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September 2012

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With reports this month from Fleetwood near Marseille and headed for Paris; from Orcinius on a near-fatal diving incident at Fakarava; from Patience on the 'clipper route' back to California from Mexico; from the Wanderer on great summer weather in Southern California; from Sockdolager on a surprising peek at the megayacht cruising lifestyle; from Tortue on life in Puerto Escondido; and Cruise Notes.

Fleetwood — Naja 30
Jack van Ommen
North Across Europe
(Gig Harbor, WA)

I arrived in Marseille yesterday, and my next port, St. Louis de Rhone, will be my last in the Med. That's because I will be unstepping the mast in order to transit the Rhone River and French canals to Paris, after which I'll go to Amsterdam via the Moselle and Rhine rivers.

The lure of returning to Amsterdam overrode my plans to sail farther west in the Med. After all, my family roots are in Amsterdam, and my oldest granddaughter will be finishing her degree at the University of Amsterdam. I plan to spend the winter aboard Fleetwood at the YC de Schinkel in Amsterdam, just as I did two winters ago.

Since I put Fleetwood back in the water on the Greek island of Chios at the end of April, I have sailed roughly 2,500 nautical miles. I visited 20 islands in Greece, Croatia, Italy and Malta, and visited a total of seven countries. I started at latitude 38N, went down to Crete at latitude 35N, back up to 43N at Split, Croatia, then back down to Malta at latitude 35N. I'm now at 43N again.

As Latitude readers will recall, I had previously taken Fleetwood west to east across the European continent via various waterways, ultimately ending up in Istanbul. It was an incredible trip, but was probably much more difficult than my trip through France will be, as the latter has a much more developed canal infrastructure. I'm very excited about the trip, as I start in the Rhone Delta, home of the swamps, wild horses, cows and pink flamingoes of the Camargue, after which I'll stop at Arles, where van Gogh did much of his painting.

France is going to be a nice change because it will be the first country in the last five — except for Malta — where I'll be totally conversant in the language.

My plans for next summer are to sail the Baltic Sea, including Poland, then visit St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Swedish archipelago. After that I'll sail to Woodbridge on the river Deben in England in order to meet up with some of the other Naja owners. I imported Fleetwood as a kit from the Whisstocks Boatyard back in '79, later sailed her in the '82 Singlehanded TransPac, then put her in storage for decades before my current adventures.

At the end of '14, I'll sail south to the Canary Islands, then cross the Atlantic and Caribbean to base out of Colombia for inland explorations of South America. I do have a 'Plan B'. That's to enter the Blondie Hassler Singlehanded Race across the Atlantic for boats 30 fleet or less. It starts in Falmouth, U.K. and ends in Newport, Rhode Island. My plans remain as loose as those of a true vagabundo del mar.

— jack 08/01/12

Readers — Humble Jack van Ommen is one of Latitude's all-time heroes. A "millionaire" and married to his third wife in '95, he was left single and filing for bakruptcy in '00 by business reversals. He spent two years fixing his homebuilt boat, which he hadn't used in 18 years, and in '02, at age 65, departed Alameda for the Marquesas. He had nothing to his name but his boat, his provisions, and the promise of a monthly $1,750 Social Security check. See this month's Cruise Notes to learn how he's not only afforded it, but been able to sock away a lot of money each month.
During our
Latitude interviews with Jack in May and June of '10, he was the picture of health, and reported he'd already singlehanded 35,000 miles and to 30 countries. He has subsequently sailed to many more countries. At age 75, Jack van Ommen continues to be a true American inspiration, and 'richer' than he's ever been.

Orcinius — Lagoon 440 Cat
John LeDoux and Lisa Danger
Near-Death Dive in the Tuamotus
(Vancouver, WA)

On June 17, we did the first dive of the day — a supposedly 'no-current dive' — in the North Pass of Fakarava in the Tuamotus. There were three paying customers, two dive masters, and the skipper of the dive boat. Lisa and I were picked up from our catamaran, and off we went on a 20-minute run to the North Pass.

Once at the site, we all did the back roll into the water on the count of three. After we all gave the 'all clear' signal, we started to drop below the surface. As usual, Lisa had trouble clearing her ears, so the head dive master had his assistant stay with Lisa for a much slower descent. The head dive master seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, and coaxed me down to his deeper level. I couldn't seem to make him understand that I wanted to stay with Lisa, so I finally joined him on the bottom, 70 feet below the surface. The other dive master stayed with Lisa at around 20 feet.

The head dive master and his other paying customer, with me trailing behind, started swimming into a current of about .4 of a knot. As we progressed, I started to fall farther behind. The dive master signaled for me to catch up, but I'm no longer a young buck, so I was having trouble. The dive master would grab some coral and wait for me, then take off again as soon as I had caught up.

I soon realized that I was going through my air faster than normal. In just 10 minutes I had sucked off 800 lbs. Even worse, my breathing had become labored. I made a concerted effort to prevent a slide into hyperventilation by slowing my breathing with deep, slow breaths. But I soon began to cough up sputum. I couldn't tell what color it was, and needed to remove my regulator to spit it out. But it told me that I wasn't getting enough oxygen into my bloodstream.

