September, 2002

With reports this month from Chewbacca in El Salvador; Tai Tam II in Bocas del Toro, Panama; Southern Cross at the end of a circumnavigation; Relativity on the second half of the Eastern Med Yacht Rally; Witch of Endor and Viva in Nicaragua; Velella on the trip from New Zealand to Fiji; and Cruise Notes.

Chewbacca - 30-Ft Crowther Cat
Bruce, April, Kendall & Quincy
Barillas, El Salvador
(Port Ludlow, Washington)

After leaving Chewbacca safely on a mooring in Barillas Marina, El Salvador, we've come home to visit family and friends and to resupply for another season of cruising. It's been 20 months since we sailed out the Gate, turned left, and joined the 2000 Ha-Ha fleet. We spent the first year exploring the Mexican mainland and summering in the Sea of Cortez. Our second season was spent working our way down the Mexican coast and south to El Salvador. Our learning never ends, but we thought some of our observations might be helpful to first time cruisers. We'll start with a list of our 'most valuable equipment'.

Autopilot - Hans, our autopilot, can steer Chewbacca better than any human. He leaves us free to do all kinds of things while we're sailing - check the boat, read, sleep, prepare meals, and observe wildlife. He also allows us to get out of bad weather. We are tired enough after 36 to 48-hour passages without having had to steer all the time.

Adequate Ground Tackle - Being Bay Area daysailors, we didn't give ground tackle the serious attention it deserves. After riding out a surprise 45-knot Northern for a week, we realized that our storm anchor set up was actually only adequate for our daily anchoring! We can't emphasize enough how important it is to have a big enough anchor and ground tackle, and knowing how to set it properly. Knowing that you are securely attached to the bottom is the key to a good night's sleep. We learned a lot about anchoring during our seven months in the crystal clear waters of Baja. Snorkeling on the anchor to make sure it's set is a common practice among cruisers and has become part of our anchoring routine.

A Good GPS - And a backup. These are essential.

Radar - This was something we didn't add until this year, but we like it. We've found that it makes our night watches safer and less stressful.

Reliable Dinghy and Outboard - The necessity of a reliable dinghy and outboard can't be emphasized enough. These are your 'wheels' in every anchorage, and without them you are boat bound. Even if you like to row, nothing beats being able to get to and from your destination quickly. We replaced our 2 hp outboard early in our cruise after we crashed and burned during our first attempt at a beach landing at Turtle Bay. Size counts. A motor that can get your dinghy up on a plane is not only fun, but also safer, when you need to get out of the way of something. Our Fold-A-Bote dinghy is rather unusual. It may be ugly, but it's proven to be 'kid-proof', having withstood fish hooks, spear-gun tips, and dragging it up rocky beaches.

Luxuries - This year we're adding some luxuries: A laptop, electronic charts for passagemaking, a propane refrigerator, higher quality binoculars, and two more golf cart batteries for additional amp hours. After our first season, we had a better feel for how much power we needed to generate.

It's the little things that count in cruising as well as in life. Some 'little things' that make cruising in hot climates much more pleasant are small but energy efficient fans, big wind scoops, sun shades that cover as much deck space as possible, a bimini to shade the cockpit, and good quality sun hats for keeping the crew cool. A little thing that makes snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez more enjoyable is a Lycra suit, which protects against stings from little jellyfish. Other things we love include a headlamp light so you don't have to hold a flashlight while working on the foredeck at night, a fish finder type depthsounder that shows the bottom contour as well as depth, a kitchen timer with alarm for night watches, and a brass clip for the dinghy painter to replace the 'knots' the kids used to tie.

As we continue to cruise, the more we refine our opinion of what gear we need. Generally speaking, we're happy that we started simple and then added gear as we've gone along.

In addition to learning about things that we needed, we learned about stuff that we didn't need. For example, we brought too much in the way of clothing, shoes, and toys. Our daughters Kendall (9) and Quincy (7) play with the same toys on board Chewbacca as they did on land, they just have fewer of them. They spend hours building with Legos, reading books, listening to stories on tapes, playing cards, building forts, playing dress-up, and exploring the world around them. Kendall had her first dinghy driving lesson this season, and enjoys the independence that comes from having a kayak on board. She also has a boogie board and surfboard.

We hope all the new cruisers find cruising as fulfilling and fun as we have. But don't leave home without a good dose of humor, because when it gets scary - and it sometimes will - or you make stupid mistakes - which are bound to happen - you'll need your sense of humor to keep things in perspective.

- the winship family 8/3/02

Tai Tam II - Island Packet 40    
Tom & Kathy Knueppel
Caribbean Side Of Panama
(San Francisco)

We've spent the last two months on the Caribbean side of Panama, and believe that our fellow cruisers might be interested in our observations on the Bocas del Toro region, which is up near the Costa Rican border, and our experience here this summer.

We completed our Canal transit in record time on June 13th, leaving at 6:30 a.m. from the Pedro Miguel Boat Club - which is on Miraflores Lake inside the Canal - and arriving at Cristobal on the Atlantic side at 2 p.m. in pouring rain. We dropped our hook in The Flats outside the Panama Canal YC, which had no vacant slips. We stayed at The Flats for two nights to put our boat back in order and to get rid of the 14 tires we'd used as fenders during the transit.

We then headed past old Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Rio Chagres, and about 10 miles upriver. It was from this river in 1671 that the notorious British pirate Henry Morgan gained access to the interior of Panama, crossed to the Pacific side, and sacked Panama City. When you go up the Rio Chagres, you are surrounded by absolute nature: screaming howler monkeys, colorful birds, crocodiles, and large fish - all in a fresh water environment. It's just lovely. Before the U.S. pulled out of Panama, this area was apparently used for jungle warfare training so there are a number of trails. We stayed there in isolation for three days of swimming, watching the incredible torrential downpours, and worrying about the tremendous lightning strikes all around us.

Our next stop, the Rio Euero, was for just one night as the anchorage was very rolly. So we continued on to Isla Escudo de Veraguas, which is about 11 miles off the coast. This beautiful and isolated island seems like something out of a picture book, but bad weather again drove us out of the anchorage after just one day. So we took refuge outside of Punta Allegre, a small town in Laguna de Chiriqui consisting of about 10 stilt houses over the water occupied by Guaymi Indians. We stayed in this secure location for four days as there was unsettled weather associated with a tropical wave. During this time, we enjoyed the attention of the locals, who obviously don't get many visitors. One dugout canoe after another arrived as we held court, exchanging pencils, notebooks, money, food, candy, and cookies for fruit and sea shells. Once we put out word that Kathy collects shells, there was no end to what was brought to us. Even the small children arrived bearing shells, so it was very sweet.

This northwest part of Panama is way off the beaten track, so there aren't many tourists by land or sea. We got to enjoy empty anchorages and unspoiled nature. We left again on June 23 and entered Bahia Almirante - where Bocas de Toro is located - and dropped anchor at Isla Bastimentos for two nights. We then motored a couple of miles to anchor in front of Bocas del Toro, which despite having just 7,000 residents, is the provincial capital. Bocas was once the headquarters of the United Fruit Company during its banana heyday. Bananas are still an export item, but eco-tourism, whatever that means, is growing quickly.

