October, 2006

With reports this month from Esprit at Bora Bora; from Mark Denebiem on a 40-day 'walkabout' in the Caribbean aboard Pisang Goreng; from Convergence on troubles trying to leave New Zealand; from Viva on heading west because it's no longer safe in Venezuela; from Cadence on small cat cruising from Japan to the Philippines; and lots of Cruise Notes.

Esprit - Kelly-Peterson 46
The McWilliam Family
French Polynesia
(San Diego)

Greetings from Bora Bora! Even though it's a gray and rainy day because a cold front is passing through, this is nonetheless the most beautiful island in the Societies! The water color ranges from a purplish blue to turquoise, and often times it gives the bottoms of the low clouds a luminous blue-green tint.

Chay and Jamie went for a scuba dive in the lagoon with Robert of Lawur. They actually didn't see Jamie that much because he was making a sandcastle - 20 feet below on the bottom! Lawur is another 'kid boat' that we've hooked up with on our cruise. We've shared many fun dinners and great conversations with them, and the boys have had a ball together - including three sleepovers. Lawur has a cat, and before long Jamie discovered that he is allergic to them. We give him Benadryl when he goes to Lawur for any amount of time, and he's been fine.

We spent a few days at Tahaa before coming to Bora Bora, and while there picked up a mooring at the Taravana YC so we could enjoy a nice dinner with a few of the other cruisers at the 'yacht club' restaurant. The owner of the yacht club had sailed to Tahaa aboard a 28-ft sailboat in '72 - and has never left. The forecast was for a front to come through while we were there, so we moved to another anchorage for better protection. The seas were calmer in the new location, but we did a lot of swinging on the hook when the gusts came through. In fact, we did so much swinging that we wrapped the chain around a coral head, and it ultimately took 45 minutes of maneuvering to get free. At least we didn't have to dive on it. Of course, our son Jamie didn't think it would have been a problem, as he said dad could dive on it, mom could steer the boat, and he could operate the anchor windlass. He's such a trooper!

Chay has been diligently working to repair the autopilot. His first fix failed in very rough seas on the way to Bora Bora, so he's attempting a more robust repair. Hopefully, it will get us to Tonga.

Once we did get to Bora Bora, we picked up a mooring at Bloody Mary's restaurant, where we had dinner 13 years before on our honeymoon. We had dinner there again, and were pleased to see that some of the same employees were still there. Later we took our dinghy over to the Hotel Bora Bora, where we'd stayed on our honeymoon, and had lunch to prematurely celebrate Katie's birthday. It was fun to reminisce. After lunch we moved again, picking up a mooring at the Bora Bora YC, where we are now trying to stay dry in anticipation of our next leg - 1,200 miles to Tonga.

- the mcwilliams 09/15/06

Pisang Goreng - Oceanis 411
Mark Denebeim
The Caribbean Walkabout

After 25 years, I was finally going back - back to the islands of paradise, the memories of which were still vivid in my mind after all those years.

My relationship with the Caribbean started in '79 when I graduated from college, earned my captain's license and scuba certification, and set off on a 'Sailor's Walkabout' with my life savings - which consisted of $1,000. I began by flying from San Francisco, my hometown and sailing backyard, to Florida in order to participate in the International Windsurfing Championships. I didn't win, but I did meet a nice Swiss girl, and after three weeks was working and living in the Ross Yacht Yard because I'd already spent half my money. Then I hitched a ride to the British Virgins aboard a new Morgan 46, arriving after 14 uncharacteristically calm days.

My original plan back then was to take a year off from work to sail the Caribbean, then return to 'real life' in California. I ended up doing a three-year Walkabout as a first mate, then charter and delivery skipper, and finally race crew out of ports in the Virgin Islands, Antigua, and Newport, Rhode Island. This included full-time work aboard Nirvana, the 1950 Alden-designed Hinckley 65, and the Swan 57 ketch Mariah. It also included a dozen deliveries from the East Coast to the Caribbean, a New York YC cruise, and three Antigua Sailing Weeks. Those were simply the best three years of my life!

Having subsequently joined the real world and become a swimming pool designer, in '06 I decided that I would do a modern version of that original Caribbean Walkabout - 40 days and 40 nights aboard 'Captain Mark's Ark', from Anguilla to Dominica. Thanks to being an independent businessman, I am frequently able to take time off for sailing vacations, but Walkabout II was the longest. My ambitious and lengthy vacation started from Oyster Pond, St. Martin on May 26, when I picked up the Oceanis 411 Pisang Goreng. It ended 600 miles later on July 5. Most of the time I sailed with various friends, but some of the time I sailed solo.

Most people sail the Caribbean in the winter, but in my opinion the May to mid-July shoulder season is the best. There are a number of reasons: the trades are more moderate, the seas smaller, the anchorages less crowded, the airlines less booked, and the charterboat rates as much as 30% less. Even Customs and Immigration officials seem more relaxed. It's true that some restaurants and other businesses close for the summer, but there are still enough others to have a great time.

Why do I always end up with poorly named boats? Pisang Goreng is Indonesian for Bananas Flambe. Last year I chartered Arytenoid, which I believe means something having to do with rectal surgery. Another time I had a boat called Fruitcake. Try saying any of these names over the VHF and you'll understand the problem.

Because of the furling main and jib, Pisang would only tack in 90-100 degrees. But thanks to the predominant ESE trades of summer, we had reaching conditions almost all of the time. The wind was a perfect and steady 16-24 knots, day and night, for the first four weeks. It dropped to 13 to 18 knots for the final two weeks, which were at the start of the rainy season. The evening winds were wonderful because they made it bearable to sleep below.

The winds in the channels between the islands were often stronger, of course. It was common to have a steady 25 knots with gusts to 30. Pisang would reach along at 6.5 to 8 knots. Reefing the jib to 85% and the main to 75% when the wind blew over 22 knots made a dramatic difference in the way the boat handled and in the crew comfort. In the lee of some islands - especially Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, Anguilla and Antigua - the wind would wrap around the southern point and provide smooth downwind sailing in 15 knots with totally flat seas. During those times we'd turn on the autopilot and sit on the bow with our books and cold drinks!

I began each day with an early morning swim, not only to clear the pipes and my rum and wine-fogged head, but to check the anchor and nearby reefs. While clearing my system at Sandy Ground, Anguilla, I noticed two four-foot sand sharks circling me with some enthusiasm. When they attacked the 'logs' not more than three feet from my butt, I scurried back to the boat. They really had 'scared the crap out of me'.

