July, 2006

With reports this month from Mahina Tiare at Cocos Island and then crossing the Caribbean; from Manu Kai on crossing the Atlantic on their way to completing a very swift circumnavigation; from Royal Treat on the passage from Puerto Vallarta to Hilo; from Solstice in Australia on the last year of a six-year cruise; and the greatest number of Cruise Notes ever.

Mahina Tiare - Hallberg-Rassy 48
John Neal & Amanda Swan Neal
East Across The Caribbean
(Friday Harbor, WA)

As was the case in '00, we and our students sailed from Acapulco to Costa Rica's Cocos Island. We were able to do a lot more sailing - including with the chute - than the previous time. Our two-day stop at Cocos was wonderful. It started when we were checked in by Katty, a lovely barefoot marine biologist, rather than guys in fatigues carrying automatic weapons. Katty apologized for the new, higher national park fees of $25/person a day, plus the same for the boat. Our offshore students did a killer hike to the big waterfall behind the research station, then over the ridge to the next bay, where we met them with Mahina Tiare.

Before we arrived in Panama, we were told the wait for a transit would be 18 days. Fortunately, it didn't take that long. By the way, we transited the Canal with a really nice young married couple, Tim McFadden and Ariel Pavlick of the San Francisco-based Golden Gate 30 Hebe. They are seven months out of San Francisco, and appear to be having a great time. She was an electrical engineer on NASA projects, and he was a programmer.

Once through the Canal, we had an awesome time out at the San Blas Islands. While at Ciedras Island, a very funky Colombian boat - it looked as though it had been built on the beach using chain-saws - came in loaded down with bananas, onions, cabbage, and other fresh stuff. The boat was powered by a very old 6-71 Detroit Diesel, which must make one heck of a racket when opened up. While Amanda was buying cabbage and the rest of us were just looking around, we kept hearing the crew say, "Coca? Coca?" to each other. We think they were trying to decide if they should try to sell us some.

We were surprised when we arrived at the Hollandes Cays, normally one of the most crowded anchorages in the San Blas Islands, as there were only three boats there! By the way, if anyone hasn't seen it, they should check out the gorgeous new Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus. It's absolutely amazing, and covers every inch of Panama.

Our plan to make it east across the Caribbean - often a very difficult trip - was to go to east Cartagena, then flop over on the other tack and head as much to the northeast as possible. Our goal was going to be laying the southern tip of Hispaniola in order to stop at the Dominican Republic. After that, we'd work our way east across the Mona Passage to Ponce, Puerto Rico, which we enjoyed so much on our last trip, and even further east across the U.S. and British Virgins.

Well, you have to modify plans to match changes in the conditions - and sometimes those changes in conditions are unexpectedly good. We waited in the San Blas Islands for a forecast of moderate southeast trades, which allowed us to make it to Cartagena without much trouble. When it came time to make the 1,000-mile passage to Hispaniola, Commander's Weather couldn't have given us a better forecast - E to ESE winds of 10-20 knots. And indeed, we got a great start from Cartagena, as 40 miles out, we were broad reaching, of all things, with 2+ knots of current behind us! The last time we'd made this passage, it was blowing 30 to 32 knots until a day out of Hispaniola, and we had to point as high as we could.

Well, thanks to wind out of the southeast, we were able to point much higher than we expected, and thus made it to Puerto Rico without having to stop at Hispaniola at all! We covered the 950 miles in six days. Our strongest sustained winds were 25 knots, and the seas weren't too bad. Our success in our passage can be attributed to waiting for - and getting - a drop in the wind speed and a shift in the trades from the northeast to the southeast.

Since we're way ahead of schedule, Amanda and I are checking out some anchorages along the southeast coast of Puerto Rico as well as Vieques. We still have awesome sailing conditions, with 14 knots from the ESE and very modest seas. It's one glorious sailing day after the next. We can't wait to get the anchor down and do some snorkeling. By the way, they've made some great improvements to the boating facilities at Ponce.

While crashing across the Caribbean, I read your editorial response to the woman who was thinking about sailing a Tahiti ketch eastward across the Caribbean. Nothing against Tahiti ketches, but I have to agree with your response. Unless an exceptional weather window opened, and unless the skipper was really experienced and incredibly lucky, I don't think a Tahiti ketch could complete that passage. I don't think a lot of folks have any clue how difficult it can be going against the trades and currents under normal conditions, even with a modern 48-footer such as Mahina Tiare.

- john 06/15/06

Manu Kai - Hans Christian 41
Harley & Jennifer Earl
A Whirlwind Circumnavigation

As has often been the case in the first 18 months of our nearly completed circumnavigation, we are faced with a decision. Should we suck it up and motorsail up the coast of Central America and Mexico, or launch ourselves blindly out along the 10th parallel of the Pacific in hope of finding the trades that will allow us to sail a big arc back to California - all the while praying that there won't be any early season hurricanes.

When we were last in the pages of Latitude with tales to tell, we were in Simon's Town, South Africa, awaiting a lull in the constant near-gale force winds that would allow us to weather the Cape of Good Hope. We got that lull on the 17th of January, and it lasted just long enough for us to round the Cape and point northwest toward the Caribbean before the winds started raging again. Triple-reefed with a bit of jib out, we made a couple of 180-mile days and thought our Atlantic crossing was going to be a snap.

Yeah, right. The wind then went light - so light that a 90-mile day was considered a good run. It's 5,800 miles from Cape Town to Antigua, so motoring in calms wasn't much of an option. It would ultimately take us 50 sailing days to cover the distance, with a two-night stop in St. Helena, and an overnight stop in Fernando de Noronha off of Brazil. Both anchorages were in deep, open roadsteads, and featured gunnel-to-gunnel rolling all night long. Sleep was hard to come by, even when cocooned with lee cloths and pillows. Both stops allowed us to jerry jug some diesel and water, the latter being important since it only rained 20 minutes in our 53-day passage. By the end of the trip, we were down to a saltwater bucket shower on the bow every three days, followed by a cupful of fresh water for a rinse. At least there was no limit to the amount of saltwater we could use.

Despite the rolling, our stop at St. Helena was worthwhile. The island has historical significance, as it was the home of Napoleon after he was forced into exile. The island has its quirks, as its currency is good nowhere else in the world except Ascension Island 600 miles to the northwest. It can be a harrowing island, as it was an E-ticket ride on a ferry from our boat to the landing quay. Once there, timing the roll of an 8-ft swell, we had to jump for a rope hanging from a metal bar, then swing onto the quay - all under the amused gaze of the locals. If you think that's scary, try stepping from the quay onto the stern of the launch, mid swell, with full jerry cans in each hand.

