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August 2008

Missing the pictures? See our August 2008 eBook!

 With reports this month from Last Resort in Alaska; from Geja under new, youthful ownership in the Med; from Caprice on not wanting to make landfall in the Pacific; from Moorea on a relatively easy passage up the Red Sea; from Quetzalcoatl halfway between the Galapagos and the Marquesas; from Kiapa on charging batteries without (ab)using the engine; and a generous helping of Cruise Notes.

Last Resort — Catalina 470
Dick and Sharon Drechsler
In the Land of Glaciers and Halibut
(Long Beach)

Dick says that if you've navigated Wrangell Narrows, it's worth putting on your resumé. Well, my sailing resumé now states, "Safely provided backseat navigation of Wrangell Narrows."

We're now in Petersburg, which is supposed to be a quaint and lovely town of 3,500 people. Thanks to their Norwegian heritage, the people and the town are supposed to be very neat and clean. But we shall never know, for we're staying inside the boat, discouraged by the rain. Tomorrow, however, we'll be heading up to our first glacier — Tracy Arm. So I'll get a chance to look for icebergs. Ah, to think that most people head to the warm waters of Mexico or the Caribbean with their cruising boats. But not us. At least not yet. But I suppose the cool and wet conditions here will make us appreciate the tropical warmth and sun once we get there. At least we're no longer in San Francisco, trying to breathe the smoke-filled air. The stuff we're breathing here in Alaska is just fine, as it's fresh and moist.

Our favorite spot to date has been Misty Fjords, and not just because of its exotic name. No, it's because the place has more waterfalls than LAX has urinals. The place is amazing!

Since we're up here in Alaska, the land of crab and shrimp, we stocked up on crabbing and shrimping gear while in Ketchikan. The crab pot was $120, the shrimp pot just $100, and the other junk to go after them was $200. The joy of finally catching a crab? Priceless.

You should have seen us deploying these traps for the first time. We bumbled around like first-graders with a chemistry set, and it took us a good part of the evening to get them set. The great white hunter couldn't wait to get up the next morning to pull up the rewards of the time and money we invested. When he landed the shrimp pot, it was empty. But when he pulled up the crab pot, lo and behold, there was actually one crab in it! Dick was so excited that he nearly jumped out of the dinghy in surprise. "It was like the Deadliest Catch," he later quipped.

Then last night Dick decided that he would catch a halibut. Sbdss. uhyes, ssli. Excuse me, but I can't even type because I've been laughing so hard at the recollection. "I’m jigging," Richard explained as he was jerking his fishing pole up and down like a carousel pony. "You catch halibut by making it believe there are fish in trouble that would be easy prey," he explains. Richard is fishing with a colorful lure — yellow and white streamers — that is sold under the colorful name 'Butt Juice'. With no bites, Richard tried other techniques. First, there is the straight up and down jig. This is akin to the missionary position of jigging, in that it's neither exciting to watch or participate in. So Richard expanded his repertoire to include exotic techniques such as figure-eights, before introducing increasingly higher levels of difficulty. "That’s good," I encourage him. "It must look like a fish's final death throes down there. I’m sure it’s like Madame Butterfly."

Did I happen to mention that I’ve been appointed to the position of gaffer? The gaffer gets to take this pole with a steel hook on the end, and poke it into the halibut’s gill whenever Dick manages to pull it out of the water. I'm then to hold the approximately 100-pound fish until Dick manages to do something about it. What that something is, has yet to be explained — or, I suspect, figured out. Fortunately, no halibut were adequately stimulated by Dick's Butt Juice lure, so we dined on chicken last night.

— sharon 07/12/08

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Partying Through The Med
(San Francisco)

Hello from Porto Cervo on the Italian island of Sardinia, where I'm having the most amazing time on my Islander 36 Geja. Latitude readers might remember some of the background to this story. The boat had been cruised most of the way around the world by Palo Alto schoolteachers Dick and Shirley Sandys, and was on the hard at Empuriabrava in Spain when Dick passed away. Shirley put the boat up for sale in 'Lectronic for $10,000, 'where is, as is'. Latitude's editor wrote that had he been younger and had no obligations, he would have jumped at it. As it turned out, Eli and Sara Bottrell, a young San Francisco couple, bought the boat sight unseen for the asking price. They went on to have a great summer of cruising in the Med, and even got to tour Tom Perkins' 289-ft Maltese Falcon. Nonetheless, when the season was over, they decided it was time for them to get started with the rest of their lives, so, based on the improvements and additions they made, put the boat up for sale for $20,000. I'm the guy who bought Geja from them.

I've now covered over 300 miles since leaving Pisa, Italy, which is where the boat was when I bought her. The island of Corsica has been the highlight of my trip so far, and its port of Bonifacio has to be one of the most fantastic harbors in the Med. When entering, younger cruisers such as myself, should always request a spot at K Dock, as it means that B-52, Bonifacio's most happening bar, will literally be at their swim-step. As amazing as Bonifacio is, it's also had the least expensive mooring I've come across to date, just 30 euros — or about $45 U.S. — a night. At glitzy Porto Cervo, where I am now, a berth would be 130 euros a night, which is about $200 U.S. That's why I have Geja in the free anchorage adjacent to the marina. At least it's still inside the port and therefore has perfect protection from weather in all directions.

Other highlights from the very beginning of my trip include the small Italian island of Capraia, the town of Calvi on Corsica, Corsica's Scandola Nature Reserve and Roccapina anchorage, and Lavezzi Island in the Strait of Bonifacio.

The weather has been different here in the Med. After what the Italians claim was their wettest spring in 200 years, I finally started to get nice weather in mid-June. The weather remained perfect through July 4, at which time the first of two consecutive mistrals arrived. One of the megayachts inside the Porto Cervo harbor with me reported 50-knot gusts. Fortunately, Geja's 20-kg Bruce anchor held tight. Now that the second mistral has passed, we will continue south down Sardinia's Costa Smeralda, and eventually across to Sicily. Ina and Tina, two friends from Sweden, are with me now. They are my fifth consecutive new crew in as many weeks. I'm lucky to have many great friends and acquaintances who have been happy to fly in from northern Europe and the United States to join me.