Some days my guests and I would snorkel in three different places. I always dove on my anchor to make sure it wasn't fouled. Twice I had to pull myself down 50 meters of chain into murky water to make sure the hook was set, but it allowed me to sleep soundly. Just to be sure, I would check my neighbor's anchors as well. Twice I had to inform other skippers that their hooks were fouled. The only time I had to clear my hook was at Anse de Barc, Guadeloupe. In fact, I had to clear it in 35 feet of water, where it was hooked on two large fisherman type anchors that had apparently been resting on the bottom for many years.

My favorite places to snorkel were: Anguilla's Little Bay, where ours was the only boat on the moorings, and Prickly Pear Island, which had just average snorkeling but was surrounded by a postcard perfect lagoon with a smooth white sand beach. Off Guadeloupe, we liked Pigeon Island, a Jacques Cousteau marine park with blue water and crystal clear visibility. On the north side of the little island is a 50-ft wall for snorkeling, and on the south side, a 15-ft wall. We saw octopus, sea snakes, flounder and schools of various size fish. When off Isle des Saintes, I liked to anchor off Pain de Sucre and to enjoy amazing shallow water snorkeling among eel, turtle, and many colorful fish. There's a small private beach there, too. I like Antigua's Deep Bay, which has a 100-foot wreck poking above the surface but resting in just 20 feet of water. If you go to Nevis, you don't want to miss Tamarind Bay, where the north side around to Oualie Bay is rich with turtle, lobster, octopus and hundreds of black spiny sea urchins and conch shells. White House Bay, St. Kitts, has a small wreck in 10 feet of water - although when we were there the visibility was below average. We also had poor visibility off Dominica, except for one superb day at Cabrits.

We jokingly called for whales two miles north of Dominica - and minutes later were rewarded with the sight of two pilot whales calmly swimming toward our port beam. We saw dolphin at a number of other places and, while ashore at Nevis, saw two of the island's 40,000 monkeys while climbing around the Golden Rock Hotel.

The most spectacular sights on land were at Dominica, where there are red rock dunes above a rocky coast. And there were romantic waterfalls, such as the Emerald Pool, in the middle of rainforests. Nevis was also gorgeous, with the capital of Charlestown being particularly picturesque. Anguilla has the best beaches, but no real vegetation. Antigua has the most places to anchor, our favorites being Green Island and Nonsuch Bay. At Pointe Noir, Guadeloupe, we liked the slanted Acomat waterfall. You climb sheer rock walls and then jump into the 11-ft deep fresh water pool. Deshaises, also on Guadeloupe, has an amazing botanical garden. According to some guests, the horseback riding on St. Kitts is "the best ever". St. Kitts also has a fun bar scene at Frigate Bay - the Shiggedy Shack rocks! - and had the best named bays. This would include White House Bay, with not a single house of any color in sight, Bug's Hole Bay and Shitten Bay.

We had a wild time on May 30 on Anguilla, as it was Anguilla Day, a reverse independence day that celebrates the fact that Anguilla retained English protectorate status in 1969 rather than joining a coalition with Nevis and St. Kitts. Almost all the island's 12,000 residents gathered on the beach at Sandy Ground to party and watch the annual around-the-island boat race. There was also a MacGregor 26 anchored in the shallows, and several local bikini models who loved to pose around it for my camera. Girls Gone Anguilla! The party lasted all day, and we were among the last to leave the beach later that night.

The Anguillan racing boats are 28-ft traditional wood open skiffs, with 59-ft masts and a 39-ft booms! The ballast consists of 100-lb iron bars that are carried to the weather side on each tack, and 100-lb bags of sand that are emptied into the ocean as the wind decreases. The jib tracks for these boats are nailed rather than screwed into a short plank that is also nailed to the exposed stringers. De Tree, the winner of the around-the-island race, finished in seven hours. During the beach party later on, the crew carried six-foot-long branches to emphasize their bragging rights over the 14 other entries.

All of the sailing was good during the Walkabout, but some was excellent. For example, the 32-mile beam to broad reach from St. Barth to Anguilla, which takes you past many islands named for food - Beef, Bakery, Fork, Table, and so forth. Then you pass St. Martin, and go wing-and-wing up the coast for a view of the fancy resorts such as Cap Juluca, CuizinArt, Covecastles and Altamer. After rounding Anguilla to starboard, you beat in flat water to either Sandy Island or Road Harbor. The 30 miles from St. Barth to Statia was another very fast and smooth broad reach. Sailing behind Guadeloupe in flat water was fast and fun, and all of the channel crossings - between 20 and 46 miles in length - were a blast. The downwind run from English Harbor, around Cades Reef, to Deep Bay was awesome. Normally I would have avoided the Nevis to Antigua upwind bash by heading southeast to Montserrat first, but the volcano had erupted again the week before, so the air was still full of ash.

The only thing I hate about cruising with refrigeration is that you have to run the engine one hour twice a day - although the checkout guide suggests three times a day! To alleviate the agony of having to hear from the nonetheless reliable Yanmar 56-hp diesel, I would try to run it while we were off snorkeling or on the beach. But food and cold beer are important, so I focused on provisioning every five to seven days. I did this for several reasons: 1) Food really doesn't last much longer than that in a compressor-driven ice box - especially in the tropics; 2) Part of the cruising experience is to try the unique foods and drinks on each island, from French to English to Dutch to Creole; and 3) You tend to eat ashore more often than you plan when shopping.

Here are some of the restaurants we enjoyed the most: Anguilla - Oliver's Seaside Grill, and Bananas. St. Martin - California Restaurant in Grand Case, a town of many nice restaurants; Calmos Café, on the beach in Grand Case; and the Sunset Beach Grill, next to the busy Queen Juliana Airport, for the best $6 hamburgers in the Caribbean. Nevis - Sunshine's Restaurant next to the Four Seasons. St. Kitts - La Cucina at the Marriott Hotel for Italian, and the Shiggedy Shack at Frigate Bay for the lobster and the fish sandwich. Dominica - The Blue Bay Restaurant in Prince Rupert Bay for inexpensive local food like goat stew. Guadeloupe - the last place on the left of the bay in Deshaises, where the whole fish was superb. St. Barths - Le Select is still the only place on the island where you can get $3 beers and $6 hamburgers. Antigua - Life Restaurant in English Harbor, where they serve fresh food right over the water.

