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September 2018

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With reports this month on Sedna's departure from French Polynesia; the beginning of Avatar's third season there; Happy Together's "lonesome" run for Costa Rica — and a whole bunch of Cruise Notes.

Sedna – Hans Christian 38T
Giselle and Clifton Miller
End of the Beginning

Today — this beautiful, warm Friday morning at anchor in Bora Bora — marks the end of our 90-day visa in French Polynesia. Later this morning, we'll dinghy ashore, passports in hand, walk into the gendarmerie (police station) and officially check out of the country. This little dinghy ride we are about to embark upon feels like a huge milestone for some reason; one that we haven't quite processed, or thought past.

When preparing for the South Pacific this past fall, our brains were totally consumed by provisioning, boat preparation, bureaucratic logistics and general margarita haze. Learning petits bits of French and scoping out anchorages in the Marquesas were the last things on our minds, let alone thinking about what lay beyond French Polynesia. But here we are, waiting for another weather window to make another ocean passage into other beautiful Polynesian countries.

How did it happen so fast? These past three months have been a blur of crystal-clear water, brightly colored coral, Hinano beer happy hours, baguettes, brie and rough attempts to speak français on shore excursions.

The buddy boats we made landfall with in the Marquesas are the same boats motoring through the Bora Bora pass daily, joining our merry band of cruising buddies who are all concluding our French Polynesia experience at the same time. Some of these friends we haven't seen for months; some we've been hopscotching with from island to island; and a small few we've seen so frequently we know their anchoring habits by heart. But we're all here, reunited once again — for dinner parties, snorkeling sessions and sundowners. Every gathering is a reminder of the great friends we've already made this season and the memories to be made on this next section of our South Pacific journey.

Before the long passage ahead, several of us buddy boats chose to challenge our bodies and climb to the summit of Bora Bora: a steep, strenuous slog, literally straight up a jungly, bushy cliff face. Within minutes of beginning the ascent, we were dripping with sweat and regretting the sunscreen we'd put on our faces, which was now melting into our eyes. Our legs burned. Our hands were filthy. We chugged water to keep up with the heat.

Like our recent ocean passage, that mountain was also filled with extreme highs, and lows, including slipping on muddy roots, maneuvering over twisted trees, grabbing onto loose rocks — it was rough. However, with many water breaks and extensive cheerleading, we did it. We made it to the top! And it was worth the haul.

The view from the summit looking down over Bora Bora revealed a wide array of lagoon blues. The base of the clouds, just barely skimming our eye level, created a blanket of mist and reflected that same lagoon turquoise you could see so clearly below. Pink hibiscus flowers greeted us, waving in the cool Pacific breeze. It was as if all the beauty that we had seen over the past three months had been presented in this one panoramic form. I sat at the top, reminding myself how truly blessed we were to be this place, at this time… and with our home in tow! People all over the world pay good money to experience this small, majestic island, and we just sailed here… for free.

I bent over to stretch out my legs and gawked at the large amount of mud smeared all over my leggings. It reminded me of the big pile of salt-water laundry I needed to do once we got back to the boat. Ugh, more laundry. I cringe. Not every part of the cruiser lifestyle is as glamorous as the photos we share. There are certain land luxuries I miss, like full-pressure showers, washing machines or high-speed Internet (actually Internet in general would be nice), but that view… Bora Bora in all her glory, and good friends beside me. That was my high. Any worries of the upcoming passage vanished. Any lingering boat chores flitted away. I could've sat on that mountaintop for days and watched the shadows of those high, misty clouds change the shade of the water.

But, there was the promise of cold beer and ice cream at the bottom, so we collected ourselves and our already sore muscles and began the decent.
What I will remember most of Bora Bora will not be the challenge of the mountain climb, or the increased laundry load, but the feeling of being encompassed by beauty at the top. These past three months have felt the same. I don't remember the difficulties of the ocean passage as much as the color of the water in the Tuamotu atolls.

