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September 2015

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With reports this month from Eleutheria on the captain getting whacked in the head by a whale; from GravlaX on the 8,000-mile trip to Québec from Berkeley; from Hana Hou on engine and windvane repairs on the way home from Hawaii; from Zwerver on renewing a 25-year old friendship from Mexico in the heart of France; from Journey on cruising French Polynesia with a newborn;
and Cruise Notes.

Eleutheria — Tartan 37
Lewis Allen and Alyssa Alexopolous
The Whale's Tail to the Head
(Redwood City)

"I was almost knocked unconscious by the tail of an enormous humpback whale while swimming with a pod in Tonga yesterday," reports Lewis. He and sweetheart Alyssa sailed to Mexico in October 2013, did the 2014 Puddle Jump, sailed up to Hawaii for a break, then sailed back to the South Pacific a few months ago.

"It was quite the adventure sailing back down here from Hawaii," says Lewis, "as we had lots of breakages that required expensive repairs. Kiribati was quite the experience, Penrhyn was a great stop, and the diving at Suwarrow was incredible." But none compared with the whale experience.

"Although we may have to sell some of our body organs once we reach Australia to pay for food," Lewis continues, "we decided that we should not miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with wild humpback whales in Tonga. Vava’u is the only place we know where people are allowed to do this, so we went for it."

The couple left Neiafu with Captain Shioni on his 26-ft aluminum dive boat, and played a game of cat and mouse finding the whales. Most humpbacks dive deep and only surface once every 15 minutes or so. This means there isn't much opportunity to swim with them.

"After a few hours, we were tipped off to a pod of about 10 whales off the SW side of Hunga Island. When we got there, the whales were slapping tails and fins, and once in a while one would breach. It was exciting.

"The skipper maneuvered near the whales and then told us to jump in. Our hearts were racing as we swam as fast as we could to get close to the whales. We were less than 10 feet from a whale that was surfacing, and there were three more directly below us. The enormity of the whales and the volume of their calls, mixed with the bubbles they released, was amazing. We shot some great video and tried in vain to keep up with them. They were soon gone, and we returned to the boat.

"A while later," Lewis continues, "there were a few whales in relatively shallow water, an excellent opportunity to swim with them since they couldn't dive deep. Shioni got us close to the path of the whales, and Alyssa and I jumped in and swam like hell to get close to them. As we got close, the whales turned over on their backs, did some fin slaps, and put on a show for us. They then swam toward the open ocean and everyone followed — but me. I saw another whale coming my way and stayed put to wait for him.

"Adrenaline was pumping through my body as he slowly made his way towards me. I was less than an arm’s length from his enormous eyeball as he swam past me with what seemed to be a quizzical expression on his face. As he was mostly past me, I turned away to get a GoPro shot of me with this amazing creature in the background. As I was fumbling with the camera, the whale turned to dive, whipping his tail sideways, and then slapping it down on the side of my head!

It was a hard blow that knocked the snorkel off my mask, pushed me underwater, and stunned me. The next thing I remember was processing what had just happened and hearing the others screaming, "Are you OK?" Fortunately, I was.

We returned to the boat and later swam with the whales a few more times. During lunch in a beautiful protected cove later on, we reviewed the great experience, and being able to be thankful that we survived it.

— lewis 08/15/2015

GravlaX — X-402
Gaël Simon
48°N to 48°N In 150 Days
(Québec, Canada)

We got home to Québec from Berkeley in mid-July after cruising through nine countries with 40 crew members. It's great to be home, although I'll dearly miss the Bay Area and west coast of Mexico. While we moved too quickly to smell the flowers, I was happy with the timing, as by leaving Berkeley in January I was able to get back to work near Québec while the Canadian sailing season was in full swing.

One of the more unususal aspects of our trip is not just that we had 40 different crew in 150 days, but that we'd never met half of them before they stepped aboard. Among the crew were my sail-loving mother and sister, old friends from Québec, racing crew from the Bay Area, strangers picked up from various docks, and a few from the Latitude 38 Crew List. Some crew stayed as little as 10 days, some stayed as long as 10 weeks. All were hardworking and resourceful, so after 8,000 nautical miles GravlaX is in better shape than when she left in late January.

Some even more unusual aspects of our trip: 1) We didn't have a dinghy or SUP to get to shore. 2) We used less than 100 gallons of fuel. 3) We didn't drink a drop of bottled water. (We did drink some alcohol, but not while underway.) Despite these deprivations, everyone had a blast, and nobody got hurt too badly.

The thing that grossed out most of our crewmembers was all the floating plastic we saw. Single-use, non-biodegradable food packaging, as well as cups and utensils, were everywhere from the Channel Islands to Panama, and from the San Blas Islands to the St. Lawrence Seaway. I think plastic, which is toxic and nearly eternal, should be made illegal.

We finished a lot of passage preparation work in San Diego, which in my opinion is the best place to work on a composite boat on the West Coast. We then had the roughest of our three sails down the coast of Baja. The weather was weird, as we had southerlies with frequent squalls for days on end. The conditions tested the boat and the crew big time. Then at La Cruz we fixed what had been not quite ready for the trip, getting help from the experts in the cruising community.

As usual, we had amazing times in Mexico before the gulfs of Tehuantepec and Papagayo shook the cobwebs off the storm sails and sent us flying on a ride much more fun than we had expected. From just a few miles offshore Nicaragua we saw a volcano erupt at night. None of the crew will ever forget that sight.

