September, 2005

With reports this month from Wind Trekker on Banderas Bay; from Gemini on six years of cruising; from Anduril on a 30th anniversary cruise; from Delphinus on riding the Gulfstream to Key West; from Neverland on a short cruise in the Sea of Cortez; from Flashgirl on sailing to and around French Polynesia; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Wind Trekker - Corsair 31 Tri
Tom Brown
Banderas Bay Sailing Adventure
(Palo Alto)

For six weeks in May and June, I enjoyed beautiful sailing on Banderas Bay, Mexico, aboard our cruising-equipped Corsair 31 trimaran Wind Trekker. During one 24-hour period, I sailed all around the bay from Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta, and then out to Corbatina Rock. A northerly evening breeze carried us along 4-6 knots, and the tip of the daggerboard was clearly visible in the phosphorescent turbulence five feet below. Need I mention the stars were spectacular on the moonless night?

When we were about 10 miles west of Cabo Corrientes at 1 a.m., the C.A.R.D. (Collision Avoidance Radar Detector) began chirping. Something was 'painting' us from our aft port quarter. Ten minutes later, the C.A.R.D. reported a stronger signal dead ahead with no lateral movement. Nonetheless, we couldn't see anything, either with our night-adapted eyes or with radar. Anyone monitoring us should have seen our radar reflector and our tricolor masthead sailing lights. Whoever it was apparently didn't wish to be seen, for they were invisible to our own small 2 kw radar. Still concerned, I finally flicked on our steaming and deck lights, identified ourselves on VHF 16, and requested that the vessel dead ahead of our position/bearing identify herself. But there was no response.

Who could it have been? Later the harbormaster told me that it was probably a Mexican Navy inflatable patrolling for 'agricultural shipments'. In fact, that weekend the navy reported seizing four tons of cocaine off the coast. In retrospect, I'm glad we were forewarned that we were being watched and from what direction, as it allowed us to make it clear that we weren't out there for a midnight rendezvous with some bales of pot.

Were our sails on Banderas Bay and the freshly-caught sierras worth trailering Wind Trekker 1,800 miles south from the Channel Islands, down highway 15D (and back via San Blas instead of Tepic)? Except for the dangerous treks through L.A. (going) and San Diego to L.A. rush hour traffic (returning), yes it was worth it! Fortunately, I had 500 miles to practice keeping the trailer inside the white lines before I hit the no-shoulders/six-inch-vertical-dropoff segments of Highway 15D. I never drove tired or at night. Rather than drive as the locals do with my U.S. tags and boat, I obeyed every speed limit that I saw. It was a good thing, because more than once the first vehicle that passed me when I pulled off to let a long line of cars go by was a police car that had been riding sight unseen behind my trailered trimaran. Friendly smiles, a bit of Spanish, strict obedience to the law - and perhaps the Vagabundos del Mar stickers all over my Tahoe - made for a pleasant, no-hassles trip.

I'd do the trip again, but next year I think I'll sail Wind Trekker to Mexico as part of Baja Ha-Ha 13 next fall, and then on to Banderas Bay. You see, when my fair weather sailing partner flew down to stay at Paradise Village Hotel, we did some real estate shopping around Banderas Bay. The result is that we bought a villa in Punta Esmeralda, which is between Bucerias and La Cruz, about 15 miles from the Puerto Vallarta Airport. If all goes well, we'll be readying our Palo Alto house for sale next year before the Ha-Ha, and then relocating our boat and ourselves to Banderas Bay.

- tom 06/15/05

Gemini - Albin Nimbus 42
Les Sutton & Diane Grant
The Sixth Year Q&A
(Northern California)

A while back, Les Sutton stopped by the office, and we had a lively talk that jumped all over the place and touched on various bits of his and Diane's six years of cruising adventures. Some highlights:

The I.Q. of fish. "Fish in the Caribbean are smarter than the fish in the Pacific, because they'll swim into a hole, glance back, but swim out the other side. The dumb fish in the Pacific swim into a hole, then come back out to see who chased them - at which point you shoot them."

Unusual weather. "No matter where we've been in our six years of cruising, people have always told us they were having 'atypical' weather'. For example, we had two weeks of absolute flat calm in the Western Caribbean in May and June. 'Atypical,' everyone said."

How to know if there will be a sailing breeze in the Sea of Cortez? "Listen to Tom Tango Papa on the Chubasco Net. At the beginning of the forecast, he gives the baro pressure for San Felipe and for Cabo. If there's a lot of difference between the two, there will be a good sailing breeze. If there is little difference, there will be little or no breeze. The wind blows out of the northwest all winter in the Sea, and out of the south in the summer."

What about looking out the porthole? "Diane and I do get 90% of our weather information by looking out the porthole. Nonetheless, Don Anderson of Summer Passage, who provides weather forecasts for Mexico and beyond, is excellent at explaining the overall picture. We think he's gotten better over time because he no longer tries to forecast microclimates."

What indicates there will be a strong Norther blowing down the Sea of Cortez in the winter? "High pressure in the 'four corners' regions of the States."

What about elefantes? "Lots of people fear the elefantes, which are the strong night breezes blowing off the Baja coast of the Sea of Cortez in summer. These are caused by the hot air collapsing at night and blowing offshore. They blow up to 45 knots right by shore, but five to 10 miles out they only blow at 20 knots, making for great traveling winds."

What was the sound you kept hearing when crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec? "The bow of our boat hitting turtles. There seem to be a lot more of them than before."

What are your feelings about Colon, Panama, regarded by many as the dangerous armpit of the world of cruising? "We had to spend 40 days there after losing our engine. It's not a bad place, but you do have to be careful and don't want to flash indications of wealth. We always used cabs between the yacht club and downtown. There are certain areas - and it's obvious which ones they are - where you should not go. For $1 a cab driver would pick up rotisserie chicken for us and deliver it to the Panama Canal YC, which is the cruiser 'safe zone' there. There are lots of Chinese and Lebanese merchants in Colon, which makes it interesting. One guy makes great falafel bread over an open fire."

Why did it take so long to get your engine rebuilt in Colon? "It took time getting the right parts from John Schere of Montreal, who created the Pathfinder marine diesel. Once we got them, Alejandro, our mechanic, got right on it. He bid $1,000 on the job and stuck to it."

Are the San Blas Islands of Panama as good as people say? "We spent several months there, and they really are wonderful. The locals are always coming out selling you official-looking cruising permits - $5 for 30 days - but we didn't begrudge them. Over on Chichime, Julian Harvey, an ex-corporate guy, makes delicious 'Kuna bread' with coconut milk. He bakes the loaves in a 55-gallon drum over an open fire."