As for Fernando, we'd give it a pass next time. As a national park, the fees levied on transiting yachts are unconscionable. They wanted the equivalent of $60/day for our 41-footer, plus $30/day per crewmember. Even though the first 24 hours are free for each crewmember, at those prices we figured that we should have been entitled to maid service and a chocolate on the pillow. Instead, we got a rolling anchorage and a two kilometer walk up a hill to get petrol. But we were there, so we paid the fee and left the next day with an additional 30 gallons of diesel in the tanks. Had it been more affordable, we would have stuck around a few days for the fabled diving - and probably would have happily dropped the same amount of cash in the local economy at bars, restaurants, and dive shops. But that's why we are sailors, and not smart like the politicians.

The light winds continued north of the ITCZ, although by then they were out of the northeast, so the apparent wind was a little fresher. As such, our boat speed averaged about five knots for the remaining 2,000 miles. Proving once again that you should always be careful what you wish for, the wind increased to better than 30 knots true the last night out of Antigua, forcing us to slow down after 49 days of trying everything to go faster. As it was, we had to heave to for about three hours before passing into English Harbor with just enough light to avoid the reef and the boats anchored pretty much everywhere.

Antigua was full of megayachts and megayachties, the former with masts so tall they had to carry red lights aloft, and the latter with pocketbooks so deep that the owners think nothing of paying a fortune in monthly upkeep to merely be aboard a few weeks a year. Great work if you can get it, we suppose. We lasted two days in Antigua, as we ate an inordinate number of cheeseburgers washed down with the local brew, provisioned lightly, filled up on diesel and water, and set out on the 30-hour passage to the British Virgins.

Once in the British Virgins, we did absolutely nothing for three weeks. We festooned our boat with hammocks and dive gear, as we motored to a new anchorage every three or four days. We dove at least twice a day, had the occasional lunch ashore in a beach bar, but pretty much just relaxed in preparation for the last push back home. In early April, we took a mooring at Red Hook on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgins - where, if we got up by 6 a.m. each morning, we could see the jockeys swimming their racehorses through the anchorage.

Our 980-mile downwind sail to the San Blas Islands of Panama was atypically windless for two days - more time on the ancient diesel. But Harley's son had joined us for the passage, and the opportunity to sleep eight straight hours - he got the 2300 to 0300 watch because he's young - unheard of in our circumnavigation to date - made it an almost painless passage. We spent several days cruising the San Blas, bartered our surplus canned goods for molas with the Kuna, and then made the overnight sail to Cristobal to arrange for a transit of the Canal.

Colon is pretty much a pit, and at the time we arrived there was a three-week wait to get a slot to transit the Canal. Make that three weeks on the hook in The Flats under a cloud of burned bunker fuel from all the shipping and the smoke from the incinerator ashore. Three weeks of hanging out at the Panama Canal YC, where the beers are admittedly only a buck and the Chinese food is palatable. The only safe way out of the club was in a taxi, as the streets and alleys teem with underage miscreants armed with cheap guns. Although the young thugs are pursued by a police force on moto-cross bikes armed with Uzis, they only draw three months for aggravated assault or armed robbery, and only slightly more for murder - because they are minors.

It took two days to get our Canal paperwork sorted out with the help of Tito, a local taxi driver and expediter, who is a cousin of seemingly everyone in town. His relationships helped immensely during our bureaucratic dances with the Port Captain, Immigration, Customs, and Canal Operations.

Once our transit date was fixed, Harley and his son did a transit as line-handlers on the U.S. Virgins-based Midnight Blue to get a feel for the process. Upon their return, we sailed 10 miles east to the Rio Chagres, and spent a few days away from Colon listening to the howler monkeys - shades of Kong and Jurassic Park - and watching the toucans and crocs. Upon returning to Colon, we found that our transit had been bumped up eight days, and we were scheduled to transit in 48 hours! A mad scramble ensued to arrange for line-handlers and fenders, and to provision and cook for the crew. We were very fortunate to get John and Debbie from the Tampa-based Shamrock, and Tila, crew from Backstage Pass, to make the transit with us.

Our two-day transit was a piece of cake, as we were the center boat in a three-boat raft-up, leaving nothing for the handlers to do but sit back and relax. Most of the stress fell on us at the helm, as we had to maneuver the unwieldy 35 tons of raft-up in and through the locks. We were comforted by the fact that if we messed up, we had huge fiberglass 'fenders' on each side to take the brunt of the beating.

Just after 2 p.m. on May 9, Manu Kai entered her home waters of the North Pacific for the first time since August 2004. After a couple of days hanging around the Balboa YC - just a bar since the fabled clubhouse burned down a number of years ago - we island-hopped the 350 miles here to Golfito, where we are now contemplating how to tackle this last - and at 3,500 miles, longest - leg of our whirlwind circumnavigation. With luck and wind, we'll be making landfall in San Diego in late June, and then gunkholing up the coast to be back in the Bay area in August. See you soon!

- jennifer 05/15/06

Harley and Jennifer - "Whirlwind circumnavigation" is right. Two people going around the world in two years aboard a heavy displacement 41-footer - that really moving! Almost everyone else takes at least three years.

Royal Treat - Morgan 43
Anders Billred
Puerto Vallarta To Hilo
(Portland, OR)

You can call off the search, because after 22 days of sailing a 3,100 zig-zag course, we made it safely from Puerto Vallarta to Hilo, Hawaii. Onboard with me were, of course, my wife Terra, my daughter Patricia, and Mark Sciarretta, my sailing buddy from the old days in Mexico. There was a great spirit on the boat the entire way, the watches went well, and nothing significant broke. The solar panels and wind generator kept the power going the entire trip - even with the Ham and SSB radio and Sailmail running at least two hours a day. It was the first time Royal Treat had gone sailing for 22 days without running her engine!

Before we started the trip, we took Royal Treat on a test run. The engine overheated the first time in 11 years, so we had to sail back to the marina. The problem was that the saltwater pump had run dry, and all the paddles broke off the impeller. This resulted in our leaving two days after our buddyboat, Salacia, a Catalina 42. It turned out to be a good thing for us, as Salacia had strong winds - up to 49 knots - during their 19-day crossing. They had planned to sail from Hawaii to Canada, too, but decided to hire a delivery skipper to save their marriage. We, on the other hand, had 15 to 30 knots of wind, which kept us moving all the time. When we got too much wind, we switched latitudes. If we wanted less wind, we sailed at 20N, if we wanted more wind, we sailed at 18N.

