August, 2006

With reports this month on the Atlantic Rally For Cruisers and the Around-the-World Rally for Cruisers; from Our Tern on a smarter itinerary for a two-year cruise; from Velella on a passage from Saipan to Hong Kong; from Swell on Liz Clark's ongoing surfing safari under sail; and Cruise Notes.

ARC & ARC Around-The-World Cruising Rallies

You have to hand it to the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), as the grandfather of all cruising rallies continues to sizzle in popularity after more than two decades. Although the start of this year's 2,700-mile crossing from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean isn't until November 26, they've already received a total of 227 paid entries, which is two over their limit.

We don't know what's with the Brits, but they all seem to be eager to leave Old Blighty. A total of 111 Brit-flagged boats have entered the ARC, more than triple the 33 German entries.

Perhaps because of the high euro, not as many Americans bought boats in Europe, and thus not as many are entered in this year's ARC. There are but eight, including Thomas Miller's Fremont-based Bavaria 46 CharMel. The others are: Adela, Christopher Burke's Virginia-based Lagoon 500 cat; Clover III, Neal Finnegan's Massachusetts-based Swan 56, Mallgaya, Andres Soriano's New York-based Swan 80; Simpatica, Casare Wencesalo's New York-based Catana 471; Tintagel, Stuart Gough's Savannah-based Passport 515; Trilogy II, James Dorsey's Baltimore-based Hallberg-Rassy 46; and Windsong II, Mark Roger's Miami-based Hallberg-Rassy 46.

The smallest two boats are a Nicholson 32 and a Vancouver 32. The biggest is the Swan 100 Fantasticaaa from Italy. There are several 80-ft maxis, including the Farr 80 Longobarda. Anybody remember the time she did the Big Boat Series and ran hard aground at the entrance to the San Francisco Marina? That was many years ago. If we're not mistaken, entry in the ARC is about $1,200 - but they do put on a heck of an event, with countless seminars, social events, and other goodies.

Starting in January of '08, the World Cruising Club, which puts on the ARC, will be starting the first of what they apparently intend to be annual around-the-world ARCs. Slated to take 14 months, the course will take boats around South Africa as opposed to up the Red Sea in order to try to avoid any mayhem in the Middle East.

The organizers cite the key benefits of joining the rally as full rally support at every stopover, professional event management, Panama Canal Transit fee included, Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine clearance fees included, and a minimum of 60 days of berthing fees included, plus some discounted berthing. But all this comes at a price. Boats to 47 feet, for example, will have to pay $16,400, while those longer than 60 feet will have to pay about $19,000. Although there is a slight discount for folks who would be starting from the West Coast and a 'half rally' fee for those intending to terminate their rally in Australia, there's also a fee of about $1,800 per crew.

So far, the only U.S. entry is Don Myers of New York, who will be sailing his Amel Super Maramu Harmonie. Ironically, the same boat has already circumnavigated - in the World Cruising Club's Millennium Odyssey Round-The-World Rally in '99-'00. Organizers are limiting the entries to 45 boats, and expect to get two or three from the West Coast of the U.S. Monohulls must be over 38 feet to qualify, while multihulls have to be between 38 and 60 feet.

If any Latitude readers are doing either of these events, we'd love to get reports from you.

- latitude/rs

Our Tern - Valiant 40
Natalie Winslow & Family
If We Could Do It Again
(Everett, WA)

By the time you read this, we - my husband Vaughn, daughters Danielle, 15, and Brooke, 12, and myself - will probably have completed our two-year voyage from Washington state to the Galapagos Islands and back. If we knew then what we know now, we would have done it differently. Since lots of others are planning to make a similar trip, I thought we'd share our experiences and opinions on how to do it more intelligently.

When our family left Everett in September of '04, we had a one - maybe two - year plan. We did the predictable itinerary of leaving San Diego in November of '04, and by the spring of '05 were in the Melaque-Barra de Navidad area on the Gold Coast of the Mexican mainland. It was then we had to decide if we were going to continue for another year or start heading home. Fortunately, it was a unanimous decision - we'd continue south as far as the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

Armed with a new plan, we left Huatulco, Mexico in April to cross the Gulf of the Tehuantepec. In doing this, we were following the advice found in John Rain's Florida to California via Panama book and the advice given by other cruisers. Incidentally, many boats that we first met in San Diego ended up in Huatulco about the same time as we, and were also basing their movements on the same information. But in retrospect, it wasn't good advice. We should have left Mexico earlier for Central and South America, as it would have meant we'd have much better weather.

We made it to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador at the end of April, and were guided across the sometimes treacherous bar by Murray and Colette of Tarazed. This couple is there permanently, they have a wealth of knowledge, and are happy to offer tremendous support. It was Murray and Colette - along with the crews of the other 40 boats in the river - that made El Salvador bearable.

What made El Salvador almost unbearable during the summer was the tremendous heat and humidity. Our family is from the Pacific Northwest, and we don't do heat and humidity well, and it simply roasts in El Salvador from May to October. For example, the daytime temperatures were in the 90s for the three months that we were there, and the humidity was oppressive.

Fortunately, we left our boat in Bahia del Sol in order to do a one-month inland trip in Guatemala to visit the Mayan ruins at Tikal, and to take two weeks of Spanish lessons at Lake Atitlan. For $110, we got 20 hours of one-on-one tutoring, room and board for one week, a guided hike in the local mountains - and salsa dancing lessons. Our inland trip was not to be missed!

We ended up staying in the Bahia del Sol area until late July, when we set off on a 10-day trip to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. After all, we were only on a two-year trip, so if we were going to visit the Galapagos, we had to move right along to Ecuador. As we crossed the equator - which is about 450 miles south of the Panama Canal - there was a noticeable difference in the weather. In fact, it was so cool that we had to dig out our polar fleece tops and long pants!

