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November 2011

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  With reports this month from the new crew on Cocokai heading to Thailand; from Geja on Andrew Vik's latest summer cruise in the Med; from Windsong on great and inexpensive medical care in Panama; from Dolphin on a passage to Hawaii and the good life in the Kewalo Basin; from Zeppelin on Costa Rica; Moondance on its passage to Polynesia; and a generous helping of Cruise Notes.

Cocokai — 65-ft Schooner
Greg King and New Crew
Oz to Thailand
(Long Beach)

After five years and 25,000 miles of ocean sailing, boatowner Jennifer Sanders and her daughter Coco are taking a break back home in California. So captain Greg has taken on two new crewmembers from the Latitude 38 Crew List to make the 3.5-month trip from Oz to Thailand via Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. The two crew are Joe, 62, a real estate professional from the Bay Area, and Mora, who would be me, a 44-year-old nurse from Northern California.

We met in Cairns, Australia, in the last week of August. Cocokai was looking good after all the work — new deck, new batteries, rewound genset, resolved rigging issues — Jen and Greg had done to her in Townsville. Joe and I both wondered at our luck, as we checked out Cocokai and became acclimated to life on the water. We're pinching ourselves, having been invited to sail on the schooner all the way to Thailand.

Since Greg's Australian visa was expiring on September 23, we needed to make our way up the Queensland coast without delay. Southeasterly winds of 25 to 30 knots moved us up the coast quickly, although we got to enjoy stops at Lizard Island, Margaret Bay, Seisha and Gove.

My first-ever night watches were challenging, as we had to maneuver through the Great Barrier Reef and along the shipping lanes. But I have come to love the solitude and beauty of night watches. The Milky Way is so bright that it illuminates the opaque sail. And when we had wind, I found the sound of waves rushing by to be exhilarating.

Along the way we've met many friendly Aussies with warm smiles. The fishing has been great, too, as Greg has caught big mackerel and wahoo without much effort. In fact, his only complaint has been that he only gets to fish for five minutes every other day before we have all the fish we need! On the downside, we've encountered outrageous prices — the Aussie dollar is sky high, which is why Aussies are coming to California to buy boats — for everything from food to engine parts. Then there's the murky water, which, although we haven't seen any yet, is supposedly home to Australia's notorious human-eating crocs.

The Torres Strait featured big breaking swells and 'the hole in the wall', which is a narrow passage between interesting rock formations. We are currently in the middle of what probably will be a five-day passage from Darwin to Kupang, Indonesia. The seas are flat and there isn't a trace of wind. Our next stops are Flores Island, Komodo Island and Bali.

— mora 9/30/11

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
(San Francisco)

When I first bought the 32-year-old Geja sight-unseen in '08 through an article in ‘Lectronic Latitude, I had no idea that several amazing summers of Mediterranean cruising lay ahead. I just wrapped up the fourth here in Trogir, Croatia, a UNESCO World Heritage Center. Unlike the three-month, five-country voyages of past summers, this year’s itinerary was scaled back to just six weeks of cruising along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. As an overly social cruiser who loves the southern European vacation vibe, I chose to sail during the peak of the peak season, which was July 9 to Aug. 21. The weather is more reliable than in June and September, and the quaint island villages are way too quiet for me during the shoulder season.

I typically bring along a second suitcase full of parts and other odds and ends, like fuel filters, ZipLoc bags, one-inch zincs, and other things that are either much more expensive or unavailable in Europe. The dollar was particularly weak this summer, trading at over $1.40 per euro, so buying parts at home really paid off. We are spoiled in the U.S. by how easily and affordably we can acquire just about any consumer goods. It helps greatly that our sales tax is so low, and in many cases avoidable. Most Europeans pay well over 20% in value added tax (VAT).

Joining me this summer were the usual assortment of friends and acquaintances, mostly Scandinavians, starting off with Sven and Neil, two skilled wingmen. Our very first stop was the lively student town of Split, where I’d spent many weeks at the end of previous summers. We anchored in front of the bustling waterfront.

We were awakened that first Saturday morning, slightly hung over, by a shout from a port official. "Give me your boat papers!” the expectedly surly official demanded. Starting last year, officials had begun to implement a 'no anchoring' policy in the huge harbor, as it "interferes with the large ferries". My ass it does, as I was floating in just seven feet of water. In any event, I was instructed to go to the port captain's office, and bring 1,000 kuna — 150 euro — to reclaim my boat papers.

