November, 2006

With reports this month from Pacific Wind on coming south from the Northwest; from Swell on nasty boat jobs in Costa Rica; from Sea Bear on heading from Maine to the Caribbean; from Cadence on a cat buy-back in the Philippines; from Witch of Endor on the loss of Viva! and new boats for Steve and Bob; and Cruise Notes.

Pacific Wind - Sceptre 43
Steve & Lori Dana
South From Canada
(Mill Valley)

After two years of occasional cruising in the Gulf and San Juan Islands and around Vancouver, we departed Vancouver in late September for our boat's temporary new home in Sausalito. Fortunately, we talked J.T. Meade, our friend and mentor from the Modern Sailing Academy, and Barry Ruff, who currently works for Sceptre Yachts, and who has lots of offshore experience, to accompany us. In addition to teaching us a lot about offshore sailing, they were hilarious companions.

When planning a trip south from the Pacific Northwest, it's always a trade-off between sailing well offshore or 'stealing bases' by harbor-hopping down the coast. Most mariners prefer staying close to shore and harbors of refuge when northbound against the prevailing weather, while some southbounders prefer the more direct offshore route, which has less fog and traffic, but has a greater possibility of stronger winds and bigger seas.

Thanks to the National Weather Service predicting hazardous sea conditions, along with great routing recommendations from Commander's Weather, we delayed our start from Neah Bay by a day before jumping off for Cape Flattery. And as it would turn out, we ended up motoring more than we would have liked in order to outrun some fronts.

Finding ourselves temporarily weatherbound in Eureka, we took a cab to a lecture and slideshow by J. Michael Fay and Michael Nichols at Humbolt State University. The former is a National Geographic 'Explorer-In-Residence', while the latter is a National Geographic photographer. The presentation was of a 2,000-mile "mega-transect" they did of Central Africa. Thanks to their efforts, over a dozen national parks have been created in three different countries. Their land experience was such a counterpoint to our ocean passage.

After the presentation, we did a little exploring ourselves - of Eureka's rejuvenated waterfront district, which now features excellent restaurants such as Hurricane Kate's and Avalon, and some good bars. It turns out that Eureka is a fantastic place to stop before tackling Cape Mendocino, one of the most unpredictable spots along the coast.

Because of thick fog, we had to rely on radar to navigate from Bodega Head south to just before the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog lifted just as we approached the Gate. The end of our 10-day trip was an emotional moment for us, as it confirmed the end of our great cruising in the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, it was a gateway moment to our sailing in warmer climes. For this year we'll be doing the Baja Ha-Ha aboard John and Christine Graff's Valiant 42 Itsabout. And next fall, we'll be using the Ha-Ha as the start of our seven-month sabbatical to the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico. Thanks to a chance meeting with the Grand Poobah in a sushi restaurant, we've already been assured that Pacific Wind will be entry #1 in the '07 Ha-Ha.

- steve & lori 10/01/06

Readers - The Danas are correct. As long as they confirm their Ha-Ha entry just prior to May of next year, they will be #1 on the Ha-Ha XIV list. Anybody looking to be entry number two will have to figure out what sushi restaurant the Poobah frequents.

Swell - Cal 40
Liz Clark
Dad Comes To The Rescue
(Santa Barbara)

Ahhhh, Puntarenas, the lovely city by the sea. It's tucked midway up the armpit of Costa Rica's Gulf of Nicoya, and has a lot in common with an armpit - it's always sweaty and hot, and there is usually a pungent aroma. Puntarenas sits on a 50-yard wide spit of land, with a river on one side and the gulf on the other. The Costa Rica YC, where I left my boat for the rainy season, is up the river about three miles inland from the end of the peninsula. The restaurant and facilities are on one side of the river, and the boatyard is on the other. Between them float a variety of moorings and detached docks.

The town itself has a rough edge - more 60 grit than 120 grit. It's a bustling conglomeration of ferreterias (hardware stores), street vendors, seafood wholesalers, and an odd amount of both shoe stores and bars for locals. The only reason tourists come here is for the ferry that shuttles cars to and from the Nicoya Peninsula. I've been here long enough to know my way around town, and I have a favorite hardware store and a favorite lunch stop. Other than not being able to swim off my boat - the river is horribly polluted - and the bus drivers who often blatantly refuse to stop and pick me up, this place has actually grown on me. It's not the paradise people think of when they picture Costa Rica, but there's something raw I like about it. I watch the fishermen go in and out on the river in all sorts of strangely concocted vessels. The same people work at the marina every day. I love everyone here except for one sour receptionist and Carlos Chinchilla, the manager. Nonetheless, I've had my ups and downs here during the last month.

"Dad?" I said over the phone, straining to hold back my tears. His voice alone made me feel better. "I'm doing all right," I lied.

"I'm coming down," he said.

"What?" I couldn't have heard him correctly.

"I'll be there Wednesday night," he repeated firmly. "I already booked my ticket."

With those words, relief hit me like a wall of whitewater on a poorly timed duck dive. I was overwhelmed with projects. At the rate I was going, I'd soon have to apply for residency in Costa Rica. The thought that my dad would arrive in a few days revived me, and the next morning I hit the boatyard again with full force.

Dad showed up late on August 30th, having earlier driven to three West Marine stores in Georgia, and having endured an extra hour of dead-stopped traffic on the long taxi ride from the airport. When he walked through the door of the hotel room, I leapt into his arms with joy and relief that he'd made it safely.

For the next six days we worked like dogs. The combination of our personalities produces an efficient, yet quality product. He leaps into projects with speed and confidence, while I more cautiously calculate and fuss about details. We scribed and taped the new waterline, painted the first turquoise stripe, then a blue stripe, and then rolled two thick coats of bottom paint on Swell's underside. We came up with a more than sufficient temporary solution to the icebox insulation, and managed to fix the copper lightning plate to the hull. The work was grueling, dirty and hot, but dad never complained. Even when both our shirts were soaked through with sweat and the no-see-ums were swarming, he'd beam me a grin from his paint-stained face. We'd return to our hotel room each afternoon looking like two rescued coal miners.

Dad was totally content at the Costa Rica YC, although I felt guilty that Puntarenas was all he'd see of Costa Rica. It was more time than we had spent together in as long as I can remember - precious time that we never seemed to find back in the States. He told me stories of his childhood, and we shared our thoughts on the state of the world, love and life. As we watched Swell descend into the water on the day before he left, I felt we'd accomplished as much on the boat as we had in our relationship. If it wasn't for him, I'd probably still be sitting under Swell in the boatyard, contemplating whether or not to drill that hole for the lightning plate. I cried the morning he left, but they were happy tears. It was a week I'd remember forever. Thank you, Dad!