I have many great photos, but they will have to wait until I have a better Wi-Fi signal in order to send them to Latitude. Compared to Mexico, both the marinas and shoreside properties in the Med are way behind with Wi-Fi access. This probably has something to do with the European vacation mentality, where work doesn't intrude at all.

Update: Since I wrote last week, we continued down the east coast of Sardinia from Porto Cervo. Then from just south of Olbia, we set a course for Sicily on the tail of one of several consecutive mistrals. Some 42 hours and 211 wild downwind miles later, we found ourselves at the tiny island of Ustica, some 40 miles north of Sicily's north shore. Thanks to Geja's plentiful solar panels, I was able to use the autopilot, fridge, and computer without ever having to turn the engine on. As soon as I'm finished writing this, we'll start the 57-mile passage to Cefalu, after which we'll conquer the Aeolian Islands and the Straits of Messina.

I often imagine that my adventures would make for good reading in Latitude, as cruising from my perspective might inspire my peers. But I'm having so much fun that I'm not finding any time to write.

While Geja has a few kinks, I'll soon be logging my 600th mile on her, and am having the best time ever. Aside from the megayachts in many harbors, Geja gets the most attention, as she's a salty old boat with a U.S. flag. Everyone stops by for a chat. I've only come across two other American boats in the five weeks I've been here.

With the sun setting, my crew and I need to leave wonderful Ustica, where we enjoyed some spectacular diving earlier today. My crew, by the way, are two Swedish girls from Gothenburg.

— andrew 07/09/08

Caprice — Seawind 1160
Dan and Carol Seifers
Not Wanting to Make Landfall
(Richmond YC)

Tubuai, Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Minihi, Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva — these are exotic islands of the South Pacific. If we know about them at all, it's from books or the movies. Like most people, we never dreamed that we would actually visit them, let alone on our own sailboat. But dreams change, and suddenly, after being quietly retired in the Delta, we realized that we could visit them and have the adventure of a lifetime.

Currently, we're about three days southwest of Tubuai, a small island in the Australs. It will be our first stop since leaving New Zealand, and we'll mainly be stopping there because it is the southernmost island on our approach to Tahiti. The Australs are a group of islands spread over 800 miles across the Tropic of Capricorn. Among the islands that make up the group are Maria, Rimatora, Rurutu, Tubuai and Raivavae. These are high, volcanic islands surrounded by fringing coral reefs. Although part of French Polynesia, the Australs are more humid than Tahiti. The islands are fertile, and support both coffee and orange plantations. The history of the Austals shows that they once supported warlike villages. In fact, the residents of Tubuai once violently rejected the HMS Bounty mutineers.

We've been at sea now for 15 days since leaving the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. We've had everything from calms to 47 knots and 15-ft seas. No matter what the weather, our Seawind 1160 has handled it like a dream. We can average about seven knots in a 12-knot beam reach. Our fastest day on this leg of our journey has been 178 nautical miles, which we achieved by carrying a spinnaker all day and night. On the average, we cover about 125 miles in a day.

Caprice is marvelously comfortable, as we can cook, shower and read comfortably on the level without having to hang on. We celebrated our halfway point of this passage with 'Admiral' Carol preparing a delicious filet mignon with boat-made ice cream for dessert. We've also been enjoying the mahi mahi that we caught a few days ago.

Our boat has been relatively free of equipment failures — except for chafed lines and a few broken blocks. Our Spectra watermaker still makes water, but I had to disable a feature which diverts water overboard if the salinity is too high. I hope to get that fixed in Tahiti.

I've always maintained that ocean crossings in themselves are not 'fun', but rather adventures that you're glad you experienced once they are over. Sort of like, "I'm glad that we did it, but I'm not sure that I'd want to do it again." But this passage has been different, as I think everyone — including our crew Tom Hanson and Ted Stuart — is truly enjoying the passage for its own sake. In fact, when we were talking about landfall being only a few days away today, Ted lamented that the passage was going to end. "Life is beautiful," he said, "it can’t get any better than this. I don't want to land yet." This was on a sunny day when the temperature was about 85 degrees, the wind was 12 knots from the northeast, and we were on the rhumbline for Tubuai. Life really is good!

After a few days in Tubuai to stock up on vegetables, fruits, bread — although we've been making our own bread — and some fuel, we will make the 350-mile hop up to Tahiti. After a few days in Papeete, we want to visit the Society Islands of Moorea, Raiatea, and Bora Bora before heading north to the Tuamotus.

— carol and dan 06/15/08

Moorea — Dufour 34
Kelly and Kelly Waterhouse
Up The Red Sea To The Med

Sailing through 'pirate alley' — the Gulf of Aden between the coasts of Yemen and Somalia — was a breeze. We were part of a five-boat convoy from Aden to Bab El Mandeb, which is the entrance to the Red Sea. We weren't concerned, even after the gun-toting crew of a Yemeni patrol boat approached at 3 a.m. to ask why we were in Yemeni waters. They were satisfied with our answers to their questions, so they apologized and asked if we needed any assistance. Surprised by the ease of the transit — light winds and flat seas — we pulled into the sleepy port town of Saukin, Sudan, for quick provisioning.

At this point in the Red Sea transit, which is known for strong headwinds and difficult seas, our luck was holding. We were able to sail and motor roughly 300 miles, stopping once at a reef for a refreshing swim and snorkel. But 20 miles from Ras Banyas, Egypt, the headwinds stiffened to 25 knots on the nose. After six hours of motorsailing, our little sloop slowly made her way to the anchorage and we finally dropped the hook. We and seven other boats stayed in place for six days, waiting for the wind to abate.

Noticing that the wind dies down after midnight and pipes up again around mid-morning, we finally decided to make a run for Dolphin Reef — at 3 a.m. A few boats had taken refuge behind the reef and told us that often dolphins came by for visits and to swim with people. It was a blast! As fun as it was, when the wind backed off a little the next day, we decided to hurry off to Port Ghalib to clear into Egypt.

