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August 2015

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With reports this month from Rainbow on realizing a dream of 35 years; from Escapade on cruising in Portugal and Spain; from the Wanderer on the historic Arsenal Marina in Paris; from Halcyon on hauling on the Rio Dulce for hurricane season; from Mambo on a most interesting crossing from Cabo to San Carlos; and a generous helping of Cruise Notes.

Rainbow — Crowther 33 Cat
Cliff Shaw
Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendez-vous
(Emery Cove)

I just wanted to say 'thank you' to Latitude 38, Andy Turpin and his Puddle Jump crew, Tehani and the Tahiti crew, the Club Bali Hai, and the many others who worked so hard to put on a really well-organized, interesting, and fun Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendez-vous last month.

The photo of my cat Rainbow at rest in Cook's Bay says it all for me. After 35 years of dreaming about it, I'm finally here, and it's as beautiful as advertised. The Pacific Puddle Jump and Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendez-vous have been great ways to ease into the cruising life. I'm glad I signed up, and I sincerely thank everyone involved for conceiving it and running it.

Unlike most participants, I singlehanded Rainbow directly from San Francisco to the Marquesas. My boat and I did it in 24 days 10 hours, averaging just under six knots for the 3,500-mile course. I lucked out both with squalls and with the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone. The squalls never exceeded 24 knots, and the ITCZ was narrow where I crossed it.

I had some of the usual types of passage issues — a couple of tears in the main, the high output alternator quitting, and some minor delamination of some tabbing. Fortunately, I had plenty of sticky-back tape and thread to repair the main, and I replaced the high output alternator with the original alternator. As for the minor delamination, I had the pleasure of grinding fiberglass in paradise. Oddly enough, it was no more fun than doing it on San Francisco Bay.

I spent a month in the Marquesas, visiting Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Fatu Hiva and
Ua Pou. In late May, I moved on to Papeete, skipping the Tuamotus for safety's sake because I'm singlehanding. I spent three weeks in the Taina anchorage, then joined the rally to Moorea.

The Rendez-vous events were well-orchestrated and lots of fun — the team I was on even won our first canoe race. And I'm amazed at how well the Bali Hai handled dinner on Saturday, and then lunch on Sunday, for what must have been over 200 people. And the food was delicious.

I'll sail back to Papeete this Saturday for a few days, then on to Huahine, Maupiti, and finally Bora Bora before my 90-day visa for French Polynesia expires in late July. After that, I'll be off to the Cook Islands, then probably Australia some time in the future.

— cliff 06/25/2015

Escapade — Catana 52
Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie
Portugal and Spain
(Lake Tahoe)

My cruising dream started almost half a century ago. I was skiing competitively in Europe, and from time to time I would visit marinas along the Mediterranean coast. Seeing the sailboats, I thought it would be so cool to someday have my own boat in the Med. That day has come.

After a rather uneventful crossing of the Atlantic from St. Barth to Portugal, with a stop in the Azores, we found ourselves departing Marbella, Spain at the end of June for Valencia and the Balearic Islands. This being the Med, the wind had either been non-existent, like this morning, or it was blowing the dogs off their chains on our nose.

While approaching the Straits of Gibraltar at Tarifa, and halfway through the Strait, we saw a steady 30-35 knots. No wonder Tarifa, which has a reported 300+ days a year of wind in excess of 30 knots, is the windsurfing capital of Europe. But partway through the Strait the wind went very light, so we ended up motoring. We are motoring northeast now, racking up the miles before the new wind arrives.

It’s been an unbelievable trip in terms of wind, or lack of it, so far. We didn’t have that much wind from St. Barth to 300 miles east of the Azores, and since then we've had — except in the Strait — almost nothing.

Our two stops in Portugal were nice, featuring just what we Americans like about Europe — historic towns filled with great architecture, romantic restaurants, outdoor bars, and friendly people. We overnighted in Faragudo, opposite Portimao, and again at Faro, where we traveled five miles up the river to the old town and anchored in five feet of water. We enjoyed some wonderful seafood, some very nice Portuguese wines, and warm but not balmy evenings. It was a welcome change from the humidity of the Caribbean.

From Portimao it was a 100-mile day to the windswept Cabo Trafalgar, where we anchored off the beach in an open roadstead. During the passage we were hailed on the VHF by a young woman whose engine had quit on her British- registered Dehler 36. We turned back to see if we could be of assistance, but after discussing the probable damage to her boat that would ensue during a long tow through the swell, she saw the wisdom in carrying on slowly under sail. She and her equally young companion told us that they had sailed the boat down from England, and that they had enough food and water for many days. I was reluctant to leave them, as they were quite young and very possibly inexperienced. But when we last saw them, they were flying a spinnaker toward 25-mile-distant Cadiz, so we were confident they'd be fine.

Cabo Trafalgar to Tarifa and beyond into the Strait was nasty, as I mentioned earlier, with an appropriately nasty sea. We had to throttle back to five knots to keep from beating up the boat. Then, right in the windy part of the Strait, and in a controlled shipping lane, we 'saw' a boat on our AIS that was repeatedly rounding up into the wind, coming about, jibing, and rounding up again. Debbie, thinking that maybe the man of the couple on the boat had suffered a heart attack, decided they might need help.

We changed course to intercept them, and soon saw that there were two people in the cockpit. The man was driving, and despite 30 knots of wind had his shirt off. They looked at us, gave us no sign of needing help, so we figured they were fine — if not drunk. Later we heard Tarifa Traffic hailing them on the VHF and telling them to get out of the area, as they were a danger to other traffic. Some of the boat handling we’ve seen out here has been inexplicable.