The Panama Canal transit went smoothly despite our not using an agent or hiring any linehandlers. The entire Canal operation is so well run that I can't think of any institution in the United States or Canada — let alone Mexico or Central America — that has their act as much together as does the Canal. They have an English-speaking staff that is welcoming and professional. And when you pay for your transit, you get a lot for your money.

The Canal is actually a pretty simple operation. Your boat is like an ant in an elevator at each of three locks on each side of the Canal, with a 42-mile wide lake connecting the two. As one person said, "Don't get crushed by the big guys and it'll be the easiest shortcut you've ever taken."

With just 24 hours' notice, we were able to summon friends from San Francisco and Banderas Bay, who are now living in Panama, to jump aboard for the inspection and transit. It took less than a week from the day we reached Panama City on the Pacific side to the day we came out of the Canal at Colon on the Caribbean side. We could have made it through faster had we expressed any urgency.

Colon was not quite my kind of place, but things just kept getting better as we sailed east. We finally had our cruising climax in the San Blas Islands. That archipelago was definitely the highlight of our trip. Was it because it was the only place where we weren't 'pedal to the metal'? Or because the very challenging navigational hazards all around forced us to step up our game? Or because the Kuna Indians made it seem not only possible, but sensible, to work just three hours a day, use coconuts for currency, and grin for 100 years? I don't know. What I do know is that I shall return to the San Blas under sail.

The beat north to Jamaica was, as could have been predicted, awful. Fast, but awful. We recuperated at the Royal Jamaica YC, which helped us ease into the unique Jamaican mindset. After we'd rounded the 'windward mark' of the trip, our stay in Port Antonio was just what we needed before setting sail through the Windward Passage to Florida. The fishing along the steep and warm edges of the Old Bahamas Channel was phenomenal. Despite releasing all the huge barracuda and many unknown species, we ran out of freezer — and stomach — space after just a few watches.

In Fort Lauderdale, the best place I know to work on a composite boat on the East Coast, we fixed and pimped a few more systems before heading north. We 'hid' inside the ICW for a few hundred miles because the weather window was dirty at Cape Hatteras, and visited a bunch of sailing-related museums and historical sites along the way. The Mariner's Museum in Virginia is, by far, the best such museum I've visited in the world. After so much hype from all the sailing friends, Mystic Seaport would prove to be a bit of a disappointment.

We had 100% cold, rainy, foggy weather in New England and Nova Scotia, which made us wonder why we'd ever left the San Blas. But after sailing home to the St. Lawrence Gulf and meeting up with good friends in the Magdalen Islands, Québec's remote sailing paradise, we were happy. We've since been enjoying the warm summer at this shallow, sandy archipelago. I was so happy I ended up looking for a piece of land!

If I had to make the Berkeley-to-Québec trip again, the only thing I would do differently is take five years instead of five months. And I'd take even more crew with even more different backgrounds, age groups and cultures. Or maybe I'd take a smaller boat with a greater sail area-to-displacement ratio so I could plane/surf more and motor even less.

I'm now back at work at the sailing school here in the Saguenay Fjord, pretending I'm here to stay and keeping my next cruising projects to myself so my family and friends think I'm finally growing up and becoming responsible.

I keep looking around for a 'Quebecley YC', a 'Blueberry Sails' loft, an 'Atlantic Offshore Rigging' or an 'Upwind Marine/St. Lawrence Marine Exchange' to help me fix everything I break and teach me the ways of the sailing world. But nothing on this side of our continent seems to match the people and businesses that made my stay in California so great, and the trip back home not only possible, but so much fun.

I wish I could send all my friends in Northern California all the rain we get when a cold front slides down the fjord. You'd have enough water to fill all your reservoirs.

— gaël 08/15/2015

Hana Hou — Norseman 447
George Deane and JoAnne Clarke
Dealing With Open Ocean Issues

Even though we’ve been having good wind out here, on July 12 about 1,800 miles from San Francisco on our way home from New Zealand via Hawaii, we still need to run the engine every day to keep the refrigeration going. If it weren’t for the refrigeration, the wind generator and solar panels could provide all the power the boat needed.

During our cruise across the South Pacific, we periodically had a problem with water backing up through the exhaust into the cylinders of the diesel engine. Not only was that not good for the engine, it also prevented the electric starter from being able to turn the engine over, leaving us without mechanical propulsion. So while we were in Pago Pago and having the engine overhauled, I installed a valve in the exhaust system to keep water from being forced up the tailpipe and into the engine while we were under sail. (When the engine is running, the engine exhaust keeps the backflow of water from being a problem.) In any event, this valve appeared to solve the problem.

Well, today the engine refused to turn over. So I removed a chest of drawers to get to the front of the engine, and used a breaker bar and extension on the nut that holds the pulleys in order to manually turn the engine over and clear the cylinders. Unfortunately, some saltwater had gotten past the rings and into the oil. That’s not good. So I had to change the oil, which isn’t as much fun on a rolling ocean as it is at the dock.

The potential source of the water ingress — other than from up the tailpipe — is ocean water being siphoned into the exhaust where the heat exchanger discharge water enters the exhaust. There is an anti-siphon valve in the line, but these can fail. So I added a manually operated anti-siphon valve to break any siphon at this location. Opening it is now part of the engine shutdown procedure. I sure hope this does the trick, because I would be very pleased to have a happy engine for the rest of the trip.