Since the forecast called for additional days of light winds, we were hoping for a fast check-in to Egypt. Fast, however, is not a term often used in that country. After we waited six hours on the quay at Port Ghalib, a marina representative came by to get our paperwork. So we Med-moored at the marina, rinsed off the salt-caked boat, and relaxed, hoping the paperwork could be completed before the dreaded northwesterlies picked up again. Luck was with us again. We had our paperwork the next day and still managed to make it to Port Hurghada.

There's a new marina at Port Hurghada that has plenty of room and even free Internet. It's also a great place from which to rent a car and guide for a tour of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. We wanted to join our friends on Ohana Kai and Luna for such a tour, but we had to continue on to the luxurious Sharm El Sheikh marina in order to meet up with an aunt flying in from San Diego.

Located on the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm El Sheikh boasts luxury resorts and spectacular diving at and around the Ras Mohammad National Park. This area had been developed when the Israelis occupied the peninsula, and they left an infrastructure to help create one of Egypt’s fun-in-the-sun destinations. Although many tourists visit the area, the only cruisers are typically part of the Eastern Med Rally. The only yachts we saw parked at the Port Control Quay were megayachts. We weren't allowed to anchor — or sail our dinghy into any of the bays in Ras Mohamed National Park, and even had to hire an agent just to check into the port. For reasons we don't understand, our Egyptian cruising permit did not cover all Egyptian waters. Nonetheless, the stop was well worth the hassle. One of our favorite island tours was that of St. Catherine's Monastery, which was built by Roman Emperor Justin to protect Sinai passes from invasion. It's home to the remains of the famous burning bush of Moses, and sits under the mount where Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments.

Finished with the desert, our aunt wisely decided to go to Jordan to view the stone cities of Petra. This gave us three days to bash into the wind and waves and make Suez City in order to meet up with her again. Normally we don’t make such extreme goals when cruising from place to place, but she was worth the beating, so off we went. The passage required navigating between working oil rig platforms, and abandoned ones as well. The abandoned rigs show a blinking white light that can hardly be seen, and appear as just a puny dot on the radar. We motorsailed day and night, with the boat holding up better than her crew. One of the two of us would often suggest we stop behind a reef for a rest, but fortunately the other would always rally from the bashing blues, and we kept on. The wind was incessant, and we couldn't do better than two knots on either tack.

Once we'd completed the 175-mile passage, our agent Madgy was a big help in helping us get some rest and everything else we needed to complete the Suez Canal transit the next day. There was nothing, however, that he could do when a warship decided it was going to do the transit. The canal's policy of not permitting yachts to transit at the same time as the warship forced us to stop for a day.

After a one-day delay, we left at 5 a.m. for Ismailia, which is the halfway point in the canal and where we planned to moor the boat at the marina in order to tour Cairo for a few days. Our half transit went fine, and, thanks to a favorable current, we had a five-knot average. Our pilot was competent and cordial, but his demeanor changed when we presented him with his 'tip' or baksheesh. Our agent told us the $20 we gave him was an acceptable amount, but after counting this tip, our agent demanded more. Suddenly his English wasn't very good and he had trouble understanding us. He even jumped ship onto a pilot boat before we got to Ismailia. Fortunately, another pilot came aboard.

We made it clear to the second pilot that we weren’t happy with his friend. But after guiding us about two nautical miles to the marina, he asked for his baksheesh! We had no difficulty in telling him off and sending him on his way. After giving Moorea a good washdown, we got a car and driver for the one-hour trip to Cairo.

We found Cairo to be dingy and congested, but it was so full of 'little' gems that it was worth the visit. Among them were the Nile River, the pyramids and ancient artifacts, and the beautiful Coptic churches and mosques. We spent seven days touring the area and enjoying the hotel amenities — such as air-conditioning. We'd done so much that we were exhausted by the time we said farewell to our aunt and headed back to our boat.

We have one big money-saving tip for anyone following in our wake. Buy all the fuel you can in Ismailia. The best time to do this is during the shifting of the guards at the marina, as that's when they'll let you through with your jerry jugs. The reason to buy in Ismailia is that diesel is just $1/gallon while it's often $10/gallon in the Med. In addition, the small town was full of friendly and helpful people, and had a decent grocery store for stocking up on goodies.

We did the second half of our Suez transit with another pirate — er, pilot. After dropping him off, we headed into the Med, hoping for following seas for a quick trip up to Marmaris, Turkey. We had headwinds and big seas instead. Oh well, at least our Red Sea passage had been a breeze.

— kelly and kelly 07/15/08

Quetzalcoatl — Brewer 45 Ketch
Donald Bryden and Seishu Sono
On A Slow Boat To The Marquesas
(Walker Lake, Nevada)

We're slowly making the 2,961 miles from Galapagos to the Marquesas. Of course, if we included our passage from Panama to the Galapagos, this transPacific trip would be a total of 3,846 great circle miles. Phew!

The winds have been quite light, mostly seven to 10 knots, with occasional periods of as little as five knots or as many as 18 knots. Our best day's run so far has been 152 miles at latitude 04°S, perhaps with some help from the current. Our worst day's run was just 71 miles at latitude 07°S. Although we motored the first night out of the Galapagos, we've been under sail ever since. Overall, it's been the smoothest, most comfortable sailing we've experienced. It's even been a little eerie when down below, as at times there has only been the slightest sensation of motion. It's not always as smooth as that, of course, because it can be a little uncomfortable when the wind dies but the seas are still up. Quetzy then gets to rolling and the sails slat loudly. At times like that, we remind ourselves of all the people who still have to go to work everyday. That makes us laugh at our situation. Besides, the seas calm down in a few hours anyway.

The air temperature has been very pleasant so far. It's a little warm on sunny mornings, but we're shaded by the sails in the afternoon, so it's always comfortable then. On cloudy days it can be cool, and it's cool on deck at night.

