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May 2016

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With reports this month from Gitane in Zihuatanejo; from Volare on drones in the Sea of Cortez; from Migration on a miserable major refit in Thailand; from Moontide on getting ready to do a Panama Canal transit; from Beach House on Panama to the now-expensive Galapagos, which also means the completion of a circumnavigation; and Cruise Notes.

Gitane — Island Packet 38
Ken Hunting
A Shot and a Shave
(Anacortes, Washington)

A few years ago, in order to celebrate the conclusion of the Zihua SailFest and the free days before the start of Guitar Fest, Pamela Bendall of the Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46 Precious Metal decided the women needed a little treat. So she invited all the women on cruising boats, and some of her shoreside friends, to pay a visit to the luxurious Viceroy Hotel. There they would enjoy some wine, pedicures and massages, as well as the great sunset view of La Ropa Beach.

We guys left behind on the boats, checking the oil level on our dipsticks, weren't jealous, but it didn't seem quite fair. So two years ago Rick Flucke of the San Diego-based Catalina 42 Eyes of the World decided to do something about it. He came up with a perfect guy thing — the Shot and Shave. Not only did this seem to be on par with a massage and pedicure, it provided a perfect excuse for the guys to throw down shots of tequila.

The Shot and Shave has become an annual affair, and this year five boats participated. In addition to Rick, the somewhat skeptical participants included Dave Bowser of the Oceanside-based Ericson 34 Pacifico, Jean Cote of the Ottawa, Canada-based S&S 40 Arcane, Tim Melville of the Gabriola Island, Canada-based Baltic 40 Northwest Passage, and me on my island Packet 38 Gitana from Anacortes.

Rick brought the bottle of 100 Años Tequila and I brought a six-pack of cold Corona beer. Our group then trekked up from the malecon dinghy landing to a hole-in-the-wall barber shop. While waiting our turns for a haircut and a shave, we drank shots of tequila and chased them with beer. But damn, without the women around nobody remembered the lime and salt!

We were in a sharing mood, but not everybody got a shot. For example, Dave asked a gentleman from Michigan, who was waiting for his friend from Washington, if he thought Dave needed a haircut.

“It looks like you needed a haircut 10 years ago," the man replied. No tequila for him!

Then an older gentleman came in, and we tried to communicate with him in our group's limited Spanish.

The man finally turned to us and said, "I'm from Niagara Falls, Canada, and I don't speak a word of Spanish."

But as Tim continued to talk to him, he learned that he'd immigrated to Canada from Germany, so Tim had a lively conversation with him in German. We offered him a shot of tequila, which he declined. But given his German heritage, he gladly accepted a beer.

After we'd gotten our haircuts and shaves, we made our way to Chi-Palace, one of the best Chinese restaurants in Zihuatanejo. We put the half-full bottle of tequila in the middle of the table for serve-yourself shots, ate until we were stuffed, and ordered icy-cold Coronas from the waitress. She only spoke Spanish, but having had our tongues loosened, we'd become fluent in the important communications.

“Una mas Corona con limon, por favor.”

I tried to teach the waitress how to say 'hello' in Mandarin, but the language barrier was too great. Fortunately, there was a Chinese customer who was fluent in Spanish who proved to be a great help to me.



We guys got pampered all we wanted in the proper guy way, and we're all looking forward to next year's third annual Shot and a Shave.

— ken 02/25/2016

Volare — Caribbean 50
Jason and Vicki Hite
Droning While Cruising
(Long Beach)

Let's talk about drones, which can be invaluable for getting certain kinds of photographs and, in some situations, for navigation.

I had previous experience with radio-controlled helicopters, mostly the small easy-to-fly models for indoors. But I sold all that stuff before Vicki and I took off cruising. That said, flying my new DJI drone is much better, as my model has an app for my smart device that gives me the drone's position on a map, its altitude, its distance away, the first-person view, the charge left on the various batteries, and much, much more. I can also control all the camera functions.

With RC helicopters I had to spend about as much time working on them as flying them. And if you're not a good pilot, you'll spend most of your time working on them.

My DJI Phantom drone requires hardly any work at all and limited operator flying experience. It's a very robust platform that was well engineered.

I tested a DJI Phantom 2+, but without the gimbal the video was not worth the expense. I ended up getting the Phantom 3 Standard on a Black Friday deal — for about half the cost of the Phantom 2+ at the time I looked at it. I wish I'd gotten the 3 Advanced or Pro, but without Internet access all the time, I wasn't able to do the research I normally would have done. I didn't care about the super-high-resolution video on the other models, as we don't have a device over 1080p on the boat, and I have no plans to buy a 4k TV. But the Advanced and the Professional have much better remote-control range. Not having it is a big disadvantage because the standard only has 500 meters while the Advanced and Pro have ranges of 3,500 meters.

When selecting any drone, the key is the quality of the gimbal. If the camera is not on a gimbal, the video will be really bad — unless you're a very talented pilot. Once you have that taken care of, the next two important considerations are range and flight time. Some newer models, such as the Phantom 4, offer terrain avoidance, which would probably be good in some circumstances, but it won't keep the drone from hitting my boat's rigging, so on a sailboat it's not really a plus.

Having finally caught up on boat maintenance, I've been getting more time to spend on photography and flying the drone. I haven't shot much video yet, as I'm waiting for something exciting enough to make it worthwhile. For those who haven't tried it, editing video takes an enormous amount of time at the computer.

