November, 2005

With reports this month from Patagonia on how easy it is to do the paperwork for a Canal transit and the transit itself; from Viva on late spring and summer cruising in the Leeward Islands; from Marylee on cruising in Mexico on as little as $1/day; from Learjet on what's involved in getting ready for a passage; and Cruise Notes.

Patagonia - Passport 40
Ricardo & Gloria Klenk
Don't Sweat The Canal

Veterans of last year's Baja Ha-Ha with our daughter Yvette, we made it all the way to Cartagena, Colombia, where we've really enjoyed the last five months.

However, our primary reason for writing is to talk about the Panama Canal transit, since there seems to be a lot of cruiser confusion about what's involved and how risky it is. Those widespread concerns caused us a lot of unnecessary anxiety, because having now done it ourselves, we can assure everyone that it's a piece of cake!

Preferring not to pay an agent - some of whom charge $500 - to do our paperwork, we did it ourselves. It took us just one day - and by the end of the day we even had our transit date. Since we didn't hire an agent, some people told us we'd probably get stuck at the bottom of the list and have to wait a month. Well, the day after arriving in Balboa, we were informed our transit date would be in just six days.

Our advice for cruisers on a budget and/or for those who don't like to spend $500 when they don't need to is simple - there is absolutely no need for an agent to transit the Panama Canal. The procedure is actually quick and easy. Here's an overview, assuming a start from the Balboa YC and doing a Pacific to Caribbean transit:

The first thing in the morning, take a $2 cab ride to the Balboa Admeasurement Office, where you will be required to sit at a computer for 15 minutes answering a bunch of questions, mostly about your boat. If you have problems or questions, the helpful girls at the office can walk you through the simple procedure. Once that's done, the Admeasurer will visit your vessel, hopefully that same day, to inspect and measure the boat.

Once the Admeasurer is done, you are now ready to take the final step, which is to visit the nearest Citibank - another $2 cab ride - to pay for your transit. Be aware that Citibank closes at 2 pm, so if you are running late, you'll have to wait until the next business day to complete the work. After 6 pm on the day you paid your transit fee, you can call the Marine Traffic Scheduler for your transit date.

That's all there is to it! If you want to pay an agent $500 to do it for you, that's your business. We think there are better ways to spend our money.

By the way, the amount of traffic in the Canal varies according to the time of year. From February through the early fall, the Canal tends to be quite busy with extra ships from China bringing consumer goods to the States for the Christmas. season. But from November through about February, the Canal is usually not so busy and you can often transit a day or two after being measured. However, it also depends on the world economy, which is cooking right now.

Our total cost for doing the paperwork? Six dollars in cab fares and a few hours of our time. As our boat is under 50 feet, we paid $600 for the transit itself. It's $850 for boats between 50 and 80 feet. No matter what length the boat, there is an $850 buffer fee - in the unlikely event your boat causes a delay or damage - that has to be paid in cash or via a Visa card cash advance. Make prior arrangements with your bank for the approval of the entire amount, as most credit and debit cards have a limit. Our limit was $750, but with a quick phone call it was automatically raised to $1000. It's not recommended that you pay the buffer fee in cash, as the refund is made by check, and is said to take months.

If you don't have the required four 120-foot lines, you can easily rent them from the taxi drivers at the Balboa YC for a total of $60. You'll also want a bunch of wrapped tires to use as fenders. You can also buy these from the taxi drivers, but boats coming the other way through the Canal might give them to you to avoid having to pay a disposal fee. Similarly, when you finish your transit in Cristobal, why not just pass them on to a boat heading the other way through the Canal?

The four line-handlers that are required on each boat don't have to be particularly strong, but at the key moments they do need to be alert and know which way a line goes around a winch. Such line-handlers are easy to come by because there are always plenty of other skippers who, like yourself, are willing to crew for free in order to have experience before taking their own boats through. If, for some reason, you can't find anybody, or if you'd feel safer hiring 'professional' line-handlers, the going rate is $50 to $60 per handler. You'll also need to provide meals for all your crew and your Advisor, who will be aboard giving you directions for the duration of your transit. If you can do the transit in one day, you'd normally only have to provide breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. But it's possible that you'll have to spend the night in Lake Gatun, which means you'd have to provide a different combination of meals.

The most important thing we're trying to pass along is that it's not hard to do the transit paperwork yourself and that a transit is not dangerous. As such, it's something to look forward to with pleasure rather than fret about.

- richardo, gloria, and yvette 10/15/06

Readers - We agree that transiting the Panama Canal is nothing for even moderately competent mariners to worry about. We also agree that it makes little economic sense to use ship's agents - although for various reasons we've used both Pete Evans and Tina McBride in the past. They are both great people and they both did a great job, but it made about as much economic sense as buying a first-class plane ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Alas, Tina McBride recently informed us of what seems to be some very bad news. According to her, the Canal Commission is now requiring everyone to use a ship's agent. If this is true - and it would be outrageous if it were - we'd recommend using agent Enrique Plummer, who has historically charged just 40% of what the other agents charge, and who enjoys an excellent reputation among the cruising community.

For details on McBride's report, see this month's Cruise Notes.

Viva - Grand Soleil 39
Steve & Pam Jost
Summer In The Northern Leewards
(Hermosa Beach)

We're still sailing the same boat we bought in Italy some 20 years ago - although we haven't been cruising her the whole time. We started our most recent adventure with the Ha-Ha in '99, intending to spend a couple of years cruising south and east. Well, it's been six years now and we're still enjoying sailing around the Caribbean. Here's a sampling of the kind of fun we had in May and June of this year.

After an exciting month of various kinds of racing in Antigua, and Steve lucking out and getting to crew on the J Class 130-footer Velsheda, we continued 100 miles north to St. Martin where we met our friends John and Jo Featherstones. As planned, we had them aboard for a week of cruising around St. Martin, and the next week we shared their timeshare located at the entrance to Simpson Bay. With Viva anchored in plain view right out in front of the timeshare, it was kind of a treat to get off the boat for a week.

John also rented a car so we could do a little land cruising. St. Martin is just 7 miles by 7 miles, so it was easy to circumnavigate by car in one day. One of our favorite stops was the little village of Grand Case - it rhymes with 'toss' - on the French side of the island that is half Dutch. Grand Case is on a large bay with a lot of trendy shops, and there are probably more good restaurants in the four-block area than anywhere else in the Caribbean. In addition, there are several great open-air BBQ chicken and rib joints. For $8 U.S., you could have a great plate of ribs and a terrific sunset. A 'decent' bottle of wine was another $10. To encourage business from Americans, who are the primary tourists, many of the shops were offering a 1:1 exchange rate between the dollar and euro, a discount of nearly 20% on the official rate. On Thursday nights during the season - which runs from December to April - they have bands from all the different islands performing on the main thoroughfare. Unfortunately, the last of these ended the week before we arrived.

