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September 2016

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With reports this month from Escapade in Venice; from Speakeasy getting hauled in Tonga; from Mahina Tiare close to the North Pole; from Beach House on a second crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas; from Volare on summer in the Sea of Cortez; from Carthago on executing a rescue in the Tuamotus; and Cruise Notes.

Escapade — Catana 52
Greg Dorland and Debbie Macrorie
Venice and Croatia
(Squaw Valley)

Venice is, as most of you know, one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the world. What you might not know is that she's celebrating her 500th birthday this year.

I'd been to Venice twice before by land, but visiting on your own boat is an entirely different and much better experience. My God, it was just fantastic! If you ever bring your boat to the Med, you have to take her up to Venice.

Every bit of this city was awesome, and there was so much to see and do. I loved being in such a beautiful place that hasn't really changed in 500 years. You can tell how much we liked it by the fact that Greg and I spent 10 days there, which is a very long time for us to spend anywhere.

We got a berth for Escapade on the island of La Certosa, which is directly across from St. Mark's Square. It's just two minutes between the two by water taxi, and La Certosa is as quiet and peaceful as St. Mark's is crowded and noisy. La Certosa had been an Italian naval base for many years, but has been turned into a park. Venetians arrive on the weekends to let their dogs run and to escape the hordes of tourists who overwhelm Venice.

We paid 75 euros a night for a slip, which is about $83. That is significantly less than we paid at Sardinia, along the Amalfi Coast, and in all of Croatia and Montenegro. In addition to the berth's being reasonably priced for the Med, it was very convenient for provisioning.

We picked up my sister Patty at the San Marco Airport, and were able to take a water taxi directly to the pontoon our boat is on. The canals of Venice mentally transport you back to the origins of life in this city. You have to remember that everything coming into and going out of Venice must travel by canal. No wonder you see every size and shape of boat imaginable.

Driving a dinghy through the canals, however, is not for the faint of heart. For example, our dinghy ride in the Grand Canal in search of propane was as harrowing as driving through the Italian Alps to Cortina had been last winter.

One of our most memorable days in Venice was when we took a private tour of the Zanetti glassblowing factory on the island of Murano, where the art of glass- blowing started in 1291. Sylvia Scarpa, our guide and a third-generation Muranese, introduced us to Damien Farnea. Like his father and grandfather, Damien is a master craftsman who has owned the business for years. It's not uncommon for such businesses to have been in the same family for many generations.

We watched as Damien and a team of four assistants worked together to fabricate a Golden Lion, similar to the one on the crest of the Venetian flag. Like crew on a boat, each member of the team had a specific role in the process, while the master craftsman, the helmsman, applied the artistic touches. It was quite a dance, with the piece having to keep going into and out of the furnace. Overcooking causes the glass to crack, and so timing is essential to having the glass warmed just at the right temperature to allow the master to facilitate the design. Within three hours the Lion was finished and resting comfortably in an oven at 500 degrees to cool down.

Zanetti and the glass pieces they produce are exceptional works of art to be enjoyed for a lifetime. Unfortunately, living on a boat and crossing oceans is not the right environment for this type of purchase.

We're back in Croatia now and are loving it, too. It's much more crowded than it was earlier in the season, but there are so many anchorages that you don't have to get stuck in a crowd. And there is something for everyone, no matter if you want to be in a remote anchorage surrounded by nature or in a lovely historical city teeming with other visitors. The weather in Croatia has been great, reminding me of our home in Tahoe, as it's been warm but not too hot during the day, and then cools down pleasantly at night. The humidity is low, and the water is perfect for swimming.

The differences between Croatia and Italy are interesting. Croatia has all the natural beauty, great anchorages and beautiful historical towns. Italy has better food and wine, but Italy's real plus is that the people are so warm and friendly. The Croatians are friendly, too, but nobody is as warm as the Italians. And it makes a difference.

We were surprised to finally start seeing some boats flying American flags. But when we spoke to some of the crew, they turned out to be Israelis, Russians, and others who weren't Americans at all. Imagine using the American flag as a flag of convenience.

We have no idea what we're going to do next, as we change our plans every few minutes. Having had problems with our French Long Stay Visa, we're thinking about trying to get one from the more friendly Italians.

— debbie 08/12/2016

Speakeasy — Manta 42 Cat
John and Deanna Roozendaal
New Boatyard/Storage in Tonga
(Vancouver, B.C.)

Is there ever a haulout that isn't stressful? For my wife Deanna and me, hauling Speakeasy in early August in Tonga, was more stressful than usual because we were hauling in a new yard that we didn't know anything about.

We didn't plan to haul out in Tonga, but on the way from French Polynesia we found that one of the two propellers wasn't functioning. Fortunately, we have a catamaran, so we still had a functioning engine and prop. It was looking as if our first opportunity to haul wouldn't be until Fiji — but then we stumbled across Boatyard Vava'u, the new boatyard in Neiafu. It's located in the cruiser center in the middle of the best cruising grounds in Tonga.

Joe and Alan, owners of the yard, have created a much needed and convenient new location for cruisers to haul between French Polynesia, Fiji and New Zealand. They have a one-year-old Hostar hydraulic trailer that can handle monohulls and catamarans up to 30 tons. The trailer hauls cats by lifting the bottom of the bridgedecks, so beam isn't an issue. We watched as our cat was hauled, and we appreciated the care the staff exhibited in lifting her out.