How many boats are in the San Blas during the winter 'high season'? "About 50, including the Italians, Germans, and some French. We had a great time with the Germans and Italians, but not so much with the French. We also met some really wonderful folks on a Japanese boat."

Is there a 'Club Med' for cruisers in the San Blas? "That would be Coco Bandero, which is a little south of the Hollandes Cays. They had a social activity there every single night - and they were really fun. Some cruisers stayed for months and months."

And the Monday night burn? "That would be held by Reggie and Deb of the New York City-based Runner. For years now, Reggie has been the self-appointed cleanup crew of an island near the 'swimming pool', and every Monday night he burns the debris he's collected. The burn has become a social event during the high season."

Did you see any Kuna transvestite mola makers? "Yes, we hiked up the Rio Cedra on the mainland to see the falls and buy some molas from the transvestite mola maker. The hike - about five miles up a canyon - was a little more difficult than advertised, as Diane lost her glasses while jumping off a waterfall and Quincy of Chewbacca fell and needed stitches in her chin."

Do cruisers really transport backpackers and others between Cartagena and Panama? "They do. For example, Mark and Paula of the Roberts 44 Melody do backpacker charters. They also shop and deliver groceries, gear, and fuel for cruisers out at the San Blas Islands. You get a receipt for the stuff, for which 30% is added on for their time and effort."

What's the best time of year for the San Blas Islands? "There are strong winds - to 35 knots - from December to March, with a few weather windows. Sometimes the strong winds start as early as November. The San Blas high season is from December to March, but Diane and I think it's best from March to November - even though part of that is the 'rainy season'."

What about the Bocas del Toro region on the Caribbean side of Panama? "It's getting more popular all the time. When we were there, Susie from the powerboat Caberet organized all the many social activities. It's a great place, and Bocas Marina is the place to stay. There are lots of surfers and surfing, too, as there are Pipeline-like waves breaking over shallow reefs.

Panama is known for lightning, isn't it? "Yes. You should see the horizontal lightning sizzle over a mast. We're told the mast doesn't attract lightning unless the anchor is down, but we're not sure about that. You just don't want to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time."

How far is it from the San Blas Islands to Cartagena, Colombia? "One hundred and ninety miles.

How nasty can the sailing conditions be in the Caribbean around Cartagena? "The Alaska-based Cheoy Lee 41 Kukara had been all over, including to the Med and back. But while sailing downwind to Cartagena, a rogue wave broke the stern pulpit, bent the wheel, took out the cockpit doors, filled the salon sole with 18 inches of water, flooded the engine, and damaged the electronics."

What's the deal with private armies in Colombia? "Oil companies have them, banana companies have them - there are five or six wandering around the countryside. Then there's the FARC rebel group. A year or two ago they kidnapped a bunch of tourists and held them for ransom, so the U.S. put out an advisory about Colombia being unsafe. Cruise ship visits - which flood Cartagena with money - tumbled from about 200 a year to 20 a year.

"Does Cartagena still have the shiva buses or whatever, which are bars with rock 'n roll bands that endlessly drive around town? "Yes, but there aren't as many as there used to be."

How safe is Cartagena? "It's safe - although it just takes one person to ruin it for you. You only want to wear the kind of jewelry you're prepared to lose."

What's the story with boatyards in Cartagena? "There are three of them: Manzanillo Marina Club, Ferrocem, and Todomar. Ferrocem is the only one that allows you to do your own work. We negotiated with all three on getting our 42-footer painted from keel to deck, and the bids were 12 to 15 million pesos - which sounds like a lot, but is only $5,500 to $7,000. We finally agreed on $5,000. They do beautiful work, and it was a fraction of what it would have cost in the States. But as in any Third World country, you have to constantly supervise the work."

What about boatwork in Panama? "Labor is cheaper in Colombia, but all imported items are subject to 70% import tax. Panama is duty free, and Marco at the Marine Warehouse in Panama City is great at bringing stuff in. If you need a lot of stuff, Hal White will bring it down from the States for $1/pound in a container. So buy your stuff in Panama and have your boat work done in Colombia."

List your favorite cruising countries in order of preference:

"Mexico is number one because the people are so friendly and because it's so convenient to the States. Panama is second, as the San Blas Islands are great and it's easy to get anything you want for your boat. Third would be El Salvador, as the people are friendly and the marinas really take care of you. Nicaragua - specifically Marina Puesto del Sol - would be fourth because Roberto Membrano, the Californian who developed the resort and marina, and his staff are wonderful. Costa Rica would be fifth, as we had to pay a lot of bribes to get stuff imported. Cartagena is worth the visit, but we don't know it well enough to rank it. One great place not many people visit is the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific, which is shared by El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Tiger Island, in the gulf, used to be a CIA headquarters, and the whole gulf was deliberately mischarted for military purposes. We'd like to do the South Pacific, too, but don't want to be isolated from 85-year-old parents."

"But Mexico is the best cruising base and the best place to cruise. We love Mazatlan, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Zihua, and up in the Sea of Cortez. In fact, our favorite place of all has been the Sea of Cortez in the summer when there aren't so many boats. People have been friendly wherever we've gone, but nowhere as friendly as Mexico. We plan to return some day."

John Haste and his San Diego-based Perry 52 cat Little Wing didn't make it to the Banderas Bay Regatta this year. Have you seen him? "Yes, we saw him and Suhay, his Colombian girlfriend, back in Cartagena."

- latitude 08/02/05

Anduril - Cross 40 Trimaran
Joanne Sandstrom
French Polynesia Revisited

It's July 17, so I'm writing on the 30th birthday of Anduril, the Cross 40 that our family built and have sailed around the world twice.

My husband Don and I are now back at latitude 38, but Anduril is still around latitude 21, where my son Donald and his wife Erika are spending a few weeks in Hawaii before sailing home. They sailed to Mexico last fall, then in mid-March of this year continued on to the Marquesas. Don and I joined them in Raiatea in mid-June for the passage to Hilo.

Our passage to Hawaii took 16 days and 7 hours. We didn't make as much easting early in the trip as we had planned, so we came up on Caroline Island and stopped for snorkeling. The black-tipped sharks were a little more aggressive than we liked - one clamped its teeth around the boat pole that Donald was carrying - so our stay was even shorter than we'd hoped. But the water was the clearest and warmest we'd encountered on this trip. Even if Caroline Island was on some sailing track, which it isn't, it wouldn't normally be visited because there is no passage into the lagoon and because there is no suitable place to anchor.