As I returned Pisang Goreng at the end of the 40 days, I reflected on how well she'd taken care of us, and how much more familiar she'd become to us with each passing day. As I gently eased her alongside the concrete dock for the last time, I thought about all the boats I had sailed with my dad. And especially about the time when, as a teenager, I'd taken the 'big boat' - his Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 ketch - out sailing without his permission, something he didn't find out about until weeks later. But he always told me, "Always practice true seamanship and your vessels will honor you as a true sailor. And they will get you home safely, because they are your home."

The most profound thing that I can say about my most recent sailing Walkabout is that we didn't spend a lot of time reflecting on life, but rather living it. We didn't seek paradise, we lived in it. We didn't wish things would get better, because they were already great. And when we returned to the stress of the modern world back home, we could face it with renewed vigor and quiet confidence because we knew a special secret - there's a heaven on earth, and it's aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean.

- mark 07/15/06

Convergence - Wylie 65 Cat Ketch
Randy & Sally Christine Repass
Raining Harken Balls
(Santa Cruz)

Even in the best weather conditions, a mid-winter passage from New Zealand to Tonga can be a slog. And last June several boats in a cruising rally got into trouble when they were caught in a 'squash zone'. Although most everyone was rescued, the father and son crew on one boat were tragically never found.

A squash zone brings to mind images of being pelted with pumpkins! In meteorological terms, however, it's when a high pressure system collides with a low pressure system. The results are unforgiving reinforced winds and monster seas. We met a Canadian family, including four kids, who took shelter from this storm at Minerva Reef, a mid-ocean atoll that, despite being awash at high water, offers fairly smooth water in a storm. They rode out sustained winds of 70 knots, which is not my idea of fun.

This year Convergence wintered in the West Park Marina in West Auckland to undergo completion of Randy's 'Hundred Project List' resulting from our two-year 'shakedown cruise' from Santa Cruz to New Zealand. Randy managed the progress with numerous emails, phone calls, and a personal inspection trip in March. As with all project lists on boats, there are the big items - such as beefed up alternators, reinforced wishbone booms, and getting the bottom painted. And there are smaller items - such as fixing drawer pulls, putting in new window shades, adding nonskid to the cabin sole, and so forth. Needless to say, we made a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy.

Most of the boat work was performed by Pauline and Dave Pringle's Smuggler Marine in Henderson, who called in subcontractors as needed. The New Zealand workers were thorough, and their work - with a few minor exceptions - was superb. It might have something to do with the fact that that country has a formal apprentice program for boat workers. In any event, the work was completed on time and the cost was reasonable. We can recommend Smuggler Marine.

Randy and I exchanged love letters via email while he waited for a weather window to the South Pacific. Prior to departure, there was 30 knots of wind in the Hauraki Gulf, with rain and freezing temperatures. It was time for the tropics! The crew for the passage included my brother Joseph Rodgers, a marine surveyor, and two friends that Randy and I met while cruising. They are Kiwi Mark Edwards, who used to be a rigger, and Aussie Peter Cook, who drives ferries in Tasmania. Aussies and Kiwis love to hate each other, and are always ready with degrading comments about the other's nationality. The fact that Australia was settled by convicts gives the Kiwis plenty of fodder, while the Aussies respond with nonstop off-color barbs about Kiwis and sheep. Peter and Mark maintained a good-natured, below-the-belt verbal assault on each other for the duration of the passage.

With the provisions stowed and the crew aboard, Convergence cleared Customs on June 25 - after which the troubles began. When the crew raised the sail that morning, a misaligned sail track caused the 40 ball bearings in the headboard car to fall to the deck. "It was raining Harken balls," reported Randy.

Knowing they didn't have enough replacement balls aboard to fix the problem, Convergence checked back into New Zealand. Despite having just left, they were required to file new paperwork. Customs filled in 'Tonga' as their last port of departure. "Convergence is now on record for the single fastest round-trip passage from New Zealand to Tonga and back - one hour!" Randy mused.

As chance would have it, Convergence was intercepted by Dave Pringle, who was out with his kids for a test drive aboard Smuggler, one of his company's new hard-bottom inflatables. Dave gave Randy the name and phone number of the Harken rep, who, it being Sunday, was home with friends watching a rugby match. He graciously agreed to replenish the missing balls.

Being careful not to lose their new balls, the Convergence crew checked out of Customs for a second time, and were soon on their way, passing by the Rangitoto Lighthouse. When checking out with Customs, the officials had made it very clear that they were not allowed to anchor, tie to a dock, or have physical contact with another vessel in New Zealand waters. But then Pringle showed up in Smuggler again, and was happy to take the crew's cameras to get some shots of Convergence underway. It would have made quite a headline: Smuggler Seen Illegally Passing Small Black Bags To Sailing Vessel Convergence While Departing Auckland.

The wind lightened as evening approached, so Randy started the motor. Here's how he described what happened: "I went below to check the engine, and noticed there were no belts around the alternator pullies - meaning the house batteries weren't getting a charge. Then I noticed that the drive pulley for the alternators - which should have been connected to the drive shaft - was lying in the bilge along with five sheared off bolts that were supposed to have held it in place!" Unable to complete the passage without house batteries, they called the guy who had beefed up the alternator brackets to organize a repair, and once again returned to New Zealand Customs. And once again they checked in "from Tonga".

By the following afternoon the repair had been completed, and Convergence returned to the Customs Dock for a third time! As always, the Customs officials were professional, easy to work with, and very efficient. And by this time they were all but close personal friends. The third check-out proved to be a charm, and Convergence finally completed her 1,100-mile passage to Tonga. During the passage there was either too little wind and/or wind from the wrong direction, necessitating two days of motorsailing. Then there was 40+ knots of wind from 150 degrees off the bow, which had Convergence surfing at over 20 knots - with three reefs! They also had a couple of days of great off-the-wind sailing, completing the passage in 5 days, 5 hours.

- sally christine /07/15/06

Viva - Grand Soleil 39
Steve & Pam Jost
Adios Venezuela
(Hermosa Beach)

As some readers may recall, we became embroiled in two major repair/maintenance projects after returning to our boat in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, last October - overhauling the engine and removing our 20-year-old teak decks. The engine had been overhauled in our absence as planned, but hadn't been put back into the boat because the mechanic had accepted a position aboard a large yacht on the East Coast! After a few weeks we found another mechanic to install the engine. Once that was done and we'd launched our boat, we were ready for our next adventure.