I've been practicing with the drone to see how it shoots in different conditions. When something interesting comes up, you rarely get your choice of conditions. You can't tell that huge pod of dolphins to come back at sunset, so it's in situations like that where your practice shoots really pay off.

Here are some tips I learned from experience:

1) Shoot when it's sunny. Colors are washed out and dull on cloudy days. Photo-editing software can help, but it's work and not as good as the real thing.

2) Taking your drone ashore for beach launches is a good way to avoid smacking it into your rigging. It can also give you the opportunity to shoot different areas without moving the boat. If you take your drone to the beach, bring a towel or beach blanket, or consider hand launch/recovery, as you don’t want to get sand in the gyro or motors.

3) If you have issues seeing the screen in the bright Baja sun, a towel over your head works, but you'll look a little silly. Try to find a palm tree or palapa that offers shade.

4) To get that perfect picture of your boat floating over the sand in the turquoise water, anchor your boat somewhere shallow with a sandy bottom. When the sun is high in the sky, the sunlight reflecting off the sand will make the water a bright turquoise color. If you are in shallow enough water — 10 to 30 feet — you'll see the shadow under your boat.

5) In the early morning or late afternoon, the water will be darker blue. Everything looks better lit by the sun during the 'golden hours' of dawn and sunset. It’s a great time to shoot long oblique shots to capture the beautifully lit landscape contrasting the deep blue sea. If shooting at sunset, it’s best to wait until the sun is obscured before shooting toward it, unless you’re going for the silhouette look. Shadows can be interesting when shooting with the sun to the side; otherwise, having the sun above and behind you will give you the best color and detail.

6) Shoot lots of pics! You should have plenty of room on your SD card, so have a happy trigger finger! Try different heights, distances and angles. You may think you've set up the perfect shot on your small phone or tablet screen, only to get back and find you wish you had taken it from a little higher up or a little farther away. So take all those shots the first time. Besides, sorting through the pics will keep you busy while you are waiting for the battery to recharge.

8) Shoot in all directions. You might think all the excitement is in front of you and never realize that there was something amazing that you could see in another direction once your drone got 400 feet up. So spin it from time to time and take a look.

9) Respect wildlife. For instance, avoid flying near nesting birds. Nobody wants pictures of a terrified bird trying to protect her hatchlings. And you don’t want a mad frigate taking your drone out because you strayed too close.

10) Respect the privacy of others. A great way to make friends in an anchorage is to ask people if they’d like an aerial photo of their boat before you take it.

11) Don’t drink and drone.

— jason 4/1/2016

Readers — For more on which drones to buy, see this month's Cruise Notes.

Migration — Cross 45 Trimaran
Bruce Balan and Alene Rice
At Least the Food Was Good

We're not sure if there are any Migration followers left, as we haven't sent an update in more than three years. If anyone is still out there, we imagine they are asking, "What the hell happened to you two?" We're sort of wondering the same thing.

In 2012, we traveled 6,000 miles to the west — in the opposite direction that we wanted to go — in order to do a major refit on our 44-year-old Migration in Thailand. Why Thailand? Because we'd received information that indicated we could get quality work done at a reasonable price. That information proved to be incorrect, and resulted in our making the worst decision of our substantial cruising life. For the record, we've covered 36,500 miles since leaving Long Beach in 2005.

Being on the hard is rarely fun. Well, Migration would be in the marina or on the hard getting work done for just one week shy of two years! I promise not to rant too much about trying to get boat work done in Thailand, but will simply make a flat statement — do not attempt a boat refit in Thailand! I repeat — do not attempt a boat refit in Thailand! If you want very specific details of why not, go to and read my report from August 2015.

What follows is a recap of the highlights of our years in Thailand, emphasizing the fun and interesting bits. We will downplay the fact that we were working in the boatyard in the hot tropics six days a week, and pretty miserable about how things were progressing.

In January 2013 we returned to Thailand after a trip back to the States, and sailed across Phang Nga Bay to Phuket. We spent the next 45 days getting our bearings around the large island, receiving contractor quotes for painting and fiberglassing, and trying to figure out where we would haul out.

For various reasons, the Coconuts Boatyard in Ao Chalong, where we planned on hauling, turned out to be a bad idea. There were few other options, as a trimaran is not a common type of boat and most boatyards have never hauled one. We can’t go out on a Travelift like a monohull or a catamaran, and we don’t fit on every trailer.

After many measurements, diagrams and calculations ­— and a bit of begging — Derrick, the marina and boatyard manager at Ao Po Grand Marina, agreed to haul us. Despite the fact it cost 50% more than we'd paid to haul in New Zealand, it turned out to be one of our best decisions.

On March 12 Migration was pulled out of the water and placed in the far corner of the boatyard. On the same day we moved into East Coast Ocean Villas, a condominium complex a half mile from the boatyard. For the first time in 10 years for me, and 24 years for Alene, and the first time ever together, we were living on land. The 1,100 sq ft, two-bedroom condo seemed huge! Although the rent was more expensive than we'd expected — like everything else in Phuket — moving in there was another good decision. It turned out to be a nice place to live — and escape to — during the many trials that lay ahead.

We also rented a minimal local one-bedroom apartment with an outdoor kitchen and a squat toilet for US$60/month. This wasn't for living in, but rather for putting everything from Migration into. And when we say 'everything', we mean everything. The only things we left on Migration were the engine, the tanks, the oven, and the galley sink. The more valuable and delicate stuff we brought to the condo with us. But you can't believe how much stuff you collect on a boat!