We next sailed 20 miles back in the direction of Antigua to St. Barts, which has always been a fun little stop for us, what with all the chic restaurants and trendy shops. During the New Year's holidays, you'll see up to 100 megayachts in and around the tiny port of Gustavia, which makes it the favored spot in the islands for the wealthy 'in crowd'. Unfortunately, with the unfavorable exchange rate last year, it was a little pricey. After the hubbub of Gustavia, it was nice to slip away to the quiet little anchorage of Anse de Colombier on the northwest corner of the island. The bay was, of course, named after Columbus, who named the island after his brother. There are moorings available at no charge, which is nice. There is no access to the bay by road, so you either have to come by boat or make the 20-minute hike on the trail from Flamands Beach.

Then we backtracked past St. Martin once more to Anguilla, a long, low island about six miles north of St. Martin. Although we've been in the Caribbean for many years, this was our first visit - and we just happened to arrive on the weekend of the Anguilla Regatta in Road Bay. There are some beautiful coves, anchorages, and small islands at Anguilla, but the government discourages cruising yachts through a cruising fee schedule that is exorbitant in comparison with those of other islands. Although there is no entry charge to Road Bay for boats less than 20 tons, we had to pay $38/day - in advance - to anchor anywhere else. And it's even more expensive than it sounds, because the one-day permits expire at midnight, so you are forced to get a two-day permit for just one night. In addition, there is a $15/day fee for moorings, which boats are required to use. Needless to say, Anguilla's anchorages are pretty quiet and uncrowded. We suppose it's one way to keep the riff-raff out!

Upon arrival in Road Bay, we bumped into Randy West of St. Barts, the skipper of the 64-ft wooden ketch Lone Fox. West had been one of our primary witnesses during our protest episode in Antigua, and had entered the boat in the Anguilla Regatta on behalf of owner Chris von Trampe. John and I were invited to race the next day aboard this classic yacht, which had been built in 1957 for Colonel Whitbread of the brewery fame, which was the original sponsor of the Whitbread Around the World Race. It was a nice and easy windward/leeward sail with Randy at the helm and a mixed crew of laid-back locals from St. Barts and Anguilla. Lone Fox was the first boat to finish, but corrected out third.

During the 'mix up' regatta, Anguillan and other West Indies sailors are invited to race aboard the modern boats, and in the afternoon, we gringos are encouraged to catch a ride on one of the traditional island sloops. I was invited to race aboard Miss Anguilla, one of the 30-ft open wooden boats native to Anguilla and St. Martin. They were originally used for transporting sugar cane and workers from one end of the island to the other. With huge mainsails and just a small winch to trim the jib, sailing the very heavy 30-footers is quite a workout. The rules are pretty loose. After the horn signal, there's a jackrabbit start off the beach followed by a 10-mile windward-leeward course. Nobody pays much attention to right-of-way rules. Whoever is ahead when two boats meet gets to pass.

The only mandatory rule is that every boat must finish with the same number of crew they started with. In years past, some of the crewmembers were dumped at the weather mark in order to lighten the boat for the downwind run, and had to swim to shore. The removable ballast is now in the form of large sandbags and rocks, which are more safely discarded. The local West Indians were a delight to sail with, as they were quite knowledgeable, very polite, laid-back - and best of all, there wasn't any screaming. Once again, I was the only white in a sea of black faces. After racing on Velsheda and then the Anguillan 30-footer, I had my racing fix for several months.

After the Featherstones left, Pam and I decided to complete our circumnavigation of St. Martin with another night anchored at Grand Case, and then some stops at some of the out-of-the-way anchorages on the north and east shores. It really is amazing how many neat anchorages there are on the backside of all these islands, but due to the numerous reefs, shoals, and other hazards, the cruising guides - aimed at an audience of primarily bareboat charters - steer you to all the ultra-safe spots. But if you want to get away from the hordes, just find the anchorages surrounded by reefs - which are red-lined in all the cruising guides - that require a lot of eyeball navigation, and you'll have them all to yourself.

After another two-day stop at St. Barts to replenish our paté, brie, and croissants, we headed over to Barbuda, a remote, low-lying island about 60 miles to the southeast. Barbuda is only visible from four to five miles away and, unfortunately, there are some six-foot shoals that far off, too. There are only a few recommended anchorages, and over 200 shipwrecks can attest to the danger of the reef-strewn waters. The approach to Barbuda must be made with the sun behind your shoulders or over your head. Barbuda is also famous for its 11-mile beach, which is probably the longest unbroken beach in the Caribbean. Pam, of course, was in 7th Heaven, but it left me looking for some shade trees. I do have to admit that it was nice to have this unspoiled, uninhabited anchorage to ourselves.

Barbuda is actually part of the country of Antigua and Barbuda, and our next stop was Antigua, a much bigger and more cosmopolitan island whose southeast coast is one of the major yachting centers in the Caribbean. We started our visit by exploring the northwest anchorages of Jolly Harbor, Five Islands, Deep Bay, Dickenson Bay, and the capital of St. Johns for a few provisions and sightseeing. When you visit St. Johns, you want to make sure the cruise ships aren't in! All of the places just mentioned are quiet in the summer, and except for St. John, are home to several aging resorts that cater to budget-minded Brits visiting a former colony.

As we continued around the north end of the island, we found it was hidden by a series of nasty reefs, so there was hardly a cruising boat - and no charterboats - in sight. This is easy to understand if you read the fine red print on the charts for this area. The surveys were made in the 19th century using "celestial methods" and "lead lines". The small print warns that they may be off by only 500 to 1,000 yards - which is enough to leave you high on a reef if you don't pay attention.

For a change of pace, one night we anchored off a very exclusive beach resort, one of those swanky 'nearly dead or newlywed' places. By law, they can't keep visitors off the beach - but don't you dare stray above the high-water line. With a few hours or day's notice during the low season, it might be possible to dine at one of these places - after submitting your family tree, blood samples and photos of your evening attire (long dresses, sports coat and slacks only, please)! Without checking the wine list or menu, we decided to pass, thereby ensuring another week of affordable cruising.

The next day we took Viva through a virtual minefield of shoals, reefs, and coral heads to a pretty little anchorage at Bird Island. This is a wild, uninhabited area full of sea birds that also has a couple of delightful anchorages. One or more of the daysail catamarans may spend a couple of hours here with a crowd, plus a few of the small excursion boats from the fancy resorts. For a "nominal" fee, they bring the guests out for a Robinson Crusoe experience, which includes an afternoon BBQ beach picnic, a short hike, and a chance to rub shoulders with some of those nefarious yachties. Since Antigua is becoming somewhat environmentally sensitive, and Bird Island is now part of a marina park, visitors are asked to refrain from loud noises, music, and partying that might disturb the nesting birds. With most of the guests from the resorts, there was no danger of that!

