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Changes in Latitudes

August, 2000

With reports this month from Breta on a thrifty and social five-year circumnavigation; from Northern Exposure on the first half of a trip up the Inside Passage; Paradise on Playa Panama, Costa Rica; from Starchaser on how little the Sea of Cortez has changed; from Morgan Lynn on wild times in Central America; from Coastbuster on an unsatisfactory haulout in Mazatlan; from Speck on the many travels of Irwin Studenberg; from Tucumcari on 'Manta Rock'; and Cruise Notes.

Breta - Columbia 34
Roy Wessbecher
Second Circumnavigation
(Santa Clara)

Back in 1993 - after a tough six-day offshore run from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas - I signed in for Latitude's then 'Some Like it Hot Rally'. In so doing, I got a now-famous bright hot pink t-shirt with a green jalapeno pepper on the back. But when the 'Some Like it Hot' list appeared in the next issue of the magazine, I'd found that I'd been dubbed 'Lonesome Roy'.

"The nerve!" I thought to myself. "Do they even know me? That's defamation!" Sure, I was singlehanding my old Columbia 34 Breta at the time, and sure, it would have been nice to have the right partner along, but I was doing fine. So I let it go.

Now, having covered 31,700 ocean miles and visited 35 countries, 'Lonesome Roy' and old Breta are back. I finished the trip as I began it, singlehanded. But while enroute I had a total of 17 crewmembers, all of them vegetarians - and all of them female. Cynthia, a Dutch girl, even lasted through the whole ugly Red Sea leg from Sri Lanka up to Israel - and that 4,400 miles took 147 days. Susanne, a Swedish girl, did the Atlantic and the Caribbean with me, which was 3,400 miles and 109 days. Maus, my cat, accompanied me all the way around.

By the way, I kept an exact record of all my expenses during my circumnavigation. In the four years, nine months and nine days it took me from Puerto Vallarta to Puerto Vallarta, I spent an average of $14.66 a day. That's $445 a month, $5,350 a year, or a total of $25,300. I had budgeted $20 day, so I came out way ahead. Those numbers include every single expenditure. I did two bottom jobs, one in New Zealand and one in Thailand. I had no major breakdowns and didn't fly home.

Now I have a bigger and better boat - a LaFitte 44 - and am presently preparing to head out for a second circumnavigation. I'm still single and again looking for veggie crew - but this time I demand that you come up with a more appropriate name!

- roy 6/22/00

Roy - Relying on various businesses in Cabo to keep an accurate list of cruising boats and cruiser names has always been an exercise in extreme futility. We apologize for the nickname somebody bestowed on you. But how's this for a better one: 'Roy the Ramblin' Romantic'? After all, 17 women during one circumnavigation may be some kind of record. Readers - probably male - who want to know how this came about, should tune into next month's Changes.

Northern Exposure - Landfall 39
Jeff Coult
The Inside Passage To Alaska

On my last road trip to Alaska in '97, I took the ferry down the coast - and decided that one day I had to return on my own boat. So in '99, I purchased Northern Exposure, with the intent of spending the summer on the Inside Passage. The trip from San Francisco to Seattle took four days - on a truck - and was much easier than the sail would have been. So far the trip has been more than I ever imagined, with almost every experience being a positive one. Some of the highlights have been:

Learning to time passages to take into account tides and currents unlike anything I've ever seen. All along the British Columbia coast there are tidal rapids that must be transited at slack water, or you'll subject your boat to what the charts call "violent eddies and whirlpools - extreme turbulence." If you don't pay attention, current of up to 11 knots will make a believer of you. It only took one miscalculation for me to double-check the slack water at each rapid.

There are only three open water passages along the approximately 600-mile Inside Passage from Comox, British Columbia, to Skagway, Alaska. The first is Queen Charlotte Sound. After finding crew and charts in Port Hardy, we waited three days for a storm front to pass through - and were then rewarded with an outstanding 30-mile crossing. We left God's Pocket at around 0515, and after we cleared Hope Island, there was nothing between us and Japan except Hawaii - and a large expanse of restless ocean. Fortunately, the seas were calm and there was only a lazy swell on the beam to rock the boat from side to side.

About half way to Cape Caution - where we would once again be sheltered - we noticed a large area of white water that seemed to be moving our way. It wasn't long before we could see that it was hundreds of dolphins charging at us like a herd of stampeding horses, with individual ones frequently jumping clear of the water and landing with a huge splash. They were on us in what seemed like moments, and suddenly surrounded us. I figure there were a couple of hundred of them jumping, cartwheeling, and generally seeming to be having a good time. At any one time, there were at least 10 of them playfully cavorting in our bow wave, and they seemed genuinely interested in checking us out. Several times while standing on the very end of the bowsprit, I had direct eye to eye contact with one of them, and there was something almost magical about the connection. After about 15 minutes, they suddenly decided they'd had enough fun - and headed west en masse. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

The people along the way have also been fantastic. We spent time at Rivers Inlet after meeting some folks living at the end of a remote sound. They stopped by our isolated anchorage to give us a 25-pound ling cod, and invited us to visit them the next day. Their house is built on a log float using logs that must be at least six feet in diameter. There is also a 20 by 50-foot shop on another float, and three tugs were tied up around the floats. These folks made a living collecting logs off the beach and selling them to a lumber company that comes around with a huge self-loading barge. Their house is at the end of a long inlet, guarded by uncharted rocks. They chose the spot because it had plenty of water coming from the waterfall out back.