We found Bocas del Toro to be a peaceful little place, with a predominantly English-speaking population of West Indian descent. The houses are of a gingerbread Georgian style much like that of the Lesser Antilles. The Caribbean influence is very noticeable. Bocas is located about 20 miles from the border with Costa Rica, and is known for snorkeling, diving and surfing. There are many small islands and reefs in the area with beaches. The town's ambience is a cross between funky and slightly run down, and there are many young people from all over the world. On nights when it doesn't rain, many of the young people congregate around the town square selling beads, shells and hash pipes, and Kuna Indians set up tables to sell their traditional molas and bracelets. There are several restaurants, our favorites being El Pescado, which is upstairs beside the town square; the Laguna Hotel restaurant, which is good for people watching; and the Refugio, at the southern edge of town. Bocas has two Internet cafes. The overall pace of life in Bocas is slow. If you walk down the middle of the street, cars will pass around you - and the many dogs.

When you're cruising this part of Panama, you're pretty much on your own. So either you do your own boat repairs or you have to live with the problems. We did hear that someone works on outboards and refrigeration, but there's nothing else.

For those cruisers looking to leave their boat in Panama for a season or so, there aren't many choices. There is the Pedro Miguel Boat Club on Miraflores Lake inside the Canal itself, which has its own issues with water depth and safety. Then there are the two marinas here in Bocas. We keep our boat at the 20+ slip Marina Carenero, which has good electricity, one marginal shower and laundry, and a good restaurant - which unfortunately was closed for the summer season. This marina offers a very thorough boat maintenance program - washing the boat down, running the engine, wiping the interior to deal with mildew, and whatever special requests a boat owner might have. The marina is located across the 300 yard channel from the town of Bocas on the small island of Carenero - meaning Careening Cay. Indeed, Columbus had his vessels repaired here. It's easy to get between the marina and Bocas using your own dinghy or a panga water taxi.

The second marina, Bocas Marina, is on the other side of town and a bit further out amongst the mangroves. But it's newer and larger, has modern floating docks as opposed to pilings, and has more and better facilities. It's possible to hire someone in town to look after your boat. We are satisfied with Marina Carenero, but Bocas Marina clearly attracts the majority of cruising and other boats. Rates are $6/foot/month at Marina Carenero versus $7/foot/month at Bocas Marina.

From everything we have heard and experienced, the Bocas area is free of theft and appears to be quite peaceful. Provisioning is limited however, as the only supermercado has limited supplies. It's best to stock up in Colon. Another option is to take a water taxi and then a bus to the town of Changuinola, which has a larger supermercado, but it's pretty much a day trip.

There are two ways to fly in and out of Bocas. Either you can take a small plane to Panama City - $49 each way as of July of 2000 - or take a combination of a water taxi and bus to get to San Jose, Costa Rica. It's apparently less expensive to fly from Costa Rica to the States than it is from Panama to the States.

You're not going to get cold in Panama. The daytime temperature is around 85°-90°, with about the same percentage humidity. The temperatures drop a bit in the evening. Thanks to the horrendous thunder and lightning storms in the afternoon and/or evening, boats don't get dusty. But mildew is a major problem! We've been in a constant battle, washing and wiping things down with vinegar to keep the mildew away. For folks planning to visit or leave their boat here, the mildew problem should not be underestimated.

If you're looking for countless uncrowded anchorages in a jungle setting, you could spend months here.

We will continue our journey in October, at which time we'll make our way to the San Blas Islands.

- tom and kathy 9/01/02

Readers - Another option for leaving a boat in Panama is the new Flamenco Marina on the Pacific side.

Southern Cross - Peterson 44
Jack & Lynn McCarthy
Unintended Circumnavigation

We haven't written to Latitude very much since we left San Francisco 8.5 years ago. It seems that we just drifted along and never got around to it. When in Fiji, we did send you our famous-all-over-the-Pacific article titled Mama Came Cruising. It was never published so we were intimidated enough to never write again. We're probably over sensitive, but not much - other than the weather - bothered us while cruising.

Our unintended circumnavigation began in April of '94, when we sailed north to British Columbia. Six months later, we headed south to visit Mexico, Central America, Panama, and the San Blas Islands. We then sailed northwest to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala for five months, before heading back to Panama and into the Pacific again to visit the Galapagos and many of the islands of the South Pacific. We then continued on to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Oman, Yemen, and the Red Sea. Once in the Med, we visited Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearics, Spain, and Gibraltar. After stopping in the Canaries, we crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and continued on to Florida, where we completed our circumnavigation in May of this year. It had been a lifelong dream of ours to go cruising - and perhaps a subconscious one to even circumnavigate. Once we started cruising, we found it wasn't difficult to just keep going all the way around.

The most unusual aspect of our trip was buddyboating with one boat - Bob and Jeannie's Valiant 40 Max - for six of the 8.5 years. Like the circumnavigation, that's another thing that we would have never planned on doing. In all our previous years of cruising, we had never taken anyone with us or buddyboated for very long. We always preferred just the two of us. Nonetheless, we found ourselves buddyboating with Bob and Jeannie from Western Samoa all the way to Florida.

We aren't sure why our buddyboating worked out so well, but our ability to honor each other's privacy and not get competitive or jealous when other cruisers came into the picture had something to do with it. For whatever reason, our buddyboating just worked, and we truly loved our association. We saw things through each other's eyes, bolstered each other in tough times - such as the deaths of our parents and some of theirs - shared family and friends when they visited, and had four opinions instead of two when it came to decisions. We didn't always see eye to eye, but that was okay.

We didn't always stay together, either. While in New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, Italy, and the Canaries, we went our separate ways while travelling ashore. That meant we had two sets of stories to share when we returned to our boats. But we did share a car for one month travelling through Spain, France, England, and up through Scotland before returning to Spain to make our way to Gibraltar. We shared the news of 9/11 together while anchored in Gibraltar, where people from all over the world stopped by to let us know how bad they felt for us.

"Weren't you glad to be away from Bob and Jeannie for awhile?" cruisers would ask us. On the contrary, we missed them like crazy even though our cruising life continued on as normal, and we were glad to see them again upon our or their return. We realize that such an arrangement is not for everyone, but for us it was a wonderful thing that added greatly to our cruise.

We've now temporarily gone our separate paths, as they are continuing up the IntraCoastal Waterway of the East Coast as they try to sell their boat. But we still talk once a week by phone. When they sell their boat, they will build a home on Washington's Olympic Peninsula - meaning they'll be close enough to come sailing with us on Southern Cross. We're now home, waiting for Dockwise Yacht Transport to deliver Southern Cross to Vancouver, B.C., where she'll remain as our second home. We plan to spend late spring and late summer aboard her each year, enjoying the unforgettable sights of the Pacific Northwest.