During our 22-day crossing, we saw five large ships enroute from Panama to Honolulu, and one sailboat on her way from San Diego to the Marquesas. Three of the ships were on collision courses with us, and gave us right-of-way. It's a very large expanse of ocean between Mexico and Hawaii, so I was surprised at how close the ships came to us. Even the sailboat got as close as half a mile. I know I'm a magnet to disaster everywhere that I go, but the chances of seeing anyone on a 3,000-mile stretch of open ocean is thin. And seeing a total of six boats is much thinner.

The boat's tank water tasted a little bit funny. I'm not sure, but it might have been because we accidentally put some diesel in the water tank before we left. Nonetheless, it improved the way the inside of the boat smelled. Besides, I think that the 'gas station attendant' scent gets you going in the morning. In any event, we got used to it after a couple of days.

In the middle of the trip, I smelled acetone throughout the boat. After a long search, I found a can of starting fluid in the bilge. It had a small hole, so it was slowly spraying a fine mist of highly explosive gas around the inside of the boat. The incident brought out the compulsive side of me, and I began checking the boat for other potential hidden disasters. A few days later, an alarm went off inside the boat. Not knowing what it was, I shut the whole boat down, and began checking the smoke detector, bilge, GPS, and radar - but the alarm continued. It was Terra, my brilliant wife, who finally discovered the cause. The guitar-tuner was giving us an F sharp!

But even with the small mishaps, we had a good trip. Of course, there were a few black nights out there when the wind was blowing 30 and large waves were hitting us from different directions. At times like that, with the spray hitting you in the face, you start wondering what you could be doing instead of sailing. But lucky for me, I have a very short memory, and just keep going. And the sight of land ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

Hilo turned out to be a very friendly place, as even the Customs officers were a delight to deal with. Their bright smiles and welcoming manners made me feel less like a criminal and more like an honest Swedish man. We took refuge in Hilo for a week - despite the fact that it rained every day. But it was pleasant tropical rain. We also rented a nice, big chick-magnet - a silver green metallic Lincoln Continental. She was a gas hog, but definitely the most comfortable car that I've ever ridden in. I kinda felt as though I'd been upgraded from coach to first-class. The car was so big, comfy, and climate-controlled that Terra wanted to move off the boat and into the car.

Anyway, we spent some time looking around the Big Island, and at the top of the list, of course, was Kilauea, the volcano that is still steaming and is still pouring molten lava down her sides. While sailing around the island our last night there, we went in close and saw the bright red lava tumble into the ocean, causing steam to rise and clouds to develop. It was something you don't see every day - especially at night. Even Terra was impressed.

We are now at Honomalino Bay on the kona side of the island, our first anchorage in the Hawaiian Islands. There is a very beautiful black sand beach, a bunch of palm trees, and nobody else around. The water is so clear that you can see 100 feet in all directions. Life is wonderful, and we're enjoying the rain.

- anders 05/09/06

Solstice - Freya 39
Jim Hancock
A Year In Australia

After being away for more than six years, Solstice is now back in California. Solstice came back to Alameda using Dockwise Transport from Brisbane to Ensenada, followed by a short delivery up the coast. During most of 2005 Eleanor and I cruised along Australia's east coast, from Sydney in the south to Airlie Beach in the north. Australia was a real high note on which to finish our cruising.

To begin with, Australia has some of the most unusual wildlife in the world. As soon as we arrived in Coffs Harbour, we began to notice the remarkable birds and animals. I jokingly suggested that we ought to try to see and photograph all of Australia's great animal icons - kangaroo, koala, platypus, emu, kookaburra, crocodile, and great white shark. Oh, and they all had to be in the wild.

After a while it went from being a joke to being something more like a mission. I wasn't serious about the shark, but I thought we stood a good chance of snapping shots of the others. We took a road trip to Tasmania to look for platypuses, and after a week of frustration finished with a great success just hours before boarding the ferry back to Melbourne. At the end of a year, we had seen and photographed every animal on the list - except for the crocodile and the great white shark. I thought we did pretty good, as seeing a croc in the wild is something that even most Aussies haven't done.

The people of Australia are worth noting as well. We found them to be much more like Americans than the people we've met in our travels. Among older Australians we found a friendliness and generosity that seemed to come from another era. We were delighted to make close friends with some great Australians.

It helped that, thanks to our boat, we had an Australian connection. Solstice is a Freya 39, patterned after the famous Australian yacht Freya, which is distinguished as being the only yacht ever to win three consecutive Sydney to Hobart races ('63, '64 and '65). Freya's designer, Trygve Halvorson, still lives in Sydney, so we looked him up. Now in his mid-80s, he was delighted to see us. In fact, he took us to lunch at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, where he's something of a celebrity.

I felt like a yachtsman's Alex Haley, tracing the roots of our boat. We also visited Trevor Gowland, the lead shipwright on Freya and numerous other famous boats, including Gretel. In 1962 Gretel beat Weatherly in the second race of the America's Cup series, making her the first challenger to win a race against the U.S. since 1934. Our research went on to include a visit to Constitution Dock in Hobart, where the Sydney to Hobart Race finishes, and a visit to the boatyard on the Paramata River where Freya was built.

One of the nice things about cruising the east coast of Australia is that if you time things right, you can usually get favorable winds for sailing where you want to go. There is a quasi-stationary ridge of high pressure that hangs on Australia's east coast, but it moves slightly with the seasons, producing more southerlies and southeasterlies in May and June - just when you want to be heading north towards the tropics. In October, when you want to be heading south again to get out of the heat, the ridge obliges by moving slightly offshore, generating winds from the north and northeast. It's so convenient for the cruising sailor that I'm proposing a ballot initiative to institute a similar system in California.

So in July, we found ourselves in Bundaberg and heading north for the Great Barrier Reef. Many cruisers that we met were eager to buy camper vans and start exploring Australia's red interio - a worthy endeavor, but in my opinion that's the wrong thing to do if you have a boat and limited time. Flights to Australia are cheap enough to come back and do land travel anytime. Meanwhile, many of the best parts of the Great Barrier Reef can only be accessed with a private boat. Charterboats aren't allowed in these areas, and the places where the tour boats go tend to be worn out from overuse.

We were gifted to have nearly a week of calm weather in which to cruise and dive the reefs just north of the Whitsunday Islands. These included Hook, Line, Sinker, and Barb and Bait Reefs. It was the best snorkeling we had seen in six years of cruising, topping our previous favorite of Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotus. All of these reefs are part of Australia's National Park system, and are protected to varying degrees. This has helped to ensure an abundance of sea life that, in our experience, is beyond compare. It was, for us, a grand finale.