We didn’t have high expectations for our evening ashore at Marbella, as it was developed as a resort town in the 1970s for packaged tours from northern Europe. Yet we ended up having a good time people watching, catching up on the Internet, and dining outdoors at a wonderful pinxhos bar/restaurant.

Pinxhos are a variation on tapas. At the place we ate, you didn't place an order, but rather waited for the waitress to pass by with plates full of delicious small items. You took what you wanted and waited for the next round.

We had to motor all the next day toward Valencia, but the current was up to two knots in our favor.

The third largest city in Spain, Valencia was home to the 32nd and 33rd America's Cups. We found post-America’s Cup Valencia to be lively, with lots of people in the streets. The warm weather and the Spanish spirit are the driving forces of the city.

It can be stiflingly hot in Valencia during the day, but the late nights are balmy. As you might expect, people stay up late, particularly at the Centro Historico. There are free concerts in the plazas, street musicians, and more cafes, bars, and tapas and pinxhos bars and restaurants than you could eat at in a lifetime. Dinner hour in Spain gets started about 10 o'clock, about five hours later than in Florida, and young folks don't bother showing up at the discos until past midnight.

Tapas are ubiquitous, not only in small bars but also in fine restaurants as appetizers. The seafood includes the standard fare of fish and a wide variety of shellfish, most of it local. They have melt-in-your-mouth mussels, every size of shrimp and prawn, and huge local oysters that require being cut in thirds with a knife and fork. I prefer the flavorful smaller ones, which easily slide down your throat before you've had too much time to look at them.

In Spain you see ham hanging in all the stores and restaurants, and it's similar in preparation and taste to Italian prosciutto, but it has a unique flavor derived from the all-acorn diet the pigs are fed the last year of their lives. Often there will be one server in the dining area dedicated exclusively to cutting the delicious meat, from a leg with the hoof still attached, with a razor-sharp knife.

We happened into Bodegas Baviera, a great little wine store in the old town. Translating for the owners, another customer explained that we had stumbled into the oldest wine store in Valencia. A young woman in her early 30s, who is part of the company's youngest generation, helped us. She was both incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the wines. We gave her a budget, asked for a discount on multiple cases, and placed ourselves in her hands. We're confident we'll have some delicious accompaniments to Debbie's wonderful cooking.

As gastronomically inviting as Valencia was, the now core crew of Escapade really hit their stride arriving in the impossibly cute — meaning an American's romanticized vision of a European port town — Puerto Soller, Mallorca. On the north shore of Mallorca, it has a perfect natural harbor lined with restaurants, bars and other waterfront shops. It also has an ancient tram that takes you a mile or so up the valley to the main town of Soller, where you can catch a train made mostly of wood across the island to Palma. Many ancient Spanish towns were built a bit inland rather than right on the coast, providing a better defense against invaders. Soller has been around since the Arabs ran things here on Mallorca due to first its being the only really good port on the northwest part of the island.

Actualizing one's dreams from one's 20s, as I'm trying to do, doesn't happen every day. Especially when that vision is as grandiose as sailing around the Mediterranean in love with your wife and your boat. But that is what happened for me in Puerto Soller. I, for one, had no need to go ashore, as inviting as it looked. I was content to watch the ever-changing landscape from our boat as Escapade swung slowly back and forth on her anchor.

Practicality intruded by early evening, however, and we dinghied ashore to off-load the garbage and pick up supplies. Unable to resist the call of a romantic waterfront restaurant, we enjoyed a pretty good meal at a very good price in what would be considered a typical open-air waterfront tourist restaurant in the Med. By the way, it's become clear to us that wine is seriously overpriced at restaurants in the United States.

The next morning we motored six miles down the coast and spent a leisurely day swimming and otherwise enjoying the spectacular Cala de la Calobra. We did this with several hundred other vacationers enjoying their summer holidays on a narrow beach set between two impossibly steep cliffs. We were not put off by the crowds, as our summer of 2015 mentality is to be generous, and that allows others to enjoy the same wonderful places that we are.

This generosity paid off handsomely, for as the sun got low on the horizon our shoreside neighbors returned to their hotel rooms and villas, leaving the impossibly dramatic setting to us and a few others anchored on boats.

Here comes the good part. After we motored out of the cala the next morning, continuing east along the north coast of Mallorca, a southerly wind came up — a real sailing breeze — that propelled us toward Menorca, the next Balearic island. Yes, we were finally sailing in the Med, moving along for free — well, almost for free. We sailed close-hauled to Puerto Ciutadalla, Menorca.

Puerto de la Ciutadella is located at the head of an impossibly long, narrow — and 'cute' — cala on Menorca's western tip. Once anchored in the adjoining cala, we dinghied into town to off-load the garbage, pick up supplies, and — of course — have dinner. We picked an out-of-the-way restaurant that was listed in a Spanish online restaurant guide. The only tourists in the restaurant, we suffered through another amazingly delicious meal, with yet another undervalued bottle of fantastic Mallorquian wine recommended by the owner.

Overcoming the urge to stay in Ciutadella for another day and night, we took advantage of the second day of wind in a row for a wonderful flat-water sail south, then east, around the tip of the island, searching for the perfect anchorage for the evening. We found it in Cala Mitjana, a picture-perfect small cala with two white-sand beaches set beneath tree-lined limestone cliffs.

Once the sun deserted the beach, the last of the sun worshippers departed. The heat broke with the evening offshore breeze, and the temperature became perfect. I think we'll stay here before pushing east and preparing ourselves for the 200-mile passage to the South of France.