After six years in the tropics, the teak decks on our 20-year-old boat were looking pretty sad. We decided to replace them with fiberglass decks, which are definitely cooler, cleaner, and much less expensive. We found a great Venezuelan contractor to do the job, but since all of the boatyards in the area were full, we had to complete the job in the water. This required us to move the boat to several different locations, which wasn't fun because we were still living aboard. But our guy did a great job, and now Viva looks better than new.

But we got some bad news when we discovered that our newly overhauled engine was losing power and had low oil pressure. Fortunately, Robert, our original mechanic, was returning to Puerto la Cruz and vowed to correct the problem without charge. Unfortunately, this meant having to lift the engine off her mounts again - and right after we'd varnished the entire interior. Pam wasn't a happy camper. We finally decided to leave Robert to do his thing while we took off on an air and land trip to Argentina.

We spent our first week at Buenos Aires, which is one of the most vibrant, cultured, and entertaining cities we've visited in years. We enjoyed great food and wines, exciting nightlife, and more tango than we could ever imagine. And all at incredibly low prices. For example, at the Cafe Tortioni, a great old European-style cafe that was built in the 1800's, we could have a couple of glasses of wine and a light snack for $10. Argentina is known for its beef, and we found some great parilla (BBQ) restaurants in every part of the city. After the cruising lifestyle, it was a little hard getting used to starting dinner at 9 p.m., but it didn't take us long to adapt.

We then flew 1,500 miles to Bariloche in the lake district of Patagonia at the foot of the Andes. It was like being in the German and Swiss Alps. We rented a car for a leisurely drive around the lakes, which included a stop for a cable car ride to a beautiful lookout in the Nahuel Huapi Nacional Park. From there we took a bus to Angostura, another delightful little lakeside town, before continuing on to San Martin del Andes, a ski resort on a lake. That whole town looks like an Alpine village, with wooden buildings surrounded by rose and flower gardens. What a great area for hiking, sightseeing and eating. We opted for a super cama - or sleeper - bus for the 1,500-mile trip back to Buenos Aires. The bus featured fold-down seating, hot meals, and wine! It was a very comfortable alternative to flying.

After more time in Buenos Aires, and a visit to the famous La Bamba Estancia, one of the most famous ranches in Argentina, we returned to our boat in Puerto La Cruz. Robert had solved our engine problems, so it was finally time for us to head west.

Unfortunately, the security situation in Venezuela has deteriorated badly over the past year, with boardings and thefts having become more common at all of the nearby coastal islands and anchorages that we had once enjoyed. We have always been aware of the thefts of unsecured outboards and occasional robberies, but it's gotten much worse. Thieves are now well-armed with handguns and shotguns instead of knives and rusty machetes. And the crimes are no longer mere heists of dinghies, but overpowering cruisers with guns and stripping the boats of all that the thieves can carry.

We feel very fortunate to have seen the best of Venezuela, with its pristine coastal anchorages and offshore islands, and even inland spots, over the last six years. We've also had some great boatwork done, and met some wonderful locals who became good friends. And it will be hard to forget paying 8 cents/gallon for diesel, $9 for a litre of good scotch, and $3 for a case of beer. But it's time to say adios to Venezuela.

- steve & pam 08/15/06

Readers - You'll recall that in the last issue John Anderton of Alameda reported that, after five summers in Trinidad, he felt the crime had become intolerable in that country. Unfortunately, Trinidad and Venezuela have been the primary two places for Eastern Caribbean boats to go in the summer to avoid hurricanes.

Cadence - Apache 40 Cat
Frank Leon
Guam To The Philippines

We - John, Pegi, Angel, and I - dropped the hook off the Marianas YC on the morning of January 16 after a rough seven-day sail from Hahajima, Japan. We spent the morning clearing in with Customs and Immigration, then found a reasonably priced hotel. Although all of us were very much still sleep deprived, we nonetheless gathered for dinner at a restaurant known for its large portions of food and beer. Lots of beer. Brother John dozed off on the ride back to the hotel. In the parking lot, he swayed noticeably as large imaginary seas swept through the area. With a firm grip on the door handle, he turned to his wife Pegi and said, "You should go below, dear, you'll be more comfortable." His brow furrowed deeply as his eye caught a car going by on the dark street. Grinning to himself, he let the remark stand, hoping that nobody would notice. No explanation was needed among the four of us.

We'd gotten our big send-off back in Hahajima from Ray, Fumi, and Conor, their precocious young son. The three of them had sailed into the harbor aboard Earenya, their 30-ft cement boat, during an early December gale and had decided to stay. Fumi, a Japanese national, got a job the next day and has been working full-time ever since. Over the holidays, they moved into a room in a worker's hostel and enrolled Conor in classes. They also learned that they couldn't legally move Earenya without complying with Japanese safety regulations. Ultimately, they gave away the gear they couldn't sell, and made plans for their boat to be hauled out and broken up. It must have been like the death of a friend, so I'm glad we didn't have to see it. We dumped her mast and rigging 25 miles offshore.

That night Fumi cooked up a great meal, and there is no finer food than Japanese home-cooking. Todd and Geoff, the local English teachers/surfers, showed up, as did Koki, our introspective Japanese friend. Back in Tokyo, I had picked up a set of Curious George books for Conor, and we read one with great interest all around. I took the time to explain my thoughts on the difference between a sense of guilt and a sense of shame, a critical point in Japanese culture and a major theme in the little monkey's life. Unfortunately, we didn't record what Connor thought of a 52-year-old man with a mohawk haircut.

The first leg of our passage to the Marianas was an overnight trip to Hahajima, the sister island to Chichijima. While on the dock, we met Okada-san, another school teacher, who graciously lent us his dirt bike to tour the island. There are about 7.5 miles of road - most of it having been built by the Japanese Imperial Army - which swing through the hills, along cliffs, and through tunnels. It was an amazing ride through groves of pandanus, reeds and cypress trees. We stopped to walk to a mushroom viewing platform - something only the Japanese would build. A fallen tree had sprouted rusts and fungi, and some may have been the glow-in-the-dark variety that is unique to these islands. We also climbed a large piece of artillery that was left over from the retreat of the Imperial Army in 1945.