I feel a twinge of sadness for how rapidly the months fly by, knowing that this time-warp speed will only increase as our South Pacific season progresses. As I'm typing, I can feel my sore quads, my swollen feet and stiff knees… a gentle reminder of the pain that we go through to create such incredible memories.
But linger no longer! There are more miles to cover! More mountains to climb! More fish to swim with and sail changes to do. As we motor out through the coral reef pass tomorrow, I'll be stretching my legs and saluting that behemoth of a peak behind me. Farewell beautiful French Polynesia! Sedna looked good on you! On to the next island, the next lagoon, the next hill to climb…

— Giselle 7/6/18

Avatar — Kelly Peterson 44
Shelly and Mike Rickman
French Polynesia Debrief

Along with the necessary skills, wit and adventurous spirit, there is a certain art to cruising. And like all creative people, cruisers with some miles under their keels eventually develop their own 'style', steeped in their own experiences, and the experiences of others they meet along the way. We never tire of sitting down with them to do a little brain-picking.

Two such folks are Mike and Shelly Rickman of the KP44 Avatar. After living a dozen years in Mexico (most in La Paz, where they both served as commodores of Club Cruceros), the couple are starting their third year of cruising the South Seas aboard their Kelly-Peterson 44, Avatar. They have spent the last two seasons visiting island groups in French Polynesia — the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Gambiers. Editor-at-large Andy Turpin recently caught up with them in Tahiti for a debrief. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.

Inspiration — (Shelly) I've wanted to sail to French Polynesia since I read The Last Navigator in high school. But it wasn't until 2014 when the Cruceros had a big Fourth of July party that a Pacific crossing finally took shape. Several boats got together and made a pact: We gave ourselves two years to get out of La Paz and sail to the South Seas. Among those folks were Paul Whitehouse and Simone Wood of Tabasco II, who were tragically killed several months later when Hurricane Odile hit Baja and sank their boat. That only strengthened the pact with the rest of us. No matter what happened, we were going to go, because, as Paul and Simone always said, "Life is too short."

We departed La Paz on March 22, 2016, and arrived in Nuku Hiva in April.
The Crossing — (Shelly) It was just the two of us. But our watch schedule allows us to stay pretty rested. We do a 48-hour cycle, not a 24-hour. So on the first night, one person does two four-hour watches, and the other person does only one. The next night, it's reversed. During the day, it's six-on, six-off. We stay pretty rested with this system, and by the time we got there we were not overly-exhausted.

First Year Highlight — (Shelly)When we dropped anchor in the Marquesas, Mike asked me to marry him. I said, wow, yeah! But then we had to figure out how to get married in Polynesia. We ended up with this Polynesian ceremony in Moorea. They dress you up like a king and queen for a day. All our families came, and it was basically a week-long party. We did tours of the island, fed the stingrays, swam with sharks — everybody had a great time.

Speaking of swimming with sharks — (Mike) It takes some getting used to. If you're at anchor, slide into the water — don't jump. If you slide in, there's no noise. A few sharks may come to check you out, but no big deal. But if you make a big splash, it's a big vibration in the water. They think something's in distress. It does get their attention — and yours, too.

Playing the Winds — (Mike and Shelly)There are people who either pound right into the wind, or don't go to some places at all because they'll have winds on the nose. We wait for the right winds to go from island group to island group. For most of the year, the trade wind is primarily from the east, but sometimes a short-lived north wind will blow, and you can have a nice sail from Tahiti east to the Tuamotus. Then in June/July/August the Miramu, a strong southeasterly, can blow — up to 30 knots. Between these blows we were able to sail in a light southeast wind back to the Marquesas.

But as the season goes down to the end of the year, the wind starts to shift to the northeast. The second year, for example, we made it back to the Marquesas in September in light southeasterlies. But by December, it started oscillating east-northeast, and we sailed southwest to the Gambiers — seven days on one tack. Then, we came back to Tahiti when the wind shifted back to the east-southeast in late March, early April.

Generally speaking — (Shelly) The Marquesas are mountains with no reefs. The Tuamotus are reefs with no mountains. The Leewards are mountains with reefs close around them. And the Gambiers are small mountains with a giant reef around them.