Their place is totally protected from the wind and sea, and so isolated that their only neighbors are wild animals. There is a bear path along the shore, and a grizzly family pays regular visits within 50 feet of their house. Whales hang out in the bay, and their are a couple of semi-tame ravens that live nearby. An otter lives under their house, crabs are caught right off the edge of their float, and they threw rock fish into the water to feed a Bald Eagle that spends a lot of time sitting in a nearby tree. Before the fish had even hit the water, the bald eagle was on the hunt. He crash dove toward the fish, pulling up at the last moment with the fish in the grasp of his razor sharp talons.

The downside is that all their supplies must be ordered by radio, and then delivered by a once-a-month freight boat from Vancouver that makes stops along the way. This is 'extreme houseboating' if you ask me.

The Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club - at Prince Rupert, which is about halfway between Seattle and Skagway - welcomes all cruising boats. We had so much fun there that we spent a week. The locals were great. One guy loaned me his truck so we could drive around and see the area, and several times one of the gals from the office took us out for a night on the town. All the needed services were only a short walk from the club. When we got hungry, we could lower a crab pot off the club dock. We pulled up as many as 13 at a time!

The seafood along the Inside Passage is plentiful and easy to catch, so we had many feasts of crab, salmon, snapper, halibut, clams, and oysters. We also saw incredible amounts of sea and wildlife, including humpback and killer whales, black and grizzly bears, dolphins, bald eagles, otters, and seals. The bears seem particularly numerous. Even as I write this, there is one just 100 yards away grazing on the shore.

When we crossed the Canadian-U.S. border just north of Prince Rupert, Katie, one of the crew, thought there should be some sort of welcoming committee with banners, balloons, and music. But there wasn't even a line painted on the water such as the chart indicates there should be. But sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for, as just an hour later we were greeted by a welcoming committee in the form of the United States Coast Guard. Over the VHF, I was asked lots of questions about the boat and the crew, as well as our last port and destination. We were then advised to maintain our course and speed, and prepare for a boarding party.

A rigid-hull inflatable with three armed men pulled alongside, and in short order two of them were aboard. All of us were asked to produce identification, so I provided a driver's licence while Anthony and Katie - the crew I took on in Port Hardy - had passports from Australia and the UK. Since I had already called Customs and Immigration and advised them of my crew and arrival date, I had no problems on that front. The Coast Guard conducted a full inspection of my boat, found no violations, and were on their way in about 30 minutes. The officers were very professional and courteous - a big departure from past experiences. Thank you, Latitude!

During the trip, I used The Cap'n navigation system - and found that it worked flawlessly. I highly recommend an electronic charting system to supplement the paper charts, as it makes life so much easier.

As we continued on, we sometimes began to lose some of our awe of Nature. As majestic as bald eagles are, for instance, there are so many of them they can be real pests! While I was in Port Hardy looking for crew, for example, a bald eagle took up residence on my windpoint and windspeed indicator. Unfortunately, it wasn't structurally up to the task of supporting him - so it broke. I decided not to repair it until the day I was leaving, since after leaving the pointer hanging by the wires, he took up roosting on the spreaders. And if you think seagull shit is nasty, wait until you see what a bald eagle leaves behind.

We've seen very few bugs, but our one bad experience was a whopper. The day before we crossed the border, we discovered biting black flies at Dundas Island. They chew a little hole in your skin, and then lap up the blood that flows. That evening, we were forced into the cabin to escape them. The following morning when I stuck my head out the hatch, I instantly discovered that all the black flies were there waiting for breakfast. In fact, it seems they'd invited all their relatives over to join the feast. We put on long-sleeve shirts, pants, gloves, hats, glasses and repellant, and went out to do battle with the little buggers while I weighed the anchor. That morning was the fastest I ever raised the anchor. The flies left angry red welts that took more than a week to stop itching.

Going aground was also a new experience for me. We were up Toba Inlet and hadn't seen another boat for days - when suddenly the bottom came up faster than I could react. We were instantly stuck, and no amount of kedging, main engine thrust or tugging with the 25-hp inflatable could get us off. Soon, all the boat's handholds were in the wrong place. Moving around the boat required well-planned choreography. When the boat's sole is at a 45° angle, you find yourself walking on the sides of cabinets and bulkheads. Adding to the fun was the fact that the angle caused an old fishing rod to hold the bilge pump switch in the 'on' position just when we needed it the least. The tide went out so far that at one point we were 150 feet on dry land! But about six hours later we were on our way again, with no damage except to my ego.

So far we haven't had much sailing, as what little wind we've had has mostly been on the nose. As such, I don't think we've had the sails up for more than 20 hours the whole trip.

From Ketchikan we'll continue north and try to get into Glacier Bay - although I hear it's booked solid for the summer. Even if we don't get in, there are still hundreds of places to explore and I have a couple of months to enjoy them. Come fall, I will probably look for a place to leave the boat and return home for awhile. I highly recommend this trip to everyone who is even considering it.

- jeff 7/00

Paradise - N/A
Sid & Manuela Olshefski
Playa Panama, Costa Rica

We have a 'must stop' for Latitude readers: Playa Panama in Bahia de Culebra - which is in the Gulf of Papagayo in northern Costa Rica. Since it's one of the most spacious natural harbors in central America, Bahia de Culebra - named after all the snakes in the area - offers an excellent anchorage for vessels of all sizes.

There are two popular anchorages in the three by five-mile bay, both with beach access. Our favorite is the one off Playa Panama, just a short distance to the east of Punta Buena, where the rocky shore gives way to the hard, sandy beach. Once ashore, you'll find a hotel, restaurant, bar, and tourist office on an otherwise very remote beach. We spent almost two months anchored in the very calm and protected waters here.

The Costa Cangrejo restaurant, hidden behind some palms and tamarind trees, was opened about a year ago by Hiram and China. It's a great place to hang out, and the owners do everything they can to accommodate cruisers. In addition to serving delicious food and ice-cold beer, they will also sell ice, beer, sodas and milk. Each Monday at 11:00 am., the produce truck comes by to sell the freshest vegetables. On Mondays and Thursdays, Hans from the German Bakery swings by with delicious desserts and breads right out of his wood oven.