— greg 07/15/2015

Arsenal Marina
Paris, France

Is there a marina site historically more significant to Western civilization than that of the Arsenal Marina in the heart of the City of Light? No, there is not.

How and why would you find yourself in this marina at latitude 48° on the other side of the world? It could be because you bought a Hallberg-Rassy or other sailboat in Sweden and wanted to take the river/canal route down to the Med. It might be because you'd been doing the Med and wanted to go north to Paris and/or across the English Channel to London. Or because you wanted to take the storm-free and flat-water route from the Med to the Baltic Sea.

Those who have done it tell Latitude that it takes about a month to get from the Med to Paris, although it all depends on how many hours a day you want to travel. Because of speed limits, locks, limited lock hours, broken locks and the priority accorded commercial traffic, progress can be surprisingly slow in the canals and rivers. So if you don't rush, it can take six weeks or more.

In any event, you'd have to lower your mast and store it on deck with a total height of no more than 3.4 meters. Or you'd have to have the mast dropped and shipped to your ultimate destination. This is commonly done.

You also need to be aware that the depths of the canals can get down to 1.5 meters — and sometimes less — which can be a limiting factor for larger sailboats. But owners of sailboats drawing as much as 1.8 meters have told us they use the larger canals of Europe, either as shortcuts to get to different places, or as cruising grounds in themselves. Sometimes, though, they've had to plow through soft bottoms.

Cruising the 5,000 miles of canals and rivers in Western Europe can be surprisingly inexpensive. One reason is that the exchange rate between the dollar and euro is much more favorable than it's been in more than a decade. Another reason is that marinas — even those that include electricity, water, heads and showers — are usually no more than $15 a night. At some places the berthing is even free.

But let's talk in particular about the Arsenal Marina, which has 180 slips. Thanks to rafting up and the juggling skills of the friendly harbor staff, they often cram well over 200 boats into the facility. Because it's in Paris and the demand for slips is so great, it cost us $47/night on a weekly basis for a 42-footer.

That price isn't out of line with what's charged at places in California, and you're in Paris for God's sake. Furthermore, if you're walking, the Arsenal Marina is five minutes from Place de Bastille, 10 minutes from Gare de Lyon, 15 minutes from Ïle Saint-Louis, 20 minutes from Notre Dame or Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and 75 minutes from the Eiffel Tower. And when you compare the berth fee to the room rate at even a slovenly hotel in central Paris, it's an excellent bargain. Furthermore, the Arsenal Marina is steeped in hundreds of years of history.

At the southern end of the marina is the tunnel and lock to the Seine River. At the northern end of the marina is the Place de la Bastille — and below it the 1.5-mile-long subterranean part of the Saint-Denis barge canal to the Place de la Républic and the Canal Saint-Martin beyond. Very large tour boats, with clearances of just inches on the top, sides and bottom, run this route every day. You'd swear they'd never fit in the tunnel, but most times they do.

It's because of the old Bastille Fortress that the Arsenal Marina exists. Work on the fortress began in 1357 in order to protect the vulnerable eastern side of Paris from the Brits during the Hundred Years' War. When completed, the Bastille had eight towers nearly 80 feet tall, and dominated the skyline of Paris. It also had a moat, which was fed by a ditch from the Seine, a ditch that eventually became the site of the Arsenal Marina.

The Bastille was also used as a state prison, the first prisoner being Hugues Aubriot, the guy who had created it. Louis XVI used the Bastille as a prison for members of the upper classes who opposed him, and for families who wanted disreputable relatives taken off the streets to protect family reputations. Even Voltaire was imprisoned at the Bastille for a time, charged with obscenity.

As a fortress, the Bastille played an important role in countless skirmishes and battles for over 400 years. But one surpassed all the others. There was revolution in the air in the summer of 1789, as the royal government's financial bungling and the forming of the National Assembly gave rise to republican sentiments. As we were taught in school, the Bastille was "stormed" on July 14, supposedly to free all the prisoners from the horrible conditions in which they'd been held.

This is baloney. First of all, there were only seven prisoners when it was 'stormed'. Second, the Bastille wasn't a wicked prison. For instance, prisoners were often allowed to bring their family members with them, as well as servants and furniture. They could smoke and drink. But this didn't stop some from complaining bitterly from their windows just before the start of the Revolution.

The most vocal whiner was the Marquis de Sade, guru of sadomasochism, who incessantly whined that he was being mistreated. Odd, isn't it, as you'd think the Marquis would have reveled in mistreatment. Besides, de Sade had been allowed to bring an extensive wardrobe, lots of tapestries, and 133 books to prison with him. The Bastille was no Pelican Bay. When he still wouldn't shut up, he was transferred to another prison just before the start of the Revolution.

The real reason the Bastille was "stormed" was for the 250 barrels of gunpowder it had just received, and because of all the guns in its arsenal. When negotiations between the Governor of the Bastille and the relatively small mob of protestors didn't go well, they chopped off his head ISIS-style, then paraded it around Paris atop a pike.

In order to further the revolutionary narrative and justify what they'd done, the mob dragged parts of printing presses out of the Bastille and claimed they were instruments of torture. The mob was hugely successful with their phoney PR campaign, and the Bastille became a very important symbol of the Revolution. The English-speaking world knows July 14 as Bastille Day. The French, oddly enough, call it 'French National Day'.

We all know what happened after the fall of the Bastille: the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the execution of Louis XVI, the Reign of Terror, Denton, Robespierre, the Thermidorian Reaction, Napoleon, etc. And 100 years later, the Basilica Sacré-Coeur was built, in part as penitence for the "excesses of the Revolution". More history than you can shake a baguette at.

