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October 2014

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With reports this month from Eleutheria on cheating death getting through the pass at Maupiti; from Sonrisa on moving from the high life in the Med to the family life aboard in Mexico; from Ichi Ban on continuing budget cruising adventures in the South Pacific; from Joy of Tahoe on 'taxing' issues in the Med; from Landfall on a better life in Mexico; and Cruise Notes.

Eleutheria — Tartan 37
Lewis Allen & Alyssa Alexopolous
Transiting the Pass at Maupiti
(Redwood City)

Holy shit, what a rush!

Yesterday we sailed out of Bora Bora bound for the little-known and less-visited island of Maupiti. Known as the 'miniature Bora Bora', Maupiti is less visited because we and other cruisers have all heard the horror stories of the dangers of the narrow pass. Stories of boats going aground on the wicked coral reef next to the pass, some with the loss of lives. So our decision to try the pass at Maupiti was not taken lightly.

I read about and studied the pass extensively. The consensus seemed to be that while it wasn't the easiest pass in the South Pacific, it was safe in anything under a six-foot swell. So I watched the weather, and when our GRIBs called for a 4½-foot swell, we went for it. Since there wasn't much wind and it was squally, we decided to motor the 30 miles from Bora Bora. Besides, we didn't want to give the wind and waves a chance to build.

After a somewhat rough passage, we found ourselves a half mile off the southeast corner of Maupiti, staring at the massive swells pounding the reef. There was an endless succession of huge rollers. Their tall plumes of spray seemed to reach halfway to the top of the lush mountains in the background. No matter what the GRIB files were forecasting, it looked to us as if the waves were breaking all the way across the pass. What should we do?

We got on the VHF and asked to speak with anyone who could provide information on conditions at the pass. A nice American guy came back and told us that he wasn't at the pass just then, but had entered a couple of days before, when the conditions were even worse. He said it just looked as though waves were breaking all the way across the pass. But he did confirm that the entrance was very narrow, saying that the breakers would likely be only 50 feet off our beam on both sides. No matter what, he said, stay within the channel markers.

We had a decision to make. Bag it and push on to Mopelia, and miss out on what everyone said was an amazing island. Or push Ellie hard, do our best to keep her in the channel, and not freak out too much. We decided to go for it.

It's hard to describe the feeling we had as we approached the pass. We weren't just scared, we were shaking. The enormous barrels to each side of the pass were terrifying, the pass was indeed extremely narrow, and it was a cauldron thanks to the outflowing current clashing with the huge waves.

I had Alyssa concentrate on the channel markers, and she would yell, "More port! Now starboard! You're off the marks!!"

Our transit was made exponentially more difficult because half the time we were buried in the trough of a roller and couldn't even see the damn channel markers. So the best we could do was line ourselves up again when we were on the crest of a wave.

Mind you, I was fighting the wheel the entire time, trying to keep Ellie lined up with the pass and not get pushed beam-to to the waves. Just as we were at the line of breakers, I felt Ellie rise on top of a particularly large wave and we started to surf!
"Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!!" As we were being pushed down the wave, Ellie rose up over the crest, and the massive wave broke 10 feet in front of our bow!

"Oh shit!" I shouted, "is there another one of those coming?" Totally absorbed in staying in the channel, I didn't have the luxury of being able to turn my head to look aft.

"No, that was it," replied 'Lyss. "They look smaller. Go for it."

I pushed the throttle up to 2,000 rpm, and with Ellie yawing violently, battled the disturbed waters of the pass and the four-knot ebb. The best we could do was two to three knots against the powerful current. Then there was a turn to starboard, and we had to line up another set of marks. We were still fighting a strong current, but the main show was over, as we were once again in flat water. Whew!

Once in the calm waters of the lagoon, we dropped the hook behind a motu near the pass. We could see the anchor land in powdery sand 40 feet below. We paid out our chain and buoyed the anchor while watching huge manta rays flying over the coral heads below.

Once settled, we both took some huge breaths of relief and congratulated ourselves on our stellar communication under extreme duress. We then treated ourselves to a glass of wine in a feeble attempt to calm our still-shaking bodies. We'd made it to a new island, and our boat home was safe. We agreed that Maupiti had the second most scary pass we'd attempted. The worst had been Fakarava North in the Tuamotus, but only due to the fact that it had taken much longer to negotiate that pass, with much greater strain on the engine.

The wave height in the pass here at Maupiti was definitely more than the 1.6 meters ­— 5.2 feet — forecast in the GRIB files. I believe the GFS model infers wave height directly from average wind speed, which is not very helpful. If anyone knows how to pull a more reliable wave forecast via SailDocs, I'd love to hear about it.

"At least the only boats here in the lagoon are crewed by real sailors," Alyssa said.

"Either real sailors or idiots with huge cojones," I replied.

— lewis 09/15/2014

Sonrisa — Lagoon 440
Nick & Melissa Brettingham-Moore
Plus Young Sons BJ and Huon
Loving Mexico
(Tasmania, Australia)

When it comes to having lived and still living an adventurous life, not many couples can compete with Nick and Melissa. Except for fellow Australians, of course, who are world-class adventurers.

