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October 2011

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  With reports this month from Swift Current on an enlightening first year of cruising; from Tamara Lee Ann on a quick trip to Hawaii and back; from Taiga on returning to Florida from the Bahamas; from Witch of Endor on swapping out masts and dealing with Homeland Security; from Jet Stream on preparing for hurricane Irene in the British Virgins; and Cruise Notes.

Swift Current — Sabre 452
Howard and Lynn Bradbrooke
The U.S. West Coast and Mexico
(Vancouver, British Columbia)

My wife and I started our retirement cruise from Vancouver in July of last year, and thought your readers might be interested in our north-of-the-border perspective. I'm the immediate past Commodore of the Royal Vancouver YC, just retired after 40 years in the legal profession, and am a big fan of Latitude — particularly the editor's commonsense replies to Letters. I can sum up our first year of cruising by saying that our experiences have already altered our outlook on life more than we ever expected.

Lynn and I left a very busy and satisfying life in Vancouver. We have children, grandchildren, and lots of incredible friends, and we left behind all the usual comforts and most of our stuff. As a result, it was not easy to cut the ties. We are now living a life that is a bit edgy.

It was exciting sailing south from the Pacific Northwest, as we had to cope with the non-recreational sailing waters of the gorgeous but challenging coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. We harbor-hopped our way south through fog and across the bars, and enjoyed all of the coastal communities. We took four weeks to reach the Golden Gate, and we loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute.

We spent August in San Francisco Bay, then sailed up the Delta to get away from the winter-like weather of the Bay Area. Every day in Northern California brought us different experiences, and we were treated royally by friends at the St. Francis YC.

The weather in Southern California proved to be unseasonably cool — and we found the marina infrastructure to be surprisingly dated. However we were warmly welcomed at many small yacht clubs by hospitable members and casual policies. We also met other cruisers heading to Mexico, and several have become what we're sure will be lifelong friends.

We did not do the Ha-Ha, but only because we're only going around once and therefore are committed to taking our time. We entered Mexico in early November, and started our love affair with this large, diverse and easy-going country. We met polite, hard-working, honest and family-oriented people who made our every day pleasurable. The people of Mexico are justifiably confused and financially devastated by the reputation that their country has gotten. The people of Mexico have done their best, but ultimately have no control over the drug demand problem in the north that has overwhelmed much of their country.

We spent eight months in Mexico, and enjoyed every moment. The fact that it is nearly always sunny should not be discounted, particularly by people used to living in more cloudy and foggy places. It will be hard for us to leave Mexico.

As I mentioned earlier, Lynn and I have been surprised by how quickly cruising has changed our outlook on things. I know it will sound corny, but we believe we now have a better grasp of what's important in life. Change is good, and big change seems to have been very good for us.

Perhaps most importantly, cruising has immersed us in the natural world, and this has affected us deeply. Nature literally takes your breath away! We've floated through parades of whales, pelicans, dolphins, turtles and sea birds. There is so much life living in and off the ocean. We've also found the ocean to be mysterious, wild and constantly exhilarating. The knowledge that it is complicated and fragile makes it even more profound.

The coastline has been a real line for us. As we headed south, the modern world was on our port side, while the natural world rolled by endlessly on our starboard side. Lynn and I enjoyed both in moderation. But we can tell you that there is nothing better than having a sailboat and the time to be casually restless with her.

"Are you having fun?" and "What has been your favorite place?" are the two questions we're asked most frequently. The answers aren't as simple as one might think. We've had a lot of fun, but fun doesn't begin to describe the depth of the experiences we've enjoyed over the past year. And we have found that any place approached from the sea becomes special. Overall, we enjoy a life not easily found in a city.

We are presently in San Carlos, Mexico, and the late summer heat has been unbearable. At this moment it's difficult to face the boat work that must be completed before we can get underway again. I guess there are always dues to be paid, and we know there is no point in whining. Fortunately, we're told that the heat will gradually moderate soon.

This year we're looking forward to cruising mainland Mexico, Central America and Panama. For those with even modest cruising skills, we highly recommend it.

We don't have a fixed agenda, but generally we hope to see a lot of the world from the deck of our sailboat. It would be wonderful if we can stay fit and healthy and extend our cruise for a decade.

P.S. We haven't seen any 'pirates', nor have we heard of any 'pirates'.

— howard 9/05/11

Tamara Lee Ann — Celestial 48
Doug Thorne
To Hawaii and Back

Fifteen thousand miles in five weeks is a lot of sailing for anyone, but that's exactly what I did with my boat this summer. Having done the Ha-Ha a couple of times, I got the idea to sail to Hawaii and back while skiing at Mammoth Mountain last winter. Tamara, my wife, just rolls her eyes when I suggest things so crazy, and assumes that I'll have forgotten all about them when I wake up in the morning. But not this time, as sailing to Hawaii and back still seemed like a good idea when the sun came up. Since I only had four months to get everything ready for the trip, I had to begin preparations immediately.

I recruited a total of six crew, three for the trip over and three for the trip back. I used the Crew Needed lists from Latitude and S.F. Sailing. I received close to 100 responses, and was surprised to find that almost as many sailors were willing to sail the long leg back to San Francisco as were willing to sail the shorter, mostly downwind sail to Hawaii. I even asked for a financial contribution from each crew to help offset some of the expenses, and nobody objected.

As part of the recruiting process, the potential crewmembers and I did some daysails together. I ended up having to make some tough cuts, but selected Richard, Poul (Danish spelling) and Lorraine to sail with me to Hawaii, and Jason, Dennis and Barbara to join me for the return leg to San Francisco. Each one of them turned out to be fantastic!