With Swell floating again, there was no reason not to move back aboard. By the mess strewn about the cabin, it looked like I'd just survived a hurricane. Nonetheless, I was eager to sleep in my cozy berth up forward, so I ignored the explosion of gear and focused on clearing an area to sleep on. I hauled my board bag and the sails out, and dragged the cushions in. As I WWF-ed the awkward foam into place, I saw a flurry of ants run up the bulkhead! There were too many to ignore, so I yanked the cushions back out again, and crawled up to investigate.

An uneasy feeling came over me as I stuck my finger in the hole to lift the hatch of the storage area below the berth. The moment I did, ants of all sizes rushed out in a terrified dash around me and the cabin! Along with them came the fierce odor of rotten food, like the smell of a dumpster behind a restaurant. The ants and the odor closed in around me, and I rose up on all fours like a frightened cat. Water had leaked into the lockers and rusted out the cans of emergency food stored there. The ants had discovered the feast, and had thrown a raging ant party. After digesting the idea that I would be back in the hotel that night, I donned some latex gloves and went to work removing the contents of the lockers. I held my breath while pulling out can after rusty can of soup, beans, peaches, corn, tuna, and peas, and tossed their decaying, half-eaten contents into a trash bag. After systematically removing load after load the awful smelling stuff, I scrubbed out the lockers with bleach and Comet, and left the area to air out for the night.

The stench lingered the next morning. I was not about to let the odor become permanent crew, so my next line of defense would be paint. I had to remove the holding tank in order to access the entire area that had been contaminated. The holding tank stores raw sewage when in an anchorage or marina, where you don't want to flush sewage straight into the water around you. I'd been meaning to clean the tank out anyway, as the previous owner had sold me the boat with a surprise bonus - 45 gallons of his very own sewage in the holding tank.

The hole where the tank emptied was a flawed design. Being three inches up from the bottom of the tank, it made it impossible to ever thoroughly remove the bottom three inches of sewage. I disconnected the hoses leading to and from the tank, but then realized that I couldn't remove it without the bottom three inches of poowater spilling out. So, I dug out my hand-pump and a bucket. I extracted that last three inches pump by awful pump. At one point the hose flew off the pump and sprayed poowater all over me and the floor. It was not pretty, nor was I at the end of that day. But I succeeded in emptying the tank and laying a fresh coat of primer in each of the forward lockers. Three days later, after the second coat of paint had dried, I had sealed the holes where I believed the water was sneaking in, thoroughly flushed the holding tank, fastened the wooden cleat back in place, and repacked the lockers - minus 50 or so pounds of canned food. Ants wandered throughout the boat, diligently searching out supplies and a place for their next party.

Having tackled that beast of a project, I needed to surf. Jean Luc, a friend from another boat in the marina, was nice enough to let me use his car. So after stalling a dozen or so times - the old beast died every time the rpms dropped to an idle - I pulled onto the main road and was off and running towards Boca Barranca. When I showed up, the waves were barely shoulder high. A sloppy chop bounced across the milky brown water. A couple local kids rode up on bikes and we started talking.

"Es mejor allí," the taller kid said, pointing south across the bay.

"Sí?" I responded, "Quieren ir?"

Without hesitation, they stashed their bikes and loaded their boards. I knew where we were headed, as I'd surfed there a few years before, but the local boys would be good company and give me allies against thieves and creeps. So we drove around the bay, laughing every time the car died, and exchanging names, ages, and stories. Jerry, 20, had a tall and lanky frame. What he lacked in girth he made up for in hair. The bushy puffs of his curly afro held the backwards hat high on his head. Weiner, freshly 17, was just a little taller than me, with broad shoulders and a wiry build. They were your typical surf rats, so we had plenty to discuss about the local waves and conditions.

I caught my first glimpse of the spot as we crawled up a chainlink fence to shortcut the walk to the beach. It was twice the size of Barranca and sheltered from the wind. A small crowd sat where the swell bounced off the jetty and wedged into a hollow right peak. I hadn't surfed much in over a month, nor could I even swim at the marina, so despite floating trash and the muddy color, the water felt like a baptism. After a few chunky drops, I was back in my groove.

Jerry paddled over and explained that there was going to be a local contest that afternoon. About an hour into our session, a group of older surfers arrived with a cooler of Imperials, an airhorn, and a stack of colored rashguards. They called me out of the water and handed me the pink jersey. Honored at the invitation, I surfed two 20-minute heats against the local boys. In the second round, everyone was on the inside when a set wedged up in front of me. I swung around, got in early, and stalled. The lip fell over me and I pumped toward the light at the end. I didn't make it out, but it was enough to earn the respect of the group on the jetty. Afterwards, we toasted with icy cold Imperials under the pastel swirls of the cloudy evening sky. Until one persistent guy repeated an invitation to dinner that I'd tried to ignore in the water, I almost forgot that I was the only girl among the group of 15-20 surfers. I politely, but firmly declined. Jerry and Weiner both shot him a glare at once.

When I made it back to the marina, I returned Jean Luc's keys and excitedly launched into the story of my afternoon. Midway through my rambling, I lost my balance in a wave of dizziness. My stomach suddenly rose into my throat, my limbs tingled, and a cold sweat beaded on my forehead and neck. I rushed up the steps and just got to the boat's rail in time to projectile vomit off the side and onto the dock. Shocked, I hosed off the dock in the twilight and apologized to Jean Luc.

I thought back on the day, and realized that in my rush to go surfing I'd only eaten a few crackers with peanut butter and a banana. What could possibly have made me so sick? Before I knew it, the feeling came again, and I was curled over the wooden rail of the dock in the pouring rain. Jean Luc was brave enough to offer me his raincoat for the trip back to Swell. I made my way through the obstacle course in the cabin with a bucket, and collapsed in a heap on the berth. Every 10 minutes for the next few hours, my body would convulse, and I'd violently purge a dribble of green bile into the bucket. When I thought there was no way anything could be left inside me, the ferocious sickness had me hunched over the edge, white-knuckling the pillow again. Aside from thinking I was going to die, the extreme low tide left Swell leaning over in the mud, so for the second half of the night I slept on the wall of the forepeak.

When my eyes cracked open the next day, the sun blazed high in the sky. I mustered the energy to lift my weak, sweaty body from the berth, and teetered outside for some fresh air. I squinted into the brightness of midday and sipped some water. Jean Luc appeared in his dinghy to see how I was feeling.