Nick grew up around the water in Sydney, sailing every weekend. Yet he claims the best thing that ever happened to him was in 1967 when his father moved the family to Tivoli, a farm on the outskirts of Hobart, Tasmania.

"Riding horses, driving tractors, and some honest labor all gave me a feeling for nature and mechanics, which has served me well over the past 40-odd years. There isn’t much you can't fix on a farm without some fencing wire — a good skill to have on a cruising boat."

While in Tassie, Nick built a ferro-cement boat that he and a mate would enter in the Melbourne to Osaka Race. This is after two years of cruising New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and New Caledonia. After selling the boat in Japan, he and his then-wife heard that yachties could make money running boats in the Med. In 1987 they landed a captain/stewardess job on a 55-ft motoryacht in Mallorca.

"The the yacht was fine, but the owners were hopeless nouveaux riches who were just plain rude. Shortly after jumping that ship, we found Ian, a flamboyant Australian entrepreneur with a glamorous wife and three very young children. He'd just bought a 60-ft plywood HOS (Heap of Shit) Ocean Fantasy. This ‘yacht’ was built in Spain from an Italian design and had two 650-hp Detroit diesels that burned almost as much oil as fuel."

After four years, Nick was drawn to do another Melbourne to Osaka Race, this time with a 39-footer he'd bought in Plymouth, England and sailed to the Med. Among other things, it took a 54-day nonstop passage to get to Cape Town from Gibraltar. It might have been a mistake wanting to enter the race, as the rudder stock snapped above the stuffing box in the Southern Ocean. The repair in Perth was perhaps a bit too robust, for when the boat later hit a submerged object near Guam, the rudder held out but the hull didn't. Within half an hour, the boat was on the bottom and he and his mate were in their liferaft. They were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Back in Europe, Ian had purchased the Wild B despite Nick's objections that it was another HOS. "The saying 'you can’t shine shit’ was applicable to the 63-ft Italian plywood speedboat with twin 1,500 hp MTUs," says Nick, "though we did spend several years trying."

Melissa reports that she's lived in just about every state in Australia, as well as several years in New Guinea. In 1992, while in her late teens, she and her boyfriend set off on a long trip to Europe with just a few bucks in their pockets. They had a grand time, of course, including three memorable months in India, Kashmir and Nepal on the way home.

Mel's boyfriend continued his studies and got serious about a career. Mel did her stint in Hotel Management Studies, but by 1997 was overcome with wanderlust. Fate would put her and Nick together in a whirlwind romance later that year in the yachting center of Palma de Mallorca.

The couple spent some time trying to make a silk purse out of the pig that was Wild B, but the new Swiss owner finally decided to have a proper 130-ft displacement motoryacht built in the Netherlands. Nick would oversee construction, which would take nearly two years.

"Solaia was built in the quaint eel-smoking village of Monnickendam about 15 miles outside Amsterdam," remembers Mel. "It was hard living so close to Amsterdam. Not! What an amazingly lively city with so much to offer. We absolutely loved it there.

"While Nick supervised the boat project," Melissa continues, "I got my feet wet working at several high-end restaurants, including Mario's, just for the privilege of being able to watch some of the most heartfelt food preparation in the world. It was hard work, but I loved every moment. At the same time, I was charged with overseeing the interior details of Solaia, doing things like ensuring every dish and piece of crystal was chosen for perfection. It wasn't difficult spending someone else's money."

In 2001, Nick and Melissa launched the boat into the ice of a frozen canal, and for the next five years the couple would run the boat with a crew of eight. They were based out of Antibes in the South of France, and took the boat throughout the Med, the Caribbean and the Baltic. During Christmas they'd usually look after the boss's guests at his chalet in Gstaad, where they would ski and walk the dogs. "It was very hectic work, but a blast," remembers Melissa.

It's hard to believe, but not everyone considers that living and working the high-life on a luxury yacht is the apex of existence. "When I fell pregnant with Benjamin in 2006, we decided it was time to leave Solaia for a more simple life," says Melissa. "In lieu of finding another crew after 11 years, Jacques, our great friend, decided to exit from yachting."

It was after leaving Solaia that Nick and Melissa began to live their dream. "We used to have a poster of a Lagoon 440 catamaran stuck to the wall of our cabin on Solaia, keeping us on our toes," says Melissa. "I never thought the day would come that we would get one ourselves, but we took delivery of ours in La Rochelle in 2007, and spent six great months outfitting her. She's been the home to our family, including sons Benjamin and Huon, since 2007 and we haven't looked back."

After taking delivery of Sonrisa in 2007, they cruised the Atlantic coast of France, Portugal and Spain, then crossed the Atlantic to St. Martin in the Caribbean. They spent 2008 cruising the Caribbean. In 2009, they did Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. In 2010, they did Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico. They've happily been in Mexico ever since.

Having traveled and worked in some of the world's greatest places on a no-expense budget, some people might be shocked to find that the couple have found humble Mexico to be about their favorite place in the world. Not only have they been happily cruising in Mexico since 2010, living the simple family life, they're even thinking about buying some land south of La Paz. Mind you, this despite the fact that in 2000 they purchased Lavagna, 25 acres of orchard and bush next to Nick's favorite surf break about 50 minutes out of Hobart, Tasmania. "Most sensible investment we ever made," he says, "and our organic farm-to-be." But that's for down the road.