Hiram and China have a washer and dryer they make available, and offer telephone and email service. They also have cold showers, and believe us, you wouldn't want a hot shower down here. For cruisers who can't live without it, the bar even has cable television. Hiram also does fuel and propane runs for cruisers.

Unlike many anchorages in Costa Rica that are subject to petty theft, the one off Playa Panama seems pretty secure. As such, it's a great place to leave your boat while travelling inland. Hiram got us a good deal on a Honda from Budget: for $25 a day with the seventh day free. Hiram and China were so pleased when six cruising boats were anchored off their restaurant they offered to take us on a two-day trip through northern Costa Rica. It was wonderful! Volcan Arenal was one of the best stops, as you can see the glowing lava rocks tumble down the steep walls. Hiram had so much fun that he says he's going to do it again for other groups of cruisers.

There's a daily bus that makes the one-hour trip to Liberia, the nearest city. You can do most provisioning there and find many common parts. Playa Coco is just a few miles to the south, but is only accessible after hitch-hiking to the main road to catch a bus. But it's easy. Checking in at Playa Coco is easy - although the Port Captain won't let females do it. He tells them to get their husbands.

Hiram and China do such a good job of spoiling cruisers that on June 12 the crews of our boat as well as Breathless, Dreamer, Four Winds, High Drama, Kestrel, La Roja, Mimosa and Paradise declared Costa Cangrejo to be the Costa Cangrejo Cruising Club - and presented China and Hiram their own burgee. They were very honored and are looking forward to more cruising boats stopping in the near future.

This was also the site of a wonderful buffet for my 40th birthday.

- manuela 6/15/00

Starchaser - DownEast 45
Henry Krabbenschmidt
Sea of Cortez

The last time I visited the Sea of Cortez was aboard my Islander 36 in 1995. I covered pretty much the same ground on this trip, but at age 81 things are a little different. For one thing, my grandchildren are running the show. Nonetheless, the thrill of seeing the wonderful marine life and beautiful scenery of the Sea of Cortez has been just as great this time as it was the last.

The thing that strikes me is how the Sea of Cortez seems to have existed in a time warp. I have examples from all along our cruise. La Paz was still very much the same five years later, despite the rumors of boat inspections. The service at Marina de La Paz was similarly as good as ever. La Partida, the anchorage between Isla Partida and Espiritu Santo about 25 miles from La Paz, was beautiful, serene, and didn't look any different than it had in '95. The sea lions still frolic at nearby Los Islotes, and the beaches just to the north at Isla San Francisquito's are as white and clean as ever. The Evaristo anchorage had its usual collection of long term cruisers enjoying the good life, and the small tienda at the north end of the bay had a few staples to replenish the larder. You never can have too many onions when cruising in Mexico.

The anchorage at Los Gatos, backed by the red cliffs, was almost empty - except for Manuel, who showed up on schedule at 10 a.m. to take our order for six live lobsters. He was back with a full order ready for boiling at 5 p.m. And the price was the same as it was back in '95.

Recent reports I'd gotten out of the Sea have suggested that it was 'going dead' - but that's not what we found. As we travelled between the islands, for instance, we encountered wave after wave of sea life such as I'd never seen before. We saw common dolphins by the thousand, followed by waves of what we believe were pilot whales. Furthermore, the cruisers we met said they threw back as many fish as they kept. When we were hungry for fish, there was plenty to be had from the fishermen. All we had to do was meet them on the beach when they came in at the end of the day. They were even happy to fillet the fish they sold to us. Sometimes other cruisers shared their catch with us.

In a relatively minor change, Agua Verde seemed busier than before, as more local fishermen seemed to be basing out of there. This resulted in one convenience: a fish truck with ice on the beach. Since our ice supply was running low, we asked to buy some. They refused, giving us all we wanted. They did, however, accept a few packs of smokes in trade.

As we continued north to Puerto Escondido, I found the ruins of the never-completed hotel were unchanged. The hotel's only residents, the dogs, still howl at night. They've gotten organized enough at Puerto Escondido - the first real settlement north of La Paz - to get fresh spring water flowing down to the same old hose bib to the side of the quay. There were fewer long term residents at Escondido than I remembered from before, but at least there was one long-term resident with the proper parts to repair a leak in the water cooler of our Perkins 4-236.

The Tripui mobile home park at Puerto Escondido is still active, and features a small store, pool, and cafe. The telephone costs are unreasonable, however, so it's better to wait until you get to Loreto where, with a phone card, you can call the States for about $1/minute. While Puerto Escondido is the first settlement north of La Paz, Loreto - another 20 miles to the north - is the first real town. As such, cruisers often want to travel between the two. It's best to catch a ride with a cruiser who has a car, because the Loreto taxi drivers are now trying to get $20 a person - each way!

Honeymoon Cove, just three miles from Puerto Escondido, and Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, are still popular with cruisers. But I could see no changes at either - other than that there were more larger cruising boats - 40 to 50 feet - being sailed by men 60 to 70 years of age. I met one singlehander who was cruising aboard an Islander 36, a sistership to the boat I used on my first cruise in the Sea of Cortez. We talked a lot, and he claimed to be 63 years of age - but I think he was really closer to my 81! When I asked where he was from, he replied, "The Sea of Cortez" - and said he intended to be there a long time.

I'd taken my Icom ham radio off my Islander when I installed it and had it installed on the DownEast - but hadn't been able to get it to work. Fortunately, the singlehander had the same model - and a manual. After my grandson carefully read the instructions, he was able to get the radio operating. Communications are still important, but one cruiser had solved the problem with email - and had been kind enough to relay a message for us until we got our radio working.