"So, you drank from a plastic bag yesterday," he said with his thick French accent.

"What?" I winced, confused and not quite ready for conversation.

"Did you drink something from a bag yesterday?" he repeated more softly, after observing my fragile condition. "I found an empty bag in the car." I then remembered the bags of cold coconut milk that Jerry had brought out when they'd stashed their bikes. I'd slurped mine down and thought nothing of it.

"I think that's why you got sick. You never know if the people wash their hands or what when they prepare those," he said. Somehow I felt better for having an idea of where I may have contracted the nasty bug. No matter how thirsty, I have been quick to pass on the cold bags of liquid ever since.

It took me a whole day to recover, but soon I was cracking away again at turning Swell back into a home. The day before my dad left, we'd turned on the refrigeration system to hear the compressor make a feeble groan and then die. After a series of troubleshooting steps and long-distance calls to technical support, the folks at Glacier Bay insisted upon sending me a new unit immediately. Despite their timely shipment of the package, 'immediately' in Central America is a grey term, so once again I conceded that Swell wouldn't be leaving Puntarenas for a while.

Getting the compressor was an ordeal I'll have to explain next month.

- liz 09/06/06

Sea Bear - Wittholtz 37
Pete Passano And Marina
Heading Back To The Caribbean
(Northern California / Maine)

Think life has to be dull and predictable after you turn 70? Then you're not like 76-year-old Pete Passano, who along with Bob van Blaricom, built his Wittholtz 37-ft Sea Bear in the creek behind the San Rafael Civic Center back in the '90s. Following the completion of the boat, Passano sailed the Southern Ocean from New Zealand to Cape Horn, crossed the Atlantic nine times in eight years, and has cruised up and down the Caribbean, and as far north as Ireland and Newfoundland. So what do he and his sweetheart Marina have planned for this winter?

"After 16 months on the beach, listening to the daily horror in Iraq and the pathetic drivel coming out of Washington, Marina and I are itching to get to sea again. At least Neptune tells it like it is. We expect the peace and tranquility will be a refreshing and welcome change. We are departing tomorrow from Wiscasset, Maine, heading for the Caribbean. We're not going down the coast this time, but heading straight in the general direction of Bermuda, and then on down to somewhere in the Windward or Leeward Island chain. We're undecided where we're going to stop, but we'll have plenty of time to make that decision. You will hear from us again when we make landfall, but it could be as long as three or four weeks. Sea Bear is ready, too. A set of new diesel injectors has Tu Lung Bang running with new enthusiasm. All other systems have been carefully gone over, and are ready for sea. About three days out, we'll be celebrating Sea Bear's odometer turning 100,000 miles."

- latitude

Cadence - Apache 40 Cat
Frank Leon
Subic Bay, Philippines

Having a little bit of money and not a lot of time, I retired this year, got a mohawk haircut, and returned to the sea again. The first and only time I'd written Latitude - until last month - was 12 years ago on a passage from New Zealand to Vanuatu. The topic covered was a midwatch discussion about why seagulls have such nasty dispositions and the reasons why that Last Supper would have been a difficult photo op.

Anyway, last month's report came a little bit out of the blue, so I'd like to provide some historical context and offer a report on what I've been up to since. Shortly after writing to Latitude 12 years ago, I ran out of money and put my cat up for sale. When I finally sold Cadence to a friend in Guam in '95, I had about $50 to my name. Fortunately, I was able to return to a job I had had in an offshore oil business belonging to a certain king of a Middle Eastern country. I won't mention any names, but he was as goofy-eyed as Marty Feldman, and his image appears on every bit of currency and postage stamp in that country, and on that national television every night. Perhaps these aren't very good hints, as they could also apply to three or four other kings of Middle Eastern countries.

I kept in contact with the owner in the intervening years, and he kept sending Christmas photos of the boat in exotic places. As both our circumstances changed, I made an offer to buy the cat back, and it was accepted. As a result, the former owner, along with my family and me, sailed from Japan to Guam in November of last year. The former owner and I then signed the transfer of ownership papers at the same table at the Marianas YC that we'd used on my previous 'happiest day'. I'm not sure, but I think my friend was down to about his last $50 before the sale. Is there a pattern here?

I'm guessing that there were probably 40 or 50 Apache catamarans built in England in between '72 and '75. They are a larger version of the more popular Iroquois 30, one of the earliest production cruising cats ever built. Both models are simple, strong boats with strikingly beautiful lines. And like most multihulls, they are sea-kindly and safe if not overloaded.

We departed Guam in February for the Philippines by way of Ulithi Atoll and Palau. We found Palau to be a paradise with lots of challenges. Like most of the smaller Pacific islands, it is being threatened by development, overfishing and pollution, but politically it doesn't seem to have a steady hand at the wheel. Some years ago, the country's official policies explicitly discouraged cruising boats through high entrance fees and duties. That has changed. Although the ship of state still seems to lack direction, yachties are now appreciated as a form of low-impact, high-dollar tourism.

As for the islands themselves, picture an aquarium that is 30 feet deep, 50 miles long, and 20 miles wide - complete with the treasure chest and sunken ship bubblers. Then add monkeys, World War II wreckage, pot farms, jellyfish that don't sting, and impossibly perfect islands for gunkholing. That's Palau.

The cruiser hangout is Sam's Dive Tours, which is located on the waterfront. When we dinghied in, one of the skippers was demonstrating the proper technique for drinking tequila. A rather Rubenesque lady divemaster had volunteered, and was lying on her back on the bar with a shot of tequila in her navel, a slice of lime in her teeth, and a pinch of salt in the nape of her neck. I don't remember how the evening ended.

Thirty-two years of neglect and deferred maintenance for Cadence pushed us on to the Philippines to seek out a yard in which to do a major refit. We looked at several marinas and yards, including Nigel's place at Bonbonon, which is the typhoon hole at the south end of Negros Island. It was very nice, but a little too remote. The yard at Mariveles was too industrial, and the one at Mayamaya was nice but too expensive. We finally hove to at Watercraft Ventures at Subic Bay at the end of April.

Watercraft is a modest yard on the site of what used to be the massive U.S. Navy base. Watercraft has the standard 20-foot-wide Travel-Lift, lots of space, and very reasonable prices. It's funky in a nice way, meaning it's not so clean that you can't find a stirring stick or an odd piece of wood, and there's a derelict boat or two to give it character. In addition, the folks are friendly, relaxed and helpful, and security - always a concern - seems to be adequate. The sari-sari store out front sells cold beer for 50 cents, and it has a karaoke machine outside under a nipa hut. At quitting time on Friday afternoons, it takes 45 minutes and three beers to walk from the gate to my boat. I like it.