The end of our circumnavigation didn't go as smoothly as we'd expected, as during a visit back home in October Jack was discovered to have severe coronary artery disease. He underwent a quadruple bypass in January, but there were complications and his left arm - from which an artery was harvested - was temporarily paralyzed. He needed extensive physical therapy right at the time we needed to be sailing Southern Cross from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Bob and Jeannie had already left with a crew in early January, so it seemed hopeless that we'd make it this year.

It was hard for Jack to concentrate on his recovery until one morning when we got a call from our friend Larry Koop in Canada. "I am enlisting as crew," he said, "whenever you are ready to go." From that point on, Jack worked like crazy on therapy to get ready - if possible - for the Atlantic crossing. In addition, our dear friend Peter Brown, who was eager to make an ocean crossing, decided that he would come along also. Although we had to delay the start of this passage, Peter stood by us, knowing that we needed his help.

On March 15, we packed up things at home, flew to the Canary Islands, and retrieved Southern Cross from the marina in San Sebastian, Gomera. Four days later, Peter, Larry, Jack and I - Lynn - sailed for home. It was an unbelievable feeling to be together, underway at last. We can never thank Peter and Larry enough for being so patient and caring, and their act of friendship will never be forgotten. To everyone else, including their wives Weebee and Julie, we say 'thank you' for your support. After 45,000 ocean miles, we're home and nesting - but looking forward to getting Southern Cross settled in British Columbia and having her at our disposal again.

One of the things we're looking forward to doing now is see the United States, and visit the ham radio operators all over the USA and Canada who helped us keep in touch and relayed our email via Winlink. The advances of technology during our cruise made an enormous difference in our ability to communicate with our family, friends, and other cruisers. We gave each of our grandchildren a chart of the Atlantic and were able to send them our positions during the crossing. We also sent letters to their classes at school and spoke with them when we came home. It kept us close and eased the pain of having left them all for so long.

We would love to see weather guru Herb of Southbound II, look him in the eye, and ask him how he does it. He carried us from Mexico to Guatemala, across the Pacific, and across the Atlantic. He was rarely wrong about the weather, and his forecasts were always appreciated. To Grady and Ivy Williams, our ham and Winlink gurus, we send our love and thanks. This old dinosaur just needed extra TLC when it comes to all the techie stuff.

After nearly nine years of cruising, it's good to be home. Life is good. We hope to be able to see all our old friends soon.

- jack and lynn 9/5/02

Jack and Lynn - Sorry we weren't able to run your 'Mama Came Cruising' piece, but we just didn't have room. Try us again with a report on the Pacific Northwest.

Relativity - Beneteau First 53
Hall & Wendy Palmer
Kemer Marina, Turkey
(Palo Alto)

[Editor's Note: In the August Changes, Hall and Wendy reported on the first four legs of the month long 1,500-mile, 13th Annual Eastern Med Yacht Rally. This is their report on the second half of the event.]

Leg Five. Due to the tension over the tours, our social schedule in Syria was less formal than elsewhere. Pleasantries were handled on the quay with boxed chicken from a local fast food outlet, and there were few speeches. Within hours of our return from Palmyra we were underway to Jounieh, Lebanon, 105 miles down the coast. Our host would be the yacht club, which is a large, campus/country club-like institution formally identified as an Automobile Touring Association.

Lebanon is quite different in tone from Syria, appearing much more prosperous and less militant - but it is obvious that Syria is still calling many of the shots. There was less military in evidence near Beirut, but we sensed a Secret Police presence in the marina staff. In downtown Beirut, one sees every sort of shop and brand of merchandise that could be had in Paris or Rome, and ATM machines disburse dollars as well as the local currency. The supermarkets rival anything in the U.S., and there is an active and sophisticated nightlife.

As we left the city to visit Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley, things seemed to change. Lebanon's flag, with the fist and rifle, was seen less than Syria's flag. Once again, we rode along in buses, preceded and followed by numerous heavily armed security guards - only to find ourselves warmly welcomed at our destination by the usual crowd of vendors and magnificent ancient ruins. Baalbeck is one of the most ancient cities in the world, while Anjar is a major tourist site, as it is the remains of an ancient city that was exclusively Arab. All of this was a great contrast to the Auto Club, with its pools and tennis courts, and a gourmet dinner with the usual awards and speeches followed by late night dancing,

Leg Six. Three days after our arrival in Jounieh, we took off for Haifa, Israel, on a night sail in close company. While Syria patrols its coast, we still had our Turkish Coast Guard escorts to communicate our whereabouts and run interference for us. In Israeli waters, however, we each had to communicate directly with the patrol boats and answer periodic questionnaires as to our location, crew, nationality, and so forth. One got the impression of a far more intensive interest in our doings by the Israeli Navy, which became burdensome to some of the fleet who were ordered to make several course changes - that made no obvious sense - during the early morning hours. While 10 miles offshore, the fleet was told to group up for escort into the marina - but then the escort was delayed for two hours. This led to some discontent within the fleet, and the rally experienced some dropouts at this point.

The day after our arrival, a bus bombing up the road killed 17 Israelis - something we learned as we boarded a bus for a local tour. But everyone went ahead with the scheduled tour to explore Acco (ACRE), having been hosted individually for dinner the night before in the homes of the local yacht club members.

Leg Seven. After two days in Haifa, we set out on yet another night passage of 83 miles up the coast to Ashkelon Marina, where a modern but largely empty marina awaited us. We rested up for once before leaving for Port Said, Egypt.

Leg Eight. On June 8, a total of 25 of the original 38 starters sailed off from Ashkelon on the 120-mile trip to Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal. We had a lovely tight reach through the night and arrived at the harbor entrance at dawn. The Rally organizers had contemplated a problem free entrance to the Port and anchorage in Arsenal Bay, where we expected to be able to leave our boats for an overnight trip to Cairo and the Pyramids. Problems arose, however, as soon as we approached the entrance to the harbor, as canal pilots seeking fees for pilotage physically blocked the fleet from entering the harbor for over an hour. As the time went on, radio transmissions of increasing volume went back and forth. The pilots ultimately conceded our right to proceed without pilotage to the harbor - but only after repeated promises of 'gifts' had been made by our Egyptian agent.

We proceeded unmolested to the Arsenal Basin, where we were expected, and where new mooring hardware had been installed for us to provide security for the boats as the skippers and crews toured Cairo and Giza. About an hour after our arrival, much of the fleet made a brief and premature departure from Port Said, as many of the new mooring rings pulled out of the quay. It appeared the 'concrete' into which they had been cast had more dirt than cement in the mix, and in any event was still uncured. Within hours the problem was solved by running new chain between the ancient bollards on the shore, and we departed the Arsenal Basin for a cocktail party hosted by our Coast Guard escorts in another area of town.

The next morning we departed by bus for Cairo with the usual group of guards in front and behind the buses. We proceeded to Giza to look at the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Sun Ship, and then after a brief lunch - at Kentucky Fried Chicken - went on to the Cairo Museum and then to the Nile for a brief sail on the river. Our hotel that night was close to the Pyramids so we could take in dinner in a tent with dancing horses, the usual belly dancer, a whirling dervish of many colors. Our ride back to Port Said the next day paralleled the Suez Canal, and we could see many ships moving through the desert. We made a brief stop at a marina 30 miles up the canal and then pressed on for a formal dinner in Port Said with the usual presentations.

