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August 2007

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With reports this month from Gaia on cruising without a generator; from Mahina Tiare at latitude 80; from Iwa on new clearing regulations in Ecuador; from Cadence on good times and bad in the Philippines; from Radio Flyer on how easy it is to do a Canal transit; and an extra big helping of Cruise Notes.

Gaia — Morgan 38
William and Soon Gloege
Alternative Energy Sources
(Santa Maria)

After 11 years of cruising the Pacific and Caribbean, we still wonder why some cruisers insist on carrying gas or diesel generators. These machines are smoky and noisy, and disturb both their owners and the people on boats nearby. In addition, we find that trips to shore to buy fuel steal precious time and money, and it's a hassle to cart fuel containers around.

We've found that three solar panels, plus our KISS wind generator, allow us to be at anchor almost indefinitely without having to run our engine to charge the batteries. It's true, during a streak of cloudy days with no wind while at anchor off Trinidad, our batteries ran low, so after a week we had to start the engine to charge them.

Our three 75-watt solar panels are the greatest gift. There's no oil to change, no parts to break — no sweat. These wonderful inventions just go to work at sun-up each day, and do their job, day in, day out. If we're feeling particularly ambitious, we might wipe them off once a month.

The wind generator takes a bit more TLC. On rare occasions it's been overpowered by strong winds and had to free wheel. This means it was spinning very fast, but couldn't generate any power. But we can switch it off to avoid this problem. Our wind generator is also quieter than most people would expect. One time a fellow cruiser came aboard and asked us to turn the wind generator on so he could see how noisy it was. As he sat under our bimini, directly beneath the wind generator, I had to tell him that it was already on!

How much power do our alternative energy sources provide? Enough to power our watermaker, refrigerator, lights, SSB and VHF radios, television, computer, and even an inverter for some 110-volt use.

Sailing north and south in the Caribbean since '00, where the easterlies blow fresh almost all the time, these alternative energy sources have enabled us to live a full life with a very small carbon footprint. So many people from First World countries seem to think we have to be tied to fossil fuel machines, despite all their drawbacks. We, on the other hand, believe that life is not only possible, but even better, when based on wind and solar power.

— william and soon 06/15/07

Mahina Tiare — Hallberg-Rassy 46
John and Amanda Neal
Spitsbergen, Norway
(Friday Harbor, WA)

Our crew for the second leg of this summer's Mahina Expedition joined us in Bergen, Norway, on June 19, and shortly thereafter we set sail north for the island of Spitsbergen. For those of you without a globe, Spitsbergen is located between the Barents Sea, the Arctic Sea and the Greenland Sea, and its northern tip crosses 80°N. Since the highest you can go on this planet is 90°N, and since there are 60 miles in a degree, it means that the northern tip of Spitsbergen is just under 600 miles from Santa's pad at the North Pole. Our goal was to see 80°N on our GPS.

You might think there wouldn't be many ships and yachts at such high latitudes, but you'd be wrong. For instance, when we got to Longyearbyen, the New York City of Spitsbergen, we had to pay $35 to tie off the T-pier, and would have had to pay the same for a dinghy float. That's pretty high, and it's because 75 expedition ships come up here for the short summer, and 50 more private yachts were expected in the next two months. When we visited in '01, there had been only 15 private yachts, so that's an increase of more than 300% in just six years. No wonder Longyearbyen now has a fuel dock, whereas we previously had to go through the tedious process of lugging jerry jugs of diesel to the boat.

Prior to reaching Spitsbergen, we stopped at the remote island of Bjornya. Despite the fact the 10-mile by 10-mile island is at 74°N, an extension of the Gulfstream — the same one that flows past South Beach — splits its way around its rocky shore, The last time we were there the contrary current flowed at several knots, there was dense fog and whirlpools, and a confused swell pounded into the cliffs. This time the weather was so nice that we anchored, and that evening we were invited ashore by Eivend, a jolly meteorologist and fix-it man from Stavanger, Norway. He explained that nine people are stationed on the island and are rotated out at six-month intervals. But they have plenty of work to do, including launching weather balloons twice a day, maintaining the buildings and equipment, and sending weather reports to Oslo. He told us that three years before, when the ice was thick, a total of 238 polar bears had been sighted. That's why they don't go anywhere unarmed or without huskies for use as bear alarms. The Germans had a weather station here during World War II, so we hiked to the sight where a Junker bomber had crashed.

Since the weather was fine and it never gets dark at this time of year, we set sail again that evening in pleasant reaching conditions. There was plenty of shipping to be seen, a Polish research vessel; several Russian trawlers; and two Norwegian Coast Guard vessels, one of them towing a Russian trawler that had been seized for illegal fishing. At midnight Alec Knowles, a 58-year-old who is planning an Atlantic circumnavigation, shouted "Land ho!" — and, sure enough, we soon saw the rugged mountainsides of Spitsbergen. Since we were broad reaching at seven knots in 17 knots of wind, it was lucky there wasn't too much fog or ice.

We spent a night at Hornsund, a harbor that was mostly free of ice. But as usual, it was blowing 20 knots, which dictated that one-hour anchor watches be stood through the night to fend off a couple of growlers. It would have been too wet to go ashore, so we headed to Gaashana on the south shore. As there were polar bears in the area, we issued cans of pepper spray and small flares to each member of the crew, and Ken stood watch with the rifle. After some exploring ashore, Pete Knowles, Alec's son, suggested a swim. Alec and John were game, so one by one they took the icy plunge. Invigorated, we headed further north, at which point the wind died and the ice began to increase. We finally had to send Amanda to the masthead to look for a path around the ice. She found it, allowing us to continue north.

Our 130-mile overnight passage took us to the previously mentioned Longyearbyen. While there, Stein Tore Peterson, who had granted us permission to visit Spitsbergen, offered us tea and made sure that we understood the rules for going ashore. Rule 1: Always carry our rented 30.06 rifle and flares, and don't disturb anything, living or dead. During a visit to the village, we found several trendy new outdoor supply shops, fur stores, a thriving supermarket, new housing, and loads of tourists from a recently docked cruise ship. It's true, there is almost nowhere on the oceans of the world that you can escape cruise ships. After taking on $4/gallon diesel, we headed north in pursuit of our goal. At noon the following day we hoped to do a photo shoot of Mahina Tiare under sail with a glacier in the background. There were just two problems — no wind and the fact that the ice had receded dramatically from six years ago.

