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October 2009

Missing the pictures? See the October 2009 eBook!

 With reports this month from the traditional Polynesian cat Manu Rere at Makemo in the Tuamotus; a long report from Geja on cruising Italy, Slovenia and Croatia; a long report from Toucan Tango on buying a cat in Malaysia and cruising to the Med via India; from the Blue Water Cruising Club Luau at Catalina;
and a full helping of Cruise Notes.

Manu Rere — 38-ft Catamaran
Glenn Tieman
Makemo Atoll, Tuamotus

I stayed at Makemo Atoll in the Tuamotus for five weeks. In retrospect, it was preferable to spend the month-long Bastille Day celebrations there than at the more crowded and more expensive Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. At Makemo there were sporting contests during the day, and competition between two traditional heiva dance groups at night. Each group made their own music. Their instruments were mostly a variety of elaborate drums and hollowed ringing logs. I really enjoyed it. The famously sexy Tahitian dancers were, of course, also a pleasure to see. Even their costumes were beautiful. When the celebrations wound down and I prepared to depart, a small cut in my finger became viciously infected. It required antibiotics — free from the dispensary — and a couple more weeks to heal. My traditional Polynesian voyaging cat has no mechanical advantages, so I couldn't sail with a messed up hand.

Once I finally raised the hook, I sailed 20 miles across the lagoon to anchor near the other pass. The coral patches were so brilliantly colorful on the way over that they were easy to avoid. Since I was then away from town, I was able to stock up on coconuts — which are a regular part of my diet now — without having to worry about ownership issues. I then rode the ebb tide out the pass and set sail for Tahiti.

After sailing past several atolls the first day, then through a stretch of open ocean, I hove to for the night while still 25 miles short of the narrow passage between the last of the Tuamotus. The current has long been known for being strong and unpredictable in the so-called 'Dangerous Archipelago'. I would have to for most of the other nights on the passage to Tahiti as the weather was so stormy. After this, I was happy to see beautiful Tahiti come into sight, and to anchor in the quiet shelter of the headland and breakwater at the small town of Tautira.

After several pleasant days at Tautira, I sailed for Papeete, expecting it to be a pleasant and scenic daysail. Instead, I would learn firsthand about the maramu winds, which accelerated around the island. At first I dropped all sail to await the passage of what I took to be a squall. But when I analyzed the wind direction, it appeared to be blowing me toward the nearby shoals. So I hoisted a storm sail — which laces on the main mast — for the first time ever. Powered by this tiny sail, I made my way behind Venus Point, off Papeete, and into the lee of the island the next day. I was glad to drop the anchor again.

The way I see it, Papeete is for buying things you can't find elsewhere in French Polynesia. It serves that function well. Every day for a week, I hiked into town to discover where things were and to buy food, propane, boat parts and finally a French language textbook. I also did take time to visit some beaches on the way.

My sail from Tahiti to nearby Moorea was also stormy, with the wind coming in too strong after a long morning calm. It reminded me of Hawaii. While at Moorea, I met Hans Klaar on his one-of-a-kind 73-ft traditional voyaging double canoe Ontong Java. Hans was one of the first Westerners to use crab claw sails — such as I have on Manu Rere. He used them on his Wharram catamaran and is using them on his current boat — which is probably the only yacht more radically stone age than mine. Although Hans does use a 5-hp outboard engine on his cat, she was built on Polynesian lines from big planks cut from two trees in West Africa. The gaps between the planks are sealed with strips of rubber tacked over the planks.

There are some people on Moorea who appreciate Polynesian vessels such as my Manu Rere, and they kept me entertained with dives, tours and meals. When I later returned to Papeete, I got an email from Hans saying he was at Moorea, had one too many girls aboard, and hoped I could take one. The women were beauties, too. Unfortunately, I'd already cleared out of the country, so I was moving on to Huahine and Bora Bora, my last stops in French Polynesia. Despite its drawbacks, Bora Bora looks like the Matterhorn jutting out of the sea and mist. While in Bora Bora, I again crossed paths with Ontong Java. I've already met up with the crews of several other Wharram traditional catamarans.

From Bora Bora, I have a 1,500-mile passage to Wallis Island and possibly Samoa. Then I'll sail north through Tuvalu before the start of the South Pacific tropical cyclone season.

— glenn 09/01/09

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Another Summer In The Med
(San Francisco)

I can’t believe that my second summer of Mediterranean cruising aboard Geja, the '76 Islander 36 that I first learned about in a September '06 ‘Lectronic Latitude, has come to an end. I covered some 1,500 amazing miles in the Adriatic Sea, visiting Italy, Slovenia and Croatia.

As of my last update in the August issue, I’d reached Venice, far north in the Adriatic. I splurged and stayed six nights in the Sant’Elena Marina, a scenic 30-minute walk from St. Mark’s Square. The highlight of my first ever trip to Venice was zipping through the myriad of canals, both large and small, on Geja’s nine-foot Zodiac tender. I even made several passes under the famous Rio Alto Bridge in the Grand Canal. The first day wasn’t so smooth, however, as crewmember Lars and I managed to get busted for entering a forbidden military zone, and collided with a gondola full of tourists. Who knew that one must pass a gondola starboard-to-starboard instead of the normal port to port? By day two, however, we were navigating harmoniously with the gondolas, sometimes becoming stuck in huge gondola traffic jams to the sound of accordion music and singing gondoliers.

Before leaving the Venice Lagoon, we spent a night tied outside Trattoria da Lazzarini in the town of Burano. This town is the colorful little cousin of Venice, where the beautifully painted buildings are reminiscent of Mexico’s most colorful villages. At sunset we experienced the wildest hailstorm that this San Franciscan has ever seen. One-inch diameter hail pelted Geja for 20 minutes, with thunder and lightning crackling just overhead. By the time I had set out the cocktail glasses to harvest the ice, the hailstorm ended. Mariners definitely must keep an eye on the weather when cruising the Med — even in the middle of summer.