We assumed that a three-month project would take twice that, so at this point we're right on schedule. The first thing we did was open up the blisters on the hull and rebuild the rudders. When the rains started in June, we moved to the interior.

It rained and rained and flooded through July and into August. These were torrential rains that lasted for hours, and came down like the hardest bathroom shower you've ever taken. The rain brought down trees, knocked out the power, and flooded streets - all of which is normal for the Philippines during rainy season. Then, on August 28, it seemed as though someone turned the faucet off and it's been mostly sunny ever since. The locals, however, don't think the rain is over, but rather that we've having an Indian summer kind of interlude. Just the same, work is continuing feverishly on Cadence.

If anyone is considering having boat work done here, I would like to advise them of a few peculiarities of the place. First, there is widespread poverty. Subic was a prosperous place until the U.S. Navy pulled out in '94. The circumstances of the departure of the largest employer in the country at the time are still being debated in the newspapers. "Sovereignty? You can't eat sovereignty", is a typical line of argument. Subic Bay now has a threadbare look to it, as the bright neon lights of the discos and bars on Magsaysay Street have long since been turned into storefront dental offices, seedy internet cafes, and headquarters for evangelical groups of various persuasions. There also seems to be a market for recycled inkjet cartridges and massage therapy. The Economist magazine uses the 'Big Mac Index' as a measure of a country's economy. Here a Big Mac - not including the Meal Deal - costs about $1.30 U.S. By constrast, it would be $5.80 U.S. in neighboring Japan.

Epoxy resin, fiberglass cloth, fillers, bottom paint and marine plywood are all reasonably priced at about one-half to two-thirds of California prices, as these things are manufactured here. Boat fittings, engine parts, instruments and everything made overseas is twice the California price or needs to be shipped in. Shipping isn't that big a deal if it can be sent via FedEx, as they have a big hub at the Subic Bay free port, and several vendors will accept your 'duty free' package for a small fee. This fee is usually less than the sales tax you'd have to pay back home. Anything that can't be mailed - namely hazardous materials such as your favorite bottom paint and replacement EPIRB batteries - or is oversized can be a problem.

But the biggest bargain here, and the biggest draw for doing a refit in the Philippines, is the cheap labor. The daily wage for an unskilled worker is about $6 - a day! A skilled carpenter or painter might make twice that. Why this should be the case was discussed late one afternoon when a power outage shut off the karaoke machine. The most sensible explanation offered had a Marxist slant. When the nation-state replaced the feudal dukedoms after the plagues ravaged Europe in the 1300s, each man became a free agent to sell his labor. But modern times have shown this freedom is incomplete, as each man is still a serf to his nation because his labor is confined by his nation's borders. Today, the components of the Big Mac can move freely between the slaughterhouse in Costa Rica and the restaurant in the Ginza. And capital can move even easier. But every Filipino needs a passport and a visa - very significant hurdles - in order for his labor to reach a free market. Perhaps this is why the anarchist types show up at the IMF and at the World Bank meetings.

Speaking of karaoke, if it ever becomes an Olympic sport, you can bet the Philippines is in for the gold, silver and bronze. The karaoke machine is everywhere. You drop your 5-peso coin in, take the microphone, and for the duration of whatever sappy love song you wish to torture, the audience is yours. I've heard so many sad renditions of I Did It My Way that I could, well, walk out. And whoever the whiny little bastard is from the '70s who sang "a total eclipse of the sun . . . when we touch, the honesty's too much" - he should be shot on sight. Just the same, I've seen the work crew, after hours, drinking beer and singing karaoke in the pouring rain. With all the puddles, it's a wonder nobody gets electrocuted. Finally, Abba, Kenny Rogers and the BeeGees are popular here, not because there's a retro revival, but because they never went out of popularity.

An unfortunate sideline to the depressed labor market is the sex industry. Nobody asked me but, personally, I'm a libertarian. I think most of the sex is sordid and farcical, but I also believe that shutting it down causes more problems than it creates. Without question, though, the pedophile business is abhorrent and criminal. Unfortunately, this industry is open and thriving on some remote island resorts. And for the equal rights folks, I can confirm that even businesses catering to lesbian pedophiles are thriving. It's been said that the Filipino culture is the result of "500 years in a convent, and 50 years of Hollywood." There is more truth to that than one might think.

But back to boat business. The crucial point of a refit in the Philipines to hire the right workers. I asked around and hired a fellow named Victor on a recommendation. He's a quiet, unassuming guy who has had an impressive career on some high-profile jobs, notably with the U.S. Navy shipbuilding facility for 17 years and later with the Clipper Challenge around-the-world fleet when they put in here to have their keels reattached.

I was a bit apprehensive when Victor showed up the first day with his cousin Joe. Between them they had a small bag of tools, including a couple of chisels, a saw, screwdrivers and a Skilsaw. I thought it was a good sign that they arrived five minutes early. With a rough idea of the decking, bulkheads and cabinetry to be built, he gave me a list of materials to go buy. While I was gone, they went through the scrap pile and built a table for their Skilsaw out of my old icebox and a piece of plywood.

Electrical power was a bit of a hurdle. With 110-v on the boat and 220-v in the yard, we have a duplication of tools and power cords all using the same U.S. style plug. It's been a challenge to keep them separate. I can tell you getting the power cords wrong is about as bad as putting a 12-volt battery charger on a 6-volt battery. My major worry, though, are the power cords themselves. A hundred feet of the skinniest 16-gauge wire is supplied by the yard as a drop box. It's casually placed into service to drive a grinder, a radio and a fan. What's more, it is cut and taped in several places, and the plug gives a bit of a shock when it's plugged in. My neighbor has had one electrical fire already - amazingly, the grinder kept working the whole time - with no sign of a circuit breaker tripping.

Despite the obstacles, Vic does amazing work, and he's accustomed to doing more with less. He built a beautiful scarf joint in a 2' by 3' piece of half-inch plywood rather than let it go to waste. And his joinery work, done with a chisel and a router, is as tight as any machine-made joint.

