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October 2010

Missing the pictures? See the October 2010 eBook!

  With reports this month from Cocokai on the death of Ducky in the Solomon Islands; from Geja in Albania and Greece; from X in Malaysia; from Niki Wiki on satisfactory but inexpensive surgery in Guatemala; from Sea Level in Fiji on the flipping of the cat Anna; and Cruise Notes.

Cocokai — 65-ft Schooner
Jennifer & Coco Sanders, Greg King
The Death of Ducky the Dog
(Long Beach)

It’s with great sadness that I have to report the passing of our lab Ducky, the best dog ever! In the last month or so she had been weakening, but we were hopeful, as she seemed to be doing all right after a visit to the vet in Vanuatu last month. She was having fewer seizures and even started swimming again.

But three days ago, Ducky started going downhill fast. Her legs could no longer consistently support her, and she was going blind and deaf. We put her in her big bed in the aft cockpit, babied her with special meals, and held her food and water in front of her because she could no longer sense them with her nose. She could hardly move.

Two days ago we arrived at beautiful Marau Sound on the southern tip of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and anchored off of Tavanipupu Isle. This lovely large bay is protected by many islands, and is very serene and peaceful. We decided that it would be the perfect final resting place for our Ducky. As her heart still beat strongly, it took until yesterday afternoon for us to get up the courage to give her the fatal injection. But as her quality of life was all but gone, we had no choice.

Giving Ducky the injection — with Greg holding her for me — was the most difficult thing I've had to do in my life. We took Ducky up on the foredeck for the afternoon, set her under a shady tarp in the cooling breeze, then gave her lots of hugs and kisses. After we said our last goodbyes, we gave her the shot. She slowly went into her final sleep with me cradling her head in my arms. At least she was with us in a friendly environment and not in some scary vet’s office. After a little ceremony, we laid her to rest in the lovely bay.

For those who haven't had dogs, all this may seem silly. But it's been a very emotional time for us, and it's hard to accept that our loving companion is gone. We’re trying not to be too sad by remembering all the wonderful moments we had with her. Ducky passed on at nearly 13, which is about 91 in 'human years'. So she had a long, full life for a big dog. Besides, how many labs get to adventure around the Pacific, snorkeling with family, chasing and being chased by sea lions, tackling turtles, barking at dolphins, swimming with whales, running and rolling on sandy beaches, patrolling the decks for flying fish during crossings, and protecting us from all perceived dangers?

So goodbye our beloved Ducky, The Duchess of Alamitos Bay, now resting in peace at lat 09°49.1S, long 160°51.1E.

— jen 09/15/10

Geja — '76 Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Getting Groovy in the Med
(San Francisco)

It’s time to hang up the Speedos for the winter, as my third straight summer of cruising the Med aboard Geja — the San Francisco-based Islander 36 that I bought sight-unseen through an '07 'Lectronic Latitude article — has come to an end.

As of my last report, two Swedish crewmembers and I had just completed an overnight sail from Montenegro to Orikum Marina near Vlorë in mysterious Albania. Once checked into the country — a process handled efficiently and at no charge by the Italian marina staff — we took the communal mini-bus to the scruffy seaside town of Vlorë for our first glimpse of Albanian life. The town itself was shabby in what I consider a Mazatlan sort of way, and featured little in the way of historic architecture. Its beaches, however, stretched for miles to the south of town, and were somewhat lively until sunset. The bay is certainly beautiful, and had Albanian leaders not isolated the country from the rest of world for decades, the area might have become a worthy tourist destination.

A full day in the region seemed to be enough, so we sailed on, crossing paths with just the second sailboat in as many days. A sometimes boisterous sail south brought us to Himara, a small beach town attracting residents from the nation’s capital of Tirana. It was a pleasant place, though its many relatively swanky bars were empty. Since it was still July, perhaps it was too early in the season to find a good party. In any event, the three of us were feeling a bit sick to our stomachs, despite having eaten at only the nicer restaurants.

Continuing along Albania’s mountainous coast, we checked out two awesome lunch anchorages, where steep cliffs backed sandy white beaches and turquoise 77 degree water. Eerily, we had both wonderful anchorages to ourselves. One such anchorage was just six miles from the tip of lively Corfu, Greece. Nonetheless, there were no other pleasure boats; just a fishing boat or two. In fact, during three days of transiting the coast of Albania, we caught glimpses of only three other sailboats. For those who don’t care for the crowds of the Med, this would be the place to be — in fair weather anyway. Call me overly social, but to me being in proximity to other people is one of the big attractions of cruising.

Sarandë, just spitting distance from Greece, was our southernmost Albanian stop. It is the nicest of the large Albanian coastal towns. The bay is surrounded by bland looking residential high rises, most of which are half-finished and where progress has stopped. Check-in was handled efficiently by an agent for 35 euros, while a berth on their clean, pleasant, and secure commercial dock cost just five euros a night. Unlike the large and scary officials in Montenegro, the folks in this port were very welcoming, perhaps appreciative of our effort to visit Albania. The waterfront hosted a lively passeggiata each night, though the numerous bars were again empty. Even the open-air nightclub, which could host as many as 1,000, was heavily staffed but had few paying customers.

Albania, the mysterious country near the center of the Med, was certainly worth a visit. The locals were shy, nice, and always helpful. The prices were really low, and the countryside is wonderful — as we discovered by renting a car for a day. Unfortunately, the coastal towns are architecturally uninteresting, with few monuments of any sort. In fact, the most unique structures are the small, round concrete bunkers that dot the coast and interior. Starting in '72, the Albanian government told the citizens to spend all their free time building these odd, heavily-fortified circular huts. Over the next 20 years, an astonishing 700,000 of them were built. Alas, there are no funds to remove these reminders of the paranoid communist past.

