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November 2008

Missing the pictures? See our November 2008 eBook! 

With reports this month from Arabella on the importance of health insurance while cruising; from Frank of Cadence on relatively easy Northwest Passages; an interview with Liz Clark of Swell; from Capricorn Cat on the summer heat in the Sea of Cortez; from Caprice on sailing from Polynesia to Alaska; from Moonduster on the clearing comedy in Tonga; and a heap of Cruise Notes.

Arabella — Swift 40
Mike and Barb Fulmor
Enjoying Australian Hospitality
(Channel Islands)

In the five years we've been cruising, we've never had health insurance. We reckoned that since we'd always been healthy, why should we effectively bet against the happy state continuing? The same reasoning applied to buying boat insurance after we left 'marina land', where insurance is often required. Why bet that we were going to put our boat on a reef somewhere? Besides, once you venture more than 50 miles offshore, the insurance rates go through the roof. If we had unlimited funds, we'd naturally want all the coverage we could get, but we have a limited budget. In addition, there's the constant need to spend money on things like new sails, bottom jobs and so forth. So the only insurance we've had is a DAN policy in case we ever needed to be evacuated from somewhere remote. At something like just $20 a year, how could we not buy it?

However, while in Fiji applying for one-year visas for Australia, we learned that we'd need to have health insurance. Further, because we spent time in Mexico they wanted chest X-rays, as well as clean police records and proof of sufficient income. We looked online for ex-pat health insurance, and applied online to Health Care International, but only because it was the first company that came up. We wired them the $3,000 annual premium — not too bad, considering that the two of us are in our mid-50s, we smoke and drink, and to be honest, are quite large. We then sat back and tried not to think how and when we were going to pay off the $3,000 we'd put on our credit card.

Now for the punch line: The policy had only been in effect for about 12 days when I contracted a virulent infection in Vanuatu. It came on suddenly as a 103 degree fever, followed shortly by pain in my left leg. It turned out to be acute cellulitis in my left foot. But as the accompanying photo shows, there was nothing 'cute' about it!

After a week of ineffective treatment at Tanna, a small and remote island in the southern end of the Vanuatu group, I flew to Port Vila. Doctors there immediately shuffled me on to Sydney, where I’ve been in hospital for almost a month now. The good news is that the insurance is covering everything — after the $2,000 deductible — including the first-class airfare, ambulance rides and an escort on the flight! When I arrived here at Westmead Hospital, they put me on three kinds of Class IV antibiotics and morphine, and insisted that I get complete bed rest. I later learned that had it taken me even a few more days to get to the hospital, I would have lost my leg — and maybe my life. Then, a few days ago, they discovered I was infected with the penicillin-resistant "super staph". That explains why the infection immediately went under the skin and has been so hard to control. Fortunately, it's healed well enough for me to get a skin graft last week.

As for Barb, she temporarily had to stay behind to organize getting the boat from Port Resolution, Tanna, to Port Vila on the island of Efate, where Arabella is now safe on a mooring. I’d like to thank the volunteers who helped Barb with the overnight passage, along with all the members of the fleet who helped us through this ordeal in so many ways. Later this month a delivery skipper will be bringing Arabella to Bundaberg, where we’re hoping for a swift sale of our Swift 40. I won’t be 100% for several months, and we'd been planning to take a couple of years off from cruising anyway. When we start again, we figured we might as well do it with a new-to-us boat.

I guess I’m writing to report that ex-pat health insurance might not be a bad idea for bluewater cruisers, even when not required to get a visa. And based on our experience, Health Care International has been really great paying off on claims, even in the case of a brand new policy. In addition, I want to caution everyone in the tropics not to get casual, like I did, when it comes to small, open sores. And if you do have such a sore, don't swim in questionable water, such as a lagoon where I did, which was surrounded by three villages with suspect sanitation facilities. But I guess that should have been obvious.

— mike 10/05/08

Northwest Passages
Easier With Climate Change

Nome, Alaska. Like Timbuktu, it's almost mythically remote. But Nome is not just a name on a chart, and it's not just the place to make prank long distance phone calls from your frat brother's phone. It's a real place with real people. Although I normally cruise on my Apache 40 catamaran Cadence in the tropics, in September I visited Nome, which is at 64° north, aboard the research vessel that I work on.

The way the story goes, a British hydrographer scrawled "? Name" on an 1850s field sheet to remind the surveyors to ascertain the name of a nearby point. This note made its way through the Admiralty to the printer as "C. Nome" or Cape Nome. It seems fitting somehow.

The Alaskan gold rush hit in 1899, and by 1900, Nome was a tent city of 20,000 working 30 miles of 'golden' beach deposits. Although it only has 3,500 residents now, Nome was the most populous city in Alaska at the time. The swarm of gold mining humanity was, in turn, preyed upon by claim jumpers, profiteers and the 'miners of miners'. Among the latter was the notorious brothel- and saloon-keeper Wyatt Earp. Despite the fact that much of the commercial district burned down in 1934, and the remaining high grade sand is now worked by dredgers, this symbiotic relationship still describes much of the local industry.

Nome's newspaper has a certain half ghost town/half boomtown vibrancy to it. The Tyvek sheathing and wobbly shacks on frost-heaved pier blocks bespeak pure function over form. And like most of Alaska, there is no vegetation heavy enough to hide the rusting cars, dismantled snowmobiles and abandoned machinery. When it warms above freezing, Nome even smells like a frontier town.

But there is wealth in Nome in the form of the people who live here or pass through. A good many are dispossessed, but most are self-determined, self-reliant and sober. To that mix, add charitable, thoughtful, unpretentious and, of course, quirky. For instance, there's the guy who drives around with his pet reindeer in the bed of his pickup. The local dog lady runs in the Iditarod. Even the guy flying an American flag dyed deep yellow and the guy with the mock-up .50 caliber atop his pilothouse fit in here.

But frontier towns, like the climate, are subject to change. This was brought home recently during a happy hour discussion in a Front Street bar about Nome's need to incorporate a proper yacht club. For this year alone, at least seven cruising boats and two cruise ships have called here, most of them having taken advantage of the most ice-free conditions that have ever been recorded over the top of Canada. By the way, NOAA researchers recently announced that an open water corridor had formed around the entire Arctic for the first time in 125,000 years!