Leaving through one of three exits from the Venice Lagoon, we observed the massive and controversial construction project intended to seal the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Unlike the rest of the relatively tide-less Med, the northern Adriatic has a tidal range of three feet, and it can be reinforced by strong southerly surges in the winter. Venice itself now floods more often than ever. Many yacht harbors in the region already have built their own flood control gates to deal with the surge.

Italy’s nearest coastal neighbor to the east is Slovenia, the only E.U. member from the former country of Yugoslavia. The highlight of its 20-mile coastline is the wonderful harbor town of Piran, where the architecture and winding streets reminded me that this entire region was under Venetian rule for hundreds of years. But Piran is a quiet town with little nightlife, and even the neighboring party town of Portoroz had little to offer at the height of peak season. When young Slovenians want serious summer fun, they head south to Croatia, which was the next and final country of my journey for the summer.

Croatia is not part of the European Union, and the check-in procedure, though not horribly inefficient, still requires stops at multiple agencies and purchase of a 200-euro cruising permit that's good for a year. (The Italians, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered that a U.S.-flagged boat entered their waters from a non-E.U. country). Once checked in, we had great sailing down the Istria Peninsula, stopping in Porec and Rovinj before reaching Pula, site of an amazing First Century Roman coliseum. It's said to be the best preserved Roman coliseum in the world. Boats may anchor just in front of the coliseum, providing a backdrop possible only in the Med.

Nordic friends Henriikka and Johanna joined me in Pula, and we continued to have great sailing among the islands of Croatia’s Kvarner Gulf. The gulf is known for its tricky weather and sudden storms. In fact, it's where you find Senj Bora, which is the Croatian version of The Slot on San Francisco Bay. The waters between the islands of Rab and Krk are subject to offshore winds that tend to funnel strongly from the mainland town of Senj at the northern end of the Velebit mountain range. These winds have completely stripped the nearby islands of vegetation, and in winter often blow in excess of hurricane force. For us, the wind gradually built to about 30 knots, with stronger gusts. It was a wild but safe beam reach, particularly after Henriikka climbed on top of the house and reefed the main.

As nice as an all-female crew can be, we split up for the next two weeks. I left the girls at Riviera-like Opatija, which is a posh resort town that was developed in the 19th century for Austrian aristocrats. As for myself, I was joined by wingmen Ville and Sven. We sailed south to the island of Pag in the notorious Santa-Ana-like bora winds. We made several great stops on the way, and even transited a centuries-old canal, the 20-foot wide Osor Canal. It was dug by Liburnian tribes prior to the Roman settlement! But our two weeks revolved around the island of Pag and Zrce, its 24-hour party beach. It's Croatia's answer to Ibiza.

When we got to Zrce, we couldn't believe our eyes, as there were thousands of young people filling several open-air nightclubs on the beach. Papaya, one of them, attracts top DJ’s from around the world. The parties at the clubs start in the afternoon, with beach-clad hotties dancing and splashing in the pools while sipping supersized cocktails from one-liter carafes. Come sunset, everybody heads home to eat and rest, returning again at 1 a.m. to start to party.

As more and more Italians made their usual August migration across the Adriatic, Zrce became more a sausage fest, somehow attracting more Italian males than females. It was time for a bit of detox anyway, so with new crew Maggie and Lukas, I set sail for calmer shores. As we arrived in obscure Olib, a local port official caught our lines. He didn't just ask how long we planned to stay, but asked it in English with a perfect New York accent! Islands like Olib and Susak have strong ties to the U.S., as folks have been migrating back and forth for more than a century. Some even have an Americanized Croatian dialect. Vacationing American families dominated tiny Olib, so it's there I heard the most English all summer.

Heading farther south among the outer Croatian islands, we visited Kornati National Park, which is a dense archipelago that's been deforested over the years by Venetians, shepherds and fire. The starkness was in great contrast to Croatia’s typically forested islands, but the lack of trees and brush made for excellent hiking and vistas. With aft winds, we had a blast broad-reaching a zig-zag course, using the numerous islands as a slalom course, while chicken-jibing between the outer and inner waters.

We continued south to the mainland party town of Vodice, where we caught some late-season action at high-profile clubs Hacienda and Aurora. Croatian girls never ceased to impress me and my crews with their amazing good looks. The girls on the Dalmation Coast are tall and lean, and they love to flaunt their figures with short skirts and high heels.

After an exhausting weekend at the clubs, new crewmember Alex and I took Geja 10 miles up the Krka River into the fresh waters of Skradin, gateway to the Krka National Park. The Krka River cascades down countless waterfalls on its way to the Adriatic. The park is a great — but crowded — place to spend a day soaking in fresh water.

My final crew of the season were Anja and Melissa of San Francisco. Ten of our friends got so jealous that they chartered a 51-ft Elan, which was a bit of a slow boat. We buddy-boated for the week through the now familiar-to-me waters near Split, and I showed them my favorites spots, such as Hvar Town and the Blue Cave. We experienced mostly ideal early-September weather, with breezy afternoons and calm nights. The water temperature was still near 80 degrees.

In all, I spent about 80 days actively cruising during my second summer in the Med, and made 60 stops. My crew — I had 16 different people over the summer — and I spent about 34 nights at anchor, 25 in marinas (blame Italy), 11 on town quays, and 10 other nights 'creatively' moored. We sailed half of the 1,500 miles, and put another 200 hours on the engine.

