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August 2014

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With reports this month from Reflections on their boat garden in Malaysia; from X on the good but uncrowded cruising life in the Philippines; from Eleutheria on the Tuamotus and resident sharks; from Paradise Marina on various improvements and upgrades; from Profligate on Bash-free but nonetheless sometimes out-of-control Baja Bash; and Cruise Notes.

Reflections — Esprit 37
Gene and Sheri Seybold
How Does Your Boat Garden Grow?
(Stockton / Honolulu)

For Sheri Seybold, cruising for many years with her husband Gene aboard their Esprit 37 Reflections, and currently cruising Malaysia, the onboard garden is going pretty well. It got started with a gift from Sufiyo Zazen, who is cruising with Majj — gotta love those exotic names — aboard an unnamed sloop.

"Those two are growing all kinds of herbs and flowers on their sailboat," reports Sheri.

Two weeks after Sheri got started, she had to repot her onions, garlic and flowers. Later she added some rosemary and sweet basil that she'd store-bought.

"I have been amazed at how fast everything is growing," Sheri says. "I cut the greens from the garlic and onions, so they never stop growing. I take cuttings from the basil and rosemary, too. They are wonderful in salads, omelets, stir fries — all kinds of dishes."

"One problem is finding a good spot for the plants on the boat that won't interfere with sailing, as that would never do," says Sheri. Currently she has the plants mounted on the stern pulpit, where they get plenty of light.

"A second problem is the salt spray when we're underway," she continues. "I try to cover the plants before the spray gets on them, as salt is a sure plant killer. But that protection is a work in progress, as I don't think the plants would survive a long, rough passage with the current setup. But so far they've traveled 400 miles and are doing fine."

From plants to planes. The Seybolds are currently anchored off Tioman, a remote Malaysian tourist island to the east of Kuala Lumpur and to the north of Singapore. There the couple have been watching pilots struggle to land small passenger planes.

"We watched one plane come in for a landing the other day, and it was frightening!" says Sheri. "You can only land one way, the runway is very short with a sheer cliff at the end, and there are mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Pilots have to aim at the mountain, do a 90-degree turn, then dive at the runway! I would never fly into this airport!"

Lest anyone think that Sheri is a flying wimp, the Tioman Airport is frequently cited as the most dangerous in the world — even more so than perennial favorites Courchevel Airport in the French Alps, Saba's airport in the Caribbean Sea, and Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla, Nepal.

People risk their lives flying to Tioman because it's sparsely populated, densely forested, and is surrounded by clear water and coral reefs. It's also home to the walking catfish.

Even though there are no roads to connect the small towns on the 18-mile-by-six-mile island, the Seybolds were able to pick up new watermaker membranes and find fresh veggies and the all important laundry service.

Historians say that Tioman has been used for thousands of years by fishermen as an important navigation reference point, as well as a source of fresh water and wood. During the past thousand years it has played host to Chinese, Arab and European trading ships. Tioman was host to both the British and the Japanese during the Second World War, and the waters around the island are littered with war remains, including British capital ships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales.

Even though Tioman is in the South China Sea rather than the South Pacific, it played the part of the mythical Bali Hai in the 1958 movie South Pacific.

— latitude/rs 05/15/2014

X — Santa Cruz 50
David Addleman, Shayne de Loreto
El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Happily, my girlfriend Shayne and I are not doing much of anything. We are still in the Philippine Islands, but have left the relatively urban and social life of the Puerto Galera YC to sail among the islands of the southern Philippines. Fewer typhoons threaten here in the south; however one trades that for the regular squalls that can be quite violent. We endured the threat of last summer's typhoons on a relatively safe mooring at the yacht club. Although none hit, waiting for the possibility that one would hit was more stressful than I liked.

Sailing X has been extra fun this season because she has all new sails. We are also enjoying a magic period when every little thing on her looks good and works properly.

Today we are anchored at Cadlao Island in the El Nido province of Palawan. The geology is quite vertical. The rainforest is largely intact here, in contrast to nearby portions of the province where it has been tragically and completely destroyed. Buena Suerte is the funky nearby village where, in the high season, tourists come to dive, snorkel and visit the many small islands with pristine white sand beaches. However it's low season now, perhaps because of the daily squalls. You might think the lee of these high islands would have some well-protected anchorages. But as the guide books caution, the peaks create violent wind bombs from all directions to blast down in the lee.

On the way here we stopped at some swank resorts that welcome visiting yachts. Our friends Gundolf and Erica, of the yacht Aragorn out of Puerto Galera, caught up with us at Busuanga Island's El Rio y Mar Resort, where there is a small fee for a mooring but discounts on all the amenities. Then we swanked more on the other side of Busuanga at the Puerto del Sol Resort, where the well-sheltered moorings are free. Also one minute away is the fun El Faro Resort, where buying a few drinks gets you the use of their pool.

The other cruisers we've met seem to get out to see all the sights, do the excursions, see the vistas, and so forth. There are many, but is there a list that we're supposed to be working through? We pretty much don't do anything but sail around and live the quiet life. Unless we are in the big city, of course, when we pretty much get as wild as this old man can.