On a more highbrow note, JoAnne was looking at the charts this morning and noticed that a whole series of sea mounts north of Kauai are named after composers. I don't know when the original surveys were done, but Handel, Haydn, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Gluck, Ravel, Liszt, Paganini, Tchaikovsky and many more classical masters have sea mounts named after them. I feel more cultured just from sailing through here.

July 13. After yesterday’s oil change and adding a manual anti-siphon valve to the engine-shutdown procedure, I once again found water in the cylinders! I had to hand crank the engine — using the pulley nut — to clear the cylinders. Unfortunately, some water seemed to have migrated past the rings and into the oil sump. I got the engine started, but the telltale gray oil told the story. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be much water in the oil, as the engine started, ran, and didn’t overheat. And the oil level on the dipstick didn't seem to come up much, if at all, telling me that the head gasket and cooling systems are still happy. At least for today.

In theory, we only need the engine while underway to run the alternator that powers the refrigeration. Although propulsion would be nice, particularly when we get to the Pacific High. There is a fair amount of food in the refrigerator and freezer I would prefer not to lose, but JoAnne and I have a lot of Spam and canned goods on board, so we won't starve. And it’s not as if we hadn’t had to make trips without the use of the engine. We sailed the last 125 miles into New Zealand after the injector pump failed, and another 125 sailing miles into Pago Pago when we blew a head gasket.

I decided that I would try starting the engine every four hours to see if that was often enough to keep ahead of the ingress of water.

To add insult to injury, when I went to shut down the engine and engage the windvane, the pin that joins the system to the steering wheel failed. We have a hydraulic autopilot, but it sucks a lot of power and only maintains a compass heading. The windvane maintains a relative wind angle, and thus does a great job of handling wind shifts in the middle of the night.

There is no way we want to hand-steer the remaining 1,800 miles to the Bay Area, so I got the windvane reintegrated with the steering wheel using a large bolt and a lot of electrician's tape. This should work. However, it will make adjusting the windvane a far more tedious process and I don’t have a lot of electrician's tape, so I will try to conjure up a system to hold the bolt in place without the tape.

None of this is life threatening but I'm not sure that it's part of the Outward Bound curriculum.

July 14. There is some debate on the boat as to whether it’s spelled McGiver or MacGiver. We don’t have Google out here to check, so I’m sticking with ’Mc’.

Starting the engine every four hours has worked like a charm. I had been running it once a day for over an hour to drive the temperature of the cold boxes down. By running the engine every four hours, I can let the refrigeration go through one cycle, then shut it down. This takes about 15 minutes. After doing this several times now, the fridge has been pushed down as low as it goes. The cumulative 24-hour engine time is about the same.

We left Kauai with all of the fuel tanks full and some jugs on deck for a total of about 200 gallons, so fuel shouldn’t be a problem. I generally don't drink on passages, but the beer in the bottom of the cold box should be extra frosty at the end of the trip.

On a further note, the engine running seems to have evaporated the water out of the oil, as it's back to black. There may be a little salt in there, but I think I'll save the oil change for when I get to port.

I’ve also come up with a more permanent fix for the windvane — a bolt wired to a piece of rope that ties around the wheel when the wind vane is engaged. So far so good. This should save massive amounts of electrician's tape.

— george 07/15/2015

Readers: George and JoAnne completed their passage from Kauai to Emeryville in 31 days, and had the use of the engine and windvane the entire way.

Felix — Catalac 38 Cat
Zwerver — 40-ft Dutch Cruiser
Jack and Lynn Robinson
East Coast and France
(Fort Collins, Colorado)

The last 25 years of my life have been fabulous — all because of Latitude 38.

My first husband and I had a plan. We'd start and grow a business, then sell it and everything else, including the house, to buy a sailboat. We'd spend the rest of our lives cruising.

The dream stemmed from a few summers I spent sailing a humble Clipper Marine sailboat on Lake Tahoe. I vividly remember going over this dream one morning while having breakfast on the hook at Emerald Bay Island. I was singlehanding at the time.

Unfortunately, the cruising dream turned out to be as solo as my trip to Emerald Bay Island had been. After the divorce in the early 1990s, I placed my first ad in Latitude 38 looking for a crew position. I also attended the Latitude Crew Party.

While at the party I met W.W., and we began sailing the Bay together as well as taking a few excursions up and down the coast aboard his Alameda-based boat. Two years later, after buying a boat together, we sailed north to Victoria, B.C. We spent the summer cruising the Pacific Northwest — Vancouver, the Gulf Islands, Princess Louisa Inlet, and many fabulous bays and fjords. We finally reached Port Hardy.

As we sat there eating the crab and fish we'd caught, as well as shrimp from the shrimp boats and wild berries that we'd picked, I thought it was the most spectacular place on earth. And seeing it by boat was exactly the way to experience it. W.W. didn't agree.

So once I returned to San Francisco Bay, I placed my second Crew Position Wanted ad in Latitude. And in September 1994, I attended my second Latitude Crew List party, this time hoping to get a ride on a boat sailing far away.

The party was the perfect place for boatowners who had entered a brand new event, called the Baja Ha-Ha, to try to find crew. Being 40 and female, and having sailing experience and enough money to get by on, I got several offers. I chose a sturdy boat, a Westsail 43, owned by a captain who had been a navigator in several Transpac races. There would be another couple along as crew.