It was now time to head down island to Trinidad and put the boat on the hard to avoid the hurricanes. Having had a relatively maintenance and repair-free season, on our last day in Antigua, our 20-year old windlass decided to breath its last. So from there to Trinidad we had to up anchor by hand. But all in all it was a great season.

So many great destinations . . . so little time!

- steve 09/10/05

Update: The Josts report they missed getting hit by Hurricane Emily by just one day as they crossed from Grenada to Trinidad. They are about to return to Viva for the usual annual maintenance and some new equipment installations. After that, they plan to spend the season cruising in Colombia, the San Blas Islands, Belize, Honduras, and the rest of the Western Caribbean. Next year they plan to return to the Med with Viva, either under sail or by boat transport. Having never sailed in the Eastern Med, they are looking forward to Croatia, Greece, Turkey, and the Black Sea. So many destinations.

Marylee - Nor'Sea 27
Dan Fitzpatrick, Samantha Nester
Cruising On As Little As $100/Mo.
(Muir Beach)

The author of a letter in a recent Latitude inquired how much it really cost to cruise in Mexico. It's impossible to answer without first asking yourself some important questions: 1) Who am I now, and who will I become when I cruise? 2) How expensive is my boat? 3) What 'luxuries' do I really need? 4) How can I cleverly save money in Mexico?

As the smallest entry in the 2003 Baja Ha-Ha, our Marylee was dwarfed by a magnificent fleet of long-range cruisers. Although our Nor'Sea is compact, she's also an extraordinary example of what a pocket-cruiser should be. Nimble, balanced, and seaworthy, she carried my wife Samantha and me across all the treacherous seas we encountered to places that were beyond our wildest dreams.

What we discovered in our new life floating on the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez, is that money and material things quickly become relatively unimportant when compared to the simple life in magnificent natural surroundings. Nearly alone and away from the unnatural creations of man, we embraced more of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In so doing, our answer to the question of how much it costs to cruise in Mexico became "as little as $100/month".

(In order not to mislead, it needs to be understood that we only cruised on $100 a month for the three months we sailed the bountiful Sea of Cortez. When cruising the Mexican Riviera, we stayed in marinas, dined in fine restaurants, and spent money on side-trips. During those months, we spent about $1,500/month. Our total for nine months of cruising was $9,500, or an average of just over $1,000/month.)

We might not have been the most typical of cruisers, as Samantha, who was taking a leave of absence from her job as a 5th-grade teacher, was only 26. And I, having recently sold my software firm to a large conglomerate, had chosen to rip off my tie and set it ablaze. At age 36, I had walked away from a business career to take my chances on the open ocean aboard a 27-ft sloop. If nothing else, I figured I'd have to deal with fewer sharks.

Although we'd planned our cruising adventure for years, I will admit that the reality of sailing away made me tremble as the departure date grew near. In retrospect, I'll never know how Samantha and I mustered the courage to take off. We're just glad we did. Now, for those important questions:

1) Who am I now, and who will I become when cruising? We found that adjusting to the cruiser lifestyle in Mexico is like becoming reacquainted with the summer vacations of our youth. The warm, casual days afforded us an abundance of quality time with our souls. The stresses of my American lifestyle, which I'd unwittingly carried for so many years, suddenly melted away. In fact, they ran down my leg, exited my big toe, and fell overboard with a considerable splash! For the first time in years, I felt well-rested, balanced, and young.

Once we got cruising, material things took a backseat to time - time spent with family, time napping in a hammock, time sharing a cold cerveza on a beach with the person we love the most. In this much more relaxed part of the world, we found that we needed little more than food, fuel, ice, propane, and an occasional bus or taxi ride into town. By the way, grocery stores in Mexico are well-stocked with an interesting blend of Mexican and American goods, most of them at a fraction of the stateside price. We were surprised to find that we could easily provision Marylee for several months at sea for under $200.

In addition to the low cost of living, we noticed nearly every ounce of materialism seeping out of our pores as the world slowed down around us. If you're like us, your standards will change, your needs will diminish, and acquiring new possessions will usually be seen as more of a chore than a pleasure. First-time cruisers shouldn't underestimate how real, frugal, and patient they will probably become. That's even true of kids. Jamie, the four-year-old aboard Esprit had been away from commercials so long he had no idea what to ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. The previous year he'd had a list of 25 toys he wanted. After going cruising, it was down to a boogie board, fishing pole, tackle box, and one regular toy.

2) How costly is your boat? If it would put you on a tight budget, if you're only going cruising for just a short time, or just testing the waters to see if you like cruising, we'd recommend not buying a big boat. Rather than trying to duplicate your home in the states and all her comforts, we suggest getting a cruising boat that is primarily a vehicle to get you to 'paradise' in safety and relative comfort. In fact, rather than selling a home to try to replicate it with a big floating home, we suggest buying a smaller boat which would allow you to keep your home and rent it out. We did, and watched the value of our home double in value while we were out cruising. One caution - just make sure your home doesn't get rented out to be used as a brothel.

It took me 10 years to find the perfect boat for Samantha and me. Although our aft-cockpit Nor'Sea is compact, she's a surprisingly spacious liveaboard and a dream to sail. She moves well in light air, is safe in heavy weather, and draws less than four feet. We found our boat to be relatively inexpensive to buy, equip, and maintain. Best of all, she's trailerable. So rather than ultimately having to bash back up the coast of Baja, we can tow our boat home with a pickup truck.

When estimating how much your boat will cost to operate and maintain, think in terms of both money - and time. The time you spend fixing things on your boat or waiting for parts or a mechanic to arrive, is arguably more 'expensive' than the money you have to dish out at what we found to be very expensive marine stores in Mexico. As such, we recommend getting everything you need - from new sails to standing rigging to every conceivable spare part you might need - before leaving for Mexico. For in paradise, you'll have better things to do than waste your precious time working down below in 100° heat.

The arduous task of refitting Marylee took an entire year, as I gutted her mechanically and electrically, and carefully rebuilt her from basically a hull. But upon completion, she was a dazzlingly updated solid cruiser. Because I'd done most of the work re-engineering, upgrading, and simplifying every system, I had a keen understanding of every part of my boat. By the time we left with the Ha-Ha, I had the proper tools and skills to be self-sufficient south of the border.

What did all the painstaking preparation give us? Flawless performance without any major breakdowns, that's what. Other than normal maintenance, Marylee was totally carefree. We pitied the cruisers who had complicated boats with chronic mechanical problems, but didn't have the knowledge or skills to operate and maintain them. For it meant they had to shell out lots of money for parts and labor and were often unable to join us for hikes, dancing, diving, and even drinking.

A smaller boat also costs less in marinas. We only paid $12/night for Marylee at Paradise Village, a beautiful resort complete with a yacht club, pools, hot-tubs, a spa, and even a zoo.

3) What luxuries will I need? Luxury items in Mexico can range from spa days, to side excursions, to trips back to the States for Christmas. Although many things are inexpensive in Mexico, some are dear. For example, airplane tickets, rental cars, bars and restaurants in tourist areas, and chandleries can suck your cruising kitty dry in a jiffy.