Once Speakeasy was resting on the jack stands, we had the time to look around and realize how clean the boatyard was. Our spot was covered in grass and gravel. We liked the fact that we wouldn't be tracking any mud or old bottom paint onto our boat. We couldn't knock the view, either, as it is beautiful, or the fruiting orange tree just behind our boat.

One of the things that made the yard a big hit with Deanna was the shower with unlimited on-demand hot water. Gee, could life on the hard be even better than life on the boat?

The boatyard allowed us to live on our boat while she was in the yard, and we could do as much of the work as we wanted. But if we needed assistance, there was a mechanic on-site.

We had to have parts shipped to Tonga, and you never know how difficult a country might make things. But we had stuff shipped to Tonga as "duty free, yacht in transit", via FedEx. We were blown away when the stuff arrived from North America in less than a week, and we weren't charged duty. It took a couple of days to get the parts from Customs, but all in all, it was a quick and very inexpensive experience we'd highly recommend to others.

When it was time to go back into the water, the boatyard team was just as careful with our boat going in as they'd been when bringing her out. We were impressed all around — and especially happy with what we considered to be a very reasonable bill.

For cruisers looking for an alternative to sailing to New Zealand for cyclone season, this yard and storage facility should be a consideration. Although nothing is going to stop tropical cyclone-force winds, the yard is located in an old quarry and appears to offer better protection than most places. There seems to be good drainage, and hardstand is high enough off the water to eliminate the risk of flooding.

I apologize if this sounds like an advertisement for the boatyard, but as cruisers we really want to get the word out to our fellow cruisers. A great boatyard combined with a convenient location to ship duty-free parts really should put Vava’u Tonga high up on the list for cruisers who need to do a few repairs during their Pacific crossing or who need to store their boat.

— mark 08/12/2016

Mahina Tiare — Hallberg Rassy 46
John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal
Aiming for the Polar Ice Cap
(Friday Harbor, WA)

If you were looking to do a slightly different sort of summer sailing this year, you should have joined John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare. Their goal, and that of their six crew for the third of the six legs of their 27th season of sailing expeditions, was to get as close to the polar ice cap as possible.

The two had sailed these waters aboard their Friday Harbor-based boat before in 2001 and 2007, and during that second trip got to within just 570 miles of the North Pole. This year they wanted to get even closer.

They started this year's 'ascent' from Tromso, Norway, and headed up to Bear Island and then the Svalbard Archipelago, which is north of Russia and Norway. From Svalbard, they set sail for the polar ice cap, unsure how far away it would be this year.

There were several noticeable changes in the high latitudes since John and Amanda had been there last.

“We compared what we saw this year with Amanda’s photos from nine years ago,” says John, “and there was a big difference. There was much less snow on the sides of the mountains, and the glaciers were smaller.”

In addition, high-latitude boat exploration has become much more popular.

“When we were here in 2007, there were just 13 boats in the area for the summer,” John remembers. “This year there were 50. All but a few of them were expedition boats such as ours. Lots of them were Polish, as for some reason the Poles are keen on the high latitudes. Their sailing clubs in Warsaw own the boats, and the members take turns on them up here. They even have a 120-footer. Ours was the only American boat.”

One of the major attractions of high-latitude sailing is the possibility of seeing polar bears. There is the Arctic equivalent of the coconut telegraph in the high latitudes, and the Mahina Tiare crew always asked the crews of other boats if they’d seen any polar bears. None had — until the crew of a French boat reported they had seen one in a bay about four hours away. So Mahina Tiare went there and anchored for the night, with the crew scouring the shore looking for a polar bear. They didn’t see anything.

But as they were shoving off the next morning, one of the crew belowdecks looked through a port and said, “You guys see that polar bear over there?”

The bear had climbed out of the water onto the beach a couple of hundred feet from Mahina Tiare, and shook the water off itself as a dog would. Then he started trotting down the beach. The Mahina Tiare crew would follow him with the boat for about 3 1/2 miles over the course of the next three hours.

“He looked at us frequently,” says John, "and it often appeared that he was putting on a show for our benefit. He would do things like toboggan down a hill. Once he took a snooze, then he jumped into the water and started swimming to the next part of the bay. It was very exciting."

Based on the fact that the bear’s fur was still pretty white, John estimates that he was about three years old. “I figure he was about nine feet tall and weighed about 1,500 pounds. Polar bears can run as fast as 30 miles an hour, which explains why in recent years they’ve managed to catch and eat one scientist and a couple of British students."

While the polar bear the Mahina Tiare crew saw was very healthy, the same can’t be said for many others in the polar region. Because there is no longer as much snow and ice, the seals — the main meal of polar bears — have moved farther north and east. As a result, many polar bears are starving, and have had to try to survive by eating birds, bird eggs and moss, which are hardly adequate dietary substitutes for seals.

Curiously, part of the problem is that the Russians and Norwegians stopped hunting polar bears about 20 years ago, so there are a lot more of them trying to exist on ever-fewer seals.

“A naturalist told us there were several more polar bears in the next bay, but that they were starving and thus a sad sight,” says John. “We took a vote, and the crew decided that having had a magnificent polar bear experience, we didn’t want to see starving bears. So we continued on in pursuit of the polar ice cap.”

You might assume that the weather so far north would be atrocious, with strong winds, lots of rain and poor visibility. But just as John and Amanda expected, it wasn't like that at all.