The end of the year was our deadline to return to our family and friends in the States. This left us with the question of what to do with Solstice. Many of the other international cruisers that we met in Australia were faced with similar questions. The option of continuing westward to complete a circumnavigation has lost popularity recently because piracy and political unrest have given the traditional route to and up the Red Sea a sense of danger. Meanwhile, a strong Australian economy and currency have made the option of selling a boat in Australia extremely attractive. The other options include sailing your boat home through the Pacific, shipping her home, or importing her into Australia. For those wishing to continue cruising, moving seasonally through the Australia/New Zealand/Tonga/Fiji/New Caledonia region is also an attractive option.

We had friends in all of these camps. I worked up a rather elaborate analysis to compare all the options for ourselves - including all the costs of importation, duty, and so forth, versus shipping/delivery costs. From a purely financial point of view, I didn't find a very dramatic difference between the options, with the exchange rate being a key factor. At an exchange of .75 U.S. for one Australian dollar (as I write this the exchange is about .73), selling our boat in Australia looked favorable, and many U.S. cruisers did sell their boats. At .70, the advantage of selling in Australia is marginal, and below .70 it looked better to ship the boat home.

But our decision had little to do with finances. Although it was time to get back to the U.S., we simply weren't ready to sell the boat. The new purpose-built yacht carriers being run by the Dutch company Dockwise offered a convenient and (relatively) economical means to get Solstice back to her berth in the Bay Area. While we were making the shipping arrangements, Dockwise added a stop in Ensenada for the Super Servant 4, which reduced the cost and made shipping even more attractive.

I was curious about what choices other cruisers were making, so I did a little research. First I called the Australian Customs service. They told me that in the '04-'05 12-month reporting period, 942 'small craft' had arrived in Australia, of which 850 were believed to be private yachts. What happened to them? Surprisingly, they didn't have any idea.

My next visit was with Euan MacDonald of AustraliaWide Boat Sales, the largest yacht brokerage in Queensland, representing an estimated 30% of boat sales in the Brisbane area. MacDonald told me that they currently had 15 foreign yachts for sale, which was an increase of 100% since 2004. They sold 12 foreign yachts in the past 12 months. Extrapolating to the rest of the market, this would suggest about 40 foreign yachts had been sold in just the Brisbane area during the past 12 months.

What about yachts being shipped home? I spoke with Jason Roberts at Aurora Logistics, the Brisbane agent for Dockwise. He told me that the Super Servant 4 is making two runs a year with about 40 yachts per run. They are also making arrangements for an equal number of yachts to be shipped out as deck cargo, which adds up to 160 yachts per year being shipped home from Australia through their company. There are also yachts being shipped by other shippers.

It's still hard to get a clear picture from these numbers. First of all, many of the 850 yachts entering the country are boats that come for special events such as the Sydney to Hobart Race or Hamilton Race Week. These are not cruising boats, and the majority will find their way home by the same means through which they arrived. Second, while Brisbane may be the largest market in Australia for cruising yachts, it isn't the only market, and plenty of boats are undoubtedly moving in places like Sydney, Bundaberg and Mackay. Finally, while they may be the largest, Aurora Logistics isn't the only agent shipping yachts.

What is evident though, is that two new trends are on the rise for cruisers reaching Australia. The first is the trend toward shipping boats home as the process gets easier and more economical with custom-made carriers and improved shipping routes. The second is the trend toward selling boats into the hot Australian boat market. This market is being fueled by good exchange rates for the sellers and high demand from prosperous Australians.

How wise is using Dockwise? I found the operation to be efficient and professional, but I was sometimes frustrated trying to get through to their agents. The contract was amazingly simple for such a large undertaking, which I found refreshing.

My advice for anybody loading a boat on a Dockwise carrier is to have lots of big fenders ready - even buying some if you have to. A fender board is not a bad idea either - one saved my rail! These are all needed because the boats are packed into the ship like sardines. When waves or boat wakes wash in during loading or unloading, all of the boats start rolling and surging into each other and the steel walls of the ship. You need fenders! A few scuffs is par for the course.

As for complaints about Dockwise not meeting its ETA's, Clause 9 of the contract provides them with considerable freedom in this regard. A conversation with the captain of the Super Servant 4 was informative. He said that their number one priority is to protect their cargo - and sometimes this means slowing the boat, waiting for weather, or routing the ship around severe systems. So when the ship arrives late, it probably means that they were trying to protect your boat!

Dockwise offers travel arrangements through an agent called GMT that specializes in brokering tickets for merchant seamen. Their customers often have very fluid schedules, so the tickets that you get from GMT are fully changeable and fully refundable. On top of that, the ticket that I got coming back from Brisbane was cheaper than any of the nonrefundable tickets that I could find on the internet. Plan on having a flexible schedule.

Overall I would give Dockwise an eight out of ten. I would have liked it if they had sent me a one-page information sheet on how to prepare my boat for the voyage. Also, it was sometimes hard to reach their agents. Furthermore, their agent in Ensenada was charging obscene amounts of money - $300 U.S. - to prepare Immigration and Customs clearances. Still, I'd use them again, and I would recommend them to others. It was a whole lot easier than sailing back from Australia and it put much less wear and tear on the boat.

The last leg from Ensenada to Alameda went about as easily as that trip can go. Making the trip in February and March can be a good thing, as the northwesterlies tend to be weaker, and you can sometimes get some nice southerlies. This is what happened for us. I give most of the credit to Mother Nature for dealing us a nice hand, but I give a little credit to the crew for recognizing what we had and playing the hand to maximum advantage.

Eleanor had decided that she didn't want to be aboard on this trip, so I got Bob Pankonin and Bruce Ladd as volunteer crew to help me out. I got Bob's name from the Latitude 38 Mexico Crew List, and Bruce was an acquaintance from the past who I just happened to run into at the right time. There were some laughable antics with the ship in Ensenada as we played musical berths with the container ships, but we finally unloaded only a day behind schedule. To illustrate how great the Dockwise concept is, it only took us 90 minutes of stowing and securing once we unloaded from the ship before we were able to get underway for San Diego.

On March 2, we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, completing the circle that had begun in September 1999. I was sad that Eleanor wasn't aboard to share that special moment. By pure coincidence, it was exactly 15 years to the day that I had taken my first Basic Keel Boat class from Spinnaker Sailing in Redwood City. We've put about 20,000 sea miles on Solstice since then, and have logged a lifetime of adventures.

