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October 2012

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With reports this month from Tortue on the drought-ending rains in Baja; from Dreamcatcher on leaving Singapore and heading up the Malacca Strait of Malaysia; from Kailani in Tonga; from Geja in Croatia, Montenegro and Italy; from Scott Andersen on the new Club Cruceros clubhouse in La Paz; and Cruise Notes.

Tortue — S&S 44
Mike Wilson and Melissa Harter
The Blessings of Baja Rains

Tortue lay quietly at anchor in Bahia Marquer on Isla Carmen — about 40% of the way up into the Sea of Cortez, not far from Puerto Escondido — as warm breezes wafted across the narrow isthmus that separated us from wide-open Bahia Salinas to the south. The breezes filled our wind scoop, which forced the hot, dry desert air through the inside of our boat. Besides the lap of wavelets upon our tender and the occasional sound of a hunting bird, the anchorage was silent to the world — and to the few of us who were lucky enough to be there.

Looking to the west across the azure waters of Loreto Bay, we could see where the whales, dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays play. The background to these waters are the Sierra Giganta mountains, some of which majestically reach 4,000 feet into the clear blue sky, and which are only a short distance from the shore of the Sea.

This part of Baja had had four years of drought. It had been so bad that ranchers had to cull mules in order for there to be enough water for the revered long-horn mountain sheep to survive. Even the hardly palms that line the shores of the Sea struggled to survive.

Finally, the blessed rains came, the result of a massive subtropical cell from the Mexican mainland that crossed the Sea to meet up with the hot desert air of the mountains. The result was thunder and lightning — and a two-day dousing of life-giving rain. When the clouds parted, we could see the multiple waterfalls that almost instantly had sprung to life. And the once-clear waters of the Sea temporarily took on the color of coffee, and swarmed with eddies of dead brush, cactus and other detritus.

But it wasn't until the downpours stopped that the true blessing of the rains was revealed. Hour by hour, day by day, the once-brown desert was transformed into a beautiful green garden. It looked as though a discerning gardener had toiled long and hard to manicure acre upon acre of previously unkempt desert wilderness. Soon we were witnesses to colorful flowers in an intricate tapestry against the background of the red-brown desert.

With water comes life to the Baja peninsula. Soon myriad varieties of insects made their presence known, as did birds that previously had been hidden. The downside was that the mosquitoes came to life also, which resulted in the town of Loreto's running out of bug spray.

Nonetheless, life is very good aboard boats here in the Sea, even during the often high heat of summer. We enjoy a abundant variety of natural foods from the local ranches, and fresh seafood from the Sea — not to mention the fine wines we had the foresight to bring along with us. With virtually no places to spend money, the cost of living is very low.

We've even had some celestial treats. For five nights in a row, we got to witness the International Space Station passing 247 miles overhead. And on the last evening of August we got to enjoy a 'blue moon'.

It all adds up to our feeling part of Nature, and Nature's being a part of us. There is no war or violence in our little part of the world. And we've switched off our radio and internet to keep war and violence in other parts of the world from invading our tranquility.

Personally speaking, we believe it's important to realize who we are, where we are, and what it all means. The news media of the world will not, of course, bring you the love we send over our solar-powered Ham radio, as there is no profit in good news. But our advice is to never forget to stop to smell the desert cactus flowers.

— michael and melissa 08/24/12

Dreamcatcher — Cal 46
Glenys Henry and Harry Mellegers
Up Your Malacca!

At lunchtime one day in the middle of January, we pulled away from the fuel dock at Singapore — our home for the rest of our lives — and motored through the mess. By 'mess' I mean the hundreds of ships, dozens of fuel tankers, and supporting oil infrastructure that litter the prosperous island-state's western anchorage. It was not a pretty ride, so we were happy to reach the southern end of the Malacca Strait, which separates the Pacific and Indian oceans and Peninsular Malaysia from northwestern Indonesia. Our destination was the 420-mile distant Rebak Island, one of the 104 islands that make up the Langkawi Archipelago, Malaysia's yachting center.

The forecast winds of 20 to 30 knots — the normal monsoon for this time of year — didn't materialize, so we ended up having to motor to our midway stop of Pulau Pangkor. The very small island was long a refuge for fishermen, merchants and pirates, and has a colorful history. In the 17th century, the Dutch built a fort here in an effort to control the Perak tin trade. One hundred years later, it was where the Brits and the Perak throne signed the treaty that launched the British colonial domination of the Malay Peninsula. These days it's home to 25,000 people — and high-end resorts.

Much to our chagrin, we didn't have use of Jack, our autopilot, for the first 20 hours of our trip. Our Jack is named after Jack London, the scallywag sailor who became one of the world's first truly wealthy authors. The Oakland marina named in his honor was our home for two years before we took off on the Ha-Ha and across the Pacific. Anyway, we figured that Jack was just taking a union day off — London having been a big union supporter. Then we discovered that we'd just pushed the wrong autopilot buttons.

You would think that having sailed our Cal 46 halfway around the world, we'd know her buttons and systems backward and forward. But since taking up residence in Singapore, we'd only been daysailing Dreamcatcher, and thus hadn't used many of her systems. We found that we had to reacquaint ourselves with our boat for longer sails. We even had to start rereading some of the manuals!