We set sail from the St. Francis YC on June 12, and by the time we reached the Lightbucket a nice northwesterly had filled in just aft of the beam. We turned off the engine, set the sails for a course of 230 degrees — and didn't touch the sails again for eight days! It was some of the most idyllic sailing I have ever experienced. As the days went on, the wind went farther aft of the beam, but stayed at a consistent 15-20 knots, allowing us to make an easy 7-8 knots of boat speed. We fished, fixed some magnificent gourmet meals, and stared at a lot of blue water. I now realize that you actually have to sail across the Pacific to appreciate how very big it is! We did not see another vessel until we were within about 850 miles of the islands, and only saw four ships in all.

The other thing we did to pass the time was fix things. It seemed as if every morning something else on the boat had broken. I replaced the fuel pump for the generator, rebuilt the forward shower sump pump, replaced the refrigeration pump, fixed the roller furler for the headsail to keep it from coming apart — and on and on. Luckily I carry a lot of spare parts and many tools, so I tackled each new repair as another challenge. My crew was great, always pitching in to help, and always having a great attitude.

Our biggest challenge on the way to Hawaii came the final night, when we were only about 60 miles out of Oahu. The steering quadrant parted and we lost steering. The wind was blowing to 30 knots with 15-ft seas running while I went about rigging the emergency tiller. As this was happening, Lorraine got a finger caught in the winch while trying to ease the headsail sheet, and tore a big piece of her finger off. Unbeknownst to me at the time, another crewmember broke three ribs when he fell against the cockpit coaming.

It seemed cruel to have sailed all that way and gotten so close to our destination only to have such serious medical problems arise. Nonetheless, we managed to sort things out and steer with the emergency tiller. Lorraine was given some codeine from our well-stocked medical bag.

We reported Lorraine's injury to the Coast Guard. They told us they were ready to come to our assistance if we felt Lorraine needed it, and put us on a schedule of checking in every 30 minutes. Lorraine insisted that she could wait until we made it to land before she got further treatment, but it was nice to know the Coast Guard was monitoring our progress and ready to help.

We arrived at Ko Olina Marina, down the coast of Oahu from the Ala Wai and Honolulu, at about 4:30 pm on June 25. As we berthed, I used the emergency tiller to steer from the aft deck, and had a crewmember stationed at the helm to operate the engine under my voice control. Our landing was smooth, and my family was there to meet us with cold drinks and flower leis.

Tamara Lee Ann is no race boat, but I was pleased that she was able to make the crossing in a credible 13 days. We managed to cover more than 170 miles on a few days, and our overall average speed for the 2,300-mile trip was about seven knots.
It would have been nice to be able to spend a couple of months cruising the Hawaiian Islands, but I didn't have the time. So after flying back to the mainland for just 10 days, I returned to Hawaii with my new crew for the trip back. We spent a couple of rushed days provisioning and completing some more minor and not-so-minor repairs, and then set sail for San Francisco on the morning of July 6.

Things quickly went very wrong, as we bashed into huge seas and 30-knot winds. New leaks in the anchor chain locker were discovered, and by the middle of the first night water had flooded the bilge and the pumps couldn't keep up. "We may be sinking!" I advised the rest of the crew.

The only prudent thing was to return to the Ko Olina. Once there, we began the task of sealing up as many of the leaks in the anchor chain locker as we could. We used foam, insulating strips, silicon, and — of course — duct tape. After doing the best job we could, we set sail again for San Francisco on Friday the 9th.

I hated to leave on a Friday, but I could not see letting superstition get the better of me. Soon after leaving we were bashing into the same 30-knot winds and huge seas, but this time the boat stayed much dryer. Some water did come in below, but we kept up with it using pumps and towels on the cabin sole.

Sailing to weather in 30 knots of wind may not be life-threatening, but it wasn't very comfortable either. I was seasick for our first four days out of Oahu, a new and unpleasant record for me. I actually had started to feel better three days out, but an electrical short filled the engine room with acrid smoke. The combination of the smell and the pitching seas put me down for the count for yet another day. Fortunately, there hadn't been an actual fire. Once I identified the location of the short, I clipped the wire and we continued on.

The malfunctioning watermaker was a more troubling problem. It would run for a while, then the circuit-breaker would pop, indicating that it was drawing too much current. We tried taking the watermaker apart, looking for obstructions in the containment vessel, and even replaced the valves in the high pressure pump. All this was done while on a 20-degree heel, with a severe amount of motion down below. None of the fixes worked, so I was forced to declare a water shortage. That meant no more showers, no more washing dishes in fresh water, and no more flushing the toilets with fresh water. Yes, Tamara Lee Ann has two electric heads that normally flush using freshwater. With these measures in place, I was confident that we would make it to San Francisco on the water that remained in our tanks. But it was not going to be very pleasant.

Nine days out of Oahu and on our fourth day of water rationing, we crossed paths with the Robert C. Seamans, a 134-ft steel brig that was also sailing to San Francisco. I contacted them on the radio, as any two ships sailing the same route 1,300 miles from land might do, just to chat and find out what they were up to. After chatting for awhile, I mustered up the courage to ask them if they could spare any water. To our great relief, they said they had plenty of water and would be happy to give us as much as we wanted.

In order to transfer the water, the Seamans came alongside us as we both motored east at five knots. The crew of the Seamans put their tender in the water and brought us a long garden hose, at which point the transfer began. It took about an hour to fill our 250-gallon water tank. Meanwhile, the Seamans engineman came over to look at our watermaker. He was unable to find anything wrong, but inexplicably, it started working again! And it continued to work for the 11 more days it took us to reach San Francisco. I allowed our crew to take showers once again, and we celebrated our good luck at finding fresh water in the middle of the ocean. Thank you, Robert C. Seamans!

