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June 2014

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With reports this month from Skabenga on battling a marlin in the middle of the Pacific; from Eleutheria on a Puddle Jump; from Curare on the east coast of South America; from Amelie on the Oyster Around the World Rally; from Zephyrus on 10 years of slow cruising in the Eastern Pacific and Western Caribbean; from Esprit in the Southern Caribbean, and Cruise Notes.

Skabenga — St. Francis 44 Cat
Jennifer Martindale, Crew
Not Your Average Puddle Jump
(Big Sky, Montana)

I met Bruce Harbour, the skipper of Skabenga, during the last Ha-Ha, and I started sailing aboard his cat during December's Banderas Bay Blast. Having loved doing a previous Latitude Puddle Jump aboard a MacGregor 65, I was happy to get the opportunity to do another.

Early on in the trip, I learned that this one would be a little different. "The spinnaker stays up to the ITCZ," announced Bruce.

“Uh-hhhhh-roger," says me.

“And we're taking a detour to Socorro Island to look for fish," he added.

“Uh-hhhh-roger," I say again. Yes, this was going to be different.

One day we had a 'full spread' out. For those of you who don't know what that means — I didn't before this trip — it's five big rig lines off the stern of the boat. Four rods were in holders, and the other was at the fighting station on the transom. The outer two lines were held out by long outriggers. Big marlin and dorado were the captain's prey.

I was used to sailboats that fished for food offshore, but this was fishing at a whole different level — a professionally rigged fishing boat that was also a sailboat. Yes, sportfishing across the Pacific.

Bruce is a fishing fanatic. He is in the business of making lures with names such as The Vigilante, The Plunderer, The Minion, and The Blackbeard.

Anyway, we were doing 10 knots under spinnaker in 18 knots of wind — we'd hit 16 knots the day before — when one reel went WHHHRRRRRR! Something big was on a line, so everyone jumped on deck. Bruce ran to the line that had the fish, set the drag, and began issuing commands.

“Finn and Jen, reel in the other lines!” He then ran to the bow to drop the chute. After we reeled in the lines, it was time to drop the main. All this had to be done as quickly as possible so we wouldn't lose the fish.

Once the main was down, everyone returned to the stern. Finn was at the helm getting orders from the captain to start an engine to direct the boat to the best speed and angle to land the fish.

"Twenty degrees to port. Twenty more to port. More throttle. Now neutral!!!"

I was on the transom taking care of two jobs. First, holding onto the rod with the fish so Bruce could go down the transom steps to bring the fish in by hand. Second, capturing the action with a GoPro camera. It was then I got my first glimpse of the fish — a beautiful blue marlin. Bruce later estimated its weight to be between 350 and 400 pounds.

After a big fight, with Bruce hand-over-handing the line, he got the marlin close to the bottom step. But it was such a man-versus-fish battle that I quickly reviewed the man-overboard drills in my head. Bruce and the fish kept duking it out on the swim step, as Bruce tried to land it before releasing it.

Suddenly the marlin disappeared under the starboard rudder and started circling beneath the cat. We all looked to see where he would surface next. Bruce was facing outboard, looking off the side of the back steps. Suddenly I saw the marlin come around the other side of the steps and try to stab Bruce in the back!

"Behind you!" I shouted, as the marlin slapped the swim step inches from Bruce. Just then I felt the line go slack, and knew the marlin had gotten away. Now all we had to do was put the main and spinnaker back up.

It was a lot of excitement for me, as I'd been on night watch earlier and was sleep-deprived. But what a beautiful fish, and what an exciting bit of adventure.

— jennifer 04/28/2014

Eleutheria — Tartan 37
Lewis Allen, Alyssa Alexopolous
Our Pacific Crossing
(Redwood City)

Latitude readers may remember us as the young couple who met when I stopped by Alyssa's parents' boat to measure their watermaker. We pretty much fell in love right away. As a result, I postponed my trip one year so she could finish school and join me. We've now completed our Puddle Jump, and would like to share some of the facts on our crossing to perhaps help those who follow in our wake. We'll start with perhaps the most important one:

Number of Arguments between Captain and First Mate — 0. Not bad for a 26-day passage on an often very hot and humid 37-ft boat.

Boat Speeds — We left from Zihua and made landfall 2,970 miles later at Hiva Oa. We averaged 115 miles per day or 4.8 knots over the ground. Our top speed was 7.5 knots.

Fuel Consumption — We started with 100 gallons of fuel and arrived with 60 gallons, having burned 40 gallons while using the engine for 110 hours. That's .36 gallons/hour. We mostly used the engine to generate electricity to do things like make 350 gallons of water.

Equator Crossing — We crossed the equator at 129° 29' W.

Diversions — We read a total of five books between us, and watched 17 movies and 20 television episodes.

Number of ships seen when more than 100 miles offshore — 4.

Fish caught —1. Lures lost — 3.

Number of flying fish found on deck — 20. The number Alyssa didn't accidentally step on — 4.

The number of U.S. dollars we spent for our first very slow Internet connection in the Marquesas — 40.

Breakages — Alternator, Sunbrella UV strip on jib, snap shackle on Code Zero, and the windlass.

Certainly our most frustrating failure occurred 2,969 miles into our 2,970-mile crossing. Just a mile from dropping the hook at Baie Tahauku, the breaker popped when Alyssa tested the windlass. After we reset the breaker, there was still no response from the windlass. Sh*t! We were closing on a very crowded bay without a freaking windlass!