Leg Nine - Epilogue. We departed Port Said without difficulty for the return leg to Herzliya some 136 miles back down our route, and again had fantastic sailing conditions most of the way. The security was again tight, but as we had all been vetted earlier, there was less difficulty than on our initial entry into Israel. Herzliya is a modern city with a serious marina and yacht club, and we were able to leave our boats there without concern for trips to Jerusalem, the Negiv Desert, the Dead Sea, and Masada. All of these attractions were well worth visiting, and we were again among the very few tourists at any of them.

The marina extended its hospitality for an additional week without charge so that those who were interested could take an unofficial three-day trip to Jordan to visit Petra and Amman. We elected to do this, and were treated to a truly wonderful day at Petra, which is a magnificent ruin. Jordan is also experiencing a lack of tourism, and the 23 of us who made the trip were the first guests our four-star hotel had in three weeks.

Unfortunately, while we were in Jordan, three suicide bombs killed 33 people in Jerusalem and new hostilities commenced which resulted in delays reentering Israel at the River Jordan crossing. Since the Rally had now been completed, we cleared Herzliya for Cyprus the morning following our return from Jordan, and within a week were back in our mooring at Kemer Marina.

The EMYR was the experience of a lifetime, yet several boats were on it for their third and fourth times, so the appeal of the event must be lingering. From an economic perspective, the Rally was certainly the greatest bargain one could ask for. All of our berthage, most of our meals, and almost all of our social activities were included in the price of $120 per crew member. The costs of the optional tours were minimal. On top of that was the very real gratitude we received from our hosts in all of the places we visited. We would not dream of undertaking a similar agenda on our own, but if we did, I cannot see it costing less than several thousand dollars - and it still would have lacked the fun and companionship of being with our fellow Rally participants. The EMYR is obviously a heavily subsidized event with innumerable hours of work by the sponsors.

Our inclination is toward a slower pace with fewer overnight passages and more lay days, but these are small nits to pick in the overall context of the experience. We can and do recommend the event to anyone, keeping in mind the obvious risks of being in that part of the world at this time. The risks are very real, yet probably overestimated by most of us with little experience with such conditions.

- hall & wendy 6/25/02

Witch of Endor - Formosa 41 Ketch
Steve Cherry
Viva - Islander 37
Bob Willmann
Nicaragua Report

We think that cruisers should try Corinto, Nicaragua - although they should keep the boat locked up while away and while sleeping. Bob's Viva was the only boat in the harbor before I showed up. As reported in last month's Changes, his boat was boarded in the night while he was sleeping in the cockpit. The bad guys ripped off a bunch of food, clothing, money, and the built-in stereo without even waking him. Nobody has attempted to board my Witch - maybe there is safety in numbers.

Coming into the harbor at Corinto is pretty much a straight shot followed by a dogleg to the right and then another dogleg to the left. There are range markers all the way. The anchorage is on the far side of the channel about equidistant from the blue power barge and the knuckle of the main wharf where the tugs tie up. The bottom is 15 feet with mud and sand. There is good holding. The Port Captain probably won't answer the radio if you call. After I arrived, I went ashore, had a few beers, then went back to my boat and took a nap. The Port Captain didn't show up until the next day.

There is a convenient and safe place to tie up the dinghy - in the corner of a little knuckle in the main wharf between the tug berths. You'll find a vertical ladder for getting up the wharf. Dinghies left here are reasonably safe there because of Port Security and the proximity of the tug crews. The Port Captain, Aduana and Migracion are all within a block of the main wharf. Just walk toward town and you'll find a gate abeam of the big container crane. The guards are accustomed to seeing cruisers come and go. The three offices of the officials are right there on the street. It cost me $30 at Migracion, $10 at Aduana, but nothing at the Port Captain - until I left when it cost $15 for a zarpe. All the port officials were courteous and friendly.

If you go a couple of blocks up the street, you'll see two banks and a Texaco gas station. From there, it's not far to the town square. Corinto is extremely poor, but relatively clean. The central park has a zoological display that includes a caged croc and a bunch of little turtles. Teo and his wife run the La Glorieta palapa, where they serve cold beer for 65 cents. There are lots of places to eat. At Mariner's Rest, you can get chicken, spaghetti, red beans, rice and a cerveza - all for a couple of bucks. Also within a block of the central park is a mercado, ferreteria, cinema, library, and lots of shops. While in the park, you'll probably meet Chuck Roa, a retired master diver for the United States Navy. He's a good source of local information.

As for the anchored barge with four huge diesels, it's an ENRON power-generating plant that provides 15% of Nicaragua's electricity. ENRON has similar facilities in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama. The guys who run the plant are terrific, and are happy to try to help cruisers with pesky mechanical problems.

The downside to Corinto is that you'll see a few teenagers walking around sniffing glue and trying to bum money, and a few old bums looking for a handout. They are a nuisance rather than a threat - at least during the daytime. We made sure we got off the streets and back to our boats before sundown.

The 'No Name' anchorage further down the coast actually does have a name - Astillero. We didn't see the reef as noted in Charlie's, and the locals said there weren't any rocks in the area - but it might be there. It's a breezy anchorage, but there's good holding on a sand bottom. The local kids gathered to watch us gringos come through the surf in our inflatables and were eager to hold our bow when we headed back out to our big boats. Astillero is a good stop. We enjoyed a couple of good meals ashore, procured some lobster, did light reprovisioning at the small pulperias, and established a good rapport with the locals.

San Juan del Sur is a bigger anchorage near the Costa Rican border. It's windy, like most of the Nicaraguan coast, but there is good holding. The Port Captain will come out to your boat on arrival. When you want to depart, you must visit his office, which is in an A-Frame house with a conspicuous antenna up the hill. The Port Captain's office was staffed with courteous and professional officials. The same can't be said of the local Immigration office - which is at the border with Costa Rica. Plan on wasting most of a day, as it requires two buses each way, a two-hour wait for the stamp, and the trip back.

It can be tricky landing through the surf, so we tied our dinghies to the main dock the first day. After that, we used the water taxi. The water taxi is a classic, with a half dozen tires on the starboard side for going alongside fishing boats, and about 20 fenders in a variety of colors and states of inflation on the port side to pick up people from sailboats. The water taxi service is run by Che, who operates from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. He is punctual about picking you up at prearranged times. He'll drop you off and pick you up at the main dock, where fuel and water are available - as are fish and lobster.

It's a short walk to town from the main dock. There you will find a few modest Internet cafes, the best of which is in the language school about a block from the gate to the commercial wharf. Other places to visit include Ricardo's Bar, the Iguana Bar, Bar Vicky, and Nacho Mama's Mexican restaurant. San Juan del Sur has a pretty good central market with nice looking fresh veggies and other goodies. Elsewhere in town is a good lavanderia, with a four hour turnaround and a mobile bank that opens across the street from Ricardo's on Mondays and Thursdays. Side trips can be arranged to Rivas and Lago de Nicaragua. Rivas has a Credomatic affiliate for those not on the 'Plus' banking system, as well as good shopping. Lake Nicaragua is a very interesting diversion from the norm, with trips available out to Isla Ometepe for those who want to spend the entire day.