The first Ha-Ha started at noon in a good breeze, so off we went. Three of us went to sleep after dinner while the fourth stayed at the helm for the rest of his two-hour watch. Close to midnight, about 50 miles offshore, our man on watch saw a light. He went below to check the charts to see if it was a buoy. It was actually the stern light of another Ha-Ha entry, a Hunter 40 that was just beginning a proposed circumnavigation.

We crashed into the Hunter, and kept on crashing into her until all four of us were topside and physically able to push the other boat away.

With substantial damage to both boats, we both had to turn back. The Hunter returned to San Diego while we pulled into Ensenada. Although the stronger boat, the Westsail was more badly damaged. She had a grapefruit-sized hole in her bow above the waterline, a broken bobstay, and a huge portion of teak rail ripped up. The Hunter only had damage to her toe rail and lifelines.

The Westsail was a week in Ensenada getting repaired, during which time the couple decided to bolt. I felt a bit sorry for the owner, as he'd planned on 'winning' the Ha-Ha. Since my goal was to get south, I decided to help him sail to Cabo. Depending on how things went, maybe I'd sail even farther with him.

Alas, another week on the boat with the owner was enough for me. So once I got to Cabo, I started looking for another boat. I was enjoying a cold cerveza at the Broken Surfboard Cafe, then the Ha-Ha headquarters, when I happened to meet Jack Robinson and his buddy Bob. They had just sailed in from San Diego.

After hearing my tale of woe, Jack mentioned that his boat would be berthed in Puerto Vallarta for a month, and if I would like to boat-sit while looking for another boat to crew on, I was welcome to do so.

While caretaking his boat for the next month in Puerto Vallarta, I met a lot of other crewmembers as well as a lot of boat owners. I think I could write a book about all the stories I heard from both sides. I may be wrong, but I don't think any crew stayed with the boats they had sailed south on.

The end of my story is also the beginning, for I stayed on Jack's boat after his return — and he and I have been sailing/boating together ever since. I had finally found someone who shared my passion for living on the water and exploring new places.

We cruised Mexico for years, and did the Baja Bash a couple of times. Although we didn't take the boat farther south than Zihuatanejo, we traveled extensively throughout Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador by bus and camper van.

In 2007, Jack and I saw an older sailing cat for sale in Fort Lauderdale that appealed to us, so we put Fairwind, our monohull, up for sale. She sold in Mazatlan. Two years later we bought the same catamaran we'd seen in Fort Lauderdale, but which by this time was in Maine. Our goal was to do America's Great Loop, a 5,000- to 7,500-mile circle of the eastern half of the United States, with some combination of the Illinois, Mississippi, Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers as the western boundary. Thus began our adventures with Felix in October 2009.

Jack and I left Maine on Felix and made it as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, in time to ring in the New Year. Falling in love with that city, we stayed put until we began America's Great Loop in April the following year. Mostly traveling on the IntraCoastal Waterway, we made our way back up the East Coast via the Dismal Swamp in North Carolina, then up the Chesapeake, out into the Atlantic at Cape May, and in at New York Harbor. We anchored at Ellis Island — a spectacular spot with all of Manhattan in front of us!

Felix's mast had to come down on the Hudson River before we went into the Erie Canal, which was unfortunate, as it meant we could not sail across the Great Lakes or down Lake Michigan to Chicago. We did, however, transit the Province of Ontario via an old Indian canoe route, which is known as the Trent Severn Waterway. The waterway has 45 locks, two of which are huge pan locks, and at the end you are dumped out into Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, via a big chute. It's amazing!

America's Great Loop then takes you down Lake Michigan, right through downtown Chicago, onto the Illinois River and the Mississippi River for two days, then turns up the Ohio, down the Tennessee to the Tom Bigbee River, and finally to Mobile, Alabama. It was there we finally put the mast back up. By then it was winter, so it was good that we were down in Florida and the Keys.

As the temperatures rose on the East Coast in the spring, we slowly worked our way back north. We crossed our outboard path in Charleston in the beginning of March 2011, having completed the Loop in just under one year, following the seasons the entire way. It had been an unforgettable journey, seeing the backways, byways and waterways of America and Canada. It's a trip that we highly recommend.

After a month in my favorite city, we continued north to Annapolis, arriving just in time for Jack's 50th class reunion at the Naval Academy.

Jack and I had always been interested in cruising the canals of France, so we decided to try to exchange time on our cat in the U.S. for time on a canal boat in France. After we placed an ad for this on the Internet, we received an inquiry from a New Zealand couple. They didn't have a canal boat in France, but wondered if we'd be interested in doing an exchange for time with their camper van and boat in New Zealand. We had no idea what this was ultimately going to lead to, but we answered, "Yes, of course we'd like to do such an exchange." So we set off on a whole different kind of adventure.

We spent January through March 2012 using their camper van and then their boat in New Zealand. The first month was with their camper van on the South Island, and we even got in a four-day backpack trip on the Routeburn Track with three girlfriends. The second month we explored the North Island, and then had a couple of weeks on their boat out of Auckland.

Our biggest boating excitement was getting to anchor right there for the beginning of a leg of the Volvo Around the World Race. It was very exciting.