With help from John from Ocelot and a crane, we removed the masts. It was the first time we'd done it without the help of a professional rigger.

We needed to cover the boat for protection from the sun and the torrential rain that was to come. After much research, we found that tents were twice the price we'd expected. Nevertheless, we had to have one, so we purchased a huge custom-made tent that was 52 feet by 32 feet by 20 feet tall. Don't even get me started on the miseries we had before — and after — we got the tent up.

To give you an idea of the scope of our refit, we started out with a list of 165 items we wanted to do. Before it was over, we'd added 100 more.

For instance, every piece of deck hardware — hatches, ports, port lights, pulpits, tracks, turning blocks, mast steps, ad infinitum — had to be removed. And every fastener and fitting had to be labeled, bagged or boxed.

One of the high-priority items was removing and replacing the nine chainplates that we hadn't replaced in Mexico. The stainless steel chainplates were then 44 years old, and the sections where they went through the deck could not be inspected. When we removed them, we discovered that we'd been very lucky not to have lost both masts because of chainplate failure.

The hulls were in pretty good shape for being nearly half a century old, with just a couple of spots needing repair. But as we tore Migration apart, sanded her down, and started rebuilding, we found plenty of new problems. While the chaos raged on the exterior, we started stripping down, repairing and repainting the interior. I need to remind you that it was hot while we were doing all this. Very, very hot and humid.

Since we were renting such a nice condo, we needed to make good use of it. We knew the crews of several boats in Phuket, and we celebrated many friends’ birthdays by hosting pool and barbecue parties at the condo. This led to an interesting exchange with the president of the condominium homeowners association, who became upset because we apparently were having too much fun. He sat me down and gravely told me there was a big problem because we were "using 60% of the pool” and “I distinctly heard talking and laughing”. I apologized profusely and promised we would never have fun again. But I didn't keep my promise.

The tent from hell. As I mentioned, we decided to buy a tent from Lek Star because we thought we would only be using it for about six months, at which point we could resell it, so in the end it would cost less than renting one. However, when we told the tent company that we were only planning to use it for six months, they decided to cut corners.

Twenty days after the tent went up — with all Migration's hatches, ports, and port lights removed, and part of the fiberglass peeled away from the topside exposing bare wood — the first thunderstorm of the season came through. Within minutes the tent began collapsing. It was instant chaos, with tent supports buckling, water pouring onto the boat, and thunder and lightning crashing all around us. Luckily it was before 5 p.m., so the workers were still there. They ran around holding up the supports and grabbing ropes to try to create temporary stays. I ran to the forward port bow to keep a bent piece of steel tubing from punching a hole in the deck.

Then a lightning bolt hit a transformer next to the boat, and a shower of sparks cascaded onto the road while the power cable fell in front of a truck. Alene ran under the boat, frantically trying to get a call through to the tent company. It was, of course, the day before the biggest holiday weekend of the year.

Lek Star did come out the next day and did a half-assed job fixing the tent. It was the start of months of attempts to get a tent that we could rely on. Lek Star would fix whatever broke, but not what hadn't. So another support would break as soon as there was another thunderstorm. It was infuriating, as so much of the boat's structure was exposed to the elements. Many times we got up in the middle of the night and went out in the pouring rain to check the tent — not that we could have done anything if it failed. But over the next month, every side support failed. We had to buy huge tarps to cover the boat every night, even though we had paid thousands of dollars for a tent.

Eventually, Lek Star beefed up the supports, but in the end we hired another company to install wire stays and side curtains. We had problems with the tent until we took it down 19 months — not six — later.

The tent experience was a perfect example of the problems with having work done in Thailand. Thai businesses and workers will often do just enough to get by, never mind that a little extra effort would permanently solve the problem. It is hard to express the frustration we felt.

But on to happier subjects, such as the New Year, Thai style. Our tent's initial test of our patience came on April 9, the day before Songkran — or Thai New Year — weekend. Thailand has its own calendar, so for them it was 2556, not 2013. Songkran is celebrated with massive water fights on the streets of the cities.

Dousing with water is a show of blessings and good wishes. People also smear perfumed talc on people's faces. The nice thing about it is, except in tourist areas where the farangs (white foreigners) hang out, it is all done with good humor and little malice. It is not a war, but a spreading of good luck. So when you shoot someone with a water blaster, you do it with a smile. And similarly, when they dump ice cold water on your head, they do it good-naturedly.

The visa runs. We'd applied for Thailand long-stay visas when we were in California at the end of 2012. Because I'm over 50, it was easy for me to get a retirement visa. However Alene was only 49, so she could only get a multi-entry visa, which meant she had to leave the country every three months. Her first 'visa run' — and these are very common in Thailand — was an inexpensive flight to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. She went off on her own while I stayed to continue working on the boat and managing the workers.

By May we had eased — or been wedged — into a routine. Monday through Saturday we'd be on the boat by 8 a.m., managing the workers all day. We'd often work alongside them when there was a particularly crucial job like fiberglassing. Meanwhile, we'd be communicating with the contractors by phone (or in person on the infrequent days they showed up), and trying to work though our own huge list of projects. Lunch was spent at the wonderful Hareefeen Restaurant nearby.

We'd head back to the condo when the workers knocked off between 5 and 6 p,m, and mix our favorite cooling drink of soda water and pomegranate juice. Thanks to a full-size fridge and freezer, we had ice all the time.