Best diving/snorkeling — (Mike) The drift dive at Fakarava is mind-blowing. You drift through the pass with the incoming tide and it's just — Wow, lots of sharks! The best snorkeling in the Marquesas is down in Tahuata, but even there the water is not as clear as in the Tuamotus. But the best of the best? The Gambiers. The coral there is so alive — and they're known to have the most brilliant pearls in the South Pacific. The depth of color and brilliance are spectacular.

Communications — (Shelly) We're part of the Polynesian Magellan Net (SSB, 8173.0 at 1600Z and 0400Z). We do one day a week as net controllers. Everybody keeps track of everybody who's in the net, particularly when you're underway. But it's really more of a social thing. Many times we've made friends with people before we even meet them.

(Mike) For longer-range comms, we don't have a Sat phone or Iridium. We have a DeLorme inReach, which is now owned by Garmin, and we got the unlimited text — we're in touch with our families sometimes daily, or multiple times a day. And people can see where you are on an online map. It's only $55 a month.
Plan for the coming season — (Shelly) Well, you know what they say: "A cruiser's plans are written in the sand at low tide . . . they change twice a day!" We may be doing the Leewards. We may be going back to the Tuamotus. But we've also got the Australs on our minds, in particular Raivavae, so we may drop down there in the fall (our spring). They only get 10 or 15 boats down there a year. We met an old French-Canadian guy who used to pilot the Pan Am flying boats back in the day. He flew all over everywhere down there for years. When we asked what was his favorite, he said Raivavae. It's supposed to be as beautiful as Moorea — big mountains inside a lagoon.

— AET and JR 8/5/18

Next month — anchoring, dodging bombies and not sweating the paperwork.

Happy Together — Leopard 48
Randy and Lennie Smith
Where Is Everybody?
Delray Beach, FL

Happy Together is currently in Los Sueños Marina, Costa Rica. After we finished the 2017 Baja Ha-Ha, which was arguably the best time of our lives, we headed up to La Paz as many Ha-Ha participants did and spent some time cruising the Sea of Cortez. The area reminds us of a Jeep commercial filled with salt water!

We enjoyed Baja until early March, then headed to the mainland. After a stop at Isla Isabel (the Galapagos of Mexico) we headed to Puerto Vallarta and did the requisite family trips. By May we were on our way south again — and in for a big surprise. . .

Nobody was there.

It occurred to us suddenly that we were alone in the Costa Alegre. I mean alone. Not one other boat for a thousand miles — or so it seemed. We cruised to all the regular winter cruiser haunts like Chamela, Careyes, Tenacatita and Barra de Navidad, and there wasn't a soul. it was like The Walking Dead for cruisers. By then I had studied some more and found that everyone leaves Pacific Mexico by May 15 because that's when hurricane season starts — not June as I was used to as an Atlantic sailor. And here we were on June 1. The marinas were empty, the southern swell was closing the entire coast and we had few opportunities to anchor. We barely made it to Las Hadas for Lennie to run along the beach for her Bo Derek imitation before we realized we had to keep pushing south.

After a few more overnight crossings, we made it to Zihuatanejo, a sailor's bucket-list stop. We entered the bay and once again, not a single cruising boat in sight. Better keep going! From there we dodged the first three named storms of the season. We're no strangers to dodging storms after living and cruising in Florida and the Bahamas for 20 years, so we pushed on.

Acapulco was next. No space to tie up and no cruisers in sight, so we braved the big 10-ft swell and headed south for two more days until we reached the fantastic 12 bays of Huatulco. Now we relaxed a bit. We were getting pretty far south, the water was warm, and we felt relatively safe from storms except . . .we still had to cross the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec!

We waited for three days until we got the green light from our weather router, Chris Parker. When he and the port captain agreed, Lennie and I headed across the Gulf. The crossing brought five different wind shifts and seas from every direction. Although we have sailed 10,000 nautical miles, this one earned us some new stripes.

We made it to our final stop in Chiapas, Mexico, for our last Mexican meal and the final checkout before we entered Central America. We also picked up a friend, Mike Sheppard, as crew for the rest of the trip to Costa Rica.