The following year, to complete the exchange, we placed our Felix on Lake Ontario, so the Kiwi couple could transit the Erie Canal and Hudson River, and sail into New York Harbor. They then took Felix down into the Chesapeake before flying back to New Zealand from Washington, D.C.. The following fall they came to Colorado and used our RV to explore the Rocky Mountains and Utah.

'Friends for life' is how we've come to think of the Kiwi couple. The exchange worked out great — but there is more. They told us about Kiwi friends of theirs who needed to sell their Dutch steel canal cruiser, which was lying in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, France. Shortly after hearing about this in May 2014, we flew to Paris, took the train to St. Jean, and bought Zwerver. She's a Dutch-built 40-ft steel cruiser with a big John Deere engine, a bow thruster and lots of unbelievably ugly fenders that you leave down all the time.

We spent the three months that we Americans are allowed in Schengen Area countries in France, and fell in love with canal cruising. This year, wanting to spend more than the normal three months in the Schengen Area, we had to drive from Colorado to the French embassy in Los Angeles to get longer visas. After completing the necessary paperwork and paying 99 euros — about $110 — we received six-month visas.

We returned to St. Jean via Paris in May this year to resume cruising on Zwerver. We've been at it a few months and plan to be here until sometime in October. We will have been in Paris at the end of the July, and will probably have headed north on the River Somme after that. There are so many choices. Next year we plan to cruise Belgium and the Netherlands.

Cruising is the most fabulous way of living that I can imagine. The real beauty of it is that you never know exactly what is over the horizon or around the next bend, or whom you will meet. This was made very clear to us in late June of this year.

One day we were waiting for a boat to come out of a one-way tunnel on the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne in the Champagne region of France. Since the tunnel is 2,300 meters long, and the speed limit in it is less than two knots, it was going to be a bit of a wait, so we tied to the shore.

Finally the other boat, flying a Dutch flag, emerged. The couple aboard noticed our American flag. Coming alongside, they explained that despite the flag, they were Americans, too, and from California. Well, that got the ball rolling about common places we've been, and it turned out there were a lot of them.

One thing led to another, and lo and behold, we were stunned to learn that the two were Richard, the publisher of Latitude and the Grand Poobah of all the Ha-Ha's and The Doña, his girlfriend. Wow, is this a small world or what?

As we went over some of the names of the many people we mutually know in Mexico, the name of Lupe Dipp, who has owned several boats named Moon and the Stars, came up. We mentioned that Lupe was shortly going to be joining us for two weeks of cruising with us aboard Zwerver!

This 'out in the middle of nowhere' meeting on a canal in France, and the fact that we both have catamarans in America and canal boats is France, is what prompted me to finally write down my Latitude 38 story, which is where all the boating adventures began for me. Thank you, Latitude!

— lynn 07/15/2015

Readers — It really was a shock to run into Lynn and Jack where we did. We'd been on our 42-ft canal boat Majestic Dalat for about a month at the time, having come down to France from Friesland in the Netherlands and Belgium. At that point we hadn't seen a single canal boat with an American flag.

We'd entered the tunnel a little apprehensive because it was so long and conducive to vertigo. To spice it up, about halfway through, The Doña thought we were coming up on a big black fender floating free in the canal. As we'd lost two, we could use it, so she got the boat hook and positioned herself Ishmael-style on the bow. But when we came upon it, the 'fender' turned out to be a very large pit bull, looking much the worse for wear, rigor mortis having set in.

When we finally emerged from the tunnel, it was into brilliant sunshine with vivid green hills on both sides of the waterway. There was one boat in the distance. It turned out to be
Zwerver. How odd it would be that Lynn and the Wanderer had both done that very first Ha-Ha, and that all four of us had done various races on Banderas Bay together, and now owned both a catamaran in the United States and a canal boat in France.

Lynn wants to thank
Latitude for getting her sailing/boating life started? Well, we at Latitude want to thank Lynn — and all the other adventurous souls — without whom there wouldn't be a Latitude 38.

Journey — Freeport 41
The Ostrander Family
Luxsea's First Passage
(San Francisco)

Tahiti would be a 24-hour upwind mission from where we were at Bora Bora. Another ass whooping. My wife Liz, who Latitude readers will remember was last December's Playmate of the Month, and I hadn't sailed off the wind since leaving Fanning Island a year ago. The last thing either of us wanted to do was beat to weather again, but we had to. If we were going to sail on to the Cook Islands with Lux, our months-old baby girl, we had to have an overnight upwind sea trial for us and the boat. So with a weather report calling for very light winds and small seas, we headed out at noon full of hope.

Our backup plan, if Lux couldn't take it, was to stop at Huahine just four hours away. The sun sets at 6 p.m. in the winter in these latitudes, so Huahine would be the perfect place to call off the trip to Papeete. Right out of the pass we got 20-knot winds along with a six-foot swell on the beam. We kept thinking it was just because of a wind funnel caused by the island, and hoped it would abate once we got farther out. But over the next four hours the forecast light winds grew to 25 knots. Although we were flying just a staysail and mizzen, Journey was still really heeled over, and rolling with every wave. But we were still doing seven knots.

At 4 p.m. it was decision time. We were just 30 minutes from a very pleasant anchorage at an island we are both really eager to explore, or we could keep pounding 20 hours upwind, through the night to Tahiti. We debated what to do.