Although people have different tastes, here's our list of recommended 'luxury' items that even those on a tight budget could afford:

Bocce balls. We played beach-bocce almost every night and found it was a great way to meet new people. Sirius or XM Radio. It's commercial free, and has hundreds of news, music, comedy, and sports channels. The original investment is about $120, then $12/month. A Satellite telephone allows you to make calls home from anywhere for as little as $1.39/minute - although there is a significant initial investment. A laptop with WiFi and DVD drive allows you to watch movies, play games, and, in most marinas, connect wirelessly to the internet. An iPod allows you to enjoy all your music while leaving the clumsy CDs at home. A color GPS chartplotter has great features such as an anchor drag alarm, true speed, and celestial and tide information. Radar is an absolute must that saved our asses more than once. Our $150 SSB receiver only allowed us to hear weather forecasts and listen to the cruiser nets. A killer stereo with audio-in allowed us to listen to our iPod, DVD players, laptop, satellite radio, SSB, and VHF in surround sound. The biggest rectangular BBQ you can afford. Don't skimp by getting a cheap round one or your dinner will consistently roll off the grill and into the sea! A speargun allows you to hunt, dive, and fish at the same time. Spearguns are more reliable than line fishing and permit you to be more selective. Pool rafts. We spent countless hot afternoons floating behind our boat sipping cold cervezas and enjoying the breathtaking landscapes. Video recorder. It will all seem like a dream someday, so document it! A handheld radio allows you to stay in touch with your boat and the fleet while on the beach and in town. A tremendous selection of wine. Inexpensive good wine is sometimes difficult to find in Mexico, so stock your liquor cabinet before you head south. We became friends with the folks on the catamaran Melody, whose captain told us they left San Diego with 48 cases of wine!

4) Clever Ways To Save Money While Cruising Mexico. Since being frugal is part of the cruising lifestyle, even the wealthiest yachtsmen enjoy playing this game. Here are some tips: Shop wisely for spares. If you buy your expensive spares from a large marine retailer with a liberal return policy, keep them in the original box, and take back anything that doesn't break after you're done cruising, you'll only have bought them if you needed them. Attend timeshare presentations. Destinations such as Puerto Vallarta have timeshare kiosks set up around all the resorts. Most of them will serve you a wonderful breakfast and either pay you $300 in cash or send you on an expensive excursion - just for attending a half-day presentation. When in Paradise Village, join the Vallarta YC. The discounts on food, Internet access, telephone calls, and drinks are well worth the associate membership dues. It's a home away from home, and a great place to catch up on business matters midway through your cruise. Eat where the locals eat. We always followed the crowd to the best $1 taco stands in town. Take the 'chicken bus'. Leave the fancy air-conditioned buses to the powerboaters. The ratty old chicken buses are more entertaining and cost less than half as much. Buddyboat with an avid fisherman. They always have extra fish they want to share. Bring along a bunch of inexpensive DVDs and books. You'll be able to trade them with media-starved cruisers for new releases at swap meets. You'll never have to buy anything new. Give yourself a haircut. The beach is the perfect place to trim those curly locks - especially if you're watching your boat sway in a picture-perfect tropical lagoon. And don't worry, nobody will even notice if your 'stylist' makes a mistake. Insure wisely. Much to our surprise, we discovered that Marylee was covered under our homeowner's policy because she's under 35 feet and her motor is less than 55 hp. And she's insured for anywhere in the world! Clean your own bottom. Why pay a diver to do it in a marina when you can do it yourself in a nice clear anchorage. And remember, small boats have smaller bottoms to clean. Maintain your dental health. You can almost eliminate dental bills by religiously caring for your teeth. In fact, take dental instruments with you and take turns cleaning each other's teeth! Hitchhike. If a car is going your way in Mexico and there's an empty seat, the driver will almost always stop and give you a ride. We met many wonderful people hitchhiking, and although we always offered, they would never accept a single peso for gas money. Don't be flashy. Mexican retailers opportunistically mark prices up when flashy tourists go shopping. So dress to unimpress. Go naked. Reduce laundry bills and wear and tear on your clothing by sporting your birthday suit whenever possible. Just make sure to slap some sunscreen on the family jewels. Give gifts to the locals. Simple gestures of kindness make you feel good - and are often repaid tenfold. I once gave a teenage boy who worked in a palapa restaurant in Mantanchen Bay several pens, flashlights, and pocket knives - the leftover corporate-logo swag that I used to give my unappreciative customers. His family, who happened to own the palapa, was so impressed that they presented us with a very nice bottle of tequila before we weighed anchor.

Parting Thoughts. Samantha and I cruised economically because we wanted to, not because we had to. It was fun to stretch our money and live off the land and sea. And it's easy to do in Mexico.

From July to October we decided to take a break from cruising. So we put Marylee on the hard in San Carlos and took a plane to Europe with our tandem bicycle. We ended up riding 3,200 miles around Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, the Slovak Republic, Italy, Switzerland, and France - before finishing our journey at Oktoberfest in Munich in late September. Although we tried to save money in Europe, it was much more costly, even though we camped most nights, didn't purchase any fuel, and didn't have slip fees. The three months on a bike in Europe cost more than nine months aboard our wonderful little boat in paradise.

- dan 09/15/05

Readers - Those are some great tips - although we're not sure how many cruising couples are ready for the ultra-intimacy of cleaning each other's teeth.

While it would be difficult to cut a couple's day-to-day expenses to less than Dan and Samantha's during their time in the Sea of Cortez, it would have been easy to have spent less on gear. Lots of small boat cruisers there have gotten along fine without a radar, depthsounder, SSB receiver, chartplotter, laptop, Satphone, or video recorder. They're nice, but not necessary.

Learjet - N/M 55
Glenn Andert & Jody O'Callaghan
Getting Ready For A Passage

With Jody's oldest son arriving in Fakarava in the Tuamotus in four days, we had to depart Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas for the three-day passage. It would be a 550-mile trip, which is long enough in a car on a freeway, but we'd only be averaging seven knots.

What did we do in the two days before we took off? While still at Baie Taiohie, Nuku Hiva, the capital of the Marquesas, we tore down the dinghy and stowed it. Until we left, we'd get around with the kayak. We pulled the sails and other gear out of the forward locker and let it air out on the foredeck. A couple of cups of water had gotten into the locker, and everything was damp from the humidity. It took the two of us an hour to get everything out and laid out, and another hour to put it all away.

We then went ashore and checked out with the gendarme, shopped at the market, and got the propane bottle refilled. For those following in our path, this is the only place before Papeete to refill U.S. propane bottles. We also transferred the diesel from our six 6-gallon jerry jugs into the main tanks, bringing us to full capacity on diesel. We then took the six jerry jugs to shore to refill them with diesel. By the time it was all said and done, that alone had taken about four hours. We probably didn't need to refill the diesel jugs or fill another bottle of propane, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Given the high prices of everything else here in French Polynesia, I was surprised at the prices of propane and diesel. It only cost $2.50 U.S. to fill the propane tank - about one-third of what it would have cost in the States. The diesel was $1/liter. Since there are 3.78 liters in a gallon, that's the equivalent of slightly under $4/gallon. I expected that it would be twice that much.