We headed out under good conditions and sailed southwest for four days. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua all slid by our port side as we pressed on. We motored when we had to and sailed when we could — about 50/50 I would guess. The conditions went from benign to extreme. We even had a swell from two directions where each wave from each swell bashed the boat for four hours.

The bailout spots are few and far between on these desolate coastlines, with a strong southern swell landing everywhere.

Almost there . . . we passed the Gulf of Fonseca and dealt with wind and current, but then had a six-hour motor until we reached the Bay of Papagayo where the winds cross Nicaragua from the Caribbean and scream into the Pacific. It was all hands on deck as we dodged local fishing boats, fishing nets and long lines — in howling wind.

We made it to Costa Rican waters by 5 a.m. and had a wonderful beam reach with our code zero flying us along at 9 knots. One more turn around the Gulf of Nicoya and then a straight 28-mile run to Los Sueños Marina.

Well, almost. Neptune had one last six-foot cross swell that hit us hard. Catamarans don't like a short, steep sea as it creates the washing machine effect, and we were 'well spun' by the time we reached the bay at Los Sueños at 3 a.m. local time. We used our lights to find a spot and dropped the hook. We settled in for the first full-night's sleep in five days, only to be roused at 8 a.m. by the port captain on the radio, saying that the military, immigration and customs were standing on the dock waiting for us. Oh well — five hours' sleep is better than none. We entered the marina and cleared in. What an incredible eight months it has been. ¡Viva Mexico!

Lennie and I have been cruising our Leopard 48 catamaran part-time for three years. Cruising World magazine dubbed us the 'ultimate commuter cruisers,' as we've done 35 trips in 35 months and moved our boat 10,000 miles. We go once per month and move the boat from place to place, then fly home and work for three weeks — then back to the boat for our next adventure.

We are currently en route to bring our Happy Together back to Florida to sell it, as our new Leopard 50 is on order in South Africa. We plan to fly to Cape Town in November to watch her splash for the first time and go sailing around the "Cape of Storms". Then, we will ship her to Florida for outfitting before we join the World ARC Rally in 2020.

— Randy Smith 7/8/18

"Latitude 38 was the first sailing magazine I ever read when i was a kid racing on San Francisco Bay in my dad's Santana 35," noted Randy when he sent us this article. "You guys even wrote a story once about me beating Chris Corlett in a one-design race on the Berkeley Circle!"

Cruise Notes

Tim and Burgandy Scott of Friday Harbor, Washington, last cruised to Mexico back in 2005 aboard Tiburon, a 36-ft Crealock ketch. Then, as Burgandy puts it, "Got pregnant, had a baby, and thought a bigger boat was a good idea. It was. Rebuilding one . . . not so much." It took the Scotts more than a decade to essentially gut and rebuild Sassafrass, a 50-ft (LOD)schooner built in Saigon in the mid-'60s. In 2017, this time with daughter Violet aboard, the Scott family once again headed south, as part of the Baja Ha-Ha fleet.

"Our first year back to cruising has been one of great satisfaction — we are once again living the cruising lifestyle we worked so hard to return to," says Burgandy. One thing that surprised them was meeting some people on a fairly rigid timetable: Do the Ha-Ha, do the Puddle Jump, then skedaddle back home, all in a year's time. "I started calling it 'Pacific Puddle Panic,'" she jokes. The Scotts also hope to cross the Pacific one day, but have so enjoyed their return to mañana-land that they've decided to spend a year just enjoying Mexico. "Hey, for some of us it takes six months just to slow down!" she says.

And what does Sassafrass's youngest crewmember think of the cruising life?
"I'm often asked the same question in different ways: 'Are you all right?' As though there was something that would suggest I'm feeling otherwise," says 14-year-old Violet, echoing the sentiments of other cruising kids we've talked to. "I think my family's situation makes a lot of people uncomfortable — like most things that are unfamiliar. My family decided to take this leap of faith because we could — and should. No, it isn't always comfortable, but is anyone ever comfortable all the time? If you ask me, it's more uncomfortable to be passively aggressively interrogated on whether or not I'm happy, or feel that I'm being rudely dragged away from the life that a 'normal' teenage girl should lead. The thing is, I don't pride myself on being normal. I pride myself on being part of the minority who choose to follow a dream."