We're trying to make as much westing as we can. The winds have been variable from the southeast to the northeast, so we've had to make many adjustments to the sail trim. In addition, the wind is often very light during the evening and at sunrise. It might seem strange to some that we sail with a reefed main and partially furled genoa in less than 10 knots of breeze, but it cuts down on the slatting and we're happier for it. We'd been in the Caribbean prior to making this passage, and we never had a need for a light air sail. There were no sailmakers in Panama or Ecuador, so our lack of foresight in acquiring a light air sail hasn't helped our situation. We're hoping we can buy an appropriate sail in French Polynesia. Even if the sail doesn't fit, just having it aboard would mean we'd never need it. Veteran cruisers know how that goes.

We've had a couple of minor failures. The genoa slapped the leading edge of the mast, knocking the deck light loose and bending the mount for the hailer. I went up the mast to retrieve the light, which was hanging by its wires and banging on the spar. A couple of days later, the hailer mount failed, so I had to go back up to retrieve that. Some fun! During my passage to the Marquesas in the '90s, I went up the mast to put chaffing gear on the spreader tips. Did we mention calm seas?

This is Seishu's first offshore passage, and she's really into it — despite the fact she'd never been on a sailboat before I rescued her from the wilds of Mongolia. Okay, so it didn't happen quite that way. We were actually both volunteer participants on an Earthwatch expedition into the Gobi Desert. But after I saw her fall off a camel and get right back on, I knew she was the woman for me. She tolerated listening to me rave about the cruising life for three weeks, then decided to give it a try. A natural, she's taken over the galley and caring for the provisions, always stands her watches, likes tweaking the sails, and cleans the fish we catch. Back home in Ashiya City, Japan, she always cooked with fresh foods, so I have had to teach her the finer points of cooking with canned food. Seishu first joined me in Trinidad in '05, after which we spent two years in the Caribbean. Thanks to her healthy cooking, I may live to be 110.

Before leaving Panama, we installed a SeaCAS Automatic Identification System (AIS) and a Standard Horizon CP-300 chart plotter. Both were new technology to me. We were immediately impressed with the AIS, as from our Balboa YC mooring in Panama City, with the antenna just mounted on the rail, we would get the name, course, speed and other details of ships as far as 40 miles away! The chart plotter shows their position on the electronic chart, and when the cursor is placed over the ship symbol, a box appears with the additional information. We've 'watched' ships lock through the Canal, and occasionally I could 'see' ships off Colón on the Caribbean side of the Canal. Very, very impressive. Once we got to sea, however, the reception dropped to about eight miles. I suspect that the initial good reception may have been due to signals being reflected off the hills and buildings of Panama City.

When I was in grade school, we were taught that the Pacific Ocean got its name because it was such a calm body of water. I never could figure that out, as I'd visited both the Atlantic and the Pacific shores of the United States, and they looked to be pretty much the same to me. But after being in Panama, where Europeans first came across what they were to name the Pacific Ocean, I finally understand. The difference between the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts couldn't be more striking. On the Caribbean side, the wind is almost always blowing briskly, surf is usually breaking on the shores, and the tidal range is no more than three feet. But only 50 miles away on the Pacific side of Panama, the winds are always light if they blow at all, there are very few places to find surf breaking, and the tidal range is close to 20 feet. The explorer Balboa must have been amazed at the difference. We sure were.

A few issues ago, there was a discussion in Letters about the funny names given to groups of animals. We've seen thousands of flying fish recently, and have noticed that they often take off in groups and appear to be flying in formation. It can be very entertaining. Anyway, we've taken to calling them 'squadrons' of flying fish. Even if the name were incorrect, it would sure fit.

While on the subject of flying fish, one dark night we ended up with nine squid and four flying fish on deck. I picked up a squid and threw it overboard to clear the deck — at which point my Japanese princess stopped me. After collecting the fish and squid, she prepared them for lunch. There is a surprisingly large amount of meat on flying fish. We ate ours as sashimi and fried in butter, and found them to be quite tasty both ways. Seishu stir-fried the squid with fresh ginger. If you want to eat squid, the trick is to find and cook them before they dry up.

We've had pretty good luck fishing. We caught something that looked like a sierra the second day out, and yesterday we tried again and caught a nice mahi. Since we only fish in order to eat, we've been doing well in this department.

We always maintain a watch while underway. During our crossing in this remote part of the Pacific, we've seen one fishing boat, two ships, and two nights ago we were passed by the cruising boat motoring in the direction of the Marquesas. One of the ships had been on a collision course with us at night. We hailed the ship on 16 by name — remember the AIS — but received no response. We were in the process of entering the ship's MMSI identification code in the radio to send them a position report using Digital Selective Calling (DSC) channel 70 when they finally replied. They had not seen us. In fact, it was necessary for us to turn on our remaining deck light before they could see us. Once that was done, we made arrangements for passing. Later, the ship called back and wanted to chat. They were curious as to who we were and where we were going. They told us that they'd never seen a sailboat at sea before. We wonder how many they had passed unseen.

It seems that we've had at least one close encounter with another vessel during every passage. Fishing boats drive us nuts. We always want to give way, but they often don't maintain a steady course and speed, and often weave back and forth in our track. One of the fishing boats sighted on this passage did that. It took us two hours to pass it, as it alternately headed toward us and then away from us. It was impossible to know if they even knew we were there. This reminded me of an incident on the Pacific Coast of Baja several years ago. We were southbound at night, and suddenly there were many lights — like a small city — a mile in front of us. We guessed that it was a group of small fishing vessels, and they'd all turned on their lights when they saw us approaching. Once we turned to avoid them, they turned all their lights out. As a result, we couldn't see them, and had no way to know when we could safely resume our course.

In another issue of Latitude, there was a discussion about using a GPS rather than a magnetic compass to indicate the direction a boat was going. On this passage we've had a lot of time to evaluate the GPS in that regard. In choppy seas, the GPS track indicator rapidly jumps around 20 degrees or more. As such, I don't know how anyone could use one for steering. The GPS speed readout is also erratic. I think the problem is that the GPS antenna is moving around too much. To calculate actual speed, I compute it from two odometer log readings, or from two plots on the chart. The course indicator on the radar is fairly steady and could probably be used for steering. Meanwhile, my magnetic compass shows a steady direction regardless of what the rest of the boat is doing. I'll stay with it.