I reported to the office with just 300 kuna and a plan to plead for a reduced fine on the basis of poverty. After some discussion, the boarding officer invited me for coffee at a café. I waited patiently through two rounds of drinks, but we never reached an alternate resolution. He paid the tab, and told me to come to the office when I had enough money.

Feeling out of options, I returned to his office with the full amount — only to be whisked away to the café again. But after being treated to yet another drink — or was it I who was paying, albeit indirectly? — I still had to cough up the full amount. It made no sense. I left Split thinking that if they really don’t want to keep fining people, they need to enlarge the tiny 'no anchoring' sign, and relocate it from the remote corner of the harbor. So continues my love/hate relationship with Croatia.

Heading north, Primosten, a lovely little mainland holiday beach town, is always a popular stop. We three from Geja took seats at an outdoor wine bar in the center of town alongside two attractive blondes. Imagine our surprise when one turned out to be a Croatian-born Oakland resident, the other a San Franciscan now living in Marin! A San Franciscan myself, we had plenty to talk about. We continued the evening aboard my anchored-out Geja, partying and swimming well into the night.

We unexpectedly ran into the girls again the next day, so we invited them to join us sailing to the next town north — with the customary swim stop along the way. Croatia offers so many anchorages that one can almost always break up a typical 20-mile daysail with a lunch stop. The girls were happy to join, and were great company. Is it me, or do boats just somehow smell better with women onboard?

One of the main highlights of the region is Krka National Park and its beautiful waterfalls. From the underrated mainland town of Sibenik, you sail nine miles up the Krka River, passing two bridges. You just need to watch for reduced clearance due to bungee jumpers at the first bridge! From the quaint river town of Skradin, excursion boats take tourists the rest of the way up to the park area, where one — along with thousands of other vacationing Europeans — can spend hours admiring the cascading waterfalls. Anchoring and swimming in Skradin is a treat, as the water is fresh, a nice change from the Adriatic, which is unusually salty. The only danger in the area is a family of swans. If you invade their territory, they will charge at you like a bull. Having had a fright, Neil can vouch for that.

When sailing in the Med, I see few American-built sailboats around, and they are mostly Hunters. I always figured that my Islander 36 must be one of very few California-made plastic classics around. But in Skradin, I was most surprised when an Italian with an Ericson 34 circled my boat at anchor. It was my first such encounter with another California-built boat, but we only had time for a few words.

Back downstream and into the sea, just north of Sibenik, Vodice, one of Croatia’s better coastal party towns, just north of Sibenik, was our next stop. The guys and I arrived just in time for this summer’s opening night at Hacienda, a large open-air nightclub on the edge of town. We began the night aboard Geja with a few cocktails of proper strength, as the standard Croatian well drink includes not a drop more than an ounce of alcohol. Drinks aboard Geja usually involve Red Bull or some equivalent energy-drink knockoff, as parties in the Med usually don't end before dawn.

After a stop at Makina, a very entertaining although overpacked dance bar just along the waterfront, we finally made it to Hacienda at 1 a.m. The mostly-locals place was insane, with go-go dancers galore, and countless tall and thin Croatian girls parading around in skimpy dresses and sexy heels. Alas, even though many young Croatians speak excellent English, they tend to be leery of outsiders, so they stick to themselves.

Heading back to Sibenik to swap crew, we were enjoying an easy broad reach when entering the narrow channel near town. Since the 300-foot Turkish cargo ship I. Sahinkaya was coming out of the channel, I altered course upwind on starboard tack. Just as we passed the ship, I could see and hear its crew running around screaming that they had lost steerage. They soon grounded, the ship's bow rising as it came to an uneventful stop. Given all the traffic in the channel, things could have turned out much worse.

It was around this time that I experienced the worst breakdown of the entire trip. While I attempted to use Skype on my iPhone 3GS, the phone crashed and just wouldn’t restart. Getting it running again required restoring it to factory settings, but that would also undo the special unlocked mode that I had applied long before. Without its being unlocked, I would no longer be able to use the local Croatian SIM card, one that provided phone service and internet all along the Croatian coast. Although I rely on MacENC navigation software running on my Macbook Pro down below, it sure is nice to have the Navionics charts available in the cockpit on my iPhone. I never was able to get the phone running properly again. Where are those cheap Craigslist hackers when you need them?

With new crew on board - a Swede, a Dane, and an Australian - we continued north from Sibenik, a day late due to unstable weather and blustery winds. Our first stop was the Kornati Islands, a dense archipelago of deforested islands that offer a stark moon-like appearance. The islands are uninhabited aside from some summer cottages. Restaurants operate during the summer, and often provide free docks and buoys for their customers. With little vegetation, there is superb hiking among these islands. And sailing through the long, narrow island chain is a dream! The water is flat, and there is usually an afternoon breeze.