Then we'd swim laps, relax, and watch the eastern sky reflect the colors of the sunset. Next, we'd have a bite to eat, usually either leftovers or a salad or takeout. Prepared food is so cheap and delicious in Thailand that it doesn't make much sense to do your own cooking. Then we'd go to bed. We were so tired each night that neither of us read a book for an entire year.

On Sundays, our one day off a week, we would often jump onto the motorbike to see some sights. Every other week our friends Jon and Sue on Ocelot would come over Saturday evening and stay until Monday morning. They were in the middle of their own refit from hell at Chalong, an hour's drive south.

Living ashore meant we came in contact with things that also lived on land. Thailand has a lot of them. There was a whole menagerie right outside our door — geckos, spiders of all types, butterflies, soon-to-be-butterflies, beautiful beetles, friendly praying mantises, and lots of frogs. After rains, we would enjoyed frog symphonies.

And snakes! Occasionally there were black cobras found under the condos, although we never saw one of those. For months there was a bird's nest in the bush outside our front door. Unfortunately, one day we returned to find the nest — and tree — destroyed. Probably by the three-foot monitor lizard we surprised on our doorstep.

On a nicer note, a 15-minute ride on our motorbike — public transportation is not good on the island — brought us to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center.

More next month.

— bruce 11/15/2015

Moontide — Lagoon 470
Bill Lilly and Judy Lang
Our Canal Transit
(Newport Beach)

If there is a Panama Canal transit in your future, we have three takeaways for you based on our recent experience. First, you don't have to do anything until you get to Panama City. Second, Panama City has everything. Third, a Canal transit is easy.

We're not going to cover the actual transit until next month because we're going to give you some tips on the Pacific side of the Canal, as well as tips for the Caribbean side after you've completed your transit, and tell you how to set up your transit.

There's a pretty good daily cruisers' net on VHF 8 at Panama City, while the hailing channel is 72. There are several long-term cruisers in Panama who are on the net and who know where to buy stuff and get stuff fixed. Paul on Sunrunner was especially helpful. In addition to information, he also works on boats.

Almost half of Panama's four million people live in Panama City, so you can either find everything there or get it shipped there quickly. The Wanderer once told us that both Yanmar transmissions on Profligate went out one Wednesday off Panama, and his cat was able to do a Canal transit the following Tuesday because the boat was hauled so quickly, and the units arrived from Florida and were installed so fast.

Let's face a few facts. It's been variously argued that 'Panama' means an abundance of fish or an abundance of trees or an abundance of butterflies. Everybody decided it just means an abundance of all three. Costa Rica raves about its nature and its diversity of animal and plant life. But it can't hold a candle to Panama, the land bridge between North and South America, in any of those categories. Panama also has the famed Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, which is impenetrable for three reasons: the incredibly thick jungle, Colombian guerrillas and drug smugglers. Panama also has 500 rivers and, in Lake Gatun, the largest man-made lake in the world.

The daily temperatures at sea level in Panama stay in a tight range between 75° and 89°, but thanks to the humidity, which can reach 90%, it often seems much hotter. You want to sweat toxins out of your body? Panama is just as good a place as Singapore. It rains a lot in Panama and many of the drops are the size of cantaloupes. If it weren't for the rain, the Panama Canal couldn't operate. Along with the rain comes a tremendous amount of lightning.

After you've come down the Pacific Coast and spent your time at the Perlas and other islands — which are terrific — there are five places you can wait at Panama City before doing a transit. Two are anchorages, one is the mooring field at the at Balboa YC, and two are marinas.

The La Playita anchorage, just outside the La Playita Marina, is protected from the wind, but suffers from wakes of work boats. You can land your dinghy in the marina, but they want $50/week for up to three people. You are issued wristbands that change in color each week. (Playita Marina chandlery has a surprisingly good selection with prices not much higher than those in town. There are also several marine stores on the causeway between La Playita and Flamenco, including a small outlet for TESA, the Yanmar distributor in Panama. It's typical Yanmar pricing, but they have good stock at the main store, and will deliver to this location. The staff at all the stores were very friendly, with varying degrees of English skills.)

The Las Brisas anchorage is outside the Flamenco Marina on the other side of the causeway from La Playita. It's a larger area with more boats, but dinghy access is funky. We were told that you come to a floating dock, then pull across to the rocks in a permanent dinghy. There are some kind of steps up the rocks. This anchorage is more exposed to wind and fetch.

Friends with a 42-ft boat stayed at the La Playita Marina for a few days and were charged $150 for the first night and $50 a night after that. The reason for the price disparity is the marina got tired of having cruisers come in for one night and use a lot of water and dump a lot of trash. We're not sure about the rates at the Flamenco Marina, but it's not cheap.

The Balboa YC is a semi-yacht club with a mooring field and a restaurant/bar open to all. The mooring field is right off the channel for ships going to the Canal, so you see lots of them up close. You are required to use a water taxi — $5 each way — to get the short distance from your boat to the dock. The 'yacht club' has a nice cruiser bar with live music some nights and so-so food. The Balboa YC is not the really wild place of decades ago, when sizzling young Panamanian girls dressed to kill in order to land a U.S. soldier stationed in Panama for a ticket to life in the States. Some say it was the body friction between the soldiers and the Panamanian girls that started the fire that burned the club down, but others say it was just a grease fire.