Haggling here in the Philippines is a life skill to which most of us from the U.S. are unaccustomed. However, it must be mastered in order to get anything done. I'm still learning the tricks, but have been developing a style where I smile a lot and tell the seller they don't have exactly what I'm looking for. "I might be able to make it work if the price was a little less, maybe (insert here less than half of what the initial offer was)." Always expect a counter-counter offer, and if you can agree at about half or a little more, consider it an honorable deal. Then, when you realize you are bickering about pennies for the sheer sport of it, consider yourself a master. I myself am far from it, as I don't have the patience. I was told by a British yachtie that Americans tend to upset the local pricing scheme by failing to haggle properly, or even, god forbid, by tipping for service. I don't mean to disparage the fine people of the Misty Isles, but a local told me later not to worry because, "Brits are so tight that when they fart only dogs can hear it."

If the weather holds, we may just get back in the water in a couple weeks. From there, we'll leave Subic Bay with the dry season coming on, but with only the vaguest plans. An easy sail away are Palawan, Borneo, and the bizillion islands of the Sulu Sea. My best guess is we'll be staying in this neck of the woods for a while.

- frank 05/10/06

Witch of Endor - CT-41
Steve Cherry
A Year After Hurricane Beta
(San Diego)

It's been an eventful year for me and The Witch, as well as my cruising buddy Bob Willman and his late Islander 37 Viva! Not all of our report from a year ago was published, so I'd like to take this opportunity to flush it out.

Bob and I spent quite a bit of time with our boats in Cartagena, Colombia, having fun and getting a bunch of yard work done at reasonable prices. Then we had a pretty nice sail - only the last half-day of it was bumpy - up to Isla Providencia, where we anchored off Catalina, the island's main town. It's a most friendly place.

The wind blew out of the west for about six weeks, which the locals said was very uncommon, because they are usually subject to the very reliable easterly trades that blow across the Caribbean. We kept looking at the weather charts, and there was a low right over us, day in and day out. We got used to it, and it wasn't really a problem, as the normal anchorage was just a little more rolly and choppy than usual. And the unusual weather didn't stop us from enjoying the town, the island, and the people. By the way, we were initially greeted by LCDR German Guzman, the port captain, who is head and shoulders above all of the rest of the port captains we've ever met. Actually, he's tied with the port captain at Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Guzman and his staff were most accommodating, and in view of the ensuing events I'll soon describe, very helpful. For one thing, he allowed us to use his dedicated internet link to stay in touch with the folks back home.

Near the end of October, the weather charts showed the low in place near Providencia one day, gone the next day, and back again the third day. 'What the heck?' we thought to ourselves. Then came hurricane Beta! This was pretty strange, as Beta formed way down in the southwestern corner of the Caribbean Sea not all that far from the Panama Canal. Not many hurricanes form down there. We couldn't run and take refuge at Boca del Toros, Panama, because it would have taken us through the center of the hurricane. And we certainty didn't want to run north around Gracias a Dios, which is where Beta - if it followed hurricane 'rules' - would be headed.

Beta originally put her sights on Isla San Andreas, but then gave it a reprieve - and center-punched us at Isla Providencia! We did what we could to prepare, putting out a bunch of anchors and stripping all the stuff from our boats before going ashore. We were taken in by a local family - Casimir, Ludsmilla, and their sons Dustin and Dulstin - at the dry end of the town muelle. I left an anchor light burning on the Witch so we could watch - with white knuckles - as the wind and waves built. When dawn broke, there were only two of the three boats left in the anchorage - Vaquero, a CT-41, and the Witch. Tragically, Bob's Viva! had gone up on the rocks.

It wasn't until that first light that we also realized that a couple of local bad boys had gone out in the height of the storm to loot the grounded Viva! As she pounded on the beach, they stripped most of her electronics and other portable stuff. The local cops eventually busted two of their accomplices, but nothing ever came of it. All we were able to recover for Bob were a couple of tool boxes and a bottle of soy sauce. The authorities were proud of this recovery, so they even made Bob sign for the soy sauce!

We removed whatever else could be salvaged from Viva!, which was not insured, then Bob signed her over to the Colombian Navy. We loaded the stuff into the Witch and Slowpoke, another boat headed for the Rio Dulce. When we got to the Rio Dulce, Bob sold some of it at a swap meet, and put the rest in the Witch for shipment to Florida and ultimately to use in whatever boat he got next. While we were in the Rio Dulce, a broker in St. Maarten advised me that a Vagabond 47 I was interested in down in Carriacou was finally priced right, so I bought Mystique, and would soon rename her Witch of Endor. The plan was to bring both the new and old Witches up to Jacksonville, transfer my gear from the old boat to the new boat, sell the old one in Annapolis, then continue cruising on the new one.

I want to let everyone know that the folks of Isla Providencia - except for the looters of Bob's boat - were the kindest, friendliest, most supportive folks I have ever met. Their island, their homes, and their daily lives were turned upside down by hurricane Beta - they hadn't been hit since '61 - but they still had time to help Bob in his time of need. The locals cared about the wildlife, too. For example, the folks who ran the little local restaurants put out boiled rice and bread for the birds who flocked to town because the hurricane had blown away all of the seed pods from the trees they had previously lived in. I can't say enough about the people of that island, and therefore strongly recommend a stop to any cruisers headed north or south in the Western Caribbean.

So much for old business, here's what we've been up to in the last year: Bob and I flew to Carriacou, brought the new Witch to Fort Pierce, Florida, by way of St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic, then returned to the Rio and brought the old Witch to Florida by way of Belize, Isla Mujeres and Key West. Bob got off my boat in Florida, found a catamaran - I don't know what kind, as they all look alike to me - in the islands, and bought her. At last word, he was cruising the islands of Venezuela.

I took the old Witch up the ICW to Annapolis, where she is laying at the Bert Jabin Yacht Facility and listed for sale at Noyce Yachts. My new Witch is on the hard at Indian River Boatworks in Fort Pierce getting some much-needed TLC after spending her life in the harsh tropical conditions of the Caribbean. I expect to launch her in the spring, then head down to Cartagena to get her painted. After that, I'll work my way back to the Canal, the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and Central and South America.

It's been a very active year for Bob and me. Prior to that, our pace had been very slow, as in something like a month at each island we visited in the Perlas Islands being just right.