Despite being 33 years old and having suffered the wear-and-tear of being sailed two-thirds of the way around the world, Geja performed flawlessly. The Islander 36s are so nice to sail, as they are steady, well-behaved and have a light helm. And unlike 'modern' boats with flat bottoms, they don't pound when sailing upwind. Geja's Yanmar diesel is solid, her sails are more than decent, and she has all the coastal cruising equipment one needs — such as refrigeration to keep the beer cold. Geja proved to be a popular boat in every port, with countless people inquiring about her San Francisco hailing port.

I'm now back in Split near Geja’s winter home, where I’m spending a final week anchored for free just in front of the 'Riva' of this lively student town — which happens to be on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Live bands perform for me nightly on the promenade, and there is still plenty of nightlife despite the premature end to summer weather. How can I go wrong in a town where even the local tourist brochure describes the "fine lookin’ ladies" of Split as having "amazing height and ample bosom?" I'll be hauling out in a couple of days. It will be sad, but with all the recent crappy weather, the water temperature dropped from 80 to 70 in just one week.

For those who might want to cruise here, most Italians speak only Italian, while Croatians and Slovenians speak great English. It makes the Italian experience more exotic, but getting things done in Italy can be very frustrating. The main mechanic in my winter boatyard in Croatia speaks both English and German at a very technical level. The low winter rates and English proficiency make Croatia a much better place to have work done — and meet girls. Although I wouldn't accuse either of being very punctual!

What are my plans for next summer? Well, Greece is just down the road, isn't it? I hadn't planned on making a habit of these extended summer vacations in the Med, but I love the cruising over here so much! And I've yet to tire of the cruising experience — at least as long as the weather is good. Last night's thunderstorm, while I was on the hook, was intense. This morning I had to pump six inches of water out of the dinghy. But yes, I'm certainly thinking of coming back next summer.

The thing I enjoy most about cruising is sharing the experience with my international assortment of friends and acquaintances, while exploring a continent where people truly know how to enjoy life.

— andrew 09/15/09

Toucan Tango — Catana 47 Cat
Marvin and Ruth Stark
Malaysia to Turkey

When I was 59, my wife Ruth and I did the '97 Ha-Ha with our F-31 trimaran Noor. When we got to Cabo, Ruth said, "If we’re going to do this again, you’d better get a bigger boat." So three months later we bought a used Catana 44 in France, and christened her Chesapeake. During the next six years, we would sail her 25,000 miles to San Francisco Bay, where we sold her in '04. So Latitude, a fine magazine, is partly responsible for our laid back lifestyle. By the way, I'm glad to see that the magazine and the publisher still have the same attitude.

In '08, at age 71, with my new titanium hip, Ruth and I decided to make one more sailing trip. So last year we flew from Sacramento to the island of Langkawi, Malaysia, where we bought Toucan Tango, an '01 Catana 47, which is one of the best cruising catamarans made. She has a 200-liter fridge, a 100-liter freezer, a washing machine, watermaker and king-sized beds. The eight bimini-mounted 75-watt solar plates handle all the power requirements on a daily basis. We run an engine or generator only if we're on a long passage and are using lights, the autopilot and navigation equipment. With her daggerboards down, she sails really well to windward — at least for a catamaran.

We spent our first six months — meaning the summer of '08 — cruising Malaysia and Thailand. Summer is the wet season, so there was lots of rain. Squalls tested our ground tackle and anchor a couple of times with winds to 40 knots. The Northeast monsoon winds started kicking in around December, at which time the weather became drier, so we set off on the 1,500-mile passage across the Andaman Sea to India. It was great sailing, with mostly light winds and smooth seas. We even flew the spinnaker for a couple days. We had a maximum of 22 knots of wind until we rounded the tip of Sri Lanka. Based on poor reports from other cruisers, we did not stop at Sri Lanka.

When you turn the corner at the tip of Sri Lanka to head 240 miles to the southern tip of India, you pass through the Gulf of Mannar, during which time you'd better damn well be hanging on! Most boats that passed through there encountered headwinds to 35 knots and ugly seas. We spent one day and two nights with triple-reefed everything. We could not sit at either steering station without getting a fire hose shower from every second wave. We huddled in the cockpit behind the cabin, clutching the remote control for the autopilot. Toucan Tango bashed, smashed, crashed, twisted and torqued through the mess. But boats sure are tougher than humans. A smaller Leopard catamaran lost her entire bow tramp during the maelstrom.

When you reach the southwest tip of India, you have it made. We had smooth sailing the rest of the way into Cochin. Our clearance was handled at Willingdon Island next to the Taj Malabar Hotel, after which we were directed to anchor in the river near Bolgatty Island. Water was available at the island for a small fee by jerry can, and we could get Wifi — but at a high fee.

The Indian people were friendly, and the women wear beautiful saris. The Indians have a way of moving their head sideways back and forth when you ask a question, such that you don’t know if their answer is yes or no. If you ask the tuk-tuk driver, "Do you know where Kingfisher Airline office is?”, all you get is a wobbling head, no matter how many times you ask. It can mean yes or no. If you get into the wholesale district of the city, you will see men carrying sacks of produce, rice, bananas or concrete that are heavy enough to stagger an ox.

Eating out was unbelievably cheap. Ruth and I had lunch at a nice air-conditioned restaurant and the total bill came to 85 rupees — which is about $1.70 U.S. The next day I had a 10-course lunch, all I could eat, for $1.60 U.S. There are no Wal-Marts or super stores in this part of India, and all shops are very small and very basic. In one, for example, we found an old bicycle wheel used as a tool to make rope from coconut husks. When you buy some paratha, which is a delicious local flat bread, it comes wrapped in old newspaper. You can buy handmade hoes or shovels made of all steel that will last a lifetime. It jars my teeth just thinking about them!