Two of those who completed the fabled Northwest Passage this year are Peter and Maeva Elliott. He's an Aussie and she's from New Caledonia. They made the passage aboard their stout French-built, Australian-flagged Helianthe 34 Tyhina. Details and photos of the couple's Arctic passage from Labrador to Nome are posted on their website at

I bumped into the two while their boat was docked amidst a ragtag assortment of home-built gold dredgers at the city pier. They reminisced with me about the beauty and the danger of negotiating the ice-clogged Northwest Passage. Maeva described the northern lights as waving like a cascade of electric-colored sand above a solid, white sea. Peter spoke more of the dangers. Having spent five years planning their Northwest Passage, Peter knew the several critical choke points they needed to clear to avoid being trapped in the ice fields. "The fields move quickly, silently and without warning," he said. Point Barrow was the last major choke point they needed to pass, and they did it with the ice field just a couple of miles on their beam. In a worst case scenario, the couple's aluminum hulled centerboarder was designed to ride completely above the shifting ice rather than be crushed by it.

Enroute, the couple had many encounters with untouched nature: polar bears, walruses, whales and narwhals. In many instances, it was a first encounter of one member of the species by a member of the other species, and vice versa. Both were full of curiosity and awe. The couple soon learned that when surprised, polar bears will hiss!

For anyone else who might be considering such an extreme passage, Peter says thorough planning is critical. For example, fluxgate compasses are useless at such high latitudes, so a boat's autopilot has to work off an input from the GPS. He also noted that an interesting feature of Northwest Passages is that the wind is as likely to blow from the east as it is the west. As a result, three of this year's Northwest Passages were done west to east.

— frank ohlinger 10/05/08

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
Mini Interview
(Santa Barbara)

Over the last two years, readers have taken a considerable interest in the reports of Liz Clark, the now 28-year-old, who left California almost two years ago on a voyage that's taken her to Mexico, Central America, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus and the Line Islands. She's now got her boat on the hard at Raiatea in the Society Islands. She did her longest sail to date, the 3,000 miles from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, in 22 days with her mother as crew. The next two longest, the 1,205-mile, eight-day trip from the Tuamotus to Kiribati, and the 1,400-mile, 15-day trip from Tabuaeran to Bora Bora, she did by herself. Clark had planned to continue on to New Zealand this year, but a cracked skeg means she'll stay in French Polynesia for tropical cyclone season before moving on to Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. All plans are subject to change, of course. Deciding that it was high time, we came up with Ten Questions for Liz.

38: On a scale of 1 to 10, how good a sailor and sea-person were you when you left Santa Barbara, and on a scale of 1 to 10, how good do you think you are now?

Liz: I don't know who I'm comparing myself with here, but as a seaperson, I would say I've gone from a 5 to 7. As a sailor, I'd say I've gone from a 4 to a 6 — there's still so much for me to learn!

38: Is learning by doing the only real way to become a competent cruiser?

Liz: It's certainly the only way to become a confident cruiser.

38: In the last year or so, you've pretty much become a singlehander. What's been the hardest part about it, both mentally and physically, and are you now completely comfortable with it?

Liz: I am comfortable with it now, and even love singlehanding. Physically, the hardest parts are exhaustion due to a lack of good sleep, and my continuing battles with seasickness. Mentally, I find being alone at sea to be wonderful. So I'm fine with solitude, but there are very difficult and/or unpredictable situations that make it hard on a singlehander.

38: If $10,000 fell out of the sky for you to spend on your boat or gear, what would you buy?

Liz: I'd get a heavy air staysail to put on a roller furler on the inner forestay. I think I'd be almost unstoppable with that! I'd also make a shade arch/bimini for the aft deck, buy a new main, a wind generator, upgraded chartplotter, a scuba setup, an inflatable kayak, and also a better zoom lens for my camera.

38: Do you secretly lust after any other boats or is your Cal 40 all you really need?

Liz: Swell is awesome. I love how she sails and I certainly don't need anything bigger. However, her interior layout makes it hard to be comfortable with other people aboard, so it might be nice to have a different layout.

38: How many times have you been really scared on your boat, and with so much more experience now, would you be scared in those same conditions again?

Liz: I've been scared many times for many different reasons, but yes, looking back at the first year, I don't think I'd be scared in those same situations now. The exception would be lightning, which still petrifies me. Becoming very comfortable with sea life did take me some time, but knowing my boat and gear so well now minimizes the uncertainties and fear.

38: Have you had one great passage that's been better than all others?

Liz: My first real solo passage, six days and 550 miles from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, is one that I'll always remember. I had fairly light trades for the first few days, but with no reason to hurry, I was content to average just 3.5 knots. It was my first taste of the true freedom and the beauty of singlehanding, and it ended with my first arrival at a coral atoll and the turquoise lagoons and reef waves that I'd always dreamed about.

38: Other than family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

Liz: Washing machines, hot showers and good Mexican food — but that's pretty much it.

38: Women are always interested in how a fair-skinned woman such as yourself, who spends so much time in the water surfing or on the water sailing, protects your skin?

Liz: The solution is what Shannon Switzer, who was my first crew, originally deemed the 'man shirt'. I just wear a regular, long sleeve, oversized collared man's workshirt. It should be lightweight so it's not too hot, but with a collar to protect your neck. Patagonia makes some great 'man shirts' out of extra UV blocking material. I'm also religious about wearing a hat and sunnies all the time. I always seek shade and try to take cover when the sun is high. When surfing, I use extremely good sunscreen such as Vertra or Sol, and try to surf mornings or evenings — unless it's cloudy or the waves are just too good to pass up.

38: You're a young and very attractive woman. Have you had much trouble with unwanted men hitting on you, and have you ever been concerned about your personal safety?

Liz: Who, me? Naw, it's not really a problem. I usually disguise myself in a 'man shirt' and long shorts, and try not to look pretty. I also act respectfully, and don't put out an 'available' kind of vibe. If anybody starts acting a bit too eager, I just avoid them. I'm careful, so I don't go out alone at night or put myself in blatantly dangerous situations. As a result, I can truly say that there have been maybe two times on the whole trip where I felt scared because of a person.