The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, so there were all kinds of ships, fishing boats, and other types of vessels in our path. This is one of the places where mariners really could use eyes in the back of their heads. Henry and I alternated taking naps during the day and staying up all night. Although we've done a total of 10 trips up and down the Strait, we always find it stressful — despite being able to use the 'inshore waterway'. There is, however, one 20-mile stretch where the inshore waterway disappears as the main shipping channel butts up against the shallows. That forced us to motor in the company of some very large vessels for a few hours. Not fun!

We passed Port Klang, Malaysia's busiest port, at sunset, during which time we counted 30 ships waiting to cross our path. This was at the northern end of the shipping channel, after which the waterway opens up into a series of shallows for about 30 miles. Alas, the fishermen love the shallows, so this leg was peppered with all kinds of vessel traffic too, particularly at night when the fishing is the best. Malaysian fishermen aren't very big on running lights, so we had to play dodge-'em with fishing boats and the many fish/crab traps laid out along the way.

We anchored at Pangkor Laut, a few miles off Pangkor, for a planned stopover. It's a lovely spot that we first discovered during the Raja Muda Regatta a year before. This time there was only one other boat in the anchorage. The Aussie owner visited us, which proved to be fortunate, as he was able to give Henry a lift to the beach to get jerry jugs of fuel. Wrongly assuming that we could sail most of the way from Singapore to Langkawi, we hadn't topped off our tanks. We ended up having beers and dinner with the down-to-earth man, his wife — a policewoman — and their daughter. From Darwin, they are on an 18-month cruise. What an education the little girl is getting!

After a little boat work and some rest, we left the next afternoon for Rebak Island, part of the Langkawi Archipelago, where we would spend five days on the hard. Our efforts to sail to Rebak were foiled by very light winds on the nose and adverse current. After adequate frustration, we dropped the sails and fired up the engine. But night turned out to be no more fun than the day, as there was lots of rain, and even more stressful, plenty of lightning striking near our boat. We ran on radar visuals all night, which was a huge help in dodging the many squalls headed our way. Fortunately, vessel traffic was light in the area.

When off the big city of Penang, we rang ahead to Rebak Marina to advise them of our impending arrival. The staff advised us not to arrive at sunset, so we dropped the hook at an anchorage at one of Langkawi’s southern islands and mixed some cocktails. What a lovely spot! We had the anchorage — surrounded by hills covered with thick vegetation — all to ourselves. After dinner and several drinks, we both fell asleep in the cockpit. We later awoke to find ourselves surrounded by one-man fishing boats, each with bright lights, fishing for squid. It was like a scene out of a fairy tale.

An early morning start had us arriving at Rebak Marina early in the day. Sailors aren't natural fans of boatyards, but we were knocked out by Rebak Marina. After our arrival and free check-in with authorities, we were told our haulout would be at 9:30 the next morning. And it was. Not only were the staff cordial, they were punctual, too. Dreamcatcher doesn't handle well in reverse, so we developed a quick case of thruster envy when we were instructed to back into the lift area. Nevertheless, the skilled handlers threw the lines accurately, and we were in the lifting slings before we knew it. Then a diver was sent into the water to make sure our lifting straps were in the right place and didn't snag any of the appendages. In more than 40 years of owning boats, we'd never seen that.

Boatyard staffs take their cues from the yard manager, and when we met Noel, we understood why the yard ran so well. He quickly established a great rapport with us, and we were impressed with his obvious competence and experience. He is no-nonsense, so our boat was quickly pressure washed, after which the bottom was sanded and a first coat of paint applied.

Life aboard on the hard is not easy. There was no running water, so that meant no cooking or washing up, no showers, and worst of all, no toilets. The good news is that the folks at Rebak Marina, which is part of Rebak Resort, fully understand the needs of the cruising sailor. As such, we spent a lot of time at the Hard Dock Cafe — love the name! — just 100 yards from our boat. The Hard Dock has good food, inexpensive wine, and high speed internet. But that's not all. It's just 200 yards to the four-star Taj Hotel, where we were welcome to use the pool and other facilities. Happy hour drinks were 50% off, and because we were yachties, we got another 20% off. There is a God!

It's hotter on the hard than when in the water, as the heat radiates off the ground. So we frequently had temperatures of over 100° in the cockpit. Yes, it's warm in this part of the world. We were happy to be rescued by the rascals we crewed for in last year's Raja Muda Regatta. They took us to their amazing Langkawi home for drinks, dinner and an overnight stay. We also saw our good friends from Singapore on their boat Turmalin. They picked us up at nearby Telaga Harbour and took us for a short cocktail cruise.

The next day Dreamcatcher was back in the water and Henry and I had big smiles on our faces. The people at Rebak Marina had been so good to us and had done such a good job — and all in such a lovely setting. We couldn't resist enjoying a last swim, a last round of cocktails and a last million-dollar view from the resort.

Our next jobs were to refuel and then load up on Langkawi's great bargain — booze. Yes, it strikes us as odd that an Islamic country has great deals on booze, but all the cruise ships load up here.

We moved on to lovely Telaga Harbour, where the marina is surrounded by attractive buildings — including a colonial-looking customs house that features a clock in a tower that goes off every hour. It's surrounded by jungle hills where countless monkeys run wild.