"We just booked Sonrisa into La Paz's Costa Baja Marina for 2015," Nick reports. "It's a serious change for us, with the boys being enrolled in a local Montessori school. Mel will try and finish her course in Nutritional Medicine, a subject she has always been passionate about, while I'll try to get my buggered back fixed. By the way, I've had lots of dealings with private hospitals in Mexico, and found them to be very impressive. The care I've gotten has been excellent, and the cost very reasonable. We will also try to improve our bastard Spanish.

"Just to keep our friends updated, we spent three months this summer in Europe with the boys, visiting friends from our days working there, and enjoyed a great week on a rented motorboat on the Garonne Canal in France with godparents. We got back onto Sonrisa in August in Puerto Vallarta, came up to the Sea of Cortez, and have spent three months in the Loreto area.

"We're currently anchored off our favorite island, Isla Coronado, not far from Loreto, and there is absolutely nobody around. We've only seen three yachts in the last month. Right now we're keeping our eye on hurricane Norbert, which is passing 120 miles west of Baja. We're supposed to get sustained 30-knot winds. Typically it's dead calm here, and in summer just under 100 degrees.

"Because I'm a normal healthy guy," continues Nick, "I liked the September Changes photo of Karen Riley sailing naked aboard Beau Soleil. We agree with the Rileys' belief that there's not much need for clothes when cruising. So I've attached a photo (see previous page) of Mel, my beautiful wife, on the beach near Isla Coronado. I'm so proud of her, as she spends so much time on nutrition for our whole family and keeping us fit. I guess 'Beach Bum' would be a good caption. And by the way, Mel would be only too happy to have the photo published.

— latitude 38 09/10/2014

Ichi Ban — Columbia 34 Mk II
Justin Jenkins & Anna Wiley
Loving Tonga and Fiji
(San Diego)

What's shakin' my cruising friends? I hope it's shaking as good for you as it is for Anna and me aboard the Columbia 34 we bought for $2,000. (Not to mislead anyone, we naturally spent a lot more money getting her ready to cruise.)

Anna and I finally left American Samoa in late May, and arrived in the Vava'u Group of Tonga on June 1, Anna's birthday. We spent two fantastic months in Tonga, which was a real breath of fresh air — literally and figuratively — after American Samoa. There are scores of beautiful anchorages — The Moorings identifies over 40 of them by number in a 12-mile-by-12-mile area for their charterers — and none are more than a few hours away from the farthest.

Because the anchorages were so close together, we visited new spots all the time, and found each one to be great for diving and snorkeling. I've started doing lots of spearfishing, and have done pretty well. I don't want to brag, but the parrot fish shudder when they see me jump in the water.

There is a strong cruising community in Tonga, with lots of services for cruisers. There is a cruisers' net on VHF 26, and thanks to repeaters all around the Vava'u Group, you can get great reception almost everywhere. This means you can get the latest weather, stay in touch with friends, and be active in the cruisers' buy/sell/trade market. We've done quite well selling stuff in the latter, as Ichi Ban has been something of a floating flea market in Tonga. We were able to get rid of a lot of stuff we weren't using, and at a decent price. We're hand-to-mouth cruisers, so that allowed us to finance a couple of more months of cruising.

Anna and I are young, so we've enjoyed the popping party scene at Neiafu, which is the center for cruisers in Tonga. The backpacker's hostel in town attracts lots of young foreigners, and we've had a great time partying with them. Anna and I also played music at several different clubs in Neiafu, such as the Aquarium and the Bounty Bar. They gave us free drinks and food in return for playing. Nice to eat some red meat for a change.

We also had quite a few raging beach parties in Nuku, a little island with white sandy beaches, great snorkeling, and fine protection from the southeast trades. The island has plenty of coconut trees, which we climbed for a key ingredient in our rum coconut cocktails. There were also plenty of fish to catch for grilling on the fires at night.

Our Canadian friends told us about the 'shot-ski', which is a favorite Canadian drinking device. It's a snow ski with five or more shot glasses glued to the top. As many shot glasses as there are people sit in a row, and when you tilt the shot-ski, everyone has to drink the whole shot at once — or get part of it spilled on them. Friends don't let friends drink alone!

Not having any snow skis on Ichi Ban, I made a tropical version of the shot-ski out of bamboo and oyster shells, and christened it the Bamboo-ski! When it comes to drinking, the Bamboo-ski is like pouring gasoline onto a fire! It contributed to many wild nights in Tonga.

After two months in Tonga, Anna and I we were ready to go exploring again, so we set sail for Fiji. We're currently at Savu Savu and have already fallen in love with the place. The food here is good an inexpensive, and butane — $17 U.S. for 20 pounds — is also cheap. I've already found lots of work, from cleaning bottoms to climbing masts. Plus Anna and I have played three shows already, and have learned that we need to put out a tip jar. Last time we played, we scored $100 in one night, along with free food and drinks. What a life, as we're making music, cruising around, surfing, fishing, making friends from all over the world — enjoying life to the max!