Transportation. Another victim of progress in Panama City has been the loss of the 'red devils', which were highly customized buses painted in bright colors to depict famous actors, politicians or singers. Now they have the Metro and Metro bus, which are inexpensive, fast and clean. You cannot ride the bus or the metro without a prepaid card, but you can use the same card for multiple people.

Cabs are very reasonably priced and most have air-conditioning. That's a good thing because, as mentioned, it's really hot and humid in Panama City. A cab from La Playita to the Albrook Center, a very large shopping center, is $5. They also have $1/person cabs that run from Flamenco Marina at the end of causeway to Cinco de Mayo Plaza. You just hold up a finger to flag such a cab down.

Water and fuel. We got water at Flamenco Marina in Panama City, and friends from Vancouver said it was as good as their water. Once we were charged for it, the other time we weren't. The same can't be said for the quality of water on the other side of the Canal at Shelter Bay Marina or at Nargana in the San Blas Islands. There were no health issues, but the water tasted crappy. It rains like crazy in Panama, so this was puzzling.

Fuel was a very reasonable $2.03/gallon for diesel at the Flamenco Marina, and not much more for gas. Call ahead and let them know you are coming in, as they are busy and like to give preference to the commercial vessels that take on lots of fuel. They also have a bin for garbage. You can also get diesel at Playita Marina, but they charge $2.25/gallon — and a $35 dock fee if you're not staying in their marina. Fuel at Shelter Bay on the other side of the Canal was around $3.40/ gallon, so load up at Flamenco.

When it came to provisioning, Judy fell in love with the a great deli and wine/liquor store right up from the Flamenco fuel/water dock. It had a good selection of wine and spirits at reasonable prices, and good deli meats and even some pulled pork. Pâté, too. Judy liked the Riba Smith grocery chain as well. Panama also has Pricesmarts, which had good-looking veggies and Delo 400 oil. Other chains are El Rey and Super99.

It's best to do all your provisioning in Panama City for as long a time period as you can, because the only other places near the Canal are Colon, which some travel guides simply describe as a "no go area" because of the threat of theft and/or violance, and the San Blas Islands. A 7/11 looks like Costco compared to a store in the San Blas.

Speaking of crime, Panama is neither the safest nor most dangerous place in Central America. So use the normal precautions and enjoy yourself.

Compared to Central American countries, Panama City itself is extremely cosmopolitan, and has every kind of restaurant you can imagine, with lots of Chinese and Indian restaurants.

If you're not in a hurry, try to visit Panama's highlands. It can even get quite cold.

Next month we'll describe how to sign up for a Canal transit and what it's like.

— bill and judy 2/15/2016

Beach House — Switch 51 Cat
Scott Stolnitz and Nikki Woodrow
Panama to the Galapagos Islands
(Marina del Rey)

After transiting the Panama Canal, Nikki and I headed to the 30-mile-distant Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama, dodging one ship after the other. We then stopped at Isla Chapera, the so-called 'Survivor Island', Contadora, and Isla Canas.

Contadora means the 'counting place', and is so named because that's where the divers used to bring their pearls to be counted by the Spanish before they were shipped back to Spain. It's a small island with a quaint town, several restaurants, an airfield — and some upscale homes owned by billionaires. Older readers will remember that this is where Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the exiled Shah of Iran, spent some of the last days of his life in the 1980s.

We later anchored in a rip-roaring river of current at Espiritu Santo. The currents are caused by the tides, which have a range of more than 15 feet. But that's nothing for Panama, where the tidal range is as much as 28 feet in some places!

Manuel Noriega, former CIA agent, later military dictator of Panama, and most recently a guest at US, French and Panamanian prisons, used to own one of the Perlas Islands — as least according to the stories told by my former mother-in-law. She said his island is the site of buried gold from a sunken ship that came from San Francisco over 120 years ago. One of her relatives was apparently murdered while searching for the gold.

Not having time to look for gold or wanting to be murdered, we set sail for the Galapagos via Colombia's remote and seldom-visited Malpelo Island. The Gulf of Panama is at the far eastern end of the Pacific Ocean’s Intertropical Convergence Zone, and as such is a notorious wind hole. This is where the North and South Pacific trade winds converge, and it's often humid, hot, rainy and squally. But for reasons unknown, we didn't see a drop of rain for weeks.

Malpelo is only about half a mile long but almost 1,000 feet tall. It's all rock with no vegetation, and looked to me like the place King Kong would have liked to live. It also has about 10 offshore pinnacles that rise needle-like to as much as 80 feet. The entire island is very steep-sided, so everything has to be offloaded via a gantry about 40 feet above the water that extends out about 80 feet.

We got on the radio and had three different voices respond. One told us that we couldn't stop without a permit. We couldn't have used the one mooring buoy anyway because there was a 150-ft supply ship on it.

And maybe a dive boat would use it next. Malpelo is a 'big animal' park with lots of hammerhead and Galapagos sharks, manta rays and whale sharks. The area is pristine and the water amazingly clear — in stark contrast to the west coast of Panama.

It was a lark visiting Malpelo, which we sailed around in about 45 minutes. It was only about 30 miles out of our way to the Galapagos, which was another 535 miles away, so stopping was worth it.

It's our understanding that a large number of cruising boats — about 50% of those leaving Panama — are bypassing the famed Galapagos Islands on their way to the Marquesas. The reason is that the fees have gone up so much. When my wife Cindy and I first passed through in 2009, the total fees were about $300. Now they are about $1,450.

The truth is that the Ecuadorians really don't want small boats to stop at the Galapagos, and very much limit where they can go. They want tourists to fly in, stay in a hotel, use their cruise boats, leave their money, then go home.