While paddling the kayak, we saw a shark on the surface that looked to be 10 feet long. But we think it was a mild-mannered nurse shark. Later in the day we saw a green turtle surface near the boat.

The next morning we were at Baie Anaho, Nuku Hiva, in our second day of preparing for the voyage. Unable to sleep, Jody got up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. We paddled the kayak the half-mile from our boat to the dinghy dock. Our first job was to get some fresh tuna. We hadn't had much luck fishing recently, so we had to break down and buy some!

The fishermen leave at 3 a.m. and return loaded with fish about 6 a.m. - and we were there to meet them. The guy we bought from had about six big tuna and three gigantic barracuda. He informed us - in French - that the barracuda weren't good for eating because they have ciguatera. This is a toxin that grows in some corals and is eaten by progressively larger fish - right up to the big barracuda. The toxin doesn't bother the fish, but it has some very nasty - even paralyzing - effects on humans! I already knew that we didn't want the barracuda, but it was nice that he warned us.

After waiting our turn behind some locals, we selected a nice fat tuna and had the fisherman filet half the fish for us. In the process, we learned a niftier way to filet tuna! You remove the skin before removing the filet from the fish! We put our fish in Ziploc bags, then put the bags in the bottom of the kayak to keep them cool.

Next we headed off to the market for some veggies. The vegetable lady arrives at 7:30 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. everything is gone - so you don't want to be late. We were a bit early, so we wandered around the mansion of some official - probably the governor of the Marquesas or something like that. And then we wandered about the impressive church, which was built in 1975. While on the church grounds, we took an uru - a soccer ball-sized sort of sweet potato that grows on trees. Then we got back to the vegetable lady just in time. After Jody shopped and Glenn visited the bank - which also opens at 7:30 - we headed back to the kayak with a big bag of goodies. During the walk we ate some quiche we'd bought from a roadside food van.

When we got back to the dock, we hoped to pick up our laundry. It costs $10 a load, but what a luxury it is to have someone else do that! They say the clothes are dry when you get them back, but you still have to hang them out because they aren't really dry. Well, the laundry wasn't ready. It didn't make that much difference, because we couldn't have fit it all in the kayak anyway. I left Jody on the boat to rest and work on food preparation, and paddled back to the dock for the laundry.

Jody spent much of the day taking food out, preparing food, cooking food, and then cleaning up. Since it would be just the two of us on a nonstop 72-to-84 hour passage, we wanted to have all the food prepared so when we were off watch, we wouldn't have anything to do but eat, rest, and sleep. Anything beyond that is too much.

While Jody cooked, I managed to break down the kayak and stow it. Somewhere in there we also managed to sail halfway around Nuku Hiva. We'd wanted to spend more time in Anaho Bay, but we ran out of time. At least we saw it.

When we stopped at Anaho Bay, we had other things to do to prepare for the passage. Jody did some more cooking while I ran the engine to top off the batteries and ran the watermaker to top off the tanks. I also jumped in the water and cleaned 120 feet of waterline.

While in the process of cleaning the bottom, I noticed that there was a sizeable gash - half the size of an average baby finger - in the leading edge of the rudder. So I got out the Splash Zone, which is an amazing two-part epoxy that you can mix and apply underwater! It also has a pot life of 30 minutes, which really helps. I covered the hole in the rudder, and it should be cured by the time we leave in the morning. It better work, because the stuff cost me $150 a gallon!

By then it was time for one of Jody's fabulous meals. We had a glass of beer, fresh tuna, a green salad with tomatoes, fresh homemade pumpkin soup, and sweet chocolate for dessert. What a feast! We were ready to leave in the morning.

- glenn 06/15/05

Readers - Although this report is a little dated, we thought it was worth running because it gives a realistic idea of how much time and effort are required to get a boat - even one that's already cruising - ready for even a moderately long passage.

Cruise Notes:

Guys, if you're planning on cruising in the Sea of Cortez, and your significant other is a little wary of what might be in the water with her when she goes swimming, you'll want to tear the following item out of the magazine before she gets a chance to read it. You see, it's about the Humboldt Squid - better known in Mexico as the Rojo Diablo or Red Devil.

Described as a "fiercely cannibalistic opportunist predator," Rojo Diablo are extremely fast and strong, travel in huge schools, and employ cooperative hunting techniques. Although they only live about two years, they grow to as much as eight feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds. The Rojo Diablo have a large brain, stereoscopic eyes, three hearts, blue blood, and eight arms with suction cups rimmed with a bony ring of teeth. They seize their prey with two hook-laden tentacle clubs, embrace the victim into a nest of eight arms, and tear chunks from the body with a large and powerful razor-sharp beak. Even their tongues have curved teeth! You see why we didn't want the significant other to read this? Many biologists consider the Rojo Diablos to be the most cunning and ferocious of creatures. But often times you don't even know they are there, because they can change color back and forth from deep maroon to opalescent white several times a second.

We'd like to tell you that the Rojo Diablo are rare, but they are plentiful. It's estimated that there are 10 million of them in just one 25-square-mile area off the coast of Santa Rosalia, Baja, in the summer. During the winter they migrate toward Guaymas. They also appear in other places in the Sea, but not in such great numbers. Fishermen pull some 100,000 tons of Rojo Diablo out a year, all of it with hand-lines. But even when the 'red devils' have been landed, they don't give up the fight. They bite and grasp with tentacles, and even send out a five-gallon fire-hose like blast of black ink that can cover a human from head-to-toe. Unless provoked, the Rojo Diablos aren't considered dangerous to humans. But if they decide to go after you, it can be nasty. "Gawd," said one woman diver, "I hadn't been groped and pecked at like that since high school!" But there is some good news. The Rojo Diablo spend almost all their time in 650 to 2,500 feet of water. All this good info - except for the phony quote from the "woman diver" - comes via Ha-Ha vet Tony Matthews of the Dana Point-based Hoofbeats.

Not quite in time! "The Mexico Boating Guide, 2nd Edition, is going to be late," laments Patricia Rains, who co-authored the book with her husband Capt. John Rains. "We're still putting the finishing touches on our 300 new color charts - which are satellite-image corrected, not just GPS-corrected, so the guide won't be printed before Thanksgiving. When we get them, we'll make sure that they get distributed as soon as possible."

Patricia also had the latest on two topics of interest for those cruising to Mexico this season: "Contrary to rumor, Cabo San Lucas is not requiring a health certificate from yatistas who clear in there. To be sure, we phoned Victor Barreda, the ship's agent in Cabo. In his 40 years working there, he'd never heard of such a thing. But just to be sure, he checked with the port captain in Cabo San Lucas, as well as with both the state (Baja) and federal (international) health department officials. Everyone says, "No way! Not in Cabo, and not in any other port in Mexico."