We've made lots of contacts for work prospects in New Zealand and Australia, so come November, I think we might be headed to one of those two places.

I'm keen on getting some good surf here in Fiji, so we'll soon be headed for world famous spots such as Taveuni and Qamea. But first we have a big show tonight at the Copra Shed Marina in Savu Savu. The marinas in Fiji are sweet, the people are terrific, and they take care of all the stuff for Customs and Biosecurity, as well as the paperwork for cruising. And almost for free. We're anchored outside, of course, but hot showers and moorings are available for $10/night, a pretty good deal.

The people here in Fiji are simply world-class. The ethnic Fijians are very warm and kind, and the Indians just the same. The Indian food here is incredibly delicious and cheap. What more could any cruiser ask for?

— justin 09/04/2014

Joy of Tahoe — Lagoon 440 Cat
Walt & Joy Kass
Adventures in Europe
(Tahoe City)

Last month we discussed our adventures in getting JOT to Europe, and our way of working around the Schengen regulations that prohibit Americans — and other foreigners — from staying longer than 90 days without leaving Schengen Area (most of the EU) for at least 90 days.

Now let's talk about Value Added Tax (VAT). If you're not careful, a 20% VAT could be slapped onto your boat and all her gear. According to EU law — as confirmed by an EU official, officials in the UK, and a tax expert at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. — there is no VAT due on a non-EU boat and her contents for the first 18 months. If you can prove that you were away from your boat for six of those months, the VAT can even be extended to 24 months.

Does it seem odd to anyone else that a person's boat can stay more than a year longer in Schengen Area countries than the person can? After all, it's the person, not the boat, who would be spending all the money to enrich the economies of those countries. Furthermore, when the boat's time limit is up, she only has to leave the EU for one day before she can return for another 18 months, while a person has to leave the Schengen Area for 90 days before coming back for just another 90 days.

The only sure places within the confines of a Med cruise to reset the VAT clock for your boat are non-EU countries such as Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt — the latter four not being the most attractive choices given the current political climate. There is also Turkey, but it's too far away for us. In addition, there are conflicting reports on whether you have to apply for a Turkish Long Term Visa from your home country.

We are leaning toward sailing to Morocco from Gibraltar, which would reset JOT's VAT clock. Casablanca, anyone? And then we'll be on to Port Ginesta, Spain — just north of Barcelona — and the French Med for the winter.

A 20% VAT hit would naturally be significant for any cruiser's budget, which is why we're a little concerned about our French Long Stay Visas. We've heard that these may technically make us residents of France, in which case our boat wouldn't be exempt from VAT. Getting the real story on tax and immigration issues for individual cases is not easy in this part of the world. We'll just have to see if our version of 'low profile' works.

Another concern is the lack of consistent administration within the EU when it comes to the interpretation of EU law. For example, we've read that Spain considers more than six months in their country an excuse to try to collect VAT. Greece has similarly imposed VAT and/or other taxes on yachts. Today we were notified that Greece has increased its liability insurance requirements to approximately $700,000 U.S. So don't bring your boat to Europe looking for certainty.

Despite all of the self-inflicted and other types of drama, our cruise to Europe has certainly been worth the effort. Sipping Champagne on the Champ Elysees at midnight after watching the Tour Eiffel light up is remarkable. We also witnessed some of the D-Day+70 commemorations. It might have only been the special time of year, but the residents of Normandy eloquently expressed their appreciation of the heroic efforts made by our parents on their behalf.

Prices in England and Europe? We found the cost of living in England to be about double that of the U.S., although berthing is similar to that on the Chesapeake. As for the quality of food and especially the service, the less said the better. Other opinions are out there.

In France, boat stuff is about 50% more expensive than in the U.S., and that's before they add the 20% VAT. The exception has been parts for our Yanmar diesel. The French wanted 600 euros, plus shipping, for one injector. That's about $1,000 U.S. after duty and shipping. We got one from the States for $300. Berthing in France is a little less expensive than in the Chesapeake, and most French marinas include electricity and Wi-Fi in their base rate.

For what it's worth, we had to pay more for one night's stay at the Holiday Inn at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf than we did when we splurged on a four-star boutique hotel in Paris.

When it comes to dining out, it's about the same price in France as it is in Tahoe / San Francisco / D.C. for similar quality food. This is true in a large part beause the tip is included and because excellent house wines are inexpensive. As floating 'apartment' owners, we cannot get enough of the outstanding local products to be found in the boulangeries and charcuteries, and the fruits and vegetables at the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday street markets. They are superb food and wine experiences.

Our situation requires daily Internet, so coffee shop Wi-Fi doesn't work for us. In the U.K, you can get a cheapo phone for $30, and for another $30 per month get unlimited data to create a Wi-Fi hotspot to an onboard router. In France we've gotten weak, but free, Wi-Fi in Port Chantereyne. It was made usable with our outside Ubiquity Bullet omni antenna with 8 db gain omni. SKYPE is amazingly useful and affordable, so thank you, Bill Gates.

The scenery and history in England and Europe? Beyond expectations. Whatever your interests, you have a good chance of finding much to satisfy them.

Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere — Amex not so much — but watch out for cards that charge 3% foreign transaction fees. Most do. Automatic charge machines — toll roads, parking lots, etc. — will not accept U.S. cards, as we have not adopted the chip & PIN system. Cash can be extracted from the common money machines, but it's fairly expensive depending on your bank.

To reinforce the adage that cruising is repairing your boat in exotic places, we must stop reporting so we can attend to boat chores: the UV-rotted trampoline attachments, Honda impeller replacement, and the ever-exciting holding tank stoppage.

For anyone contemplating bringing their own yacht to the EU, please carefully read the fine print and project how it will affect your style of cruising. In our case it has been a fantastically rewarding experience of a lifetime.

By the way, we saw the Wanderer's post in the last issue about the St. Katherine's Dock near Tower Bridge in London. Our cat is too wide for that. As for a photo of JOT cruising beneath an opened Tower of London Bridge, such a shot would be almost as iconic as the one we have of JOT motoring past the Statue of Liberty. It's our understanding that it would be possible to get a shot of our boat under full sail on the Grand Canal of Venice. Wouldn't that be great?

— joy & walt 08/07/2014

Landfall — Vagabond 49
Steve, Tamiko and Eli (17) Willie
Mexico Is Better For Us
(Morro Bay)

In November 2011, we did a Sightings piece on the Willie family, who happily describe themselves as "unconventional." The United States no longer seemed like a viable place for them to live, so they had gotten a good deal on Landfall, a project boat, and were fixing her up with plans to head to Mexico.

Mexico was the goal because Tamiko, a former member of the Coast Guard who at 22 rescued a group of Navy Seals who had flipped their boat in the surf at Morro Bay, does better in warmer weather. After leaving the Coast Guard, she'd been shocked by 95,000 volts in an industrial accident and suffered severe nerve and other damage. Although hurting and having to take numerous medications, she hurts less in warmer weather.

And there was son Eli, then 14, a dwarf who suffered from being ignored if not shunned because he is, as Tamiko puts it, "weird". In addition, Steve, a former Porsche mechanic, needed expensive asthma medicine. If that wasn't enough, having a family was becoming economically ever more difficult in the once Golden State.

The Latitude update is that the Willie family, who mostly base out of La Cruz now, are doing much better in Mexico. During the winter of 2011-2012 they had slowly made their way down the coast, and by May had arrived at Ensenada. That's where things began to change for the better.

Tamiko had gone looking for a doctor, as she needed to get a prescription filled for nerve pain. "If I didn't take it," she says, "it felt like fire ants were peeling the flesh from the bones on the left side of my body."

The first recommended doctor wasn't in, so she visited the second, Dr. Villadrana, an internist, at his walk-in clinic. "When I told him I needed to get my super-expensive pain prescription filled, he said it wasn't available in Mexico. He also told me that I was taking extremely high doses, and spent about 90 minutes with me getting to know more about my medical situation — even though I didn't get their until 7 p.m. I explained to him that my stateside insurance company's idea of 'therapy' consisted of doctors pumping me full of drugs to get me to "come to terms" with what they said was the fact that I would be a gimp in a wheelchair forever. They wanted to flush my life away.

After patiently listening to me and asking questions, Dr. Villadrana, who is also a clinical nutritionist, told me he thought he could help me. And he did."

Not only did the doctor get her on a much lower dose of a different pain medication, he had Tamiko dramatically change her diet. "He explained that he didn't think all of my problems were related to nerve damage, but the fact that I was malnourished — even though I weighed almost 200 pounds. He told me that I wasn't able to process foods normally."

"The doctor put me on a strict six-week elimination diet to cleanse my system," says Tamiko. "Then he got me off dairy and gluten, and has me taking potassium and other vitamins and supplements. I still have a lot of nerve pain, and still have to take medications, but I'm feeling much better than I did before."

Tamiko is so much more mobile that a few weeks ago she was able to run down the beach to try to help Pete when Easy Living, his big old powerboat, was blown up onto the rocks at La Cruz. "Pete told me he'd been living on the hook on that boat at La Cruz for 30 years, and hadn't come into the dock for four years," says Tamiko. "We were able to save the boat — without the help of the Mexican navy — but Pete is going to part her out anyway."

In addition, the former Coastie took charge about a year ago when Sig and Phyllis Horneman's Berkeley-based Cal 29 Duct Tape went onto the rocks at La Cruz. "I took charge just like it was the old days in the Coast Guard," says Tamiko.

"Life for us in Mexico, and especially La Cruz, is far superior to the States," says Tamiko. "It's not just my health, but it's also better for Eli, because he gets a much better reception and more respect than in the States. The people in Mexico are much more accepting than Americans, because if you're missing a limb or have some obvious problem, you're not shunned like you are in the States. If you're weird, people think "I've got something weird about me, too", or "I've got a weird cousin or uncle."

Now 17, Eli even has his own business. Steve, his father, explains how it came about:

"One day our friend Rotten Robby said, "Hey Eli, I used to maintain and repair winches. You can do it for less money than me, and because your hands are smaller, you can reach everything easier."