Once we arrived in Bahia de Caraquez, which has grown dramatically as a cruiser destination in the last few years, we felt as though we were back in familiar Puget Sound weather. The mornings were a little overcast with the temperatures in the 70s. By afternoon, the sun would be out, the air was about 80 degrees, and the humidity was low. Needless to say, we were ecstatic! The Seattle-based Skalliwag arrived a few days later, and her crew was equally thrilled with the weather. Before the week was over, we couldn't help but ask ourselves a question: Why we had allowed ourselves to be steamed and roasted in El Salvador for so long?

Bahia de Caraquez has a great thing going for it - no noticeable mosquitoes. Apparently, it's just too cold for them. As such, it was comfortable for travelling and doing boat projects. In fact, the weather was so nice that Vaughn started stripping the exterior teak on our boat, and Arlene, a Canadian on Nueva Vida, varnished all of the exterior teak on her boat. Danielle and I ran the malecon every morning at about 7:30 a.m.

When we arrived in Ecuador, we didn't know much about the country. But that soon changed, and we learned that the country has plenty of adventure travelling to offer. For example, thanks to a suggestion by crews of Otter and Nueva Vida, we rode on the roof of a train (!) as it zigzagged down El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil's Nose), which is a dizzying descent from Alausi in the highlands. The capital of Quito was interesting, but it's dangerous for vegetarians. When Brooke ate a T-bone steak at Adam's Rib in the safe and touristy 'new town' district, she fell in love with the country just because of the beef. And just $5 buys you a huge steak dinner with all the trimmings. The crew of She Wolf said the colonial architecture of Cuenca was great, and the taxi drivers and other locals said that beautiful Banos was a place that we shouldn't miss.

Another reason we're so fond of Ecuador is that we met some wonderful local families. Indeed, they invited us to stay at their homes, and put on birthday parties for Brooke and Danielle.

We finally set sail for the Galapagos in October of '05. Based on our experience, the only way to visit these fabled islands is on your own boat. Our 30-day permit allowed us to stay and explore the islands pretty much all we wanted. Isla Isabella was our favorite. There we saw petite Galapagos penguins sitting on the shore while the white-tipped sharks glided by just below the surface. And on October 22, we had a bonus experience - we witnessed the eruption of Isla Isabella's Sierra Negra volcano.

When November rolled around it was time to head back north again, so we sailed to Panama. If you're planning to cruise in Las Perlas, you'll want to get a copy of the Zydler's The Panama Cruising Guide. The snorkeling in the warm, clear waters of the Perlas Islands was Brooke's favorite. We also enjoyed the scenic one-hour train ride from Panama City on the Pacific Coast to Colon on the Caribbean side. While in Panama, we met lots of cruisers who liked Panama and Ecuador so much that they'd been sailng back and forth for years. Plus, there's a group of cruisers who bought retirement condos on the same floor of a complex in Panama City!

By the end of January '06, Our Tern had made it all the way back to southern Mexico - which might make some of you think we cruise quickly. Granted, we only stayed two weeks in northern Costa Rica, where we spent Christmas and New Year's Eve with the crews of Encanto, Soy Libre, Carina, and RDreamz. And we only took a slip at the lovely Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua for about one week.

As far as weather and currents go on the way south from Mexico to Ecuador, we never saw the ITCZ. And we were able to sail most of the way from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos in October. When we left the Galapagos in November on our way north to Panama's Perlas Islands, we were able to sail most of the way and didn't have a strong adverse current. In fact, we didn't think the current was bad from Panama to Mexico either. Since we usually had northerlies on the leg up to Mexico, we'd go 20 miles offshore to make it a little more comfortable while beating. Nonetheless, our Valiant 40 sails to weather very well.

Why hadn't we considered visiting Ecuador earlier rather than hanging around Central America for the hot summer months? There were quite a few reasons. For one, it's 900 miles further south of El Salvador. Another reason is that many of our friends were summering in El Salvador, and we didn't want to leave them. We'd also heard that El Salvador would get considerably less rain than Costa Rica, which is why it's not as green. Plus, people are naturally sequential, and we didn't want to miss Central America.

Nonetheless, if we were going to make the same two-year trip again, we'd leave Mexico right after the Zihua Fest in early February to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec. It's true that January has the greatest frequency of Tehuantepecker's, but they are predictable, so you just have to wait for a good window. Once across the Gulf, we'd stay in El Salvador until about April, as the weather isn't too bad until summer. In addition, this would still give us a month for a trip to inland Guatemala and to visit San Salvador. But before the end of April, we would head directly to Ecuador, which is about a 10-day passage, or continue on to northern Costa Rica, which is only about a five-day passage from Ecuador. Another option would be to spend the month of April coastal hopping from El Salvador to Panama. But because Panama is so far east, it's still about a five-day trip to Ecuador. By being in Ecuador from May through November, we'd not only miss the bad summer weather of Central America, but we could visit inland Ecuador, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands. After November, we'd make our way back to Panama - and stop at all the places we missed south of El Salvador. But we'd be getting to visit them in good weather.

If you need another reason to visit mainland Ecuador, it was probably the least expensive country we visited. We've been told that Ecuador is what Mexico used to be 20 years ago. And when compared to Puerto Vallarta, even the Galapagos aren't expensive.

We're not at all complaining about our cruise, as we really enjoyed our adventures and all the friends we made. We wouldn't trade those experiences and friendships for anything. But we think we could have covered all the same ground more intelligently and enjoyed better weather.

Before we left Everett to start our cruise, a friend named Mike Fitzpatrick - who had cruised for four years between Seattle, Central America, and the South Pacific - warned us that lots of cruisers get stuck in Mexico. "Keep going, it gets better," he advised us. Thank goodness for his good advice. In the opinion of the crew of Our Tern, he was absolutely right. Keep going, because it does get better.