- jim 05/09/06

Cruise Notes:

We haven't heard from him for awhile, so we can't help but wonder what Mike Dunn of Lake Tahoe has been up to lately with his MacGregor 26X Zeno's Arrow. After all, he's probably done more wild adventure cruising with his 26X than even builder Roger MacGregor might have imagined possible:

"I started sailing my 26X in Baja in '96," he wrote. "In '97, I trailered her to Puget Sound, then visited the San Juan Islands, did the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert, and cruised the coast of Alaska to the Arctic Ocean and Inuvikt in the Northwest Territories. I then did the Arctic Red River, Norman Wells, Ft. Hope, Ft. Simpson, Great Slave Lake, Peace River, Athabaska River, and the Milk and Poplar Rivers. Back in the States, I took my boat down the Missouri River, the Mississippi River to New Orleans, then to Florida via the IntraCoastal Waterway. I then sailed to the Bahamas, the Turks & Caicos, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgins, and all down the Leewards and Windwards to Venezuela. I also did Trinidad and the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers. In July of last year, I returned to Florida, bought a trailer, and drove my 26X back to Lake Tahoe." The last we heard, Dunn was planning to take off for Sri Lanka last November. And we'd be surprised if he didn't do it.

Before you think of trying the same thing, it's worth noting that Dunn's 26X isn't stock - and neither is he. "My boat has three four-stroke Nissan outboards, two of them 6 hp, and one of them 18 hp. She also has a modified keel that was cold-molded with carbon fiber. The rudder and mounts were modified with aluminum plate and 20 layers of CBX carbon fiber." Zeno's Arrow is also more extensively equipped than most sisterships, as she's equipped with a full-battened furling main and jib, watermaker, radar, microwave, two 1,000-watt inverters, an EPIRB, a Satphone with with data capabilities, and two autopilots. She also has articulating outriggers, an 8-ft Walker Bay dinghy with a 2 hp outboard, a dodger, bimini, and a 2-kw generator.

As for Dunn, his website reports, "It was once said that Mike has more degrees than a thermometer, exists in perpetual puberty, and spends more time practicing for Jeopardy while reaching closer to Nirvana - or further away, depending on your point of view - than anyone else." There's more. The site also advises that Dunn usually works as an expedition and adventure travel guide, but on his off days is an international management consultant. The product of schools in California, Hawaii, and England - including Cambridge University - he's travelled to pretty much every country, island group, and territory on the planet. He has led or participated in climbs on the highest mountains on all seven continents, including Mt. Everest, reached the South Pole, parachuted over the North Pole, and sailed around the world as an expedition leader on several different cruise ships. A skilled scuba diver, hang-glider pilot, whitewater boater, and fixed wing and helicopter pilot, he sold his share of a small Antarctic expedition and air charter service to help fund his own expeditions. His friends call him Slacker. Just kidding about that. But seriously, does anybody know if he took off for Sri Lanka?

How about some good news out of Mexico? Enrique Fernandez, who for many years was the jefe at Marina Cabo San Lucas, tells us that thanks to President Fox and the Department of Tourism, the SCT's plans to require all boats over 33 feet to carry costly Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), and pay a monthly fee for their operation, have been scrapped. We're told that all boats will however need EPIRBs - but we very much doubt that anyone will be checking for them.

The second bit of good news from Fernandez is that Temporary Import Permits can now be obtained quickly and easily in Cabo San Lucas. This wasn't true last year, and it caused a few problems. In addition, we're told that the permits can now be obtained online - although we don't know of anybody who has been successful at it so far, in part because you can't apply more than 60 days before you bring your boat into Mexico. But as long as you can get the permits in Cabo, it's no problem.

"I can barely type this," writes a despondent Ellen Sanpere of Cayenne III, "but Pierre and Maria Roelens, the owners/managers of PR Yacht Services, the boatyard at Marina Bahia Redonda, were shot and killed this morning. They had been to the bank, and were followed to the boatyard gate, where several bullets were fired into the windscreen of their car. Nothing was taken, and the shooter(s) escaped. Of all the people to be murdered, Pierre and Maria had helped so many people, both Venezuelans and visiting cruisers."

Marina Bahia Redonda is one of the largest boatyards in the Puerto La Cruz area, which is the pleasure boat center of Venezuela. Pierre had been a resident of Venezuela for 60 years, and was well-known in the cruising community for starting the Clasico Regatta in '04 to promote Venezuela's extensive cruising grounds. Despite oil revenue windfalls, Venezuela suffers from terrible poverty and crime. Cruisers have been attacked and even murdered, but mostly on the eastern part of the north coast. It's been our understanding that the Puerto La Cruz area has always been considered relatively safe by cruisers. Yes, theft has always been a problem, but not violent confrontations.

"In mid-March, we returned to our Amel Maramu 53 Notre Vie, which we'd left in dry storage at Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela," report Ken and Nancy Burnap of Santa Cruz. "The boat was in good shape when we launched her, and after cleaning her up, we only needed a couple of repairs made. The mechanics at CMO Marina took care of everything - even making a new part to temporarily fix the windlass - and they did it on time. We'd ordered a new windlass from the great guys at Amel, but had it shipped to Bonaire because of the problems - taxes, theft, corruption - associated with importing stuff to Venezuela. We caution everyone cruising the Eastern Caribbean who will need a place in Venezuela or Trinidad for the summer hurricane season to make reservations early, because all the marinas fill to capacity. If there's room, we highly recommend CMO.

"Venezuela has some truly amazing offshore islands," the couple continue. "We don't advise stopping at those too close to the mainland because of thefts, boardings, and other acts of piracy. However, we made a beeline for Tortuga the first night, and the local fishermen came calling with beautiful fresh fish for sale. The second night, at a more remote anchorage, we traded a 6-pak of cold beer for a lobster. Then we continued to the Los Roques, an amazing archipelago that is also a Venezuelan National Park. There are so many islands, such great reefs, and so many blue holes to snorkel! We also stopped at Los Aves, anchoring 100 feet from the mangroves, and spent our days being entertained by pelicans, swifts, terns, and boobies. Next it was westward ho! to Bonaire, where we snorkeled in crystal waters and ate at great restaurants every night. That left us with a 400-mile windward trip to Puerto Rico.

