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September 2010

Missing the pictures? See the September 2010 eBook!

  With reports this month from No Name on cruising Mexico for eight months aboard a 30-footer; from Nanu on emergency surgery south of the border; from Azure II on cruising the Med with a 5th grader and a 7th grader; from Digital on medical problems before and while cruising; a cruiser's Mini-Guide to Santa Barbara; and Cruise Notes.

No Name — Catalina 30
Bob Bahlman and Margie Hewes
Eight Months On A Catalina 30
(Sausalito / Lake Tahoe)

Bob and Margie’s original plan was to sell their home in Tahoe, then buy a boat bigger than their Catalina 30 in order to “go anywhere for as long as we wanted.” But when the housing market went in the dumps, they decided to take their home off the market, rent it as a vacation rental, and cruise Mexico in the boat they already had.

“We’re so glad we ended up doing it the way we did,” says Bob, “because it gave us a chance to find out if we really liked cruising before pouring a lot of money into a much bigger boat. We discovered that we really do like cruising, and the next time we go out, we want to do it for an indefinite period of time. But the Catalina was a great boat for an eight-month trial in Mexico.”

No Name had everything we needed and was really great,” agrees Margie, “but it was a little bit like camping. So now that we know we love cruising and want to go out for a much longer period of time, our next boat will have many more creature comforts. She will also be quite a bit bigger, as we really got nailed going into Turtle Bay on the way back. It was like white-water rafting.”

One of the benefits of a simple boat is that there is much less to go wrong. “The only mechanical problem we had in eight months of cruising was with an electrical part of the engine ignition. But once I brought the part down from the States and replaced the bad one, it was the end of our problems. On the other hand, we met a lot of other cruisers on bigger and more complicated boats who got bogged down with engine, transmission and other problems.”

The couple started their Mexico adventure by doing the ‘09 Ha-Ha. Unlike most one-season cruisers, they travelled all the way down the coast of mainland Mexico to Huatulco, which is about 350 miles southeast of Acapulco. “It wasn’t until we got down there that we found the really clear blue water and white sand beaches that we’d been dreaming about,” says Margie. “On the way back north, of course, we discovered that the Sea of Cortez has beautiful blue water and white sand beaches, too.”

“Our impetus for heading that far south was a conversation with a woman who recommended we visit Puerto Escondido,” remembers Bob. “But it was Huatulco that we really liked. We spent 15 days in a marina and really enjoyed ourselves. One of the best parts was that we met lots of cruisers who were really ‘out there’. Because if you’re passing through Huatulco, you’re not a one-season cruiser, but either someone who is returning from a long cruise or just taking off on one.”

Despite going with just a 30-footer, the couple brought along some toys, including kite boards, a gas-powered hookah, dive equipment and much more. The one thing they wished they’d brought, but didn’t, were bikes. Both are very much into physical fitness, and thought the bikes would have given them much more cardio, in addition to more mobility on land.

A diver for more than 20 years, Margie was knocked out by the El Bajo sea mound that comes to within about 60 feet of the surface in the Sea of Cortez. “It had the most sea life we saw anywhere on our trip. Among other things, there were lots of big green moray eels, the kind you only find in deeper water. We really recommend El Bajo.”

While having a simple boat has much going for it, it also means there will be some inconveniences. For example, there is not a lot of room on a 30-footer to store a dinghy on deck. So they either towed it behind the boat or had to go to all the trouble of breaking it down and storing it in the quarter berth each time they made a significant passage. And then they had to put it all back together and launch it when they wanted to use it again. But they didn’t seem that put out by only having an eight-foot dinghy with a 2-hp outboard — augmented by a two-person inflatable kayak.

No Name was also one of the few full-time cruising boats without a windlass. “This is my windlass,” laughed Bob, pointing to Margie. “I was a personal trainer at the Mill Valley Health Club & Spa,” she said, “so damn right I pulled the anchor up hand over hand.”

Having learned from their eight months of cruising, Bob and Margie currently plan to sit on their house and wait for the housing market to recover before selling it and downsizing to a condo. “When we move up to a bigger boat, we want to pay cash for her,” Bob explains.

— latitude 08/05/10

Nanu — Ericson 29
Rachael Nemcsok / Eric Sorensen
Surgery South Of the Border
(Half Moon Bay)

We’ve read many reports in Latitude about how often cruising plans change. Ours have changed more times than Eric and I have fingers and toes. We’ve also read plenty of stories in Latitude about how good and economical medical care can be in Mexico. Little did we know that we would experience it firsthand.

Eric and I met in Puerto Vallarta in ‘08. He’d already singlehanded from Half Moon Bay to southern Mexico, and had sailed back up to Puerto Vallarta to visit his parents. I’m a mining engineer, and I was in Vallarta on a work break from my job at a silver mine in central Mexico. Eric swept me off my feet by, among other things, teaching me how to sail. So I quit my job and moved aboard with him. You can imagine how thrilled my family back in Canada was.

When we cruised the Sea of Cortez that summer, this girl from a small town in Ontario found just about everything from the cactus to the goofy booby birds to be as interesting as anything I’d ever seen before. Although the crystal clear waters lured us to stay longer, by August the sweltering heat of the Sea finally became more than we could bear. After putting Nanu on the hard at Marina Seca, Eric returned to work in California and I to work in Canada.

Eric returned to Nanu after four months, then did the Bash back to California. I was relieved when he called to tell me he’d finally gotten the boat tied up back in her berth in Half Moon Bay. It was a very short-lived relief, for after being home for only six hours, Eric lost control of his bike going down a steep switchback road, and slammed headfirst into a parked car at an estimated 50 mph. He suffered severe brain hemorrhaging, fractured both of his eye sockets, collapsed both lungs, had a compound fracture in his right tibia, ruptured his spleen, and had other injuries.

Despite the horrific accident, Eric was back in full action by October. I quit my job again, and joined him in California to help prepare Nanu for a cruise to Ecuador. Having looked into it, Eric decided that Ecuador — with its temperate climate, lack of lightning, and low cost — would be a good place to leave the boat for a summer before we would head across the South Pacific.