(However, Dave Wallace of the Redwood City-based Amel Maramu Air Ops remembers that in '02, the Cabo San Lucas port captain claimed that a law required that the crews of all boats clearing for the United States get health certificates. The solution was to just clear to Ensenada, which is just another port inside Mexico, and therefore didn't require the certificates. There hasn't been a mention of it since.)

The second topic the Rains mentioned was with regard to provisioning. "Victor asked us to remind all yatistas - and especially the Baja Ha-Ha and the Class of '05 - that fresh (uncooked) U.S. beef, chicken, and eggs are still banned everywhere in Mexico, and will be confiscated and incinerated. This is because of Mad Cow disease, and the Avian (bird) Influenza H5N1 and H5N2 flu. They have the right to inspect your boat and your freezer. The bird virus is a serious problem for Mexico, because their entire poultry industry was wiped out 20 years ago. Ever since, they've been inoculating against N5H2, but the newest outbreak is N5H1, which the birds aren't protected against. If even one scrap of uncooked chicken or egg gets into the garbage dumps or goes overboard, it could be picked up by seagulls and pelicans, who might transport it inland via their droppings. That's how the last epidemic got going, so they are very edgy about it."

This just in! As of the middle of October, chicken and eggs have been pulled off the prohibited list. But we're going to warn you, this news may not reach officials in Cabo and other ports before you do.

Miracle passage? Sailing east from Panama's San Blas Islands or Cartagena, Colombia, toward the 'ABC Islands' and the Lesser Antilles has historically been one of the toughest passages in cruising. Thus the following report is quite a surprise:

"We arrived in Curaçao on October 10 from Cartagena," write Randy and Lourae Kenoffel of the San Francisco-based Beneteau 500 Pizazz. "It took us six days - including our stops - going 'the wrong way'. Our trip was actually very easy, as the wind was from behind us - yes, we had westerly winds. We stopped at four places - Punta Hermosa, Rodadero, Five Bays, Bahia Portete - and bypassed Cabo de la Vela and Monjes del Sur because they were untenable due to the unusual wind direction. Some of the people in our group - there were six other boats - stopped at Bahia Cinto and Monjes del Sur. This was our fourth trip along the coast of Colombia, and we had no problems with pirates, drug runners, or anything else. We wished we could have stayed in some places longer, but with the favorable light weather conditions, we felt we had to keep going. But in fact, we could have stayed longer, as we've been here a week now and the winds have still been light and out of the southwest."

The Kenoffels have written a Colombia Coastal Cruising Guide, which you can get by . They will be updating the guide in the next month or so. They've also started the Colombia Coast Cruisers Net - a great idea - to help folks sailing east or west along that usually very rough stretch of the Caribbean. We'll have more on their recent passage with the six other boats in the next issue of Latitude.

"Panama has now passed a law requiring that all vessels hire a local agent to represent them," reports Tina McBride, a longtime ship's agent in Panama. "Gone will be the days of paying a taxi-driver $50 to handle your paperwork. I think those taxi-drivers can be a lot of fun, but if you happen to fall into the wrong hands, you could find yourself being robbed or worse - especially in Colon."

If true, this news really steams us for four reasons. First, we and many other cruisers - see the first article in this month's Changes - have had no trouble doing all the Panama and Canal paperwork ourselves and/or with the help of the taxi-drivers. Second, we think that some of the agents - including McBride - charge outrageous sums for what many cruisers know from firsthand experience is very little work. Third, we don't see how McBride is going to be of any help if we hired her and "fell into the wrong hands in Colon" - not unless she's got a Superwoman outfit in her closest we don't know about. And fourth, she maligns the taxi-drivers, but sources tell us that she often hires them to do her work!

"The paperwork is not the only thing that we agents do," McBride continues in an attempt to justify her fee. "We coordinate the client's complete entry into and exit from Panama, their Canal transit, provisioning, repairs, Immigration, permits, clearances, and look out for their welfare while in the country. And if the vessel has a problem while transiting, the agent is responsible for getting their client out of this difficult situation."

All those services are wonderful for mariners who might want or need them, but what about adults such as ourselves, who actually prefer to do our own paperwork, provisioning, repairs, immigration, permits, and clearances? Why should we be forced to pay a staggering fee for something we can have fun doing in a couple of hours? McBride did a fine job with Big O's paperwork when Capt. Jim Drake took her through the Canal in '94. In that instance we wanted her help. But we'd done the Panama and Canal paperwork ourselves the year before without a problem, and we used a taxi-driver to help us do it again in '04, and once again didn't have a problem. We don't need an agent's services!

If we were a cruiser planning to transit the Canal anytime soon, we'd start firing off angry letters to the Canal Commision, and band together with other cruisers on the various nets to plan ways to raise hell. The Canal has a history of making moves that aren't in the best interests of cruisers, and then backing away from them when pressured. This happened just last month, for example, when they tried to eliminate most of the good anchoring sites in the Panama City vicinity. In addition, cruisers should raise a stink in the newspapers, pointing out that $500 for a couple of hours of work is obscene in a country where the annual per capita income is only $3,000. Money spent on agent fees is money that otherwise would have been spent in restaurants, stores, and markets, where many, not just a few, would benefit.

Finally, we'd encourage everyone to boycott agents who charge $500 for the basic paperwork and/or support the mandatory use of agents. When an agent charges cruisers as much for paperwork as for the Canal transit itself, it just plain stinks! You might be interested in knowing that the last time we came through the Canal, Enrique Plummer, who McBride also maligns, was charging 60% less than she was for the same service - and had earned a glowing reputation in the cruising community.

The really big deal this year in Mexico will be to see how well the new clearing procedures work out. Once a boat is cleared into the country, the skipper no longer needs to go to Immigration again until just before the boat leaves the country. In addition, when going from port to port within Mexico, the port captain only need be "notified". In some places this may be done over the radio or via a marina office, but in other places the skipper may still have to make a visit to the port captain's office. However, you cannot be charged to clear into a domestic port, and you cannot be required to use a ship's agent. If you have any problems, notify us immediately, and we'll see that Teri Grossman takes it up with the director of port captains in Mexico City.