"We got a good weather window," Ken and Nancy continue, "and arrived at Vieques four days, three nights, and two dorado later. The eastern end of Vieques was long used by the U.S. military for bombing and strafing practice, but now they are cleaning it up and clearing out. Some of the beaches are now open at certain times, others aren't open at all. After learning the rules, we headed to Bahia de la Chiva, where I swam ashore. I must say that I felt a little strange, for we hadn't officially checked in. Nonetheless, it felt good to be back in America. We were amazed by Puerto Rico and her 'Spanish' Virgin Islands - America has a jewel in this Spanish-speaking commonwealth. The small islands are a delight for cruising and snorkeling, and Puerto Rico, with everything from rainforests to colonial cities, is fascinating. We're now in San Juan, which is great during the day and at night, and where we're enjoying an amazing new restaurant every night. We love the brightly-colored houses with balconies, old forts, museums, fun shopping, free street music at night, clubs, bars - and, of course, the food. The only bad thing about San Juan and Puerto Rico was that we didn't check the prices for mooring at San Juan Bay Marina until we left. It wasn't a nice place at all, as you moor your boat between two cement posts, one leaning one way, the other leaning the other way. In addition, there was trash everywhere and the bathrooms were dirty. For this they wanted $100/day! Had we known the price in advance, we would have anchored out or visited San Juan from the east or south by bus or rental car. We'd paid $50/day at Puerto del Rey Marina on the east coast, and thought that had been expensive - but at least they had TV and cable, golf carts to take you to and from your boat, and it was a very classy place."

"We've finally made it to the island of Kos, Greece, and can now see Turkey 20 miles in the distance," report Doug and Judy Decker of the San Diego-based Beneteau 37.5 Limerance. "We're a long way from San Diego, where we started our long cruise with the Ha-Ha in 2000. We passed through the Corinth Canal about 10 days ago. It cost us 147 euros (about $180 U.S.) for our 37-ft boat. Ours is a smaller - but elegant - cruising yacht, and we particularly love her smaller size when we're entering ancient and dinky ports in France and Italy."

Having been through the Corinth Canal with our Big O some 10 years ago, we remembered that the bridge that crosses the canal, at least on the Corinth end, sank beneath the surface - rather than lifting or turning - so vessels could pass over and enter the canal. This seems such an odd way of doing things, that after a few years we began to doubt our memory. So we asked the Deckers to check for us.

"The bridges - there are two, in fact, do sink down into the canal, permitting vessels to enter the canal by crossing over the top," they report. "There are huge overhead bridges, but there is plenty of clearance beneath them.

"By the way, we are making progress on the cruising tax issue. (See the Decker's letter in this month's Letters.) We had meetings in Athens for five days with officials from the Ministry of Tourism and the American Embassy. The Tourism Ministry delivered a packet of legal documents to the Ministry of Merchant Marine. We know of many other foreign boatowners who have also been caught in this tax trap, and we think our efforts will eventually make a difference for non-European Union boats. Today, your 21.6 Big O would be assessed 14.67 euros times three months for a whopping 952 euros - plus 19% VAT - for a grand total of of $1,132 euros - or $1,471 U.S. Inflation strikes! If you stay over 91 days, you are then liable for a three-month cruising tax!"

For a country so dependent on tourism dollars, you'd think the Greeks would try to please rather than punish visitors.

"After leaving my boat on a mooring at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, for the summer, we took the bus 2,800 miles - with several stops along the way - to Guatemala, Chiapas, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Durango, Mazatlan, and Guaymas," report Terry Bingham and Tammy Woodmansee of the Eagle Harbor, Washington-based Union 36 Secret O' Life. "Upon arrival at Marina Seca, which is where we'd launched the boat in October, we found my VW van dirty but in fine shape. Before heading up to Nogales and the border, we stopped by the downtown site of Singlar's new marina, which was only in the planning stages last fall. I'm happy to report that Singlar has been busy - and obviously spending money - since all the fill is in place, the bulkheads are 90% constructed, a lot of the malecon is finished, and several buildings - including what we're told will be a hotel - are under construction. They will have space for a number of boats in their marina by fall. So it does appear that Mexico is committed to a number of their previously-announced Escalera Nautica - 'nautical stairway' - projects. By the way, we love Guaymas because it's a real Mexican coastal city without the hoot and splash - and expense - of a San Carlos. Guaymas also has great provisioning, as there is a good-sized Ley supermercado and a new Soriana. When we headed south from Guaymas last fall, we stuck to the mainland coast and visited Topolobampo before heading to Mazatlan. It was a great trip compared to crossing the Sea of Cortez twice to get to Mazatlan, which is what most cruisers do."

When the Escalera Nautica was first announced, we at Latitude criticized it for making no fiscal sense, for the planners had overestimated the number of Americans who would want to bring their boats to Mexico each year by a factor of about 10, and for proposing to build marinas and/or marina facilities in areas where they weren't needed or wanted. We don't know if Singlar - which is part of the government tourist development agency FONATUR - ran out of money or rethought their misguided plans after they were also slammed by the Packard Foundation, but they drastically trimmed their overly ambitious plans to something that might be semi-sensible. The result is that the concept of a 'staircase of marinas' down the Pacific Coast of Baja is toast. Singlar did build a breakwater at Santa Rosaliíta, about 40% of the way to Cabo from San Diego, but it's far from the rhumbline, where no marina was wanted or needed. As a result, there won't be a single 'step' in the 'staircase' between Ensenada and Cabo! What Singlar is going ahead with at full speed are facilities at 10 other places, almost all of which already have developed marine facilities: San Felipe, Puerto Peñasco, Santos Coronados, Guaymas, Puerto Escondido, Topolobampo, La Paz, Mazatlan, and San Blas. There will only be a total of 208 berths at the 10 facilities, as well as 117 moorings at Puerto Escondido. But there will also be hundreds more dry storage spots. We call the plan "semi-sensible" because we can't figure out why the Mexican government - particularly under President Vicente Fox's watch - wants to go into competition with private marinas and boatyards. Anyway, more on this subject in The Blog of the Sea of Cortez, Part II, to be found elsewhere in this issue.

Speaking of the presidency of Mexico, there is going to be a historic election on July 2. Although there are three candidates with significant support, it's going down to the wire between two candidates who are offering the voters very different visions of how the country can achieve a brighter future. The avowed leftist is Andres Lopez Obrador, a charismatic populist who was previously the mayor of Mexico City. He lives a spartan life and clearly cares for the poor - but has nonetheless really spooked some people by having messianic fantasies, displaying something of an authoritarian streak, and a hot temper. The center-right candidate is Felix Calderon, a more staid Harvard-educated advocate of free trade and the need for foreign investment. If elected, Obrador would seem to have the potential to be either a much better - or a very much worse - president than Calderon, depending on who he really is. Most experts feel that even if Obrador does win and starts talking some Hugo Chavez-type trash to the U.S., it will only be just talk. To do anything more would be political suicide for three reasons: 1) The $20 billion in remittances that Mexicans in the United States send to Mexico each year is Mexico's greatest source of revenue; 2) More than half of the foreign investment in Mexico comes from the U.S.; and, 3) 88% of Mexico's exports go to the U.S. The good news is that although Mexico is a very young democracy, it seems to be much more stable than before. As such, most experts expect that the populace will accept the results of the election. The new president doesn't take office until January 1, but when he does, let's hope he raises the $4.50/day minimum wage, reduces corruption, and continues to grow the middle class.