Our plan was to buy provisions, booze and fuel. Alas, a combination of the Chinese New Year holiday and the Holy Muslim Day meant we had to put off our tasks for one day. Our planned lunchtime departure for Phuket, Thailand's yachting center, was thwarted by: 1) A megayacht trying to take on a couple thousand liters of fuel, 2) The fuel pump's breaking down, and 3) The bank's rejecting my credit card. But we worked through it, at which time we set sail for less than 200-mile-distant Phuket. It was going to be interesting, because few bordering cultures are as different as those of solemn Islamic Malaysia and fun-loving Thailand.

— glenys 02/15/12

Kailani — Deerfoot 63
Harley, Jennifer & Sophia Earl
Ha'apai Group, Tonga

After five weeks in and around the Vava'u area of Tonga, and getting settled into the cruising life for the first time since completing our circumnavigation in '06, we decided to move south into the Ha'apai group. Ha'apai is the central group of islands that comprise the island kingdom of Tonga, and without a doubt Tonga's main attraction for us.

Unlike Vava'u, where each year almost 500 cruising boats — plus a couple of dozen charter boats — clog up the 30 numbered anchorages, Ha'apai plays host to fewer than 75 boats in a typical year. And these 75 boats are spread out among 62 islands scattered across 4,000 square miles of ocean. So you often can go for days without seeing another cruising boat, and finding an anchorage to yourself is usually a matter of just picking one out. Only 17 islands of the Ha'apai Group are inhabited, and only four of those have electricity. The residents tend to be more outgoing and friendly toward the palangi, which is us.

Many of the humpback whales of the Southern Ocean make Tonga their winter home. While the whales can be found everywhere in Tonga, they are most prevalent in Ha'apai. We've seen whales every day for two weeks, often within two boat lengths of Kailani. As we write this at anchor behind Ha'afeva Island, we are listening to the whales' eerie singing coming through the hull.

The other day, while on a lazy seven-knot inter-island passage under jib alone, we actually had to pinch up to avoid a pair of courting adults. They were barrel rolling, slashing the water with their fins, and showing their flukes. Jennifer, who has sea kayaked in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Sea of Cortez in search of close encounters with whales, was so enthralled that she forgot to take photos until it was too late. Sophia, at the wise age of almost five years, thinks that encounters with whales are just part of everyday life.

The waters in most places in Ha'apai are crystal clear, and the coral is healthy. Consequently, the snorkeling and diving are fabulous. Sophia never really learned to swim in her home waters of Northern California for the obvious reasons of cold and murky water. But the water here is so clear and warm that the hard part is not getting her in, but getting her out. She hangs on our backs as we snorkel the reefs, and excitedly points out every bit of sea life — which she assumes that we can't see because otherwise we would be as excited as she is.

Sophia has also taken well to being schooled in formal topics on the boat. She's so enthusiastic with the routine that she often starts the day's lessons before her teachers — that would be us — are ready.

The Ha'apai are much as we remember them from our time here seven years ago, although there have been some changes. The Tongan bureaucracy has evolved a bit, so boats must go through a rigorous checkout process just to move from Vava'u to Ha'apai, or to the capital of Nukualofa. And woe to the boat that gets caught not complying, as the fines are $600. Cruisers need to then check in with customs on the island of Lifuka in Ha'apai, and then check out again before moving on within the kingdom. Since Lifuka is upwind of most places in the Ha'apai, it makes it inconvenient when you need to leave.

Mother Nature has wrought a few changes as well. Some of the barrier islands that make up our favorite anchorages have been rearranged by the cyclones and tropical storms that have come through since our last visit. But all in all, this is still as close to our idea of paradise as we have found.

— harley and jennifer 08/15/12

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik and Friends
Another Adriatic Summer Cruise
(San Francisco)

When the summer fog settles in along the Northern California coast, I can’t think of a much better place to be than the Mediterranean, celebrating life with happy, vacationing, scantily-clad Europeans. Thanks to a 'boat for sale' ad in Lectronic Latitude back in '07, I’m able to kick back there aboard my own sailboat, the '76 Islander 36 Geja that departed from the Bay back in the '90s.

This was my fifth straight summer aboard Geja, and it consisted of 37 days and 36 nights, with 27 different overnight stops, and two overnight sails. I covered nearly 700 miles, 60% of them under sail alone — the highest percentage in my five summers. It was also the hottest summer to date, with typical highs around 95°. While it wasn't horribly humid, it was definitely more humid than in inland California.

The best part of my little summer jaunts around the Med has been sharing them with the many friends and acquaintances who have joined me for one-week legs. I had 10 friends join me this summer, most of them veterans of previous trips on Geja. Over the five years, I’ve hosted 55 great people on my Islander 36, sharing experiences that none of us will ever forget.

This summer I set sail from Geja’s home base near Split, Croatia in mid-July, just as the summer tourist season was getting into full swing. I'm clearly not the type of person who is afraid of crowds, as July and August are prime time in the Med. These are also the months in which fickle European weather is most stable. Or so I thought.

I kicked off the summer with Marikken, a Norwegian crewmate. The first weather forecast to come over the Navtex receiver called for gusts the next day of up to 65 knots. For the record, Navtex is the most flawless way to get forecasts — always in English — while sailing the Med. An unlocked iPhone or iPad with a local data-enabled SIM card is the way to go if you would be sticking around in one country.