We crossed the border into Mexico in December of ‘09, and welcomed in the new year at La Cruz. We love Mexico for the beautiful scenery and wonderful people! We took our time heading south, hitting lesser known anchorages and staying longer than planned in some places to mingle with long-lost friends or have dinner with new ones. We caught excellent surf at Quimixto, rowed up the jungle river at Tenancatita, and knocked down coconuts for eating at Carrizol — to name just a few of the fun things we did. We were the happiest couple that the world had ever seen.

But on January 22, while anchored in Carrizol Cove, which is about four miles northwest of Manzanillo, things started to go bad. After a wonderful dinner with friends Linda and Mike aboard their boat Tranquilo, Eric began to complain of a sore stomach. Neither of us thought much about it, but that night he began to vomit violently. His condition worsened the next day, so that afternoon Mike and Linda, plus Kevin from Tashee, convinced Eric to see a doctor.

Eric and I were taken aboard Tranquilo and rushed to the Las Hadas Resort, where Mike and Linda had arranged to have the doctor waiting. After poking and prodding at Eric’s now swollen and painful stomach, the doctor diagnosed him as having an intestinal infection caused by something he’d eaten. After giving Eric an injection of what we believe to be a painkiller and an antibiotic, he sent us on our way with some Gatorade. He said Eric needed to return the next day for one more shot. The visit at the luxury resort hotel cost us $120.

Eric was still having stomach problems when he visited the doctor the next day, but the doctor reassured us that Eric would be fine, and that he could eat again.

That night, Eric only managed to down a little pea soup before he had to lie down because of the pain. Even the emergency pain medication couldn’t mask his severe discomfort. By 3 a.m. I was desperate for help. I had no luck hailing Tranquilo on the VHF, but Kasey on Isis and Kevin on Tashee responded. Within 15 minutes, Berke, Kasey’s husband, had dinghied over and was taking us to shore. Questioning the night clerks at Las Hadas, we learned that we had two options for healthcare in Manzanillo. The public hospital, which the clerks said was inexpensive but didn't offer the best care, or the Echauri Medical Clinic. Echauri was recommended by all the clerks, although they said it was more expensive. Burke, Eric and I piled into a cab and headed there at 3:30 a.m..

Eric was immediately taken to a doctor's office, and after a knowledgeable, English-speaking female doctor felt around his abdomen, she ordered x-rays. When the x-rays were returned, the doctor explained that Eric probably had a blockage of his intestines — but she wanted to speak with a specialist. Despite the hour, the specialist was called immediately, and Eric was put on an IV.

While waiting for the specialist to arrive, I was asked if we were willing to pay for the “recommended procedures” to ensure that Eric got the best healthcare they could offer. “Of course,” I said.

When Dr. Rivera arrived, he used modern ultrasound equipment to outline the area where Eric's intestines were blocked, and followed his digestive track to make sure there were no other complications. After unsuccessfully trying to clear Eric’s intestines without surgery, the Dr. Rivera said Eric had to go under the knife. If not, his intestines would rupture. However, they wouldn't operate without a downpayment of $776, payable in cash or by Visa.

Surgery revealed that Eric had an ilius, which is an intestinal blockage caused by scar tissue. When the doctors in the U.S. removed Eric’s spleen following the bike accident, his intestines sustained scars, which eventually healed over completely. But closing off that part of his intestine led to his inability to digest food as before, and eventually resulted in his swollen stomach and lots of pain.

Eric had a three-hour surgery that morning. Dr. Rivera assured me that the surgery had gone exceptionally well, and that all Eric needed was rest.

The doctor escorted me to Eric’s hospital room — a clean, private room with a private shower and toilet. There was a small bed for a visitor, air-conditioning, and cable TV. Despite all of the comforts, what Eric most wanted was for me to read him the articles from Latitude that we’d saved on his laptop. Over the course of about three days, I read him the December and January Latitudes over and over again, explaining in depth what the photos looked like.

In the four days that Eric and I spent at the hospital, we got to know the nurses and doctors. Everyone spoke a little bit of English, and most doctors were nearly fluent. Everyone went out of their way to make Eric and me as comfortable as possible. Eric’s condition stabilized surprisingly fast, and by the fourth day his bowels were doing what they should be doing. The surgeon bade us farewell, and reminded us to return in five days to remove the stitches.

When we walked out of the hospital, Eric had a new 15-inch incision down the center of his abdomen, with 18 stitches and a smaller drainage hole on his left side. The total bill for our stay and the operation was $2,066, which is probably a little less — LOL — than it would have been in the States.

Five days later, Eric called the surgeon at his home and made an appointment to have the stitches removed. Walking into the clinic that night, Eric was greeted like a rock star! The nurses and doctors jumped to their feet and rushed over to shake his hand, then hurried to find Dr. Rivera. Eric’s stitches were removed within 10 minutes of our arrival. After asking him how much we owed the hospital for removing the stitches, Dr. Rivera chuckled, shook our hands, and gave me a hug. “Nada,” he said. He ushered us out of the door after reminding Eric not to do any lifting or heavy exercise.

Eric’s recovery was a mental and physical learning experience for both of us. For example, we got to know each other really well. And I soon became competent at lifting 6½-gallon water jugs from our Fatty Knees dinghy onto the deck of Nanu, something I hadn't been able to do before. There were fun parts, too. Other cruisers giggled when they saw me rowing Eric to shore, and unable to drink alcohol for a month, Eric took me out on a lot of ice cream dates.

The experience confirmed that the cruising community is full of the most wonderful people from around the globe. You all know who you are. And that cruisers can get wonderful and inexpensive medical care in Mexico.

— rachael 04/16/10

Azure II — Leopard 47 Cat
The Pimentel Family
Gibraltar to The Balearics

[The following are a series of reports from Rodney, Jane, and their 7th and 5th graders, RJ and Leo.]