- steve 10/05/06

Cruise Notes:

"Cruising is a great plan for retirement," writes Betty Truce of Los Gatos. "Our cruising life started at age 65 when we bought a new Maxi 9.5 from Pelle Peterson we named Odyssey, and took delivery of her in France. We spent 12 seasons doing coastal sailing in the Med, our longest passage out of the sight of land being four days. Our season would start in late April and end in October. We'd spend the winter months at our home in California. There is so much history in the Med, from the castles of Spain, to the Greek and Roman ruins, to the Turquoise Coast of modern Turkey - the latter being a cruisers' dream. It's not always easy sailing in the Med, as the winds aren't as constant or as predictable as in other parts of the world, but our years of racing and cruising the Bay aboard our Ranger 23 Betty Ann were great preparation for the unexpected blows. The Med is a great place to cruise for those who aren't really interested in long distance bluewater sailing. My husband and I liked the fact we could always have a drink aboard at 5 p.m. followed by a meal ashore."

Betty and her husband are both 90 years old now. They continued to sail on the Bay until five years ago, when her husband was stricken with arthritis. Betty has promised to put together some tales of their adventures in the Med. We're looking forward to publishing them, as we believe she's correct. For those who don't mind the crowds, and know how to live simply, the Med is a fabulous place for retirement cruising.

You'll note that in one of this month's Changes, Pete Passano and Marina of Sea Bear didn't seem to have any qualms about sailing a course that will take them through the center of the Atlantic /Caribbean hurricane zone - despite the fact that hurricane season won't be over until December 1. It might have something to do with the fact that the Atlantic/Caribbean has had a very quiet hurricane season this year - five hurricanes and four tropical storms - far below what was predicted by all the experts. Furthermore, none of the hurricanes were over category 3. We don't know about you, but when experts can't accurately predict the severity of a hurricane season two months in advance, it rattles our confidence in their ability to predict what the weather and climate will be like in 50 years.

For the record, Mexico has had nine hurricanes - including two category 4s and one category 5 - this season, as well as six tropical storms.

One of the really crummy things that can happen to you after completing 2,992 miles of a 3,000-mile passage from Mexico to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas is your mast falls down. Unfortunately, that's what happened to Jessica Stone and Mike Irvine, who were just eight miles from landfall aboard Stone's Seattle-based Morgan Out-Island 41 Blessed Be!, when the mast folded in half. The cause of the failure was a chainplate bolt that had corroded through. Stone had had the rig checked by professionals twice in recent years, but neither could have seen the damage to the bolt because it had been fiberglassed over as part of the original manufacturing process.

Stone was able to limp to Dominique Goche's Raiatea Carenage. In six weeks, Dominique and his crew were able to drop Stone's Perkins 4-108 diesel engine onto concrete from eight feet in the air - oops! - replace the bell housing that had gotten cracked in the fall, and sleeve the mast to stronger than new. "Dominique and his guys are wonderful," says Stone. With provisions aboard, the engine running, and Stone ready to set sail again, the engine suddenly developed some other severe problems. As a result, Stone had to return to her writing and teaching at the University of Washington. Now that the engine is repaired and Blessed Be! is ready to go again, Stone is unsure about what to do next. Should she sell the boat, continue cruising, or sail the boat back to Seattle? If you've got any advice, she says she'd love to hear from you by .

By the way, a little corrosion can lead to major and expensive failures, so no matter if you're about to set off on a long passage, or have just completed one, now would be a good time to look around your boat for rust in the wrong places. As for critical bolts that have been fiberglassed over and are weeping, you may want to consider biting the bullet by digging in and finding out what you've got under the fiberglass.

"The cedar boardwalk at Hot Springs Cove, Vancouver Island, looks like a serious northern rival to the famous breakwater at Horta in the Azores," report 'accidental cruisers' Lance Batten and Susie Bowman of the Berkeley-based Beneteau 40 Eaux Vives, which is in the Caribbean. "The boardwalk is decorated with carved boat names, carefully crafted boat art, and visiting dates. The walkway extends for over a mile through the rainforest to the hot springs on the point. The park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, but is a popular stop for those traversing the chilly west coast of Vancouver Island. Frances Brann brought Snow Dragon II down from Alaska to her new winter port of Victoria - in front of the Empress Hotel and across from Parliament, no less! - and borrowed us, the crew of Eaux Vives, for the Port Hardy to Victoria leg of the trip. Although it was the polar opposite of the Caribbean cruising that we've been doing for the last several years, it was good fun hiking in temperate rainforests. British Columbia is a fabulous cruising area with much wildlife, plenty of isolated anchorages, and some very good sailing along the Pacific coast. It just requires a touch more in the way of clothing than does the Caribbean."

The Dockwise Yacht Transport's Spring 2007 sailing schedule has just been released. The route that's probably of most interest to Latitude readers is the one from La Paz to Vancouver in May. It would allow you to enjoy a full winter season of cruising in Mexico, and then have your boat waiting for you in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the summer season up there. Since space is limited, we recommend that you contact Dockwise now at to make a reservation. There's also a La Paz to Vancouver run in early March, but that's just when the Sea is starting to get good, and up in the Northwest it might as well still be the middle of winter. Many Latitude readers have used Dockwise's service. Generally speaking, they've been quite pleased - except for what they consider to be inadequate pre-pickup communication between Dockwise and the customers.

"El Cid Marina in Mazatlan is a very safe and secure hurricane hole," report Phil and Jana Graves of Sea-Mint. "Due to the high buildings surrounding the marina, the winds were less intense than elsewhere during hurricane Lane in September. The marina was built with heavy weather in mind, so the pilings are higher than at most other marinas in Mexico, making them less susceptible to storm surge. We also want to thank Harbormaster Geronimo Cevallas and the marina security for their careful preparation in anticipation of the storm. They went from boat to boat checking lines, tightening lines, and even adding lines for absentee owners. In addition, anything moveable that could cause damage - trash containers, resort chairs, and so forth - was moved into storage. Dock box lids were tied down, dock gate doors were tied open for emergency access, and the number of security staff was doubled. As 20-year veterans of cruising in Mexico, we recommend El Cid for a safe summer home."

"We're going to have to pass on the Baja Ha-Ha this fall," report Randy and Ramona Garrett of a boat we believe is named R3, from a hailing port we're not sure of, "as we still have a couple things to fix on our boat. But we're thinking about leaving the area in the spring to cross the Pacific, and have talked to a few other people with the same idea. Have you given any idea to organizing a Puddle Jump starting up here in the States?"

Although most Puddle Jump boats start from Puerto Vallarta, there's no set time or place from which to begin. As such, you can start from anywhere on the West Coast from Vancouver to Ecuador, and it won't be a problem. As next year's group starts to get organized in January and February, we'll make sure we let everyone know how to contact the group organizers to be part of all the radio skeds, news and other fun.