The main reason I'm taking it slowly here is my girlfriend Shayne, who sailed here with me from Palau. She's gotten comfortable with the unpredictable yachting life, cooks me anything at any time, and takes me to her 'girls only' beach parties with the other cruising gals (whose boyfriends are too busy golfing or changing the oil.)

While at the Puerto Galera YC, Shayne and I took a dinghy out for a fun race. Contrary to her relative uninterest in the sailing of X, she took to dinghy racing immediately. It confirmed my suspicion that one afternoon of dinghy sailing teaches a novice more than two years on a big yacht. However, the price of keeping the girl happy is having a permanent Internet connection for Facebook. At our private El Nido beach, this means having to take our dinghy out to one particular spot where a mobile phone connection can be made. It's a pain, but the lack of an Internet connection can germinate a funky attitude.

We love cruising here. The Filipinos are generally friendly and welcoming to cruisers, it's very affordable, every sort of tourist activity is available, and there are very few cruising yachts enjoying it all. On any given day, nine out of ten fabulous anchorages are empty. Same for the white sand beaches. Everything for living is generally available everywhere. Boat repairs are more difficult, but everything eventually works out with a little extra effort. The only negatives are a tiny amount of pirate-like activity in certain areas, and coral reefs that bring regular grief to ferries, navy vessels, and yachties.

— david and shayne 06/25/2014

Eleutheria — Tartan 37
Lewis Allen, Alyssa Alexopolous
Fun With Sharks in the Tuamotus
(Redwood City)

We've been anchored behind our own 'private island' for the past few days. It's the most beautiful, postcard-like setting we've ever been in. Although it's officially Raroia Atoll in the Tuamotus, we call it 'Ellie Island' after our boat's nickname — because we 'found' it on our Google Maps satellite images.

Ellie Island has palm trees, white sand beaches, turquoise water, tons of coral and fish — and lots of sharks. Our current anchorage on the east side of the lagoon is amazingly beautiful, secluded, private and peaceful, and has spectacular sunsets. There are no boats, no people, no noise, and no pollution — just the sound of waves, wind, birds and swaying palm trees. I'd long dreamed of finding a place like this, and now Alyssa and I are living in it!

While tiny Raroia doesn't have a lot of things, it does have some history. It's best known for being the place that Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki shipwrecked on in 1947 after drifting 4,000 miles across the Pacific from Peru. It took them 15 weeks.

We arrived here after a pleasant 425-mile passage from 'Ua Pou in the Marquesas, and made it in 2 days and 22 hours. We're happy to say that our 6.1-knot average is almost twice as fast as that of a lot of cruising boats.

The weather was great on the last night of our passage, as we had a pleasant 14 knots on the beam with relatively calm seas. By the end of the passage Alyssa and I had both settled into our offshore routine, and could have easily knocked off another 700 miles. I love the peace and freedom that you can only find at sea — as long as the conditions aren't too rough.

Entering Raroia Atoll and then making our way to the anchorage required running a three-part gauntlet. First was entering the pass, then avoiding the coral heads in the lagoon, and finally negotiating the buoys of the pearl farm.

We entered the pass at what we calculated to be slack water. Apparently we were off, as we found 4+ knots of ebb, which created three-foot standing waves. Even with our engine at full throttle, we were only making half a knot over the bottom. We were also swerving port-to- starboard in the current, trying to keep the range markers lined up so we didn’t drift onto the coral on either side of the pass. A friend had warned us that the pucker factor would be high on entering, and he was right. After 20 intense minutes, we made it into the lagoon — just as the ebb began to subside.

Next we had to avoid the many coral heads in the lagoon. Look at a Google Maps satellite image of Raroia and you'll see what I mean. These huge coral heads, which are littered about the lagoon, come to within about a foot of the surface and could spell the end to one's boat. We timed our entry so the sun would be behind us, allowing us to see the coral heads and pretty easily judge the depths by the color of the water. This second obstacle proved to be minor.

As we reached the east side of the lagoon, we saw many red buoys, and it didn’t take long to realize what we were up against — pearl farm buoys and lines. Our boat's shallow draft was very beneficial, and we eventually made it through unscathed.

We dropped our anchor in 45 feet of gin-clear water in the lee of the largest island on the east side of the atoll. What a spectacular setting! There are only 50 people who live on this atoll, there is no airport, and the only way to visit here is by private yacht. It was the unspoiled paradise that we'd been seeking.

After lunch the next day I put on the dive gear and descended directly below Ellie, and found a 20-ft-tall coral head teeming with life. There were a few big grouper and some other decent-sized fish that looked as though they would be good eating, so I surfaced and had Alyssa throw me my spear gun. We attached a line to the spear gun so that after I shot a fish, she could pull it up to the boat before the sharks got to it.

I went back down and sat on the sandy sea floor near the coral head, and patiently waited for our dinner to arrive. After about eight minutes, a big grouper came by. I took aim and landed a head shot. I tugged twice on the line to signal Alyssa while nervously scanning for sharks. As I managed to free the spear gun, which had gotten snagged on some coral, I saw the black tip sharks coming fast. Luckily Alyssa got the fish up to the boat before the sharks were able to tear into it. After I surfaced, my "huge grouper" looked like a guppy. Objects underwater really do appear larger than they actually are.