The Bastille fortress/prison was dismantled days after it was stormed, and bits sold as souvenirs. Many years later, the 171-ft Colonne de Juillet, topped by the golden Winged Victory, was built in the center of Place de la Bastille. In addition to being a major Parisian landmark, it served as a night-light for our boat berthed in the marina.

The Arsenal Marina: There's no other marina with so much history.

— latitude/rs 07/15/2015

Halcyon — F/P 43 Cat
Brit and Sandy Horn
Antigua to Antigua
(Cazadero, California)

While we were at Trellis Bay, Tortola, in the British Virgins, we ran into a woman named Moon who recommended that we stay — if we ever found ourselves to Antigua, Guatemala — at El Hostal, a hostel owned by a relative of hers. As it turned out, in early May we sailed 1,400 miles west from the island country of Antigua to Guatemala's Rio Dulce, making stops along the way at St. Kitts, Statia, Saba and St. Croix. After hauling our boat at the Nana Juana Marina in Guatemala's Rio Dulce, we continued on to the city of Antigua before returning home for the off-season.

The Nana Juana Marina is a large marina, with 60 in-the-water slips, many of them occupied by catamarans, and room for another couple of hundred on land. An Australian cruising couple, Scott Gladman and Tracey Hall, with kids Will, 8, and Molly, 6, are managing the marina. They own and live aboard their Lagoon 440 catamaran.

Nana Juana can haul cats to 65 feet, so our 43-footer was no problem. They charge about $7/ft to be on the hard, but haul and launch is free if you pay for the six-month hurricane season in advance. Cruisers are allowed to work on their boats and/or bring in outside contractors. And you can live aboard.

There are several other marinas in the Rio Dulce, and they all prosper from the cruiser belief that by being 25 miles up the Rio Dulce from the Caribbean Sea, their boats are pretty well protected from the destructive reach of hurricanes.

Brit and I found the Rio Dulce area to be gorgeous. In many ways it seems lost in time — until you see a net fisherman pull out his cellphone. We spent two weeks up the Rio Dulce, enjoying ourselves and making friends with many other cruisers. While I'm happy to be home in Cazadero for awhile, I'm also excited about returning to cruise with these new friends. As you can imagine, we shared lots of stories, experiences and advice over sundowners and meals.

A bunch of us even got together for a boat trip up to the El Perico restaurant. It was quite an experience, as the normal launch wasn't working. So the restaurateurs commissioned or commandeered an unusual liveaboard boat, then crammed all 30 of us aboard for the round-trip cruise to the restaurant. We made it to El Perico alive, and we enjoyed a lovely buffet dinner there.

A quick trip by cooperativo (local van transport) from Fronteras (the main town on the Rio Dulce) to the waterfall and hot springs of Finca Paraiso was another great adventure in itself. It was well worth the unexpected delays to experience the magic of hot-spring falls.

After we got Halcyon put away and hauled out, we made the eight-hour bus trip to Antigua, a city of 40,000 that is not only home to the El Hostal hostel, but is a UNESCO site, too.

Antigua is more popular with tourists than Guatemala City for many reasons; it's safer, there is more to see and do within walking distance, and in my humble opinion, it's much more beautiful. One of the biggest attractions is the famed immersion Spanish language courses, which attract interesting people of all ages from around the globe. It makes for a very enjoyable time.

Typical of many of the colonial-style buildings in Antigua, El Hostal has a comfortable center courtyard where travelers gather in the evenings to share the things travelers share — advice on places to go and places to eat, and interesting experiences.

As promised by Moon, El Hostal turned out to be a sweet, clean place. With breakfast included, the price was right. In fact, it was even 'righter' when we moved out of the private room we had for a night into one of the less expensive dorm rooms, which was just fine for us.

The dramatic scenery around Antigua is dominated by three volcanoes — 12,356-ft Volcán de Agua; 13,045-ft Acatenango, which last erupted in 1972; and 12,346-ft Volcán de Fuego, which is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. While steam and gas pour out of the latter daily, the last large eruption occurred in September 2012. As you might expect, numerous major earthquakes have shaken Guatemala over the years.

Guatemala is truly an amazing country, with great ruins, markets, scenery, and colors. I particularly liked the brilliantly colored textiles and clothing of the Mayan women. With so much to see, we are already making plans for what we want to do upon our return.

That said, I did have a very unusual experience while staying in the hostel. Because I hadn’t been drinking alcohol, I assume it had something to do with the food not agreeing with me. After getting myself down the hallway to the ladies’ room to take care of business in the middle of the night, I somehow lost my balance and brains, and ended up on the floor of the hostel's shower. It wasn't funny at the time, but I gotta say I did go through the drill to check for stroke: stuck my tongue out straight, smiled, and checked that I was coherent. True, I couldn't lift my arms, but that was probably because I was lying on them.

Actually, I was content to keep lying on the floor of the shower, at least until it got too cold. I eventually made it back to my bed, and later to California. Feeling fine now, I can’t wait to return to our cat in Guatemala.

— sandy 05/15/2015

Mambo — Endeavour 37
John Sullivan
Parrot Fish and Elephant Boy
(San Carlos, Mexico)

I'm 70 years old and recently made a 400-mile passage from Cabo San Lucas across the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos on the Mexican mainland. My crew was a 56-year-old Mexican sailor/fisherman I'll call Alonzo to protect his identity.

Alonzo did a great job helping get Mambo across the Sea, but sometimes was very irksome. But with a task at hand, I had to overlook his objectionable attitudes.