Is it too late to start a long cruise at age 68? It hasn't been for Jack van Ommen of the Gig Harbor-based, hard-chine, clear-finished, mahogany-hulled, Naja 30 Fleetwood - a Langevin design that sort of looks like an enlarged Thunderbird. That is not to say the trip has all been easy for the vet of the '82 Singlehanded TransPac. When van Ommen left Gig Harbor in February, he did so with a boat on a trailer, trucking her down to Nelson's Boatyard in Alameda for launching. Given the time of year, we think that was smart. But on his first sailing leg to Santa Barbara, he ran into a very strong southerly. After the failure of his Navik vane led to a series of other difficulties, he ultimately had to call the Coast Guard for a downwind tow north to Monterey. After replacing his old vane with a Monitor, he took off again - only to be caught in 25 to 40-ft winds. But at least they were from aft and the more rugged Monitor was up to handling them. What's more, he got to observe a multi-rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Van Ommen took off for the Marquesas from Santa Barbara, reaching the 3,000-mile distant landfall 30 days later. He's been doing the typical South Pacific Milk Run since then, but reports he's now splitting with the rest of the pack. They're headed to New Zealand while he's on his way to Viet Nam via Vanuatu.

"It will be a return to Viet Nam for me," he says, "as I first arrived there in November of 1961 with a company strength U.S. military unit. I stayed until March of '63. For one of those years I was joined in Saigon by Joan van Ommen for what turned out to be a rich and unforgettable period of our lives."

West Marine Caribbean 1500 organizer Steve Black reports they have 50 boats signed up for the November 7 event from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. At least half of the entries have done the event before, which is a pretty strong recommenation. None of the boats are from the West Coast. The average size of a West Marine Caribbean 1500 entry is a couple of feet longer than the average Ha-Ha entry, with a number of boats over 50 feet tilting the balance. We wish everyone in that event a smooth and safe voyage. Twice as long as the Ha-Ha and with no stops - except maybe Bermuda to avoid bad weather - historically the 1500 has been much rougher than the Ha-Ha.

Tom Fischbeck of Maxwell Marine reports that one of his customers lost a 160-lb CQR anchor attached to 600 feet of 7/16" (12mm) chain at Punta San Carlos, on the Pacific Coast of northern Baja. "The coordinates are 29°37'02N, 115°29'09W. These should get treasure hunters within a fraction of a mile of the booty."

We don't know if it's still there, but in September a large motoryacht lost a big anchor and a lot of chain between Big Fisherman and the east mooring field at Two Harbors, Catalina. Has anyone recovered the anchor and rode?

Kim Coleman of the Marina Square, Alameda-based Spencer 53 Cheers reports that their 15.5-year-old dog Barney has spent his entire life as a boat dog. According to Coleman, when young, Barney daysailed and raced the Bay and offshore, and cruised the California coast - the latter being why she appears in this section. "We recently caught her just getting up from her favorite spot under the nav table and about to head up to the cockpit, wearing her favorite jammies and all. It was a Kodak moment, so we snapped this shot in the hope Latitude readers might get a chuckle from a real sea-dog doing her thing."

Make a resolution for higher res! A few months ago we got a photo from Jeff and Dede Allen of the Brisbane-based Irwin 54 ketch Lazy Bones that showed them and their crew in French Polynesia holding up copies of recent Latitudes. They said they really hoped that we'd run the photo. We would have loved to, but the resolution was too low - meaning that if we ran it any larger than two inches by two inches, it would have been all jaggies. Here's our one paragraph guide to digital cameras:

These days the market is flooded with excellent digital cameras at reasonable prices. Unless you plan on being the Ansel Adams of cruising photos, you don't need a camera with more than 3 million pixels. But if you do get one with 4 or 5 million pixels, don't use them or you'll plug up your memory card and computer for no good reason. Of course, the subject of the photo has to be relatively large in the viewfinder or all bets are off. To ensure that the subject fills the frame, get a camera with five to 10 times optical zoom - as opposed to bogus digital zoom. We're partial to the Fujifilm line of digital cameras because their colors are 'people pleasing', and the blues and greens are particularly vivid. P.S. Don't even think of trying to send photo files on SailMail, they are much too big.

Two other photos tips: Always use the fill-in flash when shooting faces, particularly on bright days. Second, take a few minutes to learn the basics of composition - i.e. the main subject should never be in the center of the photo. If you do, your photos will look like photos instead of snapshots. You'll be glad you made the effort.

Getting back to the Allens and Lazy Bones, they did last spring's Del Rey Race to Puerto Vallarta before continuing on to Panama, Ecuador, the Galapagos, and French Polynesia. It's our understanding they are still in French Polynesia, so apparently they have backed off from their original aggressive schedule which called for them to reach New Zealand by November. In any event, we sure hope they send us some new photos!

Finally found in our computer - the long lost reply from Humberto Garza Ochoa, General Manager of the Acapulco YC:

"In the
February edition Changes in Latitudes, Bill and Cynthia Noonan of the Half Moon Bay-based Island Packet 380 Crème Brûlée reported they weren't very happy with their experience of trying to get a slip at the Acapulco YC. Unfortunately, we weren't aware of their unhappiness at the time. We would like to apologize for their inconvenience. In the future, cruisers should contact us in advance by mail, letter, or phone for a reservation. Many cruisers inform us in advance of their arrival, and we're able to confirm a slip and services on that date. All cruisers are important to us and our members. I hope I have the opportunity to welcome all visitors coming to Acapulco."

In fairness to the Noonans, they reported they had tried to contact the Acapulco YC for two days in advance, and then again by VHF while anchored off the club. So we don't know what the story is. However, everyone needs to be aware that the Acapulco YC - which is actually a private club as opposed to an American-style yacht club such as the Vallarta YC - is extremely busy in the winter and there are far more boats - many of them owned by prominent citizens and members - than there are slips. As such, in the times we've visited, we've always assumed that they wouldn't be able to accommodate us and have been very patient. In the end, it's always worked out for us. The management of the Acapulco YC - many of whom have been there for almost 40 years - are true gentleman in the classic sense of the term. We've always liked the club and the city. We hope this puts things in perspective and that all visitors have a great time there.

Nobeltec Charts & Software has announced that it is getting ready to market electronic charts for the inshore waters of Cuba. In fact, the sample chart they show is of the lovely little harbor of Baracoa on the far east coast, which just happened to be where we made our Cuban landfall nearly 10 years ago. The irony is that Americans won't be able to make use of these charts because the Bush Administration has made the 'workers paradise' off-limits to American mariners. This is just plain dumb, because a visit by Americans would make 99% of them more anti-tyrant and pro-capitalist than they might now be.

A case in point is travel writer Christopher Baker, the author of Mi Moto Fidel, Motorcyling Through Castro's Cuba. When Baker arrived on the island with the help and encouragement of Castro brown-nosers Global Exchange, he was sympathetic to the Cuban model. After living under it for a few months, he was transformed. You would be to. So we say, tear down that legal barrier to visiting Cuba, President Bush, tear it down now!

No doubt realizing that Castro isn't going to be tugging at his beard all that much longer, some folks have cranked up the Cuba Cruising Net at There's not a whole lot on it yet, but Peter Swanson had an interesting report on the side effect the Bush crackdown has had on Canadian mariners:

"The Bush Administration's crackdown on cruising to Cuba has been far more successful than it deserves to be, thanks to the Administration's well-played bluff. To be sure, it has stopped the trickle of American boats that used to visit the island under a system of 'hint, wink and nod'. But now Canadian cruisers, as well as Europeans, have been skipping their usual stops in Cuba for fear of retribution if they should subsequently enter some United States port. They need not be so timid, however. Unbeknowst to the cruising community, United States law specifically exempts them from sanctions enacted in the Bush crackdown."