We did a 180° turn and started beating out to sea so I could troubleshoot the problem. After pulling out the jib to beat into 6-8 foot swells, I got to work. I checked the breaker, but it wasn’t lighting up when I turned the switch on. So I traced the wires. Everything seemed fine. I checked fuse boxes, which also seemed fine. Talk about frustration!

I decided to try to unlock the windlass drum so we could at least drop the chain and troubleshoot while at anchor. Alas, the lock on the windlass was jammed, and I couldn’t get the clutch to release. The boat's previous owner had told me not to torque the lock on the windlass because he'd once broken it that way. Well, I’m a man, and we men don’t have complete control when it comes to tools. So yeah, I broke the f-ing thing trying to unlock it. Snapped the metal clean off!

Did I mention that we'd been only a mile from getting settled in, and we were exhausted from the cumulative effects of a month at sea without having gotten an uninterrupted night's sleep?

We weren’t spending another night at sea, I can tell you that, so I asked Alyssa to get out the spare anchor rode while I went to work on the bow removing the anchor from the chain. Visualize me on the bow, flying over waves about 12 feet in the air, then crashing into the troughs. All the while I was taking salt spray in my face as I worked furiously to release the shackle from the anchor. Meanwhile, Alyssa struggled to remove the spare rode from the lazarette, and bring the bitter end to the bow. After I reattached the anchor to the spare rode, we headed back toward Baie Tahauku.

After motoring into the bay and weaving through all the anchored boats, we decided to drop the hook beside the commercial pier — something you’re not supposed to do. There we would wait for someone to leave or some official to yell at us. We dropped two hooks so we wouldn’t swing into the pier or other boats.

I was still incredibly frustrated by the windlass situation, so I immediately went back to work, poking and probing with my multi-meter. After a long investigation, I concluded that everything should be working fine. So I threw the breaker to try the windlass one last time — and it worked! What? It turned out that the only thing wrong was that the stupid little LED light on the breaker was bad. I'd overthought everything!

We re-anchored at Baie Tahauku, getting a great spot behind the breakwater next to the dinghy dock. There were 14 boats when we arrived, so we had to wedge ourselves in. Luckily, a cat left right before sunset, so we snagged their spot. We finally got a chance to sleep, and were out like rocks for 14 hours.

The scenery was magnificent — rugged, towering cliffs covered with dense jungle foliage. The edge of the bay was black volcanic rock and steep-to. Above the bay were palm trees and some other vibrant green trees. Having rested up, we felt a great sense of achievement in having crossed the biggest ocean on the planet.

On a roll with the multi-meter, I went to work trying to figure out our other big problem — the alternator not putting out. After consulting the troubleshooting section in the owner's manual, I was able to trace the issue to the field current lead. There is a blue wire that goes from the voltage regulator to the back of the alternator. The wire had voltage, but there was no voltage at the post on the alternator — meaning a complete loss of continuity. I cut the connector off and crimped on another. After reconnecting the wire to the post on the alternator, we were back in business!

Despite our few problems, we are in great spirits and it's beginning to sink in that we're actually in the Marquesas. We are excited to go exploring tomorrow after we check in. We've heard the largest tiki in French Polynesia can be found in the valley outside town. We'll have to find that!

— lewis and alyssa 04/25/2014

Curare — Bowman 36
Geoff and Linda Goodall
The East Coast of South America
(Vancouver, B.C.)

Now in the Caribbean, we recently completed almost two years cruising in South America. The year's adventure started in March from Ushuaia, Argentina, which is about as far south as you can get in Tierra del Fuego. Our destination was the Falkland Islands. We enjoyed several pleasant but windy weeks stopping at anchorages. The anchorages tended to be tricky, and the constant strong wind kept us alert. But it was worth it to be among all the penguins, whales and other sea life.

From the Falklands, we managed to pick a good weather window to run 1,400 miles up to Piriapolis, Uruguay. This small, unassuming place turned out to be very pleasant. In general, we found Uruguay to be a laid-back and well organized country. There were few anchorages along the coast, but the government-run marinas were close enough together to meet our needs.

After some relaxation and cleaning up, we crossed the Rio de la Plata and moored Curare at the posh Argentina YC in the heart of Buenos Aires. This gave us easy access to the well-run bus and metro system, which we used to explore the city. There were lots of great street cafes and tango shows. When using the 'blue' peso, there were great bargains to be found everywhere.

By late May we found ourselves heading up the long — 3,200 miles — coast of Brazil. Our strategy was to wait for cold fronts to come up from the south, which would bring favorable winds. Unfortunately, the fronts usually brought lots of rain, too. Nonetheless, we hopped up the coast in 300- to 500-mile legs, with a brief stop in Paranaqua to clear into Brazil and take a trip to see the Iguaçu Falls, which is at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

Farther north, we spent some time exploring the islands near Isla Grande and Paraty, which are some of the finest cruising grounds in Brazil. There are thousands of private boats in this area, but they are mainly powerboats, and they are mostly kept in storage sheds until the weekends. That's when the entire area comes alive. Fortunately, nearly every one has a professional crew, because the owners down a lot of caipirinhas each day. The odd thing was that nearly all the boats would return to the marinas at night, leaving the anchorages empty and peaceful.