From Sarandë, the Greek island of Corfu was clearly visible, and onward we ventured to begin a few weeks of cruising the Greek islands of the Ionian Sea. Just an hour’s sail from Albania, we encountered a lush, green coastline, busy with small private yachts of all types and vintages. The check-in process was no less cumbersome than in non-E.U. countries such as Croatia and Montenegro, requiring stops at multiple agencies. Unlike in the E.U. countries of Italy and Slovenia, where checking in a foreign boat is free, Greece charged 60 euros to enter. The Greeks are also known to inconsistently apply taxes to foreign boats that stay in the country for longer than 90 days.

Corfu town, just 15 miles from Sarandë, lacks a proper guest harbor, and its grimy public quay is rat-infested. Fortunately, Mandraki, the private yacht club, had a berth for us. And what a stunning location the club has, just below the north side of Corfu’s massive town fortress. The stroll into town involved meandering through two tunnels and over a footbridge to reach the heart of Corfu, a bustling university town that — thank to centuries of Venetian control — resembles Italy more than it does the rest of Greece. Corfu was the perfect weekend stop, with impressive nightlife and a convenient place to exchange the Swedish crew for two Finns.

Given its size, Corfu actually didn't have much in the way of interesting nautical destinations, so it wasn't until we reached Paxos that the well-known nautical 'wow-factor' of Greece became apparent. Lakka, on the northern tip of Paxos, was excellent, with a huge turquoise bay and a perfectly cozy town. Further south, Gaios is an enormously popular town where little diesel and water trucks deliver their goods directly to your berth on the quay. The exposed western side of Paxos is stunning, with steep white cliffs plunging vertically into the clear sea, and there are numerous caves that can be explored in calm weather. Little Anti-Paxos, a stone’s throw south from Paxos, has some spectacular beach coves — so spectacular that they seemed to attract every charter and excursion boat in the region.

From the so-called 'Emerald Bay' on Anti-Paxos, we set sail for Parga on the mainland, just 12 miles away. About halfway across — and while we were enjoying a lively beam reach — the thundercloud to starboard that I'd been monitoring decided to 'erupt'. With the first drop in temperature and windshift, we quickly doused all sail. It was a good thing we did, because within minutes the sea to starboard became a frothy white, the likes of which I'd never seen before while on the water. Even with the motor running, all attempts to hold course against the wind and sloppy seas were in vain. Fortunately, we had sea room astern, and rode with the wind back to the familiar harbor in Gaios.

The following day, the Finnish girls and I made an uneventful 30-mile sail to Preveza on the mainland — though I did keep a wary eye on every cloud in the sky. Preveza has a long town quay with space for dozens of boats. Unlike in Croatia, Greece seldom fits its quays with lazy lines, which means everyone has to drop their anchor while backing up to the quay, hoping not to cross the anchor chains of other boats. With an inexperienced female crew and Geja's manual windlass, I was worried that we'd have problems. But pint-sized Vilja, who is a competitive fitness pole-dancer, was more than up to the task, muscling the 20 kg Bruce anchor up and down with enthusiasm.

Safely moored in Preveza, we noticed another contrast to Croatia. A similar spot in Croatia would have cost between 30 and 40 euros per night, including lazy lines, water, and electricity. While Preveza didn't have any such amenities, it cost nothing to stay the night. That’s right, nada! Geja has solar panels, and I managed to connect a hose to a nearby irrigation system, so we were all set. As a result, the girls and I paid for just one mooring during the week, and that a reasonable 28 euros back at the Mandraki Harbor in Corfu. For the rest of the stay, the three of us spent a total of just 160 euros for berthing, onboard food, and fuel. A typical week in Croatia would have cost at least twice as much. No wonder few cruisers stick around Croatia for very long.

My next crew included Rob and Christine Aronen, vets of the '06 Ha-Ha on their former boat Nomad. Now landlocked in Luxembourg, they are always happy to get their sailing fix on Geja. Along with Mari, a Swede who lives in San Francisco, we thoroughly explored the most interesting part of the Greek part of the Ionian Sea — meaning Lefkas and its surrounding islands. While the Aegean Sea of eastern Greece is known for its wind, particularly in July and August, the Ionian is supposed to be mellow. This, however, proved to absolutely not be the case during our visit, as the wind howled. It made for great sailing, although some local knowledge would have been useful, as the winds wrap wildly around the half-dozen or so significant — and tall — islands of the region.

The more we moored in Greece, the more interesting it became. For not only does a spot on the quay cost nothing, there seem to be no rules about where one may settle in. We often found complete chaos, and crossed anchor chains were common. We saw boats Med-moor to light poles and to each other, while squeezing into impossibly narrow spots. The flotilla charter fleets have the benefit of a staff member who gets in a dinghy and directs anchor placement and takes lines to shore. Knowing how to park a boat is apparently not a requirement for chartering a boat in Greece.

Overall, the Ionian Islands of Greece were a real treat. Fiskardhon on Kefallinia, was my favorite town harbor, while the cliff-backed day anchorage on Atokos provided the greatest wow-factor. Skorpios, Jackie Onassis’ private island, was off-limits, while the “hurricane hole” at Vliho Bay near tacky Nidri was chock full of sailboats that would have fit right in with the anchored-out fleet on Sausalito's Richardson Bay.

Unlike Croatia’s centuries-old buildings of limestone, Greece’s earthquake-prone villages feature more modern construction and lots of color. The locals are lively and helpful, and those whose services we needed were fluent in English. The country’s well-known economic problems were not noticeable to us, aside from a few conspicuously empty storefronts on main streets and a euro that cost about 20% less than in the previous two summers. Traditional restaurant dishes such as moussaka could be had for about eight euros, though a couple of two-euro pitas were plenty filling. My only caution would be to watch out for the inexpensive table wine, which was bad more often than not.