Having completed a nine-year lap and a half around the world (starting in Marina del Rey in 2007), Scott Stolnitz and Nikki Woodrow began another 'circumnavigation' last month. Of Australia. By land. "After 55 years of sailing and 100,000 miles at sea, I've more or less tossed out an anchor," says Scott, who sold their Switch 51 Beach House in Sydney last year. Their new ride is a new, high-tech off-road 21.5-ft 'cata-varan' made by a Queensland-based company that once made catamarans. 'Caravans' — what we call trailers — have to be extra-tough Down Under because most roads in the Outback are unpaved.

Alan and Laura Dwan's Herreshoff Nereia ketch Rhapsody got a bit part in the movie Adrift. The veterans of the 2012 Baja Ha-Ha and 2014 Puddle Jump were in Fiji when the opportunity to take part arose. Neither we nor the Dwans have seen the movie yet, but apparently there's a part where "there is an impromptu race and Rhapsody is the blue-hulled ketch." At this writing, Alan and Laura are getting ready to head back to the States.

Another circumnavigation got added to our 'West Coast Circumnavigators' list (which also includes Hawaii) last month. Gershon II, a 50-ft custom steel cutter owned by Steve and Cheryl Kornberg, left Kona, Hawaii, in 2012 and returned there in 2017. Interestingly, the boat was built in Hawaii in 1991 and served as the escort boat for the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea on the New Zealand-to-Hawaii leg of her Malama Honua World Voyage. The Kornbergs' first sail to Hawaii was aboard the first Gershon, a Lapworth 32 berthed in Sausalito's Pelican Harbor.

"SUNAT (the taxing authority in Peru) illegally seized my yacht almost three years ago when I stopped for emergency repairs in Ancón," wrote Dave Smith in a mid-July email. Smith, formerly of Sausalito, did not identify the type or name of his boat. He went on to say that he won every court case (including appeals), only to have SUNAT repeatedly refuse to return the boat. However, on the day he wrote, he said, "It's looking like they are going to release the boat today . . . I'm running fast now, trying to leave before they find another excuse to … retain possession of the boat." We reached out to him several times for more information but at this writing have not heard back.

When Jeff and Marie Brandt decided it was time for a bluewater cruiser a couple of years ago, they went 'retro', so to speak. Rather than building on their multihull experiences (their first two boats were a Prout catamaran and an F-27 trimaran), they chose a Pacific Seacraft Dana 24. And they haven't been disappointed. The Bay Area couple found and prepped Tiny Dancer in Port Townsend, but couldn't quite make it to San Diego in time for last year's Ha-Ha. So they took their time meandering down the coast, eventually ending up in Cabo, where they spent Christmas before heading into the Sea of Cortez. The boat is currently on the hard in San Carlos and Jeff and Marie are eagerly awaiting the end of hurricane season to continue the journey south.

After a winter cruising Mexico aboard their 42-ft steel sloop, Alsager, by May it was time for the Stolze family to face the dreaded "B" words – Baja Bash. Based on a number of deliveries he had done over the years, Evan wisely put his wife Tanja and son Mats on a plane back home to the Bay Area and picked up a couple of new crew for the trip from Cabo to San Diego. Turns out neither Reiner nor Matt had much offshore experience, which was good in a way: "I don't think they really knew what they were in for," says Evan.

Long story short, it wasn't the best of Bashes, but it wasn't the worst. After waiting out a big blow in Cabo for almost a week, they headed out in T-shirts — "tempting fate," says Evan — but were soon pulling on foulies and plowing into a solid 20+ knots, motorsailing with a deep-reefed main and taking a ton of green water over the boat. To his relief, "My rookie crew were neither fazed nor seasick," reports Captain Evan.

The trip (which we may feature in an upcoming Changes) took about two and a half weeks, with the final broad reach into San Diego in a lovely southwesterly. At this writing, Alsager was in a temporary slip in L.A. while the Stolze family flew home to Germany to visit relatives.