When we were at Bolgatty Island, there were about 20 other sailboats anchored out. They flew the flags of the UK, the U.S., Australia, South Africa, Germany, Holland, France, Canada and several other countries. Many were part of the Vasco de Gama Rally that takes the fleet from Thailand to Turkey. Most are doing an around-the-world trip.

In this part of India, it was pleasant and comfortable in the countryside, where people live in simple harmony with nature. Most have running water or wells, and even electricity and television. The name of the state is Kerala, which literally means the land of coconuts. And there are plenty of coconuts, bananas, mangoes, papayas and everything else that grows. However, Cochin harbor/river, where we anchored, is no garden spot. And Cochin itself is crowded, chaotic and dirty.

One of the main seaports of India, Cochin is home to 600,000 people. The traffic is unbelievable, with countless buses rocketing around at full speed while spewing diesel fumes. There are lots of other vehicles, and each one has a horn. And I mean a really loud horn, a horn that is sounded incessantly. If, for example, there is a small traffic jam, everyone who is stuck in it lays on their horn until everyone starts moving. Then they go back to intermittent honking.

The three-wheeled tuk-tuks all have horns, and some are driven by absolute wild men. They drive on both sides of the road, think nothing of bouncing over the sidewalk, and won't give an inch. But you can ride across town for $1 or less. The tuk-tuks reluctantly shared the streets with large busses, trucks, small cars, motorbikes, push carts with huge loads, and finally, pedestrians fearing for their lives. We only crossed the street where there was a divider. Even then, we'd wait and look carefully before dashing across traffic to the safety of the other side. You can usually get through a few motorbikes, and maybe a tuk-tuk or two, but don’t try bluffing anything bigger. It is so dusty and dirty that we usually had to take a shower as soon as we got back to the boat.

After a month in Cochin, in February we headed another 1,500 miles west across the Indian Ocean to Salalah, Oman. The northeast tradewinds blew from the west for two days, then from the northwest at 10-15 knots for most of the rest of the trip, dying down to very little wind near Salalah. Checking into Oman is easy, and all done at the commercial port while one's boat is at anchor. There is good shopping and provisioning in Oman, although no alcohol or pork. Oman has oil, so it's neither poor nor backward. We rented a car at the port and looked around for a few days.

The 600-mile stretch of ocean from Salalah to Aden is considered Pirate Alley, and is where Somali pirates have captured several ships and ransomed their crews and contents. The coalition forces, made up of several nations, now have 20 warships patrolling this area. Some have helicopters. They have established a two-day, 5-mile wide transit corridor about 60 miles offshore. Ships are requested to transit this area in convoys, and to move at a speed of at least 10 knots. We cruise at six knots, so we sailed. We talked to the warships two or three times on VHF, and had two helicopter flyovers. We also had the spinnaker up the last day and were making five knots when a helicopter asked if we couldn’t go any faster. At one time a ship just eight miles from our position reported being attacked by pirates. Two hours later, he reported that he had successfully repelled the pirates with high pressure fire hoses by motoring at flank speed. Repelling AK-47 rifles and rocket launchers with fire hoses?

After arriving safe in Aden, we anchored in the bay for almost a month in order to tour inland. This was an important place to set our anchor well because it blew a lot. The highlight of the stay was a three-day trip up into the mountains to the ancient Yemen capital city of Sana’a. What a spectacular city full of friendly people! There are narrow streets with shops selling local handicrafts and clothes, and numerous restaurants and food stalls. We stayed in a 2,000-year-old hotel that had small wooden doors and uneven walls. The new Lulu’s shopping mall in Aden has everything — except, once again, alcohol and pork — that you might need for provisioning, and at a fair price. We really got hooked on the delicious baklava, which is a pastry made with honey and pistachios. Everywhere we went, the people were friendly. Seeing we were Americans, many would say, "Obama OK."

We headed for the Red Sea in early March. As we rounded the straits of Bab Al Mendeb — Gate of Tears — the wind picked up to 35 knots. We triple-reefed both sails, and made a solid 10 -12 knots flying downwind. Yahoo! We had planned to anchor in a bay in southern Eritrea, but we passed it, as we were sailing so fast that we wanted to keep going. The wind slowly dropped, and so the next night we anchored in a very nice bay with warm, clear water. When transiting the Red Sea, it's easy to stop and anchor every night.

Fishing in the southern Red Sea is spectacular, and we caught fish almost at will. We landed three large fish one day, and ate fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But caution, you will lose all your tackle rated at less than 100 pounds. The winds in the southern Red Sea tend to blow from the south. It gets light halfway up the sea, and becomes increasingly strong from the north as you get farther north. If you're patient and don’t mind tacking, you can sail almost the entire way. We did.

We eventually cleared into Eritrea at Massawa, side-tying to the concrete wall at the commercial port. It had excellent security and water, but no power. We made a two-day bus trip up to the capital city of Asmara. You ride five hours through the desert and desolate countryside, then eventually up a windy mountain road that takes you up to over 7,000 feet. The city of Asmara is like being transported to an Italian city, complete with sidewalk cafes and pizza restaurants that serve beer. The outdoor central market requires a least a full day to appreciate. There is great leather work and other handicrafts.

(To be continued next month.)

— marvin 09/15/09

Luau Time
Blue Water Cruising Club
Geiger Cove, Catalina

Sailing was very different 70 years ago. For example, not that many folks in Southern California had boats. And back then, a 26-footer was considered a big sailboat. What's more, it was common for boats not to have engines. Nonetheless, the intrepid sailors and their friends would cruise to Catalina and up to the Channel Islands. With the start of World War II, things took a sudden change for the worse. For in addition to the tragedy of war itself, private boats weren't allowed outside the L.A. Breakwater. So the sailors used to hang out in L.A. Harbor and — according to one source — drink a lot.