That's our take on Nicaragua.

- steve
- bob

Velella - Wylie 31
Garth Wilcox & Wendy Hinman
Passage to Minerva Reef

Before leaving New Zealand in late May after a southern hemisphere summer, we returned briefly to Auckland to finish a few projects and say our good-byes to friends there. Once our projects were finished, we felt more ready for an ocean passage than ever before. So we even had time to do a few fun times in Auckland before leaving.

We fit in a few more nights out with our gang before we would disperse in different directions. We even had time to schedule an interview with a Japanese sailing magazine the day before we were planning to leave. We also checked out the Alinghi Compound for Switzerland's America's Cup Team, which had just been opened to the public. Garth and I had a go on the coffee grinders during a simulated spinnaker hoist, and I tried the bow simulator designed to test one's balance on the bow of a bucking boat. After so much sailing, it seemed pretty normal to me. There were all kinds of displays and many of the Alinghi team members were on site. I got to chat with and take some photos of skipper Russell Coutts, who seemed surprised that we'd sailed to New Zealand from the U.S. in such a small boat. When we return to New Zealand in November, the Louis Vuitton Challenger series is likely to be well underway and it will be even more interesting.

Before any major passage - and the New Zealand to South Pacific passage is one of the more significant - all the bluewater cruisers in the area talk about which is the best weather window to head for the tropics. We checked various weather sites daily on the Internet as we finished our preparations. We were provisioned and all ready to go when a low pressure system stalled, creating adverse winds. So we were stalled, too. Before each passage, I make a bunch of ready-to-eat meals to minimize the need for cooking in rough weather, so the clock was ticking on all this food. Plus, we were starting to eat through our stores. Finally the wind turned more southerly, although it was quite strong. While it takes courage to leave a perfectly good marina when the forecast is calling for a gale with gusts to 50 knots, it was great timing for us to head north quickly under a full moon. So we took off.

For the first four days, we had 35+ knot winds, mostly from behind us. During the first couple of these days, we thought 'Yee ha!' It was a wet, wild, and really cold ride, but we were averaging 7.5 knots while flying just a reefed #3 - which is about the size of a handkerchief. But by the third day, this kind of sailing was getting a little old. Our foul weather gear had become soaked through, and it was a challenge to do anything below decks - including putting on the many layers of clothing we needed to stay warm.

We checked in with Russell Radio each morning by HF radio, giving our position coordinates, and received a personal weather prediction for our current position. When I heard a forecast that called for the wind to build once again in our area, my heart sank, for it had finally become too uncomfortable down below to function beyond survival. Despite the forecast, the wind and waves continued to mellow, there were fewer squalls, and the wind was from further aft. By the fourth day, we were pretty comfortable but still going fast. We covered far more distance in much less time than on the same passage to New Zealand - and we still hadn't raised the main during the first 4.5 days!

We saw more rainbows in those first few days than we've ever seen, and we each saw the most incredible 'moonbow' - which could have only been produced by a full moon and rainsqualls. And as the weather cleared, millions of stars - more than we'd been able to see amidst the lights of New Zealand - became visible once again.

Initially, we'd sailed east on the westerly winds on the assumption that the wind would come from the southeast and east once we got into the tradewinds. We then sailed mostly due north, hovering about the International Dateline - 180 degrees, where east meets west - and joked about going from tomorrow to yesterday by changing our heading slightly.

The fifth day of our passage was a mess, as our sink drain disintegrated, allowing gray bilge water to flood the drawers of kitchen tools beneath the sink. So while we were bouncing around, Garth spent his precious off watch hours trying to rebuild the drain, and I spent mine trying to clean and dry all the miscellaneous drawer contents - towels, hot pads, matches, and so forth - amidst unfinished dirty dishes from our prior meal. We eventually got things back together, but the incident reminded me of the pressure cooker explosion we'd experienced a few days before leaving Auckland. That had resulted in split pea soup being splattered all over our living area, which took us hours to clean. Thank God that hadn't happened while we were underway!

We planned a pit stop at Minerva Reef - two shallow spots enclosed inside a fringing reef in the middle of the ocean - and we were quite ready for a little rest and clean up by the time we got close. In addition, the wind was starting to turn against us. By nightfall, we were only 15 miles south of South Minerva Reef with the wind quickly building from ahead, so we loitered about for 16 hours in wet choppy seas before we could enter the reef safely in good daylight. Without GPS, a planned visit - the only kind you'd want at Minerva - would not be possible. We came within half a mile before we spotted the reef, and the narrow channel opening between breakers to the calmer waters inside. There is no land at Minerva, only a sharp reef that you can walk on for just a couple of hours a day during low tide. Come high tide, the reef is nearly invisible even from inside. We were literally anchored in the middle of the ocean with no land for hundreds of miles. We found it a little disquieting.

On our way to Minerva, we'd read a fascinating story about a shipwreck there in '62 that stranded 17 Tongan men for four months. Using just a serrated knife and a hammer as tools, they were able to use pieces from their wreck and that of another to build a small outrigger that three of them sailed the 400 miles back to Fiji to get help. Their story of survival amidst the most trying conditions was inspiring, but we hoped we'd only have to read about such things.

Here are the statistics for our trip from Auckland to North Minerva Reef. Miles sailed - 932. Time motored - none. Wind speed: 35+ knots S, SW, SE mostly, then 5 knots from the east, briefly building to 25 knots NE for 20 hours. Highest boat speed - 9 knots. Lowest boat speed - 1.7 knots, but only for a few hours. Average daily run - 140 miles. Passage highlights - peeling off layers of clothing and warming up in the sunshine as we ventured north; seeing millions of stars reappear, and watching the miles add up. Low point - doing an epoxy job on the sink drain in the middle of the ocean in 25 knots of wind, and cleaning up.

After arriving in Minerva Reef, we basically just slept, read, and cleaned up the boat and ourselves for the first couple of days. We had planned to stay a while to relax, to finish some of the fresh food we had on board, and to gradually get used to the warmer temperatures before reaching the intense heat of Fiji.

We contemplated launching the dinghy and rowing out to explore the reef during low tide, but thought it was a little windy and couldn't muster up the energy. But two other boats - one German and one Spanish - anchored nearby had launched theirs and gone exploring. After dark, we heard voices outside and thought maybe some of the other yachties were off to try to catch lobster. But when we heard whistles, we came on deck and realized the folks in the dinghy, having lost the use of their outboard, were being blown across the lagoon faster than they could paddle. Since the reef was submerged, there was nothing to stop them for thousands of open ocean miles. We quickly pulled out our floodlight to shine on them, took a bearing with the hand-bearing compass, and called the other boat on the VHF to see if they could rescue them - as our dinghy wasn't in the water. The folks on Nicole of Spain had already put away their dinghy, but in an impressively short time raised their anchor and set off toward where our light shone, watching for coral heads from their bow with a floodlight.