When I gave the dive master the wobbly hand motion to indicate that I was having trouble, he gave me the big 'x' sign, indicating that we should terminate the dive immediately. But instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me, he passed me off to his assistant.

My ascent didn't go well. New to the trade, the other dive master didn't understand that I periodically had to remove my regulator to spit out what I was coughing up. So he would try to shove the regulator back into my mouth. Soon I was both fighting with the dive master and refusing to stop at the safety stops. I knew I was ascending too fast, but hacking and coughing much worse than before, I needed to get to the surface immediately.

When we got to the surface, the dive master did what he was taught — which was to inflate my buoyancy control device (BCD). Unfortunately, in my condition the pressure of the BCD made it impossible for me to breathe, so I grabbed my inflater from him and deflated the BCD. He then grabbed the inflater out of my hand, but before he could get the BCD re-inflated, I'd slipped out of it. It took some time for me to explain to him that I didn't think I was having a heart attack, I just couldn't get enough oxygen.

The next challenge was to get me into the dive boat, which was bouncing around uncontrollably in the chop. Then I began to experience a very sharp pain in my left hip joint. Although we hadn't been at depth long enough to require a decompression stop, I may have developed a nitrogen embolism in the hip. The dive master, the boat captain, and Lisa had to drag me into the boat without much help from me.

So there I was in the boat, with a terrible pain in my hip, and still unable to stabilize my breathing. They started administering oxygen, but it didn't provide immediate relief. I really didn't know what was happening to me, as I was breathing air but still not getting enough oxygen, and therefore my neurosystems told me I needed more air. Meanwhile, I continued to cough and hack up.

Lisa convinced the boat captain to leave the dive master and his customer in the water in order to rush me back to the dive shop. It was a grueling 20-minute ride at 25 knots in 2-3 foot choppy seas. I lay on the sole of the boat ­— still unable to get enough oxygen, and screaming from the excruciating pain in my hip — and got beaten to a pulp. During the ride back to the dive shop, my skin apparently changed colors like a chameleon against a slate rock. I'm told it changed from a pinkish grey to a slate-white grey. It looked to Lisa as though I might not survive the ordeal, and I picked up on her anxiety.

We were met at the dive shop by the manager and a nurse, who threw me into the manager's car, and rushed me to the nearest clinic. The paramedic at the clinic didn't speak very much English, but we managed with the help of a fluent Frenchman. Once I was placed on a work bed, things started to settle down a little — although my hip was still very painful and the oxygen level in my blood was much too low. While this was going on, the paramedic was in constant contact with a doctor in Tahiti.

Pin prick blood tests were conducted, and my blood oxygen content was measured. The blood test indicated a possible diabetic interdiction. After a couple of hours on oxygen, I was breathing a little more easily, the pain in my hip started to subside, and my blood oxygen content was back up to around 97%. But when I was taken off oxygen, my blood oxygen level dropped too low again. I was put back on oxygen.

Four hours into my ordeal, I was told that if I couldn't get my blood oxygen level to above 97%, I would have to be flown to Tahiti for emergency treatment. Fortunately, I got it back up to acceptable levels — but it wasn't easy. I concentrated on taking in deep breaths, but it was hard because everything I did required a tremendous effort. I was exhausted!

Thankfully, after the additional 20 minutes of oxygen, the paramedic pronounced me healthy and good enough to leave the clinic. He instructed me to have my blood glucose level checked when I got to Papeete. The manager of the dive shop picked us up and took us back to the dive shop, where all our dive gear was left. When we got to the cat I was so tired that I crawled into bed and slept for three hours.

We returned to the dive shop later that afternoon to retrieve our equipment. I thanked the manager for all his help, but also informed him that I thought the thing that triggered the episode was his head dive master urging me on to the point where I was exhausted.

I have since come to understand that my symptoms are called Immersion Pulmonary Edema or (IPE). This is an abnormal leakage of fluid from the bloodstream into the alveoli, which are the microscopic air sacs in the lungs. It is most often the result of heart failure or other cardiac problems. Sometimes, however, pulmonary edema is observed in swimmers and divers when no underlying medical cause is apparent. IPE presents as a rapid onset of shortness of breath, a cough, and sometimes blood-tinged, frothy sputum. Because the fluid builds up in the air-containing spaces of the lungs and interrupts gas exchange, IPE resembles drowning. The important difference is that the obstructing fluid comes from within the body rather than from inhalation of surrounding water. (I share this information with the permission of author Brian Harper and Alert Diver, the magazine of Diver's Alert Network.)

It happens to some divers and competitive swimmers, more often in cold, but also in warm, water. The event is often triggered by a heavy exertion when submerged in water. The fact the body is submerged in water causes the blood in the extremities to be moved more into the heart and lungs. Under this pressure, the lungs emit a fluid that causes coughing or hacking and to some degree makes you feel as if you are drowning without ingesting any water. The fluid fills the air sacs and thus makes it difficult to transfer oxygen to the blood and causes the body to think it needs more air in the lungs. It most often resolves itself with the administration of oxygen. In all cases a doctor should be consulted and the person should be checked for any type of coronary defects or damage. It manifests a similar sensation as heart and lung failure. The fact that it happens to swimmers indicates it doesn’t require the body to be submerged very deep as in diving, but the negative effects at depth escalate the need for immediate attention. Those of you who are cruisers need to be aware that this could happen to you while snorkeling or free diving.