Postscript: We finally got wind on our 23rd day out, and started knocking off some good — but less comfortable — runs. In the end, we made our crossing in 28 days, 27 of them spent under sail alone. Our average speed was 4.5 knots, and our average day's run was 108 nautical miles. Now for a couple of those $20 cheeseburgers we have been hearing about!

— donald 06/05/08

Kiapa — M&M 52 Cat
Pete and Susan Wolcott
Battery Charging Solutions
(Cat Harbor, Catalina)

The whole battery charging dilemma is huge for cruisers! We did a 30,000-mile lap of the Pacific aboard our lovely SC 52 Kiapa. While we had a great time despite system hassles, charging the house batteries was always a nuisance. Our poor Yanmar diesel, which unfortunately was turbo’d, was run 70% of the time for the sole purpose of charging the batteries. It was not a happy camper for this use/abuse. We did carry one medium-sized portable solar panel in the v-berth, but it was just not enough to consistently make a difference.

In '03, we made one big effort to get around using the main engine for battery charging by adding an Air-X wind generator. While it might have looked a little 'agricultural' for an SC52, we liked the fact that it was a lightweight solution. The little generator mounted on a carbon fiber pole — all do-it-yourself kinda work — and weighed in at under 20 pounds. Wind generators are noisy little buggers, but they do generate power when there is more than 12 knots of apparent wind. We even saw sustained output of approximately 40 amps during periods of heavily reinforced trades. The system comes with nifty features. For example, the regulation is great, and you can 'short it out' to stop it.

The wind generator was pretty useless when sailing downwind. On the other hand, during our upwind trip from New Zealand back to the States — via Tonga, Samoa, Fanning and Hawaii — the Air-X virtually ran all our boat's systems, including the fridge and autopilot. We didn’t even have to run it all the time to keep the batteries up, which meant we could take an occasional break from the noise.

However, we found that the best solution is to go over to the dark side and buy a catamaran. Trying to build on our earlier cruising experience, we equipped our Morrelli & Melvin-designed 52-footer built by Schooner Creek with a very simple but effective diesel genset, the Genie from Ample Power. In addition, we mounted four big solar panels to be managed by a pair of Solar Boost 2512iX controllers from Blue Sky Energy. Equipped as such, we don't have to use our engines to charge our batteries any more! There is simply nothing like four 130-watt solar panels.

In mid-latitudes, our experience is that our four panels will run everything ­— fridge, watermaker, stereo, lighting, and electronics — March thru October. We have not yet seen how they’ll work during the winter in the tropics, but quick math says they’ll be great!

The solar controllers we purchased from Blue Sky are phenomenal. They have a technology — probably best left for a Max Ebb article to explain — that wastes none of the panel's energy. Watts in equals watts out. Thus if your panel is outputting a voltage higher than that which your batteries need to see, then your batteries see a current higher than the panels are outputting. And Blue Sky’s monitor is so slick that we chose it to be the 'master' for all the charge, discharge, and battery condition functions.

The picture of the monitor tells the story. After 13 months of liveaboard use, our batteries have output 33,365 amp-hours, or a daily average of 86 amp-hours per day. This understates our average actual use a little, as we’ve left the boat here and there for a few days at a time. The panels seem capable of delivering on the order of 120 amp-hours per day. We've even seen a net positive charge from the batteries while our Glacier Bay fridge system was running.

On the flip side, our poor Genie diesel generator has had only 45 hours of use — 20 hours of which were during installation and the first month of debugging. We are very pleased with it, though, and see it as an important tool for charging on passages when the autopilot and nav lights add significantly to the load on the batteries. Or when Susan wants to use her blow dryer.

— pete and susan 07/15/08

Cruise Notes:

As mentioned in this month's Sightings, a July 12 article in the L.A. Times reporting that gangs had come to Avalon made all the news services. There were all kinds of clucking sounds from the mainland, and a lot of knickers got into a twist. It just so happened that the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca were at Avalon when the story broke. We can report that we didn't see any gangs, unusual graffiti, or drive-by shootings from golf carts. There wasn't as much crack in the bathrooms as sand on the beach, nor do we recall being either robbed or raped. Avalon seemed like it always did: something a little sleepy out of the '40s — and we mean that in a good way. It didn't have the South Central L.A. vibe at all. So we almost laughed out loud when we saw the Times story. In fact, we hadn't laughed like that since the news services reported that Al Qaeda was planning to use Catalina as a staging ground for sneaking Islamic terrorists to the U.S. mainland. No, the only unpleasantness we had at Catalina was because we requested a single ball mooring — as opposed to a bow and stern mooring — off Descanso Bay. This was really stupid on our part, because if the wind goes against the tide just so, your boat will start bouncing off the dang ball. This happened to us about five times during the night, and each time required that we get out of our bunk, turn on the engine, and try to manuever Profligate in such a way that it wouldn't happen again. But it did happen over and over — and sometimes with an interval of no more than a few minutes. We did not sleep well that night. Why did we ask for a single tail? Because we'd used them a couple of times before without any problem. But take it from us, you're much more likely to suffer single tail mooring ball banging off Descanso than any kind of gang banging at Avalon.

"The South Pacific Convergence Zone went crazy on July 19," report Robby and Lorraine Coleman of the Honolulu-based Angleman ketch Southern Cross. "Eight boats on their way to Suwarrow Atoll in the Northern Cooks from French Polynesia got hammered by 30 to 40-knot winds and even stronger squalls. While they were having strong southeasterly winds, the wind came out of the northwest at Manihiki 200 miles to the north where we were. It left us on a lee shore, with our stern coming perilously close to the reef and breakers. We tried to raise the anchor at dinnertime on the 18th, but it was severely stuck. Fortunately, we were able to use the line we'd attached to the anchor float to dislodge it. Whew! After motoring southwest for three hours, we hove to. We got underway again the next morning under blue skies in light winds. But that evening the boats nearing Suwarrow reported that the winds were continuing in the 30+ knot range with rain. Since that was only 140 miles south of us, we hove to, not wanting to sail into those conditions.

Singlehander Wayne Meretsky of the Alameda-based S&S 47 Moonduster was one of those sailing in strong winds to Suwarrow. "There has been plenty of wind — 25 to 35 knots — the last three days, and I've had really good daily runs of 203 miles, 196 miles, and should do about another 196 miles today. I'd never had a 200-mile singlehanded day before. I've had the boat completely shut, with even the washboard in place, another thing I've never done in all my singlehanded miles. But with so many waves washing over the boat, I didn't want to risk a wave coming into the nav station and wiping out all the electronics. The reports on the net today were that two Seattle-based boats, Mike Scott and Liz Strash's Seattle-based Cal 40 Argonaut, and the Seattle-based Bristol Channel Cutter Little Wing, took knockdowns yesterday. They didn't come on the net this morning, but I'm told that Little Wing reported by satphone that they would both be in Suwarrow soon. I just spoke to Steve and Wendy Bott of the Seattle-based J/44 Elusive, who reported they were just finishing a jibe when a squall hit and caused the boat to jibe back violently. The result was a broken gooseneck, a torn mainsail track, the reef point clews being pulled out, and a busted running backstay. They're already at Suwarrow, which is 400 miles away, but where I'm headed. It's been rough, but my biggest adventure today will be swapping propane bottles. I made some biscuits for lunch yesterday, and when I went to heat some soup last night, there was nothing left in the tank. I'm not complaining, as I'd been using that tank since February 10 in Mexico. By my math, I've only got another seven months of propane on board, so I don't worry too much."

Also caught in the blow were Ron and Mary Ellen Leithiser on their Norseman 447 Island Time. "We're currently in the thick of things, although conditions seem to be getting better, with the wind down to 25-35 knots and the seas down to 10-12 feet. But breaking waves continue to hammer our boat and fill the cockpit. We've already had our engine start switch and some cockpit instrument displays knocked out. But we're relatively unscathed compared to the others. We know that the following boats all left Bora Bora on July 15: Island Time, Scarlett O'Hara, Elusive, Blue Plains Drifter, Fearless, Little Wing, Argonaut, Windancer, and Tracen J. There are other boats on the same passage, but we just don't know who they are. How did we all get caught out here? The weather looked fine when we started, but then two days into the passage the GRIBs suddenly showed wind on the way. But the windspeed was underestimated. At the peak, we had 35-40 knots of sustained winds, with seas to 20 feet. By the way, the size of the seas was confirmed by Buoy Weather. The most eye-opening thing to us has been the unpredictable nature of the weather here in the South Pacific Convergence Zone. Because of the conditions at the anchorage in Suwarrow, we'd decided to continue on to Pago Pago without stopping.

We'll have a report next month on how fellow cruisers and members of the marine industry back here in the States rallied to help those boats that suffered damage.
While the folks in the South Pacific Convergence Zone had some unexpected bad weather, Jim Milski and the crew on his homebuilt San Francisco-based Schionning 48 Sea Level had unexpectedly pleasant weather for what they had to assume was going to be a rough trip from San Francisco to Victoria, British Columbia. "We left on June 28 and caught a five-day weather window that was as great as our crew, which happened to be Kent Milski, Chuck Hooper, trip historian B.B. Sellers, and myself. The weather was chilly, with light winds and flat seas. We understand that such conditions for such a long period of time are almost unheard of along the coasts of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington during the summer. But the nights were foggy, with the visibility down to a quarter mile or less. How did the old-timers do it without chart plotters and radar overlays? We spent the 4th of July in Port Angeles, which turned out to be one fireworks-happy place. We cleared into Canada by phone from the dock in front of the historic Empress Hotel in Victoria. Our dock neighbors were Meg and Lena, two lady sailors aboard the boat Flower. They'd tried to sail from San Francisco to Victoria twice, but had been turned back both times. So they eventually had to sail to Victoria by way of Hawaii. This made us realize how lucky we'd been coming north. Downtown Victoria was busy with buskers, vendors, and big crowds. The Gay Pride Parade on Sunday was very interesting, with some participants who were really beautiful — and some who weren't quite that beautiful. My favorite marching contingent was the 'Survivors of Catholic Girls Schools', all of whom dressed in facsimiles of their school uniforms."

"We're not sure how," Milski continued, "but Sea Level then got invited to participate in the Tall Ships Festival in Port Alberni on July 11 and 12. We planned the jump to the outside of Vancouver Island for Port Alberni, but misread the tide and current tables. We paid the price as we tried to pass Race Rocks. The wind piped to 25 knots on the nose with gusts to 35 knots, and we had a foul current. The seas were eight feet with chop on top. It wasn't pleasant. We struggled into a safe anchorage at Campbell Cove in Becher Bay, and were glad to get in. It was our lesson about reading tide and current tables with care. The Tall Ships Festival featured the Bounty, a fully-rigged ship; the Blarney Pilgrim, a topsail schooner; the Grail Dancer, a schooner; the HMCS Oriole, a marconi-rigged ketch; the Kaisei, a brigantine; the Hawaiian Chieftain, a square-rigged topsail ketch; the Niña, a replica of the 15th century caravel Rebando; the Lady Washington, a brig; the Lynx, a topsail schooner; and our Sea Level, a performance cruising catamaran. We were berthed next to the Niña, a replica of the ship that Columbus sailed to find the edge of the world. I stood in awe of the past and the present. As great as the nautical history and vessels were, the people and characters at the festival were the real treat. Harrison Layton, the pilot on the Bounty, has spent 40 years as a pilot in British Columbia, and he can spin a yarn with the best of them. But our great cruising adventure has started!"

"Those who did last year's Ha-Ha — and particularly those who anchored in the outer harbor at Cabo San Lucas — will remember that Adam Sandler was shooting a film there at the time the fleet pulled in," reports Stuart Kaplan of the Scottsdale-based Norseman 43 catamaran Duetto. "After all, half the Ha-Ha boats in the anchorage got kicked out from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day because the artistes needed Cabo to look like Israel's Dead Sea, and there are no big yachts in the Dead Sea. Well, I went to see Don't Mess With The Zohan, and right at the beginning there were several shots of the anchorage at Cabo — and you can even see some of the Ha-Ha boats. Although it may be a case of wishful thinking, I think we saw our catamaran. Has anybody been able to make a positive identication of their boat?"

Nick Spindler, a recognized expert on Magritte and esoteric reggae, and who is also an amateur movie critic, gave Don't Mess With The Zohan the following review: "This is a classic Sandler movie: crude, impolitic, and riddled with jokes, swearing, and offhand nudity. Don't miss it. Get Smart should have been this funny, but it wasn't."

"We're spending the hurricane season in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela," report Gary and Linda Lott of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Lagoon 410 catamaran Rainbowrider. "We're just back in the marina after two months of cruising Venezuela's offshore islands — Blanquilla, Los Roques, and Los Aves. The water was clear as gin, the beaches were white sand, a high percentage of the reefs are still alive, and the trades blew steadily. It was like being in the South Pacific without having to make the 20-day crossing."

While some things are changing in Venezuela, others are staying the same. Among the changes, Bolivarian Socialist President Hugo Chavez, who loves to poke the big, bad U.S. in the eye, has seen his political fortunes plummet as a result of an election defeat, a terrible economy that's getting worse despite oil riches, and the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt in neighboring Colombia. Once a sworn enemy of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, Chavez is now backpedaling and buddying-up as fast as he can to Uribe, explaining that "even brothers fight sometimes, but that's in the past." The most stunning turnabout is that Chavez has joined Fidel Castro in imploring the left-wing FARC guerillas in Colombia to release the hundreds of kidnap victims they hold captive and forswear such actions in the future. Indeed, more than a million people in major cities around the world marched to express their disapproval of kidnappings for political purpose. All that's good. What's bad, however, is that pirates continue to attack cruising boats in the eastern districts of Venezuela, and do it with impunity.

For example, last month Brits Peter Lee, 61, and Betty Lee, 57, of the Stockport, England-based 41-ft sloop Raven Eye were attacked and robbed by five armed pirates while sailing from Isla Margarita, Venezuela, to Trinidad. While they were about two miles offshore, a battered fishing boat with five armed men sped toward Raven Eye. One of the pirates fired a shot at the couple. When one of the men was about to jump onto the sloop, Lee decided to ram the fishing boat. But when a second bullet whizzed past his skull, he gave up. Five armed men, most of whom were in their 20s, boarded the yacht and tied Lee up face down on the deck. His wife was then taken below with a gun pressed to her skull. At that point Kankuntu, the two-year-old hunting dog the couple had picked up in Gambia not long before, attacked the attackers. In the course of taking on three pirates at once, the dog was shot once and stabbed several times. As the dog hid under the salon table, the pirates returned their attention to Betty. When they finally realized that the couple only had a small amount of money, they ripped her wedding ring off with such violence it caused considerable bleeding. The ring hadn't been off her hand in 35 years. Seeing nothing else of value, the pirates took off.

In another discouraging case from eastern Venezuela, Peter and Jeanne Pockle of the Boston-based Jeanneau Sun Fizz 41 Watermelon — who went cruising for a "few years" but are still out there after 16 years — were attacked by pirates on March 28. They'd left Trinidad and had covered 25 miles toward Venezuela when, out by the oil platforms, they were shot at and attacked by six "young and clean-cut pirates" in a triple outboard-powered pirogue. As soon as Peter came on deck with a flare gun to resist, one of the pirates fired two shots at him. Both shots missed, perhaps because of the rough seas. When Peter fired back with the flare gun, the driver of the pirogue took off, knocking the pirate shooter off his feet. They never returned. But neither did the Venezuelan Coast Guard come out to search for the attackers. The Pockles told the Seven Seas Cruising Association Discussion Board that, while they once loved Venezuela, their attitude has been changed by the incident. They believe that President Hugo Chavez has "poisoned the minds" of many Venezuelans. Frankly, we're not sure that's the problem, as cruisers were frequently attacked in eastern Venezuela since before Chavez took power the first time, and that was in the early '90s. Historically, it's been a dangerous area to cruise.

Before anybody gets worked up over 'pirates', they should be aware that attacks only take place regularly in a few well-known places in the world — eastern Venezuela, the Gulf of Aden, and less often in the Straits of Malucca and certain places on the coast of Colombia. And the majority of cruisers who transit these areas — for what reasons we're not sure — don't have a problem. Indeed, the real dangers always tend to be ashore.

It's now hurricane season in both the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane zones. The season in the Eastern Pacific — meaning off the Pacific Coast of Mexico — officially started in June, and has been pretty active with three tropical storms and three hurricanes. The good news is that none of the hurricanes were very strong, and all the storms were well-behaved in that they started offshore and proceeded even further offshore to their deaths in cooler waters. Let's hope that the rest of the season is as benign.

The Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season is July through November, which means it starts a month later and ends a month later than in the Eastern Pacific. So far, there have been three inconsequential tropical storms and hurricane Bertha. While the latter stayed offshore the whole time, she was nonetheless the longest lasting early season hurricane in history. According to Professor William Gray at Colorado State University, who has been making Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane forecasts/predictions for 25 years, his team is expecting a "very active hurricane season this year, although not as active as '04 or '05." This means 15 named storms, eight of which are expected to become hurricanes, and four of which are expected to have sustained winds in excess of 111 mph. The long-term annual average for the Atlantic/Caribbean is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes, and 2.3 intense hurricanes. Hurricane forecasting is such an imprecise science that some might even call it guessing. We wish everybody with a boat in a hurricane zone — which would include us — the best of luck this season. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

"While many folks who were in Mexico have reported suffering from swarming bees — honey and Africanized alike — we were visited by other stinging things — wasps!" reports Heather Cosaro, who cruised Mexico last winter with David Addleman aboard his Monterey-based Cal 36 Eupsychia. "The wasps started nesting on our boat, and we hastily had to escape. Fortunately, after some moving around inside, they left us. But there were at least three different kinds of wasps that liked our boat. The one in the accompanying photo is of the type that would nest and pester us most frequently. We finally did get some bees, but not until up at Ensenada Grande in Baja. They were all over the cockpit, but remained calm."

David and Heather have returned to California, but can't wait to get back — bees and wasps or no bees and wasps — to Mexico. As such, they've already signed up for this fall's Ha-Ha.

"Bula! We are still here in Savusavu, Fiji," report Charles and Catherine McWilliam, along with their children Chay, Katie, and Jamie, of the San Diego-based Kelly-Peterson 46 Esprit, vets of the '03 Ha-Ha. "But we took a four-week trip back to the States to see family and for Jamie to compete in the World Karate Championship. He placed sixth and fourth in the world last year, and this year started out second and third. We're so proud of him! We arrived back in Fiji on July 7, and have been busy with getting Esprit ready to go sailing again. We hope to leave tomorrow for the islands and anchorages on our way west toward Musket Cove via Astrolabe Reef. There are several dive sites along the way that we're looking forward to exploring. We attended the English Mass today at St. Andrews — which has the same name as our Boulder City Parish. The church is a very old but beautiful Spanish-looking church set on the shore of Savusavu Bay. The priest who said mass was barefoot, and the children — mostly high school students — sat on the floor because there weren't enough pews. The acapella singing, with typical polynesian harmonization, was magnificent."

How those cruising kids grow! We remember Jaime as a frail boy who broke his arm during the '03 Ha-Ha, and now he's close to the top karate expert in his class in the world. It reminds us of Tristan and Jack, the sons of Tom and Lynn Petty of the San Francisco-based Wylie 65 Roxanne, who were in Mexico in the early '00s. They and their family have been out cruising ever since, sailing everywhere from the Marshall Islands to New Zealand, where the kids are now in school and Lynn is working. "The boys are avid kite-surfers," writes Tom. "Jack now stands 6'5", weighs 185, and is ripped. And his kite-surfing just took off. One day I was teaching him the basics, and the next day he was doing stunts that I'll never try. Then Tristan picked it up faster than either of us."

Because of import duty restrictions, Tom and Marina Village Harbormaster Alan Weaver will be taking Roxanne to New Caledonia in October. "We've been to New Caledonia three times," Tom wrote in an email. "I could easily live there. It has a beautiful lagoon and island, and even the French seem happy there."

We recently had some correspondence with the 'Coco-Nuts' — Jennifer and daughter Coco Sanders, and Greg King — aboard the Long Beach-based 65-ft schooner Coco Kai, during which time they mentioned they were going to Hawaii and would be back in California in September. It almost sounded as though they were wrapping up their cruise, so we emailed them for a confirmation. This was their reply:

"It's fine with us if you affectionately nickname us the 'Coco-Nuts', but the only way we're going to see California anytime soon is if we fly there. As of now — and plans could change by tomorrow — we'll sail to Hawaii this fall; New Zealand next fall; the Marshall Islands the fall after that; Australia the fall after that, and after all those falls, head to Micronesia. Our plan is to avoid sailing to weather, but reach back and forth in the vast Pacific to see as much as we can. Then we'll move on to another ocean."

So no, we don't think Coco Kai will be back to California anytime soon.

While reading the published version of last month's Latitude interview with boatbuilders and circumnavigators Marc and Doreen Gounard, we were flabbergasted to read that we'd written they'd "sailed west to Cooks and Beverage Reef". Beverage Reef?! What, there's a reef out in the Pacific with big fruit juice, soda pop, and coffee distribution centers? Marc and Doreen were, of course, referring to Beveridge Reef, named after the brig Beveridge, whose captain discovered it. We just screwed it up. But it turns out that we're not the only ones. If you Google Beverage Reef, Wikipedia says that such a place exists.

"The new hailing name for what used to be known as Singlar in Puerto Escondido, Baja, is now 'Fonaport', according to the Hidden Harbor YC website. The Singlar name is reportedly no longer to be used at Puerto Escondido or any of the other former Singlar facilities. It's unclear to us whether this means the 11 Singlar facilities, from Puerto Penasco to San Blas, have been bought — they were for sale — or have just been renamed. And in an activity that has nothing to do with any name change or possible change of ownership, the website also reports that Fonatur has started major ground leveling on the land next to the short road leading from the Transpeninsular Highway to Puerto Escondido. All old infrastructure has been removed except for the hilariously named 'modern day ruins'. The land is to be divided into lots and sold. The leveling is moving rather quickly, but no completion date has been set.

We always get a laugh out of any attempts at progress at Puerto Escondido. While down there in '78 we attended, along with others including Pat Rains who years later would co-author and publish the Mexico Boating Guide, a Fonatur presentation about the great and wonderful development that would soon be completed at that site. That was a huge flop, and there have been several others at Puerto Escondido since then, so we're not believing anything until it's finished.

Lastly, it's been announced that the Fonaport moorings fees at Puerto Escondido will not be raised before '09. That's a good thing, because they are way too high as they are.

Robert and Ginny Gleser of the Alameda-based Islander Freeport 41 Harmony completed their trip from Ecuador back to San Carlos, Mexico, a few months ago, where they again put their boat on the hard for the summer. We hope to publish the review of their season in the next issue when we have more room, but we were caught by Observation #7, titled A Ghost Tale:

"Late one night during a rough passage, Robert was nodding between the miles, checking each 10 minutes for signs of other boats. We'd been out for days, during which time we'd rarely seen any other vessels. Then he began to hear a crabby old sea dog yelling at him. The sea dog complained that he wasn't appreciated on the boat, and that he had to keep watches through the Papagayos and the Gulf of T-Peck because everyone else was sleeping or drunk. After continual grousing, the sea dog gave Robert a royal bawling out. Didn't Joshua Slocum have the same old sea dog pilot standing watches for him, too?

Hallucinations and apparitions are not uncommon on the ocean, particularly on single or doublehanded boats. Has anybody else out there was to share unusual companionship during an offshore voyage?

Here's to hoping that your summer and winter cruising dreams aren't mere apparitions, but become reality.

Missing the pictures? See our August 2008 eBook!


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