We learned later that the German couple was returning to their boat after visiting with Nicole of Spain, and had lost one oar and broken the second before realizing they needed outside help after losing their engine. It had been a scary incident, but resulted in a well-coordinated rescue. It reminded us that Minerva Reef is just a shallow spot in the middle of the ocean, and that venturing off in the dinghy isn't something that should be approached lightly. We planned to visit the reef the next day, but had to stop short after one of our oarlocks broke and a second on the same side threatened to break free without reinforcement. (We couldn't find anything but cheap fittings in New Zealand, and they didn't even last two months!) After the other boats left, Minerva Reef was almost eerie. We were really cautious when we explored the reef. It's one thing to be out sailing in our home on the ocean, but quite another to be adrift in a rowing dinghy.

After a few more days of fine dining - including two bourbon apple pies from the Pie Man - and good rest, we figured it was time to continue on to Fiji. Besides, the crowd from behind us was starting to catch up.

The lure of continuing on was strong, as we knew that with just four more days of sailing, we could reach Savusavu, where we could enjoy a calm anchorage and the amenities of a port. The wind was fairly steady from behind us as we started out, then gradually moved forward and lightened until we were beating into a light wind with mellow seas. Overall, it was pleasant sailing. We were disappointed, however, to be unable to reach port before dark on our fourth day, and had to loiter outside the reef again for the next 15 hours. Naturally, the wind came up once we didn't need to sail anywhere. So we decided to drop the jib and double reef the main for the night.

Unfortunately, as Garth was pulling in the leech of the main, the winch flew off the boom, hit him in the head, bounced on the deck - splintering the wood and leaving a noticeable gouge - then went overboard. Ouch! We're lucky to have a second boom winch, but the extra night out turned out to be costly. We did our best to rest on our alternating off watches through the night, and after first light, headed for the pass in the reef. We made landfall in the small town of Savusavu at about 10 a.m. After getting some rest, we're looking forward to exploring Fiji.

- wendy & garth 09/02/02

Cruise Notes:

"Our cruising plans are on hold right now," writes Ingo Jeve of the San Francisco-based Valiant 40 Seeadler, which is currently in Kemer, Turkey. "We just got the news that my sister in Berlin is terminally ill with lung cancer, so we now must take care of her. Like always, my wife Espie is doing a super job of helping me. One day I will sit down and write some more about our sailing adventures in Europe. Until then, keep the dream alive."

It's amazing how time flies. It seems like yesterday that we first met Ingo and Espie in Mazatlan and Isla Isabella - but it was actually 1977.

"We always hope to hear from those folks that we have met while cruising, but have lost touch with," say David Heath and Janet Erken of the Seattle-based homebuilt 38-ft cutter Alegria, which is current in Baltimore. "Since there are several Alegrias out sailing now, here is our brief biography. Three of us built Alegria - which has an Ingrid hull - and launched her near Seattle in 1976. The next year we sailed her along the coast from Seattle to Acapulco, then across the Pacific to French Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands, Vancouver Island, and back to Seattle in '79. Two years later, we sailed back to the Sea of Cortez for a little more than five years. After leaving La Paz in '86, we sailed down the coast of Costa Rica to Panama, and then up the Western Caribbean to Isla San Andreas, Roatan and the Rio Dulce, and reached Texas in '89. We left the Houston area 10 years later and are now in Baltimore. We plan to do the Bahamas this winter and perhaps spend next summer in Trinidad. Lost friends can . Don't forget to email us before the end of September and don't forget to put 'Latitude' in the subject line - or your message will automatically go into the trash bin. May the wind and your ground tackle always treat you well."

It's been an event-filled four years for Ben Siebert. He started out with the Ericson 29 Chloe in the Channel Islands, but sold her, and in July of '98 he and his new wife Marilyn purchased the Kennex 445 catamaran Side by Side in Annapolis. Ben delivered the cat south to Fort Lauderdale in the fall, and in the spring of '99 - with Marilyn five months pregnant - they took off cruising. They caught the end of Sailing Week in Georgetown and found the Exumas to be awesome. When Marilyn became eight months pregnant, they parked the boat in Miami and returned to California where their son Noah was born. While in California, they'd put their boat in a Florida bareboat management program. "It was a disaster," says Ben, "as the boat was trashed in three months." So they started their own bareboat company with Side by Side. After 15 months, they had a total of six boats in the program. Ben says the enterprise was the source of a million stories. One charterer, for instance, took a boat down to Haiti, picked up 16 illegal Chinese immigrants, and tried to smuggle them into the U.S.

That fall, the now three members of the Siebert family took off cruising once again, spending a year enjoying much of the Bahamas and getting as far south as the Turks & Caicos. Marilyn, who must be a real trooper, became pregnant a second time, so they returned to Miami a year ago in March, where Sierra was born. In January of this year, they - now a family of four - sold their cruising company to one of the boatowners, and took off for the Eastern Caribbean. Ben says it was rough going along the famed 'Thorny Path' to the Eastern Caribbean, particularly with two infants. After waiting in the Domincan Republic for three weeks to get a weather window east, Ben and Marilyn threw in the towel and decided to return to California to start Southern California Charters. The first boat in their program will be Side by Side.

Before they could start anything, they had to get the catamaran back to California. Rather than sail her, they put her on a Dockwise Yacht Transport 'sinker' ship, which will take their cat to Vancouver by way of San Diego. Thanks to the Jones Act, which is supposed to protect the seemingly nonexistent American shipping industry, Side by Side can't legally be unloaded in San Diego without first making a round trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. But the Sieberts have decided to cruise her for a few weeks in the San Juans first, then sail her south to San Diego. For anyone thinking about shipping their boat, Ben recommends price shopping online rather than dealing with a local agent. Dockwise's rep in Florida quoted them $16,000 for the trip to Vancouver, but when he went to the Belgium-based company's online site, he booked the same passage for only $10,200 - a huge savings. It would have cost an extra $4,800 to ship the boat back down to San Diego. Ben was surprised how easy it was to load the ship. "I figured that it would take them a day or two to load the 50 or so yachts, but it was so simple they had it done in just two or three hours." The trip from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver will take three weeks. Ben gives the Kennex top marks for liveability and room. He says she's not as fast as a similar-sized Catana, but she's more comfortable in heavy weather. Old friends can reach the Sieberts by .

"The accompanying photos are of Doug, my husband, and I, sailing with the spinnaker up for the first time," writes Lisa Welch of the Peterson 44 Mamouna. "We left San Diego in December of 2000, and have been cruising toward Panama ever since. Mamouna is currently in El Salvador while we are visiting family and friends back in the States. We will return to the boat in September and begin cruising to Costa Rica. Our favorite places thus far have been Isla Isabella, San Blas, Banderas Bay, Zihuatanejo, and Puerto Escondido, all of which are on the Mexican mainland, and Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. We've enjoyed so much beautiful scenery and so many fun-loving people along the way. This is my first long-distance voyage, but as you can see, I have the fever!"