Although the French doctors and dive centers here in French Polynesia won’t certify me to dive again after the incident, the cardiologist I first saw told me I could keep diving, as long as I didn't go deeper than 35 feet for a couple of months.

We're now on our way to the Cooks and then Tonga.

— john 07/31/12

Patience — Westsail 32
Lee Perry
The Clipper Route
(Brookings, Oregon)

It was time to put up or shut up. I'd been contemplating bringing my Westsail 32 Patience north to California via the offshore or clipper route, which is basically sailing as far as you need to go on starboard tack in order to flop back on port and lay wherever you want on the Pacific Coast, from San Diego to Seattle. My goal was San Diego.

When discussing the idea of doing the offshore route with other sailors, I mostly received one of two kinds of blank stares. The first was from people who didn't know how hard it was; the second from people who knew how hard it was and thought that I was crazy.

Last summer I talked the idea over with Dave 'Westsail 32 Superman' King of Portland while in Brookings Harbor, Oregon. He rubbed his chin, and then with a glint in his eye said, "It could be done." Thanks to reading old issues of Windbag, the Westsail newsletter, I knew another sailor had done it in the '70s with a 32.

After careful study of my pilot charts for wind strengths, wind direction, and currents at different times of year, I picked November as the best month to make a run at it. This would put hurricanes at a minimum risk, yet provide the possibility of a winter southerly that would bless me with at least a few hours of following winds.

I'd kept Patience at Marina Seca in Guaymas, Sonora, for the summer, and returned to her in mid-October to get her ready for the trip north. Boatyards are full of sailing experts, people who not only know so much, but who are all too happy to share their knowledge at your expense. One expert came by to inquire about my plans.

"Doing the Baja Bash, are you? Take plenty of fuel."

"No," I explained, "I will be making an offshore passage under sail, not a motor bash up the coast."

Since the gentleman was knowledgeable about such things, he informed me that not only would I not make it, but that my boat couldn't make it. We Westsailors are used to skeptics who have never been aboard a Westsail, let alone sailed on one. So rather than bothering me, the man's comments made me more determined.

I have owned Patience for 19 years, and have made two trips to Hawaii and back, two trips to Mexico and back, and numerous trips up and down the Pacific Coast. So I felt I had a little better idea of what my boat was capable of than did the boatyard expert. But I quietly went ahead preparing my boat, knowing that it was going to be a difficult passage, and therefore everything on my boat needed to be right.

Patience went back into the water on November 10, and we rode a nice norther down to Espiritu Santo Island and later La Paz. While there, I enjoyed a very nice family-style dinner provided by Steve and LuLu Yoder of the Westsail 28 Siempre Sabado. The next morning I headed over to the fuel dock at Marina Costa Baja. It was decision time with respect to how much fuel I would take. Since I still had another 150 miles of fickle Sea of Cortez winds before getting to the Cape, I filled the main tank, which holds 38 gallons, and filled two 5-gallon jugs to get me to Cabo. As it turned out, I only needed the two small jugs of fuel to get to the Cape, so I just waved adios to the tourist resort as I made my way to Cabo Falso and the open Pacific.

Cabo Falso was my moment of truth, as it's where the BS stops and reality sets in. As I came out from behind the point, a 25-knot northwesterly laid us over on the beam. I rolled up the jib, put a reef in the main, and sheeted in the staysail. Thanks to reduced sail, Patience stood upright and took off. I set the self-steering wind vane at 60 degrees to the wind, which would be my course until I could flop back on to port to lay San Diego. I fully expected to lose some miles to the south before I could make any progress to the north. As it turned out, I only lost about 18 miles.

The second day found me in the middle of a 'freighter freeway'. Four of the behemoths passed close by between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. Swallowing my pride, I started the engine and burned a few gallons to scurry across the shipping lane.

A small transistor radio provided me with offshore weather reports from the late Don Anderson and from High Seas weather. I soon got a report that hurricane Kenneth, with winds to 150 knots, was 500 miles from me but headed in my general direction. A hurricane in November?! 150 knots?! Holy crap! It was all the incentive I needed to get into cooler waters as quickly as possible.

My course had been just north of true west, and I would hold that as long as it took to gain some latitude. The difference in longitude between Cabo and San Diego is significant, so I wanted to go west until the wind veered a little.

For the next week Patience stayed hard on the wind, with the little staysail pulling like a locomotive. Indeed, my staysail would remain up the entire trip, as I would adjust the main and jib to keep Patience balanced.

My boat and I continuously battled into the elements, gaining a little here and there. One day we made 118 miles to windward. When sailing downwind, you can easily do 140-150 mile days with a Westsail 32. But when beating, anything over 100 miles is pretty darn good.

After 10 days at sea, there was a forecast of a strong gale hitting Southern California. Great. The last thing I needed was a gale from the north. At that point I was 180 miles southwest of Guadaloupe Island, which was my spot for making my one and only tack back on to port.

We were hit by the gale a few hours after tacking. We went down to a double-reefed main and staysail, and slogged into it. We always headed north, refusing to give up any hard-won northerly miles.