Anchoring beneath Rio's Corcovado was amazing, and the members of Rio YC in Niteroi were friendly and accommodating. They allowed us free access to the clubhouse, restaurant and showers.

We had additional stops at Salvador and the area around Itaparica. Salvador is a rough place, so we had to watch our backs.

By October we had travelled 2,500 miles along the Brazilian coast, and were at the northeast edge of the continent. We stopped at Cabadelo, where the coast was much flatter than the mountainous regions to the south. The only anchorages in this area were up river deltas.

We visited the small village of Jacare, which is up the Rio Paraiba from Cabadelo, and found that it had two marinas. It was here that our beloved dog Jessie fell ill. Within a week she had passed. It was heartbreaking to have our best friend of 13 years no longer with us.

We needed a break from the boat after that unfortunate event, so we left Curare at the marina and flew back to Vancouver to have Christmas with family and friends. It was the first time we'd done that in eight years.

Returning in January, we prepared Curare for the 1,600-mile passage to Suriname. A friend of ours had recently moved there, so we made plans to meet up. The winds were light crossing the ITCZ at 3°S, but filled in as we neared the equator. We then got onto the Guyana Current, which runs westward at up to two knots. It gave us a comfortable ride up to Paramaribo.

Eight miles up the Suriname River is the small town of Domburg. A Dutch businessman set up a marina there with 14 mooring balls. The place was so new that the paint hadn't dried yet. Nonetheless, all of the moorings were already taken, mostly by boats from the Netherlands. As our time there coincided with the Olympics, we watched our fellow Canadians win two golds in hockey.

After tours through the countryside with our local friend, we made for Barbados. Although this started out as a beat, it was only 15 degrees closer to the wind than going to Trinidad, and about the same distance. We persevered, and a few days out got to ease the sheets for a pleasant reach to Bridgetown.

The clear blue waters of the anchorage off Carlisle Bay were a pleasant change from the muddy rivers we'd been in, and it was marvelous to be able to go swimming again. The competing beach bars kept everyone thoroughly entertained, whether they wanted it or not, until 3 a.m. We had expected to see more cruising boats in Barbados, but only three or four came through in the two weeks that we were there. It was so pleasant walking along the mile-long sandy beach.

Martinique was a quick 120-mile reach to the northwest in light airs. We only stayed long enough to stock up on wine and cheese. We are now travelling south in the Windward Islands, thoroughly enjoying our time in the Eastern Caribbean. Our latest plans are to make our way toward Trinidad to haul Curare out for some much-deserved rest and repairs.

We'll share our opinions on cruising South America in next month's Latitude. We hope we're not giving too much away when we say we're thinking about returning.

– geoff and linda 03/15/2014

Amelie — Oyster 53
Stephen and Debbie Gratton
Oysters Around The World
(Exeter and London, England)

"The Galapagos Islands!"

That was the surprising answer that recent circumnavigators Stephen and Debbie Gratton gave us when we asked them to name their least favorite stop. While money wasn't a big issue for them, they disliked feeling they were being ripped off by the shoreside tourist hustlers. They were further disturbed to note that the large amount of funds collected for the Darwin Center obviously weren't being used for the stated purpose.

"To be fair," Debbie laughed, "the Galapagos had a fabulous vegetable market.

The Grattons went around as part of the recently completed 14-month Oyster World Rally from Antigua to Antigua, which was held to celebrate 40 years of the brand's success. Twenty-eight boats participated in at least part of it, and 23 went all the way around. The boats ranged in size from two 47-footers to hull #1 of the new 882s, which is owned by Eddy Jordan of Formula 1 fame. The average size entry was about 57 feet.

Fifteen of the participants were from the United Kingdom, two each were from Switzerland and South Africa, and one each from the U.S., Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands. "Almost all of the owners were between 55 and 65 years of age," noted Stephen.

The Grattons had purchased their 53 — which like all Oyster 53s and 54s was built in New Zealand and shipped to England for the mast and commissioning — new six years before. Both were experienced sailors at the time. Stephen had done an OSTAR — upwind across the Atlantic — aboard a Contessa 32. And the couple sailed across the Atlantic for the start of the rally.

The rally entry fee was based on boat size and number of crew. The Grattons, who were among the minority in not having at least one crewmember, paid a total of $22,000. "We found it to be an excellent value," said Stephen.

"The best part is that we met a number of really wonderful people who will be our dear friends for life," said Debbie.

The event was managed by Debbie Johnson, who had been a Project Manager for Oyster for six years. She had also done a circumnavigation aboard an Oyster 55, and had years of skippering Oysters and other superyachts. Johnson went around with Eddie Scougall, who had been the head of Oyster Customer Care for 11 years, and who had been sailing the world for 40 years.

"All the captains loved the fact that Eddie was along," said Stephen, "because he knew absolutely everything about the boats and all the gear on them. The fact that the boats were all the same brand was also advantageous, because owners had pretty much the same gear and issues, and could give each other tips on repairs. Not that our Amelie or any of the other boats had any serious problems."

The Grattons also appreciated the twice-a-day SSB net. "The net gave the event a real sense of community," says Debbie. "We had the same excellent net controller for the entire event, and he did a fabulous job."