"The very high latitudes are in the polar convergence zone," says John, "which is somewhat similar to the intertropical convergence zone. There is a stationary high-pressure cell sitting over the North and South poles, which frequently provides amazingly bright and clear weather for days or even weeks at a time. It was so warm in Svalbard, that while in Longyearbyen, the only town, we frequently ran and hiked in running shorts and T-shirts.

There is a huge amount of history in the region, as all the North Pole expeditions, including the one in a dirigible, left from Spitzbergen, their next stop,

Unfortunately, the Mahina Tiare expedition was unable to reach the polar ice cap this year. After leaving from Spitzbergen, they spoke with the crew of a French boat that had made it to the polar ice, and they reported that it was 200 miles farther north, having shrunk considerably since the last time Mahina Tiare was there. Short on time, the members of the expedition agreed that they needed to turn back.

On their way south, John and Amanda stopped at the remote island of Jan Mayen, which is an active volcano, and visited the remote weather station. They were invited in for soup. Then they continued on down the east coast of Iceland, and spent eight days at the capital.

"It was sunny and warm enough for us to enjoy outdoor swimming," says John. "People in the northern latitudes are keen on outdoor swimming, hot tubs and saunas. The locals were shy but very friendly."

By the time they continued on to the Faroe Islands for their first visit, they were well south of the polar convergence zone. Due to this, the weather was sometimes nasty.

"It’s been blowing 50 knots for the last two days, with 25-foot seas," says John. "An Icelandic freighter is having trouble as some containers have broken loose. The weather is volatile in the area between Norway, Iceland and Scotland. We had a barometric low of 981 — the kind of low pressure you get with hurricanes. Thanks to, we'd seen it coming and left early."

We've always liked John for being forthright. When we asked him why he and Amanda like sailing in the higher latitudes, he had this to say:

"I don't really know. The animals are super, it's off the normal cruising path, but I can't really say."

John and Amanda will soon put Mahina Tiare away for the winter, but they have big plans for next year and right into 2018. They'll start by heading south, dip into the Med to visit Mallorca, cross the Atlantic, sail to Hawaii, then cross the South Pacific to New Zealand. Whew!

For details, visit the Mahina Tiare website.

— richard 08/15/2016

Beach House — Switch 51 Cat
Scott Stolnitz and Nikki Woodrow
The Galapagos to French Polynesia
(Marina del Rey)

As of August 3, we were still in Tahiti, with our new engines hopefully going in later this week. In addition, we’re getting the steering system and boom vang fixed. This is going to put us over six weeks behind schedule, so we’re anxious to head west. Meanwhile, here’s our report on our passage from the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas, which we made starting in late April.

There were a lot of cruising boats departing the Galapagos about the same time as us. Two had left the day before we did, three other boats left the same day we did, and six others took off with the next weather window about four days later.

It takes the typical cruising boat about 23 days to complete the 3,100-mile passage, which is an average of 135 miles per day. Our Beach House, a relatively big cat, is a bit faster than most boats, so in 2009 my beloved wife Cindy and I made the crossing in 16.5 days, which is 175 miles a day. But we had more consistent wind than Nikki and I would have this time, as we'd left in June, a month later in the season. So I was hoping for an 18-day passage.

We started our 3,100-mile passage with virtually no wind, as the closest the trades were forecast to get to the Galapagos in the next week was 125 miles. We did get into the wind on the second day, and soon covered 198 miles in 24 hours. That would be our best 24-hour run of the trip.

The winds started to lighten as we went along, so we were able to fly our spinnaker. Our chute is very small compared to what we could fly, as there are just two of us and we don't want to get overwhelmed if the wind comes up. We use a spinnaker sock, too. We have a carbon fiber spinnaker pole that is extremely light and thus easy to handle, yet very strong. The pole is usually stored parallel to the two headsails, so we never have to remove the inboard end from the mast.

We sometimes fly our gennaker — aka Code Zero aka screacher — using the pole. This sail is 50% bigger than our genoa, but 50% smaller than our spinnaker. In theory, it’s easy to control using the furling drum at the bottom of the sail. It’s too big to fly from the middle of the bow, so we set it out to weather on a floating tack line.

We're often asked what we do 'all day' on long passages. Frankly, most of the time we're pretty busy with radio communications, meal preparations, navigation, weather, emails, sail handling, maintenance — and there's always a good book.

What kind of maintenance? Just as the sun had set one night our hydraulic steering started to slip. The problem is that after sailing the equivalent of all the way around the world, the check valves on the balancing system were worn out. They supposedly keep the two rudders aligned, but it would turn out they aren't even necessary. In any event, Beach House just started rounding up.

We thought we'd gotten things stabilized and went to roll up the gennaker, at which point the boat rounded up again and all hell broke loose! The wind caught the back of the gennaker when we got it halfway in, and I thought it would be torn to pieces. We couldn’t roll it in any more, so we lowered it, and it went into the water. It was only attached at the tack when that happened. Fortunately, we were able to get it on deck and back down the hatch. Then I went and reset the steering again.

Having to reset the steering rams every two to six hours for the last 1,000 miles to Tahiti was a major pain in the ass. It was particularly annoying because I had to crawl into each engine room to do it. When we got to Tahiti, we just bypassed these valves. They’d always been an issue and never solved the rudder-alignment problems anyway.