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, although we endured 48 hours of 27-30 knots of wind on our port beam as we approached San Francisco. Then, of course, the wind shut down as we were nearing the Farallon Islands. With only 50 miles to go, we were going to have to motor. But with only 10 gallons of fuel in the boat's 200-gallon tank, I was pretty sure we didn't have enough fuel to make land.

As I fretted about running dry just short of our destination, the crew was talking up the 'happy hour' we were going to be enjoying late that afternoon. Finally, when we were down to just a few gallons of diesel, I broke down, called Vessel Assist, and had them bring us 10 gallons of diesel to our location 12 miles outside the Gate. It was some of the most expensive diesel I have ever purchased, as I tipped the Vessel Assist crew well.

We made it to the St. Francis YC in time for happy hour on my birthday (!) 20.5 days out of Oahu. We were met by our families and the outbound crew who had been monitoring our progress via the Spot messenger service. Ron Banaszak, the club's general manager, even brought mai tais down to the dock for us.

I learned a lot about long-distance open ocean sailing during the trip, and I learned about the strengths and weaknesses of my boat. I gained a whole new respect for the men and women who do this sort of thing for a living! Now I'm looking forward to some coastal cruising and being able to tie up to a dock most nights, although who knows how long that feeling will last — and before Tamara will have to start rolling her eyes again?

— doug 08/15/11

Taiga — Catana 44
Jack and Sherri Hayden
Return from the Bahamas

[Editor's note: After 10 years of 'commuter cruising' in the Sea of Cortez aboard their Morgan 382, last year Ha-Ha vets Jack and Sherri bought a used Catana 44 cat in Norfolk, Virginia. This is Part II of their report on cruising the ICW and in the Bahamas.]

We spent January through mid-March in the Exumas chain of the Bahamas, and found that the weather seemed to follow a roughly 7- to 10-day cycle. The winter weather mainly comes from the west, so as the cold fronts pass through, the winds clock from the prevailing 10 to 20-knot east-northeasterlies into the southeast, south, west and on around. Sometimes they even come out of the north for a day or two. Experienced sailors in the area use these predictable wind shifts to sail to new anchorages.

The best anchorages in the Exumas are on the Exumas Bank, or western side of the cays. So as the winds clock around, many sailors abandon the open anchorages on the west side and crowd into either the marinas or the very few anchorages with protection from the west. Every sailor in the Bahamas listens to Chris Parker's morning HF weather forecasts before making plans for the day, and this can lead to a kind of paralysis for some, as it becomes apparent that it won't be long before the wind is back in the west again.

We found that most fronts led to relatively weak and/or short-lived westerlies, with very tolerable conditions in the west-facing anchorages. There was plenty of advance warning when stronger winds were predicted, as the fronts advance from Texas eastward across Florida and the Straits. These fronts were often deflected north by the combination of high pressure to the south of the Bahamas and lows in the North Atlantic.

The waters in the Bahamas are absolutely gin-clear, so the snorkeling is great. The corals are not as good as those we've enjoyed in Saipan when we have visited our son there. However we did see morays, eagle rays, sting rays, manta rays and lots of colorful fish. The water temps were in the low 70s, so snorkeling and lobster hunting required a 2- or 3-mm wetsuit. Daytime temps ran into the high 70s. Nights dropped into the 60s, making for comfortable sleeping. The maximum winds we saw were three days of 25 to 30 knots from the NE. Tides run about 3 to 4 feet, and there are very strong tidal currents through the cays, as the water pours through from Exumas Sound to the east, onto the bank, and then reverses. Timing passages through the cuts can be critical, particularly with wind opposing the current.

The snorkeling in the cuts can be spectacular, and riding the tide through with someone following in the dink to bring you back is a gas. We speared plenty of spiny lobsters, and we caught mahi mahi and tuna while trolling. Big sportfishing boats from Florida are ubiquitous throughout the Bahamas.

The beaches on the eastern side of the cays are garbage dumps of washed-ashore plastic bottles, plastic pipe, plastic everything, lumber, fish nets and shoes. Thousands of shoes! There are literally windrows of washed up garbage on the eastern beaches.

Many of the Exumas Cays are privately owned. From '78 through '82 Carlos Lehder, the notorious head of the Medellin Cartel, owned and lived on six-mile long Norman's Cay, which he used to transship cocaine from Colombia to the States. He is currently in the federal pen in the U.S. If an entire cay is in private hands, the beaches are private property. However, if some of the cay is public land, the beaches are public.

While in Staniel Cay, we were told that while once private cays were owned by millionaires, they are now owned by billionaires. Unfortunately, they generate little income for the locals, because the billionaire owners fly in their entire domestic staff from somewhere else, party for two weeks, then depart, leaving the staff behind to close things up until their next visit. Usually there is a caretaker couple living in their own cabin on the cay, but little work for the locals.

The caretakers we met on Little Pipe Cay were Filipinos. The current owner of Over Yonder Cay has erected seven enormous wind turbines with 100-ft blades and about an acre of solar panels. He's also building three large villas in addition to all the support buildings, docks, and so forth. The locals say the buyers of these cays usually lose interest in coming down after five years or so, and sell out within seven years.

On our return to the States, we crossed the Gulf Stream from Bimini to Palm Beach starting at 3 a.m. We had fair winds and picked up the Stream about five miles off Bimini. We averaged 10 knots on the 77-mile crossing. A cold front was forecast to arrive on the Florida coast a couple of hours after we expected to arrive, and in this country that means an unstable air mass behind the front. When we were still 15 miles off the coast, the Coast Guard began broadcasting a marine safety alert. A line of thunderstorms moving southeast across central Florida at 35 knots was producing waterspouts with winds to 50 knots and heavy rain. About five miles off the coast of Florida we were still in brilliant sunshine, but we could see a black roll cloud coming, so we struck the sails.