Nikki and I are now anchored in Wreck Bay. This is the point from which my wife Cindy and I started the circumnavigation in 2009. She tragically passed away, but my circumnavigation is in her honor. Nikki and I drank a Champagne toast to Cindy, the woman who got me started around the world, and I drank one to Nikki, the woman who got me back.

— scott 4/4/2016

Cruise Notes:

“My Gulfstar 50 Talion and her crew are anchored in a beautiful little bay on the island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, 18 days and two hours out of Cabo San Lucas,” writes Patsy ‘La Reina del Mar’ of La Paz. “We had a great trip! But how I got here so fast is not in keeping with Latitude’s vision of La Reina del Mar. First of all, I had three great former ocean racers — Glenn Belshaw, Marv Dunn and Mike Horner — as crew. It’s good to have people aboard who are not afraid to fly a big chute dead downwind in the dark at 8-9 knots. Second, unlike in the Ha-Ha’s, we did more than a little motoring, as I didn’t relish the idea of being becalmed in the doldrums with three men I'm not romantically involved with. I had studied weather sites such as and NOAA every day for over a year before we took off. It was evident to me that there would be three ‘dead’ areas: 1) The big hole extending 200 miles out from the tip of Baja; 2) 500 miles in the ITCZ, and 3) the approach to the Marquesas. So I had 50 gallons of fuel for Baja; 100 gallons for the ITCZ; 50 for the approach to the Marquesas; plus some extra. We arrived with 30 gallons of fuel — and two days of food.

“Another extremely important factor were the contributions of my daughter Denise, my boyfriend Tim in Colorado, and especially Bill Lilly on the Lagoon 47 Moontide,” continues La Reina. “These three constantly checked weather sites and gave their opinions on what the ITCZ was doing, where the wind was, and where we should go to avoid being becalmed or getting hit by squalls and lightning. Bill said he wished he'd taken a screenshot of the ITCZ when we dove south to cross it, as it parted just when we went through. By the way, the De Lorme InReach tracking device was our most valuable piece of equipment. With its unlimited texting feature, we were in constant contact with our weather gurus and our families, and even posted updates on Facebook.”

Although La Reina is now in the South Pacific, she’s No. 2 on the list for this fall’s Ha-Ha — and all subsequent Ha-Ha's. This will be her 10th Ha-Ha.

Latitude recently asked John Kelly, longtime cruiser with the Seattle-based Sirena 38 Hawkeye, what he thought about the personal safety of cruisers such as himself in the Republic of the Philippines. Readers may recall that on the night of September 15, 2015, 10 heavily armed terrorists abducted Canadian John Ridsdel of the catamaran Aziza, Canadian Robert Hall and his partner of the yacht Renova, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad of the yacht Wiskunde, from the Ocean View Marina on Samal Island, Davao.

"It's less safe here in the Philippines than we would like!" Kelly responded. "Port Bonbonon, where I am now, has a tricky, zig-zag entrance to a large anchorage. There are many fishing bankas, large and small, moored near the entrance, and a Navy patrol boat, the latter a most welcome addition. There are at least 30 yachts in the main harbor, and only about half of them are occupied as 'Port B' is considered a good typhoon hole. Unlike the boats at Samal Island, Davao, where last year's kidnapping took place, none of the boats here would be considered to be upscale. All of which, hopefully, makes me and my boat a poor target for terrorists.

"I would probably feel all right heading west to Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island," Kelly continued, "but I would hesitate sailing south of here in the Sulu Sea. Much depends on the fate of the four cruisers who were taken from the Ocean View Marina, who are being held for $60 million in ransom. According to the video recently released by the kidnappers, the victims will be executed if the ransom isn't paid within the next few weeks."

On April 8, just days after receiving the response from Kelly, the Philippine government initiated an offensive against the militant Islamic Abu Sayyaf group responsible for the kidnappings. The government troops were ambushed, leaving 18 of them dead after a 10-hour gun battle that was described as "the worst violence in the troubled south this year." One leader of the ambush was Mohammad Khattab, a Moroccan national described as "an Islamic jihadist preacher and bomb-making instructor, who came to organize kidnap-for-ransom groups to be affiliated with an international terrorist organization".

Prayers and/or good thoughts for the kidnapped cruisers are in order.

Is it too late to enjoy Havana and Cuba on the cheap by boat? Florida cruisers on the boat Belle de Jour report they arrived at Marina Hemingway outside Havana two days before the Rolling Stones' historic concert, and were very disappointed at how expensive everything had become. They report it cost them $25 each to enter Cuba, three times as much as it had cost just a month before. They also had to pay $75 per person, $50 for their boat, and 50 cents/foot for berthing. And the berth fees were set to increase by 40% the following month. Despite the increase in marina fees, they had to bring their own toilet paper to the restrooms which "had toilets that didn't flush and were disgusting". As if that weren't enough, it was a $40 round-trip taxi fare between the marina and Havana. As a result of the changes, the couple report that many cruisers who had been enjoying life in Marina Hemingway for a long time were heading for the exits.

That said, it should be remembered that Cuba has 3,500 miles of coastline, and is only about one third smaller than the state of Florida. As is the case in the rest of the world, metropolitan areas in Cuba are the most expensive.