About 200 boats do the crossing from the West Coast to French Polynesia a year. There were at least 25 boats scattered over an area of about 1,500 square miles when we crossed. It turns out that we weren't the only ones who had a serious problem. The folks on Kristiana, the boat with which we transited the Panama Canal, reported their headstay had broken. Thanks to HF radio, we and many other crews were made aware of their problem, and were able to offer moral support. Fortunately, they made it to Tahiti without losing the mast, and were able to make repairs.

The HF radio was also beneficial to us because radio contacts gave us some idea of what kind of weather we were sailing into.

Most sailors who have done offshore passages have seen the green flash at sunset. I've seen lots of them over the years. According to friends Bill Healy and Gary Walls on Amadon Light, there is a morning version of the green flash. They call it 'Amadon Light'. I began to look for it — and indeed saw one. It popped up like an inverted 'U', and like a green flash, lasted for about half a second.

Fortunately, we only had to motor a total of 30 hours, because oil was leaking out the crankshaft seal where it meets the transmission. We jury-rigged a 'pressure relief' system by taking the oil filter cap off and running a vertical hose to vent the crankcase. New engines would be the only resolution to that problem.

As was the case when my wife Cindy and I made the same crossing in 2009, we saw just one other sailboat on the passage. She was Pascal Imbert’s custom high-performance carbon fiber 52-ft catamaran Water Music. She was the fastest boat we saw out there, and for good reason. Beach House is 51 feet long, has a 62-ft mast, and displaces 17 tons when fully loaded. Water Music is 52 feet long, has a 72-foot mast, but displaces just six tons! No wonder she's so fast, as she's like a surfboard on the ocean.

Nikki and I hope to do 200-mile days. Pascal and Water Music never do less than 200 miles a day, and average about 270 miles. He sailed from Costa Rica to Fatu Hiva in 18 days, taking the same amount of time as we did sailing 900 miles less from the Galapagos. We finally got a chance to meet Pascal at Fakarava in the Tuamotus, and found him to be a great and fun-loving guy.

Land ho! After 18 days the wind died and we had to motor the last few miles to Fatu Hiva. It was just about then that the port engine started overheating. We ended up removing the thermostat for the next month before we arrived in Tahiti, but the overheating was just one more straw in the bale of major engine problems.

I wasn't afraid to come into Hanavave Bay after dark because I had been there before. Plus several of the cruising boats already at anchor knew we were coming. Among them was Blowin' Bubbles with Kyle and Shelly from Canada. We'd been in daily radio/email communications all the way across. They took 23 days. We took 18. Cats are cool!

In the morning we awoke to the beauty of what is also known as the Bay of Virgins. The locals originally called it the Bay of Phalluses because of the dramatic spires. But the missionaries were offended and gave the bay the name it has today. When we went ashore for a hike, I managed to get some Internet — even in this remote corner of the world.

— scott 08/10/2016

Volare — Caribbean 50
Jason and Vicki Hite
Summer in the Sea
(Long Beach)

Late July means it’s summer in the Sea of Cortez. But it’s hard for Vicki and me to think of it as truly being summer because we know it’s going to get much warmer and much more humid in August and September.

The first sign of summer was when we noticed how everything on the boat had gotten warm. For instance, we were brushing our teeth with warm water and warm toothpaste, and washing our hair with warm shampoo. It was weird.
At this time of year rigging shade for the boat is not a matter of comfort, but rather life and death.

In late June we went in to San Carlos on the mainland for a month to take care of some repairs and maintenance. But it wasn’t really like cruising there, as most of the time everybody was hiding inside their boats, trying to beat the heat with jury-rigged window AC units on an overhead hatch. But most cruisers had left their boats for the summer and gone north to cooler weather and maybe summer jobs.

We found that it was at least 10 degrees cooler on the hook compared to being in a berth at Marina San Carlos, so we really enjoyed it. But even at anchor we ran the genset at night so we could cool the aft cabin with the AC. We'll be sleeping in the cockpit once we start to run low on gas.

During the day getting into the water helps keep us cool. One trick we've learned is to put on our Lycra suits when we go into the water. Not only does it keep the jellyfish from getting us, but the suits act like little AC units when we get out of the water as the water evaporates off them.

In June and much of July the cool water was a real relief. We got our first introduction to water in the high 80s —when it's not such a relief — while at Bahia Concepción. The water is now 85 degrees in San Carlos.

By the end of July we'd completed all the prepping we could for spending the rest of the summer in Bahia de Los Angeles. We're all set with the tide charts and have two hurricane holes charted out.

As much as we love the natural beauty of the Sea, Vicki and I really wish we could get some more cellular coverage. We understand there are a few places in Bahia de Los Angeles where you can get online, but there’s no cell service there — as is the case in most of the Sea. Keeping in touch with friends is one reason we want cell service, but more importantly, it's nice to be able to check the weather from a number of sources.

One challenge we have is waking up early enough to get on the Ham nets in order to check in with everybody and to listen to the weather forecasts. Baja weather usually likes to mess with you in the middle of the night, so after a few hours' sleep I'm usually up on anchor watch. The weather typically eases off just before dawn, when your body says "Yay! sleepy time." But then this little voice in the back of your brain says, "But the net's about to start and you should really get the latest weather info." How long it's been since we've gotten a good weather forecast usually dictates which voice wins.

One lesson we've learned is to totally lock the boat down every time we drop the hook. That's because no matter how benign the weather appears it will be, it will unexpectedly come on to blow hard at 3 a.m.

We’ve been getting some exciting thunderstorms at night, with non-stop lightning. The windows flash constantly, as though we're celebrities surrounded by paparazzi.