As we sailed along, the wind lightened and became fickle just when we needed to squeeze through a narrow passage. An Austrian-flagged boat had been sailing alongside for some time, and as they were but one boat length away and with their sails flapping, I motioned to the helmsman for room. Only when he stood up did I realize that he was naked. We exchanged a few words about our course, and kept on sailing. When you sail in the Med, you get used to people from German-speaking nations being naked.

After a wonderful couple of days in the Kornati Islands and Telascica Nature Park, we sought some civilization in the small town of Sali on Dugi Otok (Long Island). With a good WiFi signal from a nearby cafe, I stayed up quite late one night, catching up on emails. Then sometime after 2 am, there was a voice coming from outside. It was a girl shouting, “Hey San Francisco!” I came up to the cockpit to find a hot - and inebriated - blonde, wearing all white, standing at the quay. In this part of Croatia, many people have ties to the United States, and this New Yorker was spending the summer in Sali visiting relatives. She was surprised to see a U.S.-flagged boat moored in her little town. Unfortunately, our conversation ended prematurely, thanks to her overly protective brother.

The next crew change took place in the prominent mainland town of Zadar, where the only mooring choices are in one of several marinas. One night at Marina Zadar cost 63 euro, or about $90 at this summer’s exchange rate. As is the case with most marinas in Croatia, the facilities are in great shape, and the bathrooms are super clean and open 24 hours a day. In addition the water supply is clean and plentiful. In fact, the primary drinking water aboard Geja is Croatian tap water. But still, $90?! These were my only two nights in a marina this summer.

I prefer to avoid the heat of the cities during the height of the summer, but Zadar was a surprisingly fun place. It helped that we were there during an unusual cool spell, with daytime highs not even topping 80 degrees. My new crewmembers were two Norwegians, who arrived just as the tragic terrorist events were unfolding in Oslo.
Heading north from Zadar, one begins to see the Velebit Mountains, the source of notoriously strong bora offshore winds. These mountains stand nearly 6,000 feet tall. On this day, the mountain range resembled San Francisco’s Twin Peaks on a foggy summer day, as clouds draped from their peaks, an indication that the bora winds were blowing. Boras have been clocked at up to 90 knots, but the summer version blessed us with 20 knots on a beam reach.

One of the great elements of cruising is the surprise factor. With a crappy weather forecast, we pulled into the well-protected harbor in Rab Town on what just happened to be the final day of their Medieval Festival. It was an amazing evening, with thousands of folks enjoying exhibits of medieval culture along the narrow, crooked alleyways of a town that seems to have changed very little since, well, the middle ages. Fireworks followed, along with a wild thunderstorm during the night.
More Croatian adventures next month.

— andrew 10/08/11

Windsong — Islander Freeport 36
Frank Nitte and Shirley Duffield
Passing Stones in Panama
(ex-San Diego, now Panama)

In California, you could easily pay more to park for a doctor's appointment than the doctor's appointment itself would cost in many foreign countries. For aging cruisers — and there there are many of us — the cost of medical care is of ever-increasing importance.

Now that Shirley and I call Panama home, let me explain what I'm talking about. And in the process, you'll learn why more cruisers, retirees and 'medical tourists' are setting their sights on this Central American nation these days.

Shirley rushed me to the hospital on August 1, as I was suffering from severe pain in my left side and groin. It was kidney stones. Very painful stuff. We first went to our regular doctor's office, but were then directed to the hospital.

Just the situation at the hospital emergency room check-in was revealing. We arrived at about 8 p.m., and found a long line in front of the admittance counter. I sat while Shirley got in line to check in. When the pain prevented me from sitting any longer, I started pacing. The woman behind the desk noticed, and asked me if I wanted a chair. I told her — in my finest Spanish — that I was in too much pain to sit.

She looked at the paperwork from my doctor, then immediately ran into the emergency room. She returned with a nurse and a wheelchair, and I was taken into the emergency room, where I was promptly hooked up to IVs and painkillers. This was before Shirley had even started filling out the paperwork! Needless to say, this never, ever would have happened in the U.S.

I was later wheeled into a private room, where I spent the night on IVs, painkillers and antibiotics. I was given a CT scan and ultrasound the next morning, then returned to my room. I was released about 3 p.m., as I must have passed the stones.
My total bill was $800 U.S. That broke down to $550 for the doctor and hospital, and $250 for the CT scan. What do you think it would have cost in the States? My doctor was great. The nurses were great. The hospital was clean and efficiently run.