So we decided to have a little fun with the sharks. I cut the grouper's head off, and with cameras rolling, threw it into the water. The sharks went into a feeding frenzy!

Recently we tried to anchor on the west side of the lagoon, and it was a shit show to say the least. We had to anchor three times, and it took the entire afternoon. The problem is that the bottom is coral, which both snags the chain and tries to hang on to the anchor. Plus there was a relentless two-foot wind chop that tried its best to break our ground tackle free and set us onto the reef, which was a mere 100 yards astern.

At one point we managed to anchor too close to the pass, so when the current changed during a leisurely sunset cockpit session, we found ourselves sideways to three-foot standing waves. We set a new speed record getting the dinghy on deck and the anchor up. We then frantically searched to find another spot before the sun went down. Luckily we found a shallow patch of coral and managed to snag the anchor on a coral head and ride out the night. We later learned that the coral head was in the middle of a marked channel.

The next day we enjoyed an amazing dive on the pass. We rode the 4+ knot ebb over bright, healthy coral, and saw thousands of fish swirling around in the current eddies. After we cleared the most shallow part of the pass, the coral dropped down into huge canyons that were home to countless sharks.

The next day I dove on some coral heads and pried off some clams, which make excellent bait. As soon as I dropped my baited hook into the water, I had a huge fish on my line. I filleted it and was about to drop another baited hook when Bruce, our friend and captain of Skabenga, showed up. He laughed at the size of my tiny hook and asked me to bring out my biggest. When I jokingly handed him my largest one, a #4, he said, "Perfect!" We rigged up a 125-lb leader, put a huge chunk of clam on it, and lowered it over the side.

Half a beer later there was a huge tug on the line. I grabbed the pole and set the hook. It was a big one! About 10 minutes later I managed to get the monster to the surface. It was a shark. Bruce grabbed the leader and managed to get the hook out of his mouth. You should have seen the size of the shark's jaw and teeth!

As if we hadn't gotten enough fishing action the day before, we went spearfishing the next morning. We picked a 'bommie', a huge coral head, out in the lagoon, set the anchor, and dove in. Bruce and I were about 45 feet down when we came upon some huge grouper. Bruce shot the first one, snapped its neck, and then immediately shot another.

This got the attention of the local shark population, which apparently hasn’t been fed since 2010, because they immediately went into a frenzy. The blood in the water and the flailing fish contributed to their excitement. At this point there were only about seven of them and they were keeping their distance, so I wasn’t alarmed.

While Bruce was dispatching his second kill, I pushed on around the corner in search of more prey. I came around a coral head and there on the bottom was another monster grouper. I lined him up and got off a good head shot. After the shot my focus turned to the sharks, as I had this bleeding grouper on the end of my line and 45 feet of water between me and the surface. Furthermore, nobody else was in sight, and I was no longer sure where the dinghy was.

The sharks immediately came my way, and before I knew it there were about a dozen circling me. I tried my best to stay calm and not kick too hard, but I’m sure I failed as I tried to get to the surface as quickly as possible. I needed to find the dinghy and get the bleeding fish away from me.

When I got about halfway to the surface — spear gun in one hand, knife in the other — the sharks started charging. It was incredibly scary, because to my amazement the sharks weren’t going after the bleeding fish on the end of my line 20 feet below me — they were coming after me! They took turns surging toward me until they were about two feet away, at which point they would violently veer away. I thought the next one might try to take a bite out of me.

Once I got to the surface, I was able to locate the dinghy about 40 yards away. My activity on the surface made the sharks even more excited, and they circled even closer. I decided to descend again so I could at least see these missiles coming at me, and if necessary, take a stab at any that came too close. After probably four minutes, but what seemed like a lifetime, I made it to the dinghy and we all quickly got out of the water. By that time there were 20 sharks around. It was an intense experience, but we escaped without injury and with a full bounty of grouper for dinner.

As much as we want to stay at tiny Raroia, we have to be realistic and know that's not possible. So after another four or five days, we'll push on to Makemo.

— lewis 05/23/2014

Paradise Marina
Dick and Gena Markie
Upgrades All Around
(Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico)

If you're looking for a marina in Mexico in which to steal a dinghy from a boat, we cannot recommend Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta. Not after harbormaster Dick Markie showed us the marina's sophisticated new six-camera security system.

"We have two monitors in the marina office, and I also have a feed to my home here at Paradise Village," said Dick with a smile. "The system has infrared capability, so we can see what's going on at night, too. Markie explained that security cameras aren't so much for catching thieves as they are deterrents — and marketing devices. "When a boat owner comes into the marina office and sees all the cameras, he'll know that his boat will be safer than in marinas that don't have them." Readers can check out the views from the system on the marina's web page.

Markie was also happy to show us the ongoing renovations of the 12-year-old docks. "Everything but the pilings and cement walkways is being replaced," he said. "In addition, there will be sewage pump-out facilities at every berth, with a capacity of 55 gallons a minute, which is enough for three boats at one time. In addition, many of the berths will be wired for DSL access. The entire marina project will be completed before the start of the season in November."

Markie says the 180-slip Paradise Marina is about half power and half sail.