- natalie 05/10/06

Vellela - Wylie 31
Garth Wilcox & Wendy Hinman
A Slow Boat To China
(Port Ludlow, WA)

"Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror" could easily describe our late April passage from Saipan in the north Mariana Islands to Hong Kong, China. The trip involved leaving the Pacific Ocean, passing through the Philippine Sea into the South China Sea, and entering into a completely new weather pattern near major shipping centers. As we were going almost directly west, it also involved changing two time zones.

We were trying to pass through the strait between Taiwan and the Philippines during the brief quiet period between the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoon in order to minimize the chances that we would encounter big seas in the narrow passage between oceans. Being in a transitional period means that the weather is unstable and that typhoons, while unlikely, are still a possbility. ('Typhoon' is the name for hurricanes in this part of the world.) We were also concerned about gales in the strait, as they can create hazardous conditions in combinations with strong current and rips to five knots.

The first 12 days of our approximately 2,000-mile trip usually featured winds of less than 10 knots, but they were ever shifty, and clocked around three times! The seas were small. Given the circumstances, we came to appreciate the wide variety of music we'd loaded onto the MP3 player - especially during the night watches.

We entered the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines in very light winds and flat sea at dawn, we crossed paths with a number of ships and fishing vessels, and noticed that the color of the water changed from a deep blue to a dull green. In addition, the water dropped 10 degrees, as we'd left the warm current that flows north toward Japan and gotten into the cold current that flows south through the Taiwan Straits. While we'd only recently added a depthsounder that also gives the water temperature, we quickly realized its value in navigation.

Within a few hours of entering the channel, we felt the cold north wind funneling through the Taiwan Straits, and saw the approach of big black clouds. We quickly added layers of clothing, battened the hatches, and switched to hot chocolate to ward off the chill. As the wind and seas built, the fog rolled in, and the shipping increased tenfold! We saw container ships, cargo ships, cruise ships, and a kazillion different types of fishing vessels zigzagging in unpredictable ways. We relied on our hand-bearing compass to help us track the positions of ships on the horizon. Noting the bearing of a ship helped us to determine its heading sooner than we could have with our naked eye, and it prevented us from being fooled by optical illusions created by our bouncing around in the seas.

At one point we counted 26 lights on the horizon, and had to resort to triage, reacting to only the most immediate threats. Once a ship got close, we'd make whatever evasive maneuvers were needed. But as the fog closed in, we had less than two miles of visibility to go along with the gale force winds and boisterous seas. Keeping track of all the shipping while being tossed around in such seas was challenging. Bioluminescence made each breaking wave look, out of the corner of our eyes, like another ship until the moon rose. The fishing boats were so brightly lit that they made container ship lights seem dim.

The huge container ships are fast, and would suddenly appear out of the fog barrelling down on us at 20 knots or more, giving us little time to react. As each of these huge hulks of steel passed within a half mile, we'd breathe a sigh of relief that we hadn't gotten creamed. But the relief was short, as another ship would soon appear to occupy our attention.

After two very long days and nights, the wind and waves abated, the shipping traffic dropped, and we saw fewer fishing boats. Because of the fog, we didn't spot the high rocky islets around Hong Kong until we were fairly close. By that time there weren't so many container ships, but there were more ferries and tugs towing small container barges. As we slowly sailed through uninhabited islands in the mist, Garth tried to figure out why the engine kept dying. It turned out to be a clogged fuel intake line. Garth was completing the repair while we were in a narrow channel, when a trawler, which had been sitting still, suddenly began to motor in an erratic fashion in front of us, giving us one last scare.

The last boat we saw before entering Hong Kong Harbor looked like a racing sailboat. Finally, a vessel that couldn't kill us! Once into the bay, we were greeted by the sight of hundreds of private yachts on moorings - a boating mecca. The visibility was still fairly poor, so we could barely make out Hong Kong's majestic skyline, but what we could see was impressive enough. Before long, we'd safely come alongside a fancy new dock at a fine yacht club. In contrast to the hovering officials of Saipan, who couldn't even wait for us to finish tying the docklines before beginning the paperwork, the Hong Kong officials gave us 24 hours to check in at their offices.

It was hard work to get here from Saipan, but we think we're going to have a great time exploring this exciting place.

- wendy & garth 05/18/06

Swell - Cal 40
Liz Clark
The Surf Safari Under Sail
(Santa Barbara)

On our last morning in Zihua, I turned the engine over to warm her up, and it sounded like a garbage disposal rumbling beneath my feet. I immediately shut her down and ripped off the cover to assess the damage. I must have lodged the throttle cable between the cover and the alternator during my previous night's midnight engine maintenance routine. The cable was a bit mangled, but still functional, so I zip-tied it to the exhaust to prevent it from happening again. But I managed to change the oil and flush the cooling system, and we even found a place to recycle the used stuff.

There's a lot I don't know about sailing, including flying the spinnaker. I'd had a pole put on the boat in Oxnard before I left, but never got a chance to use it. As such, it's remained attached to the mast ever since, and almost seems to mock me, like a cocky opponent before a game of one-on-one. When the wind went so far aft that the main was blanketing the headsail, I knew it was time to confront my nemesis. The wind was blowing 18 to 20 knots, and we were doing 7 knots under main alone. Nonetheless, I slowly talked myself through the process of setting up the pole, and once satisfied all was right, slowly unrolled the headsail - and took off! I shrieked with joy as we flew downwind, as I know a Cal 40 like Swell is supposed to do. We hit 10.8 knots! It was a beautiful moment, and I felt one step closer to being a real sailor. Having become comfortable with the pole, my next challenge will be flying the spinnaker.

Snags (Shannon) and I celebrated our achievement with a feast of leftover vegetable curry, sailing wing-on-wing until after midnight when the wind faded. With Shannon on watch, I tried to sleep, but it wasn't easy because the air was so hot and thick. My skin was so clammy that I felt like a glazed donut and stuck to my already damp sheet like a popsicle stick. After lots of tossing and turning, I was lured up on deck by the sound of sails slatting in the wind.