The front hit just as we were approaching the entrance buoy to the Port of Palm Beach. Within minutes, three waterspouts sprang up around us, and we were blinded by blowing seawater and rain. The wind was howling and there were lightning strikes every few seconds. High-speed sportfishing boats raced for shelter, and we had several close calls with them. We turned our boat to parallel the beach because we didn't want to be blind in the narrow entrance channel. At times we could not see the beach, even though it was less than 100 yards away! Our best references were the depthsounder and the compass. The GPS was erratic because of all the static electricity.

We kept our depth at a minimum of 75 feet, and ran the engines at about 1,500 rpm to maintain steerage as we jogged into the wind. Even so, the gusts against the bows would blow our cat off downwind. The waves quickly built to about six feet, even though the wind was coming off the nearby beach. The strongest winds and rain lasted about 20 minutes, then it tapered off to steady wind of 15 knots and light rain. At that point we turned around, entered the channel, and dropped the hook in Lake Worth. The rain had washed all the salt off us and our boat.

Taiga is now on the hard 20 miles up the Cooper River from Charleston, South Carolina, resting up for our return.

— jack and sherri 9/05/11

Witch of Endor — Vagabond 47
Steve Cherry
New Masts For The New Boat
(San Diego)

Just when Latitude probably thought it was safe, here I am again, and with my longtime cruising friend and Ha-Ha '00 vet Bob Willmann aboard Viva! in close proximity. In fact, it was Willmann who suggested that I drop you a line to recap my recent trip to Florida, which was for the purpose of swapping out my wooden masts for new aluminum spars. Here’s the recap:

In '07, I traded in my Formosa 41 for a Vagabond 47, which I rechristened Witch of Endor. Bob of Viva! and I were at Mario's in the Rio Dulce at the time, he camping out there after his Islander 37, the original Viva! had been destroyed by hurricane Lane a few months before at Isla Providencia. After I closed the deal for the Vagabond, Bob and I flew down to Carriacou to pick her up and take her to Fort Pierce, Florida, for a refit. Then we flew back to the Rio Dulce to deliver the old Witch to Annapolis to sell her. Bob then went on his way to find the 'Catamaran of his Dreams', which turned out to be a a Casamance 44 that had been stretched to 47 feet. He rechristened her Viva!

After an extended period of time in the yard, during which the new Witch was cured of most of the ills she'd gotten from 20+ years in the Caribbean, and during which time I was cured of colon cancer, Willmann and I linked up again and headed south aboard our new-to-us boats to visit the usual places. We spent a protracted time in the Rio Dulce, with Willmann uptown getting new engine(s) and me at Texan Bay just hanging out.

When it was time to consider “trading with the enemy” by sailing to Cuba, I discovered rot in my main mast. This was the second time this had happened, and we had already replaced the most obvious deficiencies. It prompted me to make a deal with Mack Sails of Stuart, Florida, for new main and mizzen masts.

While Willmann and Viva! carried on to other islands in the Caribbean, I went down to Isla Providencia, Bocas de Toro, the San Blas Islands, and Cartagena, Colombia, and planned on heading back to Florida in the spring to swap masts. Unfortunately, I waited a little too long. Twelve miles out of Cartagena, the main mast failed at the masthead, broke off at the heel, then fell aft on the centerline, snapping when it smashed into the mizzen traveler between the davit arms. Then the mizzen came down. So I motored back to Cartagena.

With the help of a few of my amigos, we stripped the mizzen and chopped it up for the trashman. Then once in the yard, we did the same with the main. Other than to the masts, the only damage was a tweaked jib furler and a scratched table on my 'patio'! The following survived without a scratch: radar, wind generator, GPS antenna, davits and dinghy.

A couple of weeks later, with 100 gallons of extra fuel on deck, we headed out again for the States, this time with 'JB' Nell of Philani aboard. About 100 miles out, in that weather system known as "near the coast of Colombia", the steering tiller on the rudder quadrant broke as the result falling off one of the countless 10-ft swells. So we hand-steered back to Cartagena for more repairs.

So after steering repairs in Cartagena, and topping off with fuel again, JB and I headed on out for a third time, diverting to Providencia due to gnarly conditions up near the Windward Passage. We spent a week there, fueled again, and motored up around the west end of Cuba, and on up to Fort Pierce. I pulled into Harbortown Marina, paid just a few bucks more than I’m paying now at the dump known as Club Nautico in Cartagena, and settled in.

Naturally we had to check in with Homeland Security, so we made our way up to the St. Lucie International Airport and rang the buzzer for service. A few seconds later a man wearing Chief Warrant Officer bars on his collar appeared, and I told him that we'd just pulled in to Fort Pierce and needed to check in. It went kinda like this:

Homeland Security: "Where is your 18- (or maybe it was 23-) digit clearance number?"

Me: "I don’t have one. I tried the 800 number and got bounced around, so I just came up here."

Homeland Security: "Don’t say another word to me. If you do, it will be a $10,000 fine. My suggestion to you is to go to the nearest phone — there’s one on the wall right outside this office — and call the 800 number. Give them the information they ask for, get the number from them, and then come back here and ring the bell."

I nodded in the affirmative, went out to the phone, answered all of the questions I was asked, and got the many digit clearance number. I returned to the Homeland Security office lobby, rang the bell, and was met by the same guy at the window.

Homeland Security: "May I help you?"

Me: "Good Morning, I just pulled into Fort Pierce and I have an 18- (or 23-) digit number, and would like to check in.

Homeland Security: "What's the number . . . . blah, blah, blah."