Continuing to Tahiti was a total commitment, because if things went bad, we would be stuck out at sea at night. The risk of something going wrong, or the weather turning even worse, was weighed against the true meaning of stopping at Huahine. If we stopped at Huahine, we knew we would be stopping our cruising for the year. If we could not even make Tahiti, we knew we shouldn't even consider the Cooks.

We discussed the options and risks over and over. The boat's motion made things difficult, but the stress of fussing over our little baby was overwhelming. We monitored her reaction to every gust and every wave, so it was exhausting.

Finally, the decision couldn't be postponed any longer. We either stopped right then, and maybe stopped cruising forever, or we accepted the risk and continued through the night. Neither of us wanted to be the one to give up, although to be honest, we both kind of wanted to. We decided to let Luxsea decide.

While Elizaberth and I weren't doing so well, Luxsea was loving life! She laughed and giggled the whole way. She was so cute that we just had to keep the dream alive a little longer. So we kept on sailing as the sun set on us.

Lux does very well underway. In fact, she is the exact opposite when we are not moving. While she is normally fussy and cries half her waking life, she is all smiles and quietly interested while we are underway. Furthermore, she ate like a horse and slept like a log during the whole passage. I can honestly say she is a pleasure to have on board while we are sailing.

And we made it, of course. Here in Tahiti we are going to provision and get a few key items. The sail back to Bora Bora is a quarter of the distance to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, and in the same direction, so the sail back should give us a realistic idea of what the passage will be like. Add to that the upwind passage to Tahiti, and we will have sailed half the distance to the Cooks, and upwind half the way.

We are so proud of our daughter! She has earned the right to cry all she wants and keep us from sleeping every night without complaint!

— erik 08/15/2015

Cruise Notes:

George Deane of the Merced-based Norseman 447 Hana Hou — featured also in the second Changes in this month's issue — has done a lot of ocean cruising. He did the 1999 Ha-Ha and spent a year in Mexico. In 2006 he got a slip at Nawiliwili, Kauai, so he sailed there with Hana Hou. In 2012, he, JoAnne Clarke, and cousin John McPeak sailed to New Zealand, where George and JoAnne would spend 18 months. After they sailed to American Samoa, George singlehanded to Hawaii via Christmas Island. It took nearly seven weeks, in part because he had to wait 11 days for the swell to drop so he could take on fuel at Christmas Island. And finally, he and JoAnne made the 31-day passage from Kauai to Emeryville.

"I sail differently now than when we sailed down to New Zealand," George told Latitude. "When we headed south, I was all gung ho to record big-mile days, and I had several 180-mile days. But there were too many fire drills and too much breakage. Once I spent three weeks in Pago Pago just waiting for parts.

"But then I met a Kiwi guy who was just completing a seven-year circumnavigation. He had some great advice for me: "Don't race the house!" he told me. So on my singlehanded trip up from Pago to Hawaii, I always had the first reef in the main, and mostly sailed with the staysail instead of a proper headsail. Even though it was slower, I got to Hawaii with no breakages and no bruises.

"When JoAnne and I sailed home from Hawaii," George continued, "we essentially did the same thing. We always had the first reef in the main, and while we flew the genoa during the day, we always went down to the staysail at night. As a result, we had no drama. We only put a second reef in the main at the very end of the trip, and just to ride out a gale.

"The main reason that we took a few extra days for the passage was not the shortened sail plan, but rather because the High was set up so far north that we had to cross it rather than go over the top of it. We did motor for three days, and thought that we were across the center of the High. But then the four highs basically merged, and there was no wind all the way across to the West Coast! I didn't think we should use up the rest of our fuel, so we sailed in very light air. The upside was that the weather was spectacular and that we could cook anything we wanted. When those highs re-formed, and we got to the east side of them and into the northerly winds, regular progress resumed. We motored the last 70 miles, as it turned out we still had lots of fuel. Oh, well. The takeaway is that the trip was a little slow, but very comfortable."

How to get on a boat for a long passage? No matter if you are an individual looking to crew, or a boatowner looking for crew, you might try the Latitude 38 Crew List. It worked for both boatowner Gaël Simon of the Québec-based X-402 GravlaX and crewmember Sara Stone of the Bay Area.

"Sara is an amazing sailor whom I met through the Latitude Crew List," says Simon. "On the Crew List form she checked 'racing', 'cruising in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean'. She listed extensive sailling experience, including youth dinghy sailing school, club racing in all kinds of sailing vessels, and working in the Caribbean sailing charter industry. I contacted her through the Latitude website, and we agreed the best segment for her to join GravlaX would be from Banderas Bay, Mexico to Panama. I think she enjoyed it, because she decided to stay for the Panama Canal transit. Sara was a terrific crewmember, and I'm looking forward to the next time we can sail together."

We don't suppose we have to caution readers that people have different experiences using the Latitude Crew List and similar lists, and individuals have to take the usual safety precautions when putting their names out to the general public.

If you're like us, and you read Simon's Changes, you probably wondered how he and his crew managed to get to shore without a dinghy or SUP during their six-month, 8,000-mile trip from Berkeley to Québec.

"Amphibious attacks," Simon responded, "meaning snorkeling ashore with dry bags. Or with the help of local panganeros. And we probably stayed in more marinas than most cruising boats."