We later went ashore at Magdalene Fjord, one of the few places in Spitsbergen where cruise ships are allowed to anchor and land tourists. We visited the Governor's hut, where two people are stationed for the summer to make sure the polar bears don't eat any more tourists like they did back in '77, and to keep the tourists from trampling on trappers' graves and such. The two people stationed there were Live and Cecilia, lovely young policewomen from Oslo. Freshly arrived at the remote outpost, they had been a little overwhelmed at the volume of tourists who had come ashore. Live was nice enough to show us on maps where polar bears had recently been sighted, lessening our fears that we'd be eaten. We tried to reciprocate by inviting them to take hot showers aboard Mahina Tiare. Typical Norwegians, they replied that since it was such a nice and sunny day, they preferred taking a swim in the 35° water.

Our next stop was the magical Sallyhamma anchorage on Spitsbergen's northwest corner. It looked just like it did six years before — no new Wal-Mart or anything — except for the fact there were a lot of bear tracks in the snow.

Our next goal was Moffen Island, 15 miles north of northwest Spitsbergen, which straddled our goal of 80°N. Unfortunately, we had 22 knots of wind on the nose and closely spaced seas on the nose. We decided to abandon our attempt to reach Moffen and just head straight for 80°N instead. And we made it. After a quick celebration, including putting on 'Tiare Arctic' flower leis, we headed south, having discovered that two batten pockets had ripped on the main. Amanda decided to remove the two battens, for, by tightening the Spectra leechline, we could still use the full main.
Having accomplished that goal, we headed south for Woodfjorden, when two Zodiac operators from a cruise ship said they'd seen polar bears. Amanda spotted a polar bear on the shore, so we motored in as close as we dared, dropped the hook in just eight feet of water, with 22-knot gusts keeping us off the beach. Ken Appleton, another member of the crew, thought he spotted another bear, but by the time he did, I'd decided that the strong northeast winds were pushing the main pack ice closer to the entrance of the fjord,. We had to move fast lest we get trapped for no telling how long. With the pressure on, we started raising the anchor, only to see that it was fouled by kelp. As Ken cleared the kelp, I checked the recently installed windlass — and discovered that it hadn't been properly tightened down, so it was pivoting on its bolts, pulling some wires loose! After 10 minutes in the forepeak with an opened-ended wrench, we were back in business.

Spotting another bear began to seem unlikely, as we spotted tons of people strolling on the island where we'd sighted them on our previous trip, and then had to keep clear of three inflatables full of people from a Russian expedition ship. Then, all of a sudden, an Aussie voice boomed over Channel 16: "Sailboat, if you want a bear, mate, there's one here, it's all yours as we're heading home." And there the polar bear was, trudging quickly along the ridge before stopping to take a look at us. Success!

We slogged to weather back to Woodfjord, then had a powerful broad reach back to Sallhamma in 30 knots of wind, arriving at 0300, totally exhausted. Alas, the anchor wouldn't hold in the gusty winds, so we tried glacier-lined Holmiab Bay. We got a shock when we bumped the bottom, but finally got the hook down in 26 feet. There was a snowstorm that night, so we awoke to find the decks covered with several inches of snow. Alec and Peter tried to clear the deck of snow using buckets of nearly freezing and barely salty water from the glacier.

With a forecast of deteriorating weather, we quickly headed south in 35 to 40-knot winds, stopping at Ymerbukta, hoping that we'd be able to handle the katabatic winds that come down off the mountains. Suddenly we had 'smoke on the water', which is when violent downdrafts blow clouds of water in the air, right before us. We hadn't seen this since Cape Horn back in '96. A 47-knot gust spun us 180 degrees. In freezing conditions, Amanda called for the crew to claw the main down "NOW!" We finally got the hook down, but the conditions required someone on the helm at all times, to steer Mahina Tiare into the wind as she veered back and forth in the gusts. Unable to relax, when the wind finally dropped to 15-20 knots, we headed back to Longyearbyen, arriving at 0300, once again exhausted.

We had other adventures on Leg Two, but that pretty much sums it up. Our other crew were Mark Bell, who has been with us three times, and Wayne Smith, 70, who plans to join Skip Novak on one of his Pelagic Expeditions around Cape Horn.

P.S. Shortly after we started Leg Three, we heard that the two lovely young policewomen back at Magdalene Fjords had their hut surrounded by five polar bears one night. In addition, a Dutch boat just back from the pack ice told us that the sea there was alive with seals and walruses, and that a polar bear on the ice had walked right up to their boat!

— john 07/05/07

Iwa — Tayana 37
Hermy and Jack Vogt
Ecuadorian Clearing Procedures
(San Diego)

There is new check-in procedure for Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, which in the last few years has become an increasingly popular place for cruisers to go to escape the summer heat, humidity, lightning and rain of Central America. A similar new procedure will apparently also be in effect in Salinas, Ecuador. In essence, Ecuador is starting to treat recreational boats as merchant vessels, and are therefore requiring they use a ship's agent to clear in.

Having completed a haul-out at Puerto Lucia YC in La Libertad, on June 15 we headed back to Bahia de Caraquez. As we were doing so, we received a disturbing email from Tripp Martin, owner of Puerto Amistad in Bahia. He said officials weren't letting boats in or out of Bahia until a ship agency could be established there. Martin was working with Naguala Ship Agency in the Galapagos to form a subsidiary agency in Bahia.

Fortunately, Alfredo, a friend who is from Bahia who owns the Saiananda Bed & Breakfast that also caters to cruisers, recommended that we sail to Manta instead and see Diego Reyes of the Blue Ocean Water Ship Agency. He assured us he could help. It was Diego who explained that all Ecuadorian ports are going through this change and that they are treating all foreign vessels as merchant vessels.

Blue Ocean's agency fee was $150, plus a couple of smaller fees. Once we were assured that using the agency would permit us to return to Bahia, we decided to go ahead with the paperwork. That same day, representatives of four agencies — Customs, Immigration, Health, and Port Captain — plus two people from Blue Ocean, showed up at the Manta YC to stamp and fill out the paperwork. There were five sets of 11 pages worth of documents that needed to be stamped and signed, one set for each of the representatives and one set for each boat. Bruce Balan of the Cross 45 trimaran Migracion went through the process at the same time that we did.

As it was Friday, we were told that we wouldn't be able to get our international zarpe until Monday. But after several phone calls, we managed to get it at 8 p.m. that evening. In the end, there was the $150 agency fee, $28 in fees for the authorities, and $4.42 for a zarpe. We were a bit surprised at the authority fee, as we were told that everything was to be included in the $150.

Once we had our zarpe in hand, we phoned Martin to arrange for a pilot on July 3. Before entering Bahia, we were told to call Costera (traffic control) on channel 16 to get permission to enter Bahia. They were very nice, said that we were in their computer system, and that we could come in. The pilot was on time. He charges $30 each for one boat, $25 each for two boats, and $20 each for three boats. He now has a VHF radio and monitors Channel 69. Once safely anchored, we had to be boarded by the navy for inspection before we could get off the boat. We were also instructed to report to the port captain's office the next day with copies of our paperwork, passports and documentation.