Once the war was over, sailors couldn't wait to get back out to Catalina. So a group of them formed the Blue Water Cruising Club. Their big event of the year was a luau, which they would hold at a different cove on the island every year. By the '50s, Catalina was starting to get crowded, and groups were getting leases on the various coves. The honchos at Blue Water settled on Geiger Cove, in large part because the wind usually holds all the way into the cove, making it ideal for boats without engines. At other coves on the island, it could take two days to sail the last two miles.

There are some interesting things about the Blue Water YC. First, it's a club for sailors — although older members are allowed to switch to powerboats. Second, unlike most coves at Catalina, there are no moorings at Geiger. Boats anchor fore and aft, and are packed together more tightly than Antigua during Sailing Week. Despite how jammed the little anchorage gets during the busiest weekends, we're told there is never a discouraging word. Not even when a foul wind comes up and everyone has to bail out of the anchorage. Third, outboard-powered dinghies are not allowed in the anchorage in order to maintain the peace and protect swimmers. As a result, most members have Avon Redcrest dinghies, as they are perfect for rowing the very short distance ashore.

The club's facilities are ultra spartan, just the way the members like it. The 'clubhouse' is small and so basic that it doesn't even have electricity. The one luxury is a gravity fed shower. But there are some BBQ rings in the cove, a swing for the kids, trails, and some shaded tables. It's all guarded by Geiger, the ferocious dog who watches over the cove when none of the members are around.

Last month we were invited to the club's big luau, which is their swan song event of the summer. About 40 boats packed the cove so tightly you could have passed the Grey Poupon from one side of the anchorage to the other. Some 150 members and guests came ashore. In an authentic luau, you cook a whole pig in the ground. But since that takes a long time, and nobody wants to bring a dead pig across from the mainland on his/her, the Blue Water Cruising Club did a modified luau that featured big chunks of pig and beef, as well as whole tuna.

For the last 15 years, the luau 'chef' has been Don Young, who took over the duties after George Geiger passed away in the '90s. You couldn't envision a more perfect guy for the role than the tan and trim Young, who continues to live the sailing and surfing life, and who looked authentic in the lava lava he picked up during a charter trip to Tonga. Young not only did the TransPac this year aboard the Catalina 42 Carpe Diem, but he did the delivery back, too. (He's got some advice for Catalina 42 owners — don't attach the tack of a gennaker to the anchor roller.)

Preparing for a luau is like painting a boat, in that it's the preparation that takes most of the time. Thankfully, there had been plenty of helping hands to dig the hole, line it with rocks, and prepare the banana leaves and gunny sacks. After three hours in the aromatic pit, the meat, fish and potatoes were cooked to perfection. This was a good thing, because when you're cooking in a pit as opposed to an oven, you just can't take out the food to see if it's done, and slide it back in the oven if it's not.

Anyway, it was a great event with great people at a great cove on a Sunday of perfect Southern California weather. Just like the old days.

— latitude 09/05/09

Cruise Notes:

It gets really hot in the Sea of Cortez in the summer, and toward the end of summer it gets both very hot and very humid. So what do cruisers do to cool off? There are a number of strategies, but Anthony Diliberti, who did the ‘07 Ha-Ha with his Seattle-based Ta Chou 51 Mandalay, explains how he does it in La Paz: “First, we chill the beer. Then we clean the dinghy and fill it with water. Finally, we get in the dinghy, pop open a cool one, and use the dinghy like a bathtub.” He didn’t mention how long it takes before they need to add ice to avoid being parboiled.

For as long as we've been editing Changes in Latitudes — and it's been more than three decades now — cruisers have complained about the harbor at Pago Pago, American Samoa. Thanks to the two fish processing plants, the harbor has always been ugly, dirty, smelly and noisy. And the officials weren't always the most helpful. Thus, some cruisers took to referring to it as the 'armpit of the Pacific'. But there are big changes underway that will hopefully improve Pago Pago's image and make it a more attractive destination for cruisers. Samoa Packing, whose 2,500 workers made it the biggest employer on the island, has shut down. In response, the Governor says he's determined to clean up the harbor — and with it, the town's tawdry image. As it's on the South Pacific Milk Run from Tahiti to New Zealand, and as it's a U.S. Territory and therefore gets U.S. Mail and goods and services, Pago Pago has a couple of things going for it. To add to that, $2 million — of U.S. taxpayer money, of course — is being spent on a dock for cruising boats and a security fence. A private company has also been given a 10-year lease to develop the yacht basin even further. A large budget has also been allocated to developing tourism in the nearby Manu'a islands, and to refurbish the historic RainMaker Hotel. But what no amount of money can change is the fact that Pago Pago, home to only about 12,000 people, is one of the wettest inhabited spots on earth.

Pago Pago used to have an aerial tramway to the highest peak, which afforded a beautiful view of the harbor. Alas, on Flag Day in '80, a U.S. Navy plane that was part of the festivities struck the tramway cable, and then crashed into a wing of the Rainmaker Hotel. The tram still hasn't been repaired, and the now government-owned hotel is dilapidated. According to one review on the internet, "The Rainmaker Hotel is frequented by government officials on often dubious business. If you are one for novel experiences, then stay here for a few nights, as you'll likely meet some interesting characters and have a few stories for back home." Anyway, we wish the folks in Pago Pago the best of luck in making the changes. To make sure there is no confusion, American Samoa is entirely different from the Independent State of Samoa, which was formerly known as Western Samoa. The latter is not a territory of the United States, and by most accounts is better for not having become a welfare ward of Uncle Sam.

