July, 2002

With reports this month from Bob Willmann of Viva, whose boat was ransacked in Nicaragua; from Hawkeye, on sailing from Z-town to Barillas Marina in El Salvador; from Voyager on the passage up the Red Sea; from Sturdy, on sailing from Norfolk to Bermuda; from C'est La Vie on entering their first pass in the Tuamotus; from Elsewhere on Herradura, El Salvador; from Pogo II in Ecuador; from Peregrine in Crete; and many Cruise Notes.

Viva - Islander 37
Bob Willmann
Ransacked in Corinto, Nicaragua
(San Diego)

Nicaragua is a strange and fascinating place, with much good and bad. It's by far the poorest place that I've ever seen - and that's saying something. Many people are hollow-eyed and approach you with their hand out, making hand-to-mouth gestures asking for food. There are very few cars, so everybody is walking or riding bikes - and that includes the police and rich guys. There isn't much work either, so lots of people just sit around hungry.

Everyone warned me about crime, saying that it's a given that everybody gets robbed. So I've been been careful to lock up the boat, leave a light or radio on inside, and not keep any regular patterns. When I go to town for provisions, I don't flash bills around or buy too much at any one time. It wasn't enough.

Last night, I read in my cockpit until about 10 p.m., then lay down to sleep. About four hours later I got up to visit the head - and discovered that my boat had been ransacked! While I'd been sleeping in the cockpit, some guys came aboard and pried my automobile type radio/CD player out of the bulkhead - which was just six feet. They also grabbed lots of little things - a hanging net full of crackers and bread, some towels, my backpack, and all my T-shirts.

When I first realized what had happened, I wished that I had awoken and caught them. Then I looked further and saw that my machete was laying right next to where I had been sleeping. The police explained that there had probably been one guy taking my stuff while a second guy stood over me with a machete. Had I stirred, the guy with the machete probably would have done something wrong. I have always thought I was a light sleeper, but after hearing that, I'm glad that I slept through it.

There's no chance of getting anything back, and in a way I hope the jerks don't get caught. After all, they didn't hurt me when certainly they could have, and they didn't take anything - other than the CD player - that they didn't need. Some of my more valuable things they could have taken include my laptop, binoculars, ham radio, and other stuff they could have sold.

Isn't it ironic to get robbed while you're at home on your boat rather than while she's unattended?

- bob 6/15/02

Hawkeye - Sirena 38
John Kelly and Linda Keigher
Z-town To Barillas, El Salvador

We and Hawkeye left Zihuatanejo in early March with great anticipation. It was the furthest south that we had been, and we were headed even further south. But we weren't even out of the Bay when Linda noticed smoke rather than water coming out of the exhaust. The engine was shut down immediately, and John diagnosed the problem as the engine water pump sucking air via the watermaker, which had an open valve. He closed the valve and we were back in business - for now.

For our 115-mile trip from Z-town to Acapulco, we were sometimes able to sail and sometimes had to motor. As we arrived off the magnificent natural harbor in the morning, we dropped the sails and turned on the engine. Within a few minutes, the overheat alarm went off again. Our buddyboat Karibu, Steve and Gabby McCrosky's Cheoy Lee 35, stood by in case we needed a tow. But once John replaced the saltwater pump impeller - trashed by the earlier air ingestion - we were underway again.

We made the mistake of pulling into the storm-damaged Acapulco Marina. It's inexpensive, but still rundown. The Acapulco YC is pricey but elegant. We later learned that John, because he's a member of the Seattle YC, was entitled to a discount on berth rates at the Acapulco YC. During the next few days, we did the normal activities in Acapulco: visited the museums and forts - Acapulco was home-port for the Manila Galleons, and was very well protected from pirates; watched the cliff divers, who are spectacular; and swam in the pools, which because they don't have much chlorine, caused Linda to come down with a nasty ear infection. After provisioning and doing the necessary boat chores, we set out on the 250-mile trip to Huatulco, which would be our port of exit from Mexico.

Karibu hit a large black unlighted buoy on our way to Huatulco. We stood by while they checked the bilges to make sure they hadn't been holed. Everything was fine - but their nerves. During the rest of the trip, we spotted several nets, which all cruisers fear, because their boats can get their props and rudders caught in them. Sometimes the nets are lit at one end, but sometimes they aren't. It is very difficult to see the nets at night until you're on top of them, and even then you sometimes can't see them. We had mostly light winds and did some motorsailing to Huatulco.

Ken 'Deckboy' Allison, flew in from San Francisco to crew for the trip to El Salvador. He helped sail Hawkeye from San Diego to La Paz in 1994, and has crewed with us many times in Mexico since then. We were glad to have him along for the next leg. Since the next leg south includes the dreaded 200-mile crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, weather is the most popular topic of discussion among cruisers. Tehuantepeckers are caused by high pressure over Texas and the Caribbean funneling strong winds through a narrow gap in the mountain ranges and fanning out into the Gulf. Supposedly it blows at gale force more than half the year, so you don't want to be out there. Boats that get caught get blown far out to sea, and since the Central American coast slants ESE, it can be very hard to get back to shore.

For weather, we relied on Don of Summer Passage back in Southern California, who emails weather forecasts on a daily basis. His analysis - along with Tango Papa on the Chubasco Net, and the Port Captain in Huatulco, all gave the go ahead for March 18. There were seven boats in our fleet, which consisted of Falcor, a large motoryacht, Karibu, Tides End, True Companion, Wasabi, Baquiano, and us. We set out under clear skies with a brisk 15-knot southwesterly speeding us on our way at a steady seven knots. This great sailing lasted most of the day. When the wind later went light, we were ahead of everyone - except the motoring Falcor. This key to success in this gulf is to be east of 95°W when the weather window closes. In our cases, this happened on March 20 - by which time our entire group had made it safely.

We celebrated our crossing the imaginary border into Guatemala by putting up our Guatemalan flag. Having made it safely across the gulf, our next hazard was lots of fishing nets and lines. We tried to warn boats behind us by giving the coordinates of nets we saw. Nonetheless, Fred of True Companion twice had to get into the water to untangle nets from his boat. We were very lucky.

Everyone in our group had planned on stopping at Bahia Del Sol in El Salvador, and we anchored at the appointed place waiting for the panga to guide us in. There was heavy surf crashing on the beach, and we couldn't seen an obvious way through the waves. Sure enough, a short time later the marina announced the entrance was unsafe. The cruisers already inside had planned a big party for us that night, and were disappointed that we were shut out.

Our other option was to sail down to Marina Barillas, some 35 miles away. We all had a great sail - except for dodging the nets - and were met by the panta guide at 3 p.m. Since our boat was the lightest, we were selected to be the 'test boat'. The waves come thousands of miles across open ocean, then hit the shoals outside the river estuary. We found ourselves in 15 feet of water surfing down a wave going as fast as we could motor - truly a 'white knuckle' experience. Once they had us inside the sand spit and protected from the breakers, we had to motor around in a circle - rolling from gunnel to gunnel - for 45 long minutes until the other boats were brought in. They were brought in two different groups, and it was a little unnerving to say the least. But once we arrived and tied up to a mooring in the flat inland waters, all was forgotten.