Rick and Jenna Fleischman of the Alaska-based Catalina 50 Bob report that their sailing season has ended, and that they have headed to Baranof Wilderness Lodge, 90 miles from Sitka, where, for the third year in a row, they will be the winter caretakers of that facility. "We had another great summer of sailing in Southeast Alaska," the couple report, "although it was one of the wettest summers that we can remember. Nonetheless, the fishing and wildlife were great. In fact, it was an exceptional year for viewing bears, as many of them were working the beaches and streams." The couple have just completed the first year of a 10-year permit that allows them to take charter guests into Glacier Bay National Park.

"Once again the major fundraiser for the Club Cruceros/Fundación Ayuda Niños La Paz, A.C. will be held in the parking lot of Marina de La Paz (as usual) on Sunday, December 4, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.," reports Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz. "This bazaar and auction - locally called the Subasta - raises money for the programs of Fundación Ayuda Niños. For example, it provides breakfast three days a week for 60 kids, lunch five days a week for 100 kids, and helps cover the cost of keeping 150+ students in junior and senior high school. We accept donations of all kinds for the bazaar and auction, as well as money and labor on the day of Subasta. If you have room in the bilges for things like chewable vitamins, toothbrushes and toothpaste, kid's underwear, or small gifts for the Christmas party, great."

The Subasta is a great cruiser cause in La Paz, and we encourage everyone to support it. Lauren Spindler, Honcho of the Ha-Ha, has donated $1,000 to the Subasta in the name of this year's Ha-Ha participants. Other great causes getting $1,000 donations in the name of Ha-Ha participants will be Zihua SailFest in Zihua at the end of January, and the Pirates For Pupils Spinnaker Run at Punta Mita in March. One of the great things about Mexico is that just a little bit of money can make a big difference in the life of a child.

Shari Bondi, a former Canadian cruiser who married a Mexican fisherman who lives at Bahia Asuncion, which is just south of Turtle Bay, has some advice for southbound cruisers:

"Remember to keep your radio on Channel 16 in case a fisherman wants to warn you of a drift net or something. But don't chat on 16, as everyone on the coast monitors it. Also avoid channels 10, 12 and 14, as these are used extensively by the fishermen, at least in the Asuncion area. The upper channels - such as 68, 69 and 72 - are good for cruisers, as they aren't used much. I also want to remind everyone that it's a serious offense for fishermen to trade or sell lobster, and they can lose their jobs if they do it. So if you do buy lobster from them, please be fair to these hard-working guys, as each lobster they give you costs them $3 out of their own pocket. So be generous, but never mention such transactions on the radio! What to trade for seafood? I suggest things like lures, hooks, line, old Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival cassettes, and Spam - they love it! But please, no porno, as Mexican women have enough problems as it is. When you ask what the fishermen want in return for seafood, they usually won't come right out and say anything, other than to maybe ask for a beer. It's just not their style to bargain, so remember that it's up to you to be generous and make the trade fair."

We're glad Shari brought up the subject of lobster. Although it's illegal for someone other than a Mexican to have a lobster anywhere but on a plate in a restaurant, this law is broken about as often as the California highway speed limits. Let your conscience be your guide as to whether you want to participate in the trade - you'll be approached - and that you are paying a fair price. In fact, once you've come to an agreement, always throw something in "para los niños".

Bondi, a big booster of Asuncion, also had this to say: "The best place to anchor at Asuncion is close to the pangas anchored just inside the west point. Nose in toward the cliff just inside the bay from the pangas, and drop your hook in 20 feet of water fairly close to the bluff. This is where the pangas unload, and it's a calm and safe place to land and stow your dinghy. The GPS coordinates for this spot are 27.07.810N and 114.17.371W. If you are coming in at night, just call us on the radio and we can help guide you in. If you are late leaving Turtle Bay, another anchoring option is San Roque, which is just north of Asuncion. There is a deep, sandy bottom close to shore, it's easy to get in and out of, and there is an excellent place to land the dinghy - again, where the pangas unload their catch. Just watch out for lobster traps, as they are all over the coast - up to seven miles out and in as much as 240 feet of water, especially in November."

Bondi, who can answer all your questions about Asuncion.

As we've reported several times, Singlar, which is part of Fonatur, Mexico's tourism development agency, is developing 11 small marina and boat support complexes, mostly in Baja, but also as far south as San Blas, which is halfway between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. According to Jack Grenard of Carefree, Arizona, Capt Norm Goldie, the somewhat polarizing American ex-pat who has been living in San Blas for 30 years, gives the project high marks. He paraphrases Goldie's review as follows:

"It's a small marina, with only 17 slips, although it's capable of accommodating boats to 100 feet. It's being constructed of the finest materials, and the concrete foundations and footings are complete overkill. And I know something about excellent construction, having been in charge of building structures to 60 stories in New York City. The bathrooms are beautiful, and the hot water showers will be near the dockside. Other services and amenities will include a private marina pool and a jacuzzi, a restaurant, store, fuel dock and stringent security. In addition, there will be a launch ramp, a 50-ton Travel-Lift, and repair services for hulls, engines and boat systems. I have been assured that the slip fees will not exceed 10 pesos - about 92 U.S. cents/ft/night. The marina has been built primarily for cruisers in transit, whose crews would like to rest and enjoy the oldest port on the west coast of all the Americas. Vessels have been active here since 1530! In addition, there are many good side trips available, and lots to see here in 'the Tahiti of Mexico'. The marina will be operated by Lic. Rodrigo and Lic. Ana Karina. They will do all possible to make everyone's stay a pleasant experience. The beautiful marina was built for cruisers, and I hope they will use it."

Earlier this year we visited San Blas for the first time in about 10 years. It's a charming but somewhat isolated little place with a unique history and great wildlife. But it was looking more ragged than we remembered it from previous visits. Based on Goldie's report, and the work we've seen being done on some of the other 10 new Singlar facilities in Mexico, no expense is being spared. In the case of San Blas, it sounds as though the marina could be a little showplace for the region. Our only concern is whether there will be enough demand for the slips and services to sustain the facility. We can imagine that there would be some demand for 17 slips, although at close to $1/ft/night, we fear that many cruisers are going to elect to anchor in the river or down at Matanchen Bay - just as they always have. But we're not convinced that there will be anywhere near enough business - or skilled labor - for the Travel-Lift and the engine and boat repair services. But you never know, for if the locals can generate an entrepreneurial spirit toward services such as painting, both above and below the waterline, woodwork, and other basic boat work at the ultra competitive prices that are found in some other parts of Mexico, it could actually become a boatwork destination of sorts. In any event, we hope the little marina will turn out to be a big success for San Blas, creating jobs and generating income.