Latitude is famous in windy Spanish Waters, Curacao,” write Veronique Bardach and Ted Halstead of the D.C.-based Catana 50 catamaran Verite. “That’s because you guys are the custodians for the Pacific Puddle Jump, and the PPJ is all the rage at the bi-weekly happy hour for cruisers here who will be doing the South Pacific. So we had to check out the PPJ site for ourselves. Wow, pretty damn impressive! We’re going to try to participate if we can. After getting interviewed by the publisher of Latitude in St. Barth just before New Year's, we hit many of the other islands in the Lesser Antilles. Most recently, we had a blast in Mustique, and we loved Martinique and the Los Roques Islands of Venezuela. But nothing compared to St. Barth. While cruising down here, we met a really cool Italian couple our age who, like us, have a Catana 50 but don't have kids. They are also kiteboarders. In fact, some years back he was the Italian water ski champion, and this year she won the European Barefoot Waterskiing Championship. We plan to cruise across the Pacific with them. Bet you guys didn’t think we’d ‘make it." Heck, we were wondering ourselves.”

Ted and Veronique's cruising commitment had indeed looked a little shaky there for awhile. They’d bought their expensive cat new in France last summer, and having had little cruising or even sailing experience, had assumed that there wasn't much more to it than adding fuel, water and food, and taking off on a carefreee lifestyle. But they're both smart and both big lovers of ocean sports, so we were confident they'd make it. Since the couple did start their cruise in the Med, we're going to share their thumbnail opinion of sailing in that part of the world:

“For us, the biggest draw to sailing in the Med is the diversity of cultures and the great food and entertainment. You just don’t find that in the Caribbean. Sailing itself in the Med is feast or famine, however, as there is either too little or too much wind. Our one overriding complaint about the area is that it’s usually so crowded in the summer. But with the world economy having been in shambles, we found most places to be largely empty when we were there.”

Bruce Balan and Alene Rice report that they and their California-based Cross 45 trimaran Migration are about to leave Taha’a, French Polynesia, for New Zealand. It's not that they don't like French Polynesia, they just aren't interested in spending the South Pacific cyclone season in the cyclone zone — even in a seldom-hit part of the zone. You might remember that the couple spent nearly a month at Rapa Nui, a.k.a. Easter Island, when they sailed there from the Galapagos in the spring of ‘08. They put together some comprehensive information about where to anchor at Rapa Nui in various wind and sea conditions, so if you’re planning on sailing there, you might contact them at . Keep your message short.

As Latitude readers know, Scott and Cindy Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 catamaran Beach House are accomplished and relentless scuba divers. And they’ve continued diving after sailing to French Polynesia. “We had a fantastic week diving with a parade of sharks in the south pass of Fakarava,” writes Cindy. “The diving is so easy, and the dive master has been so busy that he’s basically let us and our friends Dan and Jill dive on our own. The dive master has the boat driver drop us off at the right spot, and we get to do our own thing without getting stuck with a group. It’s been terrific, for in addition to plenty of sharks, we’ve seen gorgeous fields of coral, every size and shape of tropical fish, and every dive has been an hour or longer. There have only been two things wrong. One time we had lunch at a local restaurant between two dives, and while we didn’t starve, the food was barely edible. For example, one offering was Spam pizza and another was fish quiche. Yuck! Jill later saved the day by bringing out some Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds that she’d brought from the States. The other problem has been my ear. But the other day Steven, an M.D. on the sailboat Uliad, was kind enough to make a ‘boat call’ to Beach House to examine my ear. After one look, he said there was no mystery why I couldn’t hear well. Using an ear curette, he pulled out a bunch of wax. He also instructed me to, after coming out of the saltwater, rinse my ears with mild soapy water using an ear bulb. He recommended that I continue to use alcohol or vinegar/peroxide drops. It was weird and somewhat jarring to be able to suddenly hear clearly out of my right ear again.”

Here’s a ‘what are the chances?’ story from the South Pacific, as reported by Keith, no last name, commodore of the Niue YC in the tiny nation of Niue in the South Pacific. According to Keith, the crew of the vessel Dosis was anchored off Beveridge Reef — which is mostly submerged and is in the middle of the ocean — when they visited a nearby boat for "drinkies". When it was time to head back to their own boat, the crew discovered the dinghy and outboard had drifted away. After an extensive search at first light, nothing was found and it was given up for lost. Dosis continued dinghy-less to Niue, stayed awhile, then left for Tonga. Miraculously, three weeks later the boat's dinghy and outboard were discovered by a fisherman just 150 feet from going on the jagged rocks of Niue. Somehow it had drifted several hundred miles from Beveridge Reef right to Niue. And the engine still worked. That left just one problem — how to get the dinghy and motor to Dosis in Tonga.

Speaking of Niue, while perusing the Niue YC newsletter, we discovered that Steve and Susan Chamberlin of the Pt. Richmond-based Schumacher 46 Surprise haven’t owned up to something they did there. When the couple stopped at Niue about a year ago, they were discouraged to see that only eight of the 30 computers at the Niue High School tech labs were working. Asking how they could help out, the senior math instructor suggested they could perhaps assist in getting some of the computers repaired, or even buy the school a new one. The Chamberlins said they’d see what they could do, then sailed away. A short time later, they offered the high school sufficient funding to replace all 30 computers with new ones! On further investigation, the folks at Niue High were dismayed to learn that they couldn’t just buy 30 computers and plug them in, they would also need a new server, software licensing, a network upgrade, additional RAM for each computer, plus technical support from New Zealand to install the whole system. More big bucks. According to the Niue YC newsletter, Steve and Susan weren’t fazed at all, and happily agreed to cover those additional costs, too. While it took months to order all the stuff, the whole system was ready to go for the start of the ‘09 school year. Brilliant. We apologize to Steve and Susan for outing their generosity, but found it too inspiring to resist.