"There's an electrical storm that's kinda close," Snags casually remarked. Just then a bolt of lightning ripped across the sky, with thunder right behind. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" I nearly peed my pants from fright! The bolt had been so close that we struck the sails and revved up the engine. I'd considered some kind of lightning protection near the end of Swell's retrofit, and my friend James had repeatedly pressed me to do the job. But it would have taken another two weeks and $2,000, and at that point I wasn't mentally or financially in a position to do it. So I poo-pooed the idea of being hit by lightning. But now the lightning was so close and frequent that it seemed like a strobe in a nightclub. It would be just my luck to be hit after telling James I wasn't worried. I could see the shape of the storm chasing after us on the radar. At one point it looked like the jaws of a crocodile gaping towards us, and each bolt sent me cringing into an ulcer-inducing ball of stress. Hours later the storm finally moved further out to sea. Damn lightning!

The next thing I knew, Shannon was standing over me in the darkness of the cabin. I could sense her panic by the way she said my name. I sprang from my bunk once again, but this time there was a different danger -a large military ship was bearing down on us! Shannon had waited a bit too long to wake me, and as I shook the sleepy daze from my eyes, I realized that the ship was less than half a mile away. I panicked. So despite not knowing which way the ship was headed, I spun the wheel 90 degrees to port. As I called to Shannon to switch on our strobe and fumbled with the VHF mike, a spotlight shone down on us from high above. I realized that in my panic I'd turned toward the ship! Once I could I make out the dark flank of the ship's port side, I knew we were clear of its path, but Shannon and I were both shaken. Until then I'd been amazed - and almost frightened - by her lack of fear. But this time I saw it in her eyes. She vowed that from then on, she'd wake me at the first inkling of a problem.

The next night was more serene, so I sat on the bow by myself, thinking about how much I'd changed since sailing away from San Diego on January 30. I was more confident, more content, and emotionally more stable. I thought about all the people who had helped me realize my dream - Barry, Marty, my parents, and perfect strangers who had seen the determination and lust in my eyes. I thought about how hard I'd worked and how exhausted I'd been. But I also thought about my father having worked so hard for the last 15 years, still having not achieved his dream, which is to improve the way cancer patients are treated. I began to feel some guilt at having been able to realize my dream while others hadn't yet been able to realize theirs. I wanted everyone to be able to feel the joy that I was feeling. Then what looked like torpedos outlined in the phosphoresence rocketed toward Swell's bow from the starboard quarter, shattering my moment of introspection. Dolphins! They were my magical company for half an hour, washing away the guilt that had started to come over me.

Fifty-two hours out of Zihua, we tidied up the boat to look smart when pulling into Puerto Escondido. This is really two little towns divided by a pile of surf-beaten rocks. Regular tourists from all over the world come to enjoy the calm waters of one side of the bay, while surfers from all over the world come to challenge themselves in the violent surf on the other side of the bay. The 'Mexican Pipeline' is not for novices or the faint of heart, for when the thick lip of the wave pitches forward onto the flats, riders can be smashed into the sand, their boards broken in half, their confidence shattered. I'd surfed Puerto Escondido before, and with the knowledge of an approaching swell, was both excited and frightened.

After a childlike afternoon of playing in the street with a group of youngsters, and then hosting an ice cream party for them, everything was different the next morning. I was on a mission to ride the barrels of the Mexican Pipeline. For after surfing for 10 years, riding inside of barrels was one element of the sport that I had yet to master. I would joke with my surf buddies that I was on the 'Dodgers' - the 'Barrel Dodgers'. That's because I would somehow always find myself in the wrong part of the wave to get inside the tube. So for some time I'd been hell-bent on the idea of retiring my dodger jersey, and Puerto Escondido was the place to do it. Such an attempt was not without risks, as I knew that I could get caught up in the lip of a monster, feather helplessly for a few seconds, and be subjected to some severe punishment.

For example, my friend Nicole and I always made fun of the word 'undertow', believing it to be the comical name for what was really just a rip current. But after a couple of days at Puerto Escondido, I was a believer in undertow. For when I tried to dive beneath a 10-foot wall of whitewater - as I normally would on my way to the beach - I would end up in currents that left me feeling as though I were an ant that had fallen into a jacuzzi. A quicker and safer way to get ashore turned out to be jumping up into the wall of whitewater and letting it 'rag doll' me to shore.

Puerto Escondido turned out to be the place where Shannon, just 22, found her surfing niche. She's such a strong swimmer that despite only two years of surfing, she felt relaxed in the huge waves. One big afternoon, Pablo lent her his 7'6" pintail rhino chaser. I'd been biting my nails off in the internet café, and emerged into the bright mid-afternoon sun to see what the waves were doing. Just then a big set loomed on the horizon. One of the visiting pros picked off the first wave, but there was a second bigger wave further out. Pablo and I looked to see who would snag it. To our utter disbelief, we saw that it was Shannon dropping down the face! "That's Shannon!" I screamed when she made the drop. Pablo and I went into hysterical yelps and hoots, and waited on the shore where the board had washed in. When Snags made it to the beach, there were high-fives and big smiles. I was so proud of her!

I'm not sure if Shannon really understood what she'd done. Not only would many girls who have surfed all their lives have stayed on the beach that afternoon, but Shannon had gone out and caught one of the largest waves of the day. Amazing! Pablo was so impressed that he gave her the rhino chaser. Don't be surprised if someday you see Shannon's name on the roster for the K2 Big Wave Challenge. I'm sorry Alan and Vicki, but I swear I didn't have anything to do with it. Your daughter is a natural born charger.