The seas built up after two days of strong winds, so Patience had to climb the faces of waves, after which she would slam down on the other side. At one point she failed to make the crest before the sea broke, and she was slapped off the wave like a surfer might be. She dropped into the trough with a shudder. It was at that point that a Westsail owner such as myself most appreciates the fact that the hull of his boat is solid one-inch-thick fiberglass beneath the waterline.

After two days of gale-force winds — during which time parts of Southern California were hit by winds to 90 mph — the wind went light, then died completely. As I was only 12 motoring hours away from San Diego, I fired up the engine.

We sailed a total of 1,208 miles to cover a straight line distance of about 750 miles. We did it in 12 days and six hours, which means we averaged about 100 miles a day. We burned 12 gallons of diesel. When I say 'we', I refer to my boat and me, as I was singlehanding.

It's my belief that if we sailboat owners are going to 'talk the talk', we should also 'walk the walk' by taking our boats to as many places as possible — under sail. As such, I would encourage anyone with a sound and properly rigged boat to sweep the fuel jugs off the decks, hoist the sails, and bugger off out there.

Would I do the 1,000 miles to windward again. Absolutely. But only in my Westsail.

— Lee 06/30/12

Summer In Southern California
After All These Years

It may have taken until the 4th of July, but folks in Southern California report that this has been the best summer weather in at least the last four years. We spent July through mid-August between San Diego, Santa Barbara and Catalina, and hardly saw any traces of fog. In the previous four years, we'd hardly seen the sun and it had been coooooold.

As for the 81-mile Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race, which everybody ought to do at least five times in their life, conditions couldn't have been more ideal. Lots of sunshine, lots of surfing, and most boats finishing earlier than they ever had before. Heck, even the all-girl band at the Santa Barbara YC the night before was killer.

The Southern California water temperature has been nicer this year, too, with lots of folks reporting swimming in 70° to 75° temps at Catalina. While that's absolutely freezing by tropical cruising standards, it's the best it's been in Southern California in some time.

Kurt Roll of the San Diego-based Catalina 32 Pura Vida loves diving in the warm, clear waters of Fiji, having spent a lot of time there crewing aboard Dietmar Petutschnig and Suzanne DeBose's Las Vegas-based Lagoon 440 cat Carinthia. But Kurt's South Pacific tropical cyclone season alternative to Fiji is Catalina. True, the water is cooler and not as clear as vodka, but hey, this summer it's been good. In fact, Kurt used the fine diving conditions to 'stand' on the bottom of his Catalina 32. Having done that, he dove at the fish reserve just off the casino, where a couple of grouper swam past. "One had to be six feet long, the other four to five feet long," he reported. Long may they live. And long may summers return to Southern California.

— latitude/rs 08/15/12

Sockdolager — Dana 24
Karen Sullivan and Jim Heumann
Megayacht Surprise
(Port Townsend, WA)

Just when we thought our brief stay at Cook’s Bay in Moorea — 7,000 miles and not quite a year after leaving Port Townsend in our unusually small cruising boat — couldn’t get any better, it did. One evening we went to dinner at a waterfront restaurant where a Scottish singer/sailor and autoharp/harmonica player named Ron was getting ready to entertain with oldies and folk tunes. Arlene, a smiling woman at the front desk, handed us menus and said we'd really enjoy the food and music — which made us assume she worked there. We liked Arlene and Ron right away, and soon discovered that she didn't work at the restaurant, but was rather from the 171-ft ketch Tamsen anchored in the bay. It also quickly became obvious that she and Ron were madly in love. Ah-ha, the plot thickens!

The magic was in the air for everyone that night. Ron and Arlene joined us at our table for a few minutes of delightful talk, and the next thing we knew, I, Karen, was on stage with Ron belting out Summertime. Sometimes a song just slides out of you, almost singing itself. The audience — including about 40 of the 60 people aboard Tamsen — loved it, so I got up several more times to sing and harmonize with Ron. When I returned to our table, I learned that Bob Firestone, the owner of Tamsen, had invited us aboard the big yacht for a visit the next day.

If you’ve been following our previous posts, you know that we’ve been rather critical of the some of the megayachts we've encountered along the way. Most of the people on them have been snooty, and some behaved badly. This story will prove that every assumption has an exception — and what an exception!

The next day we got into our tiny dinghy and motored up to the massive Tamsen, which has a freeboard of about 10 feet. We figured we’d need to explain to the crew that “Bob” had invited us aboard, and then we'd have to wait like three gnats at the waterline until it had been fact-checked. Well, we were in for a surprise. There weren’t any crew in sight on Tamsen, just family and friends. And Bob, his son Steve, and half a dozen other family members were waiting for us and waving!

We’d seen 200-foot motoryachts that had 17 crew waiting hand and foot on just a couple of people, but we'd never heard of a yacht this size being run almost entirely by a happy, noisy horde of 60 extended family members and friends — including mobs of kids.

The first thing that astonished us was not the magnificence of the yacht, but the warmth and genuine pleasure every person aboard Tamsen expressed at our visit. We were made to feel as welcome as family members. Bob and Steve, along with several other family members, gave us a tour of the yacht, which was great fun. The yacht was so jaw-droppingly astonishing that I nearly needed a head-sling.