He was in contrast to "one particularly wicked woman, who tried to push everyone around," says Debbie. "But only one bad one in 100 isn't bad."

In order to prepare for the event, Oyster had sent two advance people around the world — via the Canal and South Africa — for two years to make arrangements. Participants still had to check themselves in to each country, but officials were expecting them, so things went more smoothly than they otherwise might have. In addition, the local tourism authorities often treated them to unexpectedly grand welcome parties — even at relatively small places such as La Reunion.

The worst weather the Grattons experienced was 40 knots on the nose for 12 hours when approaching Durban, South Africa. This was balanced out by the fact they didn't have to take shelter anywhere between Durban and Cape Town, which they were told was a rarity. Their most pleasant leg was from Cape Town to Brazil, a 23-day, 3,600-mile passage during which the duo flew the spinnaker for 21 days without taking it down. Rally participants were not required to stop at each suggested stop. Since the sailing was so sweet to Brazil, the Grattons decided to simply sail right by St. Helena.

There were no specific starting dates for any of the legs. Participants were just told where the next gathering would be.

The Grattons are the first to admit that 14 months is a very quick trip around. This is why they intend to cruise for many more years. They'll summer in the southern Caribbean, winter in Cartagena, and take off for the Pacific in the spring. While the Grattons enjoyed all the stops, the Pacific was easily their favorite region.

"I totally fell in love with the Lau Group of Fiji," said Debbie. "It was a shame we only had a week to spend in the whole country," added Stephen.

What did they learn they needed? "Solar panels," said Stephen. "We don't want to run the genset all the time during future cruising. We also learned that a clothes washer/dryer is indispensible."

As always, there are dangers in any circumnavigation. Stephen and Debbie's biggest danger, oddly enough, had to do with a bungling supplier named Marcello in Salvador, Brazil. Among the many things they ordered from him was distilled water for their batteries. When a watermaker problem left them running shy of water, they decided to use some 'distilled water' for coffee. It was actually battery acid.

"It could have killed us if we hadn't noticed the 'distilled water' bubbling in the bottom of our cups," said Stephen.

How did they stay in touch with the 'real world' during the longer passages? Despite having five children from previous marriages, they didn't. And they were delighted to be out of touch. "World War III could have started and we wouldn't have known," laughed Stephen.

If the Galapagos was their least favorite stop, which was their favorite? "Cocos-Keeling," the couple agreed. It's a low-lying 16-sq-mile territory of Australia located between the west coast of Oz and Sri Lanka. It has a population of just 500. Stephen and Debbie thought it was extremely beautiful.

World Rally Economics 101. Oyster told rally participants that it cost them one million pounds — about $1.5 million U.S. — to put the event on. Of that, just under half was recaptured in entry fees. Part of the loss was offset by the fact that six Oysters were believed to have been purchased specifically to participate in the rally. Still, it was a big enough loss that a proposed second Oyster Around the World Rally is on hold.

The Grattons report that one entry did the Oyster rally as far as Australia, then switched over to the World Cruising's Around the World Rally for the second half. "He actually liked the World Cruising Rally better," says Stephen, "saying he liked the greater diversity of entrants." That's a bit surprising considering the entry fee for both events is about the same.

Be that as it may, the Grattons had absolutely no complaints with the Oyster Rally.

— latitude/rs 04/27/2014

Zephyrus — Cheoy Lee Pedrick 38
Dan and Lorraine Olsen
Slow Cruising
(San Diego)

Nobody can accuse Dan and Lorraine of cruising too quickly. In a time when some around-the-world cruising rallies circle the globe in just 14 months, after nearly 10 years the couple have only made it as far south as Ecuador, up to Florida, and just recently down to the Eastern Caribbean.

In more ways than one, their cruising started with the Ha-Ha. Dan did the 1997 Ha-Ha aboard the Freeport 36 Party Animal, and the 2002 Ha-Ha aboard the Maple Leaf 48 Sabbatical. Then, after spending four years converting the couple's Pedrick 38 Zephyrus from a multi-purpose boat to a cruising boat, they did the 2004 Ha-Ha with her.

"We owe Latitude a lot of thanks," said Dan during a chat with the Wanderer at Le Select Bar in St. Barth, "because the Ha-Ha deadline gave us a date we had to be ready by. It was really helpful."

Their crew for the Ha-Ha were sons Scott, then 27, and Lance, then 24. Apparently the Ha-Ha wasn't too damaging to the sons, as they both now live in San Francisco, where Scott is the CEO of two high-tech businesses, and Lance is a programmer for one of them.

The Olsens spent three years in Mexico and a couple of years between Central America and Ecuador, then passed through the Panama Canal in 2009. After spells at Cartagena, Isla San Andreas, Isla Providencia, and the east coast of Nicaragua, they stumbled upon what they believe is "the most cruiser-friendly area on the planet."

"We totally fell in love with Guatemala's Rio Dulce and the Bay Islands of Honduras," says Dan. "We intended to spend one year at those two places, but they were so great that we ended up spending three. The bar to get into the Rio Dulce is only six feet at the extreme tide of a new or full moon, which is too shallow for the cruise ships that ruin so many places. Then you travel 17 miles up a freshwater river. Once you approach the bridge at Frontera, there are 15 to 20 marinas that cater to gringo boatowners. There is a great morning net, which allows everyone to stay in touch with each other, and for local businesses to tout their offerings. Restaurants, for example, would announce their lunch specials. You could get a good lunch for $3 to $4."