Given the forecast, it was a good thing that I’d become familiar with most of the 'hurricane holes' in the central Dalmatian coast. I decided on the immensely popular town of Hvar. The place has lost some of its local charm since my first visit by land in '02, as it's now overrun by English-speaking backpackers. But it’s still as magnificent a harbor town as you’ll find anywhere, and the 'after beach parties' at the Hula Hula Bar are excellent, as hundreds of young people, some still in their swimwear, drink, dance, and swim until well past sunset.

Most sailboats visiting Hvar line up like sardines in the mooring field on the harbor’s west side, attaching to a forward buoy with a long stern line aft, as it's too shallow to back all the way to the quay. I felt very secure as the wind picked up during the night — and pick up it did!

Powerful gusts hit Geja broadside, inducing quite a bit of heel. During one such gust, I felt a strange tug, and soon discovered that the metal ring on shore had popped out of the cement! Worse yet, the metal ring atop the forward mooring buoy had burst open, too, releasing our forward line. Luckily we had a back-up line attached to a neighboring buoy, though we still had to scramble to get some lines onto neighboring boats to keep us in place. When cruising the Med, you’re bound to have such excitement now and then.

With high pressure settling back in, accelerating the typical northwest afternoon winds, we had fast off-the-wind sailing down the island-strewn Dalmatian coast. We ended the first week in the southern Croatian town of Dubrovnik, one of Europe’s most impressive medieval walled towns. Since my last visit two years ago, it seems that control of the public quay had been transferred to a private concessionaire, as I was quoted a minimum charge of 230 euros — about $300 U.S. — a night to tie up to the noisy main quay. With all the megayachts around — many of them more than 200 feet in length — it’s hard to blame the Croatians for being opportunistic. Nonetheless, I chose to moor at a nearby yacht club for 40 euros instead, still a bargain compared to the government-run ACI Marina’s price of 85 euros. Taking a 45-footer there would have set an owner back 111 euros — or about $140 at this summer’s relatively favorable exchange rate.

Dubrovnik is a fantastic place to hang out for a few days. The walled town is enormous and extremely well preserved. The walking tour atop the walls is a must-do. Dubrovnik also has an international airport, making it an ideal place to take on crew.

The second week brought additional crew aboard Geja for the trip south across the border into stunning Montenegro. There are formalities to contend with when crossing international borders, and most southbound pleasure yachts check out of Croatia at Cavtat. It took plenty of jostling to squeeze into the small customs zone on the quay, designated by a simple rope railing.

Knowing from experience that it would take up to an hour to check out, I told my crew to enjoy some coffee at a café while they waited. Part way through the three-step checkout process, I was summoned back to Geja to reposition her a bit. While I was onboard and adjusting Geja’s lines, a guy from the port authority asked where my crew was. He was less than thrilled to learn that they were not on the boat.

“Your crew must remain on ship when at the customs dock!” he hollered at me. “This is the rule everywhere in the world! Where did you get skipper’s license?! You can be fined 150 euros per crewmember!” With that, he disconnected my lines. “Go float in the harbor for hour before you come back!”

As I floated 100 feet away, my confused crew returned to the quay. “Oh, the princess is done with her coffee!” the asshole official sneered at Marikken. Despite my crew’s efforts, he would not reduce my one-hour 'sentence'. Marikken then took matters into her own hands. She swam out Geja and took over the helm, allowing me to paddle the dinghy back to shore to complete the paperwork and fetch the remaining crew.

While in line at the police office waiting for passport stamps, other sailors sympathized with me. A charter skipper mentioned that an incoming boat was once fined when one of the crew took a quick dip in the bay while waiting for a spot on the customs quay. Seriously, what country routinely fines its visiting sailors/tourists?

With all of the paperwork sorted out, we were happy to leave town immediately. Actually, once you get your exit stamp, you must depart immediately, which is another Croatian rule. And don’t even think of stopping for a swim in that little bay 15 miles down the coast.

Because of this one official asshole, who no doubt is a poorly paid guy who gets off by bossing others around, we were fed up with Croatia. Government workers seem slow to shake off the bad habits of the region’s Communist past, casting a poor light on an otherwise lovely country. Thus my love-hate relationship.

Some 20 miles south of Cavtat is the Montenegrin border and the entrance to a series of bays, including the spectacular Kotor Fjord, which goes 15 miles inland. With a full-boat crew of five onboard, we sailed into Montenegro, bypassing the commercial customs pier at Zelenika for the more yacht-friendly one at Kotor. In just 20 minutes, I had a cruising permit and stamped passports in hand. Both the harbormaster and police official were smiling and friendly. How nice to be in a country that seems to appreciate its visitors!

Stunning Kotor Fjord is surrounded by steep mountains, some of which are over 5,000 feet tall, Think Yosemite Valley partially submerged in the sea, or a Norwegian fjord with the heat turned up. No wonder it has UNESCO designation. The megayachts have certainly discovered the place, but as there is no charter base, there were relatively few private sailboats to battle with for mooring space. Mooring costs were a relative bargain, too, as we paid just 30 euros for a spot on the quay just outside of Kotor’s town walls. This included water, power, and mooring lines.