Bob told us the story of how, back in the ‘70s, he got a dozen families to partner up and buy Vltava, a 74-foot wooden staysail schooner, and let their 11 teenaged children sail her around the world. By themselves! It was Bob’s idea for forging stronger bonds of trust and confidence, in kids who otherwise might have taken a different track in life. He says it was successful beyond all expectation. Even though his son Steve was just 16 at the time, and not the oldest on Vltava, he was elected captain. Thanks to that experience, and having supervised the construction of Tamsen in Italy — he knows every inch of the boat — he's the captain of Tamsen, too.

The kids made a documentary of their 17-month circumnavigation called Voyage to Understanding. Many of the family hadn't seen it in a while, so about a dozen of them gathered with us to watch it on the yacht's big screen. Those kids — and now their extended families — have remained close friends. In fact, many of them were aboard that day.

To give you an idea of how such a boisterous crowd is organized to run a yacht that is about as complicated as a small city, Steve posts a daily Deck Watch List. There are five watches of 10-12 people each, with duties covering everything from a 24-hour anchor watch to cooking, cleaning, manning the swim platform, and running the tenders. Despite being a very responsible group, but Tamsen gang are fun-loving, too.

“We’re not what you’d call a sedate yacht," Bob confessed to me. "When we pull into harbor, the folks on other mega-yachts groan, 'Oh no, not them again!'”

Things are different, of course, on major ocean passages. Instead of 60 people, there are just a few sailing-savvy friends and family aboard, along with the half-dozen permanent paid crew, several of whom have been lifelong employees.

Although Tamsen is a big yacht, she doesn't have enough cabins to give privacy to every married couple in the group of 60, so they set aside a nice dark room nicknamed the 'Consummation Cabin'. It’s near the laundry room, and the adults book time in it. Seriously. There was much hilarity when one of the women opened the door to show me the cabin ­— and a young couple inside had to dive for cover.

“Good grief!” I said, "isn't there a lock on the door?"

Everything on Tamsen is massive, from the tender wells in the foredeck that could probably accommodate our 24-footer, to the galley where meals could be prepared for 60, to the 1,000-pound mainsail, to the diameter of the genoa sheets, to the size of the engine and engine room. We had to take a photo of the latter for Lyn and Larry Pardey, famous advocates of not having an engine on a cruising boat. Proving once again that it's a small world, Steve told us that he had towed the Pardeys up the Suez Canal with Vltava.

Our visit to Tamsen wasn't our only unusual adventure in French Polynesia. Crossing an active airport runway is always exciting, and it's even more exciting when you're crossing the approach on a slow-moving sailboat. The short runway at Faa Airport ends abruptly at the edge of a narrow boat channel. Here’s how you cross it:

“Papeete Port Authority, this is the sailing vessel Sockdolager, requesting permission to cross the runway.” (Good God, did I just ask to cross an international airport runway in a sailboat?)

“Sock . . . Sock . . . vhat is your boat’s name, please?” (Asked in a heavy French accent.)

“This is Sockdolager (I gave it a French spin, saying something that sounds like “Suckdolo-GHEARH.” It works.)

“Ah, Suckdolo-GHEARH, yes. You may cross now, zhere are no planes landing for zhe next few meenoots. Please call me back vhen you have crossed zhe runway.”

“Roger, sir, we will call you when we have crossed.” If we don’t get sucked into a 747 engine, that is.

Then there were the Tahitian roulottes, which everyone must try if they ever get the chance. Although they are nicknamed 'roach coaches' or 'maggot wagons', about a dozen of these large, self-contained food vans roll into a Papeete waterfront park each evening. But they are clean, and the smells coming out of them make your mouth water. You can find Chinese cuisine six ways to Sunday, plus crepes wagons, pizza-mobiles, and one van that offers a whole roasted mammal — either goat or veal — spread-eagled on a rack. You walk up to the carcass, order your cut, and they whack off a Neanderthal-sized chunk onto your plate. Whew! I passed on that one, culinary wuss that I am. But we loved the “Hong Kong” roulotte’s excellent Chinese food, and nearly died of ecstasy sharing a Nutella crepe at another roulotte. Nutella crepes — it what's for dessert for us from now on.

French Polynesia was mighty good to us, and we'll always want to come back. But now we're at sea on our way from Bora Bora to the Cook Islands, and the trades are booming!

— karen 06/18/12

Tortue — S&S 44
Mike and Melissa Wilson
Lovin' Puerto Escondido

We're happy to report that the port and starboard entry lights for Puerto Escondido are working again for the first time in three years, providing navigation assistance to anyone going around in the fog — LOL — trying to gain access to the safe harbor. How long the lights will continue to work is a good question. Despite that uncertainty, there is still a group of very happy people here in Puerto Escondido and at the Hidden Port YC. The latter continues to host cruiser breakfasts, brunches, and howling-at-the-moon parties.

Connie 'Sunlover' keeps the DVD library stocked with more titles than you can imagine. Ray Wyatt of Adios does a sterling job of keeping locals and visitors apprised of the weather outlook, much of which he gets from Geary Ritchie who does the big forecast from El Burro Cove in Conception Bay. (If anyone is worried about the threat of chubascos in the Sea, they tune in to Geary every morning on the Sonrisa net (3968 LSB at 07.45 MST).