Tragedy in the Western Caribbean. The bodies of Ria and Waldy Finke, a Dutch cruising couple on the Netherlands-based yacht Talagoa, were found floating off Isla San Andrés, Colombia, on April 1. The Finkes' 48-ft steel Van de Stadt-designed sloop, her keel missing, was found overturned on a nearby reef. The Colombian navy believes the deaths were the result of a navigation error rather than foul play. Ria and Waldy, extremely experienced mariners, had spent six months at the Svendsen Yard in Alameda in the fall of 2013 after being dismasted off Eureka on the way down the coast from Alaska.

"They say that the two best day's of a sailor's life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells her," writes Aussie Pitt Bolinate, formerly of the Formosa 41 KharmaSeas in Mexico. "In my case, the day I bought my boat filled me with stress. And now that she's been loaded aboard the ship Spliethoff in La Paz for shipment to her new owners in the Pacific Northwest, I am sad. My big consolation is that the new owners, Chuck Whitt and Debbie Gillas Whitt, are exactly the kind of people I was hoping I could pass my boat along to. I thank the universe for the opportunity I had to enjoy life on KharmaSeas."

Pitt, whose boat had an electric engine, is well-known as one of the 'characters' in the Mexico cruising scene. But having seen him in action on the race course several times, we can assure everyone that he could sail the daylights out of that decidedly non-racing boat.

How much does it cost to ship a 40-ft boat from La Paz to the Pacific Northwest? Figure on about 20k, plus or minus a few grand.

After the Wanderer groused that it was impossible to get propane as opposed to butane on the French Islands in the Caribbean, and even not so easy to get it on the Dutch part of St. Martin or formerly English Antigua, Sheri Seybold of the Stockton/Honolulu-based Esprit 37 Reflections wrote in to explain how you get propane for your boat in Malaysia. It involves a tree.

"The propane company here in Malaysia cannot fill our propane tanks because their fittings are different from the ones on our tank. There are two places that will fill our tanks, one being Rebak Marina near Langkawi. But they charge about $30 US per tank. The other option is all the little stores that rent green tanks for about $5. So we rent a tank and put it up in a tree to gravity feed the propane into our boat's tank. We have the proper fittings and hose that connects the two tanks. Gene puts ice on the tank being filled as it speeds things up. When we were in Bali, we ordered a huge tank of propane that we used to fill the tanks of 20 cruising boats.

For those of you who have read Jason Hite's Changes earlier in this issue and are considering buying a drone, Latitude recommends one of the Phantom 3 models. No matter how low the price, avoid the now-outdated Phantom 2s. And unless you're Steven Spielberg, you probably don't need to spend the money on the just-released Phantom 4.

Which of the four Phantom 3 models — which range in price from $499 to $999 — you should buy is a little tricky. You can find some guidance at the DJI website. Probably 90% of buyers would be happy with the Phantom 3 Standard, a ridiculously sophisticated drone for just $499. If you want more range — up to 2.1 miles — get the 3 Advanced. If you want higher video resolution — 4k — get the 3 4k. Both of those models sell for about $799. If you want the best of everything, get the Professional for $999. As mentioned above, there is a Phantom 4 that just came out with features like Obstacle Avoidance. We new users need one.

What does the Wanderer know about drones? Plenty, having destroyed 3.5 out of five that we've owned. Three have gone for a dip in the Caribbean. The most recent loss was a case of operator stupidity. Having misjudged how far away a friend's boat was, we inadvertently flew sideways 'through' the boat, hitting the rigging, and sending the drone down. We could have easily increased the drone's elevation and flown over the boat. You live — if you're piloting a drone rather than a real helicopter — and you learn.

If you want proof that there can be such a thing as too much love, look to the Marieta Islands at the outer edge of Banderas Bay, Mexico. Thanks to international publicity and a couple of really cool photographs, the number of visitors to Hidden Beach, aka Playa de Amor, shot up from just 27,500 visitors in 2012 to 127,00 last year. The unusual ‘beach in a crater’ was created when the islands were used as a bombing range by the — no joke — Mexican Air Force. When famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau saw what was going on, he had a fit, and the Mexican government put a stop to it. The beach also has an attraction because you have to swim through a relatively narrow tunnel.

The National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP) has announced that they will close Playa de Amor starting on May 9 to protect the coral reefs, clean up the garbage, and monitor the state of the sea life. They figure the beach could support 625 visitors a day — really!? — but as many as 2,500 were stopping by during Easter Week. It’s unclear if the closure is temporary or permanent.

Playa de Amor has had a tremendous economic impact on the Punta Mita area and Puerto Vallarta. The panga guys at Mita used to fish until they realized that tourists were a much more lucrative catch. For the last couple of years they’ve been making big bucks. Officials say that as many as 250 boats a day were bringing tourists to the beach over Easter Week. Many of these were from Puerto Vallarta, and some carried as many as 400 passengers. There are going to be a lot of unhappy fishermen-turned-island-guides, as well as unhappy owners of big charter-boat businesses. We don't want to see the environment ruined, but it's going to hurt some livelihoods.

Latitude’s 63-ft catamaran Profligate, which only operates from mid-November through the end of January, is licensed and insured to carry up to 30 passengers at a time on Banderas Bay. The ban won’t directly affect her because her permit specifically excluded the boat from visiting the islands. Not that we cared, because captains of boats with permits complained they often had to wait up to two hours to let their passengers off, and many visitors didn’t enjoy the experience because of the Disneyland-like crowds.

There is good news out of Fiji, parts of which had been devastated by tropical cyclone Winston two months ago, and which was being threatened by tropical storm Zena in mid-April.