38: If you had to say one thing that has changed the most about your approach to/idea of this trip now after almost two years, what would it be?

Liz: I've slowed down my pace tremendously. I now realize that, especially as a singlehander, if you want to actually have time to get to know and enjoy a place, you need to spend more than a few weeks there. If not, you end up just fixing your boat and then sailing away again. I've grown accustomed to the freedom of travelling alone. I don't like being on a schedule, therefore I have fewer visitors, and only those who can be ultra flexible. I now let the adventure unfold more organically, and try not to force things too much, or let other people's expectations make decisions for me.

— latitude 38

Capricorn Cat — Custom 45 Cat
Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly
Hot Sea In The Summer

It's very hot in the Sea of Cortez in the summer! Having flown back to the States on May 1 for the very exciting birth of our first grandchild, we returned to Cap Cat in Marina de La Paz on July 10. As expected, we returned to the usual boat chores — and a stack of new ones. One of them was to get a sunshade made for the back of our dodger. Without it, we would have fried our bodies in the subsequent months. Don't ever doubt the equation: Sun + Sea of Cortez = Brutal!

We didn't get out of La Paz until August 27, but what a relief it was to finally be out in clear water and having a southerly wind so we could actually sail! Once again, we took our time going up the Sea. Between La Paz and Puerto Escondido, a distance of 140 miles, we stopped at five anchorages. There wasn't another boat in any of them. How great is that? You like warm water? It was 88 degrees and clear! Wayne and I snorkeled every day for three to five hours, and he did a great job of spearing something good for dinner each night!

Having been alone all that time, one morning we left Agua Verde, and after turning the corner found ourselves right in the middle of a multihull caravan! And as it turned out, we knew all of them. The group included Henry and CJ on the FP 42 Rapscullion; Scott and Cindy aboard the Switch 51 Beach Access; Monte on the Gemini 30 Heavenly Star; and Terry Kennedy aboard the Horstmann 45 tri Manta. Naturally, we joined the group, which was headed south for snorkeling and diving. We ended up playing in and around the islands by Escondido for the next 20 days. We saw everything — pods of pilot whales, turtles, huge groups of dolphin, flipping rays, lobster, millions of fish, and beautiful anchorages. And somehow we managed to miss the brunt of tropical depressions Julio and Lowell. Nonetheless, there had been enough rain that Baja was — and still is — so green that we felt as though we were at some tropical island in the South Pacific. Every flower on every plant was exploding with colors, and the billions of yellow butterflies turned the desert into an oasis.

After 20 days of fun and games, we finally said adios to our new and old buddies, and headed north for the third time. Once again, we were the only boat in the six anchorages we stopped at on our way up to Santa Rosalia. San Sebastian turned out to be the biggest surprise, as not only did we have internet, but a 15-foot whale shark swam around Cap Cat for an hour! We would have jumped in for an up close and personal visit, but the Captain had an ear infection, and we were slowly being swept into a lee shore despite our stern anchor. So before it turned ugly — and we all know that always happens at 2 a.m. — we decided to find a safer and calmer spot for the night.

Shell Beach at Punta Mezquitito was a delight, as there were millions of shells, a few pelicans, and the two of us the only humans for as far as you could see. We guess everyone else was just trying to escape the heat. We wanted to escape it, too, so we stayed in the water beneath Cap Cat's bridgedeck for two hours trying to cool off. It was that hot! But we did get cooled down — until we climbed out from under the bridgedeck and took a shower. Ten minutes later and we needed another shower!

Our next stop was Santa Rosalia. We thought we knew what hot was, but then we anchored in the muck of the Santa Rosalia Harbor. It was all we could do to make it ashore and find the first air-conditioned bar without fainting or drowning in our sweat. We stayed ashore until dark, hoping that it would cool off, but we had no such luck. So we walked to the Thrifty ice cream store, cooled off, and made our way back to the boat. We took off that night for San Carlos. Fortunately, it was the first night we didn't see distant thunderstorms in our path. What we did see were a hundreds of dolphins — lightning streaks of another kind of pure energy — playing underneath our bows. How do they keep from crashing into each other?

San Carlos, on the mainland side of Baja, turned out to be beautiful. There were lots of boats, but very few people around. Tomorrow we're headed to Guaymas to see about a haul out. We have five other multihull friends that need to haul, too, and they're waiting for our report. If the yards here can't offer what we need, we'll be off to Mazatlan.

We plan to stay in the Sea until mid-November, then head south for the Puerto Vallarta area to participate in the Banderas Bay Blast in early December.

— carol 09/25/08

Caprice — Seawind 1160
Dan and Carol Seifers
Polynesia To Alaska
(Northern California)

Majestic snow-capped mountains, glaciers, cascading waterfalls, extreme tides, massive currents, whales galore, bald eagles, salmon, halibut, crab, shore birds, trees, trees and more trees. Yes, we've arrived in Alaska, which is my idea of paradise! What a perfect crossing we had from Kauai to Sitka, 18 days almost to the minute. It was a relatively uneventful passage, as we caught mahi and tuna, had great sailing in winds to 28 knots, and only had to motor the last three days.

Our only problem — and it could have been a big one — was losing communications with the outside world. Our SSB radio had been giving us problems since day one, probably because of a poor ground. Anyway, about halfway to Alaska we lost contact with everyone, including the Great Northern Boaters' Network. To further complicate matters, we lost our SailMail privileges due to "excessive use" because we didn't know how to delete individual messages — such as weather charts — before they were downloaded. Anyway, our EPIRB was our last lifeline with shore. We got a call from the Coast Guard after arriving in Sitka, asking about our location. It turns out the Great Northern folks had been wondering why we hadn't checked in, proving how much those dedicated ham network volunteers really care.