The next day, which was cold and gray, we continued on our way south. Angel saw a whale breach far to the north, but otherwise we had the ocean to ourselves. Three days and 450 miles later, we made landfall on the miserable windswept speck of volcanic debris called Iwo Jima. Mostly flat and treeless, it's only about four miles long, and sulfuric steam rises from thermal vents on the shore. The southern point is marked by famous Mt. Suribachi, a steep cinder cone about seven stories tall. Just 61 years ago, this was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history. Some 72,000 U.S. Marines came ashore through the surf, and killed nearly all of the 27,000 Japanese defenders, none of whom surrendered. Today Iwo Jima's black sands are desolate, home to only crabs and seabirds. We pushed on without stopping.

Our continuing course to Guam was a beam reach, an uncomfortable point of sail for a catamaran when it's rough. Since we had 'enhanced' northeast trades, it was indeed rough, with 25 to 30 knots of wind and 15 to 20-ft seas. We regularly took green water on deck, resulting in all the bunks getting soaked. Cooking - even making coffee - was a dangerous chore. We stood three-hour watches through the nights, and made landfall just after midnight four days later.

So we're here in Guam for a few weeks. Brother John and Pegi will fly home on Sunday, and as soon as Angel gets a good sun tan, she'll be returning to Montreal to start college. It will be a long time until she sees the sun again. That will leave me here to sort through the rope locker and organize my life. We pass this way but once.

About my mohawk. Let's just say it's a bar bet that went bad. For those of you who may be considering getting one, here are a few observations: First, it will help you gain a new appreciation for sunscreen. Secondly, in Japan it's called a Mohican. Go figure. And lastly, you'll get a lot less eye contact when you wear one into a beach bar. At this point, I'm not sure if that's a totally bad thing.

Update: My tales of misery and dangerous adventures seemed to scare away all potential crew at the Marianas YC bar. Except, that is, for young and intrepid Robin Young, who is a gourmet cook and who turned out to be a deckhand extraordinaire. Together we cleaned up the cat and made repairs - including re-attaching the forestay that had its own adventure on the last night of our trip from Japan.

Robin and I sailed to Ulithi on Sunday in more enhanced tradewinds. We motored into the atoll's lagoon and anchored in the lee of a palm-lined beach on one of the many motus. The colors of the morning included emerald green trees, white coral sand, electric blue water, and black Kona coffee.

Cadence had been to Ulithi before - in February of '97, when George, Ron, Walter and I were aboard. As is the case this time, we stopped on our way from Guam to the Philippines. I'd just sold the cat to George after an 18-month adventure from California by way of New Zealand with my wife Rose and 4-year-old daughter Constance. I had but $50 to my name when George bailed me out. Cadence spent several years in the Philippines, then several more in Japan. When George started having financial concerns - do you notice a pattern here? - we agreed on terms for me to buy the cat back. Like an old girlfriend, Cadence is mine once again, and once again we are bound for the Philippines and points west.

The particular island we're at now is called Federai, and even though it's only a mile long and about 100 meters wide, it supports a village of about 80 people - plus a Peace Corps volunteer. When we arrived Robin went snorkeling on a nearby reef while I went ashore to meet the chief. Grady, the Peace Corps guy from Oklahoma, met me on the beach and walked me over to the chief's hut for an introduction. Not a man of many words, the chief welcomed us to his village, and then Grady showed me around. The island has one main path that is bounded by yards and tidy thatch huts with raised floors. The yards were bounded by short hedges and rows of partially buried fishing floats, the product of the beachcomber's art. These floats are everywhere and more arrive each day. Another yard decoration I noticed was a pair of Korean War vintage aircraft drop tanks. I also noticed that orange Norwegian type fenders were cut up and used as door hinges.

I was introduced to everyone that we passed along the way. There was Noah, Luke, and Cool - all of whom sported mullet style haircuts, a la Billy Ray Cyrus. Thinking about it, it's the perfect haircut for the islands, as it's easy to keep clean and keeps the sun off the top and back. It's much more sensible than my Mohawk, which I'm trying to grow out. In addition to the mullet, wraparound sunglasses and Hawaiian island-boy T-shirts complete the fashionable homeboy look. I also met Daniel and Nathan. After also meeting Kissinger and Mitchell, I half expected to meet Milhaus and McNamara.

These islands are all part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which are administered from Yap. There's a bit of friction here because Yap has a distinct caste system, and the people on the outer islands are at the bottom. Further, Ulithians are a distinct language group of unknown origin, and the several thousand Ultihians are scattered over the world - with Hawaii and Los Angeles being home to big communities. All these people are related to a canoe full of people that arrived here in the darkness of time from parts unknown. But they assert their identity. I noted the charted name of the island was different, but was told that it was a Yapese name that was changed because it loosely translated to 'testicle island'.

'This could be paradise,' I thought to myself. I asked Grady what he experienced upon moving into a grass shack on an island only 10 feet above sea level. He said the first three months were tough. Then he got into the routine of the island. He teaches a couple of hours in the morning, then keeps himself busy with communal projects, fishing, reading, and playing the guitar. There's lots of time to sit around and talk and it's definitely low-stress. He's also developed a liking for chewing betel-nut, a habit that will be hard to continue back in Oklahoma. When betelnut is not enough, they make a bush brew. We enjoyed some in the shade of his shack and got a great mid-afternoon buzz going. At one point, a coconut fell a few feet away with a deadly thud. Getting bombed by one of these is a hazard of island life. Fortunately, the coconut gives a distinct snap when it lets go, and the islanders recognize it. By instinct they'll jump towards the trunk of the tree, because the coconut never falls there. Grady also keeps a pet frigate bird that soars in the clouds during the day, then roosts in the tree behind his shack at night. Tame as it is, Grady has to keep ahold of its razor-sharp beak when he handles it.

But the times they are a-changing, even in this remote speck of land. There is now cell phone service here through a microwave connection to another island and then via satellite to Yap. One woman calls her mother in Chuuk every week. And the deadly blue eye of the DVD monitor can be seen at night through the bush.

On the morning of March 7, Capt. Gary and his partner arrived at the island aboard the sailboat Starship. We'd planned to buddyboat down from Guam, but he got delayed on departure then made a slight detour to pass over the Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the world's deepest ocean. He tossed a silver coin over for good luck. Since it's 11,000 meters deep, he figured it would take six hours to hit the bottom - assuming a fish didn't get it first.