Being a fisherman, Alonzo admittedly has a tough time making a living, but he drinks, too. Alonzo is a super-skinny guy, and sometimes those guys can get a bleary-eyed buzz on just one beer. Fortunately, he didn't drink on our passage, but alcoholics can be a pain even when they are sober.

I have to confess that I was also a source of onboard tension, as I was paranoid about being ripped off. As I was about to leave, the marina where I'd been staying before Cabo suddenly 'discovered' that I owed them $530 from 18 months before. I hadn't saved the receipts to prove otherwise, and without the release from the marina, couldn't check out. Then Mexican customs charged me $100 for taking my SSB radio out of the country so I could get it repaired.

Anyway, after being underway from Cabo for about 12 hours, I went below to rest. While below, I decided to check on my $1,000 bankroll, but couldn't find it. I'd stuffed it into some magazines, but now it was gone! So with the boat on autopilot, I called for Alonzo to come down below.

"Give me my thousand dollars!" I demanded.

Looking shocked, he protested his innocence.

The situation was tense. Then he picked up the magazines that I said I'd put my money into. As he flipped through the pages, the money fell out! I was humiliated by my false accusation, and apologized profusely.

He was hurt, of course, but didn't seem too upset.

Later, while we were both in the cockpit, I apologized once again. This set him off. He told me that if the money had been misplaced elsewhere and not found, we might have gotten into a scuffle, and he would have had to kill me!

"Wow, that's pretty severe," I thought to myself. But I said nothing.

My overreaction to not being able to immediately find my money was partly due to my age. We geezers are sometimes quick to get rattled. But that could have had deadly consequences for me, as Alonzo had an 11-inch fishing knife. Even though the tip had been broken off, he could have easily slipped the blade between my ribs and killed me.

One of Alonzo's favorite expressions, which I constantly heard, was 'gringo motherfocker', or 'mother focking gringo'. He didn't necessarily say them in reference to me, but I still heard him use the expressions. He said they weren't really an insult to Americans, but they surely are.

I gave Alonzo the nickname parrot fish because he had a peculiar upper plate that looked like an enamel ridge. Parrot fish have a similar ridge because they eat coral. As a result of the bridge, Alonzo pronounced certain words in a funny way. 'Focker', as in the movie Meet the Fockers, was one of them. And he really did sound like a parrot.

On the other hand, he might have called me Elephant Boy, as I am fat and only wear a Speedo. And when I sleep, I wear a mask and tubing because I suffer from sleep apnea.

Parrot Fish and Elephant Boy, oh man, what a combo!

During the trip we saw whales, dolphins, sea rays and turtles, as well as various birds. To show me up a bit, every time I went below, Parrot Fish would claim to have seen some great sea life.

"You really missed it you gringo mother focker mother focking gringo."

At about 10 p.m. on the second night out, we noticed the alternator wasn't charging the batteries. Shit! We were still 120 miles from San Carlos. With no battery power, we lost the use of the autopilot and GPS. And naturally we didn't have any running lights, which meant other boats couldn't see us. That's dangerous, even when there aren't too many boats around.

Fortunately my boat's engine is a diesel, so it didn't need electricity to keep running. But when the oil pressure gauge slowly started to drop, we began to panic. After all, we were both stoned. Cleaning the Mexican pot of stems and seeds took me back to the 1970s.

Even though I knew that the gauges would slowly began to fail because of the alternator problem, a sliver of doubt crept into my mind. I thought we might really be losing oil pressure, which would lead to engine failure. When the oil pressure gauge finally got to zero, I had to repress the urge to cover my ears with my hands. I was afraid that I would hear the sound of the engine catastrophically seizing up. When it didn't fail, I felt a great sense of relief.

We were elated the morning of the day we were going to arrive at San Carlos. I pushed the engine back up to the cruising rpm of 1,600, and we were able to navigate with GPS after I put batteries into my backup unit. But we still didn't have the use of the autopilot, so we had to hand steer all day.

Perhaps to spite the dead batteries and me, the oil pressure gauge went back up to 20 and stayed there for the rest of the trip! The seas were a bit rough for the last 20 miles, but we made it in before dark. That was good, because I don't like to enter strange ports at night, especially when I don't have any running lights.

Parrot Fish and Elephant Boy both enjoyed deep sighs of relief when we docked at San Carlos. And the next morning I enjoyed the pinkish glow on the desert hills.

I was sure glad the engine kept working, because I would not have liked to be drifting around with Parrot Fish. Yes, my boat has sails, but the wind had been very light. After all, Parrot Fish is a big fan of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator. Parrot Fish likes him because he stands up to the United States, and because he supports the hunting of whales. Parrot Fish thinks there are too many whales already.

I was happy to pay Parrot Fish off, and with mixed feelings watched him and his 11-inch knife disappear down the dock. Naturally I paid his travel expenses.

I had Mambo taken out of the water for the summer. She's resting ashore, waiting until I return for my next Mexican vacation.

— john 03/28/2014

Readers — We're not sure why we got this Changes more than a year after it happened, but we thought it was timeless enough to run.

Cruise Notes:

One of the differences between countries where people have a lot of money, such as the United States, and countries where people don't have a lot of money, such as Mexico, is that people in the latter tend to have broken things repaired instead of throwing them away and replacing them with new. Glenn Twitchell of the Ensenada-based, formerly Newport Beach-based, Lagoon 38 Beach Access, provides an excellent example:

"After we did the Bash and decided that we would spend the summer in Ensenada as opposed to more expensive California, Debbie and I looked into the possibility of converting my work van into a camper van. One priority was getting the air conditioning working, something that hadn't worked since I bought the van used. When I lived in California and rarely ventured east of the Pacific Coast Highway, air conditioning wasn't necessary.