A word on meeting boats in the Marquesas. Don and I flew into Papeete at the beginning of the trip - after being forced to buy return tickets in Honolulu (never mind what the French consulate in San Francisco told Don about not needing them since we were joining our own boat). We stayed at the Tiare Tahiti Hotel just across the street from the quay. The post office was across the other street, and it had a blinking neon light, which gave us fits for two nights. People aboard boats on the quay had the same complaint. Given that the post office isn't open at night or at any time on Sunday, we wondered why the neon? It's probably a French thing.

As instructed, Donald had bought us tickets on the Vaeanu for the passage from Papeete to Raiatea. I had told him to get us deck passage, but after the Tahitian ticket-seller asked him our ages and showed him pictures - which the ticket-seller swore were 20 years old - of the freighter, Donald got us a cabin with a shared toilet. The Vaeanu is best described as a 'Van Gogh ship', meaning the very thick paint mostly covers the rust - and probably helps to hold the ship together.

Bora Bora was a gigantic disappointment compared to our first visit in '77 during our '75 to '80 circumnavigation. Hotels - which I can't imagine are being filled - are going up everywhere. The construction has clouded the water and probably helped kill a lot of the coral. In any event, much of the coral is now dead. All the hotels seem to have the 'traditional' thatched roofs - no matter that no one builds such roofs on private homes. I'm assuming that there's some kind of composite roof under the thatch. Worst of all, however, are the all-too-numerous #$%^@&*@% motorized bugs - aka 'personal watercraft' - that buzz about everywhere, shattering the peace and 'tranquility' of the anchorages and endangering the snorkelers. Next time I'd give Bora Bora a pass!

What a difference a generation makes! Testosterone levels were down, so father Don and son Donald were able to coexist in the same "40-ft box" without conflict. Of course, the roles had changed. Donald and Erika are captain and admiral now; Don and I went along simply as crew. I had the 'Tevye watches' - sunrise and sunset. The 0300-0600 watches were also moon-brightened every morning. The moon was waxing when we started, then waning later on. I loved it.

Other differences from before: Anduril now has refrigeration, so we didn't have to make do with bilge-temperature beer and an unending diet of 'can over' rice or pasta. The wind generator and solar panels provided enough electricity that we never had to turn on the engine to charge the batteries - although we did motor into Hilo to get in before dark. The water tanks were filled at the start of the passage, but most of our daily use was supplied by the watermaker. There's a sextant on the boat - and we know how to use it - but we got our positions from GPS. The autopilot makes things a lot easier, of course, but using it still seems like cheating to me - rather like crossing the desert in an air-conditioned Volvo set on cruise control instead of driving the 1946 Hudson with the water bag hung from the grill to keep the radiator cool and the wind wings adjusted to blow air in our face. Nevertheless, it was great to be at sea again. And the 1946 Hudson is long gone!

- joanne 07/15/05

Delphinus - Mayotte 47 Cat
Randy Sparks, Crew
Coming Home On The Gulfstream
(Santa Cruz)

[Editor's note: This Changes was written prior to Hurricane Emily smashing into the Caribbean coast of Mexico.]

It was difficult for us to leave Mexico's Isla Mujeres - pronounced 'moo-HAIR-ayz' - after only five days. The low and narrow four-mile long island that is just six miles northeast of Cancun has the finest white sand - almost powder - beaches in the world. In addition, the Mexican lifestyle is mesmerizing. I could very easily see myself getting lost in the peacefulness of the Mayan Riviera.

There are many stories of how the place became named 'Island of Women'. Among them is that drunken pirates mistook the manatees for mermaids. Whatever the reason, the idea of finding a woman at Isla Mujeres seems to be a draw for many of the hordes of male tourists at pumping Cancun. Nonetheless, Mujeres still slumbers in tranquil Mayan dreams - at least compared to her neighbors of Cancun, Isla Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen. If your boat draws less than eight feet, there are three marinas on Isla Mujeres that can accommodate you, which makes it the cruiser capital of the Yucatan. While we were there, 47 boats arrived as part of a race from St. Pete, Florida.

Josanne, my girlfriend, and I visited Isla Mujeres for the first time during my birthday this year. Although we only stayed a day, we fell in love with the low-key atmosphere and the beautiful beaches. Our visit included Josanne's first snorkeling adventure on a coral reef. It was fun to watch her initial reaction to the tropical fish, which came so close that she could pet them.

Anyway, Bruce, the owner of the Portland-based Delphinus that I've been crewing on, and I ended up leaving Isla Mujeres in the company of three other sailboats on the 350-mile trip to Key West. We knew one of the boats, Charlie and Teresa's El Rigallo, from the Bocas del Toro area of Panama. The other two were new to us, and in any event, we lost contact with them after the first day. Thanks to the Gulfstream, we had a sleighride toward Key West. We made 105 miles in the first 12 hours, a new record for the cat. And we could have done better had we set the sails earlier and not hit a group of whale sharks.

When I say 'hit' the whale sharks, that's just what I mean. I was asleep at the time of contact, but it was enough to wake me. Bruce and I both ran up on deck to find dozens of the giant whale sharks feeding around the cat. This seemed like it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the giant creatures up close, for as recently as the '70s some experts believed they had become extinct. Whale sharks range in size from 20 to 40 feet, feed on plankton, but have cartilage rather than bone skeletons like sharks.

It wasn't until I got into the water with them that I began to appreciate what huge mouths they have - maybe 10 feet around. If they weren't plankton-eaters with a balleen filtering system, they could have swallowed me whole. At one point I was able to look into the gaping mouths of these giants and see how their plankton filtering mechanism works - and even the open gills behind it! Eventually, one whale shark swam close enough for me to grab onto his dorsal fin. He took me for a ride of about 30 feet before I let go and he swam away.

When I began to swim back to the cat, one of the smaller whales saw me and made a beeline in my direction. I had both hands on him when his mother noticed. Nonchalantly, she headed over toward us, gently nudged him away, and they both swam off. Bruce, who had counted 18 sharks in the group, later told me he thought I was a goner when the mother came toward me. He'd been nice enough to keep the cat pointed into the wind so she didn't sail away from me.

After a slow night, the next day started fast. I awoke to find two mahi on our fishing lines - our first double hook-up in the Caribbean. We hitched a ride on the Gulfstream going past Cuba on the second night, and got to listen to all the Cuban fishing boats talking on the radio. We also had to dodge parked ships and fishing boats - just like on the Pacific side of Mexico. When coming up the long channel to Key West at 6 a.m., someone, obviously gay, serenaded us with a rendition of Wake Up in falsetto. We weren't in Kansas - or Central America - anymore.