Soon after presenting our passports, there was a bunch of cluck-clucking. It turned out that JB had a Brit passport. He'd contacted the State Department about coming to the States and got their approval — but no visa. The catch is that a non-citizen can come into the U.S. on a scheduled airline or steamship, but not aboard a private sailboat. At least according to this branch of Homeland Security. So we were informed that there could be a $3,500 fine.

After a couple of hours and a number of Q&A sessions, JB was granted a 30-day “parole” entry. He was also informed that he had to turn in the slip of paper in his passport on the day he left. Or if the office was closed, he could “just leave it at the restaurant next door”. Further, the Homeland Security guy magnanimously told us that they waived a $35 fee for whatever. I thought it was outstanding, as we completely dodged $13,535 dollars in fines and fees, and didn’t even get waterboarded!

In spite of the almost comical nature of this event, I’ll have to say that the Homeland Security guys were professional the whole time. But in view of my previous encounter with them, the reasonable guy has to wonder: When I sold the old Witch and wanted to take my name off their database as regards the multiple re-entry stickers, they told me that “the sticker goes with the boat.” I suggested that bin Laden — this was before he was killed — could just buy the old Witch, call Homeland Security's 800 number, and gain entry to the United States. I finally did get the sticker removed.

With the entry formalities taken care of, the Parolee and I got down to the business at hand. The Mack Sails guys were waiting, so we did the new install and loaded up on boat parts and other goodies. I spent a couple of weekends with my sister's family in Ocala, then, after the Parolee turned in his slip of paper (at the window, as Homeland Security was open), we headed on back toward Cartagena.

We motored down the ICW, during which time I pointed out to JB how some of the folks in Florida are getting by in these tough times. For although real estate is way down in that part of the country, one new development down Lauderdale way was advertising waterfront lots — just the lots — for as little as $1.25 million. When there was a break in the weather, we motored across the Stream, carried on down the west side of the Bahamas, thru the Old Bahama Channel, turned south at the Windward Passage, and had a glorious sail from there to 50 miles or so north of Cartagena — at which point the wind died completely.

I fired up the engine, but got almost no output from the transmission. It had evidently burned up while we were sailing — in spite of the manufacturer’s notation that it’s OK to freewheel at trolling speeds. So we limped on down the coast at a knot and a half until five miles from Cartagena, when the tranny finally quit altogether. With the current setting us onto a lee shore, and there being no wind, I launched the dinghy and put the motor on it — try that sometime while underway! — and took the Witch in tow at a knot and a half. JB steered the big boat and got through to the Colombian Coast Guard, which relieved me of the towline and brought us the rest of the way in to the anchorage off Club Nautico. These Coast Guard fellows were competent and professional, too. And their services were “gratis”!

So, we're currently at the 'dock' at Club Nautico, the transmission is supposed to go back into the boat on Monday, and after some trials in the bay, I'll get underway for the San Blas Island to anchor and chill out. Except for when Willmann and Viva! passes through in a couple of months.

— steve 9/05/11

Jet Stream — Leopard 45 Cat
Tim and Marcia Schaff
Hurricane Irene
(Tortola, British Virgins)

The BVIs had lots of warning for what became hurricane Irene, although she did come on fast at the end. It took an unexpectedly long time for the tropical wave that was to become Irene to develop a closed circulation, which is what it takes before officials will issue hurricane watches and warnings. If the circulation doesn't close, they just keep calling it a 'tropical system'. Those of us who followed the system knew it was almost closed already, and were not surprised once it hit the Windwards/Leewards, where conditions for development were even more favorable when the circulation closed and the warnings were issued.

The weather looked threatening on Saturday afternoon, and some folks — particularly the management and charter companies — prepared their boats for the worst. On Saturday afternoon we went to the big and boisterous end-of-season party at the Last Resort in Trellis Bay. As we headed home at about midnight, I was amazed at the number of dirt-dwellers who were still headed over to the Last Resort on the little ferry. After all, they would all have to return to Beef Island the same way, and the storm was not far off. I was also incredulous to see a Sunsail flotilla moored in Trellis Bay for the party, as if nothing were on the horizon. After all, the big wind was forecast to start up out of the north-northeast and then clock. Trellis is a pretty safe place, but its open side is to the north. Being part of a flotilla moored on someone else's moorings, very close to other boats, and during a tropical storm, would not have been high on my list of things to do, big party or not.

After we got back to Jet Stream at Village Cay, the forecast arrival of the wind and rain had been advanced, so I stayed up until 4 a.m running the last of 22 docklines and otherwise getting ready for the storm. It was shades of preparing Marina Cabo San Lucas for a hurricane when I worked there, except now I had only our one boat to worry about!

When I woke at 11 a.m., I was very glad I'd finished my preparations the night before, as it was already gusty and rainy. Cats are so stable that I could barely hear the rain or feel rocking in my bunk, but once outside there was no mistaking the approaching storm.

Things were scheduled to get ugly late in the afternoon and last until the next morning. As it turned out, the wind never got that strong, maxing out at 52 knots in Village Cay. But it rained and rained and rained and rained! The wind was down in the teens by the following morning, although punctuated by big gusts. Most of the excitement had been over the occasional unoccupied boat that dragged, a couple of big ferries — one without engines — that had to be moved to better anchorages right when things got rough, and a petroleum barge that went on a reef.

There was also the excitement at Richard Branson's private Necker Island. The lightning strike only caused the Great House to burn, and the many other buildings weren't damaged. So despite the news of a famous actress "saving" somebody's mother, it's not as if the whole place burned down. While they probably had more like 70 to 80 knots of wind, which certainly couldn't have helped, the torrential rain certainly must have helped with the fire fighting.

Hopefully that will be the last of our hurricanes for the year.