We have two local vendors who supply us with just about all we need. Pedro Lopez, who sells everything from toothpicks to 8D batteries, has expanded his operation, which is located right in the marina. If he doesn't have what you need, he'll get it for you. When it comes to food, Fernando and Lorena of Tripui Modelrama, which is just up the street, have all you need from beer to sushi fixings. They'll even give you a ride back to your boat with your purchases. Elvin at PEMS (Puerto Escondido Marine Services) seems to work too hard at making people happy, and there are fair prices on haulouts. Diesel and gas are available at the new fuel dock.

The only palapa on the bay is The Clam Shack, just north of Juancalito. Just anchor a quarter of a mile offshore, take your dinghy in for a calm surf landing, and treat yourself to a dozen raw chocolate clams and a few ice-cold Coronas. If you prefer stuffed or baked clams, or a full fish dinner, they've got that, too.

The big city around here, of course, is Loreto, about 20 miles to the north. Thanks to the influx of younger Mexicans, the quantity and quality of restaurants has been improving. Combine all this with great scenery and fishing, and life is just fine down here in the Puerto Escondido area!

— mike 08/15/12

Cruise Notes:

We're not sure if it's in celebration of next year's 99th anniversary of the SS Ancon — with a load of cement — becoming the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal, but the Panama Canal Commission has decided to raise the transit fees on small boats starting on October 1. If your boat is less than 50 feet, the increase will be from $500 to $800. For boats 51 to 80 feet, the fee will go up from $750 to $1,350. If your boat is over 80 feet, you're no doubt the kind of person who doesn't need to ask how much it costs. While it's true that the increases are significant on a percentage basis, it's also true they are the first increase in 14 years. And no matter what the cost, we think you'll agree that taking your boat through the Canal is an experience well worth the price.

In other news from Panama, in late July members of their Naval Air Service confiscated 46 kilos — about 100 pounds — of cocaine from a European-flagged sailboat in the Palmilla River near Colon.

There's some good news and some bad news on the narco front in Mexico. The good is that for the first six months of this year, narco homicides were down nearly 13% from the year before. That's a start. The bad news is that local, state and tourist police, as well as the federales, reportedly got into three shootouts one day in August with members of some narco gang in and around Bucerias, which is an older mid-level tourist destination between Puerto Vallarta and La Cruz. While no tourists were hurt — and narcos have never targeted tourists — the establishment of a narco presence in the Vallarta area would be terrible for Mexico's critical tourism industry.

Last month Mexicans elected Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party to be their president for a single six-year term that starts in December. Curiously, nobody, not even his closest friends, claims to know exactly what the president-elect stands for. We were most impressed, however, when during his victory speech Peña Nieto announced that he would not only cease the war on drug cartels, but he would assign exclusive territories to each of the major groups. He would then provide them with armed escorts to the border, to make sure they could deliver all the drugs we Americans so desperately need — without thousands of Mexicans having to get killed in the process. "No more Mexicans should die just so Americans can get high," he said.

All right, he didn't say anything of the sort. We just think that's what he should have said. Maybe we're dreaming, but we have hopes that the narco violence will tumble in Mexico. After all, it's plummeted in Los Angeles and most of the United States, and it's fallen drastically in Colombia, too. So there is some reason for optimism.

"My wife Charlotte and I love the people of the Sea of Cortez and cruising in the Sea of Cortez," writes Steve Baker of the Santa Rosa-based Catalina 27 Willful Simplicity. "And that's even though we have one of the smallest cruising boats of all full-time cruisers in the area. San Evaristo, the popular anchorage 55 miles north of La Paz, has been our home base for the last couple of years, but we do a lot of cruising out of there to recharge our personal batteries. It's been very interesting for us to become totally immersed in the fishing village, as the people have been very friendly and have wholeheartedly accepted us. We have tried to reciprocate. For example, Charlotte teaches English to the kids and adults who want to learn — and lots do. And she and other cruisers have taught additional classes. Mexicans, even in the more rural areas, are really starting to realize the importance of an education. And last week I built the first phase of a house, using donated materials, for a woman and her four children. When we get back to Evaristo — who the hell would build a house in the heat of July? — we're going to add on palapas."

Readers may remember that Steve and Charlotte got into cruising as a result of drinking wine in the hot tub behind their Santa Rosa home, and coming to the realization that they were working hard and paying a lot of money for a lifestyle they didn't find particularly rewarding. They have since learned that it's the not things, but giving and great experiences, that are the most rewarding things in life.

September and October are the big months for tropical storms and hurricanes in Mexico, while October and November are the big months in the Atlantic/Caribbean. So if you have a boat in either of those areas, please make sure she is prepared for the possibility of a big storm. So far the hurricane season has been pretty mellow in both areas, but now is not the time to become complacent. After all, we're getting overdue. Melaque on Mexico's Pacific Coast took a pasting two years ago, but otherwise small boat interests in Mexico have pretty much been untouched for some time. The Caribbean has had a couple of minor hits and several near misses, but nothing major in several years. As for the United States, this is the longest time in recorded hurricane history that the continental United States hasn't been hit by a major hurricane.