We spent five days at Marina Bay Marina in Gibraltar, which is a great location because it’s near the town center and airport. We said goodbye to friends Nani and Noelani after a great week, and walked them to the airport! Gibraltar is the only place I’ve been where a busy street crosses a runway. There are gates that go down when a plane is landing or taking off, but other than that, you just walk across the runway.

Gibraltar is unusual because it’s located in Spain, but has its alliances with Britain. The British took Gibraltar from Spain in 1704, and have held it ever since despite the fact that Spain has tried to take it back 14 times.

We wanted to see the ‘Rock’, so we all took the cable car to the top. The famous Barbary macaques — aka monkeys — roam freely at the peak, and don’t hesitate to steal candy from a baby. From the top we were able to walk down and see Saint Michael’s cave, the Great Siege Tunnels that were hand dug by the Brits in the 1700s, and the Moorish Castle. RJ and I were not satisfied with just taking the cable car to the top, so the next day we climbed to the top and then back down the back side. There are amazing views from the summit, as you can see Africa to the south and Spain to the north. — Rodney.

07/24/2010 — We left Gibraltar on Friday at noon, and spent the night anchored off the beach just inside the breakwater in Fuengirola, Spain. We arrived at 8 p.m., but there were still 90 minutes of sunlight left. Even though we are at latitude 36, the sun doesn’t set until 9:30 p.m., so the beach was packed with swimmers until 10 p.m. The coast of this part of Spain is lined with high-rises, and the towns seem impersonal compared with the quaint villages of the Azores and Portugal. On the way here, we passed the Sierra Nevada Mountains and anchored in Playa San Francisco. Are we in Spain or California? — Rodney

07/31/2010 — We spent five nights in Puerto Almerimar in the south of Spain as we waited for the weather to change. Our plan is to stop in Cartagena on our way to Alicante. In Almerimar, we had to Med-moor for the first time. This is where you tie the bow or stern to a concrete wharf, and either anchor or grab a mooring line in the middle of the channel. Securing our cat in this fashion is very scary, as you can easily hit the concrete wharf in the process of getting settled. The other unusual thing about Med-mooring is that you need some way to get from the boat to the concrete pier. Many boats use an aluminum ramp or wooden plank to span the gap. In the spirit of everything on our cat needing to have a dual purpose, we use our kayak as a passerelle, which is the Med name for such a ramp.

The southern coast of Spain is very arid, and has sandy cliffs but no trees. The Spaniards figured out the best use for this dry sparse land was growing things in greenhouses. It’s strange to see that most of the flat part of this coast is covered in white plastic. From the sea it almost looks like patches of snow running down to the water. There are over 300 days of sunshine here per year, so the coast is also being assaulted by large resorts. There aren’t many safe anchorages along this coast, so we’ve had to stay in marinas. We’re are ready to get to the Balearics so we can anchor — and save some moola. — Rodney

08/03/2010 — We spent three nights in Cartagena until our friends Sanna and Ville from Finland joined us. Sanna was our au pair 10 years ago when Leo was born. It was wonderful to spend time together, and it sure didn’t seem as if a decade had passed since we’d seen them last.

Cartagena is trying to transform itself from a military port to a tourist destination, so they are investing big bucks to highlight the historical sites. Since Cartagena has a natural harbor, the Romans had an extensive settlement here. We toured some of the Roman ruins, including an amphitheater. Visiting a town with history is mucho more interesting than visiting the manufactured cities along the coast.

The Spanish Navy still has a base in Cartagena. The perimeter of the marina is surrounded with warships, including even a submarine. We visited the Naval Museum, which had an impressive collection of antiques from when Spain ruled the world. Some of the most fascinating items were the maps of the world before the Spanish had sailed around South Africa. Spain, of course, was located as the center of the world in all the maps. — Rodney

08/12/2010 — Yesterday we had a dreamy 50-mile reach from Ibiza to Mallorca, as it blew 10 to 15 knots on the beam with settled seas. We’re continuing to explore the main Balearic Islands, as they were our primary destination when we left the Caribbean. They are known to have cliff-lined anchorages, crystal clear water, and soft sandy beaches. They are also known to be very crowded in August, the holiday month in Europe. But we haven’t found it to be any more crowded than any other popular summer destination.

There are three main island in the Balearics — Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza — and a few smaller ones. Each has a unique personality. We just spent a week on Formentera, one of the smaller islands, and Ibiza. Formentera turned out to be the naked island, with lots of natural mud baths and young people. We survived. Next we moved on to Ibiza, known around the world as the party island. We nonetheless managed to find some family-friendly spots with excellent snorkeling. RJ and Leo thought the water looked like a pool, and were thrilled to jump off the boat. The weather has been fantastic, although a little on the warm side. The beauty of being on the hook is that you just jump overboard to cool off.

As I write this, we’re anchored at Port d’Andratx on the south coast of Mallorca, the biggest of the Balearic islands. Port d'Andratx is a well-sheltered, affluent area with gorgeous houses built into the cliffs. We’ll probably spend a week to 10 days at Mallorca before heading on to Menorca, the last of the Balearics. The strange thing to us has been the lack of American boats. We haven’t seen one since leaving the Azores. There has also been a shortage of ‘kid boats’. Rodney seems to have the boat dialed in, because he’s actually been taking time off to read Latitude. So we must be cruising! — Jane

New Report — We’re still in Mallorca, and we like it better than we imagined. We had heard it was crazy crowded, but with a boat, it’s easy to get away from the masses by going to a remote anchorage. We’ll probably be here another few days before going north to Menorca, the smallest of the major islands.

We started home-schooling a few weeks ago, but we had to ditch the traditional Calvert curriculum and put together what I hope is a more flexible and friendly program. I sourced a variety of ‘best practices’ for key subjects. We’ve started with math, Spanish and typing, and have gently added writing and geography. History and science are a bit less structured, but also included. We still have some whining, but it feels amazingly better. ­— Jane

— the pimentels 08/15/10

Digital — Morgan Out-Island 41
John and Carol Stubbs
Florida to California
(Fort Lauderdale)

For all of Carol Stubbs' medical misfortunes in the last couple of years, she has a remarkably bright disposition. Her medical problems started just before she and her husband John departed Fort Lauderdale on a two-year cruise down the Western Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific Coast to San Diego.