Our week ended in the raucous and raunchy Montenegrin town of Budva, the country’s biggest tourist destination. One would never guess that a Pippi Longstocking film was shot here in the '70s. Surprisingly, Budva is off the map of most western tourists, and is instead frequented by Serbians, Russians, Ukrainians, and others of Orthodox affiliation. Yet there is eye candy everywhere, day and night, and the folks come to party. When the outdoor bars in the old town shut down, people head for the clubs, the newest being the awkwardly-named 5,000 person capacity Top Hill.

After three nights and new crew in Budva, it was time for a complete change of scenery and an overnight sail to Italy. As Geja remained in the marina, I began the checkout process with the police. Despite not being at the customs quay, and with the crew still wandering around town, I completed the exit paperwork with little fuss — a far cry from the previous week’s exit from Croatia.

Winds were forecast to be 11-16 knots on the beam for the 24-hour crossing to Italy, which sounded great. But 10 hours into an initially fast and pleasant crossing, in the middle of the night, the seas picked up and little Geja started being tossed around like a toy boat in a bathtub. Sleeping and eating were difficult, and an increasing amount of water from some unknown source squirted up from the shallow bilge when we heeled too much. I dreaded sunrise, as I didn’t really want to see the sea state. Feeling it was bad enough.

Daylight confirmed that the sea was a raging mess. The wind was only 20 to 25 knots, but the seas had built over a distance of about 300 miles. I was completely disheartened to see that we still had 60 miles to go. But it wasn’t all bad, as daybreak brought a pod of dolphins, and I got to watch them surf down waves. This was something that I didn't think I'd ever see in the Med. In addition, we were under sail, and able to point to our desired section of the Italian coast.

We were tired and hungry, and Geja was heavily reefed as we neared the Italian coast. I’d heard bad things about Bari, so we pointed toward a little port just north of it. But when we reached Santo Spirito, there was nobody around to guide us to a dock, and there were no apparent open spots. The pilot books had been — as they often are — annoying optimistic about finding a place to tie up. So down to Bari we rolled in the ongoing swell.

Once we were at Bari, an attentive yacht club employee helped us to a nice side-tie, at which point we all collapsed onto the floating wooden docks. Cold beers in hand, of course. Two cops showed up soon thereafter, officially checking us into the European Union with little fuss and no cost. Bari turned out to be a great overnight stop, with the yacht club next to the busy historic old town.

It was great to be back in Italy! I'll tell you more about it next month.

— andrew 08/15/12

Club Cruceros
New Clubhouse
Scott Andersen
(La Paz, BCS)

Celebrating its 25th birthday this year, the Club Cruceros of La Paz is receiving a well-earned face-lift — or perhaps I should say air-lift. I use the term 'air-lift' because the old clubhouse was literally picked up and set to the side to allow a grand new sailors' facility to be built on the original site.

Club Cruceros, located on the grounds of Marina de La Paz but open to everyone, is the hub of the sailing community in La Paz. The club boasts 570 members, each of whom has paid the minimum contribution of $7/year for the privilege of relaxing around the cabin at any time, hailing friends on the VHF, borrowing books and videos, receiving mail, and joining the morning coffee hour. The club also runs the La Paz VHF net, maintains an extensive list of suppliers and services, and helps the local community in various ways.

"Everyone is a long way from their family down here, so we're like a second family," says Commodore Mike Rickman of the Prout 37 cat Amazing Grace. "When something happens, we rally around. When someone gets hurt, we jump." Clubmembers have already led three hands-on rescues this summer.

More than 60 members came to watch the lift-off of the old club as it was swung to the side to make room for the new clubhouse. But for a group of six members, the fun was just beginning, as they had volunteered to fit out the new clubhouse. The arrangement with Marina de La Paz was that the marina would build the main structure if the club took care of the interior. "It's a joint effort between the club and the marina,” says club Treasurer Don Mitchell of the Litton 42 Sara Anne.

Although Marina de La Paz doesn't gain anything directly from accommodating the Club Cruceros, it has certainly won the respect of the cruiser community over the years, thanks to its open attitude to cruisers in general — including those who anchor out in the bay. Access to the club via the Marina de La Paz dinghy dock costs just 15 pesos (slightly more than $1), and includes unlimited drinking water, which alone costs 23 pesos a jug in some other ports.

Club Cruceros was founded in '87 "from the back of a pickup truck, where cruisers were selling a bunch of spares for the benefit of the kids of La Paz". So it's fitting perhaps that the brains behind the new structure was Mac Shroyer, who has been here all along and runs the marina with his wife Mary and son Neil.

The new clubhouse is now open, well in advance of the arrival of this year's cruising fleet.

— scott 09/15/12

Cruise Notes:

"Do we need Mexican liability insurance before we get to Cabo in case something happens to us on the way down?" ask John and Susan Campbell of the San Francisco-based Choate 40 Wizard, entry #46 in this year's Ha-Ha.

You almost certainly won't need it unless you somehow manage to kill some Mexican with your boat, as nobody is going to stop you if you don't have it. But if you eventually plan on going into any marina in Mexico, most are going to require proof of it. Since the standard Mexican liability insurance policy is readily available from marine insurance agencies in the States and in Mexico, as well as online, and there doesn't seem to be much difference in the cost for one day or six months, we see little reason not to get it before you cross the border. For what it's worth, in nearly 30 years of taking our boats to Mexico, we can't recall anybody's ever filing a claim with their Mexican liability insurance. It must be a lucrative business for somebody.