While Obrador and Calderon disagree on almost everything, there is an exception - a road and rail 'dry canal' to be built across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. If boats could then be put on trucks, it would shorten a California to Florida trip by several thousand miles. It's not a new idea, having first been proposed by Porfirio Diaz some 100 years ago.

The good news is that the Mexican Congress has passed legislation that has made the much-welcomed changes in 'domestic clearing' procedures law. If you remember, Congress had spent four years trying to change the law to make it easier to clear within the country, and came close a couple of times. Alas, each time the legislation was defeated at the last minute by special interest groups who stood to lose all that money cruisers were having to fork over in absurd fees. Then in April of last year, President Fox circumvented the special interest groups by issuing a reglemento - sort of like a decree - to institute the changes. A reglemento was enough to put the changes in place, but would have been relatively easy to reverse. That's why Tere Grossman, president of the Mexican Marina Owners Association, is so happy that the changes are now part of Mexican law, as it would likely take years to change the law again. The folks at the SCT Ministry in Mexico City have also informed Grossman that it's only going to be a matter of weeks before mariners will be able to pay for their clearing into the country fees at Isla Mujeres, which should finally eliminate the need for anyone to have to use a ship's agent there. Mariners previously had to use an agent because there was no military bank on the island to accept the fees."

And, Mexico has made another significant step in the right direction. The federal branch of the Mexican government, under the leadership of President Fox, is picking up the $18 million tab for eliminating the soot that emanates from the powerplant just outside of La Paz. In certain wind conditions, a little soot falls on boats in the nearby Costa Baja Marina, and if there is enough wind from the wrong direction, the soot gets into the respiratory systems of the residents of La Paz. The project should be completed by the November start of the cruising season.

"Shortly after the Strictly Sail Boat Show in Oakland, Ramona and I returned to Fiji to get our boat out of her Vuda Point Marina cyclone season hurricane hole," reports Jan Miller of the Northern California-based Odyssey 30 Jatimo. By 'hole', they mean just that. When boats are hauled for the tropical cyclone season, a hole is dug in the ground for the boat's keel, to ensure that hurricane-force winds can't knock the boat over. "After getting Jatimo ready for sea, we cruised the Yasawa Islands, which are 35 miles to the northwest of Lautoka, Viti Levu, in anticipation of sailing to Vanuatu sometime in July. We've been out here for two years now, having left Santa Cruz in April of '04. We arrived in Fiji via Hawaii, Fanning, Christmas, Penrhyn, Suwarrow, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Musket Cove, and Vuda Point."

We remember Miller from about 20 years ago when he was in Mexico and the engine went out on his Odyssey 30. Having no real options, he singlehanded the Baja Bash. As we recall, it took him almost exactly one month.

When most grandfathers think of sailling, they dream of warm tropical breezes, and maybe even the chance to see a few lovely ladies in bikinis. Not Gary Ramos of the Folkes 39 Arctic Wanderer, who may or may not be from Sebastapol. He left Seward, Alaska, in May of last year on what he hopes will be the first singlehanded circumnavigation of the North Pole. It's such a long, cold, and lonely trip, that even if he's not thwarted by the Russians or ice, he won't complete the adventure until October of next year. God, it makes us shiver just thinking about it.

While we're on the subject of unusual cruising itineraries, check out Jean-François Diné's From the Orinoco to the Amazon, On a 10-Meter Sailboat. A onetime gendarme on a five-year sabbatical - can you tell he's French? - Diné and his wife Claudette left France with $10,000 and no sailing experience. While in Africa, they became intrigued with a map of northeast South America that seemed to indicate that there might be a way to take their boat up the mighty Orinoco River, and then going farther inland connect with the Rio Negro, a tributary of the even mightier Amazon River. It took some overland work a la Tristan Jones, but they made it. If you think you know about inland boating because you've been up to the Delta a couple of times, read this book!

The argument for alcohol. "It's been scientifically proven that if we drink one quart of water each day, by the end of the year we'll have absorbed more than 2.2 pounds of E. coli bacteria found in feces," writes an anonymous cruiser. "In other words, by drinking water, we're consuming two pounds of shit per year. We won't run that risk, however, if we stick to rum, vodka, gin, whiskey, beer, or other alcoholic beverages. That's because alcohol has to go through a distillation process of boiling, filtering, and fermenting. And alcohol itself kills bacteria. So in the long run, it's better to drink only rum and talk shit, rather than drink water and be full of shit." We'll have a Mt. Gay and tonic - but hold the E. coli-carrying ice.

Cruising quiz. How many gallons of freshwater flow from the locks and down to the sea each time a vessel makes a transit of the Panama Canal? You'll find the answer several paragraphs below.

By the way, the Canal expansion we reported on two months ago - which calls for a much wider third set of locks for post-Panamax ships with up to 160 feet of beam - is not a done deal yet. Because Panama has so few people - less than three million - and because the expense would be so monumental - about $7 billion - the project will have to be approved by referendum. But current polls indicate that the Panamanians - who despite all that messy business with Noreiga are very pro-American - support the Canal expansion by a wide margin. Rather than an expensive third lane, this minority would prefer the creation of mega ports at each end of the Canal, and would have a fleet of smaller ships shuttling all the cargo through the Canal to bigger ships at each end. Talk about inefficiency! For what it's worth, the Canal is now operating at 94% of capacity, and is thus just one more bit of international infrastructure that isn't ready for the future.

Speaking of Panama, one of our sources there reports that the owners of Nautipesca, one of Panama's largest marine retailers, with stores downtown and at Flamenco Marina, has been shut down. According to the source, the retailer had to close because the Panamanian and Colombian owners had been arrested for smuggling drugs with their boats - and a submarine.