While still in Miami, she stumbled getting from a pier onto Digital. “I fell onto a stanchion, breaking a rib, fracturing three others, and puncturing a lung,” she says with a characteristic laugh.

John and Carol are big scuba divers, but her injuries kept Carol on the surface for quite a while. “When we got to Belize, I did a little test dive down to 80 feet, but it left me sick for three days. So only John got to dive at the famous Blue Hole in Belize.”

“I dove down to 180 feet, and it was pretty interesting,” says John, ”particularly at about 80 feet where there were all kinds of sharks. Although the Blue Hole is perhaps the most famous dive site in Belize, I thought that many of the other reefs were actually much better. Long Cay, for example, is a really excellent dive.”

“The good news," John continues, "is that there are still lots of fish in the Western Caribbean, so the fishing is really good. For example, if you know how to cook them, the barracuda are really delicious.”

Barracuda? What about ciguatera poisoning?

“It’s true, you can’t eat barracuda caught off Florida because of the toxins they get from the reefs," John says, "but everybody eats them in Belize without a problem. And they are tasty.”

John and Carol cruise with two big dogs. Hennesy is their pit bull and Marley is their collie mix. “Nobody tries to steal anything from our boat,” laughs Carol.

Oddly enough, Hennesy loves to fish. “She’ll watch the tip of the pole all day, and when it starts to twitch, she gets all excited,” says John.

“When we get the fish aboard, Hennesy kills it by eating the head,” says Carol. “It doesn’t matter how big or what kind of fish it is, she eats the head. Then she leaves the rest for us."

Carol’s next medical problem arose while they were at anchor about 40 miles from Salina Cruz in southern Mexico. "She was in terrible pain,” says John, “so we set off the 911 on our Spot Messenger. By the way, I love that thing and highly recommend it for all sailors. We later learned that the Americans at Spot couldn’t get anybody in Mexico to come out and get Carol, so they called the American Embassy in Mexico, which called the Mexican Embassy, which called the Mexican Navy in Salina Cruz and demanded to know why they weren't helping us. So they headed our way."

Not knowing what was going on, after five hours John weighed anchor and headed for Salina Cruz. “I had to get my wife to help,” he says. But just after he did, the Mexican Navy showed up in a drug-running type boat. Carol was taken onto that boat and transferred to another boat halfway to Salina Cruz, where she was given mild pain medication. Once they got to Salina Cruz, she was put in a hospital for a week.

“All the people were just wonderful,” remembers Carol. “My problem was gallstones. But after my getting treated in the hospital for seven days, they didn't charge us a cent!"

John had a much harder time getting to Salina Cruz. In order to get Carol taken off, he’d had to anchor Digital once again, this time in deep water with the wind gusting to 45 knots. He didn’t mind being there, but the captain of the 150-ft navy vessel said he’d been ordered to tow Digital in. Attempts to ease the ship up to Digital to pass a line by hand failed, so eventually they shot a line to the Morgan Out-Island. With John unable to raise the anchor by himself, he eventually had to abandon it as well as all the line and rode. He wasn’t very happy about it, but things were about to get worse.

Once the tow was underway, the captain of the navy ship insisted that John put the sails up. After being hit by a strong squall, Digital suffered a torn main and the jib sheet got fouled in the prop. Once inside the breakwater at Salina Cruz, control of Digitial was passed on to a man in a small boat — who promptly let the Out-Island blow onto the rocks. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much damage.

“What else can go wrong?” John thought to himself. “I had no sails, my engine didn’t work, I had a crack in my hull, and I didn’t know where my wife was.” What else went wrong is that the commander of the port facility, a new guy, got weird.

“He interrogated me for two hours, asking me really stupid stuff like who my brother was. He wanted me to check into the country, but we’d already done that — and had proof. Finally I got really upset and said that I needed to find my wife. He kind of backed off. After the bomb and drug dogs got done sniffing my boat, the commander became nice and said, “You can go find your wife now.” After that, he and everyone else was really friendly. Very, very friendly. We’d meet in all their offices, have lunch with them, that kind of stuff. They ended up being wonderful."

Once Carol recovered, the couple cruised up the coast without trouble — until they anchored off Los Arcos in Banderas Bay. “Carol suddenly started having seizures, something she’d never experienced before,” says John. “She had 12 of them in one day, so we called for assistance over the VHF, but nobody heard us. So we went ashore and called an ambulance. Once the ambulance was on its way, I had to return to the boat because it had dragged there before and because the dogs don't do well alone."

“It was really weird,” says Carol, “because when the ambulance arrived, the woman paramedic tried to blame John for my seizures! She was crazy and kept making these ridiculous accusations. 'Fuck you!' I finally said, 'it has nothing to do with John.' Then I walked down to the water's edge to swim back to Digital. But as soon as I hit the water, I had a seizure. I recovered, but then had another one. Before long I had sand coming out of my mouth and everything. Two great young Mexican guys, who had seen some of my previous seizures, rushed over to help. They told me they’d be happy to drive me to the hospital in their truck if I would pay for the gas. So I did."

Carol was taken to the American Hospital in Puerto Vallarta for diagnosis and treatment. Her medication, which costs $88/week, is expensive but has greatly reduced the number of seizures.

But no, that wasn’t the end of her physical woes. Carol had to stay alone on Digital in Marina Vallarta because John had previously been robbed of his passport in Acapulco, and had to return to Texas to get a replacement. Concerned about his wife’s health, John had arranged for some people in the area to keep an eye on her.