The primary attraction of Honduras was the diving out at the islands. "Honduras has the best diving that we've experienced," said Dan, "and it was very inexpensive. We could either go on a dive boat for not much money, or we could take our own boat out of French Harbor and just pick up a mooring."

Dan was also pleased with the price and quality of work getting the Cheoy Lee's original Kubota diesel replaced with a Yanmar 4JH.

"Even though our $12,000 Yanmar had to come from Miami, it was less expensive to buy it delivered to the Rio Dulce than to have bought it in Miami. That's because the duty in Guatemala and shipping were less costly than the sales tax would have been in the Sunshine State. It didn't hurt that the boatyard made a 7-hour trip to get the engine for free because they were "going that way anyway".

The engine installation was a little tricky because various modifications had to be made in order to switch from a small Kubota to a big Yanmar. Nonetheless, Dan found the $2,000 installation price to be very reasonable. "A friend at the Oakland YC paid five times as much to have the same engine installed in his boat," says Dan, who added, "Everybody loves their Yanmar."

Both Guatemala and mainland Honduras are notorious for gang violence, but the Olsens and other cruisers seem to be unaffected. "We never had an issue with personal safety in three years on the Rio Dulce and out at the Bay Islands," said Dan. "Maybe there are problems between gangs elsewhere in Guatemala and on the mainland of Honduras, but it wasn't a problem for cruisers."

Two Christmases ago, the couple moved on to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, then Key West, then Marathon Key. "Marathon's Boot Key is really a hotbed of cruisers," notes Dan.

With the approach of hurricane season, the Olsens looked for a secure place to keep their boat. They checked out St. Petersburg, Florida, and were surprised to find they fell in love with it. "It's a very beautiful place that's gotten overlooked," says Dan. "It's a sweet town with a great vibe, and in a complete turnabout from years before, is becoming known as a city for the young."

The trip from Florida to the Virgin Islands is dreaded by all mariners because it's 1,200 miles upwind and up-current. Given that reputation, the Olsens decided to wait until March 1, the end of this year's cold fronts — and big winds — to start the passage. It proved to be a great strategy, as they had one of the easiest trips we've heard of.

"Except for about eight hours after leaving Georgetown, we had less than 14 knots of wind and flat seas all the way," says Dan. "We were very fortunate. We started by following cruising guide author Bruce van Zant's 'Thornless Path'," says Dan. "But if we followed that, it would have taken us forever to get to the Virgins. So we skipped many of the little islands on the way to Georgetown by going outside the banks and making a run for it. And we were lucky."

Their luck turned only slightly at Luperon in the Dominican Republic. "The only four words of English the official knew were, "The Navy says propina," laughs Olsen. "By the way, the DR Navy doesn't have any boats.

After stops on the south side of Puerto Rico at Ponce and the terrific hurricane hole of Salinas, the couple continued on to the U.S. Virgins. "Once we reached the Virgins, all the good things we'd read about in Latitude started appearing," says Olsen. "You weren't lying about how great it is here in the Eastern Caribbean!"

The very late start from Florida meant that the onset of hurricane season was something the couple had to think about right away. So after a short time in the U.S. and British Virgins, and four days at St. Barth, the couple continued south with uncharacteristic speed to St. Kitts, Montserrat, and other islands on the way to a hurricane refuge at either Grenada or Trinidad.

Like many other longtime cruisers, the Olsens keep a 'foot in both worlds'. "We have a house we rent out in San Diego," says Dan, "and we look after Lorraine's mother in San Jose. So we've come home each year for three to five months."

The couple spend most of their time in California at either Lorraine's mother's house or on their other sailboat. "We've owned a Chrysler 26 for 28 years," says Dan, "so she'll soon become a member of Latitude's 'Over 30 Club."

Chryslers don't have much of a reputation in the sailing world, but Dan insists that they are great boats. "They have six feet of headroom, and were designed by Halsey Herreshoff, grandson of the great Nathaniel Herreshoff. We keep ours on the hard at Alameda Marina when we're out cruising, and in the water at Marina Village when we're back and have her in the water. It's a shame that Alan Weaver is no longer the Harbormaster there, as we thought he did a really great job."

— latitude/rs 05/01/2014

Esprit — Peterson 44
Chay, Katie and Jamie McWilliam
Down Island, Eastern Caribbean
(Henderson, Nevada)

After the long trip across the Atlantic, then a break to go home to Nevada, we returned to the island of Grenada to start a brief season of cruising.

We began with a day tour of Grenada by rental car. We had lunch at a chocolate factory and visited a rum distillery, but the best part was stopping for a two-hour hike to the Seven Sisters Waterfall.

Even though April 11 was a Friday, we left our southern Grenada marina for the short passage to Dragon Bay, which is near the southwest part of the island. We picked up a mooring for the day so that we could snorkel at the underwater sculpture park, as well as start running the watermaker again.

There were two other boats on nearby moorings. The first was Pelican, which we had first met several years before in the Maldives. This was before we shipped Esprit to Turkey to bypass Somali pirates. Pelican had taken the other option to avoid the pirates, which was sailing around South Africa to Brazil, and then up to the Caribbean. The other boat was Sol Surfin, which had sailed down the Pacific Coast of the U.S., Mexico and Central America years ago, then gone through the Canal and across to the Eastern Caribbean. There are so many ways to explore the world by sailboat.