There's been a lot of water beneath our cat's hull since we last wrote. After a lovely stay in Bora Bora, which included several visits to Bloody Mary's and the pearl farms, we departed for Rangiroa in the Tuamotus, a frequent point of departure for Hawaii. Since it was our 45th anniversary while at Rangiroa, Tom and Ted, our crew, wanted to take us to dinner at the lovely Kia Ora Resort. Even though the dining room was only half full, they were denied reservations three nights in a row. We can only surmise that the snooty maître d' doesn't like hairy-faced sailors. So we opted for the Kia Kia, a very small but excellent outdoor restaurant. Our evening couldn't have been better.

After doing a little provisioning, which was very challenging, we refueled and got a last tour of a pearl farm. The Rangiroa pearl farm was by far the most interesting, and we got a real education in the three to six-year process, which involves many steps. While we were still on the hook, the 289-ft Maltese Falcon glided in and anchored close by. What an amazing sight! She'd also been at Bora Bora the same time we had. New sailing acquaintances happened to have a copy of owner Tom Perkins' Valley Boy with them, and lucked out by getting the captain's autograph and a tour of the magnificent yacht!

Our sail from the Tuamotus to Hawaii was one for the books, as we made the 2,240-mile crossing in 18 days, all on starboard tack. We got a great welcome at the Ko Olina Marina in Oahu by some of the liveaboards. During the week at Ko Olina, Tom and Ted helped with maintenance items, then jumped ship to spend much needed time with their wives. Having Tom and Ted with us for three months was a pleasure!

During my week in Hawaii, I got my Costco fix. I'm a Costco junkie, so you can imagine how frustrating some of the provisioning has been for me since leaving Sydney. But when I walked through Costco's pearly gates in Hawaii, I thought I'd gone to heaven! I managed to leave an entire 'boat buck' — $1,000 — behind. It was wonderful having fresh fruit and vegetables, especially California artichokes, stocking the freezer with steak, ribs, and shrimp, and loading up with desserts, cheeses, wines and a few spirits.

From Oahu, we sailed to Hanalei Bay, Kauai. Hanalei lives up to its reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in the world. Shortly after leaving Kauai we got a surprise, as a huge military plane buzzed us, then contacted us on channel 16 to ask about our intentions. After giving them our course, they advised us that we were close to a military exercise, and told us to maintain our course so we wouldn't find ourselves in the middle of international war games.

Our new crewmember for the Alaska leg was Dan's brother, Doug. He started his sailing career in the early '80s in our backyard at Brickyard Cove, where he flipped an El Toro and lost his glasses and soaked his wallet. Doug didn't set foot on another sailboat until '90, when he helped deliver a 40-ft monohull from Spain to St. Thomas. The outcome of that sail was much better than his first, so he bought his own 40-footer in Spain in '92. He and his wife Sheila spent the next two years living aboard while sailing the Balearic Islands. Two years later, we crewed for them in the ARC to the Caribbean. For the 10 years after that, Doug and Sheila spent six months sailing in the Caribbean and six months at their home in England. He turned out to be, as we expected, a very competent and fun crewmember for the trip to Alaska.

From Sydney, Australia, to Sitka, Alaska, we've covered over 10,000 miles, visited nine islands in three countries, and sailed from close to the bottom of the world to close to the top. In the process, we've seen fabulous places, met many interesting people, and had great food and wine aboard and ashore. We also experienced some of our best days of sailing ever, especially downwind with spinnaker only.

By the time you read this, we'll probably have Caprice on San Francisco Bay. Our start south from Alaska was delayed at the Prince Rupert YC, as we wanted to get a Navonics chart 'chip' for our Raymarine chartplotter flown in. We've become so spoiled by the detail of the chartplotter and GPS overlay that we feel uncomfortable using paper charts!

— carol 10/15/08

Moonduster — S&S 47
Wayne Meretsky
A Three Part Clearing Comedy

When a cruising boat comes to Tonga, the pier to which one must tie one's boat in order to "invite" the various officials aboard is a dilapidated, rusting thing that looms 10 feet above the water. Clearly designed for interisland trading ships, it's no place for a yacht. Knowing this, a few of my friends had offered to lend a hand in getting my boat tied up. So I motored over to the pier with dock lines and fenders arranged, choosing my location so that the early morning breeze would hold my boat off the dock. Together with the help of a couple of cruisers, we got everything secured and the motor shut down around 8 a.m. I was assured that Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Health would be along soon — 8:30 a.m., 'island time'.

Meanwhile, another boat pulled up alongside to await officialdom, and asked to raft up. It took a bit to convince the skipper that we should tie up bow-to-stern so that the boats would lie well. After a bit of confusion, everything was secured pretty quickly. Round about 9 a.m., the Immigration official, with his pressed white blouse, red sash, government issued photo ID badge, skirt and army boots, presented himself. He was way up there on the pier, and I was way down below on my boat. I'm not entirely certain what he was or wasn't wearing under his skirt, and I'm not the sort to peek — at least not up legs like his.

And so, rather unceremoniously, Mr. Immigration made his way down the rusting scaffolding that makes up the pier, and we got to work. A form here, a cookie there, no beer, yes juice, no guns, yes wine, no spirits, no drugs — it's a creative sport, this clearing-in business. In time, a less dapper gentleman from Customs and Quarantine joined the party. We had a good laugh, a serious talk about the recent King's Coronation, the situation in the Middle East, the price of diesel — about $9.45 U.S. per gallon — and so on.

When I told them that I'd arrived on Saturday morning and subjected myself to 48 hours of isolation, they cast their eyes down and shook their heads. "No," I was told with a gentle sigh. Apparently I'd just then arrived, something that could be easily 'proved' by checking my many forms and passport stamps. So much for my 48-hour passage from American Samoa; apparently it had taken 96 hours. As for my being under house arrest until I was checked in, I was clearly hallucinating.

All told, the process only took about 30 minutes. By about 9:30 I was done and ready to go — were it not for the fact that I was held captive by the boat rafted up on the outside of me. The officials thanked me for allowing the second boat to raft, because, I suspect, they don't want to climb the pier's ladder any more than they have to.