The swell picked up on April 28, my 26th birthday. I almost reluctantly trudged down the beach to the lifeguard tower that served as our base. I was tired of feeling like a gladiator in death-match surfing. I just wanted to do some turns. After a bit of internal pouting, I waited for what looked like a break between waves and stroked madly for the horizon. I made it outside to the crowd of flashy pros and a local with big cajones, and attempted to pull into a few of the mid-sized waves. I finally came to the realization that just because it was my birthday, I wasn't going to get the barrel that would allow me to officially retire my 'dodger' jersey. But just then, what seemed like a black wall rose up to my right. The mass of water shifted towards me, and everyone else was too deep. I was afraid, but I knew the wave had perfect shape, and that I had to go for it.

I paddled hard down the face, and hopped to my feet. When I realized that I was going to make it, but still had nearly eight feet more to go down the face, I let out a yell so loud and guttural that everyone on the beach turned to see what it was all about. I'm not sure why I screamed - for joy, fear, and relief, I suppose. Although I was nowhere near being in the barrel, I still came back up the beach like a proud warrior. For the rest of the day, I was pointed out and laughed at by other surfers, or had people tell me they'd seen my wave and could hear my yell halfway down the beach. I didn't care, because it had felt good to me.

The second half of my birthday included some surfing at a remote rivermouth point with four friends, followed by a pallet of sushi to top off the night. "Twenty-six years old," I repeated to myself to get used to the thought. It didn't scare me. It was like any other day. And lately, every day has seemed like my birthday.

- liz 05/15/06

Cruise Notes:

"I'd like everyone to know that Jean Nicca has left Puerto Vallarta aboard his Passport 42 Peregrine, and plans to sail beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on the morning of August 19 - to celebrate both his 70th birthday and the completion of his 15-year, mostly singlehanded, circumnavigation!" reports Richard Owens of Mill Valley. "I'll be out to greet him aboard the Olson 40 Spellbound, and hope others will join me. I'm sure he'll have a million stories that will be of interest to sailors such as myself, who will be taking off in October. I'll provide updates in 'Lectronic as Jean's ETA draws closer.

"We're working on a Hints for Mexico Cruisers article for the September issue," report Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack, who will be doing their second Ha-Ha this fall aboard their Valiant 50 Raptor Dance. "Our article should expand on the one you published last year by our friends Bruce and Nora Slayden, who then owned the Sisters, Oregon-based Island Packet 485 Jamboree. They subsequently purchased the Gunboat 48 catamaran Looking For Elvis, which they are now selling because they bought a Gunboat 62 catamaran."

If seems that your friends have 'gone over to the dark side' in a big way. While in St. Barth last New Year's, we became friends with a fellow named Tom, who is a very enthusiastic small boat sailor and pub owner in Galway, Ireland. Like the Slaydens, Tom and his brothers were about to buy a Gunboat 48 cat, but then ended up buying the used Gunboat 62 Safari. These South African-built Morrelli & Melvin designed cats are very high tech - but sure are expensive! Folks who have sailed on both tell us the 62 is a very high-powered machine, but the 48 really gets the adrenaline pumping for a cruising boat. For many folks, it might be too much of a good thing.

"During our crossing of the Mediterranean from Port Suez, Egypt, to Marmaris, Turkey, we were joined by a new crewmember," report 2000 Ha-Ha vets Gene and Sue Osier of the Newport Beach-based Serendipity 43 Peregrine. "Our crossing happened to coincide with the annual bird migration from Africa to Europe, and during the 25 to 30-knot winds on the nose, it quickly became apparent that we weren't the only ones taking a beating, as we had several birds land on our boat. Among them were one or more European kestrels, doves, swallows, and collared flycatchers. They were all exhausted. We tried not to scare them, but our frequent 'pop-ups' from belowdecks to scan for ships seemed to spook them. Although we very much wanted to offer them sanctuary, one by one they left the safety of our boat. When they lifted off, the wind just blew them away into the darkness, which really upset us. However, one yellow wigtail did stay with us for three days, and he was a huge source of enjoyment. His internal navigation system seemed to work on our boat as well as in the air, because he was very content to stay on his two-star, free-meal cruise ship. Wagtails are flycatchers, and we hadn't provisioned for bug-eating crew, so we made scrambled eggs for him twice a day. He loved them! We also put out water and crumbled bread-sticks. The first day, he flew down the hatch and landed on Gene's shoulder. He watched intently as we did various chores, and he perched next to or on us while we were out in the cockpit. It was incredible! About five miles out of Marmaris on Day Three, Kato gave Gene a "cheep, cheep", and flew toward land. Sue was below and missed the farewell. He had a cross breeze of about 20 knots, which wasn't a big deal, so we know he made it ashore safely. Besides, he was strong from having eaten a Herculean breakfast that morning. For just as the sun came up, there was a break in the wind and we sailed into a big flock of moths. Kato would fly off the boat, grab a moth, and bring it back to the boat for de-winging and devouring. He must have eaten eight of them. Then he finished his eggs! We couldn't believe that anything so small could eat so much. Kato's visit was a wonderful start to our Turkish adventures."

A bird eating scrambled eggs . . . doesn't that qualify as some form of cannibalism?

"We learned some interesting things doing the Baja Bash this year," write Doug and Jo Leavitt of the San Francisco-based Jeanneau 43 Jenny, a vet of last year's Ha-Ha. First, we found Gregorio Vidal Sanchez, the Port Captain at Man-O-War Cove inside Mag Bay, to be a very helpful guy. He came out to our boat in his panga to check us in and to see if we needed anything. We only needed a little diesel, but he brought that out to our boat for 6.5 pesos/litre. It was a very different situation in Turtle Bay, where guys on two different pangas tried to sell us diesel before we could even get our hook down. They both wanted 6.8 pesos/litre, but neither of them was especially friendly. Instead of using them, we took a couple of jerry jugs to the Pemex station, where we were told about Services Annabel, a fuel service for boats. A half hour after contacting them on channel 14, they were alongside our boat. Not only was the guy very friendly, but his fuel boat/barge had both filters and a meter - neither of which could be found on the pangas. In addition, his boat was rigged with very large fenders. His price was only 6.18 pesos/litre, just one peso a liter more than at the Pemex station. On top of the excellent service, attitude, and fuel pumping capability, he took our personal check! As you know, there's no bank in Turtle Bay and nobody takes credit cards, so if you're short of cash, finding a guy who takes checks is a godsend."