­— frank 9/15/11

Dolphin — Islander 44
Skip White
Enjoying Hawaii
(Port San Luis)

After enjoying Ha-Ha XVII a year ago, I'm now writing this from a coffee shop with internet access an easy walk from my new berth at the Kewalo Basin Harbor, Oahu. The harbor is now being run by staff from Almar Marinas rather than the state employees, and Almar has done an excellent job of both making the marina accessible to new cruisers and filling the marina with boats. Kewalo does suffer from surge during the south swells of summer that light up the numerous surf breaks within walking distance. But if you're a surfer, it means you can check the surf without having to leave your bunk.

Beyond the occasional surge, Kewalo is idyllic. After all, it's adjacent to massive Ala Moana Park, all the great beach activities, surfing, a half-mile long reef-protected swim area, and more. If you look around at the bodies on the beach, you'll find an endless number of reasons to stay fit. I also get a kick out of the guys/girls carrying their surfboards into the nearby markets, on their way home from surf sessions. Given all the people who enjoy the Ala Moana area, it's pretty darn clean. And there is a police substation in the harbor.

Everything you could want is convenient to Kewalo. I can take a short walk to a new first-rate cineplex, gazillions of restaurants, several markets, countless bars, four different Starbuck locations, the huge Ala Moana Mall, Wal-Mart, and a Sam's Club. In addition, West Marine is finishing up a new flagship store down the street a ways. And I can easily walk to downtown Honolulu or Waikiki.

I set sail for Hilo from the Punta Mita, Mexico anchorage in April. I didn't get far before I ran into a pod of humpbacks that surfaced just a few yards off my port side. I had to head into the wind and start the engine to avoid a collision. Anyway, it scared the hell out of me, as humpbacks are more 'active' than other whale species. After they crossed ahead of me, the bull in the group surfaced in my direction and escorted me away from the rest of the pod.

Three-and-a-half days into my trip, I was getting launched off waves and slammed down in the troughs, so I was glad to anchor off Isla San Benedicto, one of Mexico's four remote Revillagigedo Islands the next day. Alone in the well-protected anchorage with a sandy bottom, I saw spectacular giant manta rays; some cast a wingspan of over 20 feet!

As expected, the passage to Hawaii consisted of a beat, a reach, and then a run. There were no specific wind lines or predictable patterns for each change, it was just that the north wind became more consistent than the northwesterly wind. But each struggled for dominance during the day and night, which kept me on my sail trim toes. Once the north wind emerged victorious, the northeasterly popped up and said hello. Eventually it took over, but was in turn replaced by an easterly wind.

There were several boats making the crossing the same time that I was, with some in front and others behind. It was nice to have company. I checked in with the Seafarers Net each day with a position report to let my family know where I was and that I was fine.

The only drama occurred about halfway across when I thought to tighten the bolts holding the windvane to the transom. When I sheared one of the bolts in the process, it occurred to me that I should stop going to the gym. I'm not sure how it was possible, given the fact I was using a stubby wrench on a 3/8-inch bolt, located in such a place that I had to do a yoga pose to access it.

Hove to about 1,000 miles to Hawaii and 1,300 miles from Mexico, I watched in fright as the only other bolt holding the lower windvane bracket looked as though it was none too happy to do the job of two. I tried to position a new bolt through the windvane's lower gudgeon, lining it up with the hole in the transom while hanging over the side and seeing my hands and tools disappear as the waves washed against the boat, but I just couldn't do it. I gave up trying to thread another 3/8-incher, and went to a hardened quarter-inch bolt. After more than two hours at the task, I was on my way again, albeit with a little less sail than before. When I got to Hilo, I pulled the entire vane and upgraded to half-inch bolts.

I caught plenty of dorado, so I was never short of fresh fish. I played my guitar, singing to no one, and loved it. When was the last time you got to really belt it out? I pretty much hella enjoyed my 21 days doing the 2,700 miles to Hilo, including the stopover at Benedicto.

Being the closest of the Hawaiian Islands, Hilo is the logical port of entry on this passage for checking back into the States. Radio Bay is quiet and provides a great place to rest while making sojourns around the Big Island. I eventually sailed around notoriously windy South Point. It was advertised as 30 to 40 knots, but there is usually a reward after such passages, isn't there? In my case it was the lee of the southern part of the Big Island, where there is a huge wind shadow even during the most boisterous of tradewind periods. I anchored at the beautiful Cook's Bay anchorage, and had it to myself. Indeed, I found no other cruising boats south of Kona, and only a few north of that. It was to the north that I caught a 5-foot wahoo. It made me feel like a king for the day, and when I got to the next anchorage I passed out 5-pound chunks of fresh fish to fellow cruisers.