Departing from Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, we did make an overnight sail across the Sea of Cortez to Marina Real on the mainland. We had 15 knots of wind, making for a perfect sail to end a perfect sailing vacation. While making the crossing we once again encountered extensive marine life.

Marina Real, just north of Guaymas, is one place in the Sea of Cortez where there have been lots of changes. There is a significant housing development, a marina with room for 365 boats up to 60 feet, and dry storage. Their new equipment for hauling large boats to the dry storage is great, as our DownEaster 45 was handled like a little toy. Their prices were reasonable, too. Interestingly, there were at least four DownEast 38s and 45s either in storage or ready to spend the summer on the hard. There is another new development with a marina under construction just to the south of the entrance to Marina Real.

One cruiser gave us a good tip for storing a boat on the hard in hot Mexico: place buckets of water on the decks to keep wood paneling from shrinking during storage. We aboard Starchaser want to extend a special hello and thanks to the many cruisers, many of whom were very helpful during our bouts of engine trouble. Hello to Karl and Bev of Pelagic from Seattle; to Roger and Bette of Maho Blue; to Jerry and Astrid of the Del Mar-based Detachment; to Steven of the Berkeley-based Valkyrie; and to Michael and Sara Zale of Never Never Land. Also to the crew of Ravin for exchanging pictures of our boats while under sail.

On the down side, air transportation in and out of Guaymas remains a big problem. Aero Mexico and Airwest provide connections to Phoenix, and you can connect to Tijuana from Hermosillo, but the prices are too high. The bus from Guaymas to Tijuana is $50, and they are reportedly good.

Air service out of Loreto wasn't any better. Two of our group had to return to San Diego from Loreto on short notice, and it was $300 each on Air California. It was an expensive way to cut short the trip, but we had been delayed by engine trouble and they - poor souls - had to get back to waiting jobs.

We will take the Starchaser out of storage in September and visit the islands to the north. The Sea of Cortez remains my preferred cruising area.

- henry 6/15/00

Henry - We first cruised in the Sea of Cortez in the late '70s. Back then a few cruisers were moaning how most of the Sea was going to be developed in just a couple of years so everyone had to rush to see it before it was ruined. That prediction has proved to be as accurate as the one that everyone would be flying around in personal helicopters by 1995. What few West Coast sailors seem to appreciate is exactly how lucky we west coast cruisers are. Between San Diego and Panama, we have a longer and less developed stretch of coast to cruise than there is between Gibraltar and Turkey. It's cheap, it's close, and the coastline is almost entirely undeveloped. The cruisers in the Med would kill for what we have.

Morgan Lynn - Columbia 35
Sam Rohrer
Rio Dulce, Guatemala
(Sandpoint, Idaho)

I'm back in Washington visiting my family, having left Morgan Lynn tied up at Bruno's Marina. The Bruno's on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, not in the Sacramento Delta. I left her there for security.

I departed San Diego in '95 after the Ha-Ha, and hit all the wonderful ports in Mexico as well as Central America - which at the time was known as 'The Forgotten Middle'. I left my boat at Marina Flamingo in Costa Rica for the summer of '96. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and mine is that Marina Flamingo is both shitty and expensive. After returning to my boat, I continued south to the Canal and the Caribbean. The first week of '96, I had a great ride to San Andreas, Colombia. My next stop was Trujillo, Honduras, the beautiful place where I've lived for the last six years.

Unfortunately, the damn pirates and thieves have nearly destroyed Trujillo's tourist economy. For instance, my boat was boarded twice. I took six shots at the first pirate - which captured the attention of about 30 other people and the police. We caught the asshole - but after three months in jail he was released to resume his occupation of stealing.

After sailing back and forth to the Bay Islands several times, I was again boarded in the early hours. The thieves managed to steal my nearly new Yamaha 5 hp dinghy motor - totally pissing me off! I reported the theft to the police, and offered a reward of 4,000 limpera - which is about $325 U.S. After 10 days of 'investigation', the local police returned my motor - and collected the reward!

I continued on to Guatemala, Belize, Isla Mujeres, Cuba, and Fort Myers, Florida - where Morgan Lynn awaits my return. That's the short version of my mostly solo cruise. I left out the part where I was held hostage in Honduras, escaped, and continued on. I also left out the part about riding my 650 Honda Shadow from Idaho, to British Columbia, to Panama - and back. That included a shooting skirmish in Guatemala and a wreck in Mexico. What fun!

- sam 6/15/00

Coastbuster - Lagoon 41 Cat
Russ & Sandy Elsner
Hauling In Mazatlan

Sandy and I are in La Paz getting ready to head up to the Sea of Cortez for the summer. Before we go, we wanted to share a very unpleasant experience we had hauling our boat in Mazatlan.

We needed bottom paint, so based on a recommendation, we and the folks on Cat Man Do, another catamaran, made arrangements to have the job done at Astilleros Malvinas - which primarily builds and services large fishing boats. When we hauled out at the yard, we found it to be very dirty. Realizing that numerous boatyards are dirty, we just hoped for the best. But what we encountered was a lack of manpower, tools, and knowledge necessary for good work on cruising boats.

I could go into detail explaining how we had to loan tools to the workers and how we ended up having to do a lot of the work ourselves, but I'll stick with the ugly basics:
- We were on the hard for 13 days!
- The labor alone cost us $900 U.S.!
- It cost us another $600 to clean up our boat. Our boat was put next to two freighters that ran their generators 24 hours a day. As if that wasn't enough, we were downwind from a fish processing plant that spewed smoke from its stacks most of the day. As a result, we ended up with what can only be described as a greasy dirt imbedded in the wax in our boats. But degreaser wouldn't even touch it.