If you’re cruising to Australia, don’t expect marine items to be cheap — or even reasonably priced. For example, ‘08 Puddle Jumpers Bill and Judy Rouse of the Houston-based Amel Maramu 52 Bebe report that the oil absorbent pads that many fuel docks and marinas give away free in the States, and which you can buy in bulk here for as little as 60 cents each, sell for as much as $14.95 each in Australia! And that the 5 and 20 micron pre-filters that they paid $6.97 for at Budget Marine in the Eastern Caribbean, cost $20 each in Australia. “Had we known such basic items were going to be so expensive in Oz, we would have stocked up before leaving New Zealand,” they write.

Jeff Stander of the Seattle-based Kelly-Peterson 44 Beatrix, currently in Bundaberg, Oz, has an explanation. “Australia is a great place with great people, but they’re still stuck with the same archaic distribution system of importer/distributor/retailer/end user. It makes purchases ridiculously slow and expensive." Stander writes that marine supplies and other stuff are often 50% to even 200% more expensive in Australia than in the U.S.. But he’s figured out ways to work the system. For instance, using the internet and eBay, he was able to buy watermaker pre-filters for less than the Rouses paid for them in the Eastern Caribbean. He also has marine stuff sent via U.S. Priority Mail from Seattle to Bundaberg at the flat rate of $51 for 20 pounds. It takes only five business days, and can be tracked via the internet all the way into and out of Australian Customs. It’s allowed him to save more than 25% on things like shower pumps.

All this helps explain why we got a phone call the other day from a fellow in Perth, Western Australia, inquiring about the original mast for Profligate that we have for sale. When we expressed surprise that it could make financial sense for him to buy our mast, which is currently located in Santa Barbara, and ship it half way around the world, he assured us that it very well might. After all, he told us that his other main option was to buy a Selden mast made in Denmark. Couldn’t he have a mast made in the sailing centers of Sydney or Auckland and and shipped to Perth for much less? "Not necessarily," he replied. “It’s often less expensive to have something shipped to Perth from Europe than it is to have it trucked here from Sydney.”

Could this be the solution to your health insurance costs? “Some Americans are moving to Mexico in order to get IMSS, which is Mexican Social Security health insurance,” writes Philo Hayward. Philo did the Ha-Ha aboard his Mendocino-based Cal 36 Cherokee in ‘00, and despite buying a music venue and bar in La Cruz on Banderas Bay, continued cruising across the Pacific until he sold his boat in Vanuatu. For the last seven years or so, he’s run the extremely popular and community-oriented Philo's bar and music studio. In his last newsletter, he refers to a September 1 USA/Today article about IMSS, which is Mexican social security health insurance, and which can be purchased by Americans with the proper visa. Although the coverage is good only for treatment in Mexico, it is said to cover everything — including tests, medicines, x-rays, eyeglasses and even dental work. There is no deductible, and it apparently costs a flat fee of less than $300 a year. Now that’s what we call affordable health care! John Skoriak of the Marine Exchange in Sausalito reports that there are a variety of other low cost health insurance and health care options in Mexico.

Putting some speed into their cruising! Bruce and Nora Slayden of Sisters, Oregon, did the ‘04 Ha-Ha and ‘05 Puddle Jump with their Island Packet 485 Jamboree. But we heard they were on the Bay over the Labor Day Weekend with their new — and much faster — ride. She’s the Gunboat 66 Sugar Daddy, a totally high-tech cat designed by Morrelli & Melvin. A lot of catamaran manufacturers stretch the truth when they talk about the speeds of their cats, but a Gunboat 66 has no trouble hitting speeds in the 20s. The Slaydens are apparently going to haul out in San Diego in October, then set sail for Hawaii and the Line Islands, then cruise Australia for a year.

Rob and Lorraine Coleman, who started cruising out of Berkeley ages ago on the Columbia 30 Samba Pa Ti, report they have sold Southern Cross, their wood Angleman gaff ketch that was designed in ‘37 and is currently in New Zealand. You don’t want to sell a classic yacht like that to just anyone, so the Colemans were fortunate that the new buyers are Ed and Stacy McDonald, who currently own a small sistership.

“If you get on Google Earth,” the Colemans write, “and zoom in on the north side of the pass on the east side of Fanning Island, you’ll see a rectangular barge. If you zoom in really tight, you can see Southern Cross tied up to the barge. And if you have really good resolution, you may even see Lorraine and Borau cleaning the day’s catch of five octopus. It’s cool.”

We know how cool that is because we like to zoom around and see what boats we can find at popular anchorages and marinas in Mexico. For example, when we zoom in at La Cruz, we can see Bob Smith's Vancouver-based custom 44-ft cat Pantera on the hook just outside the marina. And moving over to Paradise Marina, it's easy to pick out David Crowe's San Jose-based M&M 70 cat Humu Humu. We can also see Profligate at Paradise Marina — and on the hook at Catalina's Harbor Reef. Who says a boat can't be in two places at the same time?

The latest version of Google Earth is much faster than it used to be, and in many areas the resolution is much greater than just a short time ago. It's a great navigation tool, too. For example, zoom in on Punta Mita, and you get a great view of where the underwater rocks are.