There are some downsides to Greece, though minor. The stunningly scenic, steep-sided mountains meant we often had to anchor in 50 feet or more. Free mooring on those town quays is awesome, but without any electric connections, so you often find yourself next to boats running generators — and sometimes throughout the night. The regional transit systems are poorly designed, which caused some problems for my crew. The toilet situation is also poor, as even decent restaurants don't have seats on the bowls or toilet paper. How Third World is that? A totable toilet seat would be good cruising gear in Greece. But the biggest disappointment was the lack of a party scene. Despite our being there at the highest of high season, there was simply no decent partying aside from Corfu town. For a guy like me who appreciates a good night out, this part of Greece was not the place to be during the prime summer weeks.

In the November Latitude I'll wrap up my report of my third season in the Med — during which time I returned to the east coast of Italy and to Croatia — but I'll share some basic facts now. I was on the go for 81 days with 20 different crew, and visited 50 different places in five countries. I logged 1,400 miles, covering 43% of them under sail alone. The engine was on for 200 hours. Marinas are costly in the Med, and this summer we were typically charged between 40 and 50 euros a night, with the high being 60 euros. We stayed in marinas for 26 nights, though about half of those stays were avoidable. But sometimes paying for a mooring makes crew changes much easier, and sometimes it’s good to give your boat a good scrub down and/or hunker down in bad weather.

But cruising the Med doesn't have to be expensive. Avoiding marinas is the best way to save. Groceries cost somewhat more than in the U.S., although Americans should appreciate that we pay less for packaged products than pretty much anywhere in the western world. A 'proper' two-course dinner with wine starts at 25 euros, though a hearty tuna pizza and a glass of house wine go for less than 10 — and even less than that in Italy. I pay 180 euros per year for full comprehensive boat insurance — though it took an inside connection to get full coverage for a boat that's 34 years old.

Another thing some Americans take for granted is the ease with which we can acquire specialty marine products. In the U.S., thousands of specialized marine parts are available off the shelf at a nearby West Marine, and many thousands more can be obtained within days from any of hundreds of online retailers. Not so in Europe. While there are chandleries, they are mostly independent retailers carrying limited inventory. Ordering parts from elsewhere requires that the shopkeeper order it for you — assuming that some distributor in the country even stocks it. In Italy, you can't count on the shopkeeper to speak English — or any other foreign language. On top of the ordering hassles, you can expect to pay about 50% more for marine parts in Europe. In the case of Geja, it’s far easier and less expensive for me to carry needed parts and spares with me on the flight from the States than to try to track them down in that part of the world.

Aside from the furler meltdown that I'll report on next month, Geja held up like a champ! The toolbox was hardly opened during the summer, a sure sign of a trouble-free cruise and good off-season planning. Geja is a sweet, stiff ride, and her U.S. flag, San Francisco hailing port, and salty looks generated a buzz at nearly every place we stopped. It was the summer of a lifetime — for a third year in a row! As always, the options for next summer are to sail or sell. Stay tuned!

— andrew 09/20/10

X — Santa Cruz 50
David Addleman
Cruising Malaysia

After spending a few years cruising Mexico with my Cal 36 Eupsychia — which I still have for sale — I bought a Santa Cruz 50 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and christened her X. After hauling her at Raffles Marina in nearby Singapore, I set out on my first trip — a three-day voyage to the 200-mile distant island of Pulau Tioman.

Far from the noise and smog of steaming Singapore and the hectic shipping in the vicinity of the export center, Tioman is a lush, mountainous island that makes her popular with tourists — as well as monkeys, cobras, butterflies, and other animals of the tropical rainforest. The island has a nice marina, a friendly island culture, many quiet places to anchor, and fabulous reefs for snorkeling. Not far north of the equator, the water is plenty warm. Groceries, fuel, and duty-free alcohol are all readily available. There is also a small international airport on the island, which made it easy for me to commute back to California.

Like everywhere I’ve been in Malaysia, the meals were very inexpensive, no matter if I was dining out or preparing them myself. Lunch and dinners usually cost $2 or $3, and somehow they manage to sell cans of Heineken for just 45 cents. If I wanted to be thrifty, I would go to the open air markets, where I could buy a bag of fruit and veggies for 50 cents. Although they almost give the stuff away, the fruit and vegetables — of which I recognized about half — are of the highest quality. Malaysian beef, on the other hand, is very tough.

Pulau Tioman has a small cruiser community. Most of the cruisers are Aussies and Kiwis who are doing a one- to two-year loop of that part of the world. They tend to favor heavy steel or ferro-cement boats. There’s also a bunch of Germans and a few other European cruisers mixed in, but Americans seem to think this part of Malaysia is dangerous. The cruising culture is similar to that of Mexico in the sense that there’s always a great deal of socializing going on. Since most Malaysians are Muslim, and most Aussies who aren’t larrakins are pretty conservative, you don’t have people drinking tequila shots out one anothers' belly-buttons like some cruisers do in Mexico. But it’s still the same cruising lifestyle that I find so satisfying.

After a couple of months at Pulau Tioman, I sailed east across what some claim are the pirate-infested waters of the South China Sea to Borneo. There had been some official reports of attacks on shipping, and while there is much folklore of cruisers being attacked, there were no recent verifiable evidence of it that I could find. My only precaution was to swing well south of the Anambas Islands, which seemed to be the nexus of the problems for ships.

The whole piracy issue was a little worrisome to me, but I took comfort in the fact that I’ve got X so stripped down that I don’t think any pirates would bother with her. Since I bought the boat, I've probably removed 2,000 pounds of what I considered to be excess stuff. Things like 100 pounds of paper charts, parts for boat systems that are no longer on the boat, heavy winch handles, brass clocks, and four mirrors. I only need one mirror — if that! I just leave the stuff on the dock and it disappears right away. X also has more heavy batteries than I want, so as soon as I find out which are the best, I’ll get rid of the others.

Removing a ton of unneeded weight from my eight-ton 50-footer has made a noticeable difference in performance — particularly in the weather conditions common in this part of the South China Sea. There is generally no wind at all — as one could deduce from the fact that I’ve done a lot of 50 and 75-mile days with a Santa Cruz 50. Mind you, this is an ultralight boat that will sail at almost five knots in just five knots of true wind.