We used to curse the Northers when we were in La Paz in the winter and trying to get north to enjoy Espiritu Santo and the other islands. But I’m already counting down the days until the first Norther hits, which will allow us to ride the cool wind on our migration south.

While in San Diego in July to renew my driver’s license, I bought an additional solar controller to try to eke out some more watts from our 800-watt solar setup. The idea was to split them into two 400-watt arrays. While working on it, I discovered array #1 only put out 265 watts, and array #2 only put out a pitiful 125 watts. That meant we were only getting half the rated power from our flexible solar panels. Further investigation revealed that one panel had stopped putting out any power at all.

I contacted the manufacturer of the panels, and was told they were having another recall and offering replacement panels. You might remember that we found out about a 'fire risk' recall and replacement on our first panels just before we headed south from Long Beach for the start of last year's Ha-Ha. We had to rent a car and drive all the way to Chino and back, and I was screwing the replacement panels into the hardtop the day before we cast off the docklines for good!

Kudos to the solar panel company for taking such great care of us, but it’s been a real pain in the ass, and we had some expenses getting the replacements. The replacement panels will be the traditional bulky glass kind, meaning more weight and windage up high, which is never a good thing. But we are getting way more power out of the replacements — which might even let us power the AC for a bit!

Although it was only July when we put the replacement panels on in San Carlos, we could only work on the outside of the boat at dawn and dusk. Generally we’d start work at 6:45 p.m. as the sun set, and continue until around 11 p.m. We are getting into the Mexican way of doing things; the only thing you do in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, is swim or siesta.

A couple of days after we got the panels on, we made our way up to the Cocinas anchorage to work our way across the Sea toward Bahia de Los Angeles. There was a nasty swell rolling into the anchorage and no hiding from it. We put out the flopper stopper, but we were rolling so badly we thought we were going to break something. So we motored back to Ensenada Grande, where it was thankfully very tranquil.

But at 3:30 a.m. I was awakened by a huge lightning storm. There wasn't much wind or rain, but so much nonstop lightning that you could almost read by it. Every once in a while we'd get rolled pretty good, so I never made it back to sleep.

We had hoped to cross to San Francisquito that day, but our weather window had been slammed shut by this surprise storm. We have gained a healthy respect for the Sea of Cortez. You don't get those big Pacific rollers, but when the square waves form, it's best to play the 'we're not on a schedule' card and wait it out. Luckily San Carlos was a short hop away, because we had to go against the wind, current and waves, and it sucked! We got some rain and heard that San Carlos got two inches in one hour.

I haven’t flown my drone too much lately. My excuse is that I'm kind of picky about the conditions. But the Wi-Fi video range on my standard DJI Phantom 3 sucks; I mean it's severely limiting to my creative process. I can visualize a great shot, but then realize I can't get it because my Wi-Fi range isn't long enough. The better Phantom 3s come with Lightbridge, which eliminates this problem because it has a much longer range. Since almost losing the drone on my first foredeck launch I've been leery of launching it from the boat, but maybe it's time to take more chances so it can die a noble death and I can get one with better range.

— jason 08/13/2016

Carthago — Beneteau 423
Jose Castello and Gina Harris
Rescue In the Tuamotus
(San Francisco)

We bought a sailboat two years ago with the intention of embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Our big excitement so far was the recent experience of picking up two stranded and desperate fishermen on an abandoned island in the Tuamotus.

After graduating from Pollywog to Shellback status in the Pacific Puddle Jump class of 2016, we were making our way from the lush islands of the Marquesas to the gorgeous low atolls of the Tuamotus.

While making the passage from Fatu Hiva to Raroia, we realized that our 7-knot pace would put us at the atoll’s pass before sunrise. Since that's never a good idea, we decided to slow down and kill time so we would arrive at the pass with the sun overhead.

With a choppy sea state making card games a messy affair, and several attempts at ukulele serenades gone sour, we turned our attention to a speck of land shown on the charts as between our current location and our 82-mile-distant destination. This was the uninhabited atoll of Tikei, and we decided that we'd make a pit stop. After all, what a cool introduction it would be to the Tuamotus.

Looking through the binoculars, we could tell that the reef surrounding the atoll made it very dangerous. But not wanting to abandon our plans so quickly, we sailed back and forth along the coast, hoping to spot a break in the reef where we might drop anchor.

Then we noticed two men on land, behind the crashing waves and beneath the towering palms of the uninhabited island, sprinting toward us with upraised arms.

I told Jose that it looked as if the guys wanted to say 'hi', and that maybe they could tell us where we could anchor.

But before we could make a move, the two men had jumped into the water and had started swimming furiously toward a 20-foot fishing skiff anchored on the reef. It was clear that something big was up, but we sure didn't know what.

When the two men got to our boat, they breathlessly explained that they were fishermen from Takaroa, an atoll 40+ miles north of Raroia. They'd run out of gas a week ago and had drifted to Raroia — and were stranded.

Having no water, fuel or phone service, the two men were desperate for help. We had no option but to take them, their boat, and their catch back to their home island. It was 42 miles in the opposite direction from where we were headed, but as mariners it was our obligation.

We arrived at the pass of their home atoll 12 hours later. Despite our guidebook's warning about the pass, we trusted our new friends to guide us through the narrow entrance to the lagoon. After 42 miles of broken French, Tahitian phrases, and hand gestures, we had sort of gotten to know them and had become friends.