The only glitch the next morning was at the Port Captain's office, and that was because the Blue Ocean agency didn't personally call the Cabo Reyes traffic controller. One phone call to Cabo Reyes from Diego was all it took for him to check us in. The fees for checking into Bahia were $3.42 for the national zarpe and $13.14 for the provisional.
Once Tripp Martin gets the ship agency going in Bahia Caraquez, cruisers will be going through him to check in and out of Bahia. We still don't know how much his fee will be.

Blue Ocean tells us that the $150 we paid them includes their services for when we check out of Ecuador, and that the only additional fees at that time would be the international zarpe and possibly an immigration fee. We won't know for sure until we check out.

By the way, Saiananda just put in five moorings for cruisers and will be adding more. We're on one of them now, and all is muy tranquiilo.

— hermy and jack 07/05/07

Readers — Isn't that just the way it goes? As soon as something becomes halfway popular, a handful of government agencies want to step in, collect fees, and waste everyone's time with a bunch of paperwork that's just going to be thrown in a corner. When it comes to bureaucracy and cruising boats, Ecuador, bless its politically and economically troubled soul, seems to be headed backwards to the policies of Mexico in their bad old days. Let's hope Ecuadorian officials don't drive away a promising new source of revenue and interest in their country.

For more on Ecuador, see Cruise Notes.

Cadence — Apache 40 Cat
Frank Leon
Fear & Loathing in the Philippines
(Half Moon Bay)

Surigao City, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, is — with apologies to John Steinbeck and Hunter S. Thompson — a mess, a stinking noise, a grating smell, a nightmare, a dog taking a dump on mainstreet. It was also my last chance to get a haircut and a beer before backtracking up Magellan's route through the Hinatuan Pass and northeastward to Guam. And since the muggy winds of the southwest monsoon were still late filling in, I figured I had some time to kill.

I dropped the hook on the muddy shoal across from the commercial pier. It was noisy and the floodlights would give the slough a prison yard-ambience at night. But it was either there or upstream in the open sewer of shantytown. I dinghied to the pier and tied up under the stern of a Vietnamese freighter off-loading pallets of rice. The street outside the port facility was dusty, hot and chaotic.

After several weeks of coasting through the secluded isles, the first burst of urban bustle takes one's breath away. I ducked into a food stall and ordered a tall, cold San Miguel beer, while I tried to remember what it was that was so important that I had to get it done that morning. The girls working the stall asked all the usual questions, starting with "Where you from?" and ending up with "Are you married?" It was another beer and the good part of an hour before they decided the midweek soap opera on the TV was more interesting than me, at which time I was left alone to ponder my situation. "Let's see," I thought to myself, "it would be a good idea to get four more jerry jugs of fuel, and wouldn't hurt to do the same for drinking water. The chances of finding new flip-flops in my size were nil, but it wouldn't hurt to take a stroll through the dry goods section of the market."

From my seat in the back of the stall, I could watch the street scene and the human parade pass by. I was quite relaxed, with my feet up and my right arm resting on the back of the rattan couch. I remember a slight pinch on my elbow just as I got up, but thought nothing of it.

My first stop was a barber shop. The Philippines has the best $1 haircuts in the world, but the hard fact of the matter is that all the shops are staffed by gay men. Very gay men. The biggest difficulty for me is to tell them to cut it short in a way that expresses the fact that I really don't care how my hair looks. When you live alone on a sailboat, meticulous grooming is optional. The beautician of fortune on this particular morning was a pale, nervous young man with orange-red hair who, I suspected, spoke as little English as I did Tagalog. Noticing the pile of dog-eared fashion magazines on the table, I smiled and asked for a 'George Clooney' haircut. Big mistake. A band of beautician assistants and cousins of beautician assistants assembled, seemingly from nowhere, and the only item on the agenda was "What is a George Clooney?” A friendly type of fussiness broke out over me, their only customer. The fashion detectives began scouring the magazine archives, some going back to the long-haired '70s. The discussion broke down several times into giggles and laughter. In the Philippine culture, laughing often covers dissension, so this signaled a major confrontation. In this case the divide was between the high fashion girly-girl types and the edgy, pseudo grunge types. Prince versus Billy Ray Cyrus, if you will. In the standoff, I managed to get out with a haircut short enough so that I didn't have to wash my hair everyday and long enough so that I didn't need sunscreen. And in the middle of all that fussiness, I got all my wayward ear hairs trimmed, too. I was happy.

My next stop was the ATM, followed by the gas station which, luckily, also sold recycled 20-liter HDPE jugs at a very reasonable $2 each. After a moto-taxi ride back to the pier and a dinghy ride back to the boat, most of my chores had been completed. It was then that I noticed the small red welt on my elbow. I'd have guessed that it was a brown recluse spider bite if I didn't know there weren't any brown recluses in the Philippines. The next morning my arm had swollen up, red and tight, from wrist to armpit. The welt had become a big red ball of ugliness. I was feeling all right, with no fever, but I reminded myself that the first Queen Elizabeth of England died of an abscessed tooth. I grabbed some breakfast and headed for the hospital.

A private hospital is the only option for medical care in the Philippines. The one I chose was clean, although somewhat threadbare, and well-staffed with pleasant, bewildered-looking personnel. I was shown into a screening room for height, weight and complaint, then walked over to a doctor's office to wait. Finally shown in, I showed him the wound and explained how I thought it had happened. Expecting a course of some serious antibiotics, I was miffed when he asked me what I'd eaten for breakfast. He said if I didn't take anything more by mouth, he could get me into surgery that afternoon.

Whoa . . . surgery? He wasn't joking. A few hours later, I found myself dressed in a butt-less gown, strapped to a gurney, and surrounded by a bevy of helpful nurses who seemed even more bewildered than before. The I.V. went in just as I asked the nurse what kind of anesthesia they were using. Valium and sodium-something else was the reply. I closed my eyes for a moment as I asked if they reused needles. When I opened them again, I was alone in a different room. Through a grimy window I could see that the sun was setting. Groggily, I pulled the I.V. out and went to look for my clothes. I don't like hospitals. Besides, this one hadn't even asked me for the name of my next of kin.

I had an appointment with the doctor the next morning. He undid the bundle on my elbow, giving me a chance to see his handiwork. The swelling was much reduced, and there were now two drainage tubes sticking out of my elbow. My first thought? This isn't going to work well on a week-long singlehanded upwind trip in the tropics.