Besides having gotten older and slower, I've noticed something else about myself that's different from the last time I was here - my motivation. Back in '97, I was here as the literary 'Ishmael', having more time than money, and an urge to see the watery bits of the world (apologies to Melville). This time I'm here more as the biblical Ishmael, an exile from my own home. For those who will understand, I don't need to explain. For my Young Republican friends, it's not Bush. As Dustin Hoffman said last year when he relocated to London, "You can't flee Bush." Suffice it to say, I find the fact that the Voice of America shares a couple of frequencies with evangelical programming to be disturbing.

Speaking of intelligent design, I'm reminded that Vonnegut once said human life was just a conspiracy by seawater to transport itself around. If so, these islands are where it wants to be. The seawater is clear, warm and teeming with life. And anyone who has felt a tropical seabreeze knows how sexy that is.

I'm watching the weather now. An out-of-season tropical storm has brewed up 100 miles south of Palau and is tracking west towards the Philippines. It shouldn't be a concern. We'll depart for Yap and Palau tonight after dinner.

- frank 05/07/06

Cruise Notes:

Out of the mouths of babes. "Britta Fjelstrom, who did the Baja Ha-Ha last year aboard her San Francisco-based Elite 29 Lonesome Dove, has a problem," reports her irrepressible friend Eugenie Russell, who did the Ha-Ha last year aboard the J/120 J/World and will be doing it aboard the same boat again this year. "Britta had to leave her boat in Puerto Vallarta over the summer because the engine died shortly after leaving San Diego last year. She's bought a new 2-cylinder diesel that weighs the equivalent of 45 gallons of water and is 3 by 3 by 2 feet, and needs to get it down to her boat in Mexico. We'd take it aboard our J/120 if it weren't a little too big for us. I'm wondering if anybody with a larger boat could help Britta out? Or maybe have a suggestion about some other way she might get her engine to Puerto Vallarta. Britta can be reached by , or at (510) 306-4635.

Eugenie ended her request with what we think is a terrific observation: "It's impossible to remember how tragic a place the world is when you're out sailing."

Speaking of exurberant women who sail, we got a letter from Florcefida Benincasa in Las Vegas the other day. If you did the '03 Ha-Ha, you'll no doubt remember Flo for her joyfully exhibitionist antics - and maybe even her much quieter husband Jasper. Despite being novice ocean sailors, the couple did the Ha-Ha and then sailed their modest Columbia 34MK II Flocerfida all the way across the Pacific to New Zealand - and had a wonderful time doing it. We'll have more on their interesting future cruising plans when we have more room in the next issue, but until then, we'll leave you with Flo's analysis of their personalities. They would seem to indicate that a couple with opposite personalities might actually be able to make it across the ocean:

"Jasper, the Captain, Mr. Cybil, my husband, is constantly in the extreme. Caliente y frio. Super calm, but a huge worrier, too. He's loose and he's uptight. He is overcritical, very rational, passionate, hard-working, goal-driven and highly adventurous. He has the thirst for life that he tells me only I can quench! But he's also the biggest brat. He makes me laugh, and he also makes me feel as though I am the Queen of Kingdom Come. He's also the world's biggest pessimist - but I have forbidden any form of complaining within a three-mile radius of me. On the other hand, I, Flo, the Admiral, am an optimist. I consider everything a blessing. I'm generally calm, cautious, highly adventurous, a hard worker, and an anal organizer. However, I can also be erratically hormonal and constantly defiant. Sometimes I wonder when I'm going to push Jasper's patience too far. But he seems to have a wealth of it, particularly when it comes to me. I am also a caffeine addict, but I promise to quit as soon as we depart again."

It comes as absolutely no surprise that the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), which is both the granddaddy and largest of all cruising rallies, will have another maximum fleet of 225 boats for the 2,700-mile rally from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean in November. There will be 17 multihulls in the fleet. Over the last several years, the ARC tried to get the bigger, faster, corporate boats out of the ARC and into the Antigua Rubicon, a transatlantic race at about the same time. The idea was that they were stealing all the attention from the cruisers, for whom the ARC is supposedly for. Alas, there was no interest in the Antigua Rubicon, and both events temporarily suffered. Glamour boats are now back in the ARC, which will be lead by Lan Franco Cirillo's Swan 100 Fantasticaaa from Italy - and yes, that's the correct spelling. Thanks to the weak dollar, not many Americans bought boats in Europe this year, so there are only few U.S. entries, all of which we mentioned a few issues back.

There have been 65 entries received for the 17th Annual West Marine Caribbean 1500 rally that leaves Hampton, Virginia, on November 5 for the British Virgins. Organizer Steve Black reports that six of them are from the West: Bob and Linda Masterson of the Laguna Beach-based Beneteau 473 Villomee; Charles Cunningham of the Park City, Utah-based Hylas 54 Agua Dulce; Mark Burge and Adriana Salazar of the Reno-based Bristol Channel Cutter Little Hawk; Gregg Kalbfleisch of the Longmonth, Colorado, Jeanneau 54 DS Kinikkinik; Tom and Diane Might of the Phoenix-based Hallberg-Rassy 62 Between the Sheets, and Don and Shawn Fronterhouse of the Albuquerque-based Hylas 46 Mignon. The 65-boat fleet is up about 15 from last year, and we wish them all wonderful passages to the tropics. Assuming, of course, that they leave a little rum for the sailors who won't be getting there until later.

Ambivalent about taking your boat to the tropics in the winter? We've got two photos that might motivate you. The first is of Capt. Andy, shoveling snow off the deck of the Gunboat 62 catamaran Safari in Newport, Rhode Island, early last December. The second photo, on the next page, is of him 10 days later, transformed into the mystical Capt. Andy Lama, driving a dinghy out of the harbor at Gustavia, St. Barth, while wearing his distinctive saffron robes. "Having tried them both," he told us, "I've found that warm blue water is more conducive to spiritual development - and good times - than is frozen white water falling from the sky." That's what we call real enlightenment. And so does his wife and first mate, Melissa.

If you're from the West Coast, you may not realize that sailing from Rhode Island to the Caribbean in December is an entirely different experience than is sailing from California to tropical Mexico. The first 24 or 36 hours out of Newport are generally cold as hell - if not freezing. But then suddenly you're in the very warm water of the Gulfstream. Twenty feet up it may still be cold as hell, but near the water it's not bad at all. When heading south from California, the air isn't that cold, but the water doesn't get tropical until all the way down at Cabo San Lucas. It's all about the East Coast having the Gulfstream while we have the cold Humboldt Current.