The next morning we departed the anchorage for Carriacou, the most northern island of Grenada. The wind was on the nose, and the current was so much against us that at one point we were pointing southeast but heading southwest! Plus the seas were short and square. We took lots of green water over the bow, so we were very glad to drop the hook in Tyrell Bay on the southwestern corner of Carriacou. It always seems as though the first longish passage of each season is always a rough one.

We got up at 3 a.m. to watch the lunar eclipse, aka 'blood moon'. While it was not quite a complete eclipse where we were, it was quite stunning.

The next morning we awoke to the realization that we were slowly dragging out of the bay. So we re-anchored and had Jamie dive the anchor. The anchor had hooked on a long pole, so we re-anchored once again, with Jamie hovering over a spot that was free of debris. It wasn't the prettiest anchoring dance, but we held for the two days we were there.

Before long two 'boat boys' — older men, actually — stopped by. One was selling wine and oysters, the other lobster. We purchased a bottle of wine at a reasonable price, and told the lobster man that we would like some lobster the next day. "How many?" he asked. "Three big ones," Chay responded, because we usually get very small lobster from locals. Well, he came back from the lobster traps with three huge — as in two-foot-long! — lobsters. They didn't even fit in our pot. Chay had to cook the head and then the tail. But they were yummy, and we got three meals from them.

We cleared out of Grenada for St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the afternoon of the 14th, and left the next day for a pleasant two-hour sail to Union Island. We anchored just behind the reef at Clifton Bay, and cleared into the country.

We would later return to Clifton, the only town on Union Island, on Easter. Wandering the streets was interesting, as all the restaurants on the main road were blasting music so loud you couldn't hear. And it seemed clear to us that many of the locals were high on something. This was the first place in a long time where we didn't feel safe, but nothing happened.

There are many reefs in the area, including the famous Tobago Cays, reputed to have the clearest water and best snorkeling in the Caribbean. We made it to the Tobago Cays the following day and did some snorkeling. We sure got our exercise, as there was quite the current running, making it hard to swim 'upstream'.

All the time the trades were blowing at 15 to 20 knots, which kept the bugs away and cooled us when on the hook. We noticed that the water seemed less choppy farther into the channel between the two islands, so we decided to re-anchor there. Unfortunately, our timing was bad, and we got caught in a current that was so powerful that we couldn't come head to wind! After a lot of frustration on Chay's part, we finally succeeded in maneuvering into a position where we could re-anchor. Once again, Jamie free-dove the anchor to make sure it was set.

We did a shallow scuba dive that afternoon, and saw a variety of fish, sting rays — including a spotted eagle ray — some coral, and several sand dollars. We also discovered that the bottom of our keel and rudder were extremely dirty. Apparently the divers we'd hired to clean the bottom in Grenada didn't do a complete job.

The anchorage soon filled with charter boats, the majority of them catamarans. One was skippered by a young man who apparently had no boat handling skills. He eventually got his cat anchored, but not without some close calls with us and some other boats. We are amazed who the charter companies will give boats to. Shortly thereafter a squall came through the anchorage with rain and winds up to 27 knots. Fortunately, all the boats held.

One of the snorkeling highlights in the Tobago Cays is the Baradal Turtle Sanctuary, which was just a two-minute dinghy ride from where we were anchored. This is a protected area where we were able to snorkel with the green and hawksbill turtles as they munched on the sea plants. It was so cool to swim alongside them! There were also many conchs, both large and small, as well as large orange and brown starfish.

Since we've started this segment of our trip, we've seen several beautiful boats, including Eos, at the marina in Grenada and later in the Tobago Cays. At 305 feet, Barry Diller's schooner is the largest privately-owned sailing yacht in the world. She's suitably elegant. Thaddeus, a local who did our varnish, told us that he'd done the varnish on Eos, too. He said it "went on forever" and wore him out. We were especially surprised to see the catamaran Rafoly, home to Jamie's friend Jonny Duncan, pull into the anchorage. We hadn't seen that family since Croatia!.

If the wind and seas calm down a bit, we hope to go to Petit Tabac. This is the island where Captain Jack Sparrow was marooned on two different occasions!

— the mcwilliams 04/20/2014

Cruise Notes:

It's June, which means it's officially hurricane season in Mexico. As we go to press, the first tropical depression of the season seemed about to form. June also means it's prime time for local and regional cruising on the West Coast, from Ensenada to Alaska. There are so many great destinations it would take pages to list them all. No matter if you want to cruise alone in nature, or do some 'urban cruising', it's all waiting for you. Even if you only get two weeks off, there are still plenty of terrific places relatively close to home, no matter where you keep your boat. And remember, as Admiral Nelson said, "Men and ships rot in port."

If you'd like to take part in a Ha-Ha style rally off the coast of California, check out the SoCal Ta-Ta II, aka 'Reggae 'Pon Da Ocean' — from Santa Barbara to Catalina, with stops at Santa Cruz Island, Paradise Cove, Redondo Beach, and Two Harbors, Catalina. Visit for details. Don't wait too long, as there is limited space.