“Our dinghy was in the water and losing air,” says Carol, “so I got the extension cord and the Shop Vac to pump it up. Unfortunately, there was water in the dinghy, I was barefoot, and the live end of the extension cord dropped into the water. I was getting shocked like crazy and started to shake. Juanito, a guy on a nearby boat who was keeping an eye on me, and who knew my medical history, assumed I was having another seizure. I grabbed the extension cord and tried to pull it apart from the Shop Vac plug, but I started getting shocked even more and couldn't even let go of it. Juanito finally figured out what was going on and ripped the cord out of my hand.”

“For the next 3.5 hours I lay on the dock, with my whole body feeling like pins and needles," says Carol. But it was also the first time in three days that I didn't have a seizure. So when I told John over the phone, he said, “That’s really great. Now all I have to do is fire up the gen set and attach the leads to your nipples with alligator clips and you won’t have any more seizures.”

Carol laughed like crazy when she heard that.

Anyway, John and Carol didn’t have any more problems on their way to San Diego, and we’re thankful for that.

— latitude 07/15/10

Santa Barbara
A Sailor's Mini-Guide

When it comes to beautiful harbors, none in Southern California can match the nearly 1,200-berth Santa Barbara Municipal Harbor. The view from boats toward the white sand, green grass and palm-lined shore, backed by the green foothills of the Riviera and Montecito, and the up to 4,000-ft tall Santa Ynez Mountains may not be quite as gorgeous as Beaulieu sur Mer in the South of France, but it’s close.

The Santa Barbara YC, located on the sand, just a winch handle's toss from the surf, has only one end-tie for yacht club members with reciprocal privileges. You get one night free, then up to a week at 60 cents/ft/night (for up to seven nights). Since there is only one berth, reservations are highly recommended, and there's no guarantee they'll have space.

If the YC dock is taken, you have to come to the head of the harbor to Harbormaster’s Dock to sign up for a slip and have dye tabs put in your heads. In recent years the fees have jumped from 60 cents/ft/night to 90 cents/ft/night. You can stay for two weeks, and if you’re willing to pay double, you can stay another two weeks. If you leave for five days after the first two-week period, you can come back for two more weeks and get the lower rate once again. The harbor does not accept reservations, and does not guarantee they will have a slip for you. If you're a cheapskate or the marina is full, you can anchor off Ledbetter Beach or to the east of Stearns Wharf between the limiting buoys. The latter is much more popular right now, with 75 boats on the hook to Ledbetter's zero. If there's a good swell running down the Santa Barbara Channel, you may roll your brains out. The permit for tying your dinghy to the harbor dinghy dock costs $50 a year — no matter if you come in for one day or 365 days. So some folks tie their dinghy to Stearns Wharf and climb one of the tall ladders. When we checked the dinghies there, one had a baby sea lion in it and another had snagged on a piling and was getting destroyed. For some silly reason jumping off the wharf is prohibited.

Because of all the commercial activity — oil rig support vessels, the fishing and urchin fleets, and countless tourists — and the pleasure boat activity, Santa Barbara is an unusually busy and interesting harbor. Nonetheless, it’s kept clean, and the berth-holder heads and showers are decent enough. Within a very short distance of the marina is lots of nice sand to lie on and grassy picnic areas with benches and BBQs. But the water is cold — 59 degrees in August! — littered with seaweed, and a not very appealing color.

Santa Barbara has a strong Spanish history and flavor that can be seen in the public and many commercial buildings, many of which are within easy walking or biking distance of the harbor. If you've got a broken leg, there are buses that run up State Street — the main shopping and restaurant area — from the base of Stearns Wharf, which is also worth a visit. The best distance walk is east from the harbor along Shoreline Drive, which turns into West Cabrillo, which turns into East Cabrillo. You want to continue all the way to East Beach, because if you don't, you'll miss all the lovely young women in bikinis playing beach volleyball.

There's a bike path along this same route, but you'll want to keep on going as close to the water as you can, past the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, to Fernald Point, where the road ends and you have to turn back. The walking and biking trips both take about an hour at a leisurely pace, and feature some lovely views. If you don't have a bike, you can rent one at the foot of State Street. If you're a lap swimmer, the 50-meter Los Banos del Mar public pool is but a stone's throw from the northwest side of the harbor. The fee is reasonable, but for some reason it's only open for short times at weird hours.

If you need a car to drive to Costco in Goleta, Enterprise will pick you up from the harbor. If you need a vacation from the boat after a rough trip down the coast, you might want to use the car to drive: by the mansions of Montecito; up windy and dramatic Gibraltar Road to Camino Cielo, then along the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains; down to the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley; or even to Red Rock or the wild back country destinations of Figueroa Mountain and Zaca Station. You can do most of these in a full day or a few in half a day.

For eats, we like the little sushi place at the head of the harbor for lunch, and the tiny Minnow Cafe, a few feet away, for breakfast. For those who like to stretch their legs, we recommend State Street's All India all-you-can eat lunch buffet for $10, and Saigon Restaurant for Pho for lunch or dinner. This being a tourist town, there are 100 other restaurants of all types and prices on and around State Street within easy walking distance. If you have crew that need to leave your boat or crew that need to join your boat, the train station is just a quarter mile from the harbor. It only takes about two hours for the train to get to downtown L.A., but for some reason it takes about four days to get to the Bay Area — which is why they call it the Coastal Turtle.

For shopping, Doña de Mallorca likes the little Mexican market at the corner of Castillo and West Montecito, which is about a half-mile from the harbor. “The people who run it are so friendly!" The closest big market is Ralph's a mile away on West Castillo, while the closest Trader Joe's is about a mile-and-a-half away at Milpas and the 101 freeway. They are easy to walk to, but if you're buying refrigerated items or heavy stuff, you probably want to take a taxi back. There is a basic West Marine in the harbor and a more extensively stocked one near Trader Joe's. If you need to haul your boat, our friend Damon Hulst runs Harbor Marine Works, the only yard in the harbor, and will happily lift your boat.