If you're headed toward San Blas, you can contact Norm Goldie by for information. Another good idea is to use Google Maps, prior to entering the river, to view San Blas from overhead. Indeed, printing out Google Maps for all the places you intend to visit, and putting them in a binder, is a great idea.

Mike Wilson, marine engineer and refrigeration expert in Mazatlan, tells us he's walked by the Singlar facility in Mazatlan that's been under construction for the last year or so, and that he's impressed. "The facility they are building is absolutely world-class - really excellent. In addition, they've got a 100-ton Travel Lift. They are really doing it right."

Wilson, like Antonio Cevallos of Marina Mazatlan, says people won't believe what's been happening to the Marina Mazatlan area at the north part of town, as development has just exploded. "Adjacent to our marina, they are starting a Crown Plaza Hotel, the first nine holes of a golf course, a 30-acre shopping center, and a gated complex for 400 houses. About 80% of the condos in the towers that have gone up behind the marina have been sold, and the inertia is such that local and foreign investors have started building more condos near the marina complex but outside of its boundaries. From where I stand, I can count seven high-rises as tall as 25 stories."

It's not your father's Mazatlan, is it?

And lest we leave out La Paz, Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz says the 40-slip Singlar Fidepaz in that city also seems to have been done right. "With the government having spent $4 million for just 40 slips and the other facilities, it better have been done right. I even heard a rumor that the place has a rooftop swimming pool."

"Talk about an email a long time in coming," writes Kay Rudiger, who did various jobs for Latitude, "we've been here two years to the day and only now got around to it! 'We' being Jeff Ames, myself, and Native, our Freya 39. What prompted me to write is your report that the late Richard Steinke's Isobar is coming to Seattle from Thailand. You may remember that I joined Steinke and some others aboard Isobar for a cruise of the 'lost coast' - north of San Francisco - back in about '89. It was an unbelievably wonderful trip. So I'm looking forward to seeing the boat again, and helping Jessica, Richard's daughter, with her in any way that I can. As for Jeff and me, we live in Edmonds, which is sort of a Southern Marin kind of place, with artsy folks, a big marina, a big ferry terminal, and a great view of the Olympic Mountains. The Seattle area has really grown on us as a wonderful place to live and explore."

Circumnavigator Tom Scott, who is originally from Menlo Park, and who did a long singlehanded circumnavigation about 10 years ago aboard his Folkes 39 Nepenthe, was briefly back in town from Malaysia recently. Alas, we never got a chance to see him. Nonetheless, he wants his old friends to know that "I'm alive, well, and living the life of luxury and ease on Langkawi, Malaysia."

It won't be until the December issue that we'll be able to run Merrill and Lee Newman's report on their trip aboard their Santa Cruz-based Valiant 40 Jenny Wren from California to the Western Caribbean. But at the end of their Changes they wrote: "We plan to leave Guatemala's Rio Dulce in January and head for the Eastern Caribbean. It seems reasonable to assume that we can sail to Grand Cayman Island or perhaps Jamaica, but from there would it be best to go through the Windward Passage in order to work the north side of the Dominican Republic to the Virgin Islands, or to stay on the south side of the Dominican Republic and then head for Antigua and Guadeloupe?"

Our response was: "When it comes to a 2,000-mile trip from the Rio Dulce to the Eastern Caribbean in January, you've got three things going against you: 1) You'll be going directly into the wind and seas almost the entire way. 2) There will be a strong current against you almost the entire way. And 3) January is perhaps the worst month of the year to attempt such a trip, because historically it's when the 'Christmas winds', aka the reinforced trades, tend to blow the hardest and most often."

But just to be sure about our response to the inquiry, we contacted Canadian Herb Hilgenberg, who has been the guru of weather routing for cruising boats in the Atlantic and Caribbean for countless years, and posed the question this way: "A couple in a Valiant 40 want to try to make it from the Rio Dulce to the Eastern Caribbean in . . . gulp . . . January. They want to know if they should try to make it to Jamaica and then up through the Windward Passage, or to the DR and then try to lay Antigua or Guadeloupe. I know the latter notion is just plain nuts, and they'll probably end up in Aruba. But do you think they'd be better off riding the Gulfstream up to Florida and then either try to circle above the trades or do the 'Thorny Patch', or should they simply try to work the south coasts of the DR and Puerto Rico?"

Hilgenberg's response: "I agree with your assessment. I've known of large motoryachts having problems getting from the Western Caribbean to the Leewards during the winter months. Anything is possible, but as you stated, if somebody has lots of time, there can be one and two-day windows for short runs between Caribbean island anchorages of Cuba, the Caymans, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico - but they might have to wait weeks between the windows. Going via the Florida passage, and then the Bahamas, would probably be the more enjoyable route, with many more opportunities for laying over."

"We're thinking about going through the Panama Canal, and then the Atlantic to the Med, at some point in the future," write Doug and Jo Leavitt of the San Francisco-based Jeanneau 43 Jenny. "Can you tell us the best time to go through the Canal, and which route is the preferred one to the Med? We assume that the Azores would be a good place to stop for refueling, resting, and so forth. We'll be heading to Zihua for SailFest in February to help out there again, but may want to take off for the Med in the next window after that."

You can transit the Canal any time you want, the issue is getting across the Caribbean Sea. Assuming that you leave Mexico in February or March, the best time for you to cross the Caribbean Sea would be in either June or July, the beginning of hurricane season, or November and December, the end of hurricane season. While you could get across via the Western Caribbean and the routes suggested two paragraphs above by Herb Hilgenberg, if we were you, we'd make our way to Cartagena, enjoy that great city, and then, when a huge eastbound window opened up, sneak around the north coast of South America. Once you get to Venezuela, you can harbor and island hop to Trinidad, then start working your way up the Eastern Caribbean to your ultimate jumping off point for the Azores, which would probably be Antigua or St. Maarten. There is only one way across the Atlantic, and that's via the Azores, starting about in May. The real issue is going to be whether you want to try to cross the Atlantic in May of '07, or May of '08. If you wanted to force the issue, you might be able to do it in '07, but it could be a grueling pace. If '08 were fine with you, you could enjoy a very leisurely cruise, having plenty of time to explore all the great places along the way - such as Central America, Panama, Colombia, South America and the Eastern Caribbean.

The winter cruising season of '06-'07 is finally here! Have a great time, but be safe, and don't forget to

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