"We have a number of clients from the other side of the world who keep their boats here," he said. "A couple who live in Denmark own this Atlantic 55 Nogal, and they come to their boat for one month twice a year. There is a Russian who comes to his boat for three months a year, and another owner from Croatia."

How is business? "We were so full last year that I had to turn away over 200 boats, and I think we're going to be even busier this year."That's probably why Dick and his lovely sweetheart Gena took off the next day for a month's vacation in Italy. They're now back, refreshed, and ready for the season.

— latitude/rs 06/24/2014

Profligate — Surfin' 63 Cat
The Wanderer, Doña de Mallorca
Vallarta to San Diego Bash
(La Cruz, Nayarit, Mexico)

Conventional superstition is that sailors should never start a voyage on a Friday. As things would play out, the Wanderer would learn that he was apparently wrong in his assumption that multihulls were exempt.

The passage facing the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca was the 1,000-mile uphill slog from La Cruz, on the Riviera Nayarit, to San Diego, which includes the last 750 miles that is less-than-affectionately-known as the Baja Bash. It would be de Mallorca's 16th or 17th Bash aboard Profligate. She's lost count.

There are pros and cons to having more than two aboard on a Bash. The upside is that you get more sleep and occasionally have someone to talk to. The downside is that extra crew means having to accommodate another person's schedule. Those who travel fastest — important on a Bash — travel as close to alone as possible. We went with two.

Mariners have different theories about the best time to do a Bash. If you leave before June 1, the chances of hurricanes are almost nil. But it's usually cool to very cold along the Baja coast that early in the year. After getting acclimated to the tropics, changing from sweltering heat to cold can be a shock to the body — and the spirit.

Named storms are common in Mexico after June 1, and they are to be avoided. But if you're lucky — and very, very careful — they can be used to your advantage, as in most cases they travel to the northwest, leaving southerlies behind. Southerlies are the dream of all those who Bash.

After a mandatory appearance at the packed Philo's for his 69th birthday celebration, Profligate and crew departed La Cruz at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, June 27. We hadn't gotten more than a few miles past Punta Mita when the lightning and thunder commenced in its normal spectacular fashion. Then the rain came down so copiously that half an hour of it would have ended the drought in California. Dawn brought blue skies, smooth seas, and big smiles.

It's 285 open ocean miles from Punta Mita to Cabo. As we were following in the wake of one tropical storm and running ahead of a second that was forecast to split into two storms, one of which was expected to bring tropical storm winds as far north as La Paz, it was mandatory that we get north quickly. So it was with dismay that we noticed that both Yanmar 55 hp diesels suddenly and inexplicably shifted to neutral and throttled down to idle. What the heck?!

Profligate has fly-by-wire Micro Commander engine controls at each helm but no matter what we tried, we couldn't get the engines to rev or shift gears. We couldn't even get them to shut down. So there we were, in light headwinds with no control over our engines, and some sort of tropical activity vaguely headed in our general direction.

We're not engine-room experts, so it took us half an hour to figure out a dummies' response: disconnect the throttles and shift mechanisms from the Micro Commander system and operate them manually.

Operating the throttle and shift from inside each engine room was fine at sea, but it was going to make anchoring at Cabo a bit of a trick. After all, if one crew was at the helm and the other was at the windlass, who was supposed to operate the engines, which were 30 feet apart?

Fortunately, we got an assist from Patsy 'La Reina del Mar' Verhoeven of the Gulfstar 50 Talion, who had arrived in Cabo a few hours before and would be starting the Bash as soon as her crew arrived that night. De Mallorca and the Wanderer had been unsuccessfully trying to kill one engine by putting the bottom of a frying pan over the air intake. Diesels need a prodigious amount of air to run, and while the frying pan cut off 95% of the air, the remaining 5% was enough to keep the one sputtering.

Patsy, who jumped aboard Profligate as the cat was low-speed cruising through the blessedly empty Cabo anchorage, brought the solution with her — a one-foot-square bit of rubber inner- tube material. When put on the bottom of the frying pan, it created a perfect seal, and the engine shut down immediately.

With the Wanderer at the helm, de Mallorca in the starboard engine room, and La Reina at the windlass, we figured we had it made. At least we did until we were 100 yards from dropping the hook, at which point de Mallorca somehow managed to throttle the one remaining running engine down so low that it quit! So we'd gone from two engines we couldn't shut down to two engines we couldn't start, and we needed to get to shallow enough water to anchor. As soon as we lost all momentum, we dropped the biggest Fortress anchor there is at the end of 230 feet of chain and hoped for the best. The fathometer was on the fritz, so we didn't know how deep it was, but we held for the 2 ½ days.

Now in calm water, we got out the voltmeter and started to troubleshoot. We discovered that the port battery, which controls the entire Micro Commander system, had all of three volts. That explained a lot, as Micro Commanders are very sensitive to having adequate voltage. So just before dark de Mallorca and La Reina headed off to Costco in search of a new battery. Our fantasy was that a new battery would solve all our problems, conveniently ignoring the fact that the battery had supposedly been getting charged constantly for the previous 36 hours.