"You asked if any of your readers had knowledge about cruising the western Caribbean," writes David Hammer of the Cozumel and Weaverville, California-based Catalina 25 Saba Spice. "Freya Rauscher's Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico's Caribbean Coast is very good and has detailed charts. It doesn't cover all of the western Caribbean, but the east coast of Mexico and Belize are excellent cruising areas. In particular, Cozumel and Cancun are great places to provision, and Cancun has a Sam's Club and a Costco. But I have to warn everyone that the beachfront hotel area of Cancun is like Las Vegas in Mexico. Cozumel is more laid back and has great restaurants. It's just a short taxi ride from the north harbor to town. Some cruisers drop the hook right in front of the main square, which is within easy walking distance of the Chedraui supermarket."

If we were 25 again, we'd be all over this one! Geja is an Islander 36 that Palo Alto-based teachers Dick and Shirley Sandys sailed most of the way around the world over a period of about 15 years of part-time cruising. In fact, if you go to our home page, www.latitude38.com, and go to the LATITUDE 38 Google box and type in 'Geja', you'll get to read a bunch of the Changes in Latitudes they sent to us about their trip. Sadly, Dick passed away a few months ago, so Geja, which is now on the hard 90 miles north of Barcelona, Spain, is being offered in the estate sale for just $10,000. The boat is said to be fully functional, including the engine, and we know that she was cruised until a short time before Dick's death. The boat is also said to be in need of interior and exterior TLC. The cool thing to us is that the boat is already in Spain. Yes, it's getting a little late in the season to do much sailing in the Med this year, but she'd be all ready to go for next year. Just think, for 10k and a bunch of elbow grease, you might be able to get a 36-ft design long-proven on the Bay all set to take you to Ibiza, Mallorca, Barcelona, the French and Italian Rivieras, Elba, Sicily, Corfu . . . Oops, please excuse us for drooling. And after a season or three of cruising in the Med, you might well be able to sell the boat for more than you paid for her. Say, anybody want to go thirdsies on an Islander 36 in the Med? For information on Geja, email Shirley. But please, no tire-kickers or ultra bottom-feeders, as this will be an emotional sale. But if you're interested, don't delay, as we also mentioned this in a late September 'Lectronic, and we can't imagine that boat is going to last long. [Note: As excepted, Geja has been sold already.]

"Singlar has been working very hard in the Puerto Escondido area," report Hidden Port YC Commodore Elvin Schultz and Connie 'Sunlover' of the trimaran Western Sea. "Their new building on the seawall has been completed, and they will soon be running all of the harbor operations from there. It also has space for a restaurant, laundry, bath - showers, a tienda, and even a swimming pool. There's a small day use dock located in front of the building, and by the time this report comes out in print, the launch ramp and Travel-Lift should be operational. There will be a one-foot concrete base for the dry storage area, which will have room for 50 boats supported by jacks. Prices have yet to be set for hauling and dry storage. The working building will have bays for fiberglass work, painting, mechanical work and so forth, and it will be run by Puerto Escondido Marine Services. The mooring field, which was only put in two years ago, is set to be revamped, although no date has been given. However, we can report that the availability of diesel and gas at Puerto Escondido - as opposed to having to go to 20-mile distant Loreto - has been very popular with both cruisers and Singlar. DHL express delivery and WiFi are two additional improvements expected here. The two of us and all the Hidden Port YC members want to encourage everyone to come up to Escondido, play at all the islands, enjoy the terrific snorkeling, and above all, try to make the 12th Annual Loreto Fest that will start on May 3. It's a four-day festival with lots of cruiser music, a ham test, a regatta, seminars, games and workshops - all to raise money for educational and community projects for the locals. For further information and to see photos of the last Loreto Fest, which was the biggest ever, visit www.hiddenportyachtclub.com."

Elvin and Connie also report that Alejandro and Imelda, who owned the La Picazon Restaurant in Cabo, have moved to Loreto, and have opened up a new restaurant of the same name, but across the way from Isla Coronado. "It's great, because cruisers can either anchor in front of it or dinghy across from Isla Coronado."

September is historically the busiest month for hurricanes in Mexico, and by the middle of the month two had gotten the attention of everyone on the mainland and on Baja. John, the first and the stronger of the two with winds to 115 knots, threatened the coast of mainland Mexico from Zihuatanejo to Mazatlan, but had little effect other than heavy rainfall. But then it had tourists and residents alike freaked in both Cabo and La Paz, as it was headed directly toward them. Fortunately, a last minute turn to the north spared Cabo. "We had rain, not a hurricane," reported Norma from Marina Cabo San Lucas. After John made landfall with a vengeance on the East Cape, it skirted La Paz, where winds to about 80 knots caused about six boats on the hard to partially or completely be tipped over, and several anchored boats to be blown aground. It also brought wind to about 80 knots up at Puerto Escondido, where only one boat, the Gulfstar 41 Tortuga, was blown ashore, and two others hooked together with only minor damage. All things considered, there was very little damage to boating interests. But thanks to as much as 25 inches of rain falling on 4,000-ft mountains, flash floods wiped out major sections of highway in Southern Baja, and Mulege was severely flooded.

Just nine days later, Lane, a somewhat weaker hurricane, headed up the mainland coast just as John had, and was also forecast to nail Cabo and La Paz. But once again boating interests were spared from severe damage, as Lane turned north and came ashore about 50 miles north of Mazatlan. It was the closest a hurricane had come to Mazatlan in 31 years, but Marina Mazatlan Harbormaster Antonio Cevallos reports that there weren't any winds over 45 knots, so damage was limited to things like torn tarps. Baja was completely spared.

Neither John or Lane were anywhere near as bad to boating interests as were hurricanes Ignacio and Marty in '03, and everyone can be thankful for that. When this year's cruising class arrives in Mexico, it's unlikely they'll be able to detect any hurricane damage, except possibly to the roads. That's assuming there are no more hurricanes before the season semi-officially ends on October 31.

Fortunately, it's been a very quiet hurricane season in the Eastern Caribbean - again. You might assume that since the Atlantic-Caribbean had a record 27 named storms last year, the Eastern Caribbean would have been devastated. On the contrary, it got off all but unscathed.