Once we got back to Marina El Cid, Claus of Mazatlan Yacht Service came to our rescue. He found a product called Oxifin at the local HMS marine supply store that lifted the grime from our boat without destroying the gel coat. We had to apply the Oxifin full strength to small areas, let it sit for about five minutes, hose it off, then scrub it with ammonia and chlorine to get the remaining residue off. We then had to use rubbing compound and then wax the boat again. It took Sandy and I as well as one to three hired crew six days to get our boat clean again.

Claus feels the problem was mostly caused by the fish plant cleaning its boilers at night with chemicals that cause a type of acid rain. I'm told that yards near the power plant have experienced similar problems. But had our haulout taken three to four days - as it should have - we wouldn't have had such a terrible experience.

We can't recommend Astilleros Malvinas as a place for cruisers to haul their boats. And if anyone has to haul their boat anywhere in Mazatlan, they should cover their boat. Apparently there are some yards in Mazatlan that do haulouts quickly and without a mess. By the way, Claus can be reached on VHF 68. He's a go-getter who takes care of business.

La Paz has been great. The people are nice, it has marine stores, and it's a good place to provision. But we're now looking forward to following our new friends up into the Sea.

- russ & sandy 6/1/00

Russ and Sandy - Cruisers need to realize that once they leave the United States, it's uncertain what kind of work they'll get at a boatyard - particularly at ones that primarily work on commercial vessels. We've hauled our boats in a number of different countries, and had both very good and very bad experiences. Folks in Third World countries have a whole different concept of time, so what seems like a three-day job can - with holidays, hangovers and worker absences - often take a week or two.

The sound of cheap boatyard labor - say $8/day - can also be misleading. Usually these workers have neither skills or tools, and as often as not can do $50/hour worth of damage. That's assuming the yard can even get labor. We hauled in Trinidad years ago before it became a yachting center, and the yard provided us with labor that changed every day for a month. For each time a worker realized how hard the work was, he collected his day's pay and never returned.

Guidelines for hauling in foreign countries include: 1) Inspecting the place in person; 2) Getting references from owners of other cruising boats; 3) Establishing firm quotes for the time and expense for each job; 4) Confirming that manpower is available locally and has the basic skills needed. Even then, it pays to monitor the job closely.

Just for comparison, while you were hauling your cat in Mazatlan, we were hauling our 63-foot cat at the Napa Valley Marina. Our boat came out Thursday about noon, and went back in late the next afternoon. The $2,500 bill included hauling the boat, prepping and painting the bottom, and all labor and materials. Based on that comparison, you didn't get a very good deal. In fact, think of the money you could have saved if you'd simply let your boat go high and dry up in Caleta Partida and did the work yourself.

Speck - Gemini 32 Cat
Judy White, Crew
Panama And The Canal
(Sam Diego)

About 10 years ago, Speck's owner, Irwin Studenberg, got out of his restaurant business and bought the Gemini 32 in the Cheasapeake Bay. After sailing to Florida, he spent two years between the Bahamas and the Keys. He then returned to Detroit via the IntraCoastal Waterway, New York City, and the Erie Canal. When he left Detroit again, he did so by taking his boat down the Mississippi River to Mobile, Alabama. It was then loaded on a truck and delivered to San Diego in October of '97.

In April of '98, Irwin sailed down the Baja coast and spent a wonderful year in the Sea of Cortez and on mainland Mexico. After leaving Zihuatanejo with a group of boats listening to the Panama Connection on SSB, he stopped at Porto Madero, Huatulco, Guatamala, Honduras and the Bay of Fonseca. While coming into the bay, he caught a 9-foot sailfish that helped feed the village of Amapala on El Tigre Island. The island, by the way, is the remains of a huge volcanic cone, and the setting is so lovely it appears on the country's $2 bill.

Continuing south, Irwin spent six months in Costa Rica, which was beautiful - but more touristy and expensive than he had hoped. He took seven day-trips to get from Playas de Coco, in the northern part of Costa Rica, to Golfito, in the southern part of the country. He stopped at remote but usually rolly anchorages. Buddyboating with Quarter Splash, the two vessels then spent two months exploring dozens of offshore islands between Golfito and the Canal, most of them in Panama. After enjoying some stops at Panama's Las Perlas Islands, he made his way to Isla Flamenco anchorage off of Panama City.

Irwin spent three months waiting for me to sell my house in San Diego and close down my photography business so that I could join him for good. On March 17, after I joined him, we transited the Canal on March 17 with Alison White, my daughter, and her boyfriend Donny - both from San Francisco - along as crew. We also had the Lundin family - Eric, Fay and Tim - of the Long Beach-based Camelot along. We then spent several weeks exploring the San Blas Islands. It's now June, and we're in Cartagena, Colombia, near Club Nautico.

I'd like to tell Latitude readers about the two cities in Panama that are of the most importance to cruisers. Panama City, on the Pacific side, and Colon, on the Caribbean side.

Panama City - with a population of over 700,000 - feels like a large metropolis, but it's definitely part of the Third World. It's not a tourist destination - except for those who want to transit the Canal. When viewed from the water at night, Panama City looks like San Diego or New York City, as it has a very beautiful skyline of tall buildings with lots of lights. By day you see the reality - it's dusty, dirty and poor. Every building needs some sort of repair - and paint wouldn't hurt either. Only in the upper class neighborhoods do the buildings and homes have a 'middle class' look to an American. However, most of these homes have two and three vehicles in their driveways - usually Mercedes, BMWs, Volvos or SUVs. Nonetheless, with gas selling for $2/gallon, a car is definitely a luxury for most Panamanians.