While the officials were around, there were a number of visitors. First, a woman from the local bakery came by with a welcome gift — piping hot cinnamon rolls and bran muffins — for three boats. It was clear to me where two of the gifts should go, but the third recipient wasn't so obvious, as she pointed toward five other boats circling while waiting for their go at the pier. Next came a flock of scruffy but mostly clean kids. None asked for the ubiquitous 'lolly', but several asked where I was from. When I told them San Francisco, they all knew about it, partly because there is a fair sized Tongan community in San Francisco, but also because much of the Tonga royal family had been killed in a car accident just south of The City on US 101.

Finally, some other cruisers — Americans, I believe — stopped by the pier on foot, demanding to know if the Customs officials were on the radio. I replied that they were on the boat tied along-side mine, but that information wasn't enough for them. "Are they on the radio?" they asked again. "No, they're on the boat!" I replied. This exchange continued unabated for a good bit until they stormed off in a huff.

Getting the officials off the boats and back onto the pier took a bit of time. I stopped short of boosting them from behind, as I wasn't sure my back was up to the challenge. I cast off the rafted boat, and it seemed that all was going remarkably smoothly. The second boat had not made any contact with mine, and the breeze had held my boat off the pier the entire time.

I was talking the officials through the process of casting my lines off, when the Customs man placed his binder full of forms and documents down on the raised curb of the pier. I saw it coming before it happened, but to no avail. A puff of breeze drove a bit of dust towards me, and it reached the curb, the binder teetered and then toppled, just missing my boat and falling square into the water! The only form that landed on my boat was the one I'd signed. I handed it back to him and shrugged my shoulders. I think he started to cry. I scooped his binder from the tide with my boat hook, but there were papers everywhere. The binder was soaked and ready for the garbage. He turned and slowly walked away.

I got cast off well enough — no lines in the prop, and no bump and grind against the rusty steel as I made my way back to the anchorage. I motioned to the one boat that was closest to the pier and grabbed the third bakery gift. I made a throwing motion, but the crew didn't seem to catch on. I altered course a bit to come closer, but they turned away. When I got within hailing distance, I told them that it was breakfast, but it was too late. Our boats were abreast one another, but too far apart. The young woman on board the other boat held her hands up, and I made a really fine toss. Alas, the wind caught the bag just as she stretched for it, causing her tank top to ride up. She 'flashed' the entire port of Neiafu, but no avail, as the bag of warm cinnamon buns and muffins grazed her fingertips on their way over her boat and unceremoniously landed in the water. I suppose it's the thought that counts.

— wayne 10/08/08

Cruise Notes:

Want some good financial news for a change? Cruising in Mexico just got even less expensive. If you're one of the lucky ones about to head south, be advised that the dollar is buying about 30% more than it did just a few months ago. The peso got as high as 10 to the dollar in August, but by October 16th had slipped dramatically to 13 pesos to the dollar. If you want more good news, think about how inexpensive diesel is in Mexico. The Opequimar Fuel Dock in Puerto Vallarta quoted 29.48 pesos as the national price per gallon. We're not mathematicians, but we think that comes out to about $2.30 a gallon.

We were about to write that the price of diesel in Mexico is half that of the United States, but fortunately that's no longer true. On the way to the Ha-Ha start, we topped off with fuel at Hill's Boat Services in Newport Beach, where we paid $3.14 a gallon. Owner Gary Hill told us he'd had to charge as much as $5.25/gallon back on July 4, but that the price has been tumbling ever since. Mind you, it's smart to shop around for diesel, as just a week before a San Diego fuel dock was quoting $4.22 gallon.

We hate it when we screw up. Sam Fleetwood of the Monterey-based Gulfstar 50 Blue Banana, currently in Turkey, writes, "It's always fun to see our names and photos in Latitude, but I just downloaded the October eBook issue of Latitude and found a serious misquote. In the Changes section regarding our experience in Israel, I am quoted as saying, "We feared for our lives." What I actually wrote was "We never felt threatened in any way." We do think that this should be corrected as it's important for your readers to know that our experience in Israel was very positive, not negative or dangerous in any way."

A million apologies. During deadline editing, we sometimes make typo and sense blunders. For what it's worth, we've gotten a number of reports from other cruisers who have also visited Israel in the last few years, and all have said they were surprised at how safe they felt.

It was a wild mid-October, as sailing interests in both Baja and the Northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean dodged big hurricane bullets. In the case of Baja, it was hurricane Norbert, which came ashore on October 12 near Bahia Santa Maria, some 175 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. This latest-ever-in-a-year hurricane to hit Baja arrived with 115-knot winds. It lost some speed as it made its way over the tall mountains and entered the Sea of Cortez about 40 miles north of La Paz, and then crossed over to the mainland. Fortunately, Norbert avoided all significantly populated areas, and to our knowledge no boats were seriously damaged.

As always, people had different opinions of how hard the wind blew in places like La Paz. Dave and Kellie of the Ventura-based Catalina 36 Sweet Lorraine report that it blew 55 mph with gusts to 70 at Marina de La Paz. At the other end of town, Harbormaster Gabriel Ley at Costa Baja Marina didn't experience anything near that strong. "We never even saw 40 knots of wind. In fact, it was such a nonevent that I went home at noon to watch the big soccer game."

As for the Guaymas/San Carlos boating center on mainland Mexico, Norbert was a non-event there, too. "Our boat looked like a spider web at the Singlar Marina in Guaymas, as we'd tied about 20 lines to the dock in anticipation of the hurricane," write Wayne Hendryx and Carol Baggerly of the Brisbane-based Hughes 45 Capricorn Cat. "But all we got was 17 knots from the north, which, thanks to the malecon, meant there were no waves. But the sunset was spectacular. By the way, the Singlar facility here is excellent, about 1,000% better than the one at Puerto Escondido."

On the average, the Sea of Cortez gets hit by a hurricane every other year. However, it can be hit three years in a row and then not for six years, so you can't count on anything. Fortunately, some hurricanes sweep up the Sea and don't do damage to boats on Baja or the mainland.