After nine years running a small consulting company, working 70+ hour weeks, and being away from home 80% of the time, Todd Silva decided it was time for a change (or would that be 'intervention'?) But what kind of change? The answer was The Answer — a family 'gap year' aboard their Ericson 38 in Mexico. After eight months of preparation, Todd, Shelby and teenage daughters Shay and Makena departed Orcas Island, Washington and headed south. They've spent most of the last year cruising the Sea of Cortez. "We're often asked what the biggest surprise has been" says Todd. "There are two. First, how much we have fallen in love with Mexico and its people. Second, how fast friendships and bonds can be made with the amazing people who comprise the cruising community." Eight months into the gap year, the gap just got bigger. "We all decided we were just not ready to go home, so we voted to extend another year!" says Todd.

Each winter for the past four years, the crew of Matador, a Beneteau Sense 50, has had to make a tough decision when they got to Cabo: turn north for the Sea of Cortez, or south toward the Mexican Gold Coast. The Sea beckons with its rugged beauty and desolate anchorages; the Gold Coast with its tropical waters and beachside palapa restaurants between Mazatlan and Barra de Navidad. Even the 'cons' seemed to cancel each other — the waters of the Sea of Cortez cool off after the first of the year, and strong Northerlies can blow for days, but the tropical Mexican mainland can get hot, muggy and buggy. ("What doesn't change," says Steve Myer, "is that the Mexican people are uniformly welcoming.") The conundrum got so difficult that Myer did the only sensible thing: He ordered a Fountaine Pajot Saona 47 catamaran to be delivered to Fort Lauderdale. So now the eenie-meenie-miny-moe process includes east to the Bahamas or south to the Florida Keys.

David Allmen is back home in Oceanside, in the process of rerigging his Whitby 42 Lahaina Roads after a "rather rigorous" Baja Bash last December. During the Baja Ha-Ha, an upper stay started to unravel so they went in to Mazatlan to get it repaired. Unsuccessful on that count, "we found some wire and sistered the two together with clamps," says Dave. The Bash itself was seven days of motorsailing to Ensenada, pretty far offshore to avoid the big winds (and seas) that caused so much havoc for firefighters battling the Thomas fire near Santa Barbara the week before Christmas. Allmen bought the boat in Charleston, SC, and spent two winters in the Caribbean, then, through the Canal and up to Golfito, Costa Rica. From there, he shipped the boat to Ensenada.

After 10 years of plotting and planning, the Los Angeles-based Alyn family launched their cruising dream in Newport, RI, where they took over ownership of the Outremer 51 cat The Other 2/3 ('O23' for short). To date, they have crossed the Atlantic to Cascais, Portugal (with a quick stop at the Azores). Then it was through the Strait of Gibraltar where they joined "the masses doing some summertime Mediterranean cruising." Scott says the plan is to head to the Caribbean in the fall, "but we're not solidly committing to anything and we will see what comes our way!"

He tagged this nice note onto his report: "In no small way, stopping in my local West Marine every month to pick up the latest issue of Latitude kept the dream alive for me, even when I thought it was only going to be a dream. Hopefully this note can do the same for at least one dreamer!"

After a frustrating, light-air 200-nm passage from Niue, the Fast Passage 39 Tioga is currently in the Vava'u Group in Tonga, and Ed Estabrook and Talica Davies are enjoying every minute. "The Islands remind us of a tropical version of our hometown cruising ground in British Columbia, so we immediately felt at home," notes Talica. She goes on to report that Neiafu offers a quick and easy check-in procedure, a daily market well stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and several restaurants, pubs and coffee shops "with the fastest Wi-Fi we've seen so far in the Southern Hemisphere." Adding to the fun, "Charles from Refuge Restaurant puts on a weekly yacht race where a few ambitious cruisers can show off their racing prowess — think Wnnebagos on a Formula One track," The Vava'u Group also boasts several amazing anchorages that are close together so island-and-anchorage hopping is an easy daysail. "With coral gardens, underwater caves, swimming, hiking, Tongan feasts and friendly (English speaking) locals, Tonga has made for some of the most interesting, relaxed and fun cruising we've done so far."

Missing the pictures? See the September 2018 eBook!


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