It’s true that X’s sails are pretty pathetic, but still, if you look at weather charts for the Equatorial Belt, they're filled with random arrows without flags. Conditions are so docile that I haven’t seen a single wave in seven months! It’s like sailing on Lake Tahoe. The only time you get wind is in a squall, and then it’s too much wind. Anyway, I spent five beautiful moonlit nights sailing — except when I had to motor to keep from drifting backward into shipping lanes — the 400 miles until I dropped my hook in the Santubong River near Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo. For the record, Borneo is the third largest island in the world, with 73% of the land mass owned by Indonesia, 26% by Malaysia, and 1% by oil-rich Brunei.

There were a few cruisers when I arrived at the Santubong River, but with the approach of the Rainforest World Music Festival, the number of cruising boats grew to 30. The festival is a famous showcase of world music performed by hundreds of musicians, and is attended by thousands of music enthusiasts. Each day began with orderly musical presentations in intimate workshops, but by the time the evening rain started falling, it had become a massive and muddy dance party. After the festival, I remained anchored in the river for a few weeks, enjoying the nearby city of Kuching, relaxing, and making friends.

Needing to find a marina where I could store X so I could return to California for a month, I continued northeast along Borneo’s coast to Labuan, which has a reasonably good marina. It’s about $300 a month for my 50-footer, which I think is dirt cheap. Muslim Malaysia is supposedly so safe that you never have to lock your boat. We’ll see when I return this month.

Like most Malaysian cities I’ve visited, Labuan is surprisingly as modern and glistening as any in the world. People have nice houses and new cars, and seem affluent. It’s all the oil, gas and minerals in Malaysia. Everybody is very friendly and there have been absolutely no personal safety issues. Processing papers at Labuan, as in all other major ports, was easy and nearly free. The cruisers all seem to have a wonderful time, so no wonder I can’t wait to get back.

So far I have been singlehanding — and loving it. I stand watch when there’s wind, which isn’t often, and practice guitar, cook wonderful meals, read, or just gaze at the passing world. I sleep during the frequent calms.

I’ve only had two equipment failures in seven months, and they were minor. The anchor windlass had a couple of failures that I should have foreseen and been able to prevent. And the refrigerator apparently had a slow leak and stopped cooling my beer. After a few hours of looking around the shops in Kuching, I found a bottle of refrigerant and the parts to fix everything.

After loading up with cheap beer in duty-free Labuan, I’m not sure where I’ll go. I don’t like to make plans any more than two days out, but some cruising friends in Malaysia just wrote to say they are headed to Kudat, Borneo, so I may follow them there. On the other hand, I like the idea of sailing to Palau, the former U.S. Territory 2,500 miles to the east, which is noted for spectacular World War II wreck diving. The downside of that is that it’s pretty close to the typhoon zone, so we’ll just have to see.

— david 09/05/10

Niki Wiki — Gulfstar Sailmaster
Terry and Jonesy Morris
Medical Care Outside the U.S.
(Chula Vista)

Prior to doing the Ha-Ha four years ago, we wrote the following: “We quit our jobs, sold the house, sold the car and furniture, and got rid of all our stuff. We’re now living aboard our 50-ft Gulfstar Sailmaster Niki Wiki about to start an open-ended cruise to Mexico, Central America, thru the Panama Canal, and into the Caribbean. We’re going wherever our vagabond spirits take us.”

Most recently our spirits have taken us to Guatemala, which is where we were when we read that the editor of Latitude was asking cruisers what they do about health insurance. The time of his request couldn’t have been better, for two weeks ago I had emergency laparoscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder. The total cost was $5,000 U.S. That included three nights and four days in the upscale and modern university hospital in Guatemala City. This cost included the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and primary care doctor fees, as well as all tests, medications, and follow-up care. It was one of my best hospital experiences, and I’ve had six other surgeries, all in the United States.

We have been cruising full-time for four years throughout Mexico, Central America, Panama, Colombia, and now Guatemala, without health insurance. Due to pre-existing health conditions, we are virtually uninsurable except through employer group policies — which means we’d have to work and not cruise. We made the decision to budget for unplanned medical care, and just took off cruising to live.

So far, we have been quite happy with the medical and dental services we have received. Jonesy, my husband, had an urgent and extensive root canal and crown procedure in El Salvador. It was done by an endodontist who was trained in the States. The total cost for two dentists and the crown was $350. We have had routine teeth cleanings and check-ups for between $25 to $40, and filling repairs for $25 — all by English-speaking dentists. A walk-in, same-day mammogram at a private hospital was $35, with the typed radiologist report and films available for pick-up the next day. Routine blood-work is done inexpensively on demand at laboratories.

Both Colombia and Guatemala advertise medical tourism, which is why people travel to these countries to get elective or other surgeries not covered by their insurance. It's done at greatly reduced prices. There are English-speaking individuals who will arrange whatever medical services you might require. Among the cruising community there are always other folks who will gladly give recommendations of doctors, dentists, and lab work. We have often relied upon this network, and have never been disappointed.

I’m recovering rapidly while lounging by the pool and playing Mexican Train dominoes. We are looking forward to leaving this hurricane hole in the Rio Dulce at ‘Mario’s Marina and Summer Camp for Cruisers’ so that come November we can head back out to sea to explore Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras.

— terry 09/20/10

Sea Level — Schionning 49
Jim and Kent Milski
Surfing and Flipping

To give you an idea of how cold the California coast has been this summer, Jim came back from his and Kent's cat at Vuda Point, Fiji, to surf Imperial Beach, which is just south of San Diego. “Thanks to a cold upwelling, it was 59 degrees. That’s terrible!" he said.