"I'm an old race car guy," says Steve, "so ever since Eli was a kid he'd watch me do things like rebuild transmissions. He's really good mechanically. We had him start by doing the winches on our boat, and after about two winches he knew more than I did. He's got it down.

"We don't have a lot of spare parts," Steve continued, "so Eli is lucky that Mike Danielson of Puerto Vallarta Sails, who has a lot of spares, told Eli he is welcome to his treasure trove of parts. Mike has been great, doing everything he can to help Eli. And Katrina has helped, too, as she puts the word out for Eli on the Banderas Bay net.

"Eli started doing winches in February this year, and after the first couple of boats his business exploded," says Steve. "Since then he's worked on the winches of about 20 boats. Now is the slow time of year, of course, so he hasn't had much business lately. But he's ready for the owners to return to their boats and new boats to arrive so he can get started again. I'm really proud of Eli, too, because he's good at saving his money."

After the Willies helped rescue Duct Tape about a year ago, they thought about buying Duct Tape's dinghy for Eli, but decided he wasn't quite ready. But when the appreciative Hornemans came back after being up in the Sea, they decided to give the inflatable to Eli in return for the Willies' help and Eli's doing all their winches. Eli needed an outboard, and was able to buy just what he needed, a used air-cooled engine that only weighs 12 pounds. For Eli, the dinghy and outboard are like his getting his first car. It means freedom, as well as the ability to get to jobs on his own.

After Easy Living went up onto the rocks, Steve reports that Landfall was the only boat left in the La Cruz anchorage. Then came hurricane Norbert and 12-ft surf.

"Even though we were in 24 feet of water, I wasn't convinced that the waves weren't going to break on us. So we came into the marina at La Cruz. Given the huge surf, we expected the surge to be really bad, but it wasn't bad at all, no worse than when there is head-high surf."

Norbert's winds weren't too bad either. "We had about 40 knots for half an hour, but that was it. The daily summer squalls are worse. You know, it rains like hell, blows out of the south for an hour or two, and is then is usually over. But once we had 44 knots of wind."

What about the humidity of summer? "As long as it's not sunny for 10 days in a row and the wind doesn't stop at night, it's not that much worse than winter," claims Steve. "And it's great for surfing. But if it gets too hot, I jump in the water and stay in for about 90 minutes. That will cool you down."

So far sunny Mexico has been cool for the Willie family. "Our goal is not to be rich in material things, but rich in life experiences — and we're finding that here in Mexico," says Tamiko.

— latitude/rs 09/15/2014

Cruise Notes:

Here's a tip for anyone with a boat with a dinghy/outboard in Mexico. Get a new TIP (Temporary Import Permit) by the end of the year. The reason is that dinghies/outboards soon have to be listed on the main boat's TIP, or they have to get their own TIP. We recommend the former. A new TIP costs about $51. When filling out the TIP, include the dinghy/outboard at Section Five, not Section Three. If you do the latter, your dinghy/outboard will only be good in Mexico for 180 days instead of 10 years. The same thing applies to sailing dinghies, Jet Skis and the like.

How bad has the Mexican (Eastern Pacific) hurricane season been this year? We researched the records for the five previous years and came up with the following averages per year:

All tropical events — including depressions: 17.2.

Tropical Storms: 7.

Hurricanes: 7.6.

Major hurricanes (which are 125 mph or more): 2.6.

With just over a month to go in the Mexico/Eastern Pacific hurricane season, this year's totals have been:

Total tropical events: 18.

Tropical storms: 5.

Hurricanes: 11.

Major hurricanes: 8.

While it's obviously been a busy hurricane season off Mexico, it should be noted that three of the hurricanes, all of them major hurricanes, were actually quite far offshore and were more threats to Hawaii.

Of the five years we looked at, 2009 was the closest to 2014, as it had 23 events, 12 tropical storms, eight hurricanes, and five major hurricanes.

It's been a quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic/Caribbean so far, although that season is generally considered to last a month longer than in Mexico/ Eastern Pacific. So far there have been five named storms, four hurricanes, and one major hurricane. The 30-year norm is 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. There are generally fewer tropical storms in the Atlantic than in Mexico, but they usually head east toward land, while Mexican hurricanes tend to head west and away from land.

Hurricane Odile's hitting Baja was bad, particularly with the loss of the lives of cruisers Guenter Trebbow, 76, of Germany, Simone Wood, 47, of London, and Paul Whitehouse, 45, of Wolverhampton, England. However, the sailing community has been hit by much more destructive storms. In particular, massive and powerful hurricane Luis, which hit the Leeward Islands — particularly Barbuda, St. Barth, St. Martin and Anguilla — with 140 mph winds as well as numerous F3 tornadoes in the eye wall.

Luis struck 19 years ago and lasted for 15 days. At one point it was just one of four named storms roaring around in the Atlantic at the same time in the obscenely busy Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane year of 1995. By the time Luis was done, it was deemed responsible 19 deaths, 70,000 people being homeless, and $3 billion in damage. But get this — in St. Martin alone, 1,300 of 1,500 boats, most of them recreational boats, were either driven aground or destroyed. Luis was followed just a week later by hurricane Marilyn.