There's one cruising destination, however, that has to be scratched off the list for this year — San Miguel Island. The former bombing range is owned by the Navy and managed by the National Park Service. To its credit, the Park Service sought greater public access to the island. In response, the Navy shut the whole dang place down because "of concerns about unexploded ordinance". We smell a rat, but that's the way it is.

Little Santa Barbara Island is also currently closed to public access, this because of recent storm damage to the pier. It's expected to open again shortly.

Santa Catalina Island, on the other hand, has the welcome mat rolled out. If you're freaked because you saw the photos of big waves crashing on the beach at Avalon in early May, fear not. Those were generated by Santa Ana winds, and Santa Ana season is over until about November. By the way, Santa Anas usually advertise themselves well in advance via abnormally clear and dry air, and moisture-free decks.

Twenty years in the making, the cruising dreams of Jack and Marcie Shultz of the Annapolis-based Manta 40 catamaran Escape Velocity tumbled down four days into an intended passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas in early May. "We were reaching in 20-22 knots of wind in somewhat lumpy seas, which was uncomfortable but safe and manageable," wrote Marcie, "when the mast came down."

It's not as though the Puddle Jumpers hadn't carefully prepared their cat. Previously named Chocobo, the Manta had finished a circumnavigation in 2012. Wanting to be safe, Jack and Marcie replaced all the standing rigging. But it didn't help, as they report the mast came down because of a failure of the T-ball fitting that attached the port shroud to the mast. "It was not poor tuning or metal fatigue," they wrote, "it was a defective part." All they were able to save was the camber spar for the jib and half the jib.

Once the couple got rid of the mast and boom that were endangering the hull, they took stock of the situation. They quickly realized that with a 1,000-mile range under power, there was no way they could motor to the 2,600-mile distant Marquesas. They had no choice but to start powering 400 miles back to the Galapagos, where they would refuel, then have to continue motoring at least 1,000 more miles to get back to Panama.

"It’s been 24 hours since our sudden and shocking dismasting," the couple posted on their blog via HF radio email. "We are in a daze of six-hour watches as we slowly motor back to Santa Cruz Island. We both agree this is the most uncomfortable ride we’ve ever experienced on a boat. The seas are big and confused, causing rolling and lurching like we’ve never felt before."

In a later posting, Jack and Marcie reported the motoring conditions had improved somewhat, and they were looking forward to Puddle Jumping next season.

The first ones to alert us of the Escape Velocity dismasting were Ed and Sue Kelly of the Iowa-based Catalac 37 Angel Louise, who were "fighting battery exhaustion" in Cowes, England, at the time. Having spent two winters in London, and having already circumnavigated Europe via the canals and the Danube, the couple are now heading "south down the Bay of Biscay and along the coasts of Spain and Portugal in hopes of making it to the Cape Verdes by December. "We'll then cross the Atlantic a second time, and hopefully meet the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca in the Caribbean." We'll be there. Have a safe trip down to the Cape Verdes and across.

No cash, no credit cards, no out-of-state checks — no common sense, either. Here's another example of how Hawaii isn't very friendly to mariners:

"The Harbormaster's Office at Radio Bay, Hilo, is inside the secure port area, so I had to provide a photo ID just to get to the office. It was a good thing that I had my driver's license with me, because my passport had expired earlier in the month, and the one thing port security was interested in was the expiration date of my ID. Anyway, the lady in the harbormaster's office was friendly. In order to anchor out, we had to pay $27.50 for the application fee, and $9.24/day. The silly thing is that they don't take cash, credit cards or out-of-state checks. So I had to get a money order. We were headed to Wal-Mart to get a phone and Internet modem. Fortunately, Wal-Mart sells money orders, too."

We think it would be beneficial if Wal-Mart were given the concession for all the government marinas in Hawaii. Well, maybe not Wal-Mart, but certainly Costco.

Who sent us the email? We're mortified to say that we don't know, as we somehow separated the text from the email address. Regrets.

"My wife Debbie and I loved Guadeloupe's Iles de Saintes, as we found them to be more beautiful than St. Barth — and less expensive," writes Greg Dorland of the Tahoe-based Catana 52 cat Escapade. "We left St. Barth for Nevis, but there was so much south in the wind that we couldn't even lay Statia. So we flopped onto starboard after an hour and nearly laid Barbuda! It was sort of like heading out the Gate for Drake's Bay and ending up in Monterey. We then continued on to Antigua, where we closed Catherine's for the season along with Bear and Tony Brooks, the latter being Doña de Mallorca's old friend from years ago on yachts in the Med. Tony is now captain of the spectacular 203-ft Hoek schooner Athos, the largest privately-owned two-masted schooner in the world.

"To show you what a small sailing world it is,"continues Dorland, "this is the same Tony who delivered Art Lohrey's Swan 59 Escapade to Friday Harbor, and his brother David Lohrey's Swan 59 Perseverance from Belvedere to the Caribbean. And Bear once did some work on the Swan 46 Midnight Rambler for Nicky Evans. All three of the Swan owners were clients of mine at North Sails Tahoe back in the 1980s. I offered to trade my Catana 52 to Tony for his job, but he demurred."

It's worth nothing that Dorland and wife Debbie Maccrorie visited Iles de Saintes in mid May, after the end of high season. They report that those wonderful islands weren't crowded. The last time we were there, it was three years ago during the high season with the Olson 30 La Gamelle. It was more packed than Ayala Cove is on Opening Day.