No kidding. Especially when you’ve become accustomed to surfing the warm waters of Mexico and the South Pacific. “The water had to be 80 or 82 degrees in Fiji when we left," continued Jim. "It's ‘no wetsuit’ surfing in the tropics — although we do wear a light suit if we’re going to be snorkeling for an extended period of time. Another nice thing about surfing in the South Pacific is that unlike some places in Mexico, there are no sea urchins.”

The downside of surfing in French Polynesia, of course, is that you are almost always surfing the edge of a reef. “We haven’t seen a sand beach since Mexico,” laughs Jim. “During every session, I’ll make contact with the reef a couple of times. But the good news is that the reefs are kind of flat instead of being jagged.”

Like most surfers, Milski didn’t want to reveal the lesser known locations he’s surfed, but he says he’s found good surf in the Tuamotus, and great surf in French Polynesia. One of the well-known spots he hit was Huahine. “There’s one break for longboards, and another for short boards,” he says. “While there, we met Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell. What a jewel of a person. She’s just wonderful!”

Jim and Kent were in Niue when Kelly Wright arrived on the ship that rescued him after Anna, his New Mexico-based Atlantic 57 catamaran, flipped and had to be abandoned. “We’d seen the storm coming on the GRIB files,” says Jim. “In fact, we ­— along with two Aussie boats and a Belgian boat ­­— saw what was coming while we were up at Palmerston, so we rushed to Niue to grab mooring buoys. It was a good thing, because we had gusts into the mid-40s come through. We assume that the guys on Anna saw the GRIB files, too."

"When you get GRIB files from SailMail," Milski continued, "you can also pull one down that shows how much moisture there is in certain areas. The chart comes out shaded or black where there is lots of moisture, so you know it’s a low. We could all see it. And when Wright says they were hit by over 60 knots of wind, I believe him. For there were some guys from Indiana on a boat called Bubbles flying a chute toward Tonga, the opposite way Anna was headed, and they got hit by 60 knots. Fortunately, they got the chute down in time. We later attended a weather class in Tonga, where the instructor explained that Anna had flipped in an area where two lows had come together."

Kent, who spoke extensively with Wright and his crewman Glen McConchie, said she was told that the cat had paused when she was heeled over about 45 degrees. “Kelly and I both gave each other that ‘she’s gonna come back down’ look,” McConchie told her, “but then she continued all the way over.”

McConchie had some other advice for Kent. “Don’t ever mount the EPIRB high up in the salon. Even though I was inside Anna, since she was flipped I had to dive down into the water mixed with boat debris to try to get the EPIRB. I bet that it took me 18 dives before I was able to get it. Part of the problem is that it’s very disorienting when the cat is flipped, so I spent a lot of time looking for it on the wrong side of the bulkhead.”

McConchie was also able to answer the question of why he couldn’t get out the escape hatch. Over the years, some escape hatches on cats have leaked or even been holed. As a result, Anna was built with a solid plastic window instead of a hatch. A hammer was mounted next to it so the window could be smashed in the case of an emergency. Unfortunately, the window was too strong for the blows from the hammer — as well as for blows from a fire extinguisher and anchor! So having been inside the hull for 15 hours, McConchie ultimately had to swim out a deck hatch in what had become the bottom of the flipped cat.

While the flipping of Anna proved that even very large cruising cats can capsize if greatly overpowered, Jim and Kent are confident their Sea Level won’t because they are very conservative with how much sail they set. Not only did they sail from Mexico to Polynesia with two reefs in the main at all times, but they now often sail with just a headsail and no main at all.

“Having sailed Sea Level so many miles now, we’ve learned that in reasonably strong winds we sail almost as fast without the main as we do with it,” says Jim. “And it’s always much more comfortable with less sail. We might only do 6.5 knots instead of 7 knots, but if we get hit by a big squall, we can quickly furl the headsail or even more quickly release the sheets. I also really like the idea that Sea Level doesn’t have the mini-keels that Anna had in addition to her daggerboards. It’s my understanding the blast of wind blew Anna around until she was beam to the seas, at which point the cat tripped on her leeward mini-keel. I’ve also seen cats that have a lot of control lines run through sheet-stoppers to a single winch. I don’t like that. We have dedicated winches for each mainsail control line, so they can all be released instantly. Kent and I are aware that it’s possible that our cat could flip, but because of how we sail, we’re confident that she won’t.

When back in San Diego, the Milskis stayed with Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly aboard their Hughes 45 Capricorn Cat. “We’re aware that cats have the potential to flip,” says Hendryx, “which is why we are very conservative with how much sail area we carry. After buying the cat from Blair Grinols, we got hit by 35 to 45 knots of wind while sailing south off the Central Coast of California. But as we had no main up and only 25% of the genoa unfurled, the boat handled the conditions so well that we could enjoy dinner while the autopilot drove. We usually take the main down at night, and even during the day we’ll often sail with one or two reefs. With cats, a couple of reefs don’t slow you much.”

“Blair brought Capricorn Cat 5,000 miles home from the Marshalls on three different occasions,” continues Wayne. “He told me that he often got going to weather so fast that the cat would leap over the crests and come slamming down. His solution was to furl the genoa completely, triple-reef the main — and deploy a Gale Rider drogue from the transom — even though he was sailing to weather! It worked great for him.”

As for the Milskis, they are delighted with the cat that Jim built from a kit. “Sea Level is the perfect boat for us,” Jim says. “And what’s really neat, is that she’s always teaching us how she likes to be sailed. It makes it really fun.”

Jim and Kent are also really enjoying the international group of cruisers they’re meeting in the South Pacific. "There are quite a few Europeans out here," says Kent, "many of them with brand new or near-new boats. And just about all of them are equipped with first class stuff. They’re good sailors, too."

"We've also run into about 10 boats that were bought in the U.S. by Aussies, Kiwis, or Europeans, and that are being sailed to New Zealand and Australia," says Jim. "The belief is that they can be sold for a big enough profit to pay for their year or two of cruising. Of course, there are still a number of very adventurous folks on smaller boats and even smaller budgets. We met one couple on an engine-less 29-footer that took 40 days to make it from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco. You can imagine the stories they have to tell.”

— latitude/rs 09/09/10

Cruise Notes:

The streak of boating interests in the northeastern Lesser Antilles not being hit hard by a hurricane in many years was nearly broken in late August and early September by the trickster Earl. He was forecast to be a mild Category 1 hurricane that would sweep to the northeast of the islands at a reasonably safe distance. Further, all the islands would be in the least dangerous southwest quadrant. But you can’t trust a hurricane any more than you can trust a politician, and at the last minute Earl not only strengthened to a become a powerful Category 4 hurricane with winds to 125 knots, but decided not to veer as far to the northwest as he was supposed to. That meant the islands from Antigua to the U.S. Virgins got a bigger scare and were hit harder than originally expected. As he closed on the islands, Earl also became a much broader storm. The result was that all the boats on the south side of islands — such as Tortola in the British Virgins, the center of the bareboat charter universe — which had land between them and the leading edge of the hurricane, ended up being lashed by the southerly winds of Earl's tail. Getting lashed by southerly winds from a hurricane that passes to the northeast of you in the northern hemisphere is weird, but that's what can happen if the hurricane covers a large enough area.The following is an eye-witness report from a frequent Latitude contibutor — who doesn’t want his name used because he doesn't want his insurance company to know his boat was in the British Virgins and not 400 miles to the south at Grenada, and outside the hurricane zone:

“My boat and I were at Village Cay Marina on the south side of Tortola near The Moorings base. Earl started with winds from the northwest at 45 to 48 knots, but as we had the tall island between him and us, and no fetch, it wasn’t bad. But by 10 p.m., the wind had backed 90 to 100 degrees and was coming out of the south at 70 knots! Everyone who had secured their boat for northwest winds scrambled to adjust their lines for winds from the south. The two sets of wind instruments atop my 70-ft mast read a constant 74-78 knots from the south for three hours during the worst of it, with a high gust of 86 knots. I'd removed everything I could from the outside of my boat, and had her secured by 12 strong lines. While Tortola suffered lots of downed trees and power lines, and there was no electricity or lighting at night, my boat wasn’t damaged. In fact, there was no damage to any of the 25 other boats in the marina. However, many of the boats anchored or moored out — and even commercial vessels including inter-island ferries — were badly damaged."

It was odd how Earl's tail had done most of the damage, and the pattern of destruction was equally unusual. Some boats were lost at St. Barth — where boatowners had been told to expect only 40 knots — and a big sailing vessel was lost at St. Kitts. On the other hand, we got few reports of damage at the huge sailing center of St. Martin, and the folks at the yard in Spanishtown on Virgin Gorda said they didn't have any boats blow over. Thanks to the great hurricane hole at Paraquita Lagoon on the south side of Tortola, the Sunsail and The Moorings charter yachts did fine, as did our Leopard 45 cat ‘ti Profligate and the other boats in the BVI Yacht Charters fleet. Indeed, just two days after Earl passed, ‘ti went out on charter. The boats at Tortola's West End/Soper’s Hole, on the other hand, were hit pretty hard because they had no protection from the northwesterly winds coming from the leading edge of Earl.

Tom Larson, who did the Ha-Ha in ‘05 with his wife Amy aboard their Tiburon-based Yorktown 35 Sandpiper, then nearly circumnavigated, reports that there was quite a bit of damage to boats on the exposed south side of St. John in the U.S. Virgins. “Earl took out all 10 boats at Chocolate Hole, four boats at Cruz Bay, and several others in Coral Bay — even though we only got sustained winds of about 40 knots and gusts up to 60 knots.”

The bottom line is that Earl could have been a much more destructive storm. So the Eastern Caribbean’s streak of good luck continues. But keep your fingers crossed, because hurricane season doesn't end there until December 1.

To prove once again how quickly and abruptly cruisers change their plans, Tom and Amy Larsen spent nine months in Australia before deciding to sail Sandpiper up the Red Sea and then cross the Atlantic. They stopped in St. John in the Caribbean to visit some friends, expecting to continue on up to Charleston, South Carolina, to look for work. But while they were having a “few rums” the night before they were to leave, the charter trawler Sadie Sea pulled up to the waterfront bar where they were drinking. To make a long story short, they bought the trawler and sold Sandpiper, and are now in the charter trade in the Virgins.

While all of Mexico’s strong hurricanes have stayed offshore so far this summer, that’s not to say that the Vallarta Coast didn’t get clobbered by Mother Nature. According to John and Gilly Foy of the Alameda and La Cruz-based Catalina 42 Destiny, it rained over 13 inches in one night! Sure, summer is the rainy season on the Mexican mainland, but that was a month’s worth of rain in less than 24 hours. The result was that a 150-ft section of the northbound two-lane bridge between Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta collapsed in the middle of the night. With the separate southbound bridge carrying Highway 200 traffic having to be closed to check for damage, the tens of thousands of people to the north of the river, as well as all the supplies coming from Guadalajara, didn't have a way across or around the raging river. So people who absolutely had to get to the other side of the river gathered in the parking lot in front of the Vallarta YC at Nuevo Vallarta, and were eventually transported to Marina Vallarta and the downtown area by an armada of 150 boats of every size, shape and description. Farther up the Vallarta Coast, the popular surfing/tourist town of Sayulita was completely cut off after its connecting bridge to the main road collapsed. Mexico being Mexico, roads were quickly cleared and ways were found to get people and goods where they needed to go. By the time anyone in the Ha-Ha fleet makes it to the Vallarta area in mid-November, the rainy season will have ended, and we're confident the major problems will have been sorted out. As for the jungle along the Vallarta Coast, it said to be growing like never before. It's going to be something to see before mid-November, when the end of the rainy season and the drop in humidity naturally trim it back.

“We motorsailed our family’s nomadic 97-ft brigantine Talofa on a Baja Bash last month after five great years in the Sea of Cortez,” write Beau, Lianne and Clint Bryan. “We departed Cabo San Lucas on July 7 into the usual 30+ knots off Cabo Falso, but from then on the wind and seas progressively eased off, allowing our group of eight adults, a two-year-old, and two dogs to really begin to enjoy ourselves. We caught a large yellowtail and eight Pacific bonito. Peter Domeq, our midnight watch captain — who is also founder of San Jose del Cabo’s cultural/community center Raices & Brazos, and its in-house restaurant Sabor de Amor — prepared delicious sashimi platters and many other gourmet pescatarian meals. We anchored at both Bahia Santa Maria and San Juanico to surf a small south swell. On July 19, a dozen days out of Cabo, Talofa eased into her slip in Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. From now until the October 24 start of Ha-Ha XVII — we had so much fun we've got to do it again — we’ll be taking groups of six passengers on multi-day sails to the Channel Islands. In addition, we'll be showing up for Buccaneer Day at Two Harbors, Catalina, on October 2. We had a piratical time at Buccaneer Day in ‘05, so we’ll be bringing extra black powder this year. So ye boarders, beware!"

Once you get a taste of the warm waters of Mexico, it’s hard to stay in chilly California, isn’t it?

“Our experiences with health services in Mexico are very much in line with what you reported in the September 20 ‘Lectronic,” writes Jimmie Zinn of the Point Richmond-based Morgan 38 Dry Martini. “On three separate occasions we encountered competent care, modern facilities, great service, and very reasonable cost. However, we did have one negative incident that justifies a word of caution. While in La Paz, Jane and I went for dental hygiene appointments with a local dentist who had been highly recommended by some of the stationary cruisers in La Paz. Jane saw the woman on Tuesday, and I was scheduled for Thursday. When Jane returned from her appointment, she reported being surprised to learn she had three loose fillings that would need to be replaced. But the red flag went up when, during my Thursday appointment, I was told that I had three loose fillings, too. What a coincidence! Jane naturally cancelled her appointment. While taking care of business back home eight weeks later, I paid a visit to my dentist of 30 years. He advised me that my three loose fillings had miraculously tightened back up by themselves! Although I don’t like telling a story like this because it’s certainly not typical of Mexico, I think it’s important that people know about such experiences. In nearly four years of cruising in Mexico, this was one of only two slightly troubling experiences we had.”

We’re big believers in the truth being told, Jimmie, so we’re glad that you shared your and Jane's less-than-satisfactory dental experience. It reminds us that a dentist popular with cruisers in Puerto Vallarta was accused of something similar. Like you, we think these are isolated instances. The good thing is that ultra low prices in Mexico mean that it doesn't cost much to get a second opinion. And because the cruiser community is so tight, such scoundrels are quickly exposed. Open wide!

By the way, after reading the report that Terry Morris of the Gulfstar Sailmaster 50 Niki Wiki had a very satisfactory laparoscopic surgery to remove her gall bladder in Guatemala at a price of $5,000 for everything, a Latitude staffer was stunned. Her partner had had the same operation at Marin General in Marin County, and the bill came to $80,000.

Two "hot girls" looking for a killer to sail with them as crew. In order to prove once again that truth is stranger than fiction, we present the following 'Crew Wanted' ad that appeared on Craigslist:

“This is a chance of a lifetime! My best girlfriend and I are planning to come into some money soon. We plan on living the dream, buying a large sailboat and just traveling around the world. Although quite adventurous, we are only two small young girls, thus quite defenseless. Well, we could theoretically defend ourselves, but we will most likely be drunk most of the time and thus not in the right state to be on the lookout for pirates or rapists. I’m not sure I would be very good shooting a pirate with double vision. I tried going to the gun range, while hammered, to practice, but for some reason they would not rent me a gun. I tried explaining my fear of pirates, but that just got me physically carried out. Apparently yelling, 'But how will I fight the pirates? They could come at any moment!' caused some sort of distrust between me the gun range man. Personally, I think he must have been on some sort of power trip. Anyway, all we need is one strong, fearless man to kill any pirates we come across. If you have killed a man before, that could be a plus. If you have any pirate-killing experience, you are a definite shoo-in. You may be the luckiest man you know and the envy of all your friends. You will be able to travel the world, lie in the sun all day with two hot girls, and explore a different city every week without a care in the world — except pirates. I cannot stress this enough. We may from time to time ask you to help fish or man the sails, but your main concern and number one enemy is pirates. Also, if you are anything like Kurt Russell in Captain Ron, we encourage you to apply.”

"The Reef Shipping supply ship arrived in Niue today, and upside-down on deck was the Atlantic 57 catamaran Anna that had flipped on her way to Tonga in August," report Bruce and Alene Balan of the Northern California-based Cross 45 trimaran Migration. "We don't know the cat's final destination, but it's very sad because she was a beautiful boat when upright the last two times we saw her — which was at the boatyard in Whangarei, New Zealand, in February, when we were hauled, and then again in Lifuka, Tonga, a few days before she departed for Niue."

"As for ourselves," the couple continue,"we arrived Niue last week after sailing upwind from Tonga. We just had to return to Niue, as we really love this island. We missed the whales here last year because we didn't arrive until October. There haven't been many whales yet this year, but it might all change, as three whales came through the mooring field this morning. We instantly grabbed our masks and jumped in, and had a wonderful 15-minute swim with them. The water was crystal clear, and between trips to the surface to breathe, the whales just floated calmly beneath us. Awesome!"

Convergence, the cat ketch-rigged Wylie 65 with freestanding masts owned by West Marine founder Randy Repass and his wife Sally-Christine, was first to finish in the Sail Indonesia Rally that started from Darwin in late August. According to the ever-more legendary Commodore Tompkins of the Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl, who was along as crew with his wife Nancy, “The 550-mile event to Banda was billed as a race, but was so low-intensity as to be more of a cruise. There were several 50-ft catamarans with us, but it was all downwind in moderate breezes, allowing Convergence to average just under 10 knots.”

Nancy had a more feminine take on the event. “It was a bit confusing because there were at least four events within Sail Indonesia starting at the same time: 1) Race to Banda, 2) Race to Ambon, 3) Rally to Banda, and 4) Rally to Kupang. Convergence was entered in the race to Banda along with 10 other boats. The sailing instructions had such a short time limit that only three boats finished in time. It was a bit lumpy crossing the Arafura Sea, but the seas smoothed out nicely once we got inside the island group. When we arrived in Banda — one of the famous 'spice islands' of old, where nutmeg was discovered — the locals made quite a fuss over us. It turns out that Indonesia has invested some serious money in promoting sailing and tourism, and we were the beneficiaries."

Currently in the process of touring Bali, Java, Borneo and Sulawesi, Commodore and Nancy will soon return to Flashgirl in Queensland, Australia, and resume their cruise north inside the Great Barrier Reef. As for for Convergence, we presume she’s continuing on her way through Indonesia toward Malaysia and Thailand. As we mentioned in a previous Cruise Notes, quite a number of Ha-Ha vets were among the 120 or so boats signed up for one of the Sail Indonesia fleets. Sail Indonesia is noted for not being the most organized event, so it’s still unclear which of these boats started and how they might have finished.

"We’re slowly bringing our Island Packet 370 Kwanesum back to the Bay Area, having left Virginia in September of ‘08,” report Ellen and Randy Hasness. “Our boat is currently under the watchful eye of Tim at Land Sea Marina in Golfito, Costa Rica, as we’re back in the States taking a break from hurricane season to visit family and friends. Come October, we’ll head northwest to Mexico and ultimately San Francisco Bay. As you can tell, we don’t move too quickly, but we’ve had wonderful adventures. Like the Wanderer, we saw 36-year-old Russian Andre Melnichenko's futuristic-looking 396-ft mega motoryacht A in St. Barth. After a wonderful trip down the Leewards and Windwards, and stops at Bonaire, Curacao, Cartagena and the San Blas Islands, we transited the Canal. When heading to Flamenco Marina to fuel up for our trip to Costa Rica, we saw A anchored there, too. What we're really hoping to see is the Ha-Ha group off the coast of Baja in early November. We’ll be going in the ‘wrong’ direction, but what the heck. While there is still lots for us to see, we can’t wait to sail beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, flying the flags of all the countries we’ve visited. We’ll definitely have big grins on our faces as we cover the last few few miles to our new ‘boat home’ at the Oakland YC. Rum at 5 o’clock!”

Think what you may of Swiss Ernesto Bertarelli's stewardship of the America's Cup, but he has stepped up when it comes to helping protect the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Administered by Great Britain as a British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos group lies 300 miles south of the Maldives, and is at roughly the midpoint between Sri Lanka and Madagascar. It's comprised of seven atolls that contain more than 60 islands. The remote Chagos is regarded as having some of the cleanest waters and healthiest reef systems in the world. It's also considered to be one of the greatest cruising destinations in the world. 'Mr. Alinghi' offered more than $5 million to support the region’s newly designated Marine Protected Area (MPA), which covers a quarter million square miles of ocean surrounding the archipelago, and includes blanket restrictions on commercial fishing.

There has been no checking out for Steve Schmidt of the Caribbean-based custom cruising Santa Cruz 70 Hotel California, Too. It must be more than a decade ago that he and his then-wife Barbara, who had been living in Saratoga, sailed to the Caribbean aboard one of the more basic ultralight cruising boats ever. After a few years of cruising, Barbara decided to return to the 'real world' in Santa Barbara, first living on land and now on another sailboat. Steve, on the other hand, has continued to race and cruise in the sunny Caribee. We’d last seen him in Antigua in ‘05, so we didn’t even recognize each other when we crossed paths in the marina in Santa Barbara in September. He reports that even after all this time, he’s still passionate about sailing in the Caribbean and racing, both on his SC70 and on other big boats. Steve spends eight or nine months a year in the Caribbean, then about three or four months in the Santa Barbara area where he has family and loved ones.

"Hola! I just wanted to alert everyone headed south to the fact that the sea lions that deserted Pier 39 a while back seem to have taken up residence here in Ensenada," reports Harry Hanssen. "There are about 300 to 400 of them. While tourists are sold food to feed the sea lions at Pier 39, feeding them in Ensenada can get you arrested!"

We doubt the sea lions in Ensenada are the same as those at Pier 39, but sea lions are a problem nonetheless. They pile on boats in such numbers that they've sunk even large ones, their endless barking can make sleep almost impossible for those on boats and in waterfront homes — and they are inattentive when operating motor vessels. As the L.A. Times reported last July, two Orange County sheriff's deputies had a problem when they lured a sea lion — who had been nipping at people on a dock — onto their boat for release away from humans. While the deputies were in the boat's main control area, the sea lion snuck over to the foul-weather station, which has a secondary steering wheel and set of controls. Before the deputies knew it, the patrol boat's emergency lights, deck lights and various other equipment began going off and on, and the boat "seemed to be steering itself." Upon investigation, the sea lion was found sitting in the operator's seat, randomly flipping switches. A helm hog, the sea lion tried to bite the deputies when they tried to displace him. In full compliance with the terms of the Marine Mammal Act, the sea lion was chased away with water from a hose.

More bad luck. After suffering a severe break when his leg got caught on a wildly flapping genoa sheet, Greg Dorland of the Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade reports that his boat was hit by lightning while in Annapolis. It's not clear when Dorland's leg and/or Escapade will be ready to cruise again. If you're one of the ones about to begin a season or more of cruising, count your blessings, be safe — and don't forget to write!

Missing the pictures? See the October 2010 eBook!


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