Within 10 minutes of hoisting our quarantine flag, the Capitan de Puerto and Aduana (customs) were along to check us in. We were welcomed with big smiles, and the whole procedure took about 15 minutes and costs us $10 each for our three-month visas. We then headed to the pool and dinner at the little restaurant, where we talked about the highlights of each of our passages and congratulating each other on defying death once again. President Flores of El Salvador, who keeps a boat at the marina, came by a few weeks later, introduced himself, and personally welcomed each of the American and Canadian cruisers. Unfortunately, we were traveling in Guatemala at the time, and missed his visit.

But what a pleasant change the clearing procedures were from Mexico, with their ridiculous day long check-in/checkout procedures and excessive fees. As much as we love Mexico, we don't miss that nonsense at all. In contrast to the warmhearted people of Mexico, Mexican officialdom is becoming positively cruiser-unfriendly. We can take a hint, so after all our years in Mexico, are happy to be spending our dollars in a country that make us feel welcome.

Ken only had another week of vacation, so we decided to do some exploring inland. We took the 'Chicken Buses' to Usulatan, San Salvador, Suchitoto and Santa Ana. It was a real learning experience, as we talked to people about the civil war and how it affected them. One fellow told his incredible story of winning a scholarship to a college in Wisconsin, but the final papers not coming by the time school was to start. His father asked him if he would like to go to the U.S. and try to get into school, thereby avoiding having to fight in a senseless war at the tender age of 16. His father gave him what money he could - which was $100. He was to take four other young men with him and use the $100 wisely to get them all to the U.S. They bused and hitchhiked all the way from El Salvador to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, where they swam the Rio Grande. He is now back in his hometown of Suchitoto with his American wife and two children running a small hotel.

We were in the colonial town of Santa Ana on Good Friday, and were able to watch the making of the 'carpets' for the procession later that day. 'Carpets' are pictures made on the streets from different colored sawdust and flowers. They are very elaborate and take hours to create. Then the procession starts, wiping out the carpets. This is a big tradition of all Central America, particularly Antigua, Guatemala.

Another colonial city, Antigua was once the capitol of Central America. It was built in the 1600s, and because of earthquakes has many ruins. Antigua is probably the most picturesque city in all of Central America. It is surrounded by volcanos, one of which is active, and at night you can see the lava flow. After Ken left, John and I enrolled in language school, and spent the next 3 weeks living in Guatemalan homes. We attended class from 8-12, then did many other things - took tours of the city, took salsa and merengue dance lessons, climbed an active volcano, visited and hiked at Lake Atitlan, visited a coffee and macadamia farms, enjoyed a Mayan music museum, several ruins and museums, concerts, and visited a water park. John's instructor was a former engineer in the Guatemalan army, who fled to the U.S. with $10 in his pocket when warned that his pro-peasant views were very dangerous. He returned 15 years later after the civil war had ended, but still fears for his safety. He's trying to live a quiet life teaching Spanish.

After more than three weeks, Linda's brain could absorb no more Spanish, so we took off to see more of Guatemala. We took a shuttle to Guatemala City, then a luxurious bus to the island town of Flores, where we stayed a few days with a beautiful view of the lake. We visited Tikal, the former capital of the Mayan Empire, and climbed the 140-foot towers until we couldn't walk anymore. Tikal is a real wonder.

Our next stop was the Rio Dulce on the Caribbean side, as we don't plan to do the Caribbean with Hawkeye. We would have loved finding a boat going south and through the Canal back to El Salvador, but everyone was hunkering down for hurricane season. We took a long panga ride to the coastal town of Livingston, and spent the night there. Back in Rio Dulce, we found a resort with little A-frames built right over the water, with the jungle just outside our back door, for just $21 a night. After relaxing in the pool, one morning we decided to take a hike to a rubber plantation with a German girl. We had just gotten out of the pool and were heading up a small trail towards the owner's house when a young fellow came down the hill towards us. Linda started greeting him in Spanish when he suddenly pulled out a knife and started demanding "dinero". John pulled out a small pocketknife, but Linda didn't think that was going to work. John then pulled a whistle out of his pocket and started blowing it like crazy - which did the job. That guy took off like a scared rabbit into the jungle.

When the plantation owner found out what happened, he set out with a gun while someone called the police. Linda made him promise he'd just scare the guy, not shoot him. Ten minutes later, four grim-faced, rather overweight policemen showed up in a truck. They took off up the hill with side arms and an assault rifle. We could see them running up on a ridge, and suddenly we heard bursts of automatic rifle fire. Then, silence. Finally, they reappeared, without a body, and soon were in their truck no doubt headed to the nearest restaurant. John thought all the shooting was for show, but it sure had us all worried.

We're now back at the Barillas compound, a safe place to leave the boat, while waiting for things to develop in the States. We don't mind not moving on, as everyone who has gone south has been nailed by the gale force Papagayos that blow off the coast of Nicaragua. We spend our days on boat projects, going by air conditioned, guarded bus twice a week to Usulatan for groceries, and most of the afternoon in the pool here at the marina.

- john & linda 6/1/02

Voyager - Cascade 36
Kate Rakelly (8) and Parents
The Red Sea
(Portland, Oregon)
[Continued from the June issue.]

Having finally came through the Bab el Mandeb or Gate of Tears at the bottom of the Red Sea, within a very short time we were sailing/surfing up the Red Sea in 45 knots of wind. In a panic, my dad furled the headsail and reefed the mainsail. Shortly after that, our 'pod' of cruising boats travelling together for security consisted of six boats under bare poles and one French boat very far ahead still carrying some sail. The conditions remained the same for the rest of the night, so at first light my dad set our storm sail. Most of the VHF traffic was about how the wind couldn't blow so hard for very long and how it would blow itself out within the hour. At the end of the second day, we gave up hope that it would ever blow itself out. So our pod - minus the surfing French boat - took refuge in Mersa Dudo, Eritrea.

We stayed at Mersa Dudo for two days, during which time we got to experience our first African dirt storm. The air was so thick with dirt and dust that we couldn't see the shore or even the boats anchored next to us. So we had mixed emotions about being in the Red Sea. We were ecstatic that we'd made it safely, but due to the weather, we were terrified to be there. Should we have gone around South Africa?

Soon there was jubilation, however, as the French boat that had continued on to Port Smyth, Eritrea, was reporting they were enjoying a calm anchorage next to a living reef under blue skies. That night we left Mersa Dudo and sailed north to Port Smyth, where we finally got to experience the beauty for which the Red Sea is renowned. We stayed at the island of Port Smyth for two days, swimming around the reef, playing on the beach, and doing school work.

From Port Smyth, we sailed to Eritrea's Port Massawa. The harbor was crowded with containers of food aid from the United States. We took a road trip from Massawa up into the mountains to Asmara, where the air was cool and the city European. The wide sidewalks were crowded with cafes, which were filled with members of the U.N. peacekeeping force. They sipped cappucinos and lattes, and munched on Italian pastries. This was Africa? Actually, this was Asmara, a little bit of Italy in Africa.

While at Asmara, we met a refugee who had spent the last 18 years living in San Francisco. He had returned home with the dream of opening the first Ace Hardware store on the African continent. We bought some flashlight bulbs from him and wished him luck. Our stay in Eritrea was inspiring. Like the small island/nation of the Cooks in the Pacific which we visited two years ago, the people of Eritrea are proud of their freedom, their country, and themselves.

From Massawa, we island hopped up the coast of Eritrea and into the country of Sudan. Everybody thinks the Red Sea has nothing but winds out of the north, but in the southern part, the winds are often out of the south. We had light breezes out of the south. While travelling along the coast Sudan, the water was clear, the sea life plentiful, and the anchorages secure. We saw more whales, dolphins, manatees, and reef fish in the Red Sea than any other body of water we've visited to date! The dolphins of the Red Sea are very friendly. Some large bottlenose dolphins followed us while we were motorsailing one day, and we watched them from the bow as they played around. Our motor conked out for about 90 minutes before my dad got it going again, but much to my surprise, the dolphins waited all that time for us!

The coast of Sudan has perhaps the most spectacular reefs and reef life in the world, but the ports of Sudan are to be avoided. We entered the port of Suakin thinking that we would be able to buy some diesel and then depart within the hour. But my parents made the mistake of giving our passports to a "friendly" agent who was supposed to arrange to get our fuel for us. He didn't return for three days, and when he did, it was without fuel. Worse still, he forced us to pay $125 U.S. before giving us our passports back. My father was extremely upset.

As we sailed north, we made overnight stops at offshore reefs and two marasas. These were beautiful stops, but at times boring, as we were held up at the marasas waiting for the wind direction to change. During those boring days I did a lot of school work.

After reaching Abu Tig Marina, south of the Gulf of Suez in Egypt, we stopped for a month to do some land touring. Our first trip was to Luxor to see the temples, tombs, and upper Nile river. What do you think my parents did when they finally got away from their beloved yacht? They rented a felucca to sail up and down the Nile!

When we got back to Abu Tig Marina, it was a sad time for us boat kids, as from here we'd be going our separate ways. We had sailed together from Australia to Egypt, and during that time had developed close friendships, so the good-byes were difficult. But it had to be, for the Scandinavian boats had to leave so that they could be in the North Atlantic before the end of summer. The French and English boats were at the end of their circumnavigations, and wanted to head straight for Turkey and Greece or the Western Med. A few of the 'kid-boats' left for Jordan, with promises that we'd get together again in Turkey. But all in all, it was a sad time. Mia, my best friend, had to take off for her home in Norway - I'm afraid that I'll never see her again.

Our family's second road trip was to Cairo and the El Giza plateau, where we visited six of the pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum of History, the Islamic Art Museum, and the Islamic Bazaar. Cairo is a modern city and home to 20 million people - all of whom tried to sell us a T-shirt or clay model of the Pyramids.

To reach the Med, we had to travel up the 100-mile long Suez Canal. It was very windy, but the water was flat since we were in the narrow Canal. We made an overnight stop at Port Ismailya, which is the halfway point in the Canal. Port Ismailya is the best city in Egypt and home to President Mubarak, so it's clean, has lots of trees and grass, fresh water canals, and a modern yacht club in the center of town. On April 29, about six weeks after leaving Oman, we entered the Med and said good-bye to the Middle East.

In summary, our trip through the Middle East was safe, enjoyable, and very educational. Our sail up the Red Sea took 11 weeks, during which time we only sailed 17 miles to windward. The other 1,200 miles were off the wind. This is very unusual.

If you are an adult planning a trip through the Middle East, you should brush up on U.S. policy, as that's all the people talk about. My father got so tired of it that he began telling people that we were from Iceland.

- kate 5/5/02

Sturdy - Kelly Peterson 46
Stephen Lee
New Adventures in Bermuda
(Northern California)

Having been a first mate on a Bowman 57 sailing to all the islands of the Caribbean as a young man, it has been a long time since I went to sea. I had my heart set on a Kelly/Peterson 46, and after three failed attempts at making a deal on brokerage boats on the West Coast, Rick Whiting of ABC Yachts in Sausalito and I located one in Annapolis, Maryland. We then came up with a plan of sailing her to Bermuda, keeping her there for the summer hiding out from hurricanes on a safe mooring, then moving her down to the British Virgins in November.

We finalized the deal on the May 8, with the help of Rick and Sausalito's Jeff Stone, who was the surveyor and would be the delivery captain. The boat surveyed well, nevertheless, there were many things to do to make her ready for an ocean passage of more that 600 nautical miles. Jeff and I immediately returned to the West Coast, leaving Rick to commission the boat and prepare her for the voyage. This wasn't so easy, as all the boatyards in Annapolis were backed up with work until sometime in June. But with the help of Charlie Duvall, the listing broker in Annapolis, we were able to book the boat into Fred Vogel's boatyard on Gibson Island, which is just north of Annapolis. This turned out to be the best bit of serendipity to happen to us. Fred personally took care of a very long punch list for the boat, and in one week had just about everything ready to go. Rick and Fred worked around the clock preparing the boat for the voyage, but there were still a ton of things to do.

On May 19th, Jeff Stone and I returned with Clay Prescott, owner of ABC Yachts. We did some last minute provisioning, and left Annapolis the next day for Norfolk. I remained behind with the chase car waiting for the last item to be ready - the headsail, which was having its luff shortened. I got the sail late the next afternoon, drove like mad to Norfolk, and just before midnight we cleared Cape Henry for Bermuda.

The first night out gave us 15 to 18 knots of breeze from the NE on our way to the Gulf Stream. When we entered the Stream the next evening, the wind and seas increased dramatically. Before long, we had 40 knots of wind and 18 to 20-ft seas. The boat handled this quite well under staysail alone, making 7.5 knots. Sturdy lived up to her new name, and proved to be a good sea boat. I won't mention any names, but unfortunately, not all of us humans did as well. By the third day, it was like magic, everyone could eat again.

By the time we reached the eastern side of the Stream, the wind had abated a bit and countered back to the NNW - which made for some great sailing. The closer we got to Bermuda however, the more the wind faded. We motorsailed the last day, arriving at the cut to St. Georges at noon on Sunday.

St. Georges offered up the promised beautiful landfall. It took us a while to get our bearings once inside the harbor, and while searching for Customs we saw many of the Caribbean winter fleet, resting before their final leg to New England for the summer. Among them was the famous Herreschoff 72 ketch, Ticonderoga. After clearing Customs using Latitude as the all purpose Custom's lubricant, we rafted to a 55-ft England cutter on the quay, and headed to the White Horse for some Dark and Stormys. Alas, the old Horse was closed for repairs, so we found the nearest alternative and made peace with the land.

Jeff and I soon departed for California once again, leaving Rick and Clay to spend the next week moving the boat down to Hamilton and the Royal Bermuda YC. Later they would take her to a mooring provided to us by the most generous and gracious Warren Brown, owner of the famous War Baby (ex-Tenacious).

I'm told that the adventure continued when Mitch Perkins of Latitude introduced Rick and Clay to the stratosphere of Bermudian society, inclusive of a luncheon with the ubiquitous 'Twins of Bermuda'. Mitch is an old Bermuda hand, with many friends and contacts, and made sure that Rick and Clay were treated to the famous hospitality.

Sturdy will remain in Bermuda for the summer, tucked away on her mooring in Soncy Bay. In November, Rick, Clay and I will return to move the boat down to Tortola and the BVIs for further adventures. The plan is to touch at Havana before taking the boat to Florida and trucking her back to San Francisco. That is, unless Rick convinces me to take her around through the Panama Canal and up the west coast.

- stephen

C'est La Vie - Catalina 47
Keith and Susan Levy
The Tuamotus
(Point Richmond)

Nothing during our two seasons in Mexico quite prepared us for our first attempt at a pass through a coral reef leading into an atoll in the Tuamotus. We were tired and apprehensive after a four-day trip from the Marquesas to Passe Arikitamiro on the northeastern side of Makemo Atoll. Thanks to 20 knot winds that created confused seas that slammed water ebbing out the pass, it seemed a lot like whitewater rafting. Nonetheless, we managed to line up the two range markers, each one on a separate coral reef inside the pass. The Tuamotus are in French waters, so it wasn't 'red, right, returning'. The torrid current ebbed at five knots, rocking our boat from side to side, and causing her to periodically veer to one side or the other. It took aggressive handling of the helm and throttle to keep our boat in the center of the pass. If we didn't use enough throttle, we wouldn't move forward; if we used too much throttle, the boat was hard to steer.

We felt a considerable sense of relief when we rounded the last buoy and were able to head for other boats we could now see in the anchorage. But we were disappointed to see them bobbing up and down and rolling in the long fetch caused by winds out of the east. We knew several of the boats in the anchorage, and over the VHF they reported they'd had trouble sleeping for the previous three nights. Rather than drop the hook there, we decided to seek better shelter on the far eastern end of the lagoon along with our friends Al and Debbie Farner aboard the Pt. Richmond-based Valiant 40 Different Worlds. They wouldn't be weighing anchor for another hour, so we took off across the lagoon and headed toward a GPS waypoint that Farners noted from a previous visit to this atoll. Jeff, our son, stood lookout at the bow, pointing out coral reefs and directing our course using a two-way radio.

Reefs scattered throughout the lagoon rise from depths of 100 feet or so to or near the surface. They can cause serious damage to any boat that hits them. In order to see them, you have to travel carefully and with the sun overhead or from behind. They show up as a brown color with light green water around them. Often times their presence is indicated by rippling water that is different from the surrounding water. Although the anchorage we were heading to was only 10 miles away, it took us 2.5 hours to get there because we had to keep our speed down to 3.5 knots to avoid coral outcroppings.

As we approached our destination, we knew that our four-day passage - with all the squalls, winds to 35 knots, and seas to 12 feet - was worth it. The view was like looking at a picture postcard; white sandy beaches, coconut palms blowing in the breeze, clear turquoise water, and not a soul around. We dropped our hook, and could clearly see our chain lying on the bottom 24 feet down. We were ready for a rest - and to enjoy paradise!

- keith and susan 6/15/02

Elsewhere - Cabo Rico 38
Matt and Judy Johnston
Herradura, El Salvador
(San Francisco)

After sailing south from San Carlos in the Sea of Cortez, we decided to settle down here at the Bahia Del Sol anchorage in Estero Jaltepeque, El Salvador. It was time for us to take a break and perhaps do some inland travel. Bahia Del Sol would be a good place to leave a boat, as it's a very comfortable anchorage, and there's a guard with a shotgun at the pool to keep it that way.

We've had nothing but continual rain and overcast today. We knew it was going to be the rainy season when we arrived, so we can't really complain. But we've never had to live with lots of rain before, so we may complain anyway. Thanks to all the rain, we've been able to tend to all the leaks - except at the mast, where it's always going to leak a little. Given the consistency of the rain, we're thinking about collecting rainwater to fill our tanks. We still haven't decided on which of several ways to do this.

Last Wednesday, we and a group of cruisers from Lanikai, Mamouna, Beyond Reason, and Sirens Song, decided to take a dinghy trip up the estero to the 'big city' of Herradura. Our morning departure was delayed - like everything else - due to the rain and adverse current. After waiting an hour, we decided that we'd just go ahead and get wet. By this time the rain had slowed to a sprinkle, but it was low tide. The dinghy from Mamouna, which led the way, hit bottom at least four times. The following dinghies were able to learn from the lead dinghies bumps.

Our 45-minute dinghy trip took us through channels lined with 10-foot tall mangroves - which are actually on the short side compared to others around here. The first part of the trip was along the main channel, which had lovely little estates lining the banks. After passing an estate with a white dome, we switched sides of the channel and cut back into the mangroves. Finding Herradura through the mangroves wasn't a problem as the folks from Mamouna had made the trip several times before. But a first-timer would probably have gotten lost in the labyrinth of waterways.

When you come around the bend to Herradura, all you can see from the water is the big concrete dock. A pleasant young man was there to greet us and take our lines. The concrete dock is actually part of a big restaurant with three kitchens; one for seafood, one for beef, and one for chicken. We enjoyed a chicken meal before going on our way, tipping the young man 50-cents each to watch our dinghies. It was enough to please him.

Herradura is clearly Third World, and is what I imagine much of Mexico must have looked like 75 years ago. Everywhere there were humble shacks made from branches and sticks, with lots of chickens, pigs, dogs - and kids - running around everywhere. There were small shops with not much in them for sale. We then continued on to the central market - a tin roofed cinderblock building with no walls - which was a real step back in time. While there is electricity in some parts of Herradura, there wasn't any in the market, so it was quite dark. Parts of the market were illuminated by the fires from 'stoves' used to cook tortillas. The 'stoves' were made from stones built to counter height, with a flat ceramic disc on the top on which to cook tortillas. There was no chimney of any sort, so the smoke billowed out, blackening the walls and eaves.

Two women sat on stools making tortillas. The old lady with no teeth scooped up a little ball of dough and patted it flat, then the other cooked them. We were fascinated by the uniformity of their product, as a machine couldn't have made them more identical. We could have bought four of them for a colone, but we only had dollars. After conferring and calculating, we were told they were 31 for a dollar. Our group bought $3 worth.

This naturally took some time, as there were other orders before ours. But we happily waited and watched as one woman added wood to the fire, then used her bare hands to shuffle and flip the tortillas on the cooking surface until the tortillas were lightly toasted. Tortillas in El Salvador are much thicker than those in Mexico, but not so big around, which makes them a little more chewy. But the taste is the same. They are made from masa - corn flour - and water. There was a large pot of corn kernels boiling at the side of this wood fired stove, but we're not sure what the women would do with it, as they only seemed to sell tortillas. There were several other tortilla businesses along the first wall.

The remainder of the market was devoted to the usual produce stalls and a couple of places to eat. We bet it didn't look much different from back in Mayan times. In fact, we think the whole town probably hadn't changed much.

Outside the market, I was lured into a pantomime conversation with a shoe repair man. I had a hole in the sole of my sandal, and he convinced me to let him fix it. His first act - after I had agreed to the procedure - was to take off his shoes and offer them to me as 'loaners'. I didn't directly refuse his kind offer, but elected to stick around and watch. His 'shop' consisted of the sidewalk that he sat on and a box with his tools in it. His tools consisted of a knife to cut the plastic material, a pot of glue, and a sewing awl. He cut a piece of material to size, glued it in place, and then hand sewed the edges to secure the bond. After 10 minutes and $1.25, I had a repaired sandal and was on my way.

The difference between Herradura and even the poorest town in the United States is dramatic. In Herradura we saw wagons of various sizes with one piece wooden wheels. They looked like something out of the Flintstones or a Zorro movie. In the movies, they are pulled by burros, but the only one we actually saw in use was being pushed, not pulled, by a young boy. Other versions of these carts had wheels made out of steel rebar. The main road through town is paved, and some buses stop.

Having enjoyed our first visit - without cameras because of the rain - we decided on visiting Herradura again soon. We'll also provide other reports from other parts of El Salvador.

- matt & judy 5/20/02

Pogo II - CSY 44
Craig Owings and Sarah Terry

In mid March we pried ourselves free from the Pedro Miguel Boat Club inside the Panama Canal, transited the rest of the Canal southbound, and sailed to Panama's Perlas Islands. Aboard for this year's adventure were Capt. Sarah Terry, retired Canal pilot; Craig Owings, Commodore of the Pedro Miguel BC; Claus Madsen, crew; and Tootsie the pup, guarding all.

After several days of R & R and re-stowing things, we departed for Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. The 4.5 day sail was very pleasant - a big change from last year's Caribbean trip. We sailed all but the last morning, with northerly winds, well-spaced swells, and a full moon. Bahia de Caraquez is a small beach town on a point at the mouth of the Rio Chone. The entrance is only about 10 feet deep at high tide, and is not marked. The local Ecuadorian Navy Port Captain seems to be in cahoots with the private pilots, as he required boats to take a pilot in and out - at $30 each way! That's $5 more than last year. The Ecuadorian regulations state that while pilotage is highly recommended, it is not required. The U.S. Sailing Directions for South America make the same statement. We spoke with the Port Captain on this subject, and are hoping they'll rethink the pilot requirment. We also had a navy man ask for a gift of a decal of the Statue of Liberty for his truck, and later for a flashlight. While these are small items, it was awkward. He's the only person who has 'hit' on us this way.

Other costs for entering Ecuador included $30 at Immigration - which seems to be the fee per boat, as others with less aboard also paid the same amount for 90 days. The closest Immigration office is in Manta, a 2.5 hour bus ride away. You have to see them within seven days of arriving. Manta is also the center for the fishing fleet, and is reputed to be a good place to get parts. There is also a fee for buoys and lights of $0.33/ton, a radio fee of $9.24, and a $3.96 "contamination" fee which, we think, is for an oil pollution fund. All in all, it cost about $100 to get in and out of this port. Don of Starship tell us that when you get to your third port - as he did at Puerto Isabella in the Galapagos - you're not charged any more.

Bahia - as the locals call it - is a would-be resort town. The last president had a weekend place here, which prompted many improvements in the infrastructure and real growth. At least until the 1998 El Niño washed the beach away. Then an earthquake caused mudslides and further damage to buildings. The town is now back to being a sleepy place with a wide oceanside beach at low tide. Boats anchor in front of the Port Captain's office and go ashore by dinghy. The best place to tie is alongside the navy landing craft ferry, which is usually bow-in to the sea wall. The difficulties in this anchorage include strong outgoing current, especially on spring tides with heavy rains up-river. Heavy rains can also mean a lot of floating debris.

There is no easily available source of drinking water, and all water and fuel is jerry jugged. At this time, there is only one guy providing any service, and that is a costly laundry pickup. With some hunting, you should be able to find cheap services, as the labor market is extremely depressed. There is a hotel next to the Capitainia where you can shower for $1. Some of the pluses of Bahia are the restaurant close-by with almuerzos for $1.50 and 1 liter beers for $1. There is also a video rental and several Internet cafes close by. There is a local market open every morning with fresh produce, and several stores that have most essentials.

A number of boats have been left at anchor while crews visit inland Ecuador. There are usually other boats nearby to watch the empty boats and being in front of the Capitainia helps. Despite this, several dinghy motors have been stolen, although only from dinghies left in the water. A gringo by the name of Gary Swenson is starting the paper process to establish a 'marina' here. Initial efforts will probably result in moorings, services, and a haulout facility. Due to current and six-foot tidal range, building docks would be costly.

More next month.

- craig & sarah 6/15/02

Peregrine - Passport 42
Jean Nicca
(San Francisco)

The last time I wrote to you was near the end of last year, asking your opinion about whether to make the trip up the Red Sea this year. You thought it wasn't a good time. Well, I'm writing from Larnaca, Cyprus, so I decided to make the passage and completed it.

What happened was that I was in Thailand and got all psyched up to make the passage. This wasn't until the end of January, which is a bit late. Nonetheless, I figured that I could sail to Salalah, Oman, and if things looked bad in the Red Sea, I could always make a run to Dubai and stash Peregrine in a marina for a year.

When I stopped at Galle, Sri Lanka, on the way to Oman, I found a lot of boats were planning to head up the Red Sea despite potential political problems. While at Galle, a French warship came into the harbor and invited all the yachties aboard for a reception. The ship's captain told everyone that there were warships from all over the world in the Red Sea, and that his ship was going to patrol the Yemen coast looking for pirates.

When I got to Oman, I met lots of yachties that were heading west. When I talked to them, the consensus was that rather than this being a dangerous year to head up the Red Sea, it might be the safest year of all. It was after hearing this that I made up my mind to do it. My crew person had jumped ship in Galle, so I would be singlehanding.

As it turned out, there were no acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden this year. Bohay, a 55-ft German catamaran, lost her mast in a storm just north of Bab El Mandeb. I had a very fast passage to Eritrea, but lost my Firdell Blipper and VHF antenna in that same storm.

While at Massawa, Eritrea, I recruited a crewmember, then sailed to Suakin, Sudan. From there, I made a nonstop passage to Safaga, Egypt, without stopping at any marsas or islands. It was a long and hard motoring exercise directly into north winds. From Safaga, I sailed to Abu Tig Marina in Egypt, where I dismissed my crew member. I then motored up the Gulf of Suez to the Suez Canal, where I had an uneventful transit.

Although there was no piracy or political problems, this was not a good year for coming up the Red Sea, as five yachts were damaged or destroyed. Bohay lost her mast and was abandoned. Liberte, a small French steel boat, Husar II, an Morgan 60 from the U.S., another 40-foot French boat, and Cariad, an Australian 40-footer, all went up on reefs. Cariad sunk while being towed to a wharf, but is now on the hard and being repaired. I don't know the fate of the others.

All in all, I'm glad to have the Red Sea behind me. I will leave Peregrine on the hard here in Larnaca for a year while I do some land travel. Next year, I'll cruise Greek and Turkish waters. After that, who knows.

P.S. I love the magazine. I have every issue mailed to wherever I am.

- jean

Jean - We're glad we were wrong about coming up the Red Sea this year. First, because it meant there weren't any pirate or political problems, and second, because it proves that our opinions are - as advertised - fallible.

Cruise Notes:

We'll start this month with an account of maximum hospitality.

"Linde, Luke, myself - and our cruising dogs Wally and Muppet - arrived at Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador, after a benign crossing of the Gulf of Tehuatepec and passage along the coast of Guatemala," reports Ruck Goldreyer of the Brewer 43 Siren's Song. "We arrived at the offshore coordinates for Bahia Del Sol Hotel at 3 p.m. and contacted the hotel for a panga guide to take us in. They advised us that it was too rough to cross the bar, and so they would guide us in the following morning. After a fairly rolly night in 35 feet of water, Santana, panga guide extraordinaire, came out and advised us that it was still too rough get three boats safely inside. We were travelling with Mamouna and Linda Lea. Before we could become disappointed and move 35 miles further south to Barillas Marina Club, Manager Hector Castro and Bahia Del Sol owner Marcos Zablah got on the radio - and offered to post naval guards on each of our boats offshore, and to give us free rooms at the hotel! Well, you can imagine our reaction to such hospitality. After a guard was placed on each anchored boat, a panga picked up the crews from the three boats, took us across the bar, and up to the hotel. Once there, we were given a warm welcome by Immigration, the navy, and the hotel. Bahia Del Sol accommodated us so royally that our dogs even got a fenced yard with our air-conditioned suite!

"For three days the bar was closed, so our accommodations continued to be on the house, and the navy continued to stand anchor watch on our boats. On the fourth morning, Santana deemed that it was possible to get our three boats in - but it was still not safe for the five boats already in to try to get out. With Santana's help, our three boats made it - although it was a surfing experience. We learned that the key is not speed, but boat control. We're were later told that the weather pattern that caused waves big enough to close the bar for three days in a row was definitely not the norm. In any event, the caring and hospitality of our hosts at Bahia Del Sol is the norm. They want cruisers to experience the beauty and charm of El Salvador and her people. Did we mention that cruisers get a 30% discount on drinks, food, and services from the charming and helpful staff? Bahia Del Sol - it's a must stop in what's becoming the 'Not Forgotten Middle'.

And now, for a maximum case of misfortune:

"My wife Krista, my 10-year-old daughter Taysia, and I left Hawaii on May 2 to return to the mainland and join this year's Baja Ha-Ha," reports Capt. Harvey M. Owens of the Seattle-based 50-ft ketch Life's Dream. "Unfortunately, we were caught in the big storm on May 18, and for three days had to ride out winds in excess of 50 knots and seas of more than 30 feet. Our ketch was hit by a rogue wave that knocked her down and broke the rudder. When things go wrong, of course, they only multiply. A stray line wrapped in the prop when I started the engine to try to get some control. With no steerage and no hope of getting control of the boat, we had no choice but to abandon our boat. Fortunately, the 850-ft container ship Sea-Land Innovator was just a few hours away, and at the request of the Coast Guard diverted to pick us up. We had several hours to gather our belongings and to prepare the boat for being left. When the time came, I left the engine running to keep batteries charged and the pumps working for as long as the fuel held out - although we'd only taken a small amount of water aboard. I also dropped the anchor at the end of 300 feet of chain, hoping to slow the boat's drift and give her a chance if she got near shallow water. When we left her, she was still seaworthy - although her mast suffered some damage while we were taken aboard the ship. I built Life's Dream over a period of 10 years, and her name says it all. She's our home and has almost all our belongings aboard. Most likely, she's still floating. If I could find her and get her to a boatyard, the repairs wouldn't be a problem. We abandoned her on May 20th at 38'04N, 134'23W - approximately 585 miles off San Francisco. Based on the Coast Guard's calculations, she's drifting to the southeast. The Coast Guard was very helpful, but they won't make an effort to recover her until she becomes a hazard to navigation. We're praying that someone will spot her and we'll somehow be able to retrieve her. If anybody has any suggestions or sees our boat, please contact us immediately. We do have some financial resources, but want to use them in the most effective way."

There are boats - and then there are boats that someone has spent their whole life dreaming about and bringing to life. We sure hope that the Owens' boat is sighted and recovered. Given the fact that some 80 West Marine Pacific Cup boats will be headed to Hawaii this month, we suspect there is a decent chance.

"I left San Francisco in '89, then did Baja and the Caribbean before heading out to the South Pacific," reports Scott Bradley and Mobay 'the Rasta cat' of the San Francisco-based Fuji 32 Ini. "We're currently in Langkawi, Malaysia, and plan to depart Southeast Asia in December for the Andamans, Chagos, Madagascar, Mozambique, and up through the Red Sea."

What's up at Mazatlan Marina? We wish we knew. Last November the marina went bankrupt. No new boats were allowed in, and those that left weren't allowed to return. The marina emptied except for about 25 boats. In mid May, however, San Francisco's Trish Kenison reports that her husband was able to put their Magellan 36 ketch Sentisco into the marina with about five other boats. We called the marina to find out what's happening, but nobody answered the phone. Even if a marina were bankrupt, it would seem like it would be kept open to continue generating income for the benefit of everyone. But who knows?

"My husband Chuck Fisher and our Portland-based Cascade 36 Ursa arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, in late May," reports Karen Jacobson. "His visit to the Haute Command was not full of joy, for previously it had always been possible to get a 90-day visa for French Polynesia at the first landfall. And if you applied for a 90-day extension while still in French Polynesia, they'd always give you one. Well, no more! The officials in Papeete say they're not going to give any extensions this year. In fact, one of the gendarmes said that he'd already gotten many letters requesting extensions from yachties, but they were all going to be rejected. Plenty of cruisers are going to be unhappy. The solution would have been to have gotten a six-month visa at a French Consulate in the States many months before. As it is, Ursa must be out of French Polynesia by July 29!"

The above information was confirmed by Jan and Signe Twardowski of the Sundeer 64 Raven, also in French Polynesia. It sounds like the French have been reading the Mexican edition of How To Make Friends and Influence People.

"We left Hawaii at the beginning of May and made our first stop at Palmyra," report Eric Willbur and Emmy Newbould of the Zephyr Cove, Nevada-based Flying Dutchman 37 Nataraja. "What a spectacular place! The Nature Conservancy and Fish & Wildlife folks are present at the atoll. They impose some restrictions, but none of them are unreasonable. With one of the staff, for example, you can visit the smaller islands and islets. We were able to tag along and got to hold some of the chicks that were being banded. We also walked the 'rat lines' and saw how they have been trying to eliminate the rat population. As for the marine life at Palmyra, it's beyond belief. In just the anchorage we saw many rays, turtles, and small black tip sharks. In addition, there are thousands of nesting birds and lots of coconut crabs. Palmyra is a long way from anywhere, but it's worth the visit. Try to make reservations, however, as they are trying to limit boat visitors to no more than two at a time. We're currently in Pago Pago, Western Samoa, and will be continuing on to Fiji, Tonga, and Niue.

"We're presently at Key Biscayne, Florida, and can't wait to be headed south on the 'Thornless Passage' to the Eastern Caribbean this fall," write Neil Coleman and Lisa Goldman of the Los Angeles-based Young Sun 35 cutter Sea Gypsy. "I'm a painting contractor, and with all the rain there's not much painting going on here. While it's not excessively hot, it's overcast, rainy, windy, and humid - so the 'misery index' is quite high. By the way, we want to extend our warm greetings to Paul and Allison Petratis of the Los Angeles-based Espresso, a black-hulled CT-41 currently in the Sea of Cortez. Congratulations on having finally gotten away from La-La Land. We hope to see you out there one day. Please ."

The 'Thornless Passage' Coleman refers to is the subtitle of Bruce Van Sant's Gentleman's Guide to Passages South, which is for folks who are looking for an easy - rather than fast - trip from Florida to the Eastern Caribbean and South America. The book is in its 7th edition, and covers the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, as well as the Mona Passage and Puerto Rico. It's a worthwhile book, because if you're headed from Florida to the Eastern Caribbean, the wind and seas are mostly going to be on the nose.

"We're having fun down here in El Salvador, but unlike the Sea of Cortez, we're unable to dive for our nightly meal," report Guy and Deborah Bunting of the Vista-based M&M 46 cat Elan. We took a land trip on the cheap to Guatemala, which was a surprising delight. Not so delightful was our passage to get here. Don, who sailed with us from Mexico, explains:

"We had some excitement during our 36-hour crossing of El Golfo de Tehuantepec, which is known as one of the most treacherous passages in the world. Yes, the world! The wind averages 25-35 knots throughout the year, and can be much stronger from October thru April. We had a wild ride through the first night, with 25 to 30 knot winds and the ocean like a washing machine. With the nonstop pounding, nobody got any sleep. After thinking that we were over that kind of stuff, last night we were surrounded by a nasty lightning and thunder storm for the three hours before dawn. Once again, nobody slept because we were all concerned about getting hit by lightning. We got into Bahia Del Sol yesterday afternoon after standing off the beach for seven hours with this huge - did I mention huge? - swell running. The breakers on the bar were so big that we could see them on radar from four miles away."

"Our biggest excitement, however, was crossing the bar," says Bunting, who picks up the story again. "The panga to guide us across the bar and into the estero arrived a few hours before slack water, and the waves weren't looking too bad. I assumed that there was a path across the serpentine-like bar, where you'd slip in between a set of breakers, run parallel through a calm zone, then slip all the way inside. No, that would be for sissies. We had to find a slot between the biggest waves - and then floor it! On the way in, I saw the damn panga guide literally disappear from my sight in front of me because of a huge wave. Lordy! So I floored it and never looked back. Once our sterns lifted, I did take a peek aft. Oh shit! Our 46-ft cat took off exactly like a surfer down a wave, and although the engine was in neutral, we hit 17 knots! When the guide in the panga turned around and saw us charging down on him, his eyes got as big as pancakes. I gave him a look that said, 'We don't have any brakes, you know!" Once we got in, they told us the entrada would be closed for three weeks because of dangerous conditions. It became like Hotel California, as once we checked in, we could never leave. Well, not for two weeks.

"We left Cabo to start our Baja Bash to San Diego after watching hurricane Alma - Mexico's first of the year - do her thing," reports Alex Malaccorto of the San Francisco-based Beneteau 42 Rocinante. "So far, we've been having a great time going north. We're more than halfway up now, and haven't had more than 15 knots of wind, even in the late afternoon when it's usually the strongest. The worst thing so far was actually leaving Cabo, as it cost us $74 to clear Cabo for Ensenada. They claimed that we couldn't clear all the way to San Diego - but we're still not going to stop in Ensenada like they made us say we would. Furthermore, they started enforcing an ancient rule that requires a health certificate. A doctor was supposed to be sent from La Paz, but we never asked what it was going to cost."

We wish Malaccorto had been a little more clear about all this, because we don't know of anybody else who has been required to get a health certificate before leaving Cabo, and it sounds as if they didn't wait around to get one before leaving. Not being allowed to check out from Cabo for San Diego is yet another new one on us.

"Something new on the weather front this year," Malaccorto continues, "are digital weather charts available from both Winlink and SailMail, showing isobars and wind charts for specified periods. We use the 72-hour period. These files are displayed on top of your chart, and can be played like a movie loop. We use a one hour increment. So far they have been excellent at showing the weather along the California coast. Since we're not on a schedule, we've been able to stay put until the isobars show that there will be light wind ahead - which is why we've had a most enjoyable trip. The weather charts are standard Grib files available from the Winlink catalog. These tend to be very large - 15 to 18 bytes - but with the new Pactor III protocol, they are manageable. A better way is to use Corenman Saildocs, a free document retrieval system. Through this service you can create your own Grib file for the geographical area of interest. Ours covers 15 to 45 N, and 135 to 110 W. They are about 7k bytes. To display these files you need a player. We use Raytech's Navigator and use a World C map. Another advantage of Saildocs is you can subscribe to have the file downloaded daily for a specified period, and it will be delivered via Sailmail. These are the only attachments permitted by SailMail."

There's just one catch in Costa Rica. Steve McCrosky reports that he and his wife Gabby's Cheoy Lee 35 Karibu is now on the hard at Puntarenas, Costa Rica. McCrosky says that the Costa Rica YC has a yard with a nice haulout facility, and they are paying just $3/foot/month - which sounds like a pretty good deal. But here's the catch - which somehow seems typically Costa Rican to us - you don't get that rate unless you join the yacht club. Joining the club costs $1,000. If you're going to keep your boat in Costa Rica for a year like the McCroskys, that's not bad, because it works out to $190/month. But if you're staying a shorter time, it becomes a progressively poorer deal. You don't have to join the yacht club to use the facilities, but it's $10/ft for non-members, both on the hard or even just for a mooring.

A successful 'clipper route' trip. "The Kruger family - with children now 10 and 5 - left Vancouver in August of 98 on a circumnavigation with their Fraser 41 Synchronicity," reports "John". "They came thru the Panama Canal in March, and had a bone in their teeth to get home to Vancouver. Dave's wife Mary wasn't looking forward to being out for a month, so they were delighted that it only took them 21 days of sailing to get to Victoria. Even though the Fraser has tired sails, she's a good upwind boat."

"I want to add to the long list of 'atta-boys' for Barillas Marina in El Salvador," reports Steve Cherry of the San Diego-based Formosa 41 Witch of Endor. "I left the Witch in the marina's care for an extended period of time in order to honor my commitment to assist with some repair work on the aircraft carrier Nimitz in San Diego. I stowed all the topside stuff below, put on some extra chafing gear, and got out of Dodge on September 1 of last year. While I was gone, I stayed in touch with Heriberto, the marina manager, by email. In April of this year, I shipped 200 pounds of boat gear via Trans Express in Miami - at the recommendation of Barillas. The stuff arrived a couple of weeks before I did. When I did got there, the marina's driver met me at the airport, and we went to pick up my 200 pounds of gear. The Trans Express agent somehow convinced the Customs agent that it was my "accompanying baggage for personal use", and thus exempt from duty. It's legal to bring in $1,000 of stuff duty free into El Salvador, but this was 200 pounds of stuff from West Marine. You do the math. All of the stuff got to El Salvador despite being opened and inspected about a dozen times. When I got to the Witch, she was just as I had left her, the bilges were dry, and the batteries charged. She did have a thin layer of soot from the burning of cane fields, which scrubbed right off, and copious bird droppings in a few places. All things considered, Barillas was as advertised - a safe, affordable, place to leave my boat free from tropical storms, surge, and curious individuals. Right now, I'm adjusting to two-hour workdays as I clean, stow, and rerig in preparation for my departure to Costa Rica and Panama."

"We're enjoying the remote islands of the seemingly forgotten northwestern Panama cruising region," report Dorsey and Janice Warren of the Tahoe City-based Mariner 48 Sun Dazzler. "We arrived here from Costa Rica last December and just love Panama! We have visited many great, remote, quiet anchorages, in both the northwestern islands and the Perlas. The weather here during the December through April cruising season was absolutely great. We are currently visiting the northwestern islands of Panama now - for the third time! We came across the bar at Boca Chica, anchored off Frank's Restaurant/Bar, and will go into the City of David for provisioning. We also spent several months in Panama City, including doing a haulout at the new Flamenco Marina Yard, which was great. They dive on the bottom to make sure the straps are set right for their 150-Ton lift; security guards are around all night; there are three excellent restaurants adjacent to the yard; and inside the yard is a small bar that also serves coffee, breakfast, beer and sandwiches. Try finding that combo in the Bay Area! Flamenco was a great place to have equipment shipped and catch up on maintenance after three years of cruising. The Panamanians are just the friendliest folks we've met, so we plan to spend at least another year on both sides of this great little country before heading towards the East Coast and Europe. We'll soon head back south to revisit the Perlas Islands, then head upriver and into the Darien Jungle. In June, we will make a partial Canal transit and put our boat up in Pedro Miguel Boat Club for a few months while we visit friends, family, and our Tahoe City home. We look forward to catching up on past Latitudes when we return."