"Great magazine," writes Grant Todd, who lost his boat - and almost his life - when his boat exploded while he was singlehanding off El Salvador about six years ago. "However, the boat identified as a Bristol Channel Cutter in the August Sightings looks remarkably like the Falmouth Cutter Mijita that I sold back in '95 or so. She had the best interior of any Falmouth, and was a great sailor - something I know from having cruised her to Mexico twice. After doing that, I gave in to a new wife and bought the Hans Christian 48 Koonawarra. You may remember that that boat was destroyed in an explosion while I was sailing off Central America. All I know about the incident is that there was a fire onboard, probably electrical, and I assume that it got to the propane tanks. It was a once-in-a-million accident that would be extremely unlikely to happen again. After all, the boat was in great shape, had been rewired just before, and had a new genset. The only thing that I would have changed would have been to have a copper rather than a rubber gas line where it ran through the engine room to the stove. Anyway, I was fortunate to be buddyboating with Joss and Karina D at the time, or I probably wouldn't have survived. I ended up in the hospital for two months with a broken knee and burns, but have made a full recovery. After you ran the story, a lot of people sent me their best wishes - and it made my recovery easier. I thank you."

The last time we met Holly and Denis of the Colorado-based Perry (not Bob) 43 catamaran Tango, it was in Puerto Vallarta, and they were pretty new to both the boat and sailing. So we were glad to hear that they had had a wonderful time spending most of the summer cruising the Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands) of Canada. "Beautiful!" they wrote. But they had even better news: "Tom Ellison, the owner of the Ocean 71 Ocean Light, Latitude's old Big O, sends his regards. He and his wife and daughter are running a charter business in Haida Gwaii with Ocean Light, and appear to be having a wonderful time. We met them at Sandspit, British Columbia, and their ketch looks great! As for us, we may cross paths again in Southern California, as we'll be spending a few months there prior to returning to Mexico."

Yours is one of a sprinkling of reports we've had over the years that Ellison and family totally rebuilt our old boat - and you can't imagine how good that makes us feel. Big O played such a major role in our lives for a dozen years, and there are no photos of our kids we treasure more than those taken during sailing adventures aboard her, from California to the Caribbean to Turkey. But that was just a tiny part of it, as there were also six Antigua Sailing Weeks, cruising the Med, crossing the Atlantic, doing the first Baja Ha-Ha, chartering up and down the Caribbean, T-boning the Carquinez Bridge, cruising Cuba, and so much more. Admittedly, she was in dire need of a complete refit when we got done with her, but what a great yacht. In fact, during the debut of Maltese Falcon in Italy a few months ago, we introduced ourselves to Gerard Dijkstra, who designed Falcon and many of the other great yachts of the world, because we'd heard that he also had owned an Ocean 71. "It's true," he said, "I owned hull #1 and raced her in the singlehanded OSTAR Race - but unfortunately was dismasted. But," he said, getting that look in his eye, "that's one great boat for passagemaking."

We remarked on it elsewhere in this issue, but think it's worth a reminder - most airlines will not allow Americans to board flights to Mexico without something that proves U.S. citizenship - meaning either a birth certificate or a passport. A driver's license will no longer do, as Doña de Mallorca discovered in mid-September when Alaska Airlines wouldn't allow her to fly from L.A. to Puerto Vallarta. This despite the fact that the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of '04 doesn't require air or sea travellers to have passports - birth certificates will no longer cut it - until January 1. De Mallorca had to fly back to Northern Cailifornia, get her passport, and then fly to Puerto Vallarta. So if you don't have your passport, get it now before the rush begins. Besides, didn't Helen Gurley Brown tell young ladies they should never be without their passports?

"I know it's been awhile, and we hope to get out cruising again soon," reported Gene and Sheri Seybold of the Stockton-based Esprit 37 Reflections - if our memory serves us. "But we wanted to report that Ardell Lien, whom you've written about several times in the past, just pulled into the Waikiki YC aboard his Nor'Sea 27 Catalyst, having completed his singlehanded circumnavigation. But it wasn't just any circumnavigation, as he did it in under 15 months at age 71! And even more inspiring, he did it only a couple of years after being the recipient of a heart and kidney transplant! What an accomplishment!"

"I stopped at Puerto Salina Marina, which is about two-thirds of the way to Ensenada from San Diego, in late August for a walk around," reports Isaac Marr. "They now have about 200 slips open, and the facilities were really nice. Nonetheless, the place was vacant except for a few sailboats in the 50 to 60-ft range, and a few ex-pats we found fishing for halibut. One of them landed a 25-pounder from the dock. They told us that the fuel dock is pretty close to being completed, the bar/restaurant is open, and that there is a mercado open a couple miles up Hwy 1 in Mission, with a new one being built in the marina. The slips have electricity, water, 24-hour security - the works. Guest slips are 50 cents/ft/day, $10.25 ft/month, and $7.50 ft/month for over three months. Puerto Salina is about a four to five-hour broad reach from San Diego in typical conditions, making it a perfect weekend destination with plenty of privacy."

Since it's easier to find a seven-dollar bill than it is a slip in San Diego, Ha-Ha entrants trying to stage their boats near the start might consider Puerto Salina Marina - although we're not sure what the entrance is like. As always, Ha-Ha entries will also be permitted to start from Ensenada as well as San Diego.

"Talking about dinghy thefts," writes Jeff Hoffman of San Francisco, "when we sailed from Papeete to Cook's Bay in '95, I was left to watch the dinghy for a short time in the evening while the skipper and his wife checked out things to do ashore. I was approached by three males who had to be in their late teens or early 20s, who hung out and talked. I took a few swigs from the bottle that they offered me. Nothing unseemly took place, but I definitely had the feeling that the guys were checking out the situation, and that the skipper's dinghy would have been stolen had I not been there. I've lived in slums, have pretty good street sense, and don't feel I was being paranoid. As friendly as the 'kids' acted toward me, they were up to no good."

With so many boats headed to Mexico in late October, it would be nice if we could get a report from last year's cruisers in Mexico - and everywhere else - on the frequency of dinghy thefts in the places they've been. We haven't locked a dinghy in Mexico in about 15 years and haven't had one stolen there - as opposed to Palm Island in the Caribbean and Cartagena - but maybe others haven't been so lucky.

The winter cruising season is almost upon us, thank God, so have a lot of fun - but for goodness sake, be careful out there.

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