Luis was also the cause of probably the most famous rogue wave — estimated at 100 feet — in history. This is the one that hit the Queen Elizabeth 2 on her way from Cherbourg, France to New York. Despite her changing course in an attempt to avoid the effects of Luis, waves broke the ship's Grand Lounge windows, which were more than 70 feet above the surface. But that was just the beginning. The following is from the log:

"At 0410 the rogue wave was sighted right ahead, looming out of the darkness from 220°. It looked as though the ship was heading straight for the white cliffs of Dover. The wave seemed to take ages to arrive, but it was probably less than a minute before it broke with tremendous force over the bow. An incredible shudder went through the ship, followed a few minutes later by two smaller shudders. There seemed to be two waves in succession, as the ship fell into the hole behind the first one. The second wave of 28-29 meters, whilst breaking, crashed over the foredeck, carrying away the forward whistle mast."

Canadian weather buoys moored in the area recorded a maximum wave height of 98 feet. There was surprisingly little damage to the QE2.

Evacuation by yacht. Several days after Odile ravaged Cabo San Lucas, four big privately-owned sportsfishing boats arrived at Mazatlan carrying a total of 60 Mexican nationals, ages 3 to 65, reports a Latitude source. "The captains were all well-seasoned good American guys, and the boatowners had given them carte blanche to help evacuate their crews and extended families from Los Cabos due to the breakdown of law and order there."

Another source told Latitude that the looting in Cabo actually began after the management at Costco told the employees they could take whatever they wanted. When employees were seen walking out of Costco loaded down, the general public assumed looting was the order of the day and got busy. It's hard to know what really happened in Cabo in the immediate aftermath of Odile, but it's safe to say that La Paz didn't experience the same kind of troubles.

"What will the Sea of Cortez be like as a result of Odile?" several Ha-Ha entrants have asked the Poobah. We can't say for sure, but having been to a number of post hurricane disaster sites, we have a general idea of what to expect. Below the surface, it will be just like before. Indeed, just days after Odile, the water around several sunken boats at Puerto Escondido was as clear and inviting as ever. Aboveground is not going to be quite as pretty. Small vegetation can recover from the wind damage and salt spray fairly quickly, but there are thousands of downed palm trees and big cacti, neither of which will recover as quickly, if at all.

The most unsightly, however, will be the damage to human-made structures. Lots of businesses and families won't have the money or insurance settlements yet to repair things quickly, and even if they do, there will be a lot of construction going on. It could be a little depressing. Fortunately, none of the marinas suffered much damage, so they will probably look better than most of the rest of the urban areas. Most of the anchorages, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez, will probably be as beautiful as ever. In fact, thanks to Odile's rain, they'll probably be greener than normal.

In the unlikely event that the Sea proves to not be up to your standards, Mazatlan and the Vallarta Coast beckon just 200 and 300 miles away, respectively, over on the mainland.

"I brought my boat down to Mexico in the 2008 Ha-Ha, which was my third," reports Wally Nevins of the formerly Ventura-based Catalina 42 Andanzas, "and have kept her at Mazatlan's Marina Mazatlan every summer since. A lot of cruisers aren't aware that Mazatlan has much to offer cruisers: the new Golden Zone, the great old Mercado, the Old Town, Olas Altas, the very long malecon, terrific seafood and restaurants, and great service providers. I'm just one of many cruisers who thinks Mazatlan is the best place in Mexico."

For further details on Mazatlan, see the Wanderer's report in the February issue of Latitude.

Banderas Bay and the Vallarta Coast — which includes Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, La Cruz, Punta Mita and Sayulita — are just 285 miles from Cabo. It's usually a pleasant broad reach in the winter. In addition to the best daily sailing conditions in Mexico, Banderas Bay offers more whale-watching than you might want, some spectacular surfing, Hidden Beach at the Marietas Islands, the cruiser-favorite village of La Cruz, and some great places to anchor out.

It's also the site of the site of the Riviera Nayarit Sailor's Splash/Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. These fun Ha-Ha style fund-raising events are for cruisers, and include three fun races, the annual opening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club (complete with the popular carbon fiber paddling initiation of new members), as well as the Annual Water Balloon Drop. It all takes place December 12-16th, and is sponsored by the Riviera Nayarit Tourism Department, Latitude 38, the Marina Riviera Nayarit, the Vallarta YC, and Paradise Marina. Catalina Liana of Marina Riviera Nayarit, who will be aboard Profligate for the Ha-Ha again this year, can answer all your questions either during that event or at .

Since we're on a roll for cruiser events in Mexico this winter, we should mention that Latitude will again attempt to create a Tenacatita - Barra Sailing Festival just after the start of the new year. There would be a feeder cruise down from Banderas Bay, followed by sailing fun, socializing and other nonsense at Tenacatita Bay, followed by a fun 'race' down to the Grand Marina and/or the lagoon at Barra de Navidad. We're still working on details with the 'Mayor of Tenacatita Bay', Robert Gleser of the ex-Alameda-based Freeport 41 Harmony, and the folks at Grand Bay Hotel Marina in Barra. Stay tuned for news.