In the case of the Northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean — meaning Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgins, Anguilla, St. Martin, Antigua and others — hurricane Omar initially didn't seem as though he was going to cause any trouble. After all, he formed to the southwest of all these islands as a mere tropical storm, and since Caribbean/Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes always go west-northwest, it didn't seem like there was anything to worry about. Alas, Omar got weird, first taking a dip to the southeast, than making a northeasterly beeline toward the British Virgins, home of the largest bareboat charter fleet in the world — and, we might add, the R&C 45 catamaran 'ti Profligate we have in a BVI yacht management program. We followed Omar's progress on Weather Underground with increasing dismay, as it maintained its arrow-like path toward the British Virgins, and then surprised the experts by intensifying to a nasty Category 3 hurricane with 115 knots of wind. With only six hours or so before he was going to hit the British Virgins, the only thing that could save the charter fleet and our boat was if Omar suddenly veered to the east, putting the BVIs on the 'soft side' of the hurricane rather than in its path. We don't know who to thank, but Omar not only did just that — but also managed to thread his way up through the Sombrero Passage to the open Atlantic Ocean. It was the only path he could have taken to avoid devastating boating and other interests on the British Virgins to the west and Antigua, St. Martin, and the other islands to the east. It was like he was a seeing-eye hurricane. As had been the case with Norbert, Omar's concentrated core also helped save everyone's boating bacon.

Former Marina Cabo San Lucas dockmaster Tim Schaaf, a friend of many Ha-Ha vets, not only had his R&C 47 Jetstream in the path of Omar in the British Virgins, but he had his body there, too. "We spider-webbed Jetstream in at Village Cay in Road Town, Tortola. After placing her in the middle of the slip, with 20 lines holding her in place, we shackled the anchor chain to the piling on the opposite dock, and then hoped for the best." Schaaf got all he could wish for when Omar's outer winds hit that night. "It started blowing out of the south, then backed around to the northeast. It did howl for quite a few hours, but by morning it was calm. A reliable source later told me they had 110-knot winds on the north side of Tortola, so we really lucked out by being in the lee of the island. Nonetheless, compared to what I lived through aboard my Hunter 33 Casual Water during hurricane Marty at Puerto Escondido, Baja, in September of '03, this was a piece of cake!"

As for our 'ti Profligate, she'd been taken to the mangrove-lined Paraquita Bay by BVI Yacht charters, our yacht management company. Apparently, it had been a chaotic two days prior to the hurricane, as more than 100 boats from The Moorings and other charter companies were also being jammed into the lagoon. But after Omar had passed, the news from BVI Yacht Charters' Carrie Hubbard couldn't have been better. "We got a lot of rain, but no great winds. All of our boats are back at our base from their safe havens, and as of 1:45 p.m. on October the 16th, we're back in business." Wow, less than 12 hours after the eye passed within 50 miles and they were up and running again. Apparently boats anchored off St. John in the U.S. Virgins had a rougher time of it, and the much smaller boating community in St. Croix, which the eye had grazed, didn't fare quite as well. But all things considered, it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

What should you do if you come ashore at Turtle Bay and a Mexican with a badge and receipts says you owe 40 pesos/person/day? You should pay him, because Turtle Bay is part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. According to Jaime Morales Villavicencio, a Biosphere official up at Guerro Negro, "the money will go for the conservation of protected areas and to the recovery programs of endangered animals in the Reserve. For cruisers who are going to be in Mexico for the season, what's better than paying about $4/person/day to go ashore? Paying about $26, because that buys you what they call a 'passport', which covers entering all the natural protected areas, biosphere reserves, national parks, and so forth in Mexico for an entire year. This would mean you could come ashore at all the islands in the Sea of Cortez without having to pay the day fee. Yes, we know there aren't always officials at the islands to collect, but you'd be doing the right thing by buying such a passport, and saving money in the long run.

Forget about the Energizer Bunny, these folks are relentless! We recently spoke with John and Amanda Swan Neal about their most recent year of expeditions aboard their Friday Harbor-based Hallberg Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare III. This was the 19th season, the last 11 with their current boat. During this time they've covered 119,000 ocean miles — and mind you, they don't avoid tough and/or transoceanic passages.

"We started this season on April 15 in the Arozes," said John, "and in the course of six sessions with six people in each session, visited Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, England, Spain, Portugal, Madeira and the Canaries. We're getting a more international group of students than ever, and this year had folks from Russia, South Africa, Romania, Switzerland, and Norway in addition to the United States." Currently in Hawaii on a break, Neal tells us he's been nearly overwhelmed with people wanting to consult with him on the purchase of boats from $20,000 to $1,000,000, and for spots on upcoming expeditions. "I don't know if it's because of the terrible financial markets, but I've gotten more calls since the Dow dropped below 9,000 than in the entire previous month. I don't know how long it's going to last, but right now we're a little busier than we'd like to be." The couple will resume their expeditions on November 4, taking a group across the Atlantic to Antigua, another group on to Panama for Christmas, then a third group to Hilo. While Mahina Tiare cools its heels in the Islands, John and Amanda will be giving their cruising seminars in early April in Oakland and Seattle. Come July, they'll be heading offshore again, with five legs on the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. While all the berths are sold out for the early legs, there are still a few openings for the latter ones. Go to Mahina Tiare for more information.

It's astonishing how many transoceanic miles John and Amanda have covered with six guests on their relatively modest-sized yacht. Another couple that does a similar thing, but not quite as much, is Richard and Sheri Crowe of Newport Beach. They spend a good part of the year sailing the S&S 65 Alaska Eagle all over the world for Orange Coast College's terrific offshore sailing classes. And what do they do when their stint is up on Eagle? They've gotten on whatever boat they owned at the time and did more long ocean passages. Their current boat is Tabu, the second Farr 44 they've built from scratch. Having done their three-month gig in the South Pacific with Eagle, the couple decided they wanted to do another Ha-Ha. The fact that their boat was on the hard in Ecuador at the time was no obstacle to these sailing maniacs. After flying down to their boat, they made a three-week passage back to San Diego — even though it required them to sail right through the heart of the Mexico's hurricane zone during the height of the season. In the course of the three-week passage, the couple only stopped for 18 hours in Acapulco, four days in Puerto Vallarta, and one hour in Cabo. They don't make offshore passages such as this because they have to, they do them because they love them! By the way, they raved about the folks in Ecuador, saying they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

Over the last few months we've been updating the slip situation for the winter in the more popular areas of Mexico. One area we haven't covered yet is Mazatlan. Harbormaster Geronimo Cevallos of Marina El Cid reports they'll have slips available after the big fishing tournament there November 12-15. It's a very nice facility with extras, and the rate is about $720/month for a 40-footer. Over at nearby Marina Mazatlan, Office Manager Elvira Lizaarraga reports that despite lots of reservations already for Ha-Ha boats, they still have slips. It's $613/month, electricity not included, for a 40-footer. Elvira wants everyone to know they have a new highspeed wi-fi system that, unlike the old one, covers the entire marina, and it's free. At just 200 miles across the Sea of Cortez from Cabo, the marinas in Mazatlan have always been popular places for Ha-Ha folks needing to leave their boats so they can return home to work.