"Doc, do I need antibiotics?" One of the rules of life in the Philippines is to always answer any question or statement with another question. It is as inerrant as the sunrise. True to form the doctor asked. "Antibiotics?" as if he'd never heard the word before. He then answered himself, "No."

"No?" I said, also answering his statement with a question. I always thought surgery, even minor surgery, needed a course of antibiotics. A few moments later he said, "Oh yes, you need antibiotics," which clearly demonstrated two other rules of life in the Philippines: no question ever has just one answer, and the truth is slipperier than a milkfish in a mud hole.

Back on the boat, still anchored off the commercial port, I set up a bunk cushion in the cockpit and made myself cozy. By now I really wanted to leave the Philippines, but I figured I couldn't get underway until I was sure everything was healing properly. My bottom-line criterion was if I wouldn't take a crew member with my elbow in such a condition, I shouldn't take myself. As the full moon rose, I gathered myself a couple books, my Ipod, the mosquito coils, and settled in for at least a night and a day of recuperation. Or so I thought.

The harbor tug came alongside about 9 p.m., and his searchlight filled the cockpit. Despite his broken English and the over-modulated hailer, I managed to understand that he desperately needed me to pull my anchor to allow the Philippine Princess car ferry to enter the port. A matter of life or death. Jeez Louise, I was at least 200 meters off the pier, how much room did the guy need? I flat out refused for medical reasons. They went away, but came back an hour later. I got the same desperate plea, and they got the same refusal. They went away and then came back a third time. All right, it was midnight, I decided I'd better pull the hook or I'd never get any sleep.

I began hauling away with my left hand. Of the 80 feet of chain and 80 feet of line I had out, I brought about 30 feet on deck. I took it to the Simpson-Lawrence windlass and hauled again. I managed to get only another 30 feet on deck. I laid down and put both feet on the bar in low gear, but still couldn't budge it. The rode was bar tight. But thanks to the city lights, I could see that I was dragging. This was a puzzle, as I was obviously hooked on something very heavy, but it was still mobile enough to allow a light land breeze to blow me around. "Hmmm," I thought, "this is getting interesting." I had dropped the hook in 50 feet of water, but dragging now, the depthsounder was showing 95 feet under the keel. I figured I would have to release the anchor with a buoy and recover it in the daytime, possibly with my new friends on the harbor tug. I figured they owed me at least that much. To make things easier, I turned the boat toward the shoal to put whatever foulness was down there in the shallows before I cast off the line.

I watched the bow roller for strain as I motored into the shallows. Sixty feet, 50 feet, 40 feet — all the time expecting the rode to go tight and jerk Cadence to a rude halt. Finally, at 30 feet, I went to neutral and went forward. Lo! The line and chain came up, and the CQR nestled herself in the chock! Relieved, puzzled and amused, I secured the engines and let Cadence drift out of the harbor while I admired the moon and the quiet. An hour later I figured out what I had snagged in the harbor.

We drifted out into the night on the ebb tide. I wasn't tired, having had a great nap in the afternoon. Soon the Philippine Princess hove into sight, and from across the harbor I could see the tug and crew springing into action. There was already a magenta loom in the east promising the sun would be up in a couple of hours. The port wouldn't quiet down till the ship left at midday, so there was no sense going back there. Cadence continued to drift east, and after an hour Surigao City was out of sight.

The throbbing in my arm subsided the next day, and the swelling was almost gone by the following evening. I knew recovery was well underway, so I let Cadence find her most comfortable tack into the open Pacific. Six days later, I sighted Angaur Island in Palau. I anchored precariously on the reef outside the boat landing and rowed ashore. I brought a scalpel, a mirror and a bottle of peroxide in a dry bag. Land crabs scattered as I walked the old concrete roads in the moonlight. By following the sound of the karaoke machine, I found the only bar on the island deep in the middle of the island. I ordered a beer and asked the bartender if he'd ever dreamed of being a doctor.

"Doctor?" he replied. He was Filipino. I took off my bandage and showed him where the stitches were that held the drainage tubes in my elbow. He cut them, and we were both amazed to see two full length Jolly Bee drinking straws emerge from the hole. The relief was indescribable. In my gratitude to the bartender, I spent the rest of the evening buying him beer and describing what it is like to snag a 1000-lb tractor tire with your anchor.

— frank 07/01/07

Radio Flyer — Corbin 39
James & Linda Rey
Made It To The Canal

We've had an exciting two-year journey since leaving Berkeley, but at last Radio Flyer has tasted the waters of the Caribbean. Our passage through the Canal was mostly uneventful — if you don't count the monsoon-like rains. But forget what all the guidebooks say, as Latitude has the latest scoop on the ever changing rules and procedures of the ACP (Authority Canal Panama). Having cut those articles out for years, we finally got to use them. Here's our update for fellow cruisers getting ready to do the Big Ditch:

The first marina you can stop at is the Flamenco YC at the end of the causeway. Don't bother. Our little vessel didn't make their megayacht cut. Besides, they wanted $175/night for us to use their crappy wood docks and small bathrooms, and take attitude. We didn't think so. The next choice is the Playita — Little Beach — anchorage, which has a few private moorings and room for some boats to anchor. This suited our budget just fine. The other popular option is to take a mooring ball at the Balboa YC, which would have been $40/night. Except for the half-mile walk to the showers and getting pooped every time a Canal pilot boat passes, we're told it's a fun stop.

When it came time to do our Canal transit paperwork, we took out our Latitude 38 Guide, and opted for the 'taxi route' — which was an adventure in itself. For the less adventurous types, ship's agents Enrique Plummer (6674-2086) and Pete Stevens (6735-7356) are still around and reportedly do a good job.

Our Canal transit went like clockwork, and we popped out and into the Caribbean just in time for dinner. Once on that side, the choices are: 1) Anchor in The Flats, which given the industrial look, slimy holding and long dinghy ride to the yacht club, was not that appealing to us. 2) Get a berth at the Panama Canal YC, which has seen better days. It was described to us as "funky", but when we dinghied up, the hazardous medical waste incinerator 50 yards away was belching purple fumes from upwind of the club, which took the edge off the yet even more funky bar/restaurant. Lastly, there is Shelter Bay Marina, which is a brand new marina across the bay from Colon. It has new concrete floating docks, a restaurant with tablecloths, a plasma screen TV in the bar, and jacuzzi tubs in the showers. Pinch us. This doesn't come free, but for $4 more a night than the Panama Canal YC charges, guess where we stayed? Included in our welcome package to Shelter Bay Marina was a current issue of Latitude. The marina manager is Bruce Winship, who headed south with his family aboard their Alameda-based Crowther 33 cat Chewbacca on '00 Ha-Ha, and the four of them have been out ever since. Bruce admitted that he slipped the Latitude into our welcome packet when he saw the Berkeley hailing port on our transom. We've been here for a week, and during walks in the jungle that surrounds the place have seen monkeys, a sloth and birds galore. We even hiked to an old Spanish fort on the Chagres River.