Next on the Mexico calendar of activities is perhaps the greatest cruiser fundraising success in the world, the Zihua SailFest. Now in its 14th year, the six-day fundraising fiesta for the education of disadvantaged children in Zihua will be held February 2-8. It consists of cocktail parties, benefit concerts, live & silent auctions, sailboat and dinghy races, a kids' beach day, seminars, a chili cook-off, street fairs, regattas, school tours, work parties and more.

Nearly $64,000 U.S. was raised last year — with generous help from grants from the Bellack Foundation, event volunteer Jane Fiala, cruiser/donor Pete Boyce of Northern California, and the Rotary Foundation. That was enough — along with donated labor and materials — to create 10 new classrooms and benefit more than 400 disadvantaged children in eight schools. When properly supervised, a little money goes farther in Mexico than in the United States.

More on other cruisers' events in Mexico — the Vallarta YC's Banderas Bay Cruisers' Regatta, the La Paz Bay Fest and Loreto Fest — in upcoming issues.

One of the most famous sea caves in the world is the Blue Grotto of Capri, which extends over 150 feet into the beautiful towering island off the coast of Naples. Sunlight passing through an underwater cavity and the seawater creates the beautiful blue and emerald colors. The entrance is only two meters wide and two meters high, so you have to duck when you go in on one of the many tourist boats.

The grotto azzura was enjoyed by Roman emperors, then avoided for centuries because it was home to sea monsters and witches. After publication of a German book about it in the 1830s, it became a tourist attraction. Alas, the Blue Grotto has become one of the many places, such as Yosemite, that is being loved to death. As one reviewer wrote, "It took us four minutes to get to the grotto by boat, but two hours waiting in line for our boat's short turn inside the cave itself."

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Jim Gregory of the Pt. Richmond-based Schumacher 50 Morpheus is a smart guy, so he came up with a better alternative to a hoi polloi tour. He swam into the grotto before it 'opened' for business one morning. Locals commonly swim in the grotto after it 'closes' at 6 p.m.

Unfortunately, Jim and his wife Debra were unable to come up with a similar crowd-avoidance scheme during their later visit to the Vatican Museum at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. "I am a bad tourist," Debra confessed. "I hate tours and will not take any in the future. The Vatican Museum is full of amazing things, but when you're packed in with 33,000 others and have to follow the one and only allowed path, you just can't wait to leave."

Our sentiments exactly about standing in line, and at the Vatican Museum in particular. One of the great things about traveling by private yacht is that you get to visit really great places that haven't yet become famous or even widely-known yet, and thus you can often have them to yourself. Take Hidden Beach, the now-famous swim-in beach at the Tres Marietas Islands off Punta Mita. After the publication of one particularly flattering photo of it, Hidden Beach suddenly became hailed as the 'Best Remote Beach In The World' on some of the ridiculous 'best' lists. Until this happened, the Punta Mita panga drivers lived off whale-watching and fishing tours in the winter. Now they're so busy in the summer taking Mexicans to the Hidden Beach that they hardly care about their winter trade.

Speaking of Punta Mita, one August night John and Gilly Foy of the La Cruz-based Catalina 42 Destiny spied a rather large sailboat anchored there. When dawn broke, they realized it was the 245-ft Ron Holland-designed M5, previously known as Mirabella V, the largest sloop in the world.

When Cabo became so chaotic following hurricane Odile, the captains of three sportfishing boats, with permission from the boat owners, took the men who worked on their boats, and their families, to safety in Mazatlan. There were about 60 people in all, ages 3 to 65. The captains who came to the rescue were Roy 'Wilkes' Hammock of the Viking 65 Expedition, Ty Valli of the Hatteras 68 Reel Quest, Chad Herren of the Blackwell 61 Wild Hooker, and owner John Williams and Capt Kevin 'Cubby' Pahl aboard the Hatteras 60 Success.

Unlike the West Coast, where getting to the tropics is normally pretty easy, it can be difficult to get from the East Coast to the Caribbean. After all, it's 1,500 miles instead of just 750, there is only Bermuda for shelter, and there is the threat of both late season hurricanes and early season winter storms. There are three rallies to help sailors get south.

The newest and currently the biggest is the Salty Dawg Rally, currently with 61 entries. The couple who founded and run it are really nice, but have a curious — to us — business model. The event is free, but people are encouraged to become 'members' for $250. Weather permitting, it starts November 2 in Hampton, Virginia, and ends in either the Bahamas or the British Virgins.

The older and much more hands on — boat and gear inspections — Caribbean 1500 is part of the World Cruising Ltd empire. They leave on the same date from nearby Portsmouth, Virginia for the same destinations. Like all World Cruising Ltd events, it's not cheap, but they give quite a bit of value. Currently they have about 36 entries, including Vincent Ratford of the California-based Lagoon 450 Gem.

The third of the events is the 15th Annual NARC (North American Rally to the Caribbean) from Newport, Rhode Island on November 1 for Bermuda and St. Martin. This is for "pros' boats". Organizer Hank Schmitt, who is big in crew placement, encourages most cruisers to join the other two rallies!

Hurricane season is almost over, which means cruising season is about to begin. We hope you're ready. We sure are!

Missing the pictures? See the October 2014 eBook!


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