As we reported earlier, most marinas in La Paz are pretty much sold out for the season, the notable exception being Marina Palmira. And check out the discount for Ha-Ha boats! The normal rate for a 40-footer is $708 a month, but Ha-Ha entrants get the same slip for just $460 a month. Harbormaster Eduardo Corona says that special Ha-Ha rate will last "through January or February." At that price, we'd make reservations today — and sign up for the Ha-Ha retroactively! And yes, that's a Ha-Ha ha-ha.

Banderas Bay is the third major post-Cabo destination for cruisers, and there's good news on the berthing scene there. While Dick Markie reports that Paradise Marina is, like always, very tight, you still might want to give him a call. Marina Nuevo Vallarta, across the lagoon from Paradise, is in the process of being dramatically enlarged and upgraded. These slips will gradually be coming online over the season, so contact Marina Manager Emilio Oyarzabal for slip availability. Marina Vallarta reports they are "already full for the season." The great news on Banderas Bay, however, is that the newish 400-berth Nayarit Riviera Marina in La Cruz reports it still has about about 180 of their 400 slips available. A 40-footer will go for $780. Harbormaster Christian Mancebo reports that both the 150-ton Travel Lift and fuel dock both should be operational by the end of November.

Slip prices are quoted in different ways in Mexico, as some include water, electricity, and taxes, some only include some of these things, and some include none of them. So contact each marina to get the exact price. The best way to get all the phone numbers in one place? Try Latitude 38's First Timer's Guide to Mexico, which you can read free online at

Since Frank Ohlinger of the Palua-based Apache 40 catamaran Cadence, author of the Changes about Nome and Northwest Passages in this issue's Changes in Latitudes, didn't say much about what he and his cat have been up to, we asked the former Monterey resident for an update. "I'm hunkered down in Palau now, taking these odd survey jobs as they come up. The thumbnail version of my last three years is that I sailed here on a delivery from Japan to the Philippines, and got more than I bargained for. Honestly, I was only looking for a beer and a hamburger at most. Romance was the furthest thing from my mind, as I thought all that nonsense was over for me. Well, as a result of that stop, I'm now married to the most beautiful island girl in the world. And we have a 10-month old baby boy, and live in a bungalow on the most beautiful lagoon in the world. I still plan to circumnavigate, but I no longer plan to do it alone. Cadence lays to her mooring in the lagoon, always ready to go for a sail, especially during the November to June high season."

Since many of you readers will be curious, the Republic of Palau, a mere 177 square miles, is located 500 miles to the east of the Philippines, and is home to just 20,000 people. Parts of it are stunningly beautiful.

"The late September weather in Mazatlan was it's normal hot, humid self, making work on boats slow because of the necessity of so many beer breaks," reports Bill Nokes of the Chetco, Oregon-based Gulfstar 41 ketch Someday. "One Sunday we — my crew Jeff Kennet and Jack Hodges, and some others — gathered to celebrate Bob Griffen's 80th birthday. He operates Bob's Marine Mart, and among the memories of his youth may have been the launching of the Cutty Sark. Anyway, we're already starting to see owners who have left their boats for the summer trickle back. As for us, we're impatiently awaiting the delivery of our new upholstery and cabinet work. The deliveries aren't behind schedule, but given the relatively cool tempreature of the Pacific and the weather patterns, it looks as though we could have headed south already."

Late September sounds maybe just a bit early to head south to us. After all, there have been two hurricanes along the coast of Mexico since then, plus we're told that Banderas Bay was a furnace in early October, being much hotter and more humid than Acapulco.

With the Mexico cruising season upon us, several first-time cruisers have asked us how safe it is in Mexico. We think it's very safe, particularly when you're cruising. There has been a lot of violence in Mexico, but it's almost all drug-related, and has generally occured in a limited number of areas. So take the normal precautions of not flashing wealth or being out late in dicey parts of town. In general, the cruising lifestyle doesn't lend itself to being the target of bad guys, and while you never know for sure, we doubt that it will in the future.

"The spread photo on pages 174-5 in October's Changes is incorrectly identified as an island in Croatian waters," writes Mark Blum of the Sacramento-based Hunter 356 Calypso. "But it's actually St. Marks Island, Tivatski Bay, which is at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, and the walled city of Kotor in Montenegro." Thanks for the correction. Andrew Vik of the San Francisco-based Islander 36 Geja, who cruised there this summer, sent us the correct identification, we just blew it.

Wen K. Lin of the Tiburon-based Swan 47 Wenlemir would not be denied. After a series of boat problems, Lin turned back some 800 miles in July's Singlehanded TransPac. On the way back to the Bay, he and his boat took such a beating that they ultimately had to be towed the last 200 miles by the Coast Guard. You might think that was enough of a saiing adventure for a 70-year-old. But not Lin. In September, after getting his sails and boat repaired, he and his nephew, a former Coastie stationed in Alaska, headed north to Alaska. It's a trip that Lin had done alone five years before.