Entering the pass was by far our most stressful cruising experience to date. There were breaking waves on both sides, and the channel was between what looked like two man-made walls of colorful coral. Although the channel was 60 feet deep, we could easily see the bottom through the turquoise water to the sandy bottom. It was so beautiful that it was hard to stay focused!

The fishermen insisted that we anchor in front of their home, where we could be away from the polluted anchorage in the other part of the lagoon, where theft around the village had started to become a problem. Unsure of what to do or whom to believe, we decided to put all our cards in with the fishermen. We had no idea it would be such a rewarding decision.

We ended up spending a week at Takaroa as guests of the two men and their relieved families. Grateful for our having helped the men return home, they opened their doors to us and welcomed us into their world.

We thought we'd been the ones doing the good deed, but in fact, they were the ones with the real gifts to give. They taught us how to spearfish and how to prepare traditional dishes, and told us stories from the history of their atoll. In addition, they made a traditional Polynesian dress for me, gave us pearls from their farm, and celebrated our being new members of their 'family' with a daylong BBQ.

But what they really gave us was greater than all that. Our new family on Takaroa expanded our horizons beyond measure, and confirmed our belief that kindness is truly the secret ingredient in life.

— gina 08/01/2016

Cruise Notes:

One of the challenges of coming to the end of a two-year family cruise is selling the boat quickly for a good price and getting the kids back into school. Chris and Heather Tzortzis, who are just finishing an action-packed cruise with five of their six kids aboard their San Francisco-based Lagoon 470 catamaran Family Circus, have had good fortune in these respects. After doing the Ha-Ha and the Puddle Jump, having terrific adventures across the South Pacific, and sailing to New Zealand and then back to New Caledonia, they managed to quickly sell their expensive boat to a Canadian couple, and to get their kids back in school.

"We sold Family Circus for what we were hoping to get," writes Heather, "and while we'll miss her so very much, it all worked out perfectly."

Latitude became friends with the Tzortzis family, and thanks to Heather's reports was able to follow the family's progress, and particularly enjoyed seeing the continuing rapid development of the kids. It's astonishing to us to see how much they've grown physically and in so many other ways since the 2014 Ha-Ha. Chris and Heather have promised to report on their progress for the next issue.

The good and the bad of the non-cruising six of the old 'six-and-six':

"My time working as a nurse back in Northern California has gone by extremely quickly," reports Josie Lauducci. "I'm already halfway through my 13-week travel RN assignment at UC San Francisco, but can't wait to get back aboard our Stevens 40 Shawnigan in Mexico with my husband Christian and kids Nina, Ellamae and Taj. I think our family's favorite part of taking six months off from cruising has been seeing all our family and friends. The stuff we could live without? San Francisco's cold summer temperatures, the fast pace of life, and all the traffic."

As is the case with Chris and Heather, Josie writes, "It's amazing to see how we've all grown mentally and emotionally." Cruising will do that to you.

Sharing a somewhat similar sentiment is Behan Gifford of another family boat, the Eagle Rock, WA, and San Francisco-based Stevens 47 Totem. She, her family and the boat are now on the East Coast, having done an west about 'circumnavigation almost' that has seen them cross the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans starting in 2008. Behan wrote in her blog —— about the "sped-up world" back here in the States, "where there’s more of a rush to the finish than an appreciation for what’s around." Is that ever an accurate observation or what?

Behan cites, "Lots of traffic, fast cars, foul language over the VHF, disrespect for the Rules of the Road," as symptoms of a greater problem.

If these women — and men — on family boats are basically saying the 'unreal world' can be disruptive to the mental and physical health of their kids, if not themselves, we think they are correct. Cruising is a great way to interact with the real world.

"The launching took an entire week and a lot of Fijian manpower, but we finally got Alyssa and my Voyager 43 Quixotic in the water," reports Lewis Allen of Redwood City, You'll remember that the couple bought the badly damaged cat after last year's tropical cyclone Winston, and have been working furiously to get her seaworthy and pretty again. We'll have a detailed report on the challenging launch — there was no Travelift — in the October issue.

"What should have been a simple raw-water pump repair turned into a five-month ordeal," report Steve Felton and Nikki Bailey of the Tacoma, Washington-based Hylas 44 Penn Station, currently in Auckland, New Zealand.

"To start with, the broken raw-water pump on our engine is behind everything else, so I had to strip all the belts and everything belt-driven off the front of the motor to get to it," says Steve. "Once I got the pump out, I found that repairing it was beyond my skill level, and it needed to go back to the manufacturer in the States. Then the Kiwi postal service messed up the shipping. The pump not only never made it to the States, the Kiwi postal service took a month to get it back to me. While the pump was in limbo, I met a mechanic who said he could handle any water pump repair, no problem. After he'd had the pump for weeks, he disappeared from the face of the earth for a few more weeks. Finally we got the pump back, but I wanted to get it painted. This final job took another week, and I still couldn't get it because it was the weekend.

"It's time to get Penn Station on the move again," continues Steve, "so after two days of slaving, lots of swearing, and tracking down a new ground fault that had occurred while the boat was sitting, the engine now runs again. Nikki and I are soon to depart 100 miles north to Opua to claim the free haulout we won while in Tonga."

Readers might remember that Steve and Nikki fell in love in a romantic thriller after delivering Penn Station from Tacoma to San Diego for the start of the 2014 Ha-Ha. Cruising can be difficult on all relationships, let alone new ones, so we're pleased to see that Steve and Nikki are still together.