"We're on the west coast of Sumatra, where we've been traveling and surfing the Mentawai Islands for the last month," report Jim and Kent Milski of the Colorado-based Schionning 49 catamaran Sea Level. "Our son and his wife joined us in Penang, Maylasia, and have been traveling with us for the last six weeks. We are now in Padang, Indonesia, where they fly out and where Kent and I prepare for our next leg to South Africa via Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion. Our loose plan is to be in South Africa by Christmas, then head for the Panama Canal in January. We've really enjoyed our stay in Southeast Asia, but our cruising kitty is running low and we're looking forward to returning to our home waters. It's hard to believe that we started this cruise four years ago!"

While generally quite safe, offshore sailing nonetheless involves the risk of injury and death — even for the most careful and experienced sailors. This was tragically proven once again on September 1, when Dr. Edmund 'Ned' Cabot, 69, was washed overboard during a knockdown of his J/46 Cielita while sailing off the west coast of Newfoundland. While the helmsman managed to stay with Cielta when she righted, Cabot could not, nor could his crew reach him with lines they attempted to throw to him. The chain in the steering mechanism had broken during the knockdown, making it impossible for the crew to retrieve Cabot's body. It was recovered the following day by Canadian authorities.

A graduate of Harvard University, a surgeon for 25 years, an instructor at Harvard, and the scion of a Boston Brahmin family, Cabot had retired from medicine 10 years ago to dedicate himself to philanthropy and sailing. For the past seven years, he and friends had sailed Cielita from Nova Scotia to Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and the coast of Norway and back. Peter Ellis, a sailing friend of 40 years, said Cabot loved Newfoundland and Labrador in particular, not just because of their beauty, but because the people were so friendly, tough and self-reliant. “I kind of think the area reminded him of earlier times, and a more simple and maybe more authentic way of life that has largely disappeared from most of the United States." Ellis added that Cabot was "the most careful and responsible sailor" he had ever met.

Change is good? Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell is eight years older than when we first met her in '04, which is when she was preparing to make her extended voyage to Central America and French Polynesia — the latter being where her boat is now. After a long and delightful conversation with Liz in San Diego last month about everything from boat systems, to her being in her 30s, to her briefly living with her parents, to personal relationships, to what's next for her — we migrated on to the topic of natural foods and natural food meals, which are a central facet to her philosophy of life. That got us to thinking that we at Latitude should make a change to our 35-year old policy of banning poems and recipes from our pages. We're still going to ban poetry, of course, but next month we're going to feature some of Liz's favorite meals, all of which are going to be natural, healthy and delicious. But after that, we revert. No poems, no recipes.

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), from the Canary Islands to 2,700-mile-distant St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean, was started 28 years ago by noted sailing author Jimmy Cornell, and continues to be a roaring success. Now owned by World Cruising Ltd., this year's ARC starts on November 25, and had the maximum 230 slots filled by February! Because the event is so popular, the World Cruising, Ltd folks decided to open up to entries for the '13 ARC, even though it's still 14 months away. Five days later they had received 60 entries.

Boats in this year's fleet range in size from the Hanse 325 Quickie to the 92-ft CNB Bristolian. Two of the entries, Peregrine and Peter von Seestermuhe, were built in '36, which is nearly 80 years ago. A surprising 18% of this year's ARC boats were launched within the last 24 months, and 26 of them — including six Lagoon catamarans — were launched this year. Compare this with the fact that the average Ha-Ha entry is 17 years old. While the ARC is always dominated by boats from Europe, particularly Brit and German boats, there are 10 U.S. entries this year, most of them large and expensive yachts: They are: Arabella, Mike and Vicky Wallace's Oyster 575; Easyrider, Barry Bezner's Gianetti Star 64; Carrick, Allan Dobson's Rustler 42; INNcredible Sea Lodge, Brian Fitzpatrick's Lagoon 450 catamaran; Kinship, Tim Szabo's Saga 43; Kiwi Spirit, Stanley Paris' Paris 63; Matilda, Paul Herzog's Trintella 47; Naos, Charles Devanneaux's Lagoon 400; Rivendelle, Benjamin Jackson's Oyster 82; and Sundowner of Tortola, Lurelle Verplank's Oyster 82. We're sorry that the ARC doesn't give the hailing ports of the entries, so we don't know how many, if any, of the U.S. entries are from the West Coast.

"We'd like to put in a good word for the folks at Ensenada Cruise Port Village Marina," write Umberto and Karen Zampieri of the Sacramento-based Morgan Out-Island 41 ketch Contez. "We'd previously visited the marina and made arrangements for our visit, but were a bit concerned because we were going to be arriving on a Saturday night, and the marina offices weren't going to open again until Monday. Nonetheless, members of the marina staff were there to help us tie up when we arrived, and assisted us with everything we needed. We were delighted by the squeaky-clean shower facility and the restaurant recommendations, The service and security were all beyond our expectations. When Monday morning rolled around, Harbormaster Jonathan Cervantes Rodriquez drove us to immigration, customs, the port captain's Office, and the fishing license office — all of which are conveniently located in one building. Harbormaster Cervantes helped us fill out all of the required paperwork, and assisted in every way possible during the 90-minute process. He expected nothing in return."