"It took us two weeks to do the trip legs," Lin reports. "Leg One was from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. We motorsailed the entire way, enjoying the last days of summer. Leg Two was the most difficult of all, as we spent a day doing two knots in cold wind and nasty seas. We spent four days harbor bound in Eureka waiting for gales further north to blow themselves out. Eureka wasn't a bad place to be holed up. Leg Three was 2.5 days to Coos Bay, where there were 14-ft waves at the entrance and where a fishing boat had sunk the night before. The Coast Guard ordered us to motor around outside for six hours, during which time we managed to collide with the offshore buoy. Leg Four was to Gray's Harbor at the entrance to the Columbia River. When we asked a local where we could get a good Italian meal, he pointed and said, "Just down the road." We thought he meant it was within walking distance, but it was a two-hour bus ride away in Aberdeen! Leg Five to Neah Bay was supposed to be easy and it was, but what six years ago was a cozy little harbor is now a nondescript semi-commercial harbor. Leg Six was just 60 miles up to Victoria. We arrived at night and only got lost once before tying up in front of the Empress Hotel. As it was late in the season already, there was plenty of room. You need a good engine for a trip to the Pacific Northwest!"

And now, let's engage in a little trash talking. "With a new group of cruisers about to arrive in Mexico, we'd like to put in our two cents' worth about what to do with garbage generated on boats," writes Diane Ericsson of the Santa Cruz-based Cabo Rico 38 Emerald Star. "We did last year's Ha-Ha, had a great time, and have been down here ever since. But during this time we met some cruisers who surprised us by insisting that there's no reason to take any trash ashore! These folks are wrong, so we hope nobody listens to them. There's no need to throw garbage overboard in Mexico — or anywhere — especially if it's plastic, glass or metal. In addition to being just plain wrong, if you're not far enough offshore, it's illegal. As for regular garbage, any town large enough for paved streets will have garbage cans all over the waterfront and/or downtown areas, and some of the busier beaches along highways will have 55-gallon drums marked Basura. These cans are usually emptied daily. The marinas, of course, all have dumpsters. If you're going to be anchored away from a town for a period of time, here's a good guideline about what you can and can't throw overboard: if you would put it in your compost pile back home, it can go overboard. If you wouldn't put it in your compost pile, it shouldn't go overboard. But even in the case of organic waste, we ask you not to throw it overboard until you leave the anchorage. The reason is that even fruit and vegetable waste takes time to decompose, so it's likely that things like orange peels and avocado skins will end up on the beach and people will have to walk around them. Recyling bins are still pretty rare in Mexico, but some places do have them. Marina de La Paz, for example, has separate bins for aluminum, plastic, corrugated materials and glass. Beer bottles can be returned to a deposito, but you may need a receipt. If you have trouble returning bottles, give them to a Mexican, who might have better luck. Aluminum cans are collected by many people throughout Mexico as a way to supplement their income. Save your cans until you reach any medium or large town, them set them down near a regular garbage can. They'll quickly disappear. The Mexican government is really trying to turn the tide on litter, so let's please not have any cruisers contribute to the problem."

Well said.

"We're happy to report that after being out for a year now, our Explore Central America, Part 1, is now in its 7th new and improved edition," write Eric and Sherell, who are currently aboard their Mariah 31 Sarana in Ecuador. "We're excited to report that we're also publishing Part 2, which covers the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in great detail, including several spots never before written about. We've even got information on parts of Western Panama. These guides are basically done as a hobby. In fact, in such a small market there's no way to make money off of them. In fact, we could have made the same amount of money working in the U.S. for 10 days as we did on the first year sales of our book. So check out our labor of love guides at and see what you think."

"Who says there aren't enough boat slips in California?" asks Steve May of the Emeryville-based F-41 catamaran Endless Summer. As I was making my way south for the start of the Ha-Ha, the nice folks at the Pacific Mariner's YC in Marina del Rey made room for my catamaran — by allowing her to straddle two of their 35-ft slips! Quite a few folks have stopped by to observe the somewhat unusual sight it is."

"The word 'sailing' is often a misnomer when talking about cruising," write Frank and Janice Balmer of the Tacoma-based Gulfstar 50 Freewind, which is currently in the Med. "A better question is how much time cruisers spend sailing versus motoring. The answer not only depends on how much wind there is, but also the weather conditions including temperature, your destination, your boat's fuel capacity, the currents, and the patience you have for floating around while going nowhere. Nothing goes to prove our point more than our experience crossing from India to the Red Sea, then on up to the Suez Canal. Our last report was from Cochin, India, which we left in April with a good weather report and in expectation of favorable winds. The wind only lasted for a short while, and from there on out it was a motorboat ride the rest of the way. We're talking about 3,000+ miles with little or no wind, and at times up to three knots of opposing current. When there was wind, it blew so hard on the nose that it was impossible to lay a course to our destination without doubling the distance. Agreed, we did not cross this area at the most opportune time of the year, but changing global weather patterns have made weather predictions more problematic. Last season there never were any favorable winds in this area. So with the exception of a day here and a day there, we motored virtually the entire way."

It's true, many novice cruisers assume that you can simply sail anywhere you want, at any time of year, with relative ease and comfort. That's not true. In fact, that's why captains in the days of sail paid such careful attention to the sailing routes of the world. But with careful planning, patience, and love of being on the water, not everyone uses their sailboat as a 'motorboat'. The poster children of enginelss cruising, of course, are Larry and Lin Pardey, who have sailed the world over with their relatively heavy and short waterline 29-ft Taleisin. But they are hardly the only ones who cruise without an engine, as Glenn Tieman of Southern California did it for 10 years, and after about a five-year break is at it again with his 38-ft catamaran Manu Rere. Then there are the likes of Gig Harbor's Jack Van Ommen, who, as we recall, did most of a circumnavigation with his Naja 30 Fleetwood using no more than about 30 gallons of fuel per year. And Mark Wilcox and Wendy Hinman of the Pacific Northwest, who cruised the South Pacific and Asia for something like seven years aboad their Wylie 30 Velella. Their boat only had a 10-gallon tank, so you know they didn't motor much.

There's no doubt about it, cruisers who want to mostly or entirely sail to some destination need to plan carefully, be patient, know how to get the most out of their boat, and make sure their boat's bottom is clean. But generally speaking, modern cruisers aren't the most patient breed, aren't particularly skilled at getting the most out of their boats, and don't want to be told they can't sail wherever they want, whenever they want.

What to do? Check out next month's Latitude 38, where we will feature tips from the Pardeys on motoring as little as possible when cruising.

Missing the pictures? See our November 2008 eBook!


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