Santa Barbara is not only a great place to stop on your way south — hopefully for the start of the Ha-Ha — but is also the gateway to 25-mile distant Santa Cruz Island. Our old friend Mike Pyzel, who still has the Cal 28 Caballo Blanco that he bought in '71 and sailed in the first Singlehanded TransPac in '79, says it's a nice reach across to the island and a nice reach back. He should know, as he's made the crossing a mind-boggling 600 times!

— latitude 08/18/10

Cruise Notes:

All other things being equal, the bigger the catamaran, the less likely she is to flip — but it’s still possible. This was proven in early August about 120 miles west of Niue when American Kelly Wright’s Atlantic 57 Anna was blown over by winds gusting to at least 62 knots. The cat reportedly had been sailing normally in less than 20 knots of wind under a reefed main and a self-tacking jib, when a squall approached that looked no different than any of the others in the previous 24 hours. But this squall packed a terrific punch. Before Wright, who is from Santa Fe, and crewman Glen McConchie, who is from Christchurch, New Zealand, could get both the sails down, the cat was already going over. The men would spend about 15 hours on the overturned cat before their EPIRB brought a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, which in turn directed the ship Forum Pacific to their rescue. Both of the men were in good physical condition when they were picked up. Anna, which is a lighter and longer version of Chris White’s respected Atlantic 55 design, was launched in Chile in May of ‘09. She was then sailed 8,000 miles in the South Pacific, and was on her way to Tonga to help with whale research when she went over and ultimately had to be abandoned. According to Wright’s website, he previously owned an Atlantic 42, switched to a powercat, then switched back to the big sailing cat. Wright reports having 30,000 miles of ocean experience.

Unable to reach Wright by press time, we spoke with designer Chris White, who has been sailing Javelin, his Atlantic 55 cat, in the Caribbean for much of 2010. White said Anna is only the second of his cats to have flipped in 20 years, the other being an Atlantic 42 on Lake Michigan. White, who had been communicating with Wright by email, told Latitude that both capsizes were from wind alone and had the following in common: 1) Neither captain thought a capsize was a possibility until it was too late. 2) Both boats were under autopilot all the way through the capsize. And, 3) The mainsheet didn’t get eased or released.

White thinks it’s important for all sailors — but cat sailors in particular — to understand that as the wind speed doubles, the force on the sails quadruples. So in the case of Anna, where the wind went from under 20 knots to over 60 knots, the pressure on the sails increased by more than nine times! White recommends that cats be well-reefed in areas of squalls, partly because they don’t lose much speed by being reefed; that the autopilot be turned off several minutes before a squall hits; that a human take the helm and be ready to luff up or bear off depending on the circumstances; that sheets, especially the main sheet, be ready to be eased quickly; and that the engine be started in case there is a massive windshift and help is needed bringing the cat into the wind to drop the sails.

"Anna was a well-built and extremely seaworthy catamaran,” White told us. “Her loss has been the proverbial ‘wake up call’ to all of us who sail catamarans. The cruising catamaran is normally so forgiving that we can get lulled into complacency, so we have to remain vigilant and have a plan for dealing with sudden massive increases in wind speed and changes in wind direction.” For White's detailed analysis, visit

Update: On August 19, about 20 days after Anna flipped, she somehow drifted unscathed through the East Passage of the outer reef at Vava'u, Tonga, but was then damaged on an island. She was later taken to a mooring at Neiafu. There is a great YouTube video titled 'Atlantic 57 catamaran capsize'. After 15 hours on a upturned cat, the two crew members look as though they'd just come aboard after a great swim. The moral is if you're going to flip a cat, do it in the tropics! And if you're going to flip in cool or cold waters, have full wetsuits or survival suits.

Double Update: After this month's Changes went to press, we received much more information on the capsizing of Anna. Please see Sightings in the eBook version.

Shortly after we got the news of Anna flipping, Dan and Carol Seifers of the Pt. Richmond-based Seawind 1160 (38-foot) Caprice took an end-tie across the way from Profligate in Santa Barbara. In their 60s, the couple decided to sell their Gemini cat and fly to Australia to buy the Seawind. Not only did they buy her, they also cruised her to New Zealand, then all the way to Alaska, then back down to the Bay Area. Knowing they have their open ocean sailing chops, we asked Dan what sail they carried when they had up to 37 knots of wind from Arguello to Conception. "We shortened down to a triple-reefed main with no headsail," he replied, "and we were still doing 9 knots." Seifers agrees with White, that as long as there is a decent breeze, a reef doesn't slow a cat much. After a visit to Catalina, the Seifers will leave their boat in San Diego for a month prior to doing the Ha-Ha and cruising in Mexico.

Pat Rains of the San Diego Log has been reporting that the new administration in Panama has passed laws that, when implemented, will allow foreign-registered pleasure boats to stay in the country for one or two years — as opposed to what had effectively been a 90-day limit. The cruising permits used to be good for 90 days followed by a 90-day renewal, but Rains says at the end of ‘09, some officials would make boatowners leave the country for 72 hours before allowing them to return for a renewal. The new one-year Sailing and Navigation license will be $5 per year, renewable for a year. The annual Temporary Registration fee for pleasure boats will be another $180 for boats over 32 feet, and will be renewable for a second year. Rains reports that a new Mariner’s Visa is in the works that would be good for 90 days, with a 90-day extension, followed by a 180-day extension. Assuming all these changes do get implemented, it's terrific news for cruisers in and headed to Panama, which is the cruiser favorite in the region. Keep in mind that these rules do not apply to the Canal Zone, which is controlled by the Canal Authority.

“Hey now from Tamarindo, Costa Rica!” writes Stefan Ries of the Banderas Bay, Mexico-based Triton 28 Mintaka. “Here's my thumbnail guide to anchorages in Costa Rica: The waves at Tamarindo are of a short period, and there are 100 people out learning to surf. So after a month without much sailing, I’m moving again. I had a quiet and peaceful time in the Playa Coco area, where I collected plenty of rainwater, did lots of reading, and completed some small boat projects. Playa Hermosa had the clearest water, and I was able to pick up a WiFi signal on the boat. Playa Panama was the calmest and most protected anchorage, while Mata de Cana had a nice little store ashore. Playa Blanca, which is where I went after I buckled my surfboard at Ollie’s Point, had a beautiful beach. After being kicked out of Ollie's for the second time by park rangers, I won't be going back. I spent the last week at Bahia Brasilito, which was lovely. Tomorrow I’ll set sail for the Gulf of Nicoya, at which point I’ll begin to head back to Banderas Bay to resume work at the Palladium Resort on November 1."