What's next for us and our crew dog Sally? The San Blas Islands. We hope to make it to Cartagena for Christmas.

— james, linda & sally

Readers — People often make a big deal out of a Canal transit, but as the 'Flyers' point out, if you use one of the taxi drivers for the paperwork, know how to handle your boat reasonably well, and have four competent line-handlers who can stay alert for the few short spells they need to be alert, it shouldn't be a problem. The funkiest part is in the last lock, as the current in the lock pushes your boat toward the doors of the lock faster than in the other locks. Make sure your line-handers — and the Canal crew at the other end of the lines — don't let your boat get away. But that's only when you're transiting from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

It's wise to follow all the orders given by the ACP and your Advisor — not that we've always done it. We came through with
Big O about 14 years ago, and when we got to Lake Gatun we were instructed by Canal Control to anchor for the night. Our captain, Antonio des Mortes, who used to be known as the 'Caribbean terrorist' before terrorists got a bad name, picked up the microphone and said, "Canal Control, this is Antonio des Mortes, I'm the captain of Big O, and we will be completing our transit tonight." He'd do stuff like that all the time, which is why our hair turned gray before it should have. Canal Control calmly responded that we were commanded to stay in Lake Gatun and not continue. "No," Antonio replied with finality, "we're going through tonight." Then he switched off the radio. Our Canal advisor just shrugged his shoulders. To top things off, when we got to the narrow Gaillard Cut, Antonio passed a ship! In fact, we were later given photos by the pilot of the ship. By the time we got to the Miraflores Lock, we'd made arrangements to make bail and all that. But much to our surprise, nobody said anything. It was a fun stunt, but it hadn't been worth the stress. And with the Panamanians having since taken control of the Canal, we sure wouldn't try it now.

Cruise Notes:

If you want a slip in Mexico this winter, we strongly encourage you to hit the phones and email right now, because it's going to be relatively slim pickings in the more popular areas such as La Paz and Banderas Bay. If you signed up for the Baja Ha-Ha, you can find all the numbers and addresses in the Latitude's First-Timer's Guide To Cruising Mexico that was included in your entry packet. Having made just a few phones calls ourselves, we've learned that Marina de La Paz and Costa Baja Marina in La Paz are already all but booked solid for the high season. In Banderas Bay, Dick Markie of Paradise Resort Marina tells us they will be at capacity, and Marina Vallarta generally runs out of slips quickly, too. Fortunately, La Cruz Marina in nearby La Cruz, which has long been the site of one of the top five cruiser anchorages in Mexico, will open this winter, and Christian Mancebo says they still have a good selection of slips. If you don't call him now at 011-52-322-293-4064 or , don't come to us whining in December about not having a good place to leave your boat in Banderas Bay. By the way, La Cruz Marina is the latest Ha-Ha sponsor. Of course, if you're an active cruiser, you won't have to worry too much about a slip, for, as we've long reported, there's a great free anchorage near almost every major marina in Mexico. But if you're going to be a 'commuter cruiser', who will be flying back and forth between work in the States and your boat in Mexico, you won't be able to do without one.

For many years, the common wisdom was that you do a South Pacific Milk Run — California, Mexico or Panama to New Zealand — between April and November, making sure you get to New Zealand by November to avoid the risk of getting nailed by a tropical cyclone (aka hurricane). That thinking has changed a bit over time. Quite a few owners now choose to leave their boats in French Polynesia, which has only rarely been hit by tropical cyclones. There hadn't been any from about 1910 until there was a spat of them in the early '80s, but there have only been a couple more since, none of them devastating.

Fiji is another popular place for folks to leave their boats. In fact, that's where 'Commodore' and Nancy Tompkins have kept their Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl since last November, when they got a job delivering a catamaran to Japan. There are several places to leave a boat in Fiji, but the Tompkins chose Vuda Point Marina on Vita Levu, where the monthly storage fee for their 38-footer has been $350. As with most other yards in Fiji, holes are dug for keels, and the bottom of the hulls sit on tires, so even if there are very strong winds the boats can't be knocked over. Although no tropical storms passed by Vita Levu this last season, Flashgirl nonetheless suffered two types of damage. The first was mildew. "Everybody who has been there for years says that mildew hasn't been a problem — until this year when they had an unusually large amount of rain," reports Nancy.

The other damage was caused by a careless gardener. Having been going to sea for more than 70 years, Commodore is persnickity about the look of his yacht, so he had her bright red hull repainted a short time before in New Zealand. It looked fabulous. But while the boat was in Fiji and Commodore and Nancy were back in California, some not particularly aware gardener went around the gravel yard slaughtering weeds with a Weed Wacker. Unfortunately, he kicked up a lot of gravel in the process, resulting in 60 chips, right down to the primer, in Flashgirl's paint job. What makes it exasperating for the Tompkins is that last fall they'd sailed an additional 300 miles to avoid the extensive amounts of pumice in the water that was a result of Metis Shoal erupting to form Metis Island. Flashgirl now looks beautiful once again, but the big question is who is going to pay for the repainting. The important thing is that the 75-year-old Commodore and Nancy will splash the boat in the next couple of weeks, continue exploring Fiji, then either sail up to the Marshalls or down to Australia — whichever country has fewer Weed Wackers — for the next tropical cyclone season.

In preparing a Changes for next month on Jack van Ommen's singlehanded passage up the east coast of Brazil to Trinidad aboard his Gig Harbor, Washington-based Najad 30 Fleetwood, we had a short phone conversation with him, and got to ask a few questions. For example, having left Alameda on Fleetwood and sailed almost all the way around the world via South Africa — he's currently in Portsmouth, Virginia — was there ever a time in the two years that the 70-year old got lonely? "No, not really," he said, "I've done a lot of singlehanding." Well, has he ever been scared? "Oh course, a number of times! The most recent was off Richard's Bay, South Africa, when Fleetwood was layed flat in the water, knocking off the dodger and causing water to pour inside the cabin. But naturally she came right back up." Is a 30-ft boat too small for sailing around the oceans of the world? "No, I don't think so. Although when I got my boat, never in the world did I think I'd do all the stuff I have with her."