"Nonetheless," continues Twitchell, "I once took the van to an AC repair place to get an idea of what it would cost to fix the air-con. After doing nothing more than listening to the compressor and confirming that no cold air was coming out of the vents, the so-called 'mechanic' declared the compressor needed to be replaced. He estimated the cost of getting a new one installed to be $1,200. That was slightly less than the van was worth, so I passed on the repair.

"Just for kicks, the other day I took the van to an AC shop in Ensenada. Twenty minutes and $47 later, we had icy cold AC in the van. It's things like this that make us love Mexico."

Another thing to like in Mexico is the exchange rate of the dollar to the peso. In April 2013, it was 12.1 pesos to the dollar. In mid-June this year, it was 15.80 to the dollar and trending up. This means you could buy close to 25% more in peso-denominated stuff than just two years before.

Things are even better, relatively speaking, for those who have taken their boats to Europe. In May 2014, not much more than one year ago, the dollar-to-euro exchange rate was 1.39 dollars to the euro. As of mid June, it was under 1.10 dollars to the euro, a huge improvement for the dollar.

The Chris and Heather Tzortzis clan — which includes Mykaela, Tristan, Alexia, Amaia and Alina — on the Lafayette-based Lagoon 470 Family Circus claim that Latitude is responsible for their doing the Ha-Ha and the Puddle Jump, and cruising in French Polynesia. Which is why we're glad they report that they are having a fabulous time.

One of the things they're enjoying the most is free diving in the warm, clear waters of French Polynesia. Check out the free diving photos of them in the accompanying spread. In fact, Heather reports that she's been taking more family photos under the water than above.

Naturally, not everything has gone perfectly. While coming through the channel at Avea Bay, Huahine, Family Circus hit a reef, putting a hole in one of the keels. Fortunately she's a cat, or they might have had a big problem, not the least of which was they weren't able to schedule a haulout at Raiatea for another two weeks. Slapping layers of epoxy on the damaged area in the interim stabilized the situation. Looking on the bright side of things, at least they were temporarily stranded in one of the most beautiful cruising areas of the world.

Having Family Circus hauled was almost as heart-stopping as hitting the reef. "The boatyard guys were really great and funny," reports Heather, "although I wasn't quite ready for so much laughter and tee-hee-ing. They all had big smiles and said things like, "I think this is the way we're supposed to do it." I know they were joking, but when they are lifting your 45,000-pound 'house', it's heart attack city!" The haulout and repair went well.

If you've already read Changes, you know that Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie of Lake Tahoe have been having a great time with their Catana 52 Escapade in the Med. But when they first arrived in Portugal from the Caribbean by way of the Azores, they got some very unpleasant news, news that has been tempering their otherwise great time.

"We were very excited to have finished our transatlantic passage, but then a Portuguese Immigration official at Portimao pointed out that our long-stay visa for France was only valid in France and not throughout the Schengen Area! It had never crossed our minds that this could be the case. Had we known, we never would have brought the boat across the Atlantic. But now, because of hurricane season, we can't go back across until November.

"Under the Schengen Agreement, Americans such as Debbie and I have to leave for 90 days after staying in the Schengen Area for 90 days. We can go to France with our visa after 90 days, but then we can't visit any other countries until we have been out of the Schengen Area for 90 days. Great. Escapade, however, can stay for 18 months, six times longer than we can. And she only has to leave the Schengen Area for one day before being allowed back for another 18 months. Obviously we're going to have to rethink our plans. We wonder if the skiing is any good in Albania in the winter."

Greg and Debbie's best hope might be to make their way to Greece before their 90 days is up, put a couple of hundred euros in a little white envelope and . . . well, you've surely heard how things are done in Greece. Of course, by the time their 90 days are up, Greece might be out of the European Union and the Schengen Area, which might solve everything.

For those who don't understand the reason Schengen Area countries want to limit the amount of time free-spending Americans are allowed to dump much- needed cash in the Schengen Area economic region, it's because . . . uh, well, there isn't any reason. Which is why they are trying to change the law. They think they can get that done in a couple of years. Numbskulls. Meanwhile, Greg and Debbie are thinking about going to Turkey, which is not in the Schengen Area.

Comings and goings. Jim Fair and Linda Powers of the Berkeley-based Outbound 46 Chesapeake report that as of mid-June they were "all fueled up and checked out of Phuket, Thailand, about to head for the Indian Ocean and South Africa via Malaysia." The couple spent several months land-traveling around Southeast Asia to the point Jim said he was temporarily "traveled out". But refreshed after a trip home to the States, the two are ready to go again. We wish them smooth sailing, as the Indian Ocean can be rough. On the other hand, after years of sailing his little Merit 25 on the Bay and in the ocean, we're sure Jim will do fine.

Also reported doing fine are Mike and Deanna Ruel of the Delaware-based Manta 42 R Sea Cat. After taking some spectacular photographs while cruising in French Polynesia, the couple made a nine-day, 1,300-mile passage to Tonga. The first thing they did upon arrival was enjoy a couple of locally brewed Maka Beers at the Aquarium Club.

What's the mid-July weather like in selected cruising areas?

Papeete: 84°, ENE at 12.
Honolulu: 87°, ENE at 15.
Avalon: 77°, SW at 10.
Martha's Vineyard: 80°, SW at 14.
Victoria, B.C.: 65°, S at 5.
British Virgins: 86°, E at 15.
Palma de Mallorca: 94°, W at 7.
Auckland: 58°, SW at 15.
Loreto: 98°, NE at 5.
Puerto Vallarta: 88°, W at 12. Rain.
Cape Horn: 39°, SW at 82!