"Here in Ensenada," the Leavitts continue, "there's a guy who sometimes works at Bandido's Marina and convinces cruisers that they can't anchor wherever they've anchored in the harbor. Then he tries to rent them a mooring for $15/night or a berth for $20/night. We got one of the moorings for free. We were later told that this guy stiffs his father-in-law, who owns the marina, when he rents out boat slips. His father-in-law is confined to a wheelchair, the victim of a stroke, so the son-in-law isn't our favorite person. Nonetheless, in the seven months we spent in Mexico, we have to say that most of the people we met were very friendly and extremely honest. It was a great experience, so we'll be going back in the fall for another year or two. We'll probably be involved in the SailFest fundraiser again. Jo chaired the auctions and raffles committee and read palms during the street fair this year. Doug just helped out with the auctions and made posters and banners. We look forward to seeing everyone in Zihua for next year's SailFest."

Thanks for the info. You can never tell what the deal is going to be with fuel in Turtle Bay, as it seems every other week Services Annabel is slapped with some kind of injunction that prohibits them from selling fuel. But a few weeks later, they'll be at it again. This dispute has been going on for years. By the way, it's interesting to here you'll be going south again this fall. You're about the tenth couple that has told us they are just returning to California for a few months before heading back to Mexico.

Connie Sunlover reports that Mexico's President Vicente Fox, accompanied by the Governor of Baja California Sur and representatives from SCT, Semarnap, and Fonatur, came to Puerto Escondido in June for the opening ceremonies for the newly-assembled Travel-Lift, as well as the fuel dock and Singlar's other new marine facilities. Fox told the audience that the idea behind the new facilities at Puerto Escondido and other 'nautical stairway' marinas is to stimulate local tourism without harming the environment or diluting the local culture. When Governor Narciso Abundez asked Fox to help Baja because of the failing salt mines and the demise of Aero California Airlines, the president told him that people need to help themselves, but if they did, then maybe the government could help. As for Aero California, Fox said that the Mexican government would not risk the life of a single tourist by allowing unsafe planes to carry passengers. He suggested that the locals try to attract air service from other carriers.

Antonio Cevallos of Marina Mazatlan reports that Singlar, which is associated with Fonatur, the Mexican government's tourism development agency, has also installed a Travel-Lift at their new boatyard in Mazatlan. Officials hope to have that yard in operation by November of this year. Cevallos also reports that Marina Mazatlan's summer occupancy rate is way up over last year, and they are already getting a lot of calls from Ha-Ha boats about slips for this winter.

As reported last month, the Mexican government is rapidly completing development of marine facilities at 10 locations from San Felipe in the north to San Blas in the south. Most are going to offer fuel, repair facilities, dry storage, and other services. There will also be a total of just over 200 berths at the 10 facilities, which are located at San Felipe, Puerto Penasco, Santos Coronados, Santa Rosaliita, Santa Rosalia, Guaymas, Puerto Escondido, Topolobambo, La Paz, Mazatlan, and San Blas. The good news for folks who care about the environment is that the massive original project was scaled down to the point where facilities have almost exclusively been added at locations that already had them. However, we're still puzzled as to why the Mexican government wanted to get into the marina and boat repair business, and wonder how much luck they will eventually have in selling them off to private business interests.

As we're sure all of you know, Mexico's presidential election was extremely close last month, with the center-right candidate Felipe Calderon nipping the inflammatory populist Andres Lopez Obrador by the slimmest of margins. As it stands now, the electoral board hasn't confirmed Calderon as the winner, but when they do, Obrador has promised civil disobedience. It's going to be interesting, as Mexico is as badly divided internally as are both the United States and Canada. In Mexico, the dividing lines are between the more affluent in the north and the terribly poor in the south. What surprised us is that the many international observers said the election was both extremely transparent and fair. In fact, Mexico's electoral process is being held up as an example to the world!

Susan Meckley of the Alameda-based Challenger 32 Dharma, who in her 70s singlehanded from Mexico to Hawaii, isn't slowing down. In fact, at last word she was 1,000 miles into the delivery of a Hunter 420 from Alameda to Pearl Harbor. "I'm enjoying wonderful trades here at 19° north," she reported. "I picked up a bundle of Latitudes from the West Marine store in Oakland, and will be delivering them to the Marshall Islands when I sail there with Dharma."

We want to thank Susan for her help - but even more so for her inspiration. Nonetheless, we'd like Susan - and everyone else in the world - to know that complete issues of Latitude, in magazine form, are now available for downloading from the internet. And the photos look spectacular! Just visit and follow the instructions.

"Yes, change is in the air," reports Nancy Tompkins of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl. "Just when I thought our repainted and totally tuned up boat was ready to leave New Zealand to cruise the South Pacific again, the catamaran delivery is on. We're to deliver Zephurous, a 46-ft by 24-ft high performance catamaran from New Zealand to Japan. We'll do it in two legs. First, New Zealand to New Caledonia, where we'll leave the boat for several months until the seasons change. Then once conditions allow it, we'll continue on from New Caledonia to Japan. It looks like we'll have our Thula Mama friends Dave and Anna Fourie, who have a lot of cat experience, along as crew. Once we get Zephurous secured in New Caledonia, we'll fly back to New Zealand and pick up Flashgirl for some cruising to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, and, if there is enough time, Vanuatu. We'll then leave Flashgirl in New Caledonia at the end of the year while we deliver Zephurous to Japan. Right now my husband Commodore is in his element, running around dealing with the enormity of it all."

