bird in the cockpit, and lots of music. "What a journey!" they exclaim.
The number they left out? The number of kids that parents Chris and Heather sailed with: three. Tristan, 13, Lexi, 12, and Maia, 7.

Nobody wants to abandon their boat at sea, but sometimes there are no options. Early on April 9, while 1,200 miles east of the Marquesas, the 1982 S&S 42 Nirvana Now, owned by Canadians Randy and Dawn Ortiz, had become disabled by problems with their rudder stock and forestay fittings. Fortunately, fellow Puddle Jumpers Bob and Mona Jankowski of the North Carolina-based Caliber 40 Continuum were near at hand and were able take the couple aboard. Bob and Mona had only decided to do the Puddle Jump after catching a case of 'South Pacific Fever' while in Panama.

Although Randy and Dawn cut two hoses to scuttle their boat, the 203-ft Hoek schooner Athos, which had helped out with comms with the Coast Guard, reported that Nirvana Now was last seen floating high in the water.

There was a terrible instance of narco gang violence in Mexico on the night of April 6, when 15 Jalisco (Mexico) state police were killed in an ambush. According to the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the BBC — and just about every other respectable news source — the incident happened "near the Pacific beach resort of Puerto Vallarta." This was the highest order of misinformation, as the incident actually took place at the remote village of Soyalan, which is about a three-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, and about a mile higher in elevation.

"We were celebrating that Dr. Ken, our boat neightbor in La Paz, was renaming his boat, when a Belgian couple approached," report Betty and Jim Adams of the Discovery Bay-based Catalina 42 Flibbertigibbet. "Even though it was soon evident that the couple was at the wrong party, the guy took out his guitar and started playing some great old songs. So we sang along, and later passed a tip jar for the guitar player. I don't think the U.S. State Department knows how special life is down here in Mexico. We don't buy drugs, so nobody has shot at us."

It's true that La Paz has seen an unfortunate increase in murders in the last year as narcos battle for territory, but the cruisers there tell us they feel safe. It's the same with the Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit Coast, and the rest of coastal Mexico we're familiar with.

The violence in much of the world is, of course, about drugs. And we're surprised at the continued appetite some folks have for them. On April 23, the French Navy intercepted Silandra, an American-flagged vessel, 125 miles from Martinique. When they boarded her, they discovered that she wasn't a U.S. vessel at all, and was carrying 2.25 tons of cocaine. And it was in plain sight, not hidden in the mast, keel or other secret compartments. The bust was equal to one-third of all the busts the French made in the Caribbean in the last 12 months.

For the last year we've had some good luck with the bottom paint on our Leopard 45 catamaran 'ti Profligate in the Caribbean. So we asked BVI Yacht Charters what had been used.

"The paint is Sherwin-Williams MIL 24647B Anti-Foulant Topcoat Marine Paint Blue," replied BVI Yacht Charters. "We switched to this paint after having good results with Hemple Anti-Fouling. When we tried to re-order from Hemple in 2013, they informed us that they had sold the formula to Sherwin-Williams. We have since been ordering paint in bulk through the dealer in St Thomas."

If you've had good luck with bottom paint where you're cruising, we'd like to hear about it. Particularly in the waters of mainland Mexico.

"Did Latitude notice that in Mexico Tourism's new Visiting Mexico by Private Boat guide lists all of the marinas in Mexico — except the Fonatur marinas?" ask Dave and Merry Wallace of the Redwood City Amel Maramu Air Ops. The Fonatur marinas were developed by and in most cases — maybe even all — are still owned by a branch of the Mexican government. So while we didn't notice it, it was a little weird.

"In December 2013, we pulled into Puerto Chiapas on a Lancer 36, on our way from Santa Barbara to Panama," reports Don Edwards of Ojai. "It was a welcome stop, as our window for crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec had closed on us. We made about 10 stops on our way to Panama from Santa Barbara, and Chiapas was one of the most positive. Everyone from the marina staff to the officials was great, and nobody had their hand out. I was going to write Latitude to say what a great stop it was, so I hate to see these guys getting bad press."

Thank you, Don, for giving us another opportunity to clarify the situation in Chiapas. Everybody who has written us has raved about the Chiapas Marina staff, and most have had nothing but good things to say about the officials. Some, like Bill Lily and Judy Lang of the Newport-based Lagoon 470 Moontide, also point out that officials are now on site, so cruisers don't have to make the hour drive to the airport to check in or clear out.

The reason Chiapas recently got a bad reputation is that one official didn't know the law, and assessed one U.S. cruiser a fine of $1,000 because the cruiser's TIP had expired. The official didn't know this wasn't a problem because the TIP had expired while the cruiser was outside Mexico. Furthermore, the official didn't know that TIPs are good for an unlimited number of arrivals and departures during the 10 years the TIP is valid. TIPs absolutely do not have to be turned in when a boat leaves Mexico.

That Mexican officials aren't more knowledgeable about Mexican maritime law, and that the bureaucracy is both slow and reluctant to correct obvious errors, has exacted a big cost to Mexico's reputation. Many of you will remember the case of John Hands, who had to flee Mexico aboard his Beneteau Idylle Pelicano because an official in southern Mexico — it might have been Puerto Chiapas — mistakenly made the expiration date for Hands' 10-year TIP 180 days later rather than 10 years later. The official was somehow confused by the expiration date on Hands' visa. That a 10-year TIP ought to be good for 10 years and not just 180 days should be obvious, but SAT (the Mexican IRS) went after Hands, assessing a large fine and telling him that they now owned his boat. Despite being in his 70s, Hands successfully fled the 1,000 miles from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego on his boat.

Thanks to the unstinting efforts of Mexican Marina Owners President Tere Grossman, and Lic. Elena Carrillo, the lawyer for the Association, Hands' boat has now been officially "released".

To keep things in context, there hasn't been a repeat of the 2013-2014 season, in which over 300 foreign boats were impounded for as much as four months. Mexico has made some dreadful paperwork blunders in the past, but things have greatly improved. It's a great thing, because Mexico is a fabulous — and inexpensive — place to cruise.

Missing the pictures? See the May 2015 eBook!


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