Why did the rangers kick Reis out of Ollie's? “It’s $15 for a day pass,” he explained, “and I just don’t want to pay that much to surf in Costa Rica."

Readers may recall that Ries is the young German who, since '06, had lived aboard his Coronado 25 Ky-Mani at various locations between Cabo and Puerto Vallarta, most recently just outside the surfline of the Burro's surf spot on the north shore of Banderas Bay. About a year ago his boat was destroyed after she went on the rocks following a sudden blow. Ries’ budget for his replacement cruiser was $5,000, and he managed to pick up the Triton 28 and take off on his current seven-month, sailing-surfing safari to Central America. We love tales such as his, as it once again proves that the important thing is not the size of the boat, but the size of the character of the sailor in the boat. We don't know for sure, but we'll bet 10 cents that Ries is cruising on less than $500 a month.

Keeping score on Fiji. “We’ve just arrived in Fiji and checked in with the help of the Royal Suva YC,” report Jim and Kent Milski of the Colorado-based Schionning 49 cat Sea Level. “The club automatically gets a 5 on a scale of 10 from us because of the low cost of services. And they show recent U.S. movie releases for $4.50 — for the two of us! Last night we ate at a local Indian restaurant, and the bill came to $5.50 — again, for the two of us. The fact is that Fiji also has the least expensive taxis of anywhere we’ve been, and among the most friendly people. So that brings their score up to a 9 or 9.5. The only drawback so far has been the paperwork, but even the officials who handle it are really friendly. What a pleasant surprise! So we give Fiji a 10.”

Confirming the cruiser-friendly prices in Fiji are Puddle Jump vets Kirk, Cath and Stuart McGeorge of the St. Thomas-based Hylas 49 Gallivanter. “The prices here are a welcome relief after French Polynesia," writes Kirk. " The total cost of checking into Fiji, including the cruising permits for all the western island groups, was just $40. And the farmer’s markets offer the most bounteous provisioning we’ve found in both hemispheres of the Pacific! At present, Gallivanter is hauled out at Vuda Point for an overdue bottom job and minor repairs to damage suffered during the two recent tsunamis. It’s been 34 months since our last haulout in the U.S. Virgins, but once we got our boat in the slings, we decided to cancel the pressure wash of the bottom. Our nearly three-year-old Jotun bottom paint was still toxic enough to prevent any serious fouling! That paint is unavailable here in Fiji, so we’re using the local brew to ease the pain of our upcoming plan to clear into Australia — which wants to see receipts and maintenance logs for bottom paint.

“Nevertheless, the prices are right here in the boatyard, too,” continues Kirk. “The bottom job — which includes having the bottom faired, sanded and painted — comes to just $1,400 for materials and labor. That also includes having minor gouges ground out and filled, the waterline gel coat sanded, primed, and painted higher on the hull, as well as getting the topsides patched, polished and waxed — and the cove stripe repainted! As a result, all I will be doing is the interior varnish and some minor plumbing upgrades. The haul-out and back-in charges are $200; lay days are less than $20; and Med-style berthing in the marina is less than $13/day for our 49-ft boat. When we left the Virgin Islands, a mooring buoy at the Bitter End YC was $40 per night! There’s more good news on the money front, too. The resort next to the boatyard offers a cruiser’s discount for their private garden bungalows by the pool, dropping the total to less than $40/night. Draft beer for $1.50 helps ease the pain of singing the boatyard blues, and the three of us can enjoy a nice dinner at the resort for a total of $8 to $15 — in the light of tiki torches, no less. By the way, we attended a traditional wedding last week, and my wife, son, and I are now, officially, fire walkers! Besides a few savages and the daring crew of Gallivanter, nobody else had the balls to even approach the glowing fire pit. Tourists!”

Reciprocity has its benefits — including saving money and making lots of great friends. Thanks to the May issue article in Latitude by Bruce and Lina Nesbit of the Mill Valley-based Olson 34 Razzberries about how great it can be to take advantage of reciprocal privileges at yacht clubs in Southern California, Bob Bahlman and Margie Hewes of the Sausalito-based Catalina 30 No Name decided to do just that. “It turned out to be terrific advice,” says Margie, “as we not only saved money, but even more important, we were welcomed at every club with open arms, and we met some really wonderful people while doing it. We highly recommend it."

While berthed in Santa Barbara ­— Profligate's hangout for August — we were visited by Leonard Peckett and Wilma Synder of the anchored-out Emeryville-based Horstman 45-ft trimaran Midnight Sun. The couple left Northern California in mid-June for what they intend to be a full year of cruising in Mexico. The tri, which was built by Leonard’s father in a barn in Newark many years ago, previously sailed to Mexico as part of the Ha-Ha V in ‘98. “My father was much more of a boatbuilder than a sailor, so doing the Ha-Ha was his dream and my gift to him,” says Leonard, who had bought the tri from his dad two years before. “Dad loved the Ha-Ha — although having built the boat, he felt ultimately responsible for everything and didn’t get much sleep. But she'd been built really well using airplane construction of cold molded double-planked mahagony plywood over fir frames, so there was nothing for him to worry about."

While Wilma has done a little sailing on San Francisco Bay, this is her first extended trip, and she left her grown kids behind. “I’m really enjoying the relaxation of being on the boat,” she says, “particularly out at the Channel Islands. At Santa Cruz Island we anchored at Fry’s, Scorpion, Yellow Bank and Pelican.” And the couple found the fishing and diving to be great. “We caught some nice sheepshead, perch, opal eyes, and picked up some scallops for some killer scallop dinners,” says Leonard.