From what I could tell, the taxis are privately owned. The driver purchases a permit/license, buys a magnetic 'Taxi' sign for the roof of his car, and voila, he's in business! Because there is so much competition - every fourth car seems to be a taxi - the prices are low. Many rides are $1, and $3 will get you all the way across the city.

Most people travel by bus, however, which is a real bargain. For 15 to 30 cents, they'll take you anyplace a taxi can go. The buses are also privately-owned and very colorful. They are painted in wild colors and often feature nature scenes, curvaceous women or slogans. I saw one called 'Alison' - my daughter's name - with a painting of a knife-wielding woman on the side. The insides of the buses are also customized, with mirrors, bumper stickers, decals, fuzzy animals, lurid scenes and quotations. They add some entertainment and flavor to a rather dull city.

Panama's open air markets sell everything you can can imagine, from fish to wrenches. The vegetables found in these markets are fresh and inexpensive, but the best deal is on seasonal fruit. I've never tasted more delicious pineapples, mangos and bananas. They were sweet and inexpensive. The beef was also cheap, but it was leather like and could only be prepared with the help of a pressure-cooker. On the other hand, the chicken and pork were better than any I've tasted in the States: lean, tender and without any fat.

While the food is plentiful and there is no shortage of ingredients for speciality dishes, the Panamanians seem to be mediocre cooks. The smoked pork was excellent and the spiced chicken was good, but unlike Mexico where there were plenty of flavorful dishes, Panama has bland food.

For those who don't have the stomach for the open market - the combined flavors of raw fish, meat and veggies is very pungent - there is Reys Market. This is every bit as nice as any Vons, Target or Publix - with all the stuff they have in one place. The prices, however, are more like back in the States, as you pay for cleanliness and convenience. Panama City also has a Price Club that's a carbon copy of the one in San Diego.

Since the U.S. turned over control of the Canal, Panama has been struggling economically. Unemployment is high, so there is lots of crime in the streets. One afternoon we saw a young thug race off with the wallet of an elderly Panamanian man who was burdened with packages. In a nutshell, the wealthy Panamanians are happy to see America pull out of the country, but the average middle and lower class citizens miss the American dollars.

On any given day the marinas and free anchorage are home to 75-150 boats from all parts of the world having either come through or about to go through the Canal. Using a bit of English and a bit of Spanish, most of us are able to communicate with each other and the locals.

Next month, the Canal itself and Colon.

- judy 5/00

Tucumcari - N/A
Bob Starr
'Manta Rock'

After reading an account of Tucumcari's meeting with the mysterious rock of Tenacatita Bay in the April Changes section of Latitude, I thought I'd better write in to give the real story rather than the 'telephone' version.

We were sailing from the outer anchorage heading east to the inner anchorage, when I decided to cut inside the center rock. There were two reasons for my decision. First, because I'd heard lots of reports that the 'hidden rock' didn't really exist. Second, because I'd previously gone fishing close to Punta Chubasco and found the water to be very deep right off the point and off the outlying large rock. Thinking that we could safely stay close to the point, we cut inside. We were sailing at about five knots when the bottom came up quickly: from 50 feet to 14 feet to BANG! in a matter of seconds.

Our boat came to an abrupt halt, but listing over so far that her starboard rail was in the water! You wouldn't have believed the noise! The boat immediately returned to upright and the depthsounder showed 20 feet. Cyn, my wife, dashed below and started gathering passports and wallets - until I yelled down to check the bilge. It turned out to be dry. Phew!

I know I should have gotten a GPS position on the rock, but I was pretty pumped up with adrenaline at the moment and couldn't think beyond getting the hook down and jumping in the water to assess the damage. A quick dive revealed that the only visible damage was a fist-sized gouge out of the front of Tucumcari's external lead keel. This proved that we'd indeed hit a rock as opposed to a manta ray or other denizen of the deep - as some people apparently speculated.

As far as I remember, the rock we struck was about 100 yards southeast of Punta Chubasco at a depth of about five feet - we draw 5.5 feet. We decided to head back to Puerto Vallarta earlier than we had planned in order to haul the boat and make sure there wasn't any further damage and to fair up the leading edge of the keel for the trip across the Pacific.

Having been in the Tenacatita area when Stone Witch went down in '84-85, then having watched Liberte burn and sink just a week or so prior to our hitting the rock, I'm left with some real mixed memories of the area around Tenacatita Bay. But now we're part of the South Pacific fleet and happily anchored near Papeete and can look back on some fine weeks in the Marquesas and Tuamotus. The latter included the usual scary moments, which I guess are de rigeur for anyone negotiating passes from the often lumpy ocean outside to the not-always-tranquil lagoons inside.

All in all we're having a great time in French Polynesia and soon plan to head west to Samoa, Tonga and then on to Fiji if the political situation allows. P.S. Thanks for the great magazine.

- bob starr

Bob - Thanks for the first-person account, which is usually the best. It's interesting that some people speculated that you might have hit a ray, because we hit one the year before with Profligate off Yelapa, and it felt like we'd slammed into the biggest rock in the world.

Cruise Notes:

In news that ultimately may have a significant impact on West Coast cruisers, Vicente Fox was elected President of Mexico - in what was, by all accounts, a fair election. In so doing, Fox knocked the PRI party, which had been in power for about a million years, out of power. A former Coca-Cola executive and rancher, the moderately right-wing Fox has already been reaching out to Greens and other members of the left to try to form a pluralistic government. Fox vows to end corruption and reduce drug smuggling, monumental undertakings as both have almost become part of the fabric of life in Mexico. Fox, whose free trade inclinations and global outlook bode well for cruisers, takes office on December 1.