Although van Ommen could finish his circumnavigation quickly by sailing through the Canal and up to Santa Barbara, he figures it's actually going to take him another four to 10 years. That's because he's first going to sail to northern Europe and spend a couple of years in the Baltic countries. Then he's going to spend a couple of years in the Med. By that time he'll be ready to sail back to South America to learn Spanish. And only after that does he want to continue on to California, completing his loop around the world. By the way, during a visit to the Bay Area in mid-July, van Ommen met up with Bruce Wallace of the Berkeley-based C&C 38 Bianca, who he'd met 18 months earlier in French Polynesia. The two went sailing in the Delta on Wallace's Prindle beach cat. "It was a lot of fun," reports van Ommen, "but a little uncomfortable compared to my Fleetwood."

If van Ommen can enjoy beach cat sailing in the Delta at age 69, all that long distance singlehanded sailing must be doing him good.

"We were part of the Baja Class of '86-'90 aboard our Columbia 30 Oasis, write Jim and Jeanie Long of Dallas, Texas, "but had to abandon that lifestyle in order to afford a bigger boat. Now we're officially retired and aboard our new boat, the Lancer 39 Oasis, and currently in Guatemala's Rio Dulce waiting out hurricane season. We originally planned on having our boat trucked to the Sea of Cortez, but didn't realize that it is 15 feet from the bottom of the keel to the top of the pilothouse — which means we have to get her to the sea on her own bottom!"

The Sea of Cortez is like a first love to many cruisers. No matter where they go later in life, they always have an itch to go back to their first.

"After 35 days and 3,100 miles, we arrived in La Paz, Mexico, from Honolulu," report Bill and Jean of Mita Kuuluu. "The weather leaving Hawaii was unusual, as we had southerlies. Since California is too cold for us anyway, we sailed directly to Mexico rather than via San Francisco. Given the southerlies, we started making easting right away. Unfortunately, we were haunted by a series of high pressure systems, so we rarely had wind of more than 10 knots. That was a good thing, because we were on the wind for 32 of the 35 days! Most of the trip was so smooth that we didn't even have to use drink-holders. After arriving in La Paz, we were saddened to learn that many boats in the bay had been broken into by thieves. So far, only the unattended boats have been victimized, but we worry that it will only be a matter of time before attended boats and/or boats in the marinas are broken into. People who had been planning to come down to Mexico and leave their boats unattended at anchor should be aware of this."
Thanks for the heads up on La Paz. To each their own, but we would never recommend that anyone leave their boat unattended on the hook for any length of time anywhere, both for their sake and the sake of boats around them. As for theft, we think unattended boats anchored out in places like La Paz Bay are many times more vulnerable than in the marinas, most of which have good security.

In an update to their Changes in this issue, Hermy and Jack Vogt of the San Diego-based Iwa want to make sure that nobody gets the wrong impression about Ecuador. "Even though cruisers now have to use a ship's agent and pay fees, the new check-in procedures should not discourage cruisers from coming here. Ecuador is a wonderful and economical place to visit, and Bahia de Caraquez is very cruiser-friendly. Unlike mainland Mexico and Central America all the way down to Panama, there is no rain, no lightning and no humidity during the summer. The average temperature is 75 degrees year 'round. We have cruised up and down the coast of Ecuador as far as Salinas, and found lots of nice places to duck into on our way from Bahia to Puerto Lucia YC near Salinas. There are two wonderful islands to anchor off, Isla Plata, where you have to pay because it's a National Park, and Isla Salango, where there is no charge. Bahia Caraquez is also a very safe place to leave a boat for a week or even the season, either on her own hook or on a mooring. There are currently 45 cruising boats here now, but many of the owners are back in the States. By the way, Iwa has been our home since we bought her in '84. We left San Diego to go cruising in '99, spent six years in Mexico, came down through Central America last year, and are loving Ecuador."

More on Ecuador, the country named after the equator and whose Mt. Chimborazo, because the earth is an ovoid, is actually further from the center of the earth than is the top of Mt. Everest:

"We have a favor to ask of cruisers," report Dave Crane and July Brum of the San Diego-based Islander Freeport 41 Revenir, now in Bahia Caraques, Ecuador. "Since many of you have been 'out there' for years, we trust your judgement and need your feedback. As many of you know, Ecuador enjoys a great climate without any lightning, has a very low cost of living — fuel is still only $1.03/gallon — and it a great place to tour inland. It's also the gateway to the Galapagos and the South Seas. These factors have made it a magnet for cruisers in recent years. However, a recent law now makes it mandatory for cruising boats to use an agent when entering the country. Such agents typically charge $150+, and none are located in the cruising ports of Bahia Caraquez or La Libertad, which makes it mandatory to stop at the commercial fishing port of Manta. As you can imagine, the cruising community is upset about the new regulation, and Ecuador's Minister of Tourism is worried about losing cruiser revenue. The Minister of tourism wants to make a presentation to the Minister of Defense as soon as possible to see if these new regulations can be lifted, so we're looking for statistics to help him justify a change. With that in mind, can anybody — perhaps a leader of the Southbounders — give us an idea of how many boats coming down the Pacific Coast, or through the Panama Canal, are potential visitors to Ecuador — and the Galapagos — each year. We also need to know what the reaction has been by cruisers in other countries when they reach ports that require the use of a ship's agent? And would you change your mind about visiting Ecuador and/or the Galapagos if the current agent requirement remains in place? Please with your responses.

It's hard to come up with hard numbers — but we'd guess that 250 boats work their way down the Pacific Coast and south of Mexico each year, and that Ecuador has the potential to draw hundreds more that are already south of Mexico. You could contact the Panama Canal for statistics on small boats coming through the Canal, but if we're not mistaken, the number is about 1,000 a year. We'd speculate that at least half of them would be potential visitors to Ecuador. As for the effect of having to use a ship's agent, we can report that many cruisers — ourselves included — boycotted certain ports in Mexico for several years because of the time and expense using them entailed. It's hard to measure the exact effect, but it's clear that, all things being equal, cruisers will prefer places without lots of paperwork and fees to places that require them. You might also look into a study done by the Caribbean nations that showed them that yachts added more to their GDPs than did cruise ships. Contact Sally Erdle at Caribbean Compass for where to get more details.

If we told you that Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Hunter Mariner 49 Wanderlust 3 had reached Port Vila, Vanuatu, by mid-July, and no doubt will have reached Australia by the time you read this, you might suspect that an often shorthanded 11-month circumnavigation is relatively easy and safe. It's not. Harker did the French Polynesia to Samoa leg singlehanded, but not without nearly killing himself. It all started, as do many problems in the South Pacific, in the middle of the night with three big squalls bearing down, and him alone and not having slept in 23 hours. To make a long story short, he ended up with a triple wrap in a billowing headsail, a sail that was flogging so hard it seemed as though it was about to throw the rig right out of the boat. Desperate, with great difficultly, Harker made his way to the small lee of steep-to and uninhabited Karoraina Atoll. Unable to anchor, he drifted as close to the coral shore as he dared, brought a stool from down below to the foredeck, and stood on it so he could reach the wraps and knots that were eight feet above the deck. We mentioned that Harker hadn't slept in nearly two days, but did we also mention both his legs have been paralyzed from the knee down for more than 20 years? Thanks to a magnificent effort, he nonetheless got the three terrible knots and wraps undone! Bursting with the pride of an exhausting and difficult multi-hour job well done, he promptly did a face-plant on his way back to the cockpit, rolling under the lower lifeline, heading unimpeded for the blue waters of the South Pacific. After a fraction of a second, he couldn't figure out why he wasn't swimming. He soon realized it was because one of his paralzyed legs had jammed between a shroud and a stanchion. With yet another great effort, he finally — just as Wanderlust 3 started scraping against the coral of the atoll — pulled himself back aboard.

It wasn't anywhere close to being Harker's first near-death experience, nonetheless, those are the kinds of incidents that make you reassess what you're doing with your life. Harker explains what he now has planned after his finishes his circumnavigation: "After my boat comes out of the Miami Boat Show in February, I'd like to head down to St. Martin for the Heineken Regatta in March, to Antigua for Sailing Week in April, then across the Atlantic for the summer of '08. But this time I'd like to do the Eastern Med, Black Sea and Greece, before heading down to Thailand. I figure that means I can be back in California in the fall of '09 for the Baja Ha-Ha, which is where I got started sailing in the first place." In other words, the incident off Karoraina Atoll has anything but stunted Harker's enthusiasm for adventuring under sail. "It's always been the journey and never the destination that's appealed to me," he says. "I once rode a Harley 'bagger' from Hollywood up to Portland, across Canada to Portland, Maine, down to Hollywood, Florida, then back to the real Hollywood — in just four weeks. It was all about the challenge and joy of being alone along the highways of America, taking advantage of the freedom. I have that same attitude toward sailing."

"We're not sure if you remember us, but you did a Latitude 38 Interview with us back in July of '95," write Jim and Ann Cate of the custom 46 Sayer-designed sloop Insatiable II. "We're back again after a three-year absence from what we call the Excited States, and we just read your article on Paul and Susan Mitchell's 25 years of cruising aboard White Cloud and more recently Elenoa. Good going! The 'Elenoas' are old friends, and it was good to see them gracing the pages of Latitude. Besides our sharing many a South Pacific anchorage with them, we visited them for a couple of weeks on their canal boat in France a few years ago. As for us, we're still stuck in the South Pacific Eddy. After a dismasting in '96, we spent six months — and a shocking amount of money — rectifying that indiscretion, and then carried on as before until '03. The combination of encroaching geriatric-ism and the low Aussie dollar led us to part with our beloved PJ Standfast 36 Insatiable, which had been our home for 17 years and 86,000 ocean miles starting from San Francisco Bay, and buy a new boat. We were looking for a high performance cruiser of extraordinary quality, and with accommodations for us, two adult kids and two grandkids. We found examples of this combination a bit scarce in Oz, but perseverance and good-timing resulted in our now owning Insatiable II. She's a one-off designed by Jon Sayer, an Aussie designer best known for ULDB-style racers, and built by Gary and Sue McAuley. McAuley is a master shipwright, and the couple had the boat for their own use, so he spent lots of extra time on beautiful joinery belowdecks. Her construction is strip plank composite, which to our surprise makes for a very stiff hull. Her big fractional rig mast makes her fast — sometimes faster than we'd like, ho, ho, ho. But we've done about 25,000 miles on her now, and are gradually getting used to her personality. She is in Morton Bay, Queensland, while we're back in the States, and we can't wait to get back and resume a normal cruising life. By the way, we're happy to see that Latitude hasn't lost its irreverent quality, despite the publisher's alleged withdrawal from the helm, that we have all admired for lo these many years. It looks as though you did a good job of shanghai-ing the right crew to carry on the voyage!"

Of course we remember you, and thanks for the kind words. As for our loosening our grip on the helm, we put in 80+ hours of intense work in the last seven days, so the loosening is still a work in progress. But at least we've started to make sure we take a chunk of each month off, too. Our goal is to be able to get enough time off that it would make sense to take Profligate on the Puddle Jump.

Prior to taking off from the Galapagos to the Marquesas last month, Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell, and her crew, mother Millie, made guesses as to how long it would take to complete the 2,884-mile passage. Mom guessed 25 days, while Liz guessed 23. It turned out to be a case of 'daughter knows best', as they completed the voyage in 23 days. They did, however, have such a rough ride in the beginning that Millie didn't come out of the cabin for four days. But since they arrived in the spectacularly beautiful Marquesas, we're sure Millie's forgotten all that and is probably bending Liz's arm trying to get her to take her the rest of the way around the world. Look for a report on their passage in the September Latitude.

Two things cause women to feel nauseous. One is their first offshore passage, the second is the early stages of pregnancy. Combine the two and you'll get an idea of how Antonia Murphy of the Pt. Richmond-based Mariner 36 Sereia felt during a crossing to the Marquesas last month with her husband Peter. "We sailed 2,900 miles from Isla Isabella in the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas in 26 days. Our Rei-Rei is no speed demon, but she did beautifully. In fact, we racked up our best 24-hour run ever — 148 miles, which means we did better than hull speed for an entire day and night." As it was, the combination of seasickness and morning sickness proved overwhelming to Antonia, so Peter had to singlehand the boat, prepare all the meals, and do all the dishes while Antonia "puked her way across." But upon arrival in the Marquesas, Antonia was quick to regain her powers of observation and wit:

"The Baie des Vierges is one of the most spectacular anchorages in the Pacific. It used to be called the Baie des Verges, which means Bay of Phalluses, because of the great, penis-shaped volcanic outcrops. But the grouchy Catholic missionaries were having none of that, so they added an 'i', and now it just means the Bay of Virgins. Whatever you want to call it, we were seriously glad to have gotten there."

Holly Scott of Alamitos Bay reports that she and several other West Marine employees will be over at Two Harbors, Catalina, on August 11 for the Baja Ha-Ha Preview and Reunion. "I'll be bringing some West Marine goodies to hand out as well as some cool portfolio bags for the owners of boats that have already signed up for the Ha-Ha."

After the last Ha-Ha, Holly wrote to say that she was selling the Cal 30 she then owned in order to buy a Cal 40, a more suitable boat for the Ha-Ha. Some folks are all talk and no action, but that's not Holly. "I sold my dear Cal 30 Catspaw to a good home and bought the Cal 40 Flying Cloud, which I've renamed Mahalo. I miss Catspaw, but am working non-stop to make Mahalo just as wonderful. My Cal 40 had been all tricked out for the '03 TransPac so there were a million new 3DL sails and other fancy stuff — but she was a guy's locker room inside. "Ummm . . . is there a lid for this toilet? Why does it smell like a holding tank if there isn't one? Eeeeuuuuu! How did you guys cook if the stove wasn't hooked up? Did you ever run the watermaker? If that's a waterheater, why isn't there a shower? Did you know that the pink stuff in the bilge is because there's a fuel leak or three? What happened to the radar antenna and the windlass? You cut the cable to the radar?!" Anyway, she's coming along fine. By the way, I did find the toilet lid under the sink. I hope to see everyone at the Isthmus on the 11th."

"We wanted to let our cruising friends know that we made it to the Chesapeake Bay," report Joe Brandt and Jacque Martin of the Alameda-based Wauquiez 47 Marna Lynn. We left Alameda in October of '01 and did that falls Ha-Ha. As we worked our way up the Chesapeake, we picked up T.I. Martin, Jacque's dad, in Deltaville, and he's still with us here on the Sassafras River, which will be our home base for the next year. T.I. was 87 years old when he was one of our four crew on the Ha-Ha, and is still going strong."

Good on your dad! Our goal is to be around for Ha-Ha 42 in 2035, at which time we'll be 87.

"I would like all cruisers to know that I was robbed in San Blas, Mexico, approximately 70 miles north of Banderas Bay, on July 2," reports Jean Claude Denois of the Fuji 35 Papillon. "I had been anchored in front of the capitaneria, and one evening I dinghied back to my boat to find two men aboard. I had to put up a fight, and then they swam away. Nonetheless, I had to go to the emergency room to get some stitches. I'd been told that it was safe to anchor in front of the capitaneria, but it was not."

We hate to hear stories like that. But at least we can honestly say it's the first time we've heard of a cruiser finding someone on their boat in Mexico in many years.
"Our friends Rosie and Alan Ralph, who are from England but purchased their Island Trader 51 ketch Serendipity in San Diego, have had a problem with one of the Mexican cruising guides," report buddyboaters David and Betty Lou Walsman of San Diego. They borrowed our new edition of the Rains' Mexico Boating Guide, and used it to cruise from Isla Carmen on the west side of the Sea to Topolobampo and Atlata and on the east side of the Sea. They said their experience was so different from what they were led to expect by the guide that folks heading to Mexico would be interested:

"We had such big seas crossing the Sea of Cortez that part of the bowsprit broke. Once we got to Topo, we went to anchor opposite the two marinas mentioned in the Rains' guide. But it was so shoal that we nearly ran aground. When we went round the corner to where there was sort of a harbor, it was choc-a-block with shrimpers moored to the wall. But it was still too shallow for us to reach the wall, so we anchored, and the next day went to the marina office. The very nice lady in the marina said it was a private club and they don't have moorings for visitors. She admitted they had given a temporary berth to another transit boat because it had come in during the wee hours and was just waiting for the seas to calm down to leave. When we explained that we were doing the same, she offered us a berth for up to four days at about $50/day — although she couldn't tell us what the controlling depth was getting in. When we asked the cost of just using the dinghy dock, she said it was $50/day — the charge is the same no matter what size boat! Telling her that we'd think about it, we went down the road and met a friendly fellow who told us that the Club Nautico was closed. So we turned back, at which point a taxi driver told us Club Nautico was open. So we retraced our steps and were about to enter the Club Nautico — only to see the first fellow, who had his boat moored there! He explained they were about to have a fishing tournament and didn't have room for transient boats. He kept telling us to catch a ferry from the opposite side of the bay, clearly not understanding what we wanted. Then he shouted to the security guards, presumably to shut the gates to make sure we knew that we weren't welcome! There was a Pemex dock nearby, and the operator told us, in broken English, to come back the next day for fuel.

"We came in and got fuel the next day," Rosie reports, "at which point Alan did something daft. He got his wedge of pesos out and counted out the cash to pay for the fuel in front of the attendant's face. You should have seen the Pemex guy's eyes bug out! I thought Alan was tempting Providence and the honesty of the Pemex guys. Then we motored around through the ferry port into this huge 'inland sea', which is completely hidden from the Sea of Cortez. It was beautiful, but extremely isolated. There were two things in the Rains' Guide that were wrong. This "inland sea" doesn't have a tropical jungle or colorful birds, but rather is as barren as the Baja peninsula side. The guide also suggests that Topo is like a Greek town, in that houses go up the hillside. Frankly, that's an insult to the Greeks. Yes, the town does sprawl up the hillside, but it's the normal Mexican mix of shacks and unfinished buildings, not the lovely white houses with blue doors that are so emblematic of Greece. We had a restless night, as the port captain failed to answer our calls. Indeed, he failed to answer the calls of tankers waiting for pilots to guide them into port. Frankly speaking, we felt very vulnerable being the only boat there, with unlit pangas coming and going all night
"But the worst was to come," Rosie continues. "Having sailed overnight, we arrived at the entrance to the Atlata Lagoon around lunch time. Even outside the port there was only 30 feet of water, so we anchored for a few hours to wait for high water to get over the bar. We motored in past many pangas, but couldn't figure out a path into the lagoon, as it seemed to be all shoal. After an hour of looking, we were extremely tired, so we gave up. When two guys in a panga full of dead manta rays came by, I beckoned them aboard to ask for guidance. Their response was emphatic — no one goes to Atlata that way. One of the men got a 10-ft pole out and made soundings to get us to deeper water, but we still ran aground. After their tow rope broke once, he eventually got us free. After anchoring in 15 feet, he said he'd be back the next day. I explained there were mechanical reasons that made us want to leave at high water, so we did. We made it out, but please tell everyone that we found the areas of deep water near the island, not near the middle where it had apparently once been deep, and that the channel buoys don't accurately mark the channel. When we later got to Mazatlan, we were told that cruisers do come in to Atlata, but we think they must have been on multihulls."

In the 20 or so times we've taken our boats to Mexico, we've never done the mainland coast of the Sea of Cortez, in part because south of Guaymas it's so 'lagoony', with shifting bars that have to be crossed to get into the lagoons. Just one look at the nearly 10-mile entrance across a sandy bottom to get to Topolombambo should be enough to give most mariners pause. It's true that Singlar is supposed to have a facility there with 20 berths and every imaginable service as part of the 'Escalera Nautica', but apparently that hasn't happened.

We'd be delighted to hear from you! If you're out cruising, please us a short report on what you've been up to. Don't forget a couple of high resolution photos, and your pertinent information, such as boat name, boat type and hailing port. Your friends would love to see you in print!

Missing the pictures? See the August 2007 eBook!


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