We're a little amused that our friend Commodore is going to do a long ocean delivery aboard a catamaran. After all, he once did a Baja Bash with Profligate for us, after which he wrote a single-spaced, multi-page letter explaining why we needed to sell our beloved cat, a boat we have no intention of ever parting with. Indeed, Commodore is playing with fire doing such a delivery, as once women experience cruising on a cat, they rarely want to go back to what they'd been used to.

As usual, José Miguel Díaz Escrich, our buddy and Commodore of the Hemingway International YC in Cuba, sent pleasant Fourth of July wishes to members of the American Boating Community: "On behalf of the Hemingway International YC of Cuba and myself, I would like to send the most sincere congratulations to all the members of the American boating community on this Independence Day. This is a great opportunity to wish everlasting peace, love, prosperity and well-being to all the people of the United States, and express our joy and pride in the friendly and collaborative relations with the American boating community."

Thank you, Jose. We have nothing but good wishes for you and all the wonderful people of Cuba.

"Having left San Francisco in April, we're now in French Polynesia bound for New Zealand with this year's group of Puddle Jumpers," report Steve and Valerie Saul of the San Francisco-based Waterline 45 Kaien. "We'd like to pass along good reports on two businesses here. The first is Dominique Goche's Raiatea Carenage, a Latitude advertiser. Our windlass went on strike off nearby Huahine, and after winching 160 feet of 3/8" chain and a 66-lb CQR in by hand, we thought it would be best if we got it repaired. And since we needed some other work done, we hauled at Raiatea Carenage. After testing the windlass several times, it was determined that the 15-year old motor was shot. Nonetheless, Dominique took time from his hectic schedule to personally disassemble and re-insulate the motor, which has been running fine ever since. While doing the work in his shop, he managed to take calls on his cell phone so he could still run the boatyard while rebuilding our motor! It would have been easier for him if he'd told us that we needed to order a new motor, but that would have wasted a lot of our time and money. In addition, his staff of mechanics, electricians, painters, and yard workers were experienced and friendly, and quickly got us back in the water so we could continue our voyage. We'd also like to highly recommend the Taravana YC at Apu Bay on Tahaa. The proprietors, Maui and his two dogs, are more than welcoming to cruising boats, and offer mooring balls in the deep anchorage, water on the dock, and internet and laundry services. Plus, their restaurant served us the best meal we've had in the past four months! The place has a laid back setting, but is just four miles across the lagoon from good provisioning on Raiatea. We liked the Taravana YC so much that we delayed our departure for Bora Bora!

We recently learned that Liz Clark, who is doing an extended surfing safari under sail aboard her Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell, met her crew, Shannon Switzer, through Latitude. We wrote a piece about Clark's preparations some 18 months ago, noting that she was open to finding crew, preferably female. Shannon's father, a longtime Latitude reader who lives in Vista, forwarded the news to his 22-year-old daughter who was in Australia. When Shannon returned to the States, she and Liz - who are both graduates of UCSB - spent some time together and seemed to get on. So when it came time for Liz to leave San Diego in late January for Mexico, Shannon was her crew. There's never any way of knowing how crew combos will work out, but Liz and Shannon apparently made a great team. In fact, once the rainy season is over in Costa Rica, it's likely they'll do some additional sailing and surfing together.

Shannon tells us that one of the best things that happened to them was meeting a couple of guys, also in their early 20s, and also on a surfing safari under sail. The two are Scott Atkins, the captain and owner of the San Diego-based Tayana 37 Avventura, and his cousin Ryan Forester of Rock Hill, South Carolina. "Liz and I had heard about these guys all the way down the coast from older cruisers, who correctly thought we'd be excited to meet some guy cruisers our age. Scott and Ryan are characters and a half. Liz and I were so stoked to have some comrades to explore surf spots with, so Team Swell and Team Avventura would roar around the islands and along the coast in our respective dinghies in search of new breaks. We scored one right point between two islands that was fun and deserted. After the swell died a little, Liz and I decided it was time to get going. The boys came with us, and we did a sail by of Witches Rock, a surf spot made famous in the Endless Summer. We anchored there for a quick morning session with not another soul around, and then continued on our merry ways, Avventura heading for Playa del Coco, and Swell heading to a summer on the hard at Puntarenas."

As for Atkins, he says, "From what Liz has told us, our general plans seem to be pretty similar. We'll cruise Costa Rica and Panama for the rest of this year before heading to Ecuador. Next spring we'll head to the Galapagos and then the Marquesas. From there we will cruise through the South Pacific, and spend the tropical cyclone season in either New Zealand or Australia. From there our plans are a little hazy, but should include Indonesia, the Maldives and Seychelles, Madagascar, and South Africa, then up to the Caribbean and ultimately back to California. We're currently at Bahia Herradura, Costa Rica."

Having been young once ourselves, we can appreciate that cruisers under 30 really get a kick out of bumping into and hanging with other cruisers under 30. So if you fit into that category, why don't you let us know so that we can try to put you in contact with some of your cruising contemporaries?

"We're once again trying to sail across the Pacific to the Marquesas," report Candace Cave and Richard Guches of the Medford, Oregon-based Fantasia 35 Avaiki, "and hope to be able to stop at Isla del Coco and the Galapagos along the way. However, right now we are anchored at Bahia Ballena, which is at the entrance to the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica, waiting for a weather window. While here, we were much surprised to discover that someone in the village has wifi, and that we were able to pick up the signal with our new little wifi antenna. Whoo-whee, surfin' the web from the boat! We'd also like to report that Honey Heart is still bringing her wonderful, mobile, organic food store to the restaurant by the fish pier here at Bahia Ballena every Saturday morning. The produce is incredibly fresh and bountiful, and there's whole wheat pasta, bread, chocolate, and lots of other goodies. Honey is as warm and welcoming as ever. Her husband, who started the Heart Invertor Company and later sold it, has a new invention that he claims is going to allow alternative energy sources to plug into the power grid without overloading it. Apparently that's the reason why the big wind turbines by Palm Springs are turned off so often. Anyway, these new devices are ready for production as soon as some venture capital can be located to produce them. It's very exciting."