For those who slept through U.S. History, Ponce de Leon was the first to sight the Keys in 1513, but there was no permanent settlement for another 300 years. It was the Brits who came up with the name Key West for the most westerly of the Keys. The U.S. got Florida from Spain in 1819, and a couple of years later a U.S. Naval Base was established at Key West. Commodore David Porter's mission was to rid the Keys of pirates known as the 'Brethren of the Coast'. Once all the pirates were hanged, settlers moved in from the eastern states, the Bahamas and Cuba. A combination of wreckers, converted pirates, and commercial fishermen formed the unique core of Key West society. They dubbed themselves 'Conchs' - pronounced 'Konks' - after the abundant shellfish that was a staple of their diet. The Conchs became famous - or infamous - for their lucrative marine salvage business. Local legend has it that many ships were lured onto the reefs by false lights and crooked merchant skippers. Whether the wrecks were deliberate or not, by 1830 such salvage made Key West the most prosperous city per capita in the country! And by 1890, Key West was Florida's largest city.

Today Key West is a rowdy town of 70,000 permanent residents, many of them gay, and the nightlife goes on until dawn. Ever since the Navy left, tourism has been the city's number one industry. Nobody will ever have trouble finding the action in Key West. But one informal spot popular with locals and cruisers is the Half Shell Raw Bar overhanging Key West Bight. It's not posh, just a good spot to get the flavor of Key West while sitting at picnic benches eating raw oysters.

It's great to be back in the States. For one thing, in the U.S. we don't have to worry about the water, the toilets flush with just a quick push of the lever, and the bathrooms always have toilet paper and paper towels. There are cultural niceties, too. The waitress will bring you what you thought you ordered, will fill your coffee cup as many times as you'd like, and will bring you your check without your having to ask. In addition, there are no currency exchange problems, no smog-belching buses, and my cell phone works. There are many, many reasons I'm glad to be back in the States, the number one of which is that my girlfriend is here. On the other hand, I sure will miss the adventure of exploring foreign countries by boat.

- randy 05/15/06

Neverland - Nor'Sea 27
Naftuli Furman and Larisa Sycheva
Mini Cruise In The Sea

It's been a few years since we did the Ha-Ha in '02 and spent some time in La Paz in '03. Since then, we've had Neverland at Marina de La Paz, then Marina Palmira, and most recently on the hard at Coast Marine. I've really enjoyed the professional and courteous service of Coast's manager Raul Cervantes, and recommend it as a good place to be hauled out. Raul and Sharon speak perfect English and Spanish. Of course, La Paz itself it was a wonderful place to leave my boat and return to several times a year for mini-cruises.

This year, Larisa and I decided we would sail up the coast from La Paz toward Loreto before returning to La Paz. As many others have reported, this area of Baja, along with the mainland's Gold Coast, are the two most popular cruising regions in Mexico.I flew to La Paz from Sacramento on June 10, which was a much shorter trip than Larisa's, who flew all the way from Ekaterinburg, Russia, on June 11. Yes, my girlfriend lives in Russia! But she speaks good English and I speak some Russian. Gavarite parusski? Having been born in Costa Rica, I also speak Spanish.

Once we were both in La Paz, we went to Marina Palmira and spent three days preparing Neverland for sea. Small boats such as the Nor' Sea 27 are very easy to prepare, rig, and sail.

Our first passage was a very short one, about a mile to the new Marina Costa Baja at the outskirts of La Paz. We sailed all the way to a guest dock next to the front door of the Fiesta Inn - part of the Fiesta America chain - that's adjacent to the marina. The great thing about this hotel is that, if you take a room - about $80/night, including breakfast - you get to use one of the hotel's guest docks. It's perfect for those who want to slowly ease into their cruise.

After the breakfast buffet the next day, we continued on our way to Isla Espiritu Santo, which was only another 15 or so miles away. We planned to anchor at Ensenada El Cardonal, but there were already two other boats there, so we turned back for the larger Caleta Partida anchorage. The charts clearly indicate a reef between the two anchorages, so how was it we managed to hit the darn thing?

The sound of a fiberglass boat hitting a rocky reef is a horrible one. Fortunately, we hit at high tide, as it could have been worse. As it was, we were heeled over 35 degrees. I immediately put the engine in reverse, and with the help of some waves, was slowly able to back off the reef. Naturally, we got to the Caleta Partida anchorage as quickly as we could so I could dive on Neverland's hull to check for damage. Thanks to the Nor' Seas being built like tanks, there was nothing but a scratch on her bottom. I kissed my little boat so many times after that. Do I deserve such a wonderful sailboat? I don't know, I just know that I'll have to live up to her - and remember to sail around reefs!

The wind blew very hard - 25 to 30 knots - from the southwest that night. This was the well-known coromuel wind out of La Paz. The lines in our rigging sounded like the strings on a guitar. I set out 150 of my 200 feet of 1/4-inch chain attached to a primary Bruce anchor and also a Danforth anchor. It held well all night long.

Our third stop was The Hook at Isla San Francisco. The problem was that there were already four boats there: a sailboat from The Moorings and three motoryachts. We had a little scare that night, too, as the depth-sounder alarm that had been set to six feet went off. Since Neverland draws four feet, it was time to reanchor in deeper water. Fortunately, my little boat has an electric windlass. Once I had 200 feet of chain out in deeper water, I slept soundly - even though it blew hard that night, too.

With the wind still blowing 20 knots from the south early the next morning, we set sail north to the Evaristo anchorage on the Baja mainland. Having hit the reef at Isla Partida, I was very careful to avoid the Rocas de la Foca, which are just to the north of Isla San Francisco and not where one might expect them.

While at Evaristo, my darling beautiful Russian girlfriend decided to fish for dinner - and caught some! Meanwhile, I set up the BBQ and opened a bottle of California rosé. As far as we were concerned, life couldn't have been much better, as it seemed as though we were in paradise. Although the wind continued to blow hard out of the southwest, there was no fetch in Evaristo.

With wind out of the south the next morning, we once again took advantage of it for the sail to Agua Verde anchorage. I wish we could have stayed there for a few days - alas, we also had plans to fly to Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City before Larisa had to return to Russia. Our trip back to La Paz was all under motor, and we only took breaks to prepare the fish we'd caught for lunch and dinner.