The relaxation of cruising is something that Leonard appreciates as much as Wilma. Having spent the last seven years doing well as a union carpenter on very large concrete projects, Leonard has taken advantage of the construction slowdown to repower Midnight Sun, re-do the electrical system, and to take a year off. “Everyone on the water is so relaxed,” he says, "it's a great way of life.”

"What the hell is 'home' anyway?" asks Gary Burgin of the Santa Cruz-based Marples 55 cat Crystal Blue Persuasion. Burgin did the '08 Ha-Ha with his dad Larry, then continued down to and through the Canal, and then up to the Caribbean coast of Mexico, hoping to get a charter business going. That didn't pan out, as is the case with most foreign charter efforts in Mexico. So after having to deal with some mechanical and other boat problems, Gary headed back to the Canal and up to Santa Cruz. "After 5,000 miles and four months at sea," he announced on May 18, "I'm back home." The next day he made the following post on Facebook: "I'm going down to the harbor tonight to go sailing. Am I sick or what?"

While Burgin's charter attempt may not have resulted in an improvement in his financial condition, it looks like it improved his physical condition. When he took off on the Ha-Ha, he was big and muscular. Based on the photo at left, he's kept all the muscle but shed a bunch of bulk. Good on you, Gary, that's how we all ought to look! As much as he'd like to return to Mexico with the cat, he says he's got a lot of work to do first. So he's travelled to Alaska — not by boat — to work in the construction industry. That should keep him fit, but he's going to lose that tan.

Why would Burgin want to return to Mexico when the charter effort didn't pan out? It's the people. For instance, he reports that when he pulled into Turtle Bay during the Baja Bash, he was so low on funds that he couldn't afford to buy diesel to motor the rest of the way home. Somehow the folks at Services Annabelle caught wind of this, and came forward to offer Burgin hundreds of dollars of diesel based solely on his word that he would pay them back. Good ol' Mexico. If everything goes to hell, that's where you want to sail away on your boat, because the people are so friendly and because they know how to be happy and have fun without lots of money or material goods.

"I sailed back to the States from Banderas Bay in May aboard my trusty — but lightning debilitated — Catalina 470 Location," writes J. Mills, formerly of Newport Beach. "It was an 'interesting' 45-day trip, not only because I had to do it singlehanded and because the winds and seas were on the nose, but because I had no autopilot or other electronics beyond a handheld GPS and a depthsounder. This was a result of the lightning strike — and the insurance company dragging its feet with the settlement. Out of necessity, I quickly became intimately reacquainted with the fine art of balancing the sails and the rudder with a makeshift 'vane' system made from a line running between the main boom and the wheel. Sometimes it even worked. The challenge of the trip was more than I expected, and it took longer than I expected, but I'm glad I did it. Besides, I had no other option but abandon the boat in Mexico. After I arrived home in June, a change in my marital status and the lack of jobs meant I had to give up the boat and sell everything. I'm now living on a horse farm in Kentucky. Losing everything can be quite liberating — but I can't recommend it as a way of life."

We're sorry to hear that you had to give up your boat, and wish you and everyone else in your situation the best during this terrible jobless recovery.

Can it really be that Mike Pyzel, as we reported in our Santa Barbara Mini-Guide a few pages back, has really sailed between Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz Island 600 times? It can. He's not taking the Cal 28 Caballo Blanco he bought 39 years ago over to the island as much, but that's only because he and his lady friend Valerie Craft take her boat, the Catalina 27 Sun Spot, instead. The two not only trade off whose boat they take, but who is going to be captain for the trip.

The good news about such island trips is that they are a reach both ways. If you sail toward the west end of the island — a tight reach — it can get very windy in the afternoon. "At 2 p.m. on summer afternoons, especially when there's a 'cap cloud', it's almost routine for it to be blowing 30 to 35 knots from Santa Rosa to the western end of Santa Cruz Island," says Pyzel. "That's where I teach storm sailing techniques. But as you move east along either side of Santa Cruz, the wind drops dramatically. When Pyzel isn't sailing to one of the Channel Islands, he's one of the busiest surveyors in the Santa Barbara-to-Oxnard area. "Today I surveyed an Islander 30 that a father and son had bought for just $400. She didn't have an engine, but otherwise she's a fine boat, and it's going to make a terrific father-son project." And no, the $400 was not a typo.

“There’s a little shindig going on not far from where we’re moored at the New York YC’s facility in Newport, Rhode Island,” wrote Kevin Rooney of the Davenport-based Santa Cruz 40 Kokopelli back in July. If we’re not mistaken, he’s been out cruising Kokopelli since the end of the ‘04 Ha-Ha. “We've been cruising Maine most recently, but are now headed down to New York to do the ‘Round Long Island Race. After that, we’ll head up the Hudson River. We miss California, but there is so much to see here in the East — and it’s always just a half-day’s sail to the next place. At $3.50 to $5 foot/night, slips are bit pricey, so it’s fortunate there are plenty of moorings, with free launch service, for about $35/night. There are also some great yacht clubs."

Over the years, Tenacatita Bay, on Mexico's Gold Coast, has been one of the most popular and tranquil places for cruisers to gather. It's so nice that many cruisers stayed for weeks if not months. As a result, Tenancatita vets have been very disturbed to learn that approximately 800 of the wonderful locals who lived, worked and provided cruisers with services on the northwest shore of the bay were forceably evicted last month by state police. What's more, all their structures were bulldozed and their possessions thrown away. The explanation is that a wealthy Mexican who wants to build a high-end resort finally won a decades-old court battle in which he'd asserted that he owned the land. This comes as a shock to some of those evicted, who have papers saying they have title to the land. Because much of the bay is not affected by this strife, it's our belief that lots of cruisers will gather in Tenacatita once again this winter, and will have services provided. But Tenacatita vets will have heavy hearts, knowing that many of the wonderful people who worked and laughed with them for so many years are no longer there.

Missing the pictures? See the September 2010 eBook!


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