It's indeed amazing the affect the administration's actions have had on some people. Two Latitude readers tell us that they plan to cruise to the Baltic countries four years from now, and hope to visit Cuba on the way. But they asked us not to mention the Cuba part out of fear of retribution.

"While cleaning out my desk in anticipation of doing the Ha-Ha and continuing cruising in Mexico and points south, I found my old Professional Engineer embossing seal," writes Sam Crabtree of the Benicia-based Cal 39 Catch The Wind. "I was about to throw it out when I remembered that I once read in Latitude that having a seal on a document makes it appear more official to some customs and immigration officials in Mexico. Would it be a good idea to take that embossing seal on the Baja Ha-Ha and beyond?"

Not anymore. In the late '70s and early '80s, clearing was often an adventure that seemed to drag for no apparent reason. We always carried a variety of rubber stamps - First Class, For Deposit Only, Special Delivery, Past Due - knowing that a lot of officials really did seem to get pleasure from banging them on documents. So if the clearing process bogged down, we'd find some pretext by which to bring the rubber stamps out into the open, and intimate that it would fine with us if the port captain did some heavy pounding. It didn't always work, but god's honest truth, sometimes it did. The cool thing was that each official seemed to have his own unique style of stamping, sort of like cable car operators have with ringing their bells. Alas, officials are much more professional these days and usually bilingual to boot, so we'd leave the rubber stamps at home.

A boatyard for Puerto Escondido, Baja? "Captain Genero Narváez and Hector Morales of Singlar gave a presentation at the Hidden Harbor YC meeting on October 7, and showed artist's renditions of the new building under construction next to the new Pemex station," reports Connie McWilliam Schultz of Sunlover. "They said the new building will house a convenience store, laundromat, showers, bathrooms, commercial space, an office for the marina manager, and a mariner's lounge. There will also be a 50-ton Travel-Lift and a dry storage yard. No completion date was given."

There is a new 'gateway' for Globalstar Satphone coverage in Florida which, according to the company, will provide coverage for all of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, we're not sure we believe them. When we took Profligate to the Caribbean and back for the winter of '03-'04, their system didn't come anywhere close to covering the areas they claimed. No matter what their coverage map claimed, the phone was useless from south of Acapulco to the Canal, and from there to the Eastern Caribbean. Coverage in the St. Martin area was poor - maybe one call in five went through and/or wasn't dropped. We hope it's better now. According to Globalstar, their rates for all of the United States and the Caribbean islands are "down to 14 cents/minutes" - whatever that means. This is not the case in Mexico, however, where for some reason expensive roaming charges apply.

We own a Globalstar phone and have been pleased with the service where there is coverage - but just because they say they offer coverage doesn't mean your calls will go through.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are always major events for cruisers in the larger ports and anchorages of Mexico, but here are some other important dates and events for cruisers in Mexico:

Feburary 1-5, Zihua Sail Fest, Zihuatanejo. For five days, sailors and locals come together in one of the favorite cruiser towns in Mexico for a great cause - to raise money for the area's schools for inidgenous children and for other community projects. Activities include a dressed ship boat parade around the bay with local dignitaries, a pursuit sailboat race, a beach party, a chili cook-off and street fair, a wrap-up BBQ, and much more. This has been one of the most successful and fun cruiser events ever in Mexico, so try not to miss it. For details, visit

February 27 - Pacific Puddle Jump Party Kick-Off. Paradise Marina, the Vallarta YC, and Latitude 38 combine to host a final get-together for folks before they head out on that big jump across the Pacific. It also gives us at Latitude a chance to meet you so we can feature you in the magazine.

March 28 - Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity, Punta Mita, Banderas Bay. This spinnaker run is one of the most mellow in the world - 12 miles of flatwater, downwind sailing in bikini weather from Punta Mita to Paradise Marina. Latitude and others host the event to raise money for the schools at Punta Mita and for other educational projects in Banderas Bay. Sail your own boat or give a donation to sail with others. Make sure to release your inner pirate by coming in costume. Great people, great cause, great fun - but watch out for all the whales!

March 30-April 2 - The 14th Banderas Bay Regatta is three days of "friendly racing for cruising boats" and four days of fun. The sailing conditions and facilites couldn't be better or more convenient. This is the perfect time and place to have friends fly down from the States to join you for the fun, and to see friends from earlier in the season who are about to head off in different directions. There is no entry fee, but there are big discounts on berthing, so you need to have your head examined if you miss this one.

The Banderas Bay Regatta is actually the culmination of a month of sailing activities in the bay called Festivo Nautico, which includes the end of the San Diego to P.V. Race, the Governor's Big Boat Parade, the Governor's Cup Race, the WesMex Optimist Dinghy Regatta with sailors from all over the west and Mexico, the MEXORC for serious racing boats, the 'Big Cat Dinghy Raft-Up' to set a world record, the Sailors' Jazz Fest, Seminar Days, the St. Paddy's cruise to Punta Mita, the Pirates for Puplis Charity Run, and ending with the Banderas Bay Regatta. We can't imagine anyone wanting to participate in all the events, but there's surely something for everyone. We'll have more details in upcoming issues, but for now, visit

April 6-10 - Sea of Cortez Island Clean-Up. This one isn't etched in stone yet, but our plan is to sweep through the cruising anchorages of the islands between La Paz and Loreto with Profligate, and clean up and take out as much cruiser trash as possible. Any boats want to join us for even part of the effort? Remember, just because you're doing something fun doesn't mean you can't have a blast.

May 4-7 - Loreto Fest. This classic Baja event is actually held in nearby Puerto Escondido, and draws a very large number of participants. There are all kinds of cruiser-type events with an emphasis on cruiser-performed music. New this year will be the Candeleros Classic Race. Proceeds go to the local charities and really make a difference.

Say, whatever happened to the $1,700 donated by last year's Ha-Ha fleet after the Turtle Bay Clinic saved Wild Rose crewmember Phil Hendrix's life? It's been donated to Los Medicos Voladores aka The Flying Doctors. This is a group of Northern California doctors, dentists, and other volunteers, who pay to fly to places such as Turtle Bay, Cedros Island, and Isla Natividad. We'll have more on them in a future issue.

We've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating. Before heading to new cruising areas, we recommend that you preview them using Google's satellite photographs. Just go to 'Google', 'more', 'maps', and 'satellite'. From there you can roam the world in seconds, zooming in close. It's brilliant and free. Try it for places you'll be going to in Mexico, the Caribbean, or anywhere else. In some places the resolutiion is better than ever, but it can be very helpful.

Yahoo! The cruising season is here!

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