Jerry Blakeslee, formerly a member of the Encinal and Alameda YCs, and a managing director of Alameda's Bay Island Yachts, moved to St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles in 1994. He subsequently served as the commodore of the St. Maarten YC for four years. Since 2004 he's been cruising all around the Caribbean aboard his NAB 38 Islomania. He's now settled down again, this time as dockmaster/manager of Fantasy Island Resort, Dive Center and Marina in Roatan, Honduras. It's a beautiful place.

If you're one of those who wants to see Cuba 'before it [supposedly] gets ruined', it would be better to visit sooner rather than later. We base this on an advertisement Blakeslee sent us touting all-inclusive seven-night vacations in Cuba for just $709. We suppose it's fitting that a Communist country would shun high-end tourism and go for working-class visitors. The truth of the matter is that Cuba is not going to get "ruined" soon, as it's a very large island with 2,300 miles of coastline. That's three times as much coastline as California has, and much of California's coast is unsuitable for cruising. The real impediment to cruising pleasure in Cuba is the Cuban government and all its rules and restrictions.

In the last issue we reported that Patsy 'La Reina del Mar' Verhoeven of the La Paz-based Gulfstar 50 Talion said she was going to do a 'non-bash Baja Bash' in late June. She predicted a 'non-Bash' based on previous easy Bashes she'd had at that time of year. We hoped she wasn't jinxing herself.

"A non-Bash it was," reports Verhoeven. "The highlights were a stop in Los Frailes for a dive at Cabo Pulmo Reef, and lots of fun during a stop at Cedros Island, including a stroll through the village, seeing huge elephant seals, hiking up the canyon near the north anchorage, and a kelp forest dive. As for the Bashing, we were never in more than 20 knots of wind during the 750 miles, and 85% of the time it was 10 knots or less. We saw hundreds of dolphins, sea turtles, a whale, and caught a dorado. It helped that I had a great crew — free dive instructor Maria-Teresa Solomon, delivery skipper John Cookingham, and diesel mechanic Colin Agar, all from La Paz."

While Verhoeven didn't have any trouble with the Baja weather, she and Maria-Teresa did have trouble with Immigration at the San Diego Police Dock.

"When we got to the Immigration/Customs dock in San Diego, Maria-Teresa, who is from England but has lived in Mexico for 13 years, had her US visa all ready. But the Immigration official informed us that while her US visa was a good one, it was only valid if she was on a commercial vessel or an airplane, or walked across the border. So Immigration made us go all the way back to Ensenada!

"We got to Marina Coral at 2 a.m. After catching a couple of hours' sleep, we tried to buy fuel — but the Mexican authorities wouldn't let Maria-Teresa past the security gate. So we had put her in my dinghy and drove her the couple of miles to Ensenada Harbor. From there she caught a bus to the US border, where she, with her visa, was allowed into the United States without a problem."

It's government efficiency, as exemplified by this case, that makes us so proud to pay our taxes.

Having circumnavigated North America, done a side trip to South America, and sailed up the East Coast of the United States, Howard and Lynn Bradbrooke of the Vancouver-based Sabre 452 Swift Current decided the easiest way to get their boat home would be via the Hudson River, the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and then as far west as they could go on the Great Lakes before putting Swift Current on a truck. It's turned out to be a little harder than they expected. It started when the mast, having been in place for 12 years, decided it was pretty happy where it was, the efforts of a big crane notwithstanding. Then there was the Erie Canal.

"It took us 25 days to get through the Erie Canal's 35 locks," the couple report. "There was lots of current and flooding. And delays. And we had our 68-ft mast on deck, meaning long overhangs at both ends. It was much more of a challenge than we expected. But later today we should arrive at Cleveland."


Based on the number of paid entries for this winter's Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) and the Atlantic Odyssey rallies, there has been no drop-off in the number of people interested in sailing across the Atlantic. Because of dock limitations at the start at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, a couple of years ago the ARC, the granddaddy of all cruising rallies, added a second start. This group will take off on November 8, but stop at the Cape Verdes before continuing on to the 2,700-mile-distant finish at St. Lucia. The second group, which will sail directly for St. Lucia, won't start until November 22. Because of the Cape Verdes stop for the first group, the whole bunch should arrive in St. Lucia at approximately the same time for a massive celebration.

The ARC doesn't number their entries, but we can tell that after 200 we got tired of counting them. Ten of the entries are from the United States: Michael Long's MacGregor 65 Defy the Odds; Annie Gardner and Eric Witte's Catana 472 El Gato; Safar Ghazal's Beneteau Oceanis 60 Gazelle II; Kenneth Frantz's F/P Salina 48 My Cherie Amour; Alexander Stefan's oddly named Delphia 46 My Elephant; Nikola Pavic's Leopard 44 Nadja; Noah Darnell's Hunter Passage 42 Proteus; Scott Sullan's Hood Expedition 55 Robin; David Walsh's Outremer 51 Wanderer; and Guyon Moseley's Leopard 48 Widago. Half of the US entries are multihulls.

One of the fun things about transoceanic rallies, even if you're not doing them, is seeing what kinds of boats people are cruising across the ocean.