Sorry we didn't have enough space for photos of both you and your husband, Lisa, so his photo will have to wait until you write again.

"Hello from the anchorage in Washington Channel in Washington, D.C., just a short distance from our nation's capitol," write Bill and Lisa Brown of the Sacramento and Bellingham-based 44-ft cutter Vite. "It's a little strange in this urban setting after two years of being on the east and west coasts of Mexico and Central America. The access to the free tourist attractions of the capital are wonderful, however. The Capital YC gives the crews of anchored boats access to their clubhouse and dinghy dock for $10 a day including showers. It's more expensive than San Blas, Panama, but it's worth it. In addition to 50-cent laundry machines and cheap Internet access, the club has the best bar on either coast! It's hot and humid in D.C., but the indoors and movies are air-conditioned, so we manage. We're waiting for the Annapolis Boat Show in October, and will then head down to the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. Next summer we're headed to Maine and Nova Scotia. We just hope the economy gets better so we can keep doing this. Sweet sailing to everyone."

"I have been reading some of the accounts of this year's Baja Bash and think that perhaps we had one of the easiest," writes John Haste of the San Diego-based Perry 52 catamaran Little Wing. "We - my sister Pat Tryon, daughter Lisa Marr, my 13-year-old grandson Scott, and I - left Cabo on the afternoon of July 6. After rounding Cabo Falso, we encountered the expected 15 knots from the northwest, but nothing more. Still the winds didn't increase, so we decided not to stop at Bahia Santa Maria, and continued on to Turtle Bay, arriving on the evening of the 8th. The Chubasco Net forecast for the next two days was for fog, with light and variable winds with a southwesterly component on the way to San Diego. The fuel dock was out of fuel, so the next morning Ernesto came out in his panga and we gave him 4,200 pesos for 600 liters of fuel. Pat, having never experienced the warmth and hospitality of Mexico, expected to never see Ernesto again. But an hour later he was rolling the barrels of fuel down the beach and loading them into his panga. We left Turtle Bay at noon on Tuesday in fog and glassy sea conditions. For the next two days we had light and variable southwesterlies. At 4 a.m. on Thursday we tied up at the Customs Dock in San Diego. If you subtract the 16-hour layover in Turtle Bay, we did the Bash in less than four days."

In the last few months, we've heard from quite a few people who had pleasant Bashes from Cabo to San Diego. If somebody doesn't have to adhere to a schedule - or if they can wait until after spring - they have a much better chance of a decent trip up the Baja coast.

"Kristen and I have been back in the States for almost three months after finishing our trip from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego with our Pearson 365 Sol Mates, writes Rob Runge. "The key word for our life has been readjustment, and my head is still spinning from reentry - working, driving, and learning about a new city - into the 'real world'. It seems like the adventure never stops. Kristen is back flying for American and is enjoying it again. I've landed a job selling ad space for two of the 15 radio stations in San Diego. There is so much I don't know, so once again I've undertaken another challenge with a steep learning curve. At least the odds of drowning are lower than with my last challenge. Those of you who are still cruising might be wondering how we're able to reenter the real world. It's not easy, and there are days when I think I want to hop back on the boat and sail south again. But mostly it's pretty nice to be on dry land, and last week both Kristen and I got paychecks! It was my first since January of '01."

"We have enjoyed reading miscellaneous copies of Latitude as we made our way around the world," write Tad and Joyce Lhamon of the Bainbridge Island, Washington-based Alden 44 Lyric, "so we'd like to be added to your Circumnavigator's List. We departed Seattle in August of '96, and crossed our outbound path at Puerto Vallarta in May of this year. We're now on our way back up the West Coast to the Seattle area. Our circumnavigation was a little different in that we went around the tip of South Africa and then sailed all the way up to Scotland before getting to the Caribbean and coming through the Canal. Our route was as follows: Mexico, French Polynesia, other Pacific islands, New Zealand, mid-Pacific Islands, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Chagos, Seychelles, East Africa, South Africa, Atlantic Islands of St. Helena and Ascension, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Canaries, Caribbean, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the U.S. West Coast."

Congratulations on a terrific accomplishment. We're curious, however, as to how you dealt with the Azores High on your way from Ascension to Ireland. Did you sail a 270 degree curve on a path that took you relatively close to Bermuda? And if so, how long did it take you?

"There's great news for cruisers in Banderas Bay," reports Dick Markie, Harbormaster at Paradise Resort and Marina at Nuevo Vallarta. "Karl Raggio, well-known and much-loved from his nearly 12 years as harbormaster at Marina Vallarta, is joining us here at Paradise Marina, where he'll be working with Juan 'the Paperman' Arias. Karl, who used to live in Salinas, will be working closely with me and the rest of my staff to provide on-time clearing services. Karl has been a big help at the Chili Cook-Offs and Banderas Bay Regattas here at Paradise, but it's great to have him working here full time. We haven't had any problems between the port captains and cruisers here, and along with Karl, Juan, and Manuel, we hope to keep it that way. Incidentally, the new yacht club came out better than I expected, and the new showers and hot tub are now open. In addition, we are opening the newly-completed bathrooms and showers at the end of E Dock down by the bridge. We can't wait to see all of our old friends and new cruisers when the season begins in just a few months."

"I'm currently in the Sacramento area for a month to take care of business and file my taxes for last year," reports Marc Hachey, who recently singlehanded the Auburn-based Peterson 44 Sea Angel from San Francisco to the Northeast. "Fortunately, being out of the country while cruising is a valid reason for an automatic extension. Unfortunately, estimated taxes must be paid by April 15 when the extension form is filed. In any event, I am looking forward to attending the Cruiser's Mountain Raft Up in Truckee. By the way, if anyone thinks the prices on the West Coast or in Mexico are high, they should see what marinas and marina services cost in the Northeast. A transient slip in Falmouth Harbor on Cape Cod, for example, will cost you $3/ft/night! And that's if you're lucky enough to find an empty one."

Dick McCune of Bali, Indonesia, reports that the Royal Bali YC was founded in February as a non-profit club to promote the sport of sailing and promote Indonesia as a sailing destination. With 35 initial members, the club's first event was to take a group of young Indonesian sailors on club yachts for a two-day rally to Padangbai Beach. Their second event was being the destination for the Darwin to Bali Race - which replaced the old Darwin to Ambon Race. A fleet of 16 boats arrived in early August, the sole American entry being the Deerfoot 62 Mango Tango.

What does Bali have to offer cruisers? According to the brochure, "A year round sailing destination located roughly in the center of the Indonesia Archipelago of 17,000 islands. Depending on the season, there are easterly or westerly tradewinds - but there are no tropical cyclones. Sailors are encouraged to leave their vessels for short term to enjoy inland travel on an island that is one of the world's dream tourist destinations, or long term so they can return home. So plan ahead and join the party by escaping to Bali, a tropical paradise with warm and wonderful people. For further information, call 08123-956-173." You can also contact them through, as the club's own web address won't work for us. For what it's worth, Indonesia is 88% Muslim, but Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu.