If you’re a Northern California sailor headed for the late-October start of the Ha-Ha in San Diego and are looking for a cruising tune-up, or are a Southern California sailor looking for a great fall cruising destination, you need look no farther than Santa Cruz Island. Twenty-two miles long and between two and six miles wide, it is the largest of the eight Channel Islands. Among its many charms is an official population of two — which is one fewer than the number of airports it has — and there being no services or facilities. It doesn't even have cell coverage.

The Nature Conservancy owns 76% of Santa Cruz Island, while the National Park Service owns the remaining 24%, all of which is on the the southeast end.You need to buy a permit to land on Nature Conservancy property. There is a relatively modest fee for the required permit. The Nature Conservancy must be living in the 1980s, as it takes them up to 10 business days to issue a permit. Going ashore on their property is only allowed during daylight hours, and certain areas are restricted. The National Park is more welcoming, as you don't need a permit and it's even possible to arrange for backcountry camping. Pets are never allowed ashore anywhere on Santa Cruz Island.

There are numerous cruising guides to Santa Cruz Island, listing the many anchorages and attractions, including the Painted Caves and great hiking trails. Our surfing friends want everyone to know there is absolutely never any surf at Santa Cruz Island, so make sure you leave your boards at home. They say the nearest surf is at 'C Street' in Ventura, "where out-of-the-are surfers always get a warm welcome," and the "ever-reliable summer surf at the Sandspit" at the tip of the Santa Barbara Yacht Harbor.

Santa Cruz Island is as little as 22 miles from Santa Barbara, and it's usually a reach both ways. The island is about 17 miles from both Ventura and Oxnard, 52 miles from Marina del Rey, 84 miles from Newport, and 150 miles from San Diego. Days are shorter in September and October than in the middle of summer, but the fall weather is usually the best of the year at Santa Cruz Island.

"Back in my university days, I worked summers on the New Loan, a 60-ft sport fishing charter boat out of San Diego," remembers Andy Scott. After a few years, I: 1) Became valedictorian of the philosophy department at San Diego State University, and 2) Got my 100-ton captain's license. Figuring they counted as some sort of 'double major', I figured I'd earned a holiday searching for adventure. I've never really been back since.

"I was always a fan of Latitude, and remember awaiting the arrival of each issue to check the Classy Classifieds for used boats in the 30-34-foot range. Ultimately I found and bought — for $29,000 — the Westsail 32 Aennui. In 2002 I bought a handheld GPS and a handheld VHF, and took off for Mexico with Craig Story, another 100-ton master of sail and steam. I spent two years cruising through French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and Australia before returning to Indonesia in 2004. I intended to stay there for good, and have been here ever since. Although I'm based out of Bali, I can more than likely be found exploring between Papua and Aceh in the Indonesian Archipelago. I'm biased, but I think it offers the best cruising in the world.

"Most West Coast sailors don't realize it, but Indonesia's 250 million people make it the fourth most populated country in the world after China, India and the United States. Or that Indonesia occupies two million square miles of tropical ocean that is sprinkled with 18,000 islands. Indonesia also has a rich and vibrant culture, all of which adds up to making it a great destination for the cruising sailor. And especially the cruising sailor who surfs, as it is home to some of the greatest and most consistent surf in the world.

"For all these reasons," Scott continues, "I've written and published the Cruising Guide to Indonesia, a 270-page book with coverage of the country and details about 320 of the anchorages. As some sailors know, Indonesian government red tape and corruption used to make it difficiult and expensive to get a cruising permit. But the government has gotten religion about the benefits of yachtie tourism, and thus has been cutting down on corruption and improving the cruising facilities. You can read all about it in my guide, which has an interesting price structure — $45 U.S. dollars in Bali, $65 elsewhere in Indonesia, and $75 outside Indonesia.

Seven times more visiting cruising kids than full-time residents of Suwarrow in the Cook Islands? That's what it was like last month, reports Heather Tzortzis of the San Francisco-based Lagoon 470 Family Circus. There were 14 kids on cruising boats at the same atoll, and just two full-time caretakers. Among the 14 kids was Tristan Tsortzis of Family Circus, who was celebrating his 14th birthday.

Following their time in Suwarrow, the Family Circus family had a wonderful 740-mile passage to Tonga. "It was our most incredibly peaceful passage to date," said Heather. "The people have been warm, welcoming and wonderful. But what the kids like most are the pigs running around in the streets."

What's it like in Cabo during the first half of August? Having gotten stuck in Cabo for a week waiting for weather during our 1,000-mile La Cruz-to-San Diego Bash with Profligate, the Wanderer and The Doña became experts. It was hot. Damn hot. Figure on 95 degrees under bright sunshine during the day, and 81 at night. If you were sleeping on a boat, as we were, you needed plenty of fans if you didn't have air con, which we didn't. No matter if you jumped into a pool or the ocean, there wasn't much relief, as they were hot, too. The heat usually starts to break in mid- to late October, as it does at most of the popular cruising spots in Mexico. By early November, when the Ha-Ha rolls into Cabo, the days are warm and the nights are usually pleasantly cool.

IGY Marina Cabo San Lucas lost about 30% of its slips to hurricane Odile last September, and the folks at the marina told us it's highly unlikely that they will be replaced before the winter of 2016-2017. If you've ever had to get permits from the California Coastal Commission to even just repair damaged stuff, you know how long and difficult that can be. It's can be an even bigger challenge in Mexico.

Oddly enough, the destroyed berths might actually mean additional room for the Ha-Ha boats in the harbor. The pilings are still in place, and last year several Ha-Ha boatowners said tying bow and stern to the pilings worked great. It was at least less rolly than being out in the bay.