"We feel lucky to have participated in the first ever Solomon Islands' Annual Cultural Festival — and yacht gathering — that was held July 16-17 at Roderick Bay Hideaway, Nggela Sule Island, in the Florida Group," report Philip DiNuovo and Leslie Linkkila of the Kingston, WA-based Mason 33 Carina. "Our crew was one of those from eight yachts — plus tourists from a nearby resort and some dignitaries — who for two days were enveloped in the rich culture of the Solomons. We've been cruising the Pacific for nine years, and this was the best festival that we've attended. It was organized and orchestrated by the Ruka clan at Roderick Bay, with some consultation and sweat equity from the crews of Jubilee, Tenacious and Love Song. We visiting yachties felt truly welcomed by the wonderful clan and people of the surrounding area, and felt more deeply touched by them than other locals we've met over the years. Other participating cruising boats included Tribute, Distant Shores, Kalalau, Stella, Love Song, Fifth Season and Vida Nova. Currently there is no cell phone/digital coverage at Roderick Bay, but we're helping to change that, and hope that by next year both Wi-Fi and more moorings will be available.

When we crossed paths with Pete Caras of Port Angeles, WA at Smuggler's Cove on Santa Cruz Island last month, he was a little perplexed and pissed off. For most of the many years he lived in Sausalito, he had put his heart and soul into maintaining Foxen, his classic 40-ft Alden wood sloop. After moving to Ventura for a few years, he was approached by a man who said he wanted to buy the boat. Foxen hadn't been for sale, but Caras decided that it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Five years or so later, somebody called Pete to say they'd seen what was left of Foxen, cut up and being hauled away in the back of a trash truck. Even though Caras no longer owned the boat, it was a heartbreaker for him to see the object of so many years of his hard work and affection headed for the dumpster. It's also a lesson to those who love wooden boats, but may not appreciate the commitment required to keep one alive and well.

How To Cruise When You're Young And Broke, 101: "My name is Zachary Shane Orion Lough. I am a photographer and naturalist who enjoys discovering new places, eating new things, and watching lots of movies. I always have a camera, and always use it. I guess you could call me ‘Nature's paparazzo'. I have never broken a bone, and I never want to break a promise.

"I graduated from college in '08, and was a 20-something with no desire to plug myself into the rat race. I knew the economy wasn't ready for me to start a career, so I decided to get a job, invest in my passions for photography, and save up as much money as I could, with the intention of traveling, and spend as much time as I could in Nature, my muse.

"Brainstorm! Money is useless unless you have a good way to spend it. For me that was for travelling. My travel plans went through many stages: teaching English in Southeast Asia, backpacking through South America, and every other post-college cliché travel idea. But the idea of a sailing trip became the dominant and most lofty one.

"Karen, my girlfriend of the time, and I had founded our relationship during SEA Semester: a semester-aboard program we both participated in on a tall ship that sailed through the Caribbean. It just made sense to come full circle and take a sailing trip of our own.

"We found our boat, The Mighty Quinn, a Hunter 30, in June of '10. The boat was in Northern California — where boats sell for 25% less than elsewhere — and we were living in Seattle. Since we were already paying for a slip in Oakland, I moved down and aboard to save cash. Karen would visit from time to time. We planned to take off a year later, figuring we could save $10,000 during that time, and I could hone my sailing skills.

"Our Hunter 30 was a great daysailer, but she lacked the gear to qualify as a coastal cruiser. After six months, we started looking for a new boat that would be completely turn-key for open ocean sailing. It would take four months and a loss of $6,000 to sell our boat and buy our new boat, the Catalina 30 Panache.

"Then, just before the start of the Ha-Ha, Karen dumped me, leaving my plans in limbo. I scrambled to raise just enough money to find crew and take off on the Ha-Ha. At the end of the Ha-Ha, I was awarded the 'Spirit of the Ha-Ha' award for — I guess my gumption and irrepressibility.

"Some might laugh at the idea of a Catalina 30's being a cruising boat. Well, Tony Barra, the previous owner of Panache, had lived on her since '78, and spent seven years cruising her through Mexico, the South Pacific and Australia. As for me, I've sailed her down the coast of Central America and to the Galapagos, and am now in French Polynesia. Readers can follow my adventures, buy my photos — or simply donate to my cause — by going to"

Zach is young and may be a little brash for some older cruisers, and he may have a young man's disregard for certain rules and conventions. But we admire the fact that the irrepressible dude is going places with what little he has.

Gas prices can give you indigestion! While doing the Ta-Ta, we noted the high price of fuel at Two Harbors, Catalina. It was $7.02/gallon for diesel, and a little more for unleaded. Fuel and food have always been expensive at the island, and understandably so because of high transportation costs. But ouch, those are Caribbean prices! So consider yourself forewarned. If you're looking for more pleasant numbers from Catalina, try 70 through 75, as in degrees of water temperature. This has been one of the best weather summers in years in the Southland, with much more blue sky than fog, and delightful water temperatures.

We also want to forewarn you that Two Harbors' busiest and wildest weekend of the year is coming up, and it's been expanded to four days. We're talking about Bucaneer Days, October 4-7, which used to be just a one-day affair. But it became so popular — and no doubt profitable — that this year it's being extended to four days. While there might be some kiddy fun and games in the afternoons, make no mistake, this is mostly an adult dress-up and drink-up affair. We're talking guys in full pirate gear, and gals with their boobs scrunched up and nearly exploding out of their tops. We're also talking loud music and boisterous behavior, so you've been warned. We used to do Bucaneer Days, and we had a lot of fun, too. But we made sure we were back on our boat before about 10:30 p.m. For those interested, the Two Harbors folks are guaranteeing moorings throughout the weekend for the first 200 boats. This is no small deal, as all the moorings will be taken, and the anchorage areas will be packed.