"For five weeks now, we have called the Barillas Marina Club in El Salvador our home," report Steven and Jackie Gloor of the San Diego-based Moonshadow. "It's a very nice destination in a country still struggling to recover from 12 years of civil war and a devastating earthquake. The Barillas Relief Project to build homes for impoverished locals is one of the major reasons we came here. As of the end of June, the second phase of the project - six duplexes and six single family homes - has been completed. For us, working on the project has given us a chance to see part of El Salvador that most folks won't get to see - and to meet some wonderful locals and fellow cruisers. Dennis Johnson of the Columbia 50 Knee Deep has done the lion's share of the work on this phase of the project - as well as the first phase. He has been going up to the village - a three-hour roundtrip on very poor roads - three days a week for over a year now. If there is a medal given for charitable work, we nominate Dennis for the top of the list. After a hard day's work, it was always nice to be able to return to the Barillas Marina and enjoy the pristine pool and perhaps a potluck with other cruisers. With the arrival of summer, however, many cruisers have either continued south or left their boats here while they headed back to the States for the summer. After a trip to Guatemala in the coming weeks, we will join the other cruisers heading to Costa Rica and Panama."

"For several reasons and years, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, has been home - and it's sooo good to be back," writes Jim Meeker of the Cal 34 Tafia. "The low stress and relatively inexpensive lifestyle has my blood pressure back down to high school numbers. Due to my quirky medical insurance, a glitch, and logistics, I was forced to return to the States rather than have my medical work done in Mexico. Thanks to sins in my earlier years, I had to have a high-tech ICD/pacemaker/magic box installed to keep me alive.

"Incidentally," Jim continues, "it may be of interest to cruisers to know there are several distinct medical systems in Mexico. The university system has doctors, equipment, and technology equal to or better than many U.S. hospitals. IMSS, a government HMO, takes care of basic hospitalization needs and is an exceptional bargain for cruisers. IMSS patients with life-threatening problems are transfered to the university system. There are private and military hospitals - that cruisers can often use - but they run from poor to excellent. The hospitals for poor people and fishing village clinics, on the other hand, can't care for serious problems. There is no reason to settle for anything less than excellent doctors and hospitals in any of the larger Mexican ports. When something really bad happens, cruisers are the first to help. For example, thanks to Ron of Encounter, Rick of Mejnoon, Frederico of Estudio, and my new and old friends from the Peninsula YC, my face was picked up from the floor and I was taken to where I needed to go when I needed to go. Now that my gizmo has been installed, I feel wonderful - and stronger than I have in many years. And my test results were fabulous. My only problem is itchy feet, so I'd better get back to getting ready to go again."

"After four months in Mexico, one in Guatemala, two in El Salvador, and six in Costa Rica, we find ourselves in Panama's Bocas del Toro," report Curt and Leigh Ingram of the Newport Beach-based Cheoy Lee Pedrick 36 First Star. "Located on the northwestern coast of Panama on the Caribbean side, Bocas del Toro is a wonderful cruising area that has something for everyone. My wife and I are surfers, so we have been enjoying the waves. The water is clear, so there is good diving and several dive shops. The town has good provisioning, restaurants, Internet cafes, fuel, and transportation. There are flights daily to Panama City, from which you can fly to anywhere - which is why many cruisers leave their boats here when travelling back to the U.S. The Bocas YC and Marina, which is half full with 33 yachts while still under development, makes it easy to do this. The Bocas YC has floating docks, water, power, great laundry service, showers, heads, and will soon have a bar. The eager staff is helpful and wants to make your stay a pleasant one. They have assisted us with checking in, finding waves, getting repairs, arranging bottom cleaning, washing and polishing, and finding our way around. They have made calls and sent and received faxes for us. We have stayed at all of the marinas in Panama and like the Bocas YC the best of all. They can be found at We plan to spend more time in Panama before sailing to Cartagena."

The Bocas YC and Marina intends to be a world class facility with over 100 slips for yachts of between 20 and 100 feet. In addition, they plan to add apartment and commercial space. We've never been to the Bocas del Toro area, but based on the reports we've heard from cruisers, and the great location, the good surfing and diving, the countless local anchorages, and the lack of crowds, we think it's a real comer.

"After 13 years of marine service work at Mariner Boat Yard, Edinger Marine, StarMarine Electronics, and others, I've decided to take your advice and just go," reports Glenn Barton of Barton Marine Electric and the Oakland-based Pearson 27 Renegade. Apparently Jack Vickland of Moxie Marine will be along as co-skipper, and Bill Podzon of StarMarine Electronics will be crew. "We'll be leaving the Bay Area about October 1 for Catalina, and then leave San Diego about November 1 for San Blas to see family and friends. After that, who knows? If anybody needs any rigging or electric work on the way to or in Mexico, we always look forward to serving the sailing community. Our friends will be able to reach us by . And thanks, Latitude, for the constant prodding."

"No matter how you chart your course or how well you prepare yourself, sometimes life has a way of altering that course," say Jann Hedrick and Nancy Birnbaum of the Pt. Richmond-based (but currently in Mexico) Alberg 35 Saga. "Just as we were ready to leave San Carlos for Bahia de Los Angeles, my brother informed me that our mom is very ill, so we must put our cruise on hold again so I can go back to Miami to be with her. We'll pray for the best possible outcome. In any event, it looks as though we won't get back to Saga until early next year. At least we had a couple of good months in the Sea and got to meet some more great cruisers such as C'est La Vie, La Brujita, Mi Casa, Navigator B, Sojourne, Sun Bear, NYankee Girl, and others. We can be reached by .

"If you're thirsty in Puerto Escondido, Baja, you'll need 20 pesos - about $2.20 U.S. - for a drink of water," report some 'San Francisco Bay cruisers' who wish to remain anonymous. "As of early August, Fonatur, the government tourist development agency, posted a sign at the locked water cage that notifed cruisers that 1 to 200 liters would be 20 pesos, 200-500 liters would be 30 pesos, and 500 to 1,000 liters would be 40 pesos. According to the Fonatur sign at the parking lot, it now costs 20 pesos to launch a boat. In addition, it's 10 pesos to park for up to four hours, 50 pesos for the day, and 200 pesos for a month. It's all tentative, but Fonatur has said they are thinking of charging $1 day or $25 a month for boats anchored in the bay or the 'Waiting Room'. The 'usage fee' would entitle boaters to use the dinghy dock (built and currently maintained by the local cruisers), the garbage shed (currently maintained by the local cruisers), and water dock. There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of boats based out of Puerto Escondido this summer. We're sure the U.S. economy has something to do with it, but we think that it's more likely a combination of the port captain fees, Loreto National Park fees, and the ongoing rumors of proposed Fonatur fees."

We love receiving Changes from each of you - especially by email - but have a special favor to ask. Please, please, please, always include your boat name, boat type, skipper and mate's full name, and the boat's hailing port. And if you really want to be our heroes, include a relatively high resolution head and shoulders photo of yourself and one of the places you've been. By doing so, you'll have helped make Latitude a more enjoyable publication.

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