Thanks to the demands that the Alenuiha'ha Channel makes on sailors, I waited out the wind for the passage between Nishimura Bay on the Big Island and La Perouse Bay on Maui. I left before dawn with a forecast of winds to 25 knots in the channel — which was down from the maelstrom that had been going on for days. The wind was indeed blowing 25 knots before long, with higher gusts. Because of the strong winds and the steep, short period waves, I could easily see how the unwary or novice sailor could get into trouble here. After arriving at La Perouse, I surfed Voodoo’s on a south swell with only a few guys out. It was while I was diving on my anchor that a pod of adult dolphin swam within an arm’s reach of me. The memory of the soulful glance I received from one of those dolphin in the wild is something that I'll never outlive.

I found Lahaina Harbor to be like Avalon on steroids — but with the best sunsets in the world. And just sitting in my cockpit watching the daily tourist traffic in the harbor was worth the price of admission.

But to my thinking, nobody has really sailed until they've anchored off Waikiki Beach. The skyline, the surfers, the beach-bathers, the profile of Diamond Head — it's the epitome of beach living. It turns out that I had anchored in the path of the Friday Night beer can race, and boats were splitting at my bow and stern. I got awkward gawks and shaka's welcoming me to Oahu.

I’m here until the end of the southern hemisphere cyclone season. If anyone wants to see a video of my crossing or join me to sail the South Pacific, they should visit

— skip 10/15/11

Zeppelin — Huntingford 47
Wayne and Elly Smith
Costa Rica
(Vancouver, B.C.)

Called the 'Switzerland of Central America' because of its neutral and democratic ideals, Costa Rica, aka the 'rich coast', is also a paradise for nature and ecology lovers. We visitors can enjoy many national parks and nature reserves that protect some samples of the extraordinarily varied ecosystems, including dry tropical forests, cloud forests, and nine active volcanoes. Birdwatchers and butterfly lovers flock here as well, to gaze at some of the 850 or so species of birds and untold varieties of butterfly. There are many rivers, a fact that makes whitewater rafting popular, and there are zipline tours over and through the jungle canopy. All this plus miles of white sandy beaches, awesome surfing, and a growing number of yoga retreats make this country ideal for just about any traveler's tastes.

It's good to visit by boat, however, because only about 4,000 miles of the country's 20,000 miles of roads are paved. Despite the lack of paved roads, Costa Rica has the highest standard of living in Central America, the highest literacy rate (95%), the second lowest birth rate after Panama, and the greatest degree of economic and social advancement.

We arrived extremely salty and tired at Bahia Santa Elena, which is a pristine, nearly land-locked cove within a national park in the northwestern corner of the country. We found a great location to anchor, where we could feel the breeze but not the full force of the 20 knots of wind. It was good to get the anchor down after a 16-hour passage, and in time to watch the sun set over the hilltops. It was serene and idyllic, as other than one fishing boat and the parrots and howler monkeys having their sundown chit chat, we were the only ones there. The next morning was just as stunning, as we sat in this glorious bay all by ourselves. The odd panga with fishermen would pass by, and fish and rays would jump around the boat, making it a truly blissful setting for my morning yoga practice.

There are a few reefs and some large rocks just off Bahia Santa Elena, which gave us a chance to snorkel. There is a river estuary at the far end of the bay that you can paddle into at high tide, but there are crocs in these waters. In fact, we saw a small one on the beach at the opposite end of the river, so we kept off the beach. There are also about five hiking trails, which are old service roads, so people who enjoy nature and solitude could enjoy a month here.

There is thunder, lightning and rain every day in Costa Rica. So after two days of having the salt washed off the boat, cockpit cushions and our clothing, we figured it was high time we found some internet access — something not to be found at Bahia Santa Elena.

Out next stop was around the point and down the coast at Playa del Coco, a mile-wide bay that plays host to many sportfishing boats, local fishing boats, and tourist catamarans. It is a pretty town with lots of tourists — which was a bit of a shock, since we'd come from El Salvador, where you rarely see tourists. Like all tourist resorts, it had inflated prices and an international feel. We met a few Canadian business owners and residents, lots of Americans, and folks from Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy.