We hooked up the battery, turned on the key — and nothing. Not even a click at the solenoid. This reinforced our idea that the problem was with the Micro Commander and not the charging system or battery. We resigned ourselves to having to wait for a mechanic on Monday, letting a great Bash window start to slip away.

The difference in weather between Cabo and Vallarta is dramatic for the former's only being about 250 miles north of the latter. The Vallarta coast is warm and humid from June 15 on. There's lots of sun, but there are lots of clouds, too. The amount of rain and lightning has to be experienced to be believed. Eighteen inches of rain fell — almost all at night — during the week of June 20, and it wasn't even the rainy season. Cabo, on the other hand, is all sunshine and dry-as-a-bone desert. The only time it gets humid is when a tropical storm approaches. Cabo folks wouldn't last a day in Vallarta's summer humidity.

Then there is the difference in water temperature. Thanks to the heat and unusual humidity, it was hot as heck anchored at Cabo, so the Wanderer and de Mallorca jumped in. We nearly froze to death upon immersion, as 80 degrees seems downright icy when you're used to 85 degrees. It took our breath away.

Just for kicks we tried to start the engines again the next morning, and, wouldn't you know it, they fired right up. Our elation was short-lived, however, as the Micro Commander orders were consistently ignored or misinterpreted by the engines. One engine might go into forward as instructed, but not in reverse, and the other vice versa. Putting the port engine in gear resulted in the starboard engine control alarms going off. This only strengthened our belief that the problem was with the Micro Commander — although the engines seemed to become somewhat more responsive as the day wore on. We still needed a mechanic.

Despite a typically hectic Monday morning, Ari and Mike at Cabo Marine Center were nice enough to have their Micro Commander expert, Saul Contreas, come out to Profligate shortly after noon. As soon as he stepped aboard, the whole system performed perfectly. That's electrical stuff for you, isn't it? We all joked that Saul had scared ghosts out of the Micro Commander.

Just to make sure everything was fine, Saul checked out the new battery — plenty of volts there — and the alternator, which was putting out a satisfactory 13.5 volts. While 13.5 volts was a little low, and we had a replacement alternator, we called it good, as we wanted to get out of Dodge as soon as possible to take advantage of the weather window.

Seldom has a Baja Bash started in more glorious conditions. Thanks to tropical storm Douglas, we had 15 to 18 knots of wind from the south, as well as some following seas and a big rolling swell. And it was 92 degrees as we rounded Falso late in the afternoon! If these were normal Bash conditions, a thousand more California boats would flock to Mexico each winter.

About 18 hours later we passed Bahia Santa Maria. The wind and seas had disappeared, leaving only a large but gentle south swell from Douglas. It had been so warm the previous night that the Wanderer had bundled up in nothing more than a Speedo.

By late the next afternoon, we were in the process of passing Turtle Bay in about 12 knots of wind when an engine overheating alarm went off. This was a surprise, because before leaving we'd run vinegar through both cooling systems to clean out mineral deposits, and they had both been running at the correct temperature. And then, for no reason the Wanderer could fathom, some sort of alarm went off on the starboard side. It seemed that the ghosts had returned.

Still not 100% confident that we could get the engines started once we turned them off, we thought about pulling into Turtle Bay. On second thought, we decided to continue on at greatly reduced rpm, which lowered the engine temps into the acceptable range, toward Cedros. Knowing we could make it before dark to Cedros Village, where there were more engine mechanics than at Turtle Bay, we'd make our decision to stop or press on once we got there.

Just for the heck of it, we decided to check the house batteries, of which Profligate has six six-volts on each side. We got the shock of our lives, as individually they read about 11 volts, and as a bank about 19 volts each. Jesus, why weren't they exploding?

As we pondered this disquieting mystery, we decided to risk shutting down the starboard engine, to check the water strainer and replace the impeller. The water strainer was clean and the only damage to the impeller appeared to be caused by our using two screwdrivers to remove it.

When we got back on deck, we tested increasing the rpm, and the engine water temps stayed in the acceptable range. They we looked around us and it hit us like a ton of bricks. Turtle Bay is where the water starts getting cool enough for seaweed to thrive. Between Turtle Bay and Cedros, the kelp is as thick as it is off the Santa Barbara coast. We didn't know what was wrong with the house batteries, but the Micro Commander seemed to be working well enough and the Yanmars were running fine, so we pressed on.

We reached the south end of Cedros 48 hours out of Cabo. La Reina Patsy and Talion were already at the north end of Cedros, where they reported getting hit by 25-knot winds. So we cracked off toward Sacramento Reef early, and never had much more than 12 knots. La Reina reported their 25 knots dropped to nothing after about half an hour.

Anyone who has done a Bash will tell you that getting from the north end of Cedros to Sacramento Reef is a bitch, because even on the rare occasions when the wind isn't blowing hard on the nose with accompanying seas, there is a powerful current against you. Talion was slowed to under four knots, Profligate to 6.5 knots or less. It was frustrating.

By the next afternoon we were 150 miles south of San Diego, shocked to realize that we could still do a 3 ½-day Cabo to San Diego Bash. The previous night had required fleece, but it was warm on deck during the day. Everything was great — until it happened again. Both engines went to neutral and idle all by themselves. Dang, the Micro Commander ghosts were back.