— tim 9/01/11

Cruise Notes:

"I'm in Asia once again!" reports Jack van Ommen of the Gig Harbor-based Naja 29 Fleetwood. "On July 30, I arrived in Sulina, Romania, which is on the Black Sea. The coast of the Black Sea turned out to be one of the finest cruising areas I've enjoyed in my 40,000+ miles of cruising. It also had some of the best sailing — much more interesting than the tradewind ocean crossings I've made. I spent a month getting from Sulina to Istanbul, which is where I made my return to Asia after my 2,000-mile west-to-east crossing of Europe. Istanbul is an incredible city! I plan to continue south to my winter moorage near Marmaris early next week. Next April I'll begin to cross the Med, and by late fall will exit the Strait of Gibraltar in anticipation of crossing the Atlantic to South America. But I'm a vagabond, retired and free, so nothing is written in stone. So I might make a right turn into the Rhone River and head north for another year in northwestern Europe. Yes, my roots and my French friends may pull me back for another dance in France and beyond."

Van Ommen, who started his magnificent cruise from San Francisco Bay in '05, would be a member of Latitude's Cruising Hall of Fame — if we only had such a thing. He's done — and continues to do — so much unusual cruising with his little boat, and on a budget of about $750 a month. Brilliant!

French cruiser Christian Colombo, 55, was killed and his body tossed overboard in early September during an altercation with pirates aboard his 56-ft catamaran Tribal Kat in the Gulf of Aden. Evelyne, his wife, was rescued after a multinational effort tracked down the seven alleged assailants and overtook their vessel. It was only after boarding the pirate vessel that Evelyne was discovered unharmed. A veteran of the French Navy and a longtime sailor, Colombo had set at least one catamaran speed record. Unlike most cruisers, who have been attacked while traveling westbound toward the Red Sea, the Colombos were heading east, from the Gulf into the Indian Ocean, intending to visit Thailand.

In contrast to the terrible fate of Colombo, we are happy to report that all members of the Johansen family of the Kalundborg, Denmark-based Dynamic 43 Ing, were recently released by their Somali captors. Unconfirmed reports suggest their insurance company paid a ransom that ran into the millions. Jan, his wife Birgit, and three children — sons Rune and Hjalte, and daughter Naja — had been held captive since February 24 of this year. At one point it was reported that pirates proposed to set the family free if they would allow 13-year-old Naja to marry a pirate chieftain.

A California cruiser who came through the same waters at the same time as Ing was captured is Roger Hayward of the Long Beach-based Catalina/Morgan 440 La Palapa. "I remember the Ing incident well," says Hayward, "as we were traveling toward the Red Sea in February when both Quest and then Ing where taken by pirates. [Quest is the Marina del Rey-based Davidson 58 whose owners, Scott and Jean Adams, and their Seattle crew, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay, were murdered by pirates.] In fact, Ing was less than 100 miles from our mini- convoy of three boats — one of which had lost her propeller — when she was pirated. It's a long story, but it was a very stressful night of sailing in formation with no lights until we finally made our rendezvous with a U.S. destroyer the next morning." The irony is that prior to the pirating of the nearby vessels, La Palapa had been enjoying one of her best sails ever. She is now safely in the Med, where Roger has recently discovered that he can catch up with Latitude by downloading eBooks from our site. He plans to cross the Atlantic in November with Karli Moulston, his ladyfriend, who went through pirate waters with him.

If you're looking to have a boat moved in Mexico, Tom Summers suggests Transportes Takata of Guadalajara, which specializes in moving oversized loads throughout Mexico and Central America. "Last year I managed a move in which they delivered Challenger 50 sailboat from San Diego to Ensenada, where the boat is now undergoing a refit. The Takata folks were professional." If we're not mistaken, the same company delivered a couple of the big IACC boats from California to both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta.

One of the things that we most admire about the people of Mexico is how hard so many of them work — and often without much in the way of tools. For example, John Foy of the Alameda/Punta Mita-based Catalina 42 Destiny and Chip Prather of the Dana Point-based Morgan 45 Miss Teak told us about a great diver they both used in Zihua last winter. What was unusual about this diver is not that he did a perfect job on their bottoms, but that he did it free diving! If you haven't tried it, you can't appreciate how nearly impossible that is. Foy and Prather report that Zihua felt as safe and fabulous as ever, and that it's becoming more upscale. They also mentioned that officials floated the idea of charging cruisers to anchor in the bay, an idea cruisers were able to get shot down.

If you enjoy following hurricanes as much as we do, you might be interested in, to which we were recently directed. As we looked at it on September 22, it was tracking Category 1 hurricane Hilary, which had formed off the coast of Acapulco. Like a lot of Mexican hurricanes, this one appeared as though it would parallel the coast a couple of hundred miles offshore, then fizzle a couple of hundred miles to the southwest of Cabo. The graphics for the site are terrific.

"I hauled my boat at Baja Naval in Ensenada and was very impressed with their work," reports Roger Waterman of the San Diego-based Baltic 55 WYSPA — which he'll be sailing in the Ha-Ha later this month. "Like a lot of others who have had work done in boatyards, I sponsored a BBQ as a way of thanking the staff. By staff, I mean not just the people who physically worked on my boat, but the support staff as well. I addressed the assembled group in my poor Spanish, and explained that when other sailors asked me if their work was good, I could not tell a lie, and had to say it wasn't good. That left the entire staff with stunned looks on their faces. But I continued by staying that their work wasn't good, it was excellent, superior and fantastic! I also told them that as a sign of pride, I always sign my work. And since they had put their spirit into my boat, I wanted each one of them to sign their name on the keel — which I had painted white for just that purpose. The workers loved the idea!"