Nearing the end of a 15-year circumnavigation — albeit a much interrupted one — are Kirk, Cath and son Stuart McGeorge of the Virgin Islands-based Hylas 47 Gallivanter. “After five months in French Polynesia, we’ve made it back to Tahiti for one last provisioning while anchored at Marina Taina in preparation to begin back-tracking to the Marquesas via the northern Tuamotus,” the family reports. “We were going to set sail this morning, but last night we were raked by savage winds gusting to 56 knots. It caused our anchor to drag — and our home right along with it! The savage winds came in three waves of intense squalls, and during the seven hour period we never had less than 20 knots. At least four vessels were driven onto the bricks, and I saw two genoas unfurl and get shredded in a matter of minutes. If you haven’t been in such conditions, here’s how to get an idea of what it was like — stand in the back of a pick-up doing 65 mph offroad at night in the rain, then try to lasso a rhino. We had to pick up 300 feet of chain and a 65-lb anchor, re-position out in the channel, reset the hook, then stay up all night making sure we were holding fast. I’m talking about full throttle maneuvering in a very tight space! We were inside a lagoon, so thankfully we had only wind waves to deal with. Unlike some boats, ours came through undamaged, but we were exhausted. Provided the weather settles, we’ll head off tomorrow on the 200-mile leg to the Tuamotus, the 550-mile leg to the Marquesas, and finally the 2,200-mile leg to Hilo. Somewhere along the way we’ll celebrate our son’s 6th birthday. When we arrive in Honolulu, we’ll be able to connect the dots on our globe and cross our outbound path that began 15 years ago on the Islander 37 pilothouse I bought from ex-San Diegan Carol Post in Honolulu."

Last year Gary Burgin and his dad Larry did the Ha-Ha aboard their Santa Cruz-based Marples 55 catamaran Crystal Blue Persuasion, as the first step in going to Mahahual, which is 180 miles south of Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, to set up a charter business. They made it to Mahahual before Christmas, which means they really jammed. That was all well and good, but starting a charter business hasn’t worked out as they had hoped. “Business in Mexico is not what it’s played up to be,” says Gary, noting that just about everybody had their hand out for a cut of the action. Worse than that, the transmissions on both engines went out. “Don’t ask,” says Gary — but it forced him to fly back to California to have a yard sale to raise the money to pay to get them fixed. Then a motor froze up while at Isla Mujeres. At least, he says, it was a nice place to be stuck. Right now Gary is looking for crew willing to share expenses on a trip back to California. He can be reached at .

As we reported earlier this year, St. Barth — the cleanest, safest and most upscale island in the Caribbean — took a horrible economic hit during the winter high season as a result of a combination of yet another year of unbridled price increases, a weak dollar and the severe downturn in the global economy. As a result, we weren't surprised to receive an email from our bon ami Luc Poupon, announcing that the little St. Barth YC, in concert with Saint Barthélémy's Collectivité, will be hosting a new sailing event, the four-race Les Voiles de Saint Barth, to be held April 6 to 11. The event will be open to maxi yachts, classic yachts, racing boats and multihulls. The timing of the event couldn't be better, as it comes almost immediately after the wildly successful St. Barth Bucket, which is limited to sailboats over 100 feet, and just before the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week, which are held at 85-mile distant Antigua. If you'll be chartering a boat out of St. Martin during this time, you won't want to miss it — even if you're just a spectator for a race or two. For complete information, visit

Speaking of St. Barth, Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3 was there in early September, and the quay, the inner harbor moogings, and the outer Gustavia anchorage were all but deserted. What a difference off-season makes.

For those headed to Mexico this winter, the following is a list of the major organized activities. Most, but not all, are some combination of 'nothing serious' racing and fund-raising. We at Latitude support all of the following:

Banderas Bay Blast, including the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run — December 2-4. Co-sponsored by the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and the Vallarta YC, this event features three days of destination racing, with stops at Punta Mita, La Cruz and Paradise Marina. There is no entry fee, but it is a fundraiser.

Vallarta YC Chili Cook-Off — December 5, the day after the Blast. This is the Vallarta YC's biggest fundraiser of the year. Held at Paradise Marina.

Subasta, presented by the Club Cruceros de La Paz — December 6. Now in its 21st year, this is the club's biggest fundraiser, and coordinates with the respected Fundación Ayuda Niños La Paz, A.C. (FANLAP), which fights the good fight for the truly underprivileged kids of La Paz. The money raised is used to buy kids the basics such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and soap, socks, underwear, and school supplies. Last year 400 simple Christmas presents were bought for kids who otherwise wouldn't have even gotten a piece of coal.

Zihua SailFest ­— February 2-9. Conceived on a whim by the publisher of Latitude, thank goodness a series of more serious and responsible people took charge, and over the years have turned this into a stunningly successful cruiser fundraiser for local schools.

Sea of Cortez Sailing Week — early April. 'Nothing serious' cruiser racing from La Paz to Caleta Partida to Isla San Francisco and back. It's free, but it's fundraiser, too.

Loreto Fest, Puerto Escondido, Baja — early May. The big cruiser gathering in the Sea of Cortez includes four days of fun and fundraising.

Lots of cruisers like to make contributions on a personal rather than group level. For instance, when Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly of the Brisbane-based Hughes 45 Capricorn Cat were in Mexico last year, they met a woman named Pat at Casa Fresca in one of the small Banderas Bay communities. Pat teaches local women how to sew, and she's desperately in need of a sewing machine. Any kind of sewing machine. If you can help, contact , and we'll see that it gets to her. Wayne and Carol are also collecting clothes that are in good condition for the kids aged 2 to 10 at the orphanage in Bucerias, as well as pens, pencils and paper for the school kids. The stuff you never use or that you think of as junk, can have tremendous value for children in Mexico, some of them who literally live in city dumps.

Remember, too, that parts of Baja were hit badly by hurricane and later in tropical storm Jimena. If you've got room on your boat, try to bring something along for those folks, particularly the kids. Our only caution is to be very careful when giving cash to charitable organizations, for just as in the United States, the money often ends up in the wrong pockets.

On August 31, 'Lectronic reported that 63-year-old Jim Cheshire of the Alberg 35 Godot was overdue on a singlehanded passage from Ecuador to the Marqueas. His family has since reported he's fine. We hope you're fine, too, and that this will be your year to go cruising.

Missing the pictures? See the October 2009 eBook!


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