Sometimes life can be so wonderful on just a short and simple little cruise. Larisa and I felt we had been so lucky, and thanked God for it.

- naftuli 07/15/05

Flashgirl - Wylie 38+
Commodore & Nancy Tompkins
Gendarmes & Robbers In Moorea
(Mill Valley)

We arrived in Papeete on the wings of a very strong breeze the evening of July 7 to conclude a fantastic 22-day nonstop passage from San Diego. The passage was so wonderful that it seemed like no more than a week. In fact, when I realized that we'd be making landfall in a day or so, I got a little panicky - as I didn't want the extraordinary experience to end. I'd gotten into a rhythm with the sea, sun, and stars, and had found it quite agreeable.

Why, if we arrived on the 7th, has it taken us until the 29th to write? The truth is that I have no idea where the last 21 days have gone! The days just seem to drift by, full of swimming, rowing, walking to the market, meeting other cruisers, doing a little boat maintenance - and taking that all-important midday nap.

So sorry for the delay, but here's the recap so far: Despite the strong winds and big seas, we managed to find the entrance to 110-meter-wide Papeete Pass - no thanks to the many lights of the nearby airport. Commodore was keen to anchor in the port of Papeete, just as he'd done aboard his family's 85-ft pilot schooner Wander Bird so many years before. But after getting the hook caught on the hurricane chain that runs through the harbor, we decided to find a spot along the downtown quay with the 40 or so other cruising boats.

While at the quay, it was fun to share stories with the crews of other boats, who had come from many different countries. After we cleared with customs, Commodore removed the American flag from the back of our boat and replaced it with a flag of the United Nations. We rather like the concept, and got mostly approving comments. But about the first thing we did was hook up the hose and relish the abundance of freshwater. After such a long passage, salt crystals had caked up all over the boat, and it took a bit of encouragement to get all surfaces clean again.

I enjoyed the downtown location - except for the noise! The main drag runs right along the quay and, except for a few hours in the very early morning, it's always busy. After all, Papeete is a bustling city that is home to half of all the 250,000 residents of French Polynesia.

The people-watching and the convenient location of the quay made up for Papeete's shortcomings. The big produce market, for example, was just a few blocks away, as was Immigration and the Harbormaster. We were also able to walk to the Heiva (Polynesian Dance Festival), as well as simply wander the streets of this classic crossroads of the Pacific. Being tied to the quay also meant we were just a short distance from the roulettes, which are the food vans that assemble in the evening to serve dinner at a third of the price of restaurants. There's a nice ambience around the 'roach coaches' in the evening.

But after a week, we'd had enough of city living, and moved to Marina Taina, about five miles away around the island to the west in the town of Puunavia. Since we anchored out about half a mile, it was the first time we had to assemble Taxi Dancer, the Wylie-designed nesting dinghy that Commodore had built last fall. From what I can tell, we pretty much have the only oar-powered and hard dinghy around, as most people use outboard-powered inflatables. Between the marina and the anchorage there were quite a few boats - I'd guess about 175.

There is a fabulous Costco-like super store so close to Marina Taina that you can off-load from the shopping carts directly into your dinghy. In addition, the water off Puunavia is a clear blue and just the right temperature for swimming or snorkeling - and there were plenty of tropical fish to see. However, the best part of the anchorage was the front row view of Moorea! The ever changing seascape and the sun setting behind Moorea provided us with endless viewing pleasure.

So it was with great reluctance that we weighed anchor and set sail for Moorea - which turned out to be just as fantastic in reality as it looked from a distance! Moorea is something out of a fantasy, but all the jutting and jagged ridges are real, as are all the tropical vegetation and flowers. We found Opunohu Bay to be the most beautiful and surreal place to anchor.

This morning Commodore and I rowed out into Opunohu Bay to watch the sunrise. We beached Taxi Dancer at the head of the bay, and walked for 30 minutes into the valley. It was beautiful. Thankfully it was also overcast, which is the best weather for hiking.

Upon our return, we visited with a Swedish boat that was anchored in the bay, then rowed to a little store. At that point, Commodore suggested that I walk into Papatoai while he rowed over. After walking a few steps, I put down my knapsack to take a photo. As I focused on Taxi Dancer . . . whoosh, a small green car drove by, and one of the passengers grabbed my knapsack! I ran down the road as fast as I could in pursuit, but clearly wasn't going to be fast enough. But the car behind the thieves gave chase, as did the next car, which stopped to pick me up. Both drivers got on their cell phones to call the gendarmes. By the time I got to Papatoai, a gendarme in a jeep picked me up and drove me to the Gendarmerie in Pao Pao - a place I would soon become familiar with.

Evidently, the car had been stolen, and the driver and a passenger had gone on a rampage. The owner of the car, a young French lady who lives on Moorea, joined me at the station. The ferry was called and the crew instructed not to allow any green cars to board. We later learned that the car had been abandoned in an industrial yard near the ferry terminal. My knapsack was in the car, but my wallet had been stripped bare - no passport, credit cards, cash, or anything!

Things seemed hopeless at that point, but the gendarmes asked me to wait a little longer. An hour or so later, we received word that two guys had been apprehended when the ferry docked at Papeete! How had they been found on a ferry full of people? When they dumped the car, a worker in the yard noticed them leaving and that one of them was wearing a blue Bob Marley-type hat with his long hair stuffed under it. Apparently the dummy kept his hat on, making him and his partner easy to spot.

The gendarmes asked me to wait until the duo could be returned to Moorea for questioning and to see if they had any of my missing items. The hours passed slowly, but ultimately two handcuffed thugs were brought into the station. The next thing I knew, the sweet young gendarme - in cute blue hot pants! - presented me with everything that had been stolen - except for some local currency. Amazing! Not only that, the thieves had stuffed all of my other stuff into my camera bag - including the cable that I need to download my digital photos to my computer. So I got that back, too. The gendarmes and people of Moorea did a great job nabbing the thieves and returning my stuff. Yes, it was even worth the seven hours I'd spent in the Gendarmerie.

To celebrate the fact that goodness had prevailed, we decided to go out for dinner at a place right on the water - which has its own collection of manta rays - at Cook's Bay. It was feeding time, so some of us bolder folks took turns going down the steps to the water's edge to feed and pet them. What a thrill! To make it even better, Commodore had brought Flashgirl around while I'd spent the afternoon in the Gendarmerie, anchored her right off the restaurant, and rowed ashore in Taxi Dancer. It was all very lovely.