Playa del Coco is where southbound cruisers check in to the country. Unless you're lucky, you'll need to set aside two days for the process. Wayne saw the port captain at 8 a.m, and Migracion at 10 a.m., and the agriculture inspector came onboard at 2 p.m. Customs, which is a 45-minute drive away at the airport, closes at 4 p.m. The ag inspector was savvy enough to have a buddy who just happened to have a truck and could drive us the 45 minutes to the Customs office near the airport for $40 round-trip. The local taxi drivers wanted 50% more, so we lucked out.

When checking in at Costa Rica, be advised that you'll need several copies of all your documents. The Costa Ricans are fanatics for paperwork. In order to clear in, we had to pay $60 to Agriculture, plus $40 for the ride to Customs. If you'd prefer to sit on the deck of your big yacht while someone else checks in for you, you could head down to Marina Papagayo, where they'll take care of everything for $300.

We enjoyed walking the dirt roads of Playa del Coco and seeing all the activity. We were amazed to find three dive shops in such a small town, so we figured the diving must be pretty good. We decided to dive with Deep Blue Divers, three people from the Netherlands who set up their business five years ago.

It had been six months since our last dive, so we wanted to keep our first one on the easy side. It turned out to be just us and a fellow from Switzerland. We saw white-tipped reef sharks, a zillion reef fish that we have seen throughout Mexico, two octopus, lobsters, and stunning spotted rays. It was the first time I had been in the water with two white- tipped sharks so close. Our guide told us to stay still as they circled us. Yikes!

But that was nothing. A few days later we did a dive at Isla Murcielagos, which was an hour panga ride from Coco. The purpose of the dive was to see big bull sharks — and see them we did! We descended, found an open sandy area with rocks to hang onto against the current, and waited. It was as if a curtain was raised and suddenly the sharks came out from behind it. Let me tell you, these fellas were grand! They were not only 10 to 12 feet long, but they were very full through the torso rather than long and lean like most sharks. We hung out on the sand and watched them circle to check us out. At one point there were six of them in view at the same time. It was an unbelievable experience! Given the fact that it rains every night in Costa Rica, the visibility was quite good.

We took our boat over to Marina Papagayo that weekend to get fuel and spend an evening with Len and Erin of Maestro, Eric of Perfect Wave, and Matt of Red Sky. It was great to see them again and catch up, as we'd all been in El Salvador at the same time.

Marina Papagayo is about seven miles from Playas del Coco in Bahia Culebra. It’s a fairly new first-class marina with excellent docks and facilities. The only negatives are that it’s a long way from town and they sometimes get a bit of surge. But the facility and staff — especially Dan Eaffaldano, the manager of marina operations — are terrific. We ended up staying two nights, and Dan gave us a great deal on our moorage. The marina's rates are very competitive with everyone else's in Costa Rica, especially considering how nice it is.

We departed Playas del Coco ­ along with more copies of documents for the port captain — and began our journey down the coast of Costa Rica. The green on the mountain sides was so rich and soft looking that it reminded me of broccoli flowerets. Just stunning! The photos of Costa Rica for the postcards don't need to be Photoshopped. In addition, the water color is either cobalt blue or turquoise green. It shimmers as the boat glides through the water.

We were thrilled to see the green Olive Ridley turtles everywhere in the water. In fact, many of them were mating, something we hadn't seen before. This coastline is one of their nesting grounds. Their shell is quite different, as it is heart-shaped and the bump on top is easily seen in the water. This turtle is the smallest of the sea turtles, weighing in at less than 100 lbs. The Olive Ridley is widely regarded as the most abundant sea turtle in the world, but has experienced population loss due to egg poaching, hunting and commercial fishing.

Next month we'll report on Costa Rica's Peninsula de Nicoya.

— elly 10/12/11

Moondance — Tayana V-42
Carla and Doug Scott
California to Nuku Hiva
(Albuquerque, New Mexico)

After 15 years of planning and scheming, we finally realized our dream of sailing to French Polynesia. White sandy beaches, crystal blue waters, swaying palm trees, tropical fish — that’s what we wanted to see! Yeah, it took a little longer than we'd anticipated, and we are a little older than we wanted to be, but we've learned so much along the way, have seen and done so many wonderful things, and met some really amazing people. The time has just flown by.

We left Alameda in the fall of '08 to do the Ha-Ha to Mexico. No, we weren't ready, so our boat buddies just cast off our docklines, knowing it was the only way to get us moving. And it worked.

We spent 2½ years in Mexico preparing Moondance: generator, watermaker, wind generator, solar panels, and lots more installations and integrations. We had some fun, too, of course. We fell in love with sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mazatlan, and the Mexican people. We still miss it all — including the cheap tacos, fresh tortilla chips and $1 beers.