For what seemed like the 100th time of the trip, the Wanderer was in and out of the engine rooms. He soon discovered that the now-brand-new port engine battery was down to three volts. How could this be if the alternator was good?

We had little choice but to proceed again after disconnecting the Micro Commander and operating the engines manually. There were some risks to this. First, it meant no engine gauges to warn of overheating or low engine oil. Second, because we knew we couldn't start the engines if we had to stop them, we had to measure the oil level and add oil while the engines were running. So the dipstick was only a rough guide, and we learned that when you add oil to a running diesel, some of it gets splattered onto your face. Wear eye protection.

Manual mode wasn't bad until we approached Ensenada and the congestion of fishing boats dragging long nets around midnight. But we managed. Actually, we not only managed, thanks to a very favorable current, we thrived. Whereas just north of Cedros we struggled to do 6.5 knots, we were now consistently doing 10.4. Cancel the ETA of 3 p.m. on the Fourth of July, we would get to the Customs Dock at 9 a.m. Now our problem was going to be docking.

With some prompt help from a friendly Harbor Police officer, we landed at the Customs Dock without a problem, 3 ¾ days out of Cabo and one week out of Vallarta. Not bad. With the help of friends, a short time later we made it to a 45-ft end-tie at Driscoll's Boat Yard.

After getting tied up, we put a battery charger on the dead port engine battery. The next day we tried the Micro Commander system again, and it and the engines worked flawlessly. It was clear that the problem had been the port engine's battery not having the juice to run the power-sensitive Micro Commander. Was the problem the alternator or some bad wiring? We presume the alternator had been working intermittently when the mechanic pronounced it fine in Cabo. Having had a spare on the boat, we should have swapped it out then.

A smarter mechanic than the Wanderer could have identified and solved the problem much more quickly. Double-checking the engine battery voltage and alternator would have revealed that the alternator was the problem. That could have been solved by: 1) Replacing the alternator with the spare we had onboard; 2) Charging up the engine battery with jumpers from the house bank or via the Honda genset; or 3) Replacing the port engine battery with the starboard engine battery.

As the engines had been running and we could control them, we had hesitated to try any of these fixes ourselves out in the middle of nowhere. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and we were afraid that we might set up some surge of power that might screw something up in the expensive Micro Commander system. We were happy with our decision.

As for the house six-volt batteries that were reading 11 volts, and the six-volt banks that were reading 19 volts, the problem was a bad digital voltmeter. We'd never seen this before. When we tried another voltmeter, the battery readings were perfect.

While the Micro Commander / alternator / battery problems were annoying while they were happening, we got tons of upper-body exercise getting into and out of the engine rooms, but even better, are now more intimate with our Yanmars than ever before. That combined with the good weather and swift trip meant it didn't really qualify as a Bash. But it was hardened Bash veteran de Mallorca who identified the best part of the trip up the coast of Baja. Except for a few short periods, there is no phone or Internet access, meaning for one of the rare times, you can't work.

— latitude/rs 07/08/2014

Cruise Notes:

Jim and Debbie Gregory of the Pt. Richmond-based Schumacher 50 Morpheus — which the couple, family, and friends have raced and cruised extensively since taking delivery of her in New Zealand in 2002 — were having a great time cruising the South of France until the afternoon and evening of June 28. They were tied up at a dock at St. Tropez when the wind whipped up to 25 knots, which wasn't a problem until a guy with an old 55-ft cruising boat tried to dock down the fairway. The big boat ended up bashing beam-to into the bows of five boats, Morpheus being the outside boat. Jim decided the best option was to peel out and anchor in the bay "surrounded by megayachts".

The forecast called for 15 to 20 knots of wind, which would have made it lumpy. The reality was 30 to 35 knots, with two gusts to 42 knots. Nasty stuff. "Despite the fact our boat got hit while in St. Tropez," Jim wrote in a Facebook posting, "Deb and I agree that it’s a weird, interesting, and bottom-line nice place to hang out for a day or two more. It does have the well-deserved reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, there is no shortage of people and things to see, and the vibe is very friendly no matter what your social standing."

'Playground of the rich and famous' indeed. It's been years since we visited St. Tropez with our Ocean 71 Big O, but a friend there told us about the Hotel Byblos and its Les Caves du Roy nightclub. He explained that the price for each of the 50 tables at Le Caves, supposedly the most famous nightclub in France, started at $5,000 a night — yet there was no end to the demand. Let's see, $250,000 a night revenue to start each night, not bad. And remember, that was 'way back then'.

During a later visit, our host took us to Cinquante Cinq, aka Le Club 55, which was founded in 1956 when the producers for the Brigitte Bardot vehicle And God Created Woman asked some local farmers if they could prepare some food for the film crew. Bardot, St. Tropez, and Cinquante Cinq subsequently all took off like rockets. We met Patrice, son of the original owners of the farm, during lunch. A very nice and gracious guy, he explained that he'd been the head of the La Nioulargue Regatta out of St. Tropez, the most prestigious in the Med. At least he was until the event folded following the tragic accident involving Mariette, the great 135-ft Herreshoff schooner then owned by Tom Perkins of Belvedere.