"I'm prompted to write by the liferaft piece that appeared in the May issue of Latitude," reports Robert Rowland of Reston, Virginia, who circumnavigated in the early '90s with the Bodega 30 Kiana. "I've berthed Kiana in Key West since I completed my circumnavigation in June of '94. And she still had the liferaft I'd gone around with, a Zodiac MPUS-6. Knowing the liferaft was too old to rely on or give away, I took it over to the Key West Sailing Club, where they were having a class for young sailors. The class and I put the liferaft in the pool and pulled the cord. Despite having been manufactured 29 years before, and been last certified in Darwin, Australia, 20 years ago, the Zodiac inflated just as it was supposed to! And it stayed inflated until the following day, when it was thrown in a dumpster. By the way, I'm in no way encouraging people to rely on ancient liferafts, particularly ones that haven't been re-certified in many years. Did I mention that Kiana is for sale — she does need a liferaft — and that I can be reached at "?

The other day we stopped by both Whole Paycheck Markets in Mill Valley, where we noticed they were having a three-day special on "wild, previously frozen, Magdalena Bay, diver-caught scallops". That's a mouthful, and we're not just talking about the shellfish. But we passed, as it's not too long until the start of the Ha-Ha, when we'll be able to get "never been frozen" Mag Bay scallops. At a much lower price, too. Yum.

"It looks as though this will not be the year for us to make it to French Polynesia," report Marc and Lorraine Cohen of the Olympia-WA-based Union 36 Gant Man. "Both boat and health problems forced us to put the boat on the hard at Kona on the Big Island. But I'd like other cruisers to know that Hilo, which never had a reputation for being particularly user-friendly, has become even less so. When you get to Radio Bay, you need to Med-tie, then climb a ladder to the top of the quay. And in order to get to town, you then have to call the security people at the main gate of the port, who have to walk about an eighth of a mile over to the gate, unlock it, then escort you to the main gate. Upon your return, you need to show your ID, after which the whole process is reversed. Until very recently, cruisers had the option of taking their dinghy over to the local paddling club, leaving it on the beach, and walking to the main road. But the construction of a fence and gate mean you can now do that only during daylight hours. The only good thing about all this is that the security folks are great people who have been happy to try to help make our stay as tolerable as possible."

In this month's Letters, there is a letter from Jim and Ann Cate, who sailed to Australia about 20 years ago aboard their Standfast 36 Insatiable, and who have never returned. While in Oz, they moved up to a Sayer 46, Insatiable II. We asked them about their history and what keeps them in Oz.

"We first left the Bay Area in October of '86, spent six months in Mexico, then got as far as French Polynesia before the money ran out. Bugger! So we sailed back home, lived aboard in Marina Village, got married, and worked until early '89. I then sort of retired from the Lawrence Lab, and Ann retired from her job as a substance abuse counselor in the Richmond ghetto. We took off for a second time in March of '89 — 23 years ago — and have been caught in the South Pacific Eddy ever since. It's kinda hard for us to pin down the attraction of Oz, but two things come to mind. First, we've always felt at home here, and second, there is good access to some very nice island nations — such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji. Furthermore, going to Tasmania is a superb way to escape the tropical cyclone season.

"Eight years ago we managed to get 'retiree visas', which are no longer available," the couple continue. "These gave us temporary resident status, allowing us to come and go as we pleased. This saves us from an enormous lot of red tape, and means we don't have to worry about scheduling departures for governmental reasons. New Zealand, a place we also liked very much, does not have a comparable visa, and is not interested in having folks as old as us coming to live as residents. The cost of living in Australia has escalated greatly in recent years. The very strong Aussie dollar, coupled with some inflation — which the government denies — has roughly doubled our out-of-pocket expenses. But by nature we are happy living pretty frugally, so we can still afford our time here. Yes, we do go in the Aussie waters, but only at some places and only some of the time. The 'jellies' seem to arrive pretty soon after the water temps get to where we old farts can enjoy swimming, and that is a problem. The use of a 'stinger suit' is usually enough to deal with that hazard, and has the second benefit of disguising our no longer perfect physiques."

"We'll be doing our third Ha-Ha in the last four years," report Bill and Patty Meanley of the San Diego-based Pacific Seacraft 37 Dolfin, "but this time we get to stay for the season. Yahoo! But we do need to fly home for about three weeks during Christmas and New Year's, and hope to leave Dolfin in a safe marina in the Puerto Vallarta area. Since Latitude knows the area so well, could you give us your thoughts on the marina choices? We're leaning to toward Riviera Marina in La Cruz or Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta, but could use some local knowledge. Also, do we need to make reservations, and how far in advance?"

You're leaning in the right direction, for unless you need to be in the bustling airport-downtown area, Marina Vallarta's lack of maintenance and stagnant air are two big negatives, and the Nuevo Vallarta Marina is still a work in progress, although a possibility. We have spent a lot of time in both Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta and the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz. Both are terrific and safe, and have similar pricing, yet are as different as night and day. Paradise Marina is in the middle of a big, busy — but very clean and very well run — family resort, with multiple pools and countless activities, as well as a shopping center, a Starbucks, a brand new hospital and other services right there. It's also home of the Vallarta YC. The Marina Riviera Nayarit is located in the authentic Mexican village of La Cruz, where there are many more inexpensive restaurant and nightlife options, which is why it's popular with so many seasonal anchor-outs. While Riviera Nayarit is about 20 minutes farther from the airport and downtown than Paradise Marina, the buses are cheap and leave every 10 minutes or so. With 400 slips, the Marina Riviera Nayarit is almost twice as big as Paradise, so they'll be able to accommodate you. Paradise harbormaster Dick Markie will be at both the Ha-Ha Crew Party at the Berkeley YC in September and the Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party in San Diego on October 27, so you can discuss the need for reservations with him. Both marinas are outstanding, have unique added attractions, and offer great access to beautiful Banderas Bay. You just have to decide which suits your needs the best.