With Moondance ready for the '11 Pacific Puddle Jump, we applied for a six-month visa for French Polynesia. No way did we want to sail all that way and only get three months. It was a challenge to get the six-month visa, but worth it.

Brian Wudrich, our Puddle Jump crew, joined us in La Cruz, where we had spent two months provisioning, completing projects, meeting other Puddle Jumpers, and attending the seminars. We can't say enough about La Cruz being a great place for Puddle Jumpers to gather in January through March.

All cruisers change plans. Our first was to skip the Galapagos because the rules for visiting seemed too complex and because we discovered we had to get to Tahiti within 60 days of arriving in French Polynesia.

Change two was to take off from Cabo rather than La Cruz, as we weren't getting any wind off Banderas Bay, and we thought we'd have a better point of sail from Cabo. So after motorsailing to the Cape, we set off on April 6. It turned out to be a good decision.

On our sixth day at sea, we changed plans for the third time. The wind, waves, and current just weren't cooperating, so we decided to sail directly to the Marquesas instead of stopping at the Gambier Islands.

The first week of our passage was cold, so we were happy to finally be able to shed our clothes. We were fortunate that we had a mild crossing of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Others weren't so lucky, and had to deal with intense squalls, thunderstorms and days of no wind.

With three of us onboard, we went with two-hour watches, which meant that we had two hours on and four hours off. The chief cook and bottle washer — me — wasn’t responsible for any day watches. So we ate very well – fresh baked bread, good hearty meals, brownies and other treats. It is a little challenging cooking and cleaning on a boat that is constantly in motion. Mainly it takes longer to do everything.

Except for a spinnaker halyard parting — we recovered the chute — nothing broke on the crossing and all our systems worked. Twenty-two days out of Cabo we dropped anchor in the beautiful Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. We were happy to be there. We motored 30 hours during the 2,804 miles. We caught six yellowfin tuna and one — yum! — mahi mahi.

While we did have a little bit of bad weather and more uncomfortable sailing conditions than we'd expected, we also had some wonderful sailing. And the crossing was a great weight loss program. All in all, it's been a great adventure, signing up for the Puddle Jump was a terrific idea, and now we can't wait to explore French Polynesia.

— carla and doug 06/12/11

Cruise Notes:

Congratulations to Richard Clack of Alameda, who in September of this year completed a seven-year circumnavigation with his Catana 44 Mystic Rhythms. His longer-term crew — meaning more than a month — during the 40,000-mile trip included Jennifer, Doris, Claudie, Anne, Elke, Kerry, Jeanet, Meadow, Erica, Wendy, Johanna and Odette. So you can tell, Richard wasn't one to discriminate against female crew. He got a lot of the crew from the Latitude 38 Crew List, and something called Seven Knots. A self-described "computer type", Clack says he was at an "awkward age" to be a cruiser. "All the other cruisers were either 25 or 60. The people my age — 45 — are too young to be retired or are too busy with kids." Clack, who also owns an F-27 trimaran, has put his cat up for sale, and loves to just talk about them. If he doesn't sell the Catana, he might just take off cruising again. We'll have more on his circumnavigation in the next issue.

The 48-ft aluminum sloop Quantum Leap was abandoned 600 miles from Hawaii on October 6 after her skipper, Phillip Johnson, 62, was badly injured during a passage from Washington to Hawaii. This according to Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack, who have done two Ha-Ha's with their Santa Rosa-based Valiant 50 Raptor Dance, but who were aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Century when the rescue took place. The cruise ship was diverted after the sailboat's skipper had been violently thrown from one side of the salon to the other. The impact resulted in his suffering five broken vertebrae and a cracked rib. The other two crew were uninjured, but the boat had suffered serious damage, including the loss of power. It's worth noting that Johnson had a satphone aboard, which allowed him to contact the Coast Guard with not just his position, but the nature of his emergency.