The race is on at Banderas Bay to see which gets finished first, the casino at Paradise Resort & Marina, the 'tourist hospital' at Paradise Resort & Marina, or the much-awaited swimming pool at the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz. La Cruz Harbormaster Raffa Alcantara hasn't given us an estimated completion date for the pool, which will be located right on the beach and be accompanied by a small cruiser's bar, but says the plans have been completed and the money found in the budget. Latitude plans to help celebrate the opening of the pool with a charity spinnaker sail-in from Punta Mita aboard Profligate, followed by a big-time pool party. We hope you'll join us, so stay tuned for the date.

Speaking of marinas on the 'Vallarta Coast', the Marina Nuevo Vallarta, right across from Paradise Marina, and adjacent to the port captain's office, has been a little slow in developing into what ultimately will be a 230-boat marina with slips between 22 and 130 feet, but they do have slips. And Grupo Lemmus, a big Mexican development company, has announced they will build a 250-slip marina at Rincon de Guayabitos to accompany their big Punta Raza project. No date was given for breaking ground. Rincon de Guayabitos, 30 miles to the north of Punta Mita outside of Banderas Bay, is in the state of Nayarit at the northern end of the so-called 'Vallarta Coast'. While resort development has slowed almost everywhere in the world, it's kept moving ahead along what's known as both the Vallarta Coast and Nayarit Riviera. Officials report the Nayarit Riviera had 2.6 million visitors last year, among them the then newly-engaged Kim K. and Lady Gaga, the latter displaying typically aggressive form during two days of surfing lessons.

The less good news in the world of marinas and marina facilities in Mexico is that Fonatur Operadora Portuaria, the branch of Mexico's tourist development agency which runs nine marina facilities in the Sea of Cortez and as far south as Mazatlan and San Blas, has decided to dramatically raise prices. "We just got off the phone with Fonatur in Guaymas where we keep our Coos Bay-based Grainger 36 cat Tigger in dry storage," write Rick and Sherri Eichmann. "They confirmed that the price will increase about 60% for our 36-footer."

"The new management at Puerto Escondido is doubling and tripling their prices on mooring buoys and haul-outs," complains Jay Reese. "Three months ago I priced a haul-out and 30 days on the hard at Puerto Escondido, and it came to a little under $600 U.S. Last week I was quoted just under $1,900 U.S. for the exact same thing! When I told the management that I wouldn't pay the new prices, I was told that 10 people behind me will. We'll see. We and other cruisers are now spending a lot of time anchored on Isla Carmen and at Loreto. We will no longer be spending time in P.E. unless we are forced to by the weather. This is sad because Fonatur's high prices will hurt the other businesses in the area who aren't so greedy.

As if on cue, Ray Wyatt of the Puerto Escondido-based Marinos y Submarinos — described by others as "a service-oriented firm that could do almost anything you needed, from bottom cleanings, to minor repairs, to running to town every Wednesday to fill propane bottles — wrote a 'quitting business' letter to clients and friends. "With all that is going on here at the marina," he wrote," the morale is low and everybody is leaving. We will be closing our office on Oct. 31, but continue to watch boats until Dec.31. After that, we will be turning everything over to Dean Hambrecht and Rachel of Aye Weld."

The cruising community in Puerto Escondido is trying to recover from not just Fonatur's higher prices, but a civil war of sorts last season that tore the once sanctuarial enclave apart unlike anything we've heard of in our 35 years of covering sailing. The main combatants, if you will, were gringo Bill Simpson of the Portland-based motorsailor Iron Maiden, and Fonatur's then-manager Constanza Noreiga. The Fonatur honchos from Mexico City finally decided to end the troubles by offering Noreiga a manager position at two of their other facilities, and by prohibiting Simpson from working in their boatyard. Simpson, in a widely distributed email, said that made his staying there untenable. Noriega has returned to her roots in Cuernavaca, while Simpson was most recently seen in San Diego. Fonatur then brought in what some have described as "an extremely young, inexperienced, new manager from the mainland who doesn't have a clue how to deal with the laid-back and easy-going culture of Puerto Escondido."

So in addition to the rates being raised as they were at all Fonatur facilities, the manager instituted "petty new fees for garbage and showers" — which had previously been included for those who paid boat and/or car fees — no longer allowed more than two people to congregate, and prohibited sitting in front of the yacht club or Pedro's tienda to chat and have a beer with a friend. "Our little sanctuary from the real world," wrote one long-time resident, "has been absolutely decimated."

A number of Baja cruisers tell us they've left Escondido and have been anchoring off the Villa del Palmar Resort seven miles to the south. The resort has gone overboard putting the welcome mat out for cruisers, going so far as to deliver breakfast to boats in the morning! As for Puerto Escondido, it's where we first cruised Mexico in the late '70s, so we hope it can recover. It's always been an offbeat place with more than its share of characters, but God knows the world needs a few of those. The Grand Poobah has always recommended a dash up to the islands off La Paz and up to Puerto Escondido immediately following the Ha-Ha. This is a very special area in the world of cruising, and if you get there before the Northers start to blow, the water will still be warm and the weather wonderful. Yes, it requires covering quite a few miles rather quickly right after the Ha-Ha, but we've done it, and we think it's worth it.

"I had to beat a hasty retreat from the Coches Prietos anchorage at Santa Cruz Island — often described as the most beautiful in Southern California — after I dropped the hook there," reports Anon from his unnamed Ranger 22. "The reason was globs of pungent tar floating on the surface and sticking to everything — including the white fiberglass hull of my boat. Then one day the tide had covered the entire beach with little black pancakes. I found out that alcohol doesn't dissolve it. Maybe the publisher of Latitude, an old surfer from UCSB, knows a proven way to remove it."