The lesson of the day was to leave one's wallet and other important papers stashed on one's boat, and to bring a minimum amount of valuables ashore. Yes, there is theft everywhere, even in paradise. So taking precautions is being careful, not paranoid.

The winds outside of the lagoon are pretty light, so we're thinking of heading to the Tuamotus before the easterlies kick in.

- nancy 08/05/05

Cruise Notes:

Interpol is combing the Baja Ha-Ha entry list for criminals?! "I got a nasty call today from Interpol," writes Jay Hall of the Punta Gorda, Florida-based Pacific Seacraft 37 Orion, entry #33 in this year's Ha-Ha. "I'd been listed as Joy rather than Jay Hall, and it seems Interpol has me confused with another sailor with a similar name. Apparently this individual is wanted for excessive drinking, carousing, and consorting with undesirable characters. I need to get the misunderstanding cleared up or I might not be allowed into Mexico with the Ha-Ha this year."

The Ha-Ha folks have made the name correction, but are terribly confused. For if excessive drinking, carousing, and consorting with undesirable characters were a crime, most of the people who visit tourist bars in Cabo, Mazatlan, and P.V. would be in jail.

"All of us here in La Paz, Baja California Sur, and especially at Marina de La Paz, are looking forward to the November arrival of the Baja Ha-Ha participants - as well as those who plan to continue south and return to the Sea of Cortez in the spring," write Neil and Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz. "La Paz now has more slips than ever, four places to haul out, increased dry storage capacity, four chandleries, skilled marine craftsmen, and locals with an especially friendly attitude. As for us at Marina de La Paz, we've completed a new fixed breakwater that provides new protection from the seasonal winds and swell out of the northeast and southwest. Marina Don Jose and Marina El Palmar, which are next door to us, have also put in additional slips. All of us are within walking distance of downtown. Our Marina de La Paz is an 'authorized marina', which means we can handle the new simplified clearing in and out procedures that have been established for private yachts coming from and going to other Mexican ports.

"Our recommendation for West Coast boats headed to Mexico is as follows," the Shroyers continue. "If you are with the Ha-Ha, follow their recommendations for where to clear into Mexico. We recommend that all others clear into Mexico at Ensenada, which has established a 'one-stop' facility for that purpose. When done, you should come away with: 1) A 180-day Tourist Visa (from Migracion/Immigration) - but make sure it's for 180 days. 2) A Check-in document from the Capitania de Puerto/Port Captain); and 3) A Temporary Import Permit/Permiso Temporal de Importacion (from Customs/Aduana). If you are returning to Mexico and already have a Temporary Import Permit, you don't need another one.

"The major change in clearing from last year," the couple continue, "is that once you've cleared into the country, you will no longer have to check in and out with Migracion until your last port in Mexico. The procedure with the Capitania de Puerto is also much simplified - although it may vary slightly from port to port. You are required to 'inform' the port captain of arrivals and departures. But unless there is a change in crew, in most ports it can probably can be done over the VHF. In addition, any 'authorized' marina can be 'informed' of your arrival or departure instead. Marina de La Paz provides this service free for its clients. Two other changes are that you can't be required to use an agent unless your vessel is over 500 tons, and the port captain can't charge for clearing. All in all, these changes should make cruising in Mexico even more pleasant and much less expensive."

Ever since the Shroyers opened up Marina de La Paz in the early '80s - one of the first marinas in Mexico - we've found their information to be accurate and their advice excellent. When they say the new domestic clearing procedures should make cruising in Mexico even more pleasant and less expensive, we couldn't agree with them more. And for the many 'commuter cruisers', it allows for a lot more freedom of movement and the ability to meet tighter schedules. As such, for the first time in a number of years we're looking forward to calling on places such as La Paz and San Blas. As the Shroyers suggest, La Paz is one of the most-loved cruiser stops in Mexico. The only flies in the ointment are the sometimes cranky 'cruisers' who haven't weighed anchor in years and often have bad things to say about just about everyone and everything. Ignore them and you'll have a great time. As for the Shroyers' recommendation to clear into Mexico at Ensenada, we frankly don't think it makes any difference in terms of time or money whether you do it there or Cabo. So we recommend whichever is most convenient for you.

Speaking of La Paz, Naftuli Furman of the Nor'Sea 27 Neverland - who wrote a Changes earlier in this section - gives a very favorable review of the Homega Gym in La Paz, which is located near Marina de La Paz. "I like to exercise and am happy to report that owner Manuel Agundez runs a fine operation."

It's going to be a whole new life for Sam Crabtree and Susie Wilson, as on October 2 they will be getting married on Angel Island; on October 31 they'll be starting the Ha-Ha aboard their Cal 39 Catch The Wind; and from then on they'll have downsized their living situation from a three-bedroom home to a 39-ft sailboat as they pursue their dream of an open-ended cruise. If you've been reading Latitude since almost the beginning, you might remember that Sam did the Singlehanded TransPac to Hawaii in '81 aboard Catch The Wind. All friends are welcome at their bon voyage party at the Richmond YC on October 8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Economic life has never been easy in the Caribbean, and two months ago it got worse, as the European Union announced it intended to cut the subsidized price it pays for sugar by 39% over the next five years. Even with the huge reduction in subsidies, the price the E.U. will pay for sugar from Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago, and other countries in Africa and the Pacific will still be twice that of the world market. The problem is that these small countries don't enjoy the economies of scale. Competitors such as Brazil and Australia can produce a pound of raw sugar for less than 7 cents, while in the Caribbean it costs from 18 cents a pound at the most efficient producers and up to 40 cents a pound at the inefficient government-run operations in Jamaica. As if this wasn't enough bad news, in August the World Trade Organization ruled against the E.U.'s plans to protect the Caribbean banana industry - which is important for Jamaica as well as tiny island-nation states such as Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Dominica. The irony is that this comes at a time when the United Kingdom is leading international efforts to alleviate poverty in these smaller countries. Thanks to the debt relief efforts of the Group of Eight industrial nations, Guyana will benefit to the tune of about $9 million a year in their debt service. Alas, the loss in their sugar income is expected to be about $40 million a year. What economic options are left for the little island-nations? Tourism is the most legal of them, and is growing, but West Indians aren't the best natural hosts. Shady financial havens is another growth area. But for small farmers, it will be harder than ever to resist the temptation to grow ganja.