"I'd like to share some thoughts on health care and money issues in Mexico," writes John 'Corby' White of the Puerto Vallarta-based Yorktown 35 Laniack. "With the cancer having spread to the lungs of Elaine Berger, my partner of 10 years, she is going through her second round of chemo. So we haven't been out sailing much, although hopefully that will change during the Banderas Bay Blast in late November. Elaine and I were able to get full IMSS — Mexican social security — health coverage for $900 a year through her work. If she hadn't got it through work, the full coverage wouldn't have kicked in right away. She's about to drop that coverage, however, as she'll soon be eligible to get the same full coverage for only $250 a year. And I mean full coverage. For example, when she had to take a bus to Guadalajara to see doctors or get chemo treatment, the health insurance even paid for her bus tickets. But it's going to be much nicer now that she can get treatment at the new chemo room here at the IMSS hospital in Puerto Vallarta — although the latest round was delayed by hurricane Jova. All things considered, Elaine's care has been pretty good — although just as in the United States, you have to stay on top of your doctors and the medicines they prescribe. In any event, there is no way we could have afforded this kind of health care if we still lived in Aspen. Lanie would have ended up at a county hospital in Denver. Some of the rules are being changed for the IMSS coverage for Americans, but for cruisers who are going to be here a few years, we think it's still worth looking into.

"Latitude wrote about money in Mexico in the September 26 'Lectronic and got it right," continues White. "Up until a month ago, Wal-Mart would take U.S. $50 bills and give customers change in pesos. They would also have the best exchange rate — better than even Lloyd's Bank — so we'd often buy something at Wally World with a U.S. $50 and get a lot of pesos back at a great exchange rate. But they won't let you do that anymore."

To summarize what we wrote in that 'Lectronic about Mexican money matters, we noted that the dollar has recently taken a big jump — up to 14% in the last couple of months — versus the peso, meaning this year's cruisers are likely to enjoy Mexico at a 10 to 15% discount. The exceptions are at places where only dollars are accepted, such as at many marinas or where customers are given a crummy rate of exchange.

Usually you can get the best exchange rate at ATMs, and if you go to one where your bank has a relationship with a Mexican bank — the Bank of America with Santander, for example — you don't pay a transaction fee. And depending on how little money you take out — they encourage you to take small amounts — the transaction fees can be extremely high. Remember that banks are few and far between, even in big cities. Furthermore, don't expect that you can just walk into even a big bank and exchange large-denomination bills for pesos. Most stores won't take U.S. $100 bills, even if you're buying close to $100 worth of stuff, because they're trying to limit money laundering. And places like Costco even limit the amount of U.S. money they'll accept. We once tried to pay a $350 bill with four U.S. $100s. They made us break it up into two purchases of less than $200 each. No matter where you go in Mexico, carry lots of small bills.

Lastly, if you're going to use your credit card in Mexico, inform your credit card company in advance, or your charge might be declined. In the case of Citibank, inform them 10 times so they get the message. And if you use a credit card in Mexico, monitor your account online frequently, as there is lots of credit card fraud.

"Would you be interested in an article on the first annual Sabang International Regatta, which was held September 15-25?" wonders Ivan Orgee of the Alameda-based Catalina 42 Thumbs Up. According to the vet of both the '08 Ha-Ha and the '09 Puddle Jump, "the rally started in Phuket, Thailand, took the fleet down to Langkawi, Malaysia, and then finally over to Subang, Indonesia. Although the event takes the fleet down and then across the once pirate-ridden Malacca Strait, it's basically a bash to Wei, Aceh Province, Indonesia."

Of course we'd love a report, particularly one with some high-res photos. If we could cruise anywhere, it would be the Med. But since it's become so ungodly expensive — how about $10/ft/night to Med-tie in Portofino, Italy? — in that part of the world, Southeast Asia has become our number one alternative destination. So much culture — and often for even less money than Mexico. As for those of you who think life has to be somber in Muslim countries, you've never been to a party at the Royal Langkawi YC in Malaysia. Talk about partying hearty! Pass the Jack, please.

It's been nine quiet years since Kenna, the second most powerful West Coast hurricane ever, bypassed Puerto Vallarta to score a devastating direct hit on San Blas 60 miles to the north. But Puerto Vallarta, which has never been hit by a hurricane, got a double scare this October, when for a time hurricanes Jova and Irwin were projected to score direct hits on the tourist/cruiser paradise. Unlike most Eastern Pacific hurricanes, which start down near Guatemala and then pretty much parallel the coast offshore to the northwest, these two weirdos started far offshore and headed ENE for Banderas Bay and Puerto Vallarta. Days later, after sharp turns and other tricks, it looked as though the two storms were going to leave almost identical paths of destruction through the Banderas Bay region. Fortunately, Jova, which eventually came ashore as a Category 2 hurricane, did so about 70 miles south of Banderas Bay near the popular cruiser anchorage of Chemela, and while on a NNE course. This meant not only that her eye missed population centers and was soon crippled by the jungle-covered mountains, but that she actually passed to the east — meaning inland — of Puerto Vallarta. As a result, boats at the four marinas in Banderas Bay hardly got their anemometers turning. