July, 2005

With reports this month from New Focus in French Polynesia; Interlude on the severe storm between New Zealand and Fiji; Birinci Mevki on a bitten rudder; Incognito on years of cruising in Europe; Finisterre on a first visit to the Sea of Cortez; Kuani on hitting an unmarked reef off Panama; and Cruise Notes.

New Focus - Catana 431
Paul & Karen Biery
French Polynesia

After doing another Baja Ha-Ha and enjoying much of the winter in Mexico, we sailed from Zihua to French Polynesia. The 'we' being Alan and Susan of Newport Beach, and our young crewmember Alan. With those Pacific-crossing crew having moved on, my wife Karen, who doesn't care for bluewater passages, flew out to join me. Since the waves can be measured in quarter-inch increments where we've been in French Polynesia, she's been a happy camper.

We've truly been having a great time here in paradise. We have anchored at various spots around Raiatea, and have found it very easy to set and weigh anchor. Yesterday, for example, we moved the boat during a warm, hard rain. After reanchoring, we washed the boat - and let the rain gods do the rinsing. New Focus looked great the next morning.

We've been surprised by the fact that there is apparently much less sea and bird life here than around Mexico. We've seen very few fish jumping or birds flying. In fact, we've hardly even felt the presence of any bugs - although this is a good thing.

One thing we really have felt is the much higher cost of buying a few basic food items in Raiatea as opposed to Mexico. It cost $385 U.S. for just three full bags here! The major expenses were $50 for 24 cans of Heineken, $22 for six large plastic bottles of Diet Coke, and $38 for Kaluha. Some of the groceries were the same price as at home, but if you bought imported brands - such as Kellogg's Raisin Bran - it was 780 francs versus less than half as expensive local stuff. I guess if we used the watermaker more and drank less Coke and beer, it wouldn't have been so bad. On the other hand, great loaves of French bread were only 35 francs. So maybe we'll go on a bread and water diet!

Thus far we've travelled 6,600 miles, and most of the time it's been excellent sailing. While my wife flies home, I'm putting together a crew for the 2,350-mile passage to Hawaii. With stops at some deserted islands on the way, it should take 16 to 20 days. After a short time in Hawaii to rest and reprovision, we'll continue on to the San Juan Islands.

P.S. The ad I ran in 'Lectronic for crew to Hawaii and to the Pacific Northwest worked wonders - we got lots of response from very qualified people!

- paul 06/02/05

Interlude - Deerfoot 74
Kurt & Katie Braun
Nearly Next Queen's B-Day Storm
(Alameda / New Zealand)

Twenty yachts departed Opua, New Zealand, on June 4 on the start of the Island Cruising Association's 3rd Annual Great Astrolabe Rally to Kadavu, Fiji. Simultaneously, another 36 yachts left Auckland on the Akarana YC's race to Suva, Fiji. The weather for the approximately 1,000-mile passage looked good at the start, as gale force southeasterlies had diminished from the previous days, leaving 20 to 35 knots of reaching winds for the blast north.

We were half an hour late for our start in the Astrolabe Rally, as Steve and Linda Dashew had arrived from Auckland the night before with their new 'unsailboat' Wild Horse. We'd been following the progress of this unusual vessel and wanted to check out the interior.

Thanks to our late start, we were able to take photos of all the Astrolabe Rally boats as we passed them. Having a long waterline really helps. By mid-afternoon we'd left the fleet on the horizon on our way to a 24-hour run of 246 miles. By Monday the wind had dropped to around 10 knots, and it seemed as though everyone would have fine tradewind sailing in smooth seas the rest of the way to Fiji. So we decided to hoist our new Code Zero reacher.

But it wasn't going to be all smooth sailing to Fiji. The first sign of trouble appeared on Tuesday, June 7, when a New Zealand Metservice 72-hour prognosis weatherfax showed a closed 1008 mb isobar around a low between Fiji and Vanuatu. And a big high centered in the Tasman Sea dominated the entire area. Our wind started to pick up, so we furled the Zero, and didn't have it up in the 20-knot winds that night.

Wednesday's 72-hour fax showed two closed isobars, and the low was heading south on a collision course with the big high. This didn't look good. While doing our daily check-in on the Pacific Seafarers Net (0330 UTC 14313 USB Ham only), Don of Summer Passage in California broke in to warn us of what he thought was the birth of a Southern Hemisphere tropical cyclone in June! Our local winds were now in the 20 to 25-knot range.

During our 1830 SSB sked with Russell Radio in New Zealand, we warned the Astrolabe fleet of the forecast 'squash zone' that would be on our rhumbline later in the week. We on Interlude weren't too worried, as we were due to arrive in Kadavu on Thursday, and most of the Akarana YC racing fleet would be right up with us. The problems were that some of the Astrolabe Rally boats were only averaging five or six knots, and others were diverting for a planned stop at Minerva Reefs. Unfortunately, not all boats would make it out of those reefs.

On Wednesday the sky looked ominous, with heavy rain and shifty 25-knot winds mainly from the ESE. We again reported our concerns to the Astrolabe Rally fleet and advised everyone to try and get above 25°S ASAP. Minerva Reefs are at about 25°S, 180°W - meaning right where the forecast 60-knot 'squash' was expected to occur on Saturday and Sunday.

By noon on Thursday, we were getting a steady 30 knots with gusts to 35 in beam seas of about 12 feet. We were pushing hard to make it to the rendezvous point for the longboat from the Dive Kadavu Resort before darkness fell. The longboat was to guide us through the tricky reefs to the anchorage. As we rounded Cape Washington doing 10 knots under a triple-reefed main and staysail in driving rain, we called Dive Kadavu on VHF to see if they were really going to come out in such conditions. They weren't keen on the job.

By this time we'd sailed into the lee of a huge mountain, which suddenly appeared after the rain suddenly eased. Land ho! The wind died to five knots and the seas went flat. We looked at the chart and saw Taleaulia Bay with a ship anchorage noted. It looked promising, and on closer inspection we saw beaches and a river mouth. So we eased our way in with radar to anchor in about 50 feet of water a quarter of a mile from shore.

We asked the dive resort if there would be any problem if we anchored there for the night, as technically our arranged port of entry was to be in their bay, with officials arriving from Suva on Tuesday to clear the fleet in and out. There was also a village where we were anchored, and if we didn't come ashore with a sevusevu - a present of Yaqona root - we might be offending the chief. But Bob at Dive Kadavu said not to worry. After signing off to the Pacific Seafarer's Net and giving our weather impressions on the Astrolabe Russell Radio sked, we went to sleep.

We were awakened at midnight, however, by a PAN PAN call on VHF 16. A 54-ft trimaran from our fleet was only 10 miles out but was having trouble steering. We suggested they try to make their way into the bay and anchor next to us for the night. Fortunately, they regained steerage after kicking up their rudder, and were able to join us in the anchorage at 2 a.m. But all four aboard were seasick, and the captain hadn't slept in two days.

Friday morning we headed for the rendezvous point, and got a longboat to guide us in. A Taswell 56 that had motored for 20 hours mid-passage had arrived that morning also, so there were three boats in the peaceful anchorage. But it wasn't peaceful that night for the yachts that had diverted to Minerva Reefs. They were reporting 40 knots, and a Roberts 36 at the back of the fleet reported 50 knots.

The Saturday report from Minerva was not good. It was blowing 50 knots and the anchor snubbers on some of the boats were breaking. A Japanese singlehander who had sailed his sloop across the South Pacific at the same time we did in 2003, tragically lost his boat on North Minerva. He was picked up off the reef by the crew of a Kiwi yacht - whose anchor chain later parted. In addition, an Italian crew lost their yacht on North Minerva after their anchor dragged. Most yachts were unable to motor to windward against the howling wind, so some of them just ran for the pass when their ground tackle failed. Many dinghies and deck toys were reported blown away.

As the Astrolabe Rally boats trickled in over the next few days, we heard stories of winds from 50 to 80 knots, with 12 mb barometer swings, and 180° windshifts. Some of the boats had hove to. One 50-ft yacht successfully deployed a parachute anchor for nine hours in reported 70-knot winds and 35-ft seas.

What made the Astrolabe Rally and the race to Fiji a near repeat of the 1994 Queen's Birthday Disaster - in which seven boats and three lives were lost - was a matter of a few days timing. This storm claimed two yachts, some dinghies, and there were some minor injuries - including one lost finger and a broken nose. But had the two fleets left four days later than they had, they would have been hit by hurricane-force winds and seas identical to that of the Queen's Birthday storm.

The yachts that fared the best on this passage were those who made it north above the squash zone before it got too intense. Our 1,000-mile passage time from Opua to Kadavu was 5 days, 4 hours, and 45 minutes, just over a day slower than the maxi race boat Konica-Minolta. But the slowest nonstop boat was the Roberts 36, which had taken 12 days. The Roberts had hove-to in 80 knots of wind, and was one of two boats that were knocked down hard enough to have their masthead instruments washed off.

Participating in a rally has its advantages, including meeting other cruisers at organized events before and after. But there is also the added stress of a fairly firm departure date. Many yachts in this rally had ongoing refit projects that were delayed due to rainy weather in New Zealand, but left with the rally start anyway. One boat had just had their water tanks painted, and now has solvents in their water, which was and is making the crew sick.

A scheduled departure date further limits what little control we have over passage weather conditions. The Astrolabe organizers did assure us, however, that the start would be delayed if forecasted weather conditions were too severe. And, of course, all skippers must make their own decisions whether or not to head offshore.

The level of preparedness and competence of the New Zealand crews and yachts in this rally was impressive. The Category 1 requirements for all Kiwi boats certainly helped minimize the damage. All New Zealand-registered yachts departing New Zealand must be Category 1 certified by a licensed Maritime Safety Authority Yacht Inspector. These inspectors not only inspect the yacht, but interview the crew as well. However, only a few boats were equipped to receive weatherfaxes, and most crews relied on brief forecasts from Russell Radio during their scheduled check-ins. Alas, these forecasts never called for anything over 35 knots.

We think the main lessons to be learned from this storm are:

- Be your own weather forecaster by having access to weather data by weatherfax, voice broadcast, or webfetch via Sailmail or Winlink. If you're really upscale, you can get internet access by SatCom.
- Know how to interpret the weather data.
- Proactively move your boat out of harm's way once you have assessed the situation and forecast.

If you choose to remain in port or at an anchorage:

- Have an engine that can power your boat upwind in 50+ knots of wind.
- Have a chain-stopper that can take the full breaking strength of your anchor chain.
- Have backup chain hooks and snubbers with chafe guards.
- Remain on your own boat and stow your dinghy as for an ocean crossing.
- Strip all biminis and awnings, and stow all toys belowdeck.

For a detailed analysis of the Queen's Birthday Storm, see pages 229 to 255 of Dashew's Mariner's Weather Handbook.

P.S. On June 20, Radio Taupo reported that three yachts were abandoned north of New Zealand due to the same storm.

- kurt & katie 06/21/05

Birinci Mevki - Rawson 30
Suzanne & John Pew, Crew
Oh, That Shark Bites!
(San Diego)

Most folks who have cruised the Sea of Cortez are familiar with Gerry Cunningham's charts and cruising guides. As a matter of principle, he never recommends an anchorage unless he has anchored there himself. The boat he's used for research for more than two decades is Birinci Mevki - Turkish for 'first class' - a Rawson 30 that he and his wife Ann finished from a hull and deck and keep at Marina San Carlos.

We've crewed for Gerry on a number of his research trips, and consider it an honor to sail with him. Our latest trip with him, in May of this year, took us across the Sea of Cortez to Isla San Marcos, which is just south of Santa Rosalia. Gerry is a purist sailor, who only resorts to the 'iron jib' when becalmed or being swept toward a reef by the current.

We had a good southwesterly breeze across the Sea. Although we arrived at the south end of Isla San Marcos after dark, we found the anchorage safely using the GPS positions from Gerry's cruising guides. We began our research in the morning, enjoying a clocking breeze which ended up coming out of the northeast by mid-morning.

Our plan for the day was to anchor for lunch in Sweet Pea Cove on the northwest coast of San Marcos. But about a half-mile from the cove, Gerry saw a large dark fin close to the port side of Birinci. The animal swerved away, leaving a large swirl in the water. But within seconds we felt a thump on the hull, followed shortly by a hard impact on the rudder. Then we saw a whirlpool - and chunks of debris popping to the surface behind us! At first we feared they were dolphin parts, but later determined they were pieces of Birinci's rudder.

Ahead to starboard we saw a pod of about a dozen bottlenose dolphin, but there weren't any babies around that the adults might have wanted to protect. Then John, on the tiller, found the steering seemed to bind. Figuring something had become lodged between the rudder and the hull, we limped into Sweet Pea Cove. Diving on the hull, John found an eight-inch semicircular piece missing from the bottom edge of the rudder! Plus, the rudderpost had been bent and knocked out of the bottom gudgeon. A lot of force of some sort had been involved. Given the extent of the damage, we had to return to San Carlos.

Back in San Diego, we contacted Dr. R.H. Defran, Director of the Cetacean Behavior Laboratory and professor of psychology at San Diego State. While interested in the details of our experience, he doesn't believe that we were attacked by a dolphin. In fact, he says he's never heard of a confirmed dolphin attack on a boat, and feels that it would be inconsistent with dolphin behavior.

But two of us had seen a fin close to the boat, and all of us saw the whirlpool with pieces of the rudder in them. Gerry believes that Birinci hit a sick or mating dolphin, and that a second animal retaliated by attacking the rudder. Anybody have any other ideas?

- suzanne & john 05/20/05

Incognito - Cal 44
Mark Covec & Rebecca Van Sickle
Mark's Parents' Cruise
(San Francisco)

Loyal readers of Latitude, we thought we'd tell you about our visit to Mark's parent's boat in Europe, as well as about the cruising they've been doing since '97.

We met Paul and Joan aboard their Cal 44 in Barcelona, Spain. Theirs wasn't the only Northern California boat in town, as we stumbled across Larry Ellison's 452-ft mega-motoryacht Rising Sun, the largest private yacht in the world. Since we're dropping names, we also saw Kentfield's Paul Cayard - the Whitbread and America's Cup ace - walking into a tapas bar near Marina Port Vell. With the America's Cup and the TP 52 Worlds in Spain, there were good reasons for members of the sailing elite to be here.

After a wonderful few days in Barcelona, we sailed to Mallorca for the remainder of the week with Mark's parents. They are in their early 60s and have been sailing together since they were married 35 years ago. They raced for years on San Francisco Bay in the Daysailor and J/29 fleets, and later cruised up and down the coast of California aboard the family's Morgan 38. In '80-'81, they took a sabbatical to cruise as a family - with Mark, then 5, and his 8-year-old brother. They cruised from San Francisco to Boston via the Canal.

Enjoying harbor-hopping more than ocean passages, Paul and Joan decided they'd rather cruise Europe than the South Pacific. So in '97 they bought their Cal 44 Incognito on the East Coast. They shook the boat down that first year sailing from Florida to Maine, then back to Virginia. In the spring of '99, the whole Covec family spent two months in Portsmouth, Virginia, getting the boat ready for crossing the Atlantic by replacing the rigging and taking care of hundreds of other tasks. Then we all sailed to Bermuda, where Rebecca came to visit for two weeks. Then Paul, Joan, Mark's brother, and a friend continued across the Atlantic to Portugal.

Since then, their itinerary has been as follows:
'99 - Portugal and Barcelona.
'00 - Barcelona, Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily, Greece, Turkey
'01 - Turkey, Black Sea Rally, Turkey
'02 - Turkey, Cyprus, Turkey
'03 - Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy
'04 - Rome, Corsica, Marseille, French and Italian Rivieras, Corsica, Sardinia, Balearics, Barcelona
'05 - Having been so far from family for so long, and having already sailed across the Atlantic,

is being put on a Dockwise ship in June bound for Martinique. Later in the year they plan to sail down to Trinidad.

Their favorite places have included:

Barcelona, because it is such a fun city and has such great art, food, and wine. There's always something going on in Barcelona, and the people seem to have found a good balance between work and play.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a marvelous, 1,000-year-old walled city with excellent food and lots of lively entertainment. And the rest of Croatia. has some outstanding Venetian and Roman cities that are real gems, such as Split, with Diocletian's Palace. During the war, Croatia had no tourists. Now they get 10 million a year!

Turkey was wonderful because of the fantastic people, the incredible fantastic history, and great weather and cruising.

The Black Sea Rally was an opportunity to meet many amazing people as well as see the sometimes sad transition of many countries from communism to varying forms of capitalism. On the down side, the pace was very fast, so they ran their engine as much that summer as they had in the other six years they owned the boat.

In general, the Med is great for the variety of culture, history, places to visit - and for the fact there are people from so many different places. The Med is also great for those who love daysailing as opposed to long passages, because everything is so close together. It's about the same distance from Gib to Turkey as it is from San Francisco to Zihua.

As for us, Mark's Bristol 27 Magstar remains in La Paz while we finish grad school in New York.

- mark & rebecca 06/10/05

Finisterre - Saintonge 44
Mike & Kay Heath
Summer in the Sea of Cortez
(Ukiah / Pt. Richmond)

Having come down with the 2004 Baja Ha-Ha, we sailed as far south as Manzanillo, but are now enjoying the west coast of the Sea of Cortez. We soon learned that once on the Baja side of the Sea, it's possible to move from anchorage to anchorage either in short hops of three to four hours, or day-long passages. Although we have used two cruising guides, we've been open to scouting out anchorages not listed in either guide and relying on the suggestions of folks we've met who have local knowledge. We use our SSB radio to get weather forecasts and our Skymate to determine if and how much an anchorage might be exposed to the predicted winds.

There are many anchorages to be found on both the eastern shore of the Baja Peninsula and out at the islands that are typically 10 to 15 miles offshore. The islands are protected marine sanctuaries, so there is little or no habitation on most of them. So far we've explored the 170 miles between La Paz and Caleta San Juanico. The Sea has been very blue, and the desert and mountains along the shore resemble the more colorful parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

There's not much to do here - just sailing, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, mountain-biking, and exploring the small towns. We love to snorkel and have explored almost all of the anchorages we have visited. Despite all the years of overfishing in the Sea, there is still a wealth of sea life to observe, from the giant whale sharks to starfish of every type and color. Schools of colorful tropical fish, eels, rays, and colorful patches of coral can be seen in many of the snorkeling spots. We also have enjoyed going around the anchorages in our inflatable kayaks. Often the water has been so clear that we could see all the way to the bottom of the bays - affording us a snorkeler's view of the bottom without having to put on a mask and fins. For longer explorations along the shore, we use our dinghy.

During our second stop at the Agua Verde anchorage, we were dinghying to shore when a baby whale shark swam under our dinghy and then all around the anchorage. I say 'baby' because this one was only 15 feet long and they grow to about 30 feet. Whale sharks are very dark with white glowing spots, and have the typical outline of a shark. But when they open their mouths - which is often - you see something that looks rather like a grill. Whale sharks are plankton eaters, and they sift out their food much like whales do.

As per the law, we have Mexican fishing licenses for ourselves, our boat, and our dinghies. We fish with handlines and poles, and using mostly light-colored squid-type lures, having caught a variety of delicious fish, including yellow fin tuna, Mexican bonito, dorado, and triggerfish. Some of our catches have tested the strength of our equipment and the size of our refrigerator, so we have had ample filets to share with fellow cruisers. Nothing is more tasty than dorado caught and cooked the same day!

We often take hikes with groups of people we meet at the anchorages. Two of the hikes we've enjoyed the most are up the dry riverbed out of the town at Agua Verde, and the one up Steinbeck Canyon at Puerto Escondido. The hike up from Agua Verde leads up to a box canyon, where the steep cliffs reminded us of hikes we have taken in Zion National Park. The Steinbeck Canyon hike starts across Hwy 1 from Puerto Escondido, and is reputed to be similar to the one Steinbeck made on his hunting trip inland when he came to the Sea of Cortez with Doc Ricketts in the '40s. There are palm trees up in the canyon, and some pools of water remain into the spring. The rock scramble up the creek is a bit challenging but beautiful, and there is an easy return. The hikes have given us a chance to see the incredible flora of the desert, take great photos of our boat, and get needed exercise.

The mountains of Baja - which are often very close to the shore - are home to the Cimaron big-horned sheep. Like Steinbeck, we looked for them, but didn't see any. We did, however, see and hear rattlesnakes, so hiking boots and caution are advised.

Exploring towns in Baja has been interesting, as it allows us to practice our limited Spanish, learn about local history, dine out, and travel off the boat for awhile. One of our goals in coming to Mexico was to visit places which are inland and less-impacted than the major tourist destinations such as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan. Two places in Baja that we particularly enjoyed visiting were Loreto and Santa Rosalia.

We first visited Loreto by anchoring off the town - a day anchorage only because of afternoon winds - to the north of the fishing boat marina area. The day before we had anchored at Isla Coronado, north of Loreto, and made a quick trip to the town. We were able to provision and have lunch there. A week later we revisited the town by traveling up Hwy 1 from Puerto Escondido. We stayed overnight in Loreto, and were able to see the first mission built by the Spanish in all of the Californias. The central square is lovely, with trees trimmed to cover the walkways in shade. Loreto is a center for fishing and some ex-patriot development, but it is first and foremost a Mexican town, with friendly people going about their work. The town is colorful and alive with culture.

We also took the bus on up Hwy. 1 through Mulege to Santa Rosalia for another overnight stay. Santa Rosalia is a very interesting town, as it's a center for fishing giant squid, a terminus of the ferry to Guaymas, and a former copper mining area. In the 1850's the Boleo (French) mining company established the town of Santa Rosalia, building company buildings, businesses, and homes from wood which was shipped into the port. The mines operated until the 1950's. Today you can take your boat to a small marina in Santa Rosalia, where huge sailing ships once anchored.

We stayed at the Hotel Frances, the company hotel, up on a hill looking out to sea. The hotel is a large two-story structure of wood, and there are many photos and exhibits of equipment used years ago. There is also a museum a short distance away. We felt like we were in a California mining town - except for the metal church designed by Eiffel, who also did a tower in Paris. The church was built in Paris, shipped to Santa Rosalia, and put together by the mining company. Santa Rosalia has a different look than other Mexican towns and cities, making it an interesting place to walk the streets and explore.

The Sea of Cortez is a cruiser's paradise. It's hard to leave and will be high on our list of favorite places to visit again.

- mike & kay 06/06/05

Kuani - Cascade 42
Tom & Mini Caulfield
Hitting a Reef off Panama
(San Francisco)

Although we've been cruising off and on since 1969, we've never written to Latitude. But we had a sorry mishap in Panama that other cruisers might benefit from knowing about.

In January, we were sailing from Colon, Panama, to the Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands) of Panama. We had to wait out weather on the way at both Portobello and Isla Grande, which are stops along the way. With time running out for our guest who only had a brief vacation, we decided to continue on despite strong winds and rough seas on the nose. If the weather became too rough, we figured we'd stop at one of the anchorages indicated in The Panama Guide. We've relied on the Ziedlers' guide for several years now, and have always found it to be dependable.

As the day wore on, we were making slow headway and dealing with some seasickness - so we decided to put in at Playa Chiquita, 9 34.000N, 79 17.660W, taking careful bearings and using the waypoint from the book. We also kept a good watch, as we've had many years of experience with the reefs and shoals on this coast.

Despite our best efforts, just as we were lowering sail approaching the designated waypoint, we hit an uncharted - and apparently invisible - reef! Our boat instantly went far over on her side, and seas battered the entire hull. Luckily, the seas were big enough to lift her off the rocks after just four heavy blows. We floated free - but had no steering!

So there we were, with none of the crew injured too badly, the prop still turning, but between two reefs and without any steering. After putting the boat in reverse, we quickly discovered that our boat turned to port just a bit - so using reverse, we managed to get clear and work our way a bit offshore. But without steering, we had nowhere to go. So we jogged around a bit more until we found a place where we could anchor.

But then what? We were on a virtually uninhabited coast, far from any help, and unable to proceed. But then a panga, the first we'd seen all day, came by on its way to the tiny settlement of Playa Chiquita. Samuel, the panga operator, responded to our hails - and then towed us to a marginally viable spot at 9 34.105N, 79 17.641W where we could anchor more securely for the night. He promised to return in the morning.

We tried to dive on the rudder to ascertain the extent of the damage, but the water was churned up and visibility poor. We did, however, manage to get on the SSB and reach Sandy of Little Bit, an old friend anchored at Isla Linton who knows everyone. The next morning she told us that another boat had offered to tow us the 40 miles back to Colon - but at some expense.

Just then Samuel returned, offering to tow us four miles to Miramar - where he said there was a mechanic who could fix our rudder. This was hard to believe, because after years of cruising in and around the Caribbean coast of Panama, we'd never heard of a place called Miramar. But we were happy to get the tow.

What a pleasant surprise to find out that Miramar not only exists, but it's a thriving little harbor located at 9 34.774N, 79 19.864W. Don't look for it on the charts or in the Ziedler's guide, because it's in neither. From the sea, Miramar appears to be completely fronted by reefs with breaking waves. But our panga towboat took us in through a pass, made a sharp dog-leg to almost in the mangroves, and there was Miramar! It has a town dock, a fuel dock, and three sailboats were tied in the mangroves. And all of these offered complete protection from all directions. You can imagine our sighs of relief.

But what we really had no business in hoping for was somebody like Sergio, the promised mechanic. This French sailor turned repairman/contractor arrived promptly with his English-speaking wife Mimi, and his highly skilled assistant Willie. They assured us that they really could fix our rudder. We were favorably impressed with their apparent knowledge and mechanical skills, so told them to proceed with the repairs.

To make a long story short, our rudder was lowered, lifted out, and carried to a well-equipped workshop. After 10 days, we were back in business! And it hadn't been a small job either, as the rudder shaft had been bent and the rudder itself had to be rebuilt and glassed. I doubt that we could have gotten such a repair done in so little time in Colon, where in any event it would have been much more expensive.

So based on our experience, if you're in the area and find yourself in need of expert fiberglassing, rigging work, carpentry, refrigeration repair or such, call Mimi on Channel 16 when you have Miramar in sight. She'll send a panga out to guide you in the pass. Better yet, them. There is room for no more than four or five sailboats in Miramar, but Sergio claims he is working on a haulout facility, which he thinks will be ready in about six months. The fuel dock near where we tied up is right on the road that goes to Portobello, Colon, and Panama City, and there is good bus service. As if that weren't enough, Mimi cooks excellent French dinners, and they have a supply of good wines.

We spent a delightful three months in the Kuna Yala, and now we're tied up at Marina Carenero, our favorite storage spot in Bocas del Toro. We've flown home until next January, when we'll return for our last visit to the area. We're in our 70s now, so we've finally decided to bring Kuani home to San Francisco next spring - assuming we can find some able crew younger than ourselves who want to sail through the Canal and up the coast to California next April or May. Anyone interested can contact us by . And we promise we'll try not to hit any more reefs!

- tom and mimi 05/09/05

Cruise Notes:

As alluded to in the Changes from Interlude, there were four boats lost or abandoned while attempting the passage between New Zealand and Fiji in the first half of June, which is the traditional start of the cruising season in the South Pacific. The boats were:

Scot Free, Garry and Lisa Blackwood's Canadian-based Westsail 32, which was dismasted during gale force winds about halfway between New Zealand and Tonga on June 12. The Pacific Puddle Jump vets rode out the difficult conditions for three days before abandoning their boat for the cargo ship Capitaine Wallis. The details aren't clear, but at some point Lisa had apparently gone overboard or nearly overboard, and in the process of rescuing her, Garry suffered a bad gash on his head. Lisa, who has never sewn before, had to learn on her husband's skull. Apparently, she did a good job - considering there was no anesthetic. Press reports indicate that the couple plan to start their dream cruise over.

A few hours later on Tuesday the 14th, the ketch Ciru, sailed by a Swedish skipper and his Kiwi ladyfriend, were rescued in the same general vicinity by the bulk carrier Baltimar Boreas. The type and size of their boat weren't reported.

On June 11, early in the storm, two women from the vessel Bird of Passage were rescued inside Minerva Reefs by the yacht Namerida when their boat was dismasted.

The fourth boat, type, size, and name unknown, skippered by a Japanese man, was also lost in Minerva Reefs.

The 1,100-mile or so passage between New Zealand and Tonga or Fiji is well-known as potentially one of the more dangerous in cruising. Veterans say that everyone needs to expect to be hit by at least one gale. Captain Hebben, of the Baltimar Boreas that rescued Ciru, says he's rescued at least 15 sailors during his 25 years on the Auckland-to-Fiji run. And Wing Commander John Lovatt, who flew the C-130 Orion that spotted the dismasted Ciru, confirmed that the weather was very bad. "I'm a sailor, and the conditions were absolutely atrocious, the worst I have ever seen. It was blowing 55 knots across the surface, with 25-ft swells."

Timing is everything in such long passages. Lafayette's Don Engle and crew left New Zealand for Fiji aboard his new 70-ft Shuttleworth catamaran My Way the first week in June - and had what Engle described as "a walk in the park."

By the way, among those who alerted us to this story were Clark and Suzy Straw of the San Diego-based Mason 54 Final Straw. The couple, who did the Puddle Jump in '02, are currently in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia.

"The new Marina Costa Baja in La Paz is giving free berthing to everyone for the months of June, July, and August, with no strings attached," report Rob and Linda Jones of the Whidbey Island, Washington-based Gemini 3000 catamaran Cat 'N About. "And this is a brand new upscale resort with all the trimmings! Furthermore, most folks here consider it to be the best place to be if another hurricane were to hit La Paz. We were among the first to take advantage of the great offer. The marina does charge for electricity, but it's metered, and only comes to about $1 a day. The temps here in La Paz have been running in the 90s, so we cruisers congregate around the pool in the late afternoon. We've had a couple of Friday evening socials, with good attendance on the part of cruisers and some of the marina staff. The staff, incidentally, has bent over backwards to be helpful, and have eagerly requested feedback on how they can improve the operation. One of the several restaurants around the marina offers a dinner special for 40 pesos - less than $4 - which includes lemonade. The free berthing and inexpensive meals are the bargain of the summer down here!"

"I'm marina bound for a month or so, as Kathy has returned to the States to work for a bit," writes Jerry McGraw of the Newport Beach-based Peterson 44 Po Oino Roa. "Fortunately for me, the new Marina Costa Baja is open and is offering all the slips free for June, July, and August. There are quite a few cruisers and '04 Baja Ha-Ha vets here with me. The marina is very user-friendly, as it has a free shuttle bus that runs into La Paz a number of times each day. There is also a 'crew room' featuring a big-screen TV with a DVD player, and it will soon be hooked up to satellite service. There are s couple of downsides to the marina, however. It's quite a ways from downtown, which is the reason for the shuttle. A taxi would run $7 to $9 depending on your destination in La Paz. The other issue is the soot from the power plant when the wind blows the wrong way, as it can create a mess on decks and canvas. In any event, I'm taking advantage of the free slip to get some boat projects done before we get underway for cruising further up into the Sea of Cortez."

We're told that the power plant near the Marina Costa Baja is supposed to be fitted with an anti-pollution device of some sort, but no date has been given for the installation. It's also possible that the winter winds - which are from the north rather than the south - will blow the soot away from the marina.

"What a difference in the new clearing regulations for Mexico!" write Pete and Jean Ryan of the Santa Cruz-based Catalina 42 Neener3. "Halfway through our 4,700-mile trip from Martinique to Santa Cruz, and at the end of a four-day run from Nicaragua, we arrived at Marina Chahue (CHA-WAY) at Bahia Chahue, Huatulco, Mexico. We were welcomed by Enrique, the manager, and his crew as they helped secure our boat in the slip. Notably, it was a floating concrete slip with huge pilings, big cleats, a top-of-the-line electrical box, and water that tasted better than what comes out of our watermaker! That was the first good thing. The second was that Enrique returned with all the officials - Immigration, Customs, Agriculture and Navy - for our check in to the country. They checked us in, made out our visas, had a cold drink - and left with our garbage! The visas costs 210 pesos - about $20 - like at all Mexican borders. Get this! You can pay the visa fee at any of the banks listed on the back of the form - anytime before you clear out of Mexico.

The third good thing is that all the officials were very nice - they almost danced a jig for us! Then they waited another hour for North and Mary on our buddyboat Laboritorium, which is bound for Oakland."

"Because this was our port-of-entry into Mexico," continue the Ryans, "we had to visit the port captain in Hautulco the next morning. It was the same office we'd visited three years ago, except now it's at the foot of a huge cruise ship pier that takes up much of the old anchorage. But it has very nice modern bathrooms because you don't get through the gate and off the pier without an inspection of your bag, purse, backpack, whatever you'r carrying - all thanks to Uncle Sam's new security mandates for countries that want to entertain cruise ships headed to the U.S. The port captain's office staff was friendly. In a short time we'd paid our import fee of 163 pesos - about $15. This is a flat fee per boat and is not based on tonnage.

"The changes in clearing procedures are so new that Enrique, who was doing the paperwork for the port captain, had to write out everything by hand because there were no forms. He took down our basic boat info and a simple crew list. There was no charge. This document became our Notificacion de Zarpe en Navegacion de Cabotaje, which meant we were cleared into the country and could proceed to the next domestic port. We're told that we should show this paper, along with our passports and our entry stamp, in future ports - assuming the port captains even want to see them. So there was no more shuffle, no more banks - well, that's not true, we had to go to the bank to get pesos because the port captain's Visa debit card machine (!) wasn't working yet."

"By the way," the Ryans continue, "we came back through the Panama Canal into the Pacific on May 23, and found that nothing has changed in the three years we've been cruising the Caribbean. Our transit fee was still $600. If you don't use an agent, you post an $800 deposit in case you bump into a tug or run over a ship. We used Stanley Scott in Colon, who supplied lines, wrapped tires as fenders, and made two trips to town to do all the clearing and transit paperwork. We thought his $250 fee for all this was a great deal. We were scheduled for a May 9 transit, but our boat was struck by lightning three days before while at the Panama Canal YC. Stanley got us canceled, and checked on us continually as we tore out and replaced most of our DC system, as well as all the electronics, computer - even the refrigeration. Between Marco and family at the Marine Warehouse, and Barbara at the International Order Desk of West Marine, two weeks later we were able to transit the Canal. Enrique Plummer, our ship's agent friend from 2002, was there at the Balboa YC dock just to say 'hi' when we arrived. Plummer was just learning the ropes when we transited in 2002, but is now a knowledgeable and respected agent - and charges a reasonable fee. Unless you have a high-priced yacht that requires a Pilot rather than an Advisor, and/or have lots of people aboard, we don't see why anyone needs a high-priced agent."

Pilots are used for Canal transits on boats over 65 feet, while Advisors are used for boats under 65 feet. But even boats that will use Pilots don't need ship's agent to do the paperwork. We transited with a Pilot last year and had used a taxi driver to guide us through the paperwork. It not only wasn't a problem, it was a blast. For those going through the Canal for the first time and who are tentative, we recommend Enrique Plummer to guide you through the process.

"Has Latitude ever done an article on the surf spots on Santa Cruz Island?" asks Stephen Vingst of Glen Ellen. "If not, can you give me some advice on how to find out about midsummer surf breaks out there?"

We used to surf Santa Barbara breaks when we were a student at UCSB, but we were too poor to get out to the islands. Now that we're older and wiser, we don't surf in water cooler than 80°- which precludes anything north of Cabo. But if you asked around, or went out there when a south swell was running, you wouldn't have any trouble finding guys paddling to the breaks from their boats.

Remember our announcement that we at Latitude, perhaps in association with or with the assistance of the folks at SailMail, plan to WiFi the anchorage at Punta Mita, Banderas Bay, this winter? Now Rick Carpenter of Rick's Bar - the big cruiser hangout in Zihuatanejo - says he plans to offer the same kind of coverage for 90% of Zihuantanejo Bay. "Our plan is to start a Zihua Cruisers Club with a $50/year membership fee," says Rick. "This fee would cover the WiFi services, a guard-valet at the dinghy landing, and several other cruiser services. In fact, we're trying to persuade the port captain to allow us to build a dinghy dock."

A 'dinghy valet'. Say what?

"Since Latitude missed the 2005 Zihua SailFest, perhaps you are unaware of a tremendous new improvement that Rick Carpenter made for cruisers in Zihua this last season," writes Tom Collins of the Southern California-based Misty Sea. "After obtaining permission from the port captain, he hired Jesus to assist cruisers with landing and launching their dinghies, and to keep an eye on the dinghies while the cruisers were in town. Although Rick only paid Jesus for the official work hours of 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Jesus took the job so seriously that he was there to receive the first dinghy that arrived each morning, and stayed around until the last dinghy left the beach at night - even if it was after midnight. He stood by in the traditional dinghy-landing area on the beach between the muelle and the Navy building. Whenever a dinghy approached the beach, he would wade out into the water to receive it, steady it while the passengers disembarked, and then pull it up the beach and 'park' it. And when he saw cruisers walking down the beach back toward their dinghy, he'd hustle to have the dinghy ready and waiting at the water's edge by the time they got there! Jesus soon brought on Nate as a helper. The two - both of whom always had wonderful smiles - would make sure that no children played bouncy-bouncy or got sand on the dinghies, and that nothing mysterously disappeared from them. In addition to what Rick paid them, most cruisers were happy to tip the dinghy valets for their work. When Jesus had to go to Acapulco to join his family, Nate's wife joined him on the beach to continue the service. When they weren't helping with the dinghies, Nate would work on making fish nets, and his wife would do needlework. Incidentally, they also disposed of cruiser trash. In my opinion, the dinghy valet service was a major improvement to cruising life in Zihuatanejo Bay. I certainly hope that Rick will make it a permanent addition to the other services he provides the cruisers."

"We had been as far south as Acapulco, as we were heading to Panama when we lost our engine," report Craig and Eva Smackhamer - plus small dog Scooter - of the Channel Islands-based Cal 2-29 Tigertail. "We're now headed back home under sail-only, to either repower or buy a replacement boat like a Cal 39. After we get to Cabo, we're going to take the offshore route - for as long as we can stand it without any self-steering. Right now we're in Nuevo Vallarta, and the weather is great - much cooler than just a couple of hundred miles south. Cruisers will be delighted to hear that, based on our experience, 'domestic clearing' in Mexico is indeed all but over, as most port captains don't want to be bothered with your silly papers anymore now that there's no money in it."

"The terribly delapidated Nuevo Vallarta Marina, across the way from Paradise Marina, now has new owners," the Smackhamers continue. "We were just there for a couple of nights, and things were already different from when we'd been there a month before. New General Manager Emilio Oyarzabal says the new owners, Impusora Marina Vallarta, had been trying to secure the concession from the Mexican government for three years. The new owners have a bold reconstruction plan that calls for 200 new berths from 30 feet to 200-ft end-ties. They hope to start work on A Dock in three months. Once it is completed, the existing boats - of which there are 78, five of which are abandoned - will be moved there so demolition of the old docks can begin. I was told all the new berths should be in place in about one year. While I could see that work was already underway on new bathrooms and showers, and was told that a new trailer office was on its way, marina projects in Mexico have a reputation for delays. But who knows? Plans also call for a fuel dock, chandlery, a boatyard with dry storage, and two restaurants. Juan Sebastian Estrada, who is very nice and speaks good English, is the Dock Manager."

It would be terrific if additional berths became available in the Nuevo Vallarta area, because Banderas Bay sorely needs them. Harbormaster Dick Markie across the way at Paradise Resort Marina reports that his summer (low-season) occupancy has soared 40% this year to nearly 85% of his approximately 200 berths. And requests for permanent berthing just keep coming in. "I'm going to have to fight like crazy to make sure we've got enough transient slips for cruisers this winter," he says.

Unfortunately, it may not be all smooth sailing with the new Nuevo Vallarta Marina, as several other development groups have also long been interested in that concession. There is a question as to whether the government requested bids in the legal manner, and therefore whether the project might get mired in legal wrangling. Originally built as one of the Grupo Situr Marinas, all of which went bankrupt, the original Nuevo Vallarta Marina inexplicably was built with nothing but 30-ft berths - and pretty crummy ones at that. The standard of marinas has risen dramatically since it was new.

"We had more easting than we anticipated after our departure from San Diego for the Marquesas," reports Commodore and Nancy Tompkins of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl. "We hadn't expected to see another island for about three weeks, but because of the easting we sailed right by Guadalupe Island. In fact, the island poked a hole in the clouds, so we finally got to enjoy some most welcome sunshine - the first we'd seen since Marina del Rey. Conditions had been so light our first night out of San Diego that we had to motor. After a nice dinner, Commodore was off watch and went to sleep. He was awakened at midnight by the sound of an alternator belt shredding itself to pieces. The second belt looked like it was about to go also, so he got his middle-of-the-night watch extended a couple of hours. While we were drifting around, a city of lights in the form of a cruise ship appeared to be motoring toward us. It was reassuring to discover that no amount of calling them on Channel 16 - or any other frequencies - reached their bridge. So we finally shone our brightest spot on their bridgedeck, which alerted them to our presence. It seems the ship was just standing offshore waiting so they could make a dramatic arrival in the morning to thrill all the passengers. Anyway, we're abeam of Guadalupe Island - a guy came out in a panga to see us - and with 15 knots of wind, we're doing 7 to 8.5 knots. Life is good."

On June 23 we received a one-week update showing Flashgirl's daily runs: 163, 183, 159, 129, 164, 167, 171. It was 78 degrees onboard and life was very good for skipper and mate.

Far be it for us to wonder what Commodore, a lifelong sailing professional, was doing sailing his boat across a hurricane zone after the start of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season, but we don't recommend it to others. We know that John Neal tried it years ago with his Hallberg-Rassy 42 Mahina Tiare - and got smacked around pretty good.

"Check out the photo of Murray and Colette's Island Marine Services Boatyard here in the Estero de Jaltepec, El Salvador, next to the Bahia del Sol Hotel," write Bill and Doreen Gord of Lanikai, boat type and hailing port unknown. "They can currently haul boats to 7-ft draft with their 30-ton Travel-Lift, In and out is $7/foot; dry storage is $4.50/ft/month; moorings are $5 a day. Bottom cleaning and painting, as well as mechanical work, is by the hour. Although the yard is just getting started, seven boats have already been hauled and three are in dry storage. It looks to us as though this is going to be a great yard in an area where places to haul out are scarce."

For November's 20th running of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the 2,700-mile crossing from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia that is the grandaddy of all cruising rallies, the organizers have decided to return to the event's cruising roots. This is being done in response to complaints that the event was being dominated by big boats run by corporate sponsors. To implement the change, ARC monohulls are now restricted to between 27 to 85 feet, and catamarans from 27 to 60 feet.

The change may have had a slight adverse effect on entries. As of mid-June, they had 187 paid entries. That's a huge fleet, to be sure, but not quite the 225-boat sellouts they had by the month of May in some previous years. Of the 187 entries, 13 were catamarans, a slight increase in percentage over the previous year. As usual, most entries are from Great Britain and Germany. So far there are nine U.S. entries: George Gamble's IY60 Belle; Gust Stringos' Morris 36 Bluebird; Lynn Grano's Hallberg-Rassy 43 Eleutheria; John Martin's Leopard 42 cat Jaimie; Harry Johnson's Westsail 32 Mariah; Bob DeMattia's Farr 56 PH Northern Winds; David Shames' Hallberg-Rassy 40 Speranza; James Dorsey's Hallberg-Rassy 46 Trilogy III; and David Rosenaur's Catana 47 cat Zangezi. Last year there were 14 American boats, so there's is going to be a significant drop in American participation. It wouldn't be hard guess why, what with the euro having climbed something like 35% in the last couple of years, making European boats and cruising quite dear. But with the Eurozone - and Germany, France, and Italy, in particular - in a fiscal crisis and political disarray, the euro has already tumbled nearly 10% this year. So who knows, next year maybe there will be more American boats in the ARC.

In order not to disappoint the big boats eliminated from the ARC, Challenge Business, which organizes the ARC and nine other sailing events, has been trying to direct them to a sister event, the Rubicon Antigua Challenge. The big boat event will start from Lanzarote rather than Las Palmas, on November 19 rather than November 20, and finish at the big boat island of Antigua. The Rubicon is for boats from 60 to 120 feet, plus Oysters of all sizes. Some 35 boats are expected, but to date nobody has signed up. Splitting the boats into two events is a wise decision, as the big guys were too big, professional, and non-cruisy for the ARC, and Antigua is the natural destination for the big boats.

In early May, 15 cruising boats competed in the 6th Annual 850-mile West Marine Altantic Cup Rally from the British Virgin Islands to Bermuda. Corrected-time honors went to Charles and Gretchen Cunningham's Park City, Utah-based Hylas 54 Agua Dulce. Line honors went to Bill and Maureen Danilczyk's Babylon, New York-based Conser 47 cat Runaway, which covered the rally course in 4 days, 17 hours. Commander's Weather, the event weather forecaster, called for a starboard tack reach for the entire course - and that's what the fleet got. One participant called it "practically a dream trip". In fact, a few took advantage of the fair winds to sail to the mainland East Coast and skipped the Bermuda finish line. The Cruising Rally Association's next event is the early November West Marine Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia to Tortola in the British Virgins. The fleet for that event is usually two or three times as large.

"In the last 10 days, J.R. and I have sailed from West Palm Beach to Isla Mujeres on the Caribbean coast of Mexico with our our new-to-us Catana 47 cat Moon And Stars," reports Lupe Dipp of Guadalajara. "Boy is she fast! What a difference from my monohulls. We love her! We had very nice weather for our entire trip except for the last night near the Yucatan. But it's great to be back in Mexico and enjoying the Caribbean. I have to go back to work, but the boat will stay here for a month before going on to Guatemala.

"When we arrived at Marina Isla Mujeres," Lupe continues, "we got very bad service. We'd made reservations a week in advance at a set price of $650, plus 10% tax and electricity. But when we checked in, the French (!) harbormaster tried to charge us an additional $100. Very angry, I showed him their email confirming the price. He finally honored it, but in a very impolite way. And the marina was empty! On the good side, we only had to check in once - and didn't have to go anywhere to do it! At the same time we got a 10-Year Temporary Import Permit. We were charged $75 for checking into the country for the first time, not counting J.R.'s $20 visa. It was all so quick and easy! It's so nice to know that things are getting easier in Mexico for people like us who love boats."

"Linda and I left Mazatlan on April 6 to do the Puddle Jump," reports Frank Szerdahelyi of the San Francisco-based Cheoy Lee 32 Interlude. "Two days out, I started having a nagging backache, which I assumed was caused by overworking of my back muscles. But a few hours later, I had excruciating pain localized in my right lower back - and I was urinating blood! Several years before I'd had the same experience. It was kidney stones, and it landed me in the hospital with a morphine drip. Within five days of leaving Mazatlan, we were back and I was heavily sedated with injectable Demerol. Without Linda's nursing knowledge about medications, I think the pain would have killed me.

"You might remember," Szerdahelyi continues, "that this was our second attempt at the Puddle Jump. Last year we left from Zihuatanejo on April 3, and made it 650 miles toward the Marquesas when the chainplate for our upper shroud failed. The violent movement of the mast in 30-knot winds and sloppy seas also damaged our roller furling. When we made it back to Tenacatita Bay nine days later, we met up with John and Renee Prentice of the San Diego-based Serendipity 43 Scarlett O'Hara, who had lost their rudder a few hundred miles into their Puddle Jump. So we did what cruisers do - had a party and shared our stories. We're now headed for the Sea of Cortez to enjoy some mental R&R. In the oncoming months we will be doing some 'mental flossing' to try to decide what to do next."

If we're not mistaken, John and Renee Prentice also decided to take Scarlett to the Sea of Cortez rather than make another attempt across the Pacific.

"The two of us helped a fellow cruiser put her boat on a Dockwise ship here in La Paz for the trip to Vancouver and Ketchikan," report Terry Bingham and Tammy Woodmansee of the Eagle Bay, Washington-based Union 36 Secret O'Life. "There was just one small powerboat on the ship when it arrived, but here they loaded 28 sail and powerboats for the trip north. The biggest boats were Foxtrot, a 70-ft sailboat, and Esme, a 70+ft motoryacht. Loading the boats was an interesting process, as some boats had to go in bow first, while others had to back in. It took about five hours, and at the end of the day there wasn't much room left in the ship. After taking a few days needed to weld the stands in place, the ship will be leaving."

Shipping boats has become quite popular, especially from places like New Zealand and Australia back to the States, and from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. In fact, '04 Baja Ha-Ha vet Mike Moore recently shipped his San Francisco-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Ayu from Mexico to Vancouver on a Dockwise ship. He was very pleased with how it worked out. We'll have a full report next month.

Looking for a great place to cruise where the cruising staples are ridiculously inexpensive? Try Venezuela. Polar Beer, the country's biggest seller by a huge margin, goes for $4 a case - and less if you bring the bottles back. Diesel sells for about 30 cents/gallon, and food is cheap both in stores and restaurants. Plus, the cruising out at the Los Roques Islands is superb!

"We completed the delivery of the Swan 60 Candela from Antigua to Spain without many stories for the bar," reports delivery skipper Ray Catlette of Benicia. "There just wasn't much in the way of wind and seas - until we had Force 7 winds from Africa just before we reached Gibraltar. I did, however, have an amusing incident in Horta in the Azores. Before leaving the Bay Area, a friend of mine introduced me to a young radiology student at Kaiser Vallejo - because she was from Horta and her father still lives there. So I offered to say hello. But she failed to advise him that I would be coming, and failed to tell me that he spoke very little English. Once in Horta, I found him in his place of business. As I began to introduce myself, I realized he was not grasping who I was or why I was there. When he finally recognized his daughter's name, his face went pale - and then went paler still when I mentioned the word 'hospital'. Sensing that I was bearing tragic news, I quickly tried to explain that I had gone out to lunch with her and simply wanted to say 'hello' for her. Then he muttered something to the effect of, "You are going out with my daughter?!" I realized his 'grief' had turned to suspicion. I believe he thought that I had made my way to the Azores to ask for his permission to marry his daughter! Once we got that all straightened out, he became much friendlier."

"I once read an article in Latitude about a woman dentist in Puerto Vallarta who was popular with the yachties," writes Ken Gunville. "I can't recall her name, but I remember from the article that she had gotten her training in Washington. Can anyone give me her name and contact address - or the names of other recommended dentists? I'm planning a trip there specifically for overdue dental work."

A lot of cruisers get dental work in the Puerto Vallarta area. In fact, some swear the savings over Stateside dentistry is so great that it pays for their entire winter of cruising. If anyone would like to suggest some dentists in the Puerto Vallarta area, please email . Some experts predict the next big outsourcing phenomenon will be health care. Americans are getting hips replaced in India for less than $100, Germans are crossing the border into Poland to get two-for-one on boob augmentation, and many Americans are going to Mexico for dental and health care.

On that happy note, please be healthy and happy this summer. One of the best ways to try to insure this is by making sure you get in plenty of cruising. Sail to places you've never been before. Revisit old favorites. And make sure to take lots of family and friends along with you. Life is short, so it's our obligation to make it as sweet as possible.

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