"Zena turned out to be much less destructive than expected," reports Jerry Murphy of the San Diego-based Bristol Channel Cutter Destarte'. "Winds here in the Vuda Point Marina area were only about 30 knots, as the eye passed 90 miles to the SSW of us. Most of us slept quite well, as the winds had abated by evening. However, during the height of the wind some crazy sailor was heard singing The Girls of Old Maui to nobody in particular. In hindsight it's easy to say everyone over-prepared, but it made sense to be ready.

"In even better news, my Destarte’ was put back in the water after the many commercial boats that had been hauled in anticipation of Zena. It's so different from being on land, and so peaceful, like being back in the womb. Friday afternoon I launched the new Zodiac 7 1/2-ft dinghy I had brought down as checked baggage. Weighing in at only 52 pounds, it will be much easier to pump up, launch, recover and stow."

"I'm one of the volunteers on the Southbound Evening Net (8122 kHz [6516 alternate] at 0200 UTC), one of the oldest cruising HF nets operating along the Mexican/Central American coast," reports Mark Schneider of the Norseman 447 Wendaway from Punta Pulpito, Baja. "We at the Southbound Net are looking for a shore-based volunteer to assemble a nightly marine weather briefing covering the Pacific waters of Mexico and south. This person will have a good Internet connection, strong interest in marine weather (preferably with some cruising experience), and a willingness to follow in the footsteps of the inestimable Don Anderson. Please visit to apply!"

Schneider also notes that "NOAA is about to launch an experimental forecast covering offshore waters between San Diego and the Galapagos. It's called the East Pacific Offshore Forecast (EPOFF), and thanks to the work of Jim Corenman of the Schumacher 52 Heart of Gold, now in the San Juan Islands, can be downloaded from Saildocs. NOAA meteorologists have asked the Southbound Net to encourage cruisers to provide them with feedback."

"In the 44 years of my life, I have never experienced such crazy, excruciating pain as I did from a blue jellyfish sting on my foot last month," reports Brian Charette of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based Cat2Fold. "I paddled a half mile back to my boat, stopping on the way to try to pee on the sting, having heard pee would provide pain relief. But when you're on a SUP and in great pain, it's hard to pee on your foot. So I resumed paddling. Briskly! I got to the boat writhing in pain, peed in a bucket, and thoroughly coated the afflicted area. No relief. I applied jellyfish sting gel stuff. No relief. I got online and read that shaving cream was the solution. No relief.

"A different website suggested hot water. Bingo! Fifteen seconds of my foot being immersed in really hot water bought me five to 15 seconds of reduced pain — so that I could heat some more water. But even two hours later the pain was still intense. I could imagine people dying if they'd been stung on the head, neck or chest. I'm so glad that I didn't go into shock once I got back on the boat. I probably should have paddled to shore."

For those who don't know Charette, he's about the most buff and macho guy around, so when he said the pain was intense, you can believe it. It seems as though everybody has their own home remedy for jellyfish sting relief, but most medical professionals says the best remedy is the hottest water you can stand directly on the affected area. The hot water causes the venom proteins to 'refold', reducing the pain. Nonetheless, the pain doesn't go away quickly. It's the same remedy they recommend if you get lanced by a sting ray.

Yet another boat destroyed on the rocky beach just to the east of Marina Riviera Nayarit on Banderas Bay. In the wee hours of April 18, the Pearson 30 Grand Wazoo went onto the rocky shore. The cause of the mishap is no mystery. Jim Milski of the Schionning 49 Sea Level was the first person on the scene, and he discovered that the pin on the shackle connecting the anchor to the rode was missing. Eddie Sanchez, who was looking after the boat for Canadian owner Jim Pilar, says he'd had a diver check to make sure the pin had been seized to stay in place. But something obviously went wrong somewhere in the process. Despite the boat's old-school thick hull, she was holed. An attempt to get the boat hauled at the nearby yard was terminated when the port captain determined that she was going to sink.

"Latitude has reminded boatowners who will not be returning to Mexico, and potential buyers of boats that have been to Mexico, that it is important to have their Temporary Import Permits (TIPS) canceled," writes Jack Goffman of the Seattle-based Sceptre 41 Royal Sceptre. "There has been some question about whether TIPs can be canceled once the boat has left Mexico. Thanks to the advice of Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz, and the help of Yolanda Espinoza at Eco Naviera in La Paz, we were able to get our TIP canceled without traveling to Mexico. Neil told us it was possible — as long as we had a copy of our papers from checking out of Mexico and the original of our TIP — even though it was one of the 20-year TIPs that were given out in 1990.

"Neil then directed us to Yolanda Espinoza at," Goffman continues. "She emailed us a letter of authorization form, and had us send the originals of our necessary documents via DHL. About a week later she sent me an email with a scanned copy of a document from Administracion Central de Operacion Aduanera, confirming that the permit was canceled, and telling me that she had sent me the original by FedEx. The total charge for her services and FedEx was $128, which I paid using PayPal."

The reason it's critical to cancel the TIP is that there can only be one TIP per boat, and it has to be in the owner's name. Thus if you leave Mexico with your boat, but don't cancel the permit, then lose the documents, it's going to be very, very difficult for you to sell your boat to a knowledgeable buyer who wants to take the boat to Mexico. Indeed, anyone thinking of buying a boat and taking her to Mexico needs to make sure that her TIP was canceled.

Missing the pictures? See the May 2016 eBook!


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