The good news for anyone trying to decide between the two marinas is that various groups in the state of Nayarit are combining to throw a Welcome To Nayarit Riviera Sailor's Splash on December 11. Details are still being worked on, but we understand that participants will visit both Paradise and Riviera Nayarit Marinas and be taken from one to the other on Profligate, Humu-Humu, and other big catamarans, and that lots of restaurants and other businesses will be participating. This takes place a day before the start of the Banderas Bay Blast, a Ha-Ha-style, 'nothing-serious' three-race series that sees the fleet visit La Cruz, Punta Mita, and Nuevo Vallarta, as well as join in on the annual reopening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club. Cruiser 'racing' doesn't get any more fun than this, as everyone is friends and the flat water sailing conditions are nearly always ultra mellow. We hope to see you there!

"Based on seven years of intensive cruising to more than 40 countries, the thing I would like to pass along to potential cruisers is that my kind of adventure doesn't have to cost a lot of money," writes Jack van Ommen of the Gig Harbor, WA-based Naja 29 Fleetwood — who contributed the first Changes this month. "I sold my truck and trailer after I hauled Fleetwood down to Alameda from Gig Harbor in April of '05. After provisioning my boat for what would be my 28-day non-stop passage to the Marquesas, I only had $150 left to my name. From then on I've had to survive entirely on my $1,750/month Social Security check, as my only possessions were/are my boat and my folding bike. Yet I have lived well visiting First and Third World countries, and I've usually managed to sock away $1,000 a month of my social security check. I'm not the only one who has been able to adventure on a very small budget, as I met a Polish couple doing it on $500 a month. What keeps me cruising at age 75? Curiosity as to what I'll find in the next anchorage or country. The curiosity manages to still the voice of fear that is still there when I set out for another unknown. For those who might be interested in what I'm doing, I keep a blog at"

"Hey now from southern Costa Rica!," writes Stephen Ries of the Banderas Bay-based Triton Mintaka. Readers may recall his Changes from last month, in which he described having part of the jaw of a needlefish fly in through the front of his thigh and out the back — while he was standing in the cockpit of his boat. "My left leg isn't 100% yet, but it was good enough for me to surf the famous Pavones break, which is less than 10 miles from the border with Panama. I spent two days at Pavones, which is a goofy-footer's paradise, and got some good waves. Unfortunately, a swell came up after two days, and there were frequent squalls that brought strong winds from the south. Believing the prudent thing was to get out of there, I sailed across to the protected anchorage at Puerto Jimenez - San Domingo, where I not only got a decent Wi-Fi signal but was also finally able to sleep well through the night. It had been awhile. It's been getting wetter and more squally by the day, and the sailing conditions haven't been too good, so it's no wonder I haven't seen any other cruisers. It's also one of the reasons that I've decided not to continue south to Panama. Another is that it's always wonderful on the Mexican mainland starting in November when the hurricane season is over. So I'm starting to head back north."

Good news, there is still one left! The word on the docks in Santa Barbara is that one of the big guys behind all of the CSI television shows bought the end-tie where David Crosby kept his 67-ft schooner Mayan for so many years. The television guy reportedly paid in the range of one million bucks for the berth, although we're not sure if it was Crosby who owned the right to it. If you lost out on that berth, '11 Ha-Ha vet Stephen Millard of the Santa Barbara-based Catalina 42 Moonshyne tells us he's got another end-tie in Santa Barbara listed for about the same price. Mayan is now berthed in Ventura, but Crosby still brings her up to Santa Barbara from time to time. But who knows how long that might last, as he's reportedly dropped the price on his schooner from a million to $750,000.

Last month we reported that more yachts than ever were attempting to complete the Northwest Passage, as climate change has made it easier than before. But traversing waters subject to ice is hardly without risks, as was proven a few months ago by the fate of the 76-ft Brazilian motoryacht Mar Sem Fin at the other polar region. The vessel, crewed by four Brazilians, is said to have been the victim of a combination of Antarctic sheet ice and winds of 60 knots. Fortunately, she went under at Maxwell Bay, almost directly in front of the Chilean Antarctic base, and her four crew were rescued without incident. We know that others disagree, but we continue to believe the only ice sailors should have to deal with is in their sundowner glasses.

As we go to press, there is sad news out of Zihuatanejo. Mike and Shannon Scott's Florida-based Formosa 51 ketch Halcyon, which they had bought in La Paz 18 months ago, ended up on a reef in August after there was some kind of failure with the mooring. Halcyon has been pulled off, but suffered extensive damage. Knowing it was risky, the couple had left the boat on a mooring — and with somebody watching her — for the hurricane season while they returned to the States to rebuild the cruising kitty.

Missing the pictures? See the September 2012 eBook!


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