"Our sail from Mazatlan to La Paz at the end of May was wonderful," reports Peter Boyce of the Manteca-based Sabre 402 Edelweiss III. "We did the 252-mile crossing in 45 hours, with only about 12 hours of motorsailing. We were on port tack the entire way - the winds coming out of the south at this time of year - mostly on a beam or close reach in five to 18 knots of wind. My sister Becky and Ollie of Infinity were my crew."

"I just bought the St. Francis 44 catamaran Birdwing here in Cape Town, South Africa, and am planning on sailing her to northern Brazil, Venezuela, or Trinidad," writes Vincent Pastore of Corralitos, California. "When I get my cat to one of those places, I'll need to fly home to work to pay for her. Do you know of any safe and inexpensive places for me to leave the boat for several months?"

We're not familiar enough with Brazil to suggest a safe place to store a boat, but we suspect it's going to be less expensive than either Trinidad or Venezuela. But sometimes you get what you pay for. Our best recommendation is to simply keep your ears open as you get nearer each country. We've stored our boats at Trinidad and Venezuela for lengthy periods of time. Neither was particularly cheap, but Trinidad was the safest. It is also easier to get to Trinidad, and there isn't a language problem. Since you've got a cat, you might also try the south coast of Grenada, which is pretty much south of the hurricane zone. They have a Travel-Lift specifically modified to haul out catamarans.

"We left San Francisco in May of 2000," report Max, Debra, and Janelle, 11, Young of the Perry 47 Reflection - which is soon to be stretched to 50 feet. "We're currently in Australia and plan on taking seven years to complete our trip around, but who knows? About the 'stretch'. Lengthening the bow and stern of boats is commonplace in Australia and New Zealand, where they have it down to a fine art. We'll be having it done by H&H Boat Builders, who are maestros with fiberglass. They've done some incredible work around here - including already adding a pilothouse to our boat. By the way, Mark and Debbie Mengah of the Stuart, Florida-based Passport 51 Eagles' Quest - who did the first Ha-Ha back in '94 - said to say 'hello'. They just sold their boat and have returned to the States."

Ed Vergara of Santa Cruz Marina in La Paz can confirm that nothing happens quickly down there. He was hoping to be running a fully operational marina a year or so ago, but he's still not there. "We have everything the other marinas have - except for docks. We do, however, have a pretty good number of boats using our anchorage and moorings. Anchoring space rents for $70/month, while moorings go for $170/month. If people leave to go to the islands, I give them credit for the time they are gone. I wish I could say when we're going to get the docks, but I can't."

During the winter months, Don and Lenna Hossack are the Mayor and Queen of Tenacatita Bay aboard their Truckee-based Islander 36 Windward Luv. In the summer they host a big cruiser 'Raft-Up' in the Sierras. "As agreed at the last Raft-Up, this year's potluck will be August 17 at Donner Memorial State Park," they report. "Please RSVP as soon as possible, and toward the end of July we'll email details about directions, what to bring, and so forth. We'll be asking for a $6 donation per couple to cover the cost of the ham and turkey sandwiches. For those interested in staying in a campground/RV park, Tahoe Donner has one that is open to the public, and there is also a beautiful campground at the Donner Memorial State Park. We've already invited the following people and crews of the following boats: Adagio, Altaira, Amalthea, Antares, Audrey Lane, Austerity, Avaiki, Oko Chak Chak, Capricorn Cat, C'est la Vie, Chances, Ciao Bella, Crew's Inn, Different Worlds, Diana B, Doing It, Dolce Vida, Dutch Treat, Four Seasons, Freedom, Halcyon, Jack & Betsy Hughes, Illusions, Jayda, Jan Johnson, Karibu, Lapwing, Profligate, Liberty Call, Lionesse, Loon, Margarita, Maverick, Mudshark, My Way, Nalu IV, Neener3, Passages, Piece of Cake, Polar Bear, Princess NY, Raven, Reverie, Sea Change, Sea Tern, Second Wind, Sept Song, Simplicity, Skol, Stepping Out, Sun Dazzler, Sunrise II, Tiare, Timeless, Too Sassy, Ursula, Vargari, and Windance. If we've left anyone out, you're certainly invited. We can be reached at 530 587-3963."

How much sailing experience and how big a boat do you need to go cruising? For Nik Hawks, a former Navy SEAL, three months and a 22-footer was all he needed for a successful 150-day cruise from San Diego to Key West. In the June 2002 issue of Sailing magazine, he describes the experience as being "the richest of my life". When he and former J/World instructor Jason Bell left San Diego - this was way back in December of 2000 - aboard the J/22 Apocalypso that he'd purchased just 14 days before, Hawks had never spent a night on a boat. He nonetheless had a great time right from the beginning, and got into excellent shape. "I grew lean and strong on fresh fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and learned to live and breathe with the wind in the sail." After Bell left to become skipper of a Farr 63 in Nicaragua, Hawks continued on alone, and briefly signed on a female crew. His boat was powered by a mighty 4 hp outboard. Even though Hawks enjoyed a successful trip, we'd generally recommend a boat that's at least 27 feet in length, and six months of serious sailing before heading off to distant waters.

Most of this year's Puddle Jumpers are having a great time in the South Pacific, but that doesn't mean there isn't a bit of bad weather from time to time. Mark and Sandi Joiner forwarded this report from Bradley and Laura, two "Twenty-Somethings" aboard Pura Vida in the South Pacific:

"We left Moorea yesterday evening for what we anticipated would be a quick overnight passage to Huahine. The weather reports indicated nothing out of the ordinary, so we were worried that we'd have to motor most of the way. To our delight, the wind picked up to about 20 knots and we averaged about 7 1/2 knots. The only problem was that we got to Huahine before the sun came up, so we hove-to for several hours waiting for the sun to get high enough for us to safely enter the pass. As we finally approached the pass, an ominous band of clouds came toward us with lots of thunder and lightning. It didn't look like anything we hadn't dealt with before, but we were wrong. We had a reefed mainsail and a staysail up, but when we saw the froth and spume, we knew it was still too much. When the wind hit, we experienced a tremendous knockdown, with our mast horizontal to the water and us perched on the high side looking straight down into the water. Laura later said it was the most scared she's ever been. When our boat righted herself, we were in full storm conditions. Laura managed to furl the staysail, but we couldn't get any more main down. We did our best to maintain control while waiting for the wind to subside, but had to watch a small tear form in the main, three battens go flying, and then our dinghy disappear forever. The winds calmed down during the next three hours and we finally entered the Huahine Lagoon. The only other boat in the anchorage was the 52-ft Sojourner, who had left Moorea the same time as we did. He recorded gusts to 62 knots - just below hurricane force. We're sure we experienced the same. Fortunately, the worst of it lasted less than an hour. Needless to say, we're glad to be anchored in Huahine - which, by the way, is breathtaking!"

Have fun out there and don't forget to write and send photos - but do be careful.

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