Rising like a phoenix? Well, almost. The Balboa YC in Panama was one of the most unusual yacht clubs in the world. Before the American troops were pulled out of Panama, the club was the after-dark place for young Panamanian ladies to set traps for horny young U.S. soldiers who were their ticket to the United States. These ambitious young women dressed to kill, so nights at the yacht club bar were almost like being at a sex show. The scene calmed down substantially after the U.S. troops were pulled out. And when the club burned down - or was torched - the scene came to a standstill. In any event, Larry Liberty is delighted to announce that he is once again ready to preside over the club's operation. Since the clubhouse hasn't been rebuilt, the operation is limited to the swimming pool and bar - and the marine ways and the fuel dock. But it's a start. We promise to let you know if the women return.

"My wife, Tina Crary-Windahl, and I won the Chili Cook-Off, New Age division, at this year's Sea of Cortez Sailing Week at Isla Partida," reports Ethan Windahl of Gypsy Dolphin. "Our entry was a vegetarian recipe we called Alaska Frontier Chili. The entry on the table next to us was the Firehose Chili created by Ben of Calliope. He kept a fire extinguisher handy for emergencies. Sailing Week was an enjoyable experience for us, and we think most others felt the same way. In closing, we'd like to say kudos to Latitude for your excellent coverage of events in Mexico - including the tempest in a teapot over the 'safety inspections' in La Paz."

Thanks for the kind words, Ethan. It's ironic, but we think our worst coverage in Mexico is of Sea of Cortez Sailing Week - an event the Wanderer and Latitude founded in the early '80s. If someone would be kind enough to count the number of boats, list who won the basic events, and send us some photos, we'd love to feature it.

Norm and Lois Anderson of Boise, Idaho, made many friends when they circumnavigated from '86 to '93 aboard their Tartan 37 Sisu. Lois now has the unpleasant task of letting everyone know that Norm passed away suddenly in May at the age of 69. "For those of you planning to go cruising someday," Lois urges, "go now before the sun sets."

"I'm just back in the States building up the cruising kitty while my Jeanneau Fantasia 27 Vully stays at Marina Vallarta," reports frequent singlehander Mark Daniels of Sausalito. "I'm just counting down the days until I'm back on the boat in the warm waters of Mexico. I'll see everyone down south this winter!"

In 1995, a Russian vessel named Baikal sailed across the Pacific and down the West Coast. They got lots of support from waterfront folks and businesses, which made Lyn Reynolds "proud to be an American". Now Lyn wonders what happened to the boat and the crew. Does anybody know?

A few months ago somebody wrote in asking about Beau Hudson, who circumnavigated a number of years ago with his wife Annie aboard their Freya 39 Lionwing. By chance, we bumped into their daughter at Milano's Restaurant in Tiburon. She told us that while they don't have a boat any longer, Beau has been casting longing looks at a Lidgard 44 in New Zealand.

"After two years in Mexico and two years in the Pacific Northwest, our Ranger 33 The Farm is back in her slip at the Richmond YC," reports Ed Greene of Santa Rosa. "We've owned her for 20 years and she's a helluva boat! After doing the Baja Bash back from Mexico, we had the boat trucked up to Olympia, Washington, for $1,900. After the season was over, we left the boat in Anacortes for the winter for about $160/month. I was born in the Northwest, so I know better than to hang around up there during that time of year. After another season in the Northwest, we trucked the boat back to Richmond for just $1,200! The different time of year might have had something to do with the lower shipping cost.

"Here's a tip for others headed to Washington," continues Greene. "According to Washington state law, if your boat has been there for 90 days, you have to register it. I got all kinds of jailhouse advice on how to avoid paying these fees, but then I ran into a guy from Red Bluff who had kept his 30-footer in a Washington boatyard. When they found out he hadn't registered the boat there, they fined him $2,600! So I decided I would go the legal route - and the registration cost me less than half of what I would have had to pay in Contra Costa in personal property tax. So legal was better."
"The following is a brief summary of my activities in May and June," writes John Keen of the San Francisco-based Gulf 32 Knot Yet - who is a vet of the '97 Ha-Ha. "My boat spent the cyclone season in Scarborough while I travelled by land elsewhere in Australia and by plane back to California. Then on May 11, I departed Brisbane on a month-long, singlehanded, 756-mile trip north to Townsville, Queensland. I was underway for 21 of the 32 days. There were no overnight passages involved, although I did leave some ports as early as 3:30 a.m. in order to reach some destinations before dark. My trip involved staying in eight marinas, two river anchorages, and 11 island anchorages. Some of the more interesting navigation was required around the Great Sandy Straits near Fraser Island, The Narrows between Curtis Island and the mainland, and the Gloucester Passage. I had hoped to spend a bit more time in the Whitsunday Islands - which are beautiful cruising grounds - but they were living up to their nickname of the 'Wetsundays'. I felt sorry for the people who had chartered boats and were sitting around disgruntled in the marinas. By the time this reaches print, I'll have been back to California and returned to Australia again - with crew for the next chapter in my cruise. Upcoming destinations include Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Palau, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand. This should be an eight to nine-month adventure."

"By the time you read this we should have left Gig Harbor for California, getting ready for the October 31 start of the Baja Ha-Ha with a few hundred of our closest friends," report Jan and Signe Twardowski of the Sundeer 64 cutter Raven. "We'll spend the winter in Mexico, do the 'puddle jump' in late March for the South Pacific, and should be in New Zealand by November of next year. We spent last summer cruising up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and have posted lots of photos at" This is a nice site folks, so check it out.

John Anderton sent an email from the Stanford Medical Center with a warning for Ha-Ha participants: The entries, support crews and camp-followers of the inaugural Baja 2000 motorcycle race from Ensenada to Cabo will apparently be descending on the Cape on about the 14th and 15th of November. Since Cabo is crazy enough without additional bikers, the Ha-Ha fleet - which should be arriving on the 9th and finish up with the Award's Ceremony on the 11th - will fortunately have enough time to relax, take care of business, and leave before the 14th.