Back in 1984, we pulled off to the side of the road in Tiburon to pick up a hitchiker, who turned out to be Danny North, son of North Sails founder Lowell North. Man, does Danny seem to get around! Here's his most recent report:

My girlfriend Kaja and I are both in Maine, where she is finishing her degree in music and voice, and I'm seeking a captain's position after a winter spent surfing and working on old cars and boats in San Diego. Our 38-ft cat Deva, which is a modified Robin Chamberlin design that was built by OSTAC in Australia in 1982, has been laid up on the hard at Brian Stevens' excellent small boatyard, Cabedelo Nautica, north of Recife, Brazil, since August '04. That's when Kaja and I took the job of delivering a new Brazilian-built Dolphin 46 cat from Salvador to the Annapolis Boat Show. After that exciting trip, Kaja settled down to school while I flew to Greece to relieve the longtime skipper of Tangaroa, an Italian-owned Swan 65. Many happy days and thousands of miles under the keel later, I handed the boat back to Martin in Brazil last May. After a bit more work on Deva, I returned to San Diego. And now I'm in Maine looking for work. My dad just bought the J/105 Triple Play with San Diego YC partners Larry Boline and Blair Francis with an eye toward the J/105 North Americans in Marina del Rey next summer."

Sometimes we get interesting mail, but don't have any idea who wrote it. Here's one such specimen that seemed to be fueled by a lot of passion: "I spent my freshman year - '04-'05 - sailing some 7,000 miles to eight countries. During that time I made incredible friendships and discovered places that, until then, had only existed in books. It helped me realize that I had been caged all my life, that in fact we all have been caged, and that it took something as drastic as that to make me realize it. My voyage opened me up to a better way of living - it set me free. The fence in my backyard reminded me of the routine life I'd been living, where everything was the same, just living weekend to weekend. When the fence fell down, it represented my release. As we prepare to rebuild it, I realize that I will have begun rebuilding my stagnant life. I will fall back in the routine before I went sailing, and forget all that I have learned along the way."

Snorkel Free Or Die! With June's designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, George Bush, the so-called "anti-environment" President, proposed the largest protected marine reserve in the world. And in the process, he revived our inclinations toward civil disobedience. The area in question is between Hawaii and Midway Atoll, which at 1,400 miles in length and 100 miles in width, is larger than the state of Montana. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is home to almost 7,000 marine species, about 25% of which can't be found anywhere else in the world. If Bush's plan is approved - the final approval may take a year - fishing should be eliminated in the region within five years. So what's our problem? Under the proposal, visitors - of which there are about three a year except for Midway itself (which is already administered in a heavy-handed manner) - wishing to engage in such benign activities as taking photographs or snorkeling would be required to get a permit. We say bullshit to that! We're citizens of the United States, so that resource belongs to us. Unless activities seemingly as benign as taking photographs or snorkeling can somehow be clearly demonstrated too harmful to the resource, we'll feel free and justified in engaging in them without a permit. And good luck to the government in catching us.

What's your take on the issue?

Eclipse, the 34-ft cat that was designed, built, and sailed tens of thousands of ocean miles by Brit Richard Woods before being abandoned in heavy weather in the Gulf of Tehuantepec months ago, was towed into Panama yesterday, reports John Haste of the San Diego-based Perry 52 cat Little Wing. Eclipse had been found far out into the Pacific about six weeks ago, stripped and covered in bird poop. Woods turned down an offer of salvage because it was too expensive. He's spending the summer in British Columbia building a 20-ft powercat, having already bought a 25-ft Merlin sailing cat - one of his designs - for racing and cruising in the area.

Haste also reports that the old schooner Ranger, which had been a fixture in Puerto Vallarta, sank while on the hook at Panama during a particularly heavy south swell. Her owner then contracted to have her refloated. It took 150 barrels and four days. As for Haste's cat Little Wing, she's just fine, thank you.

George Benson, who cruised the entire coast of California aboard his modified Coronado 25 Teal, has published his north of the Golden Gate Guide Book titled Cruising the Northwest Coast, From the Golden Gate to Port Angeles - An Aid to Near Shore Cruising Along the Northwest Coast of the United States. The book features 125 photos. Impressed by his achievements on a small budget with a small boat, we featured Benson in the May issue Changes. If you can't find the book at any of the normal sources, .

Dave (K1BGD) aboard Carlota - boat type and hailing port unknown - has some advice for our readers:

"If you see a guy wearing a green T-shirt with 'Help, I've Started Talking And Can't Shut Up' written across the front, be sure to go over and meet the wearer, who I guarantee to be a fountain of information on cruising the Pacific Coast of Mexico. More important, the person wearing the shirt would love to tell you all about it. The green T-shirts started as a joke by radio hams more than a decade ago, and they are awarded to those hams who have not only been very active on the Mexican ham nets, but also have done that extra bit to provide services for their fellow cruisers and local communities.

"This year's recipient, Patrick Malone (KF6GSD), is a great example. He and his wife Alicia (KF6GSE), started their most recent Mexican cruise in '97, and soon settled in at Puerto Lopez Mateos, which is in the upper reaches of Mag Bay. As well as being Net Manager of the Southbound Net for several years, Patrick was kept busy providing assistance to cruisers passing through the Mag Bay area. He also compiled weather forecasts and provided them to the various nets during that period before Don Anderson established his shore station. In addition, Patrick and Alicia were instrumental in setting up a medical clinic in Lopez Mateos that allows the Flying Samaritans to service several hundred patients during their monthly visits. Among the Malone's latest projects is providing wireless internet service for the entire community. Right now it reaches down to the harbor, and is another reason for making a trip up the Bay, a trip made much easier by their excellent sketch charts of the passage from San Carlos to Lopez Mateos. Well into their second decade, the Green Tee continues to symbolize the active ham community here in mañanaland."

While covering a West Marina Pacific Cup in Hawaii about 15 years ago, we picked up a souvenir t-shirt that we really liked. It honored 'The Old Kau-Kau Man', who tended to be a withered and skinny guy of Asian decent who used to walk around with a branch across the back of his shoulders, from which hung the basic contents of an entire hardware store. It's a Hawaiian tradition that's no doubt long gone in this age of Costco. But we were reminded of a few months ago in Mexico, when a pick-up truck that seemed to be the Mexican version of the 'Kau-Kau man' pulled up near where we were standing. The truck was loaded down with all the household essentials. "Hmmmm," said Capt. Doña, "I could use a couple of buckets." And before a few minutes had passed, she'd purchased them. The business traditions of Mexico can seem surprising to Americans. For example, when you're having breakfast at a restaurant, it's not at all unusual for a vendor of sliced mangos on a stick or baked goods to walk up to your table and try to sell you some. If any vendors tried that at McDonalds or Starbucks, they'd be escorted out immediately.

Answer to the Cruising Quiz: According to the folks who run the Panama Canal, it takes 52 million gallons of freshwater for any vessel - even a little 25-footer - to make a Canal transit. Which is why, of course, nobody should complain about the rain in Panama. For without the heavy rainfall, the Canal couldn't function. If the massive new Canal locks are approved, they will require a special system to recover some of the water used in each transit.

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