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers was started by the irrespressible Jimmy Cornell, who has been kicking himself ever since he sold it to World Cruising Ltd. a number of years ago. So Jimmy recently started the Atlantic Odyssey I, which leaves the Canaries in mid-November, and the Atlantic Odyssey 2, which departs the Canaries in early January. Both rallies finish at the French Island of Martinique. AR1 currently has 41 entries, with Jeffery and Gayle Allen's Irwin 54 Lazy Bones the only US entry. AR2 has 14 entries, with Bill and Judy Rouse's Amel Super Maramu 2000 BeBe the only US entry.

When you combine three events, their participants will sail something like 750,000 ocean miles. Mind you, this doesn't include any of the French or German rallies across 'The Pond'.

What's the attraction of the rallies across the Atlantic? Warm weather, mostly downwind sailing, and lots of like-minded folks. We did the ARC in 1995 with our Ocean 71 Big O, and it was one of the sweetest sails we've ever had. If you ever get the chance, we suggest you take it.

Speaking of rallies, we're told that Aussies John and Leanne Hembrow, who were noted for boundless energy and enthusiasm during the 2010 Baja Ha-Ha they did aboard their Moody 54 Red Sky, are hosting rallies to and from Australia. After cruising their Moody in the South Pacific for four years, they sold her and bought the Larouge-designed, South Carolina-built 48-ft catamaran Songlines, which they use as the mothership for the annual, we think, Port2Port Rally between New Caledonia and Newcastle each year. And now we're told they're starting a rally from somewhere on the East Coast of Australia to Sydney. Even with the Internet we find it hard to get the details on exactly what they're doing, but we wish them the best of luck. Better luck than Red Sky had, at least, as she sank off New South Wales under new ownership.

In the June Latitude we featured an interview with the Horangic family of Menlo Park — parents Basil and Caroline, Theodora, 14, Helen, 12, and Little Basil, 9 — who a little more than a year ago rented an Outremer 49 catamaran from a Frenchman for 15 months starting in the Black Sea. When we interviewed them, they had done the Eastern Med and sailed across to the Caribbean. They were headed back across the Atlantic to do the Western Med for another six months. So how was their crossing?

"Just about everybody making the crossing was freaked out because of the terrible storm in May that had flipped a Lagoon 400 catamaran, resulting in a little girl dying from exposure," reports Basil. "So nobody complained too much about there not being very much wind. One of the big advantages of the frequent calm conditions was seeing lots of dolphins, whales, and turtles. A crewmember and I are currently on our way from Palma de Mallorca, Spain to Venice while Caroline and the kids are at the Optimist North Americans in Antigua."

The heart-breaking death of a young girl after the family's Lagoon 400 catamaran flipped during that terrible May storm in the Atlantic got us wondering how dangerous open ocean sailing is compared to other moderately extreme sports. We then came across an article about the Swiss canton of Valais cracking down on the number of people who will be allowed to climb the 14,700-ft Matterhorn, the pyramid-shaped mountain near Zermatt. According to the website, an astonishing — at least to us — 450 people have died attempting to climb the mountain. In the past decade, an average of six climbers a year have died. As recently as 2011, there were 30 rescue missions necessary to save 55 climbers. While every death on the ocean is a terrible one, and we don't know how many lives are lost sailing on the ocean each year, we have to believe ocean sailing is less dangerous than climbing the Matterhorn.

Europe is different. Doña de Mallorca and the Wanderer spent two months aboard Majestic Dalat in the Netherlands, Belgium and France this summer, and were shocked at how low the prices were. For instance, in the heart of Paris Doña was getting her morning coffee and pain au chocolat for $2 US. And we were able to get very decent dinners everywhere, even on the 'Rue du Ravioli' right around the corner from the Ritz, for $12 to $18, wine not included. The wine was usually $4 to $6 US. Outside Paris, things were even less expensive.

Another thing different is the way businesses are run. During a dinner party in Paris that included a lawyer from Burgundy, a stylist from Cherry Hills, another stylist from Corsica, and an Armani model from Germany, we learned that just because you have money doesn't mean you can buy whatever you want. Take the popular Hermes bags, which sell for $5,000 to $45,000.

"The Hermes sales people, most of whom have been with the company for decades and have lots of power, will tell you they don't have any, even though they do," the stylist from Corsica told us. "But if they think you're really stylish, they might say they'll do you a favor and sell you a purple one, the least favorite color. One reason Hermes won't sell to everybody is to not dilute the market."

While at another Paris dinner party, this one with a couple of architects, a fabric designer, an international artist, and other successful people, we met a guy who used to live in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco. He then moved to Paris to be head of communications for Apple in Europe, and later wrote a very successful book called The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. The book is about how the owners of a piano shop on the Left Bank refused to sell him a piano until he'd been recommended to them by a previous customer. It's a French thing.

All this leads up to the weird business dealing we had — or didn't have — with Flexofold props of Denmark, which no longer has an office or a rep in the United States. We needed a replacement three-bladed prop for the one that had fallen off Profligate in Mexico. But when we called the company the first week in July, we got a recorded message saying the business was on holiday until August 1. Closed for nearly at month at the height of the boating season!? It very likely means we're going to have no choice but to buy a competitor's prop, even though it means we'll have two different props. Ridiculous!

Then there is the flagship Berthillon ice cream store on Ile Saint Louis, reputed to have the best ice cream in Paris if not the world. Home to gigantic lines on warm nights, they close for the month of August, the height of the tourist ice cream slurping season in Paris.

Yeah, Europe is different. And so are Europeans. The Corsican stylist has to travel to Columbus, Ohio frequently because several important US clothing companies are based there. "I really like Columbus," she told us, "it's so exotic."

If you're out cruising, in a place that's exotic or not, we'd love to hear from you.

Missing the pictures? See the August 2015 eBook!


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