We at Latitude aren't the only ones singing the praises of, a website that features animated weather graphics for the entire planet.

"We use windyty all the time," says John Neal, who has been taking students on some of the most adventurous sailing expeditions in the world for 27 years on his and his wife Amanda's Friday Harbor-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare.

"I like because it shows the interrelationship of wind patterns in different areas, and how beautiful it all is," says John. "Windyty has proven to be quite accurate in forecasting up to four days out. It's not only a great website that we use in teaching our expedition students, it's also free. As we were making our way to 80ºN above Norway and Russia, we also used, which is a similar product out of Norway, but which seemed to be a little more accurate for these waters."

Also free now — all the pilot charts of the world! Go to

"The Cook Islands are the first stop after French Polynesia for most folks headed west across the South Pacific," report John and Debbie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow. "The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands spread all over the vast Pacific between French Polynesia and Tonga. One of the northernmost of them is lonely Suwarrow, an atoll with a collection of small motus.

"Suwarrow has never been populated, except for some Coast Watchers stationed during World War II to report on enemy sightings. But in 1952, Englishman Tom Neale decided to move to Suwarrow to see if he could make it alone. He ended up staying for years, and wrote An Island to Oneself about the experience. More recently, the Cook Islands designated Suwarrow Atoll as a national park, and station one or two rangers here for six months each year.

"When Neale began his epic stay alone on Suwarrow in 1952, one of the first things he found left behind by the Coast Watchers was a very eclectic collection of books. Today, that same bookcase holds the Cruiser’s Book Exchange. While looking through it, it didn't take long for Deb to discover this little gem — the December 2014 issue of Latitude 38!"

Suwarrow is visited by about 80 yachts per year. Rogers reports that Moonshadow was the 16th of the season.

Twitter of the Sea? We got the following 11 brief texts from Patsy 'La Reina del Mar' in the middle of August while she was sailing her La Paz-based Gulfstar 50 Talion from Honolulu back to California. Why 11 texts and not just one? Because she sent them using her oddly named DeLorme inReach device, which effectively works not only as an EPIRB, but also as a tracking device and way to send two-way texts. Each text, however, is limited to 160 characters. So we got her text(s) as follows:

1) "Doña, always on a schedule and in a hurry. Reminds me of me! I am happy to report the total rebuild of my generator's exhaust system in Hawaii was a success."

[Her reference to Doña refers to Doña de Mallorca who, with two Mexican crew, was delivering Profligate 1,000 miles from La Cruz to San Diego.]

2) "We are back to cranking 40 gallons per hour out of the watermaker. Makes for a much more pleasant passage when the crew showers often. We are following the ..."

3) " ... advice of Bill Lilly and others by sailing as high as we can on starboard until latitude 38 (easy mark to remember), then tacking and then the rhumb line to Newport."

4) "On the leg from Tahiti to Hawaii we shredded the sun protection on the jib, lost the pressure water system, fried the generator's exhaust, had to start the ... "

5) " ... the engine every six hours or re-prime it, blew the alternator, broke the jib furling line, broke a traveler line, lost the dinghy gas tank overboard, nav computer ..."

6) " ... crashed and died, broke the toilet seat, and broke a wine glass. Other than the wine glass, all was fixed or replaced in Hawaii. A great pit stop by the way."

7) I really liked the Ala Wai Marina. Very handy location, newer docks, power and water both work. And cheap. With the add-ons for power and live aboard it came . . . "

8) " around $25 per night for one week. After that for me it's $500 per month. A great rate but there is a three-year wait-list for slips, and add a couple more years ..."

9) " ... if you want to live aboard. The location is to die for, with the Hilton Hotel fireworks practically in your cockpit every Friday night, shopping ..."

10) " ... malls, groceries and downtown all a short walk and Waikiki Beach next door. Too bad I spent most of the week in the engine compartment. Uh oh ... "

11) " ... gotta go tweak some stuff ... going slow again."

The DeLorme device runs about $300, but you also have to sign up for a plan similar to a phone plan. The least expensive is the Safety Plan, which is $11.95 a month on an annual contract, and gives you unlimited SOS, 10 text messages, unlimited preset messages, additional text messages at 50 cents each, and more.

For some cruisers, the DeLorme is a somewhat viable communication alternative to SailMail or WinLink. Jack van Ommen, who is about to take off to complete his 'Around the World Before 80 Years', decided that the much-lower cost of a DeLorme device when compared with a Pactor modem for SailMail, was worth living with a greatly abbreviated ability to send long messages. You'll remember van Ommen as the owner of the Naja 30 Fleetwood (II), the original version of which he sailed to over 50 countries on a ridiculously low budget."

We were amused to learn that Andrew Vik, the United States Ambassador of Nautical Mischief in Eastern Europe, is back at his job in Croatia aboard his Islander 36 Geja for his eighth year of furthering international relations. Despite arriving in the middle of summer, Vik and Geja were hit by a cold spell that had him pulling out a heater for the first time in ages. Then there was a bora that brought 50- to 70-knot gusts down from the mountains. After that, it's been lovely Croatian weather.

We're not sure if Vik and his fun-loving group of men and women have crossed wakes with Ivanka Trump and her husband, but the presidential contender's daughter and her husband have been hobnobbing around the beautiful waters of Croatia with Wendy Deng, Rupert Murdoch's ex and rumored love interest of Valdimir Putin.