After our obviously expensive lunch was over, we asked our host for the bill. He told us to forget it because Cinquante Cinq bills its customers at the end of each month. He was then driven home for a nap while his Norwegian female captain scooted us back around the corner to St. Tropez on his fast motoryacht. La vie en rose, no?

To continue with the Gregorys' adventure, the Swan Service Yard in Barcelona, where Morpheus spent last winter, recommended getting Morpheus repaired at the Swan Service Yard in Villefranche, which is just around the bend from Nice and less than 10 miles east of Monaco.

"Villefranche is a really nice small port, perhaps my favorite spot in France so far," wrote Jim. "I was able to wander around a bit last night, and the beautiful old town center is built up a hill with narrow streets that seem to run in every direction. There are tons of restaurants, shops, bars and so forth."

Villefranche was the home port of the U.S. 6th Fleet from 1948 until French President Charles DeGaulle kicked it out in 1966. Villefranche fell into considerable disrepair, but it's been back for years now. If we had a pile of time and money, we'd spend a summer on a boat along the seven-mile stretch between Nice's Port Lympia and Monaco, which would include Villefranche, the anchorages of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer (the setting for the funny Steve Martin/Michael Caine film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and Monaco. It's a short season, but one we'd love to enjoy.

While Morpheus was being repaired, Jim and Debbie drove to Barcelona to pick up their new official resident cards. "With these cards, our long-term visas become official and our updated passports allow us to spend a year in Spain and the EU without having to leave. This visa process has been a long and expensive one, but well worth it if it can keep Deb from being pulled into the interrogation room by immigration officials again the next time we fly out of the EU!"

Kevin and Marcie Millett, with friends Tony and SJ as crew, sailed their home-built 50-ft custom cat Kalewa back to Kauai from La Cruz, Mexico in late June and early July. Since Kalewa is a very high-performance cruising cat, they took on just 36 gallons of fuel for the boat's two Kubota 16-hp diesels — despite knowing there could be long periods of very light wind in the early stages of the 3,300-mile trip. "We can get five knots with one engine at 2,000 rpm," Kevin explained.

Shortly after departing Banderas Bay, the four were engulfed in a massive thunderstorm, something that is common in the area at that time of year. After a stop at Isla Isabela and three days at Cabo San Lucas, they set off on a 2,600-mile crossing to Hilo.

"We made the passage in 15 days of generally light wind, with our best day's run being 240 miles," continues Kevin. "What surprised us was how cold it was. We were very cold and wore fleece until we were within just five days of Hawaii." Shortly after making landfall at Hilo, they enjoyed a Kalewa tradition — pancakes at Ken's House of Pancakes. The trip was wrapped up with a swift 36-hour sail to Kauai, including a short stop at Oahu to visit with their daughter Ayla. Veterans of two Ha-Ha's, the Milletts are hoping they might be able to do a third this fall.

"There was some incorrect information in Jake Howard's July letter on Puerto Escondido," reports John Hodgson of the Cross 40 trimaran Trick in Marina Puerto Escondido. "The new marina is a clean and well-maintained marina with electricity and Internet, and it's been operating for about a year. Javier, the marina manager, speaks English and is very helpful. There is eight feet of water getting to the marina, which is tucked well inside the canals at the southern end of the main harbor. It must be one of the safest hurricane holes in Mexico. The marina has no amenities other than the ones mentioned, as there is a challenging political dynamic that is frustrating the owner's efforts to obtain the permits for further development."

"We're definitely enjoying putting our feet up and relaxing!" report Charlie and Cathy Simon of the Spokane- and Nuevo Vallarta-based Taswell 56 Celebrate. Part of the fast-paced World ARC group that started from St. Lucia in January, they've been moving right along, so they deserve to kick back. Fortunately, they've got their feet up at yachtie-friendly Musket Cove Resort in Fiji, as Fiji is their "favorite country so far".

Yet it's also a bittersweet time, as it's from Musket Cove that a number of rally boats are dropping out to sail for New Zealand. Some will take a year's break from the World ARC before joining the next one for the rest of the trip around. "We will miss them!" say the Simons, as you might expect of co-conspirators in any great adventure. On the other hand, the Simons were cheered by the arrival of a Taswell 56 sistership that had just completed a circumnavigation.

There is not much rest when you're sailing 26,000 miles in just 14 months, so almost before they knew it, the Simons were standing on the rim of Yasur volcano — said to be "the world's most accessible" — on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. "Wow!" they report. "Standing at the rim of an active volcano is something not to be missed! Adrenaline rushed through us as the cauldron spewed glowing lumps of lava from two places at sunset. What a stunningly beautiful site!"

It was a long separation for Greg King and Jennifer Sanders, she the owner of the 65-ft Long Beach-based schooner Coco Kai, and her love interest being the captain. They were last together at Cocos Keeling Islands off Australia. Since then, she's been working in Los Angeles while he's sailed the boat across the rough Indian Ocean, and the much-more-mellow South Atlantic.