Sam Walker recently brought his new-to-him Catana 431 Today from Costa Rica, where he purchased her, to California. Having been successful in the restaurant and most recently brewery business at Mammoth, he will keep the cat behind his home on the water on the Napa River this summer, and later on at a mooring behind his house at Orcas Island. What's unusual about his 431 is that she's got a Catana 471 mast - as is the case with the late John Walton's Catana 431 Bright Star. Walker's 431 brings the number of Catana 431s on the Bay to three, the others being Jitterbug and Paul Biery's New Focus. Biery has already put 24,000 ocean miles on his.

We were pleased to receive the following note from Jeff and Debbie Hartjoy of the Longbranch, WA-based Baba 40 ketch Sailor's Run:

"After doing the Ha-Ha and then cruising in the Pacific for seven years, we're back in the Bay Area. But we've already sent in for our Ha-Ha packet and will be seeing you in San Diego!"

Wait until you folks meet the Hartjoys, two of the most energetic cruisers ever.

"Because Panama Canal officials no longer allow yachts to stop at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club at Miraflores Lake inside the Panama Canal, the club is almost defunct," write Craig Owings and Sarah Terry of the CSY 44 Pogo II. "As a result, our incomes have fallen to the point that we can no longer afford to pay to have the Latitudes you have so generously provided over the years shipped to Panama for distribution. It will be a loss for the folks used to reading Latitude in Panama, but that's the way it goes. Thanks for all your support over the years, and we hope you'll stop by the next time you're about to transit the Canal."

We're really sorry to hear about the state of affairs at the Pedro Miguel Boat Club, which was one of the most unusual and historic cruiser hangouts in the world. Off the top of our heads, we can't remember a better facility for international cruisers to stop for a few months to work on their boats and socialize. What's even worse is that it comes only several years after the Balboa YC - surely one of the most bizarre yacht clubs in the world - burned to the ground. They don't make them like the Pedro Miguel or the old Balboa YC anymore. But there's good news. As we've been mentioning, you and all the rest of the folks in Panama can read and/or download complete issues of Latitude every month by going to and following the instructions. It looks way better than the print issues do, and nobody will ever have to go without.

"After nine months based out of Guatemala's Rio Dulce, and getting to know every part of that region, J.R. and and I decided it was time to move on," reports Lupe Dipp Reyes of the Puerto Vallarta-based Catana 47 Moon And The Stars. "We had four guests along as crew: Danny and Kathy of the Swan 55 Swan Fun, who keep their boat in front of my house in Puerto Vallarta, and my son Pollo and his girlfriend Marce. Cruisers check out of Guatemala at Livingston, where officials now charge $10/person to leave the country. After paying up, we had lunch, and noticed that there were people of many races and from all over the world. Livingston is very much a Caribbean port, but unfortunately, it's dirty and the inexpensive food was terrible. Once we went through town to visit Immigration, Treasury, and the Port Captain, we had our stamped documents that allowed us to take off for Utila, Honduras.

"It gives me no pleasure to report that Utila is a very dangerous place with lots of thieves," continues Lupe. "The boat next to ours was cleaned out in a second, so from them on we had to take turns watching each other's boats to make sure they weren't robbed. We tried to check in at Utila, but after being given the run around three times, we learned we couldn't check in until we got to Roatan. After charging us $20 to check in there, the official wanted to keep our passports. No way was I going to let him do that! Roatan is very poor and dirty, and we didn't care for the attitude of the locals. We ordered dinner at Mario's on the beach. The view was lovely but the food was terrible. Once again we had to be alert, as every tree had a sign that read, 'Beware Of The Thieves'. Can you imagine? However, the color of the water around Roatan is spectacular! No wonder the television series Fantasy Island was filmed here.

"We were anchored in eight feet of water off Roatan, and had enjoyed excellent weather - until that night. The wind kicked up to 45 knots and it got uncomfortable. We were all watching a movie in the salon when J.R. noticed that we were dragging. So we got to re-anchor in 45 knots of wind. It was pretty exciting because we had boats in front of us and a reef behind us. Since the island wasn't so spectacular we continued on to Colombia's Isla Providencia, where our luck changed for the better. We were given a wonderful welcome at Providencia by Mr. Bush, the Port Captain, and loved the way we were treated by everyone else. One nice thing about the island is that they've prohibited big hotels and chain hotels, which has kept it pristine. We visited the whole island - it's not that big - and enjoyed a huge meal. Our next stop was Isla San Andreas, which has duty-free shops at every corner."

"We'd had very bad weather - five days of 25 to 40 knots and two tropical storms - on our way from Honduras to Providencia. But all the way from there to Panama, the weather was beautiful - we loved it! Our cat is now berthed at a marina in the Boca del Toro region of Panama. We don't like staying in marinas, but when we have to leave her for hurricane season, we have no choice. We'll come through the Panama Canal next year. I absolutely love being on our boat on the ocean!"

"We're in Horta in the Azores, but can no longer find the Big O painting on the wall," report John and Amanda Neal aboard Planet Earth-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. "Maybe it faded away or got painted over. There are lots of cruisers here, so it's a good thing 120 berths have been added. We had a very smooth and easy 14-day, 20-hour passage from Jost van Dyke in the British Virgins to Flores in the Azores, and are now enjoying a 13-day break in Horta. We're taking our folding bikes on the ferry over to Pico on Sunday for a three-day, 70-mile attempt at circumnavigating the island by bike. It should be a great adventure! Our next leg is to Ireland, and we should arrive in Kinsale around August 11."

All you cruisers out there, don't forget to drop us a note - we love hearing from you, and make sure to include some high-res photographs.

We hope you're enjoying your summer sailing. We'll be in Southern California next month, so look for us down there.

Top / Subscriptions / Classifieds / Home

©2006 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.