It's fun to read the bios that people post on their sailing blogs. Take for example the ones by Jose Castello and Gina Harris of Carthago, the two who contributed this month's Changes about rescuing fishermen in the Tuamotus.

Admiral Gina: "I'm most likely the one to jump in first. I'm guilty of killing plants, hogging blankets, and over-organizing the galley. (Should I even feel guilty about that?) I'm cranky if I'm not active. Get. The. Girl. Out. Side. A true Californian with a nomadic heart, I grew up in Oakland, graduated from Cal, then took off to work in France for a few years. I found myself back in San Francisco. Despite no sailing experience, I'm bossy enough to be Admiral, and quickly became well-versed in navigating through squalls, provisioning for ocean crossings, and chopping onions in 10-foot seas."

Captain Jose: "I'm most likely to take a nap at anytime of day. I can't help it, I'm Spanish. I'm guilty of falling asleep in movies (see above), taking the first bite, and starting five different boat projects at the same time. I'm cranky if the snack drawer is empty. I went to 14 schools while growing up, in four countries and 11 cities. The locations changed, but sailing interest remained constant. It was love at first hoist! After migrating to San Francisco, like all techies must, I did the start-up life, but it got old, so I got the itch to get back on the move. Slowly. Like at five knots."

Excellent bios!

If you haven't read all of this month's Letters, you may have missed Jake and Sharon Howard's great and not-so-great news about the Fonatur Marina at Puerto Escondido. The Howards, who are spending something like their ninth straight summer in the Sea aboard their Hunter 45 Jake, report that the government-developed marina has finally been purchased, with a requirement that a 62-berth marina and an adjacent hotel be built and completed at the Ellipse within three years. The bad news is that the new owners of the marina are not permitting cruisers of anchored-out boats to tie their dinghies up at the marina, even for a fee. For details, see the Howards' letter in this month's issue.

"We put our Catalina 27 Willful Simplicity on the hard at Abel Bercovich's yard in La Paz for the rest of hurricane season," reports Steve Baker, who along with his wife Charlotte is originally from Santa Rosa. "Gawd I miss Willful Simplicity already! We plan on putting her back in the water the first week in October with a freshly painted bottom.

"After getting the boat hauled," he continues, "we spent a couple of days at Todos Santos, then returned to our Baja home at little San Evaristo yesterday to get ready for the next leg of the great adventure. Charlotte and I are planning to head about 400 miles north to do about a month of camping. First the high mountains in northern Baja, and then over to the coast on the way back down. It seems like a good way to stay cool in the particularly hot months of August and September."

Longtime readers will remember that Steve and Charlotte were sitting in the hot tub at their nice Santa Rosa home about eight years ago, when they decided quiet suburban living wasn't doing it for them. So they bought a humble Catalina 27, sailed her to Mexico in a windy 2009 Ha-Ha, and have adopted the village of San Evaristo, where they have become an integral part of that community. We don't think you could tear them away now.

What is the 'warm season' in the Evaristo latitude of Baja? According to one weather source, the name of which we've lost, it "lasts from June 4 to October 8, with an average daily high temperature above 91°. The hottest day of the year is August 8, with an average high of 96° and low of 83°. The 'cold season' lasts from November 30 to March 10, with an average daily high below 77°. The coldest day of the year is January 27, with an average low of 58° and high of 72°."

We're not going to argue with these experts, but it seems to us the warm season has higher temps, and the cold season colder temps than indicated.

Last year's El Niño conditions produced a very busy first half of the Eastern Pacific (Mexico) hurricane season. Through the end of August, there were 11 hurricanes, seven of which were maximum Category 4 storms, and three tropical storms. So far this year there have been five hurricanes, but none of them a Category 4, and six tropical storms.

As we go to press, the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season was just getting going, but NOAA has changed its mind about prospects for the season. Previously they forecast a lower-than-normal hurricane season, but based on new data — El Niño ending, a weaker vertical wind shear, weaker tradewinds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger West African monsoon — they foresee the most active hurricane season since 2012. Scientists point out that the Atlantic has actually been in a 'hurricane drought', as the US hasn't been hit by a major hurricane in 10 years, something that is only supposed to happen once every 270 years.

"What does a 75-year-old do when there is a job to be done on the top of the mast?" Donald Bryden of the Sparks, Nevada-based Brewer 45 Quetzalcoatl asks rhetorically. "He goes up and does it himself," he responds. The last time we heard from Bryden, he was in his late 60s, and he and Seishu Sono were crossing the Pacific. He's now somewhere in Indonesia.

It's kind of funny, because just a few days before we'd gotten a photo of Fleetwood's Jack van Ommen at the top of the mast of his 30-ft boat, and Jack is even older than Donald. But wait, there's more! After Commodore Tompkin's Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl got hit by lightning on a mooring off Oahu, the 84-year-old tells us he's going to have to spend a lot of time aloft to inspect and repair the mast.

A big concern of cruisers taking their boats to the Med is the brain-dead Schengen Area law that requires U.S. citizens to leave the Schengen Area — almost all of Europe — for at least 90 days in every 180-day period. When we went through customs at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris coming home in August — where yes, you have to clear customs to leave France — we asked what would happen if we'd stayed in the Schengen Area more than three months. The answer was a 200-euro fine. Your experience may vary.

Missing the pictures? See the September 2016 eBook!


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