"Thank you for responding to our inquiry regarding marinas in the Puerto Vallarta area," write Bill and Patty Meanley of the San Diego-based Pacific Seacraft 37 Dolphin. "We were hoping for a brief email reply, but then I saw your very informative and thorough response in last month's Cruise Notes. It was very helpful to us, and I'm sure many others. Coincidentally, it appeared right after the item on Jim and Ann Cate — now of Australia and the Sayer 46 Insatiable II — whom we had the pleasure of meeting while cruising through French Polynesia in '87. It's amazing how many good friends you make, even if cruising for just a short period of time."

It's true that the world of cruising is as small as it is big. And a big de nada on the marina information, as that's what we're here for.

Genial Geronimo Cevallas of Marina Mazatlan spends one week a month overseeing a sister marina in Mexico's Yucatan. While he was at the Ha-Ha Crew List Party at the Berkeley YC last month, we asked him about the difference between Mexican officials on the Pacific Coast and those on the Yucatan. Geronimo told us that the officials in the Yucatan are much more hard-nosed, are sticklers for every rule, and charge $200 for a boat to enter Mexico. Officials on the Pacific Coast, he says, are much more easygoing, which is why nobody has ever been asked for a zarpe from the United States, and why it costs a fraction of the Yucatan price to check into Mexico. Let's hope it stays that way.

"I was pleased to read Latitude's August issue report on Coral Marina and on the Ensenada area," writes Aussie Lionel Bass, who last year purchased Pete and Sue Wolcott's magnificent Morrelli & Melvin 52 catamaran Kiapa, and who will be heading south after the hurricane season ends. "I've had Kiapa at Marina Coral for just over a year, and can report that it's the best marina that I have ever had the privilege of staying in. The staff are always happy and helpful, and the marina and surroundings are safe — safer than some San Diego marinas. Did you know the police had to be called to a marina at San Diego's Harbor Island twice recently to break up fights on the dock? Not a pretty sight."

It's always nice to hear from people who are happy with the marina their boat is in, and we indeed had a great time in Ensenada and are planning to do early October's San Diego to Ensenada Race. But for the record, we have to think the incidents at the marina at San Diego's Harbor Island were abnormalities. In our book, that place is safe as milk.

Speaking of Ensenada, when we were there we took a photo of a large classic ketch named Aile Blanche, which appears to have been on the hard for many years. She looks to be about 90 feet long and maybe 50 to 70 years old. She must have been really something in her day, and we'd love to know her story.

And now, from the breezy Med. "On September 6, we departed Ancona, which is Italy's main port on the Adriatic, expecting a downwind ride toward the boot," report Chay, Katie and son Jaime McWilliam of the Nevada-based Kelly-Peterson 46 Esprit, vets of the '03 Ha-Ha. "We weren't expecting gale force winds and 12-15-foot seas. But as a result, we did a lot of surfing at 9+ knots, and once hit 10.8. We made the 540-mile trip down the Adriatic Sea and across the bottom of Italy to Roccella Ionica in three days, which was much quicker than expected. Chay was able to get another coat of varnish on and Katie did another load of laundry before we set sail on the 90-mile passage to Siracusa on Sicily. Esprit was going so fast once again that we had to slow her down so as not to arrive before sunrise. During Chay’s watch there was a loud bang — the boom vang broke. Fortunately, we had a boom brake and had a preventer on, and more fortunately, Chay was able to repair the vang once we made landfall. September must be the windy month in the Med, because we had to sit out another gale. Last month we mentioned that during a season in the Eastern Med we hadn't seen any American boats. Thus we were surprised to come across four in Roccella, and at least that many in Siracusa. Anyway, we leave tonight on another 90-mile overnight passage, this time for Malta, and then will continue up the west coast of Italy."

Sailors who are baseball fans know that the big game of the year is coming up. No, not the one in which the Giants win another World Series, but the really big game between members of the Ha-Ha fleet and the Turtle Bay All-Stars during the first stop in the Ha-Ha. Thanks to the generosity of Kirk Miller of the Sausalito-based Gulfstar 50 Osprey, we cruisers will have plenty of big bats. Slugger Gena Markie, the woman with the brilliant smile in the accompanying photo, posed with some of the aluminum weapons durng the Ha-Ha Crew Party last month. Miller will donate over 100 bats — as well as helmets and other gear — which will then be passed out to Ha-Ha boats to be given away as gifts in the smaller villages of Mexico.

What do we think of the news that a 71-year-old man is about to attempt a circumnavigation on a 2,000-lb, 40-year-old, 24-ft boat? We think he'll make it, because the boat is a Moore 24, an all but open ultralight surfing machine from Santa Cruz, and because the man is Webb Chiles, a veteran of five unusual circumnavigations. It's all a matter of route planning — forget going upwind for very long — and perseverence.

What's coming up in Mexico this winter? You can find it all in 'Lectronic!

Missing the pictures? See the October 2012 eBook!


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