"When we last wrote, we were planning to have sailed our Spindrift 40 cat Cheshire from England to Panama and through the Canal by now," writes Susanne Ames of Olympia, Washington. But my husband David and I have decided to slow down a bit, and are therefore spending the hurricane season in the southern Caribbean. Currently, we're in Trinidad. We got a little smack from Hurricane Emily, but otherwise haven't had any other weather trouble. We need to haul - again! - in order to replace our 9.9 hp outboard with a 25 h.p. outboard, to raise our waterline, as well as to take care of the bottom paint we applied four months ago that hasn't stood up to the ravages of tropical waters. So what's the deal on Astillero Boat Yard in Panama as a place for cats to haul out?"

When it comes to hauling a 40-ft cat, you have all kinds of options long before Panama. There are several yards in the southern Caribbean islands that specialize in hauling cats, and there's Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela; Ferrocem in Cartagena; or Astillero, Flamenco, or Vacamonte in Panama. On the other hand, if you wait until Panama, and have a cat that was designed for it, you can take advantage of the extreme tides by going up on a beach. We remember that Michael Beattie and Patricia Goldman of the Santa Cruz-based Gemini 31 Miki G. did that with great success several years ago. By the way, we're glad to hear that you decided to slow down, as the most common mistake first-time cruisers make is trying to cruise at the speed of life in urban America.

They may have to fly in the first thousand or so copies from the printer in Asia, but captain-authors Pat and John Rains have assured us that their much-enhanced second edition of their Mexico Boating Guide will be available before the October 31 start of the Ha-Ha and the Mexico cruising season. At 424 glossy pages, with 300 color photos and 200 GPS charts, this second edition seems destined to be the definitive cruising guide to Mexico's 3,500-mile coastline - as well as to the coast of the Yucatan. We got an advance peek at Chapter 12, La Paz and Isla Espiritu Santos, and were very impressed. The suggested retail is $69.95, which isn't cheap, but to our mind the aerial photos and improved charts with GPS positions will easily make it worthwhile. We'll have a more detailed review when the first complete copy becomes available.

"J.R. and I had an incredible two-week sail aboard our Catana 47 catamaran Moon And Stars," reports Lupe Dipp of Guadalajara. "Having survived Hurricane Emily hauled out at Isla Mujeres, we headed to Guatemala. What a trip! What a sea! Oh, the places we saw and the color of the ocean! And those people of the Caribbean have music in their souls. As neither J.R. nor I wanted to stand night watches, we anchored in a different place every night. Besides, some parts of the Western Caribbean are so shallow and littered with coral that we preferred to turn in early at night and set sail again at 6 a.m. J.R. made fun of me because when in Mexico I'm up every night to midnight or later, but on our cat I'm sound asleep by 9 p.m. I thought it was going to be hard for the two of us - we're not kids anymore - to doublehand a 47-ft cat, but we're doing just fine.

"We had no trouble clearing out of Mexico from the state of Quintana Roo," Lupe continues, "and entered Belize. I loved Belize - at least the tourist town of San Pedro which, because of the brightly painted wooden houses, was so beautiful. It was there that I found another reason to love our cat. We were anchored in the tourist zone, so all the tourist boats roared back and forth at full throttle. Had we been on my old Moon And Stars monohull, we would have rolled like crazy. But we didn't feel any movement at all on our cat. I love our cat - including all the space and systems like air-conditioning. The latter because it's wicked hot and humid down here in the summer, and there are thousands of mosquitos of all sizes, shapes, and colors."

"Words can't describe the scenery when we went up Guatemala's Rio Dulce," says Lupe, "as you travel up a river between cliffs covered with vegetation. The river itself has lots of Indians fishing from their wood cayucos. Because the Rio Dulce is a summertime haven from Caribbean hurricanes, there are now about 400 boats in the five marinas or anchored off them. I found life here to be like that in Puerto Vallarta in that it's very well organized. Every morning they have their net, and it's made up from people from all over the world. Right now. Moon And Stars is berthed at Marina Tortuga next to a restaurant with great cooks. We pay 1,920 quetzals a month for our marina space, which comes out to be about $220 dollars a month. Everything here is dirt cheap. A breakfast of eggs, beans, rice, sweet rolls, juice, and fruit costs about $5, and you can hire someone to polish your entire boat for $12. I love the Rio Dulce, I love our catamaran, I loved the trip, and I love my husband! Above all, this trip has made me realize how much I love the sea. If it was possible, I'd never get off our cat! It's been very hard for me to return to the real world of work."

Isn't it wonderful to hear somebody having such a great time with their boat? The thing that cracks us up is that berth fees are higher in poverty-ridden Guatemala where there is lots of competition than in Honolulu where the State of Hawaii has a monopoly.

"We participated in the '03 Ha-Ha and will be sailing to Mexico again this fall," report Jeff and Stephanie Sarantopulos of the Emeryville-based Passport 47 Musetta. "But this time we have no itinerary or schedule, and we eventually hope to end up in the Med." Why is it we get the feeling the couple might eventually make it to Greece?

"In the August Changes there was a report on all the red-tape involved with cruising in Croatia," write Glenn and Dana Meyer of the San Francisco-based Mahalo 1, who are currently in Lefkas, Greece. "We emailed our friends who have been cruising the Med for three years now, and wintering in Turkey for the last two. They are presently cruising up the coast of Greece and plan to anchor in Croatia. Here is their response to that report:"

"Thanks for the info from Latitude, but fortunately it contradicts a lot of what we've been hearing from friends/acquaintances who have recently been there or are still there. Yes, they have regulations, but some of them are seldom if ever enforced - such as showing a certificate of competency. One could say the same things about Greece. Here there is no coordination between ports of entry, so one can do things like skip out of one port for whatever reason and check back into another, saying you have just come from Italy. Also, one is supposed to check in with the Port Police in every port where they have an office. But half the time they don't even know what to do with you, so now we never check in with them - unless specifically asked. And then we are all smiles and cooperation. What we've learned is to be aware that these rules exist, cooperate when asked, and accept that there is often a wide range of interpretation between different officials."

That report from Croatia - the gist of which appeared in several major cruising magazines - appears to at the least have been quite inaccurate. Our apologies. It turns out that Croatia and Greece sound a lot like Mexico, where flexibility and a smile tend to be the keys to happiness.

"My wife Nancy's email must not have been proofread by her," writes Peter Bennett of Knightsen, CA, "as our new Destiny went from 40 feet to 44 feet to 48 feet. She's actually a C&C 48. I'm putting together some thoughts on purchasing a hurricane-damaged boat 3,000 miles from home. It all worked out fine for us, but it's not for the faint of heart or someone new to boating. By the way, I tend to agree with Latitude's philosophy on life, as Nancy and I try to keep ours simple also - but we're definitely in the minority. Nonetheless, it means when we go back to cruising, we can enjoy ourselves and not have to worry about keeping up with anybody. One of the things we really enjoyed about our previous cruising is how everybody gets along and treats each other as equals - despite the diversity of wealth and backgrounds."