The big bummer about Marina Cabo San Lucas, however, is the flat wharfage fees they say they — and only their marina — have been forced to implement. For example, it would cost us $375 for the privilige of bringing the 63-ft Profligate to the fuel dock, no matter if we wanted to buy two gallons or 200 gallons of diesel. By contrast, smaller boats, such as the 25-ft pangas and small fishing boats, are charged 1/27th as much! Marina manager Darren Carey readily admits that owners of sailboats, who tend to have larger boats but don't need much fuel, are getting hit the hardest. While members of events such as the Ha-Ha will get significant discounts on the wharfage fee, we nonetheless have to suggest that all owners of sailboats try not to need fuel in Cabo. We know that some boatowners have gotten around the fee by jerry jugging fuel from Pemex stations, but we aren't sure this will be looked upon kindly by the quasi-government group that was apparently behind the flat fee.

Given the outrageous wharfage fee for fuel, the Wanderer cringed when he stopped at a marina tienda to buy a medium-sized bottle of shampoo. Imagine his surprise when it cost less than $1 U.S. At SFO, they charge $3.99 for a bottle a sixth that size. Later, while walking down the street, we saw an ad for a Subway sandwich for 29 pesos. With the exchange rate over 16 pesos to the dollar, that’s less than $2 U.S.

Easilly the most excitement the Wanderer and The Doña had coming north took place about 75 miles southeast of Cabo. The Wanderer was reading a book in the cockpit, facing aft, when he heard a tremendous splash. Looking up, all he could see was the enormous explosion of water created by a very large whale's having done a bellyflop less than a boat length from Profligate's transom. Spooky stuff.

"Could Latitude please encourage John Sullivan of the San Carlos (Mexico)-based Endeavor 37 Mambo to write a bit more?" wonders Mark Novak of the Santa Cruz-based Hans Christian 43 Betty Jane, which is currently in La Conner, Washington. "I'd love to see a regular column or book from the guy. I hope he lives long enough to get us some more material. Of course, if his Changes was 100% true, I'm not sure that will be the case."

The Wanderer has been editing Changes for 38 years, and can't recall one he found as hysterical as Sullivan's. The thing that made it so funny, of course, is that it was not necessarily intended to be funny.

Going way back! Seeing a photo of Cabo San Lucas taken in the 1960s, back when the town had fewer than 800 people, prompted a memory from Capt. Rob Wallace.

"My brother and I and a couple of other guys anchored there in 1967 while delivering the Cal 40 Ariana back from a La Paz Race. The only other boat there was famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his vessel Calypso. So we rowed ashore and had a couple of beers with Jacques and crew at the Hacienda Hotel bar! Wish I could have recorded those conversations! Then we walked across the landing strip — it was where the harbor is now — to the little town of Cabo San Lucas to check in with the port captain's office in the zocalo. We managed to find meager food supplies at the Chinaman's market (!) on the corner. I remember the wind howling through the rigging at anchor and being kinda scared, as it seemed like such a remote place."

And now there are 200,000 residents in Cabo and a total of 400,000 along the Cabo Corridor.

Bruce Balan and Alene Rice of the California-based Cross 45 trimaran Migration have been cruising since Puddle Jumping to Easter Island in 2008. After sailing all over the South Pacific and as far as the South Island of New Zealand, they decided it was time to do a major refit. They chose to do it at Phuket, Thailand. According to them, it turned out to be a disaster that didn't end for two years.

Believing that he has a responsibility to let other cruisers know about the companies and individual craftsmen who do terrible work, and the nature of their poor work, Balan wrote a report to Noonsite. For whatever reason they declined to publish it. Knowing Balan, we have no such reservations, and will publish it next month.

"We arrived at Cocos-Keeling, our first Indian Ocean stop, after 11 days," report Jim Fair and Linda Powers from the Berkeley-based Outbound 46 Chesapeake. "The trip was quick once we went through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. We racked up two 190+ mile days during the trip before we slowed down to arrive at Cocos during daylight. Our plan is to stay here for a few days and then head out for 2,000-mile distant Rodriguez Island."

San Francisco’s Andrew Vik has done a lot of cruising in Croatia over the years with his Islander 36 Geja, but he’d never seen anything like what he saw on July 19 at Brna Bay.

"I was sound asleep until 7:15 a.m., at which time three fire-fighting planes came through in constant rotation. There was a wildfire nearby and the pilots had selected Brna Bay, where my Geja was anchored, as their place to scoop up water. Sometimes they touched down less than 100 meters away. The planes were a big assist in putting the fires out, much to the relief of the locals, who were freaked out about the flames on the ridge all night long."

In a June 'Lectronic, we reported that Bill Gibbs of Ventura and crew had a terrible shakedown sail with Wahoo, his new all-carbon G Force 1400 (44-ft) fast cruising catamaran that he had completed in South Africa. The rigging problems were bad enough; then both rudders broke off. Then there were engine problems and the boat got a little crushed by another boat. It was the worst. Crew Mark McNulty reports they are back in Bonaire with new rudders, and in a couple of weeks are hoping to test the boat out again on a run to Aruba.

We wish Gibbs and crew the best of luck — as we wish all of you the best of luck with your cruising dreams and realities.

Missing the pictures? See the September 2015 eBook!


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