The Stolnitz Corollary states: The greater the density and frequency of cruise ships, the less pleasant the attitude of locals. "Can you spell 'jaded'?" he asks. Scott is the owner of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House, and he's nearing the completion of a circumnavigation, the last half of which he's been doing with Nikki Woodrow. "We'd have to say that French St. Martin / Dutch Sint Maarten, which often get five or six cruise ships a day, are "must miss stops" for cruisers. We don't want to be negative, and maybe others have had different experiences, but we wouldn't go back to St. Martin. Besides, St. Barth is just 15 miles away, and so far it's been the highlight of our season, what with seeing the Bucket and getting to see Jimmy Buffet play for free in a tiny bar."

The Wanderer is not a huge fan of St. Martin either, which we agree suffers from both a cruise-ship economy and crime. But we would like to point out seven of the island's positive features:

1) It's home to the Heineken Regatta, one of the top two or three regattas in the Caribbean. 2) It has the great anchorage at Ile Pinel, and good restaurants on the beach at the Grand Case anchorage. 3) Standing directly beneath the KLM 747s just before they touch down at Queen Julianna, and a few hours later getting blown into Maho Bay by jet blasts at take-off, are unique thrills. 4) Lal's and other Indian restaurants offer some variety to the normal Caribbean fare. 5) Budget Marine and Island Water World are two of the finest chandleries we've ever seen, and the prices are much lower than in Antigua or the BVIs. 6) You always see or make sailing friends at the St. Martin YC. 7) Although it's sometimes hard to see through all the junk, St. Martin has a lot of inherent beauty.

While St. Martin does offer some unique thrills — see #3 in the previous paragraph — it also has a unique danger for sailors. One of the fun things to do on the island is watch megayachts try to squeeze through the 55-ft wide opening when the Simpson Bay Bridge, which connects Simpson Bay Lagoon with the Caribbean, is up. It's usually standing room only at the St. Martin YC in the afternoons to watch this. The real thrill, however, is reserved for those who decide to use the bridge opening at the French side at Sandy Ground. The deal is that if you want to go from Port Royal or the French side of Simpson Bay Lagoon around to Marigot Bay, you have to either make the 2+ hour trip via the new Causeway Bridge and the Simpson Bay Bridge openings, or you have to risk the bridge opening at Sandy Ground. The risk of the Sandy Ground route is that the bridge opening is just 30 feet.

Scott and Nikki were tempted to use it, but given Beach House has a beam of 25 feet, it would have only left a 2½-foot margin of error on each side. And there can be a pretty strong current in the cut. But others are braver. Or perhaps more foolish.

A few days later, friends Ron and Kathleen told the two they had witnessed a Catana 47 charter cat, beam of 25 feet, lose her mast at the bridge. The helmsman, alone on the cat, either misjudged the opening or got knocked off course by the current. As a result, one side of the cat hit a bridge support, shearing off a chain plate. Apparently the skipper didn't realize how bad the damage was, because soon there was a cracking sound and the expensive carbon mast fell over.

Wait, there's more! When Scott and Nikki got to Culebrita in the Spanish Virgins, they heard a similar story from the owners of the US-based catamaran Muse. The owners said they had the right-of-way coming through the Sandy Ground opening, but were pushed off center by a charter monohull. Like the other cat, Muse also lost her chainplate, followed shortly by her mast.

"We kept Akka, our Stevens 50 custom sloop at Marina Ixtapa for a few weeks while we returned home to Hampton, Virginia," report Rob and Andi Overton. "It was very secure, if a bit expensive. Plus there were eight-foot crocodiles, so we didn't do any bottom cleaning in the marina. The marina was almost done repairing some pretty severe damage from a recent earthquake."

The Overtons report that the beaches and even the pier at nearby Zihua had to be closed for a few days because of a big surge, which they were told happens from time to time. "While the red flag was up, we anchored the dinghy near the pier and hitched rides from pangas passing by. It worked great and we stayed dry. They didn't charge us anything, but they appreciated a 10- to 20-peso tip. But have the money ready, as once they get to the pier and you're off, they're gone!"

Bee attacks are not uncommon in the Sea of Cortez in the summer. John and Debbie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow know all about it, as their boat was attacked in early May.

"A few unwelcome bees turned into six, then 15, then 100 or more," they wrote. "Cowering down below looking out through the bug screens, we could see they were determined to see what was down in the cockpit scuppers. We sprayed DEET, Windex, and lit some of those smoking spiral backyard things. The bees just laughed at us. Finally John climbed out through the hatch in the forward head and armed himself with the saltwater washdown hose. He probably killed a hundred bees, but soon there were even more replacements. Keeping the saltwater hose handy for defense, he started the engine and raised the anchor so we could motor out of there. Before long, most of the bees were gone. We guess the bees were attracted to the fresh water left over from the morning freshwater washdown."

The bees are looking for water, and small holes in which to build nests. We were attacked once while aboard Profligate in the Sea of Cortez. Somewhere we'd heard that bees hate being sprayed with fire extinguishers, so we tried that. It worked like a charm.

Going 'cruising' this summer? No matter if it's even locally, we'd love to hear from you. A few paragraphs with who, what, why, where and when, plus a few photos, and you're good.

Missing the pictures? See the June 2014 eBook!


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