We've always enjoyed sailing in the tropics - warm winds, warm water, not much clothing, surfing, that kind of stuff. As such, we've always mentally set aside a cruise to Alaska for when we're old and feeble. But having seen some of the recent photographs by Steve and Dorothy Darden of the M&M 55 cat Adagio, we're rapidly changing our minds. Armed with a new Canon digital SLR camera and an up-to-480MM zoom with image stablization, the couple have been taking sensational photos of whales, bears, eagles, and other wildlife. We hope to share more of them with you in color next month. But if you can't wait, check them out at

Last month, we recommended that readers wanting to get excellent overall views of anchorages in Mexico go to Google, visit their 'maps' feature, and then click the 'satellite' button. The aerial perspectives are incredibly enlightening. And you're not just limited to Mexico. In the last five minutes, for example, we've zoomed in for close-ups of such diverse places as Westhaven Marina in Auckland; Cape Town, South Africa; Cape Horn, Chile; Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; Phuket, Thailand; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. What a way to travel!

What's new about this feature, reports John Pettitt of Sausalito, is that Google now has high-resolution images of much more of Mexico. In Cabo, for example, you can actually pick out certain of the larger boats. But this high-resolution imaging is not available everywhere. Punta Mita on Banderas Bay, for example, is still only moderate resolution. Oddly enough, Westhaven Marina in Auckland was also very clear. It's important to remember that these aren't 'real time' photos, so what you see in the photo isn't necessarily what you get. The photos were taken over the last three years, and are continuously being updated. Pettitt also reports that you can download Google's 'earth tool' at, "which allows you to create custom flyovers and look at 3D views - actually 2D images mapped onto 3D terrain models - that are very cool. For example, if I look at Sausalito, I can pick out my house - and even see the lines between the spaces in the parking lots!"

From now on, we plan to get a Google aerial view of every anchorage we plan to enter, just to have a better feel for the 'lay of the land'. We don't know what's more mind-boggling, the ability to do this - or the fact that it's absolutely free!

"We're currently on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, and are looking for a Mexican transport company that could truck our boat from the Caribbean coast of Mexico to the Sea of Cortez," writes Chuck Baier of the 45-ft sloop Sea Trek. "Otherwise, we'll have to return to the U.S. and ship the boat to the West Coast and not get to stop in the Sea of Cortez. We're hoping to do this in November or December."

We're sorry to report that we've never heard of boats being trucked from the Caribbean side of Mexico across all those mountains to the Pacific side. We suppose it might be possible, but you'd be breaking all new ground - and probably be subjecting yourself to all kinds of uncertainty and perhaps lots of 'one-time fees'. We think you'd be way better off sailing up to Houston, and then having your boat trucked to Tucson, where the folks from Marina Seca could pick her up and take her down to San Carlos, or trucked all the way to California.

"Looking for a dentist in the Puerto Vallarta area?" writes Mike Fulmor of the Channel Islands-based Swift 40 Arabella. "I have nothing but good to say about Dr. Cecilia Gamboa, who has her office in Bucerias, which is near La Cruz. She was recommended to me by Paul and Paula of Lucky Dog. One of their mothers comes down from the States just to see this highly skilled - and cute! - lady. Cecilia's number is 01-329-298-18-66, and her office is at #2 Morelos St., Bucerias. I'm in Oregon now, but am looking forward to seeing everyone in Puerto Vallarta come November!"

High altitude racing/cruising. "In July, the northern California Corsair 24 fleet made its annual pilgrimage to the Sierras for the Trans-Tahoe race and Harmonic Convergence, reports Ross Stein of the Menlo Park-based Corsair 24 Origami. "The Convergence takes place on the Thursday and Friday before the race, and is hosted by Tahoe Corsair 24 sailor Kevin Gammell. The trimarans sail into beautiful Emerald Bay, and beach their boats for a BBQ, party, and overnighter. We can walk off the transoms onto the beach - no dinghy needed. The next morning, we hiked to Eagle Falls, toured the Vikingsholm, said goodbye to the gaggle of ducks, and sailed out the entrance into Lake Tahoe and back across the lake. Beautiful breezes and warm days and nights made this one of the highlights of our season."

About a year ago, we ran a Changes about young Liz Clark of Santa Barbara, a former collegiate surf champ who was preparing her Cal 40 Swell for a long sailing/surfing expedition down the coast of Central America and to the South Pacific. As often happens with cruising plans, Liz's trip got delayed a year. It may have been a good thing, because when we saw her last month, she seemed a lot more mature and confident. Anyway, she says "I'm so excited because I'll finally be leaving Santa Barbara sometime before the middle of September. After a stop at the Channel Islands, I sail to San Diego, then have to fly to Cabo for a wedding, after which my crew and I will begin our sailing/surfing adventure down the coast of Baja."

Hot wheels! "There seems to be a cruiser version of an urban legend floating around which needs to be dispelled," writes Jerry Metheany of the Mazatlan-based Hunter 46 Rosita. "I'm referring to the rumors that driving in Mexico is only for the foolish and brave of heart. I believe that having a car while cruising enhances the experience, and lessens the stress level of acquiring much needed groceries, propane, and fuel, and helps to alleviate the cabin fever syndrome of being too long in a small cabin. That being said, I would also like to dispel another rumor, which is that it's unsafe to drive at night in Mexico and that you should stick to toll roads. Personally, I like to drive at night, as there is less traffic and it's faster. By the way, I drive for a living, so I'm aware of the problems of driving at night."

We're going to have more on this subject from Metheany in the October issue of Latitude 38.

In last month's Changes, a lot of veteran Mexico cruisers gave their opinions on which were the best cruising guides to Mananaland. Michael Pordes, who did the '00 Ha-Ha with the Richmond-based Favonius, has a slightly different take. "The best cruising guides we ever found were the ones the local cruising communities publish for arriving cruisers. These included the Mazatlan Cruising Guide and the Puerto Vallarta Cruising Guide. They cost about $3 each, and are available in the big marinas. Updated each year, they tell you where to find everything and which are the best restaurants and such. No matter if you have a toothache or need to get a stainless bracket fabricated, these guides are a big help!"

Summer is fading, but the great fall cruising season - perhaps the best season of the year in California - is upon us. Enjoy!

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