By the time you read this, Paula Peters and Dale Finely, formerly of Novato, should have sailed out the Gate and turned left aboard their Fairweather Mariner 39 Sunrise. It will mark the beginning of a long delayed cruise - that started as follows:

"Paula was crewing on the Cal 39 II Shea in the Marquesas in May of '84, when Dale arrived while crewing aboard the Hardin 45 Alta Mar. A few boats later, we started crewing together aboard the Force 50 Invicta in Bora Bora. We crewed on several other boats and then toured Australia by VW van. A family illness brought our adventures to a close in '85, when we returned to California. After six months living in different parts of the state, we moved in together in Northern California. At that time we were talking about 'buying our own boat and going cruising in five years'. Well, it's taken three times as long as we thought, but we've now sold the house, quit the jobs, and are out of here! Thank you Latitude for keeping our cruising dreams alive."

You're more than welcome. Have a great trip!

"We had a good passage from Panama's San Blas Islands, past Cartagena, Colombia, then north into the lee of Hispaniola, before making landfall at Ponce, Puerto Rico," report John Neal and Amanda Neal Swan from their Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. "We really appreciated Latitude's tips on making this passage. We had easterly winds averaging 22 knots, with 26 to 30 knots occasionally. It wasn't terrible - and we had much less wind than Steve and Linda Dashew did when they went upwind in the Caribbean in February aboard their 84-ft Beowulf. We're now headed to Roadtown in the British Virgins to pick up our crew for the trip to the Azores."

As best we can remember, the bulk of our advice to John and Amanda for the upwind passage from Panama to the Virgins was that it's much better to do it in June when the trades have eased off and before the hurricanes can be expected. February, when the trades are often 'reinforced', is the worst month - which is why the Dashews got clobbered. Speaking of Steve and Linda Dashew, they flew from their home in Tucson back to Beowulf, which they had left in New Bedford, for some summer cruising in the Northeast. The couple are currently halfway done with writing Defensive Seamanship, which they claim will be their last book.

"I'd like you to add my email and Web site addresses to the pile that you're collecting from cruisers," writes Al MacDiarmid of the Freedom 28 Broad Reacher. "You may remember that I crewed for the Wanderer on one race in the early years of Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. I later sailed my little Freedom from San Diego to Hawaii, and up to Puget Sound where I spent five years. I'm now in the Delta at Owl Harbor Marina - where some rats got aboard and did quite a bit of damage. In any event, I've sailed 30,500 miles in my retirement home, 12,500 of them singlehanded - and 21,000 of them after the engine had been removed. My Web site address is I can also be ."

"We stopped at Isla Socorro with our Vallejo-based Nichol trimaran in '89 while on our way to Micronesia," report Jay and Paulla DeMello. "Ten years later, we bought our current boat, a Marples 37 trimaran in Chula Vista. On our way to Hawaii, we stopped at Socorro again and were pleasantly surprised to discover that there are still lots of lobster at the Revillagegdos. We've been living in Hawaii on and off for the last three years, where I work as the charter captain aboard the Hughes catamaran Kamanu. But we've gotten so sick of the crap that boaters have to put up with in Hawaii that we're heading back to the mainland in August with our new boat - and hopefully will be able to make the Ha-Ha. After we leave the Islands, we'll tell you all about it."

"We sailed south in the Ha-Ha last year and found that we really like the cruising life - even though we were laid up much of the time with mechanical and customs problems," report Matt and Judy Johnston of the San Francisco-based Cabo Rico 38 Elsewhere. "As a result, we got to know and love Mazatlan. So although we made it as far south as Puerto Vallarta, we returned to Mazatlan with a dying transmission because we knew the guys at R.P.M. Marine would be there to help. The only reason we ended up in Mazatlan for so long is that we got caught in a custom's trap. Despite getting almost all the paperwork right, and having it all translated into Spanish, our repair parts still got stuck at customs in Guadalajara. Even though we provided Customs with everything they asked for, they still refused to release our stuff. The bottom line is this: Don't try to ship boat parts to Mexico by DHL or FedEx. Several other cruisers in Mazatlan were waging the same battle with customs - and we all lost. Interestingly enough, we were never asked for mordida to get our stuff. In fact, we never even had the chance to offer it!"

"When they finally ran out of things to ask for and they still refused to release our stuff," the Johnstons continue, "we had it returned to California. At that point we found other cruisers flying down who were willing to bring the parts as part of their baggage. Thanks to Earl on Kelmar and later to Guy on Savage Lady for their 'Pony Express service'. Also thanks to Aeolus having earlier brought batteries down. Right now we're back in Antioch because of family matters, but our boat is fixed and ready for next season. We haven't been discouraged by our problems and delays, and can't wait for the cruising season to start again in October."

Last month we had a Sightings feature on Russell Brown's Port Townsend-based 36-ft proa Jzerro, which he was about to sail to the South Pacific with Steve Callahan, author of the terrific book Adrift, 76 Days At Sea. Despite the light winds, they made it from San Francisco to the Marquesas in a sizzling 20 days. They couldn't motor, of course, as they had no engine.

"I have a comprehensive GPS waypoint list for both Mexico and the South Pacific Islands," reports John Brand of the San Francisco-based Fantasia 35 Pinniped, which is currently in Auckland. "The Mexico list of GPS waypoints was published in Charlies Charts of Mexico, while the South Pacific list is available from me via ."

Don't forget the cruising photos on 'Lectronic Latitude. They're in vibrant color and - we think - quite cool.

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