After a stop in Brazil, which proved not to be as inexpensive as anticipated, King continued up to Barbados, where Sanders and daughter Coco rejoined him in the middle of June. Since then they've been having a lot of fun together — despite squalls to 50 knots. But it was easy for Sanders to tell they were in the Caribbean, for as King notes, "It blows 15 to 20 knots here day and night." They later had a nice sail to Bequia, famous for having just one bar and many houses of the rich, famous and royal. "We hitched a ride to the bar," remembers King, "and the driver and his very drunk friend gave us a full tour of a famous cardiologist's house, the doctor not being due to arrive for a couple more days."

More recently, Greg, Jennifer and Coco have been having a blast in the Tobago Cays area of the Southern Caribbean. As much as they love it, they find it falls short when compared to the South Pacific."The snorkeling is awesome, but it's a bit crowded, so give me the South Pacific," said Greg. "We had a nice dinner on the boat of lobster, broccoli and cauliflower," reports Jennifer. "The lobsters weren't as big as the ones in the South Pacific, and they cost 10 times as much!"

"Although we'll head for Indonesia next year, we're in for another season here in our beloved Fiji," report Rod Lambert and Elisabeth Lehmberg of the Sausalito-based Swan 41 Proximity. The couple did the 2009 Ha-Ha and have been out cruising the Pacific pretty much ever since.

"After the formalities of checking in at Lautoka, we promptly made our way over to Vuda Point Marina," they write. "When we arrived outside the entrance, we radioed that we had arrived and got a very warm "Welcome home!" Young Max, who was driving the "tie-you-up" boat, came racing out to the channel to say hello. While we were tying up, Lulu, Moe, Tinny and Dix were all waving and getting in on the tie-up. The Yacht Help guys Joe and Leo came to say hello. The entire staff remembered us, and we them. It really was special.

"Having not been in a marina for a year," Rod and Elisabeth continue, "it's just an amazing pleasure to have an endless supply of fresh water to wash everything above- and belowdecks, as well as laundry facilities. Even being able to just hop off the boat to a little pier is an untold pleasure, as for the past year we needed to dinghy ashore for the slightest thing. To boot, there are good inexpensive restaurants here, a very cool bar on the water, a free swimming pool, and easy-to-get-to bus service into town. Believe me, we are happy!

"We think it's safe to say that Fiji is yacht-infested," they continue. "Denarau Marina is completely full. Vuda Marina is completely full also, with boats anchored outside waiting for a spot, and the inside boats being stacked up along the wall. The World ARC Rally boats are here, so that's part of it. The other is that there are more cruising boats every year, and they just keep getting bigger and bigger. The big monohulls and huge catamarans really take up a lot of space. But no matter, as it just represents the change in cruising over the years.

"Being in a marina with access to great maintenance facilities, we have, of course, been working quite steadily since our arrival. Washing, polishing, varnishing, fuel-system maintenance, steering and mechanical checks, sail maintenance, rig checks, winch service — you name it, we've been doing it. But at sunset on Monday there is a free movie on the lawn, Tuesday the restaurant has half-price pizza, Thursday is half-price beer at the Sunset Bar. Our point is that it's not all work, as we are having a great time with old friends and making new ones."

Is tiny San Blas, Mexico, going to become the biggest port in Latin America? That's what Roberto Sandoval, the governor of the state of Nayarit, has told the business press. To be called Puerto Nayarit, the docking facilities would be more than a mile long to accommodate three large ships at a time. In addition, rail lines would be built to further transport what's expected to be millions of containers a year. The $3 billion U.S. needed to finance the project is supposedly already guaranteed by unnamed sources from China. Sandoval went so far as to describe Nayarit as "a branch of China", and said a new university would be created so Mexicans could learn to speak Mandarin.

San Blas, which is 70 miles north of Puerto Vallarta and 120 miles south of the port of Mazatlan, was founded by the Spanish in 1531, less than 40 years after that dude Columbus discovered the New World. It wasn't fully settled until 1768, but then became an important city of 30,000. In addition to being the base of trade with the Philippines and all Spanish naval operations in the Pacific, it was from San Blas that Father Junipero Serra set sail to found the missions in Baja and Alta California. It was also from San Blas that the locally-built packet ship the San Carlos set sail in 1775 to supply the fledgling community of San Francisco.

In recent times, San Blas has fallen on harder luck, so the announced 25,000 direct and indirect jobs from the port project would be an enormous boost to the economy. Currently San Blas is a minor tourist town and a modest-size fishing port, with a small recreational boat marina and a large but under-utilized boatyard. Nearby Matanchen Bay has long been a favorite anchorage with cruisers, and when the swell comes from just the right direction, offers some of the longest surfing waves in the world.

Mexico, however, has a history of announcing big projects that never come to fruition. In 2007, the Mexican government and Hutchison Wampoa, the latter being a heavy hitter in the shipping terminal field, announced that they would build a huge port at Punta Colonet on the Pacific Coast of Baja 50 miles south of Ensenada. At the time, there were often scores of ships anchored off Los Angeles and Long Beach waiting to unload. Then the recession hit, and by 2012 plans for Colonet were officially dropped. So while Sandoval says that construction will begin on Puerto Nayarit in November this year, and take three years to complete, we'll believe it when we see it. The same goes for the previously announced Nicaraguan Canal.

Out cruising? Don't forget to write or send us a link to your blog.

Missing the pictures? See the August 2014 eBook!


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