You're talking about bitumen, which is naturally occurring tar native Americans used to seal the seams in the hulls of their boats. It's still used for things like roofing and paving. The Santa Barbara Channel has the largest natural oil and gas seeps in the Western Hemisphere, which is why the Channel so frequently stinks of petroleum. There are more than 1,200 seeps within three miles of Coal Oil Point just to the west of UCSB. An estimated 10,000 gallons of the stuff leaks to the surface each day in just one six-mile stretch! In other words, about the same amount naturally leaks up annually as did during the famous oil spill of '69. The offshore natural seeps contribute approximately 6,075 of reactive organic compounds a year into the air of Santa Barbara County, about a third more than is contributed by all vehicles. We don't know what today's surfers use to clean the stuff off their chest hair and boards, but in the late '60s everybody living in Isla Vista had an economy-size can of Kingsford lighter fluid on their steps. About one third of it would be used to light briquettes, while the other two-thirds was used to clean the tar off their boards and bodies.

You've undoubtely noticed elsewhere in the magazine that the 18th annual Baja Ha-Ha rally will begin late this month, and that the fleet has swollen to 165 entries. As we perused the entry list we noted that five boatloads of Ha-Ha entrants all hail from the Vallejo YC. While we're not sure if that's a record, it is impressive, and their plans are interesting too.

Heather and Ken de Vries, sailing their Hylas 44 Island Wind, plan to take about eight months to make their way to Panama. Once there, they'll use an egalitarian approach in deciding whether to transit the Canal and head to the Caribbean, as Heather hopes, or to do the Puddle Jump to the South Pacific, as Ken wants. "We'll flip a coin," says Heather.

Joel Sorum is planning an open-ended cruise aboard his Tartan 3800 Compañera. As yet, Roger Smith of the Passport 37 Seascape has no firm cruising plans, as he intends to keep his options open. He assumes he'll spend at least six months in Mexico before returning home, but says, "Who knows? I might not like it. If I do, I'll sell my house and go back."

Having spent the past five years living aboard their Rudy Choy-designed C/S/K 40 catamaran Sailpotion, while restoring her, Jay and Susan Pence now have an open-ended timetable. They hope to eventually reach Hawaii. The fifth VYC entry is Ray McEneaney of the Hunter Legend 45 OutRAYgeous, who'll have club members Ralph Hyde and Noble Brown along as crew. Ray's post-rally plans are also open-ended.

Having learned all this we're curious: have any other clubs out there fielded more Ha-Ha entries? If so, drop us a line and tell us about it.

Speaking of the Ha-Ha, all registered entrants are encouraged to attend longtime sponsor Downwind Marine's annual Baja Ha-Ha Welcome Party, all day Saturday October 15, at their Shelter Island (San Diego) location. They''ll offer discount prices, a vendor fair with reps on site from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a "Get Acquainted" potluck party from noon to 4 p.m., with live music. (See for cruiser seminars throughout the month.)

Once in Mexico, there are always plenty of post-rally events for the fleet to enjoy also. The first is the annual Welcome to La Paz Party, November 17 at Sheila's Restaurant (formerly Papas and Beer), on the beach, just off the Malecon. There'll be great food, and live folkloric and rock 'n' roll music. The first 50 Ha-Ha skippers enter and eat for free.

For South Pacific cruisers heading west, Tonga is an ideal stopover — especially during the second week in September, when the annual Vava'u Regatta and Festival takes place. This year's event drew 72 boats from 13 countries, many of those cruisers jumping off for summer in New Zealand shortly afterwards.

With its emphasis on camaraderie, low-key competitions and cultural exchanges with Tongans, the week-long gathering includes a costumed pub crawl through the tiny town of Neiafu, a kid's day parade with local children, a free-spirited Full Moon Party, a beach barbecue, three fleet races and more. First run in '09, this uplifting week of fun on and off the water is fast becoming a must-stop on the so-called South Pacific Milk Run. For more info, see

As regular readers know, we coined the term Pacific Puddle Jump to define the annual westward migration of cruisers from the West Coast of the Americas to French Polynesia. Although we won't announce our own 2012 PPJ activities until next month, a full menu of highly informative Puddle Jump seminars has already been scheduled in Banderas Bay — the most popular jumping off point north of Panama. This year, events will be split between the Vallarta YC, at Nuevo Vallarta's Paradise Village, and at the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz.

The series will begin at VYC February 1 with an intro by Paradise Village Harbormaster Dick Markie, followed by an overview of South Pacific cruising by 35,000-mile veterans Keith and Susan Levy of the Catalina 42 C'est La Vie. With additional topics covering a wide range of topics, including rigging, boat systems, first aid, weather forecasting, and provisioning, the series continues through March 27.

For further insights, there'll be plenty of South Pacific vets around Banderas Bay in early March this year, with brains ripe for picking by neophyte cruisers. Why? Because the Puddle Jump Class of 2002 has planned a nearly weeklong reunion. During the many years we've been reporting on Puddle Jumpers, we can remember no other group that had greater camaraderie. It didn't hurt that cruiser-turned-La Cruz club owner Philo Hayward was one of their flock. Wherever he'd drop the hook he'd bring his guitar ashore and there would be an instant party. Several other accomplished musicians in the fleet backed him up and sang harmony.

This reminds us that we've been thinking of staging a reunion of all former members of what we loosely refer to as the Ha-Ha Jam Band. Each year during the rally we poll the fleet for musicians and get together at least once to make some noise. Needless to say, some attempts are more successful than others. In any case, if you participated in one of those jams we'd love to hear from you. Email Banjo Andy at .

Otherwise, it's a new cruising season out there, so get ready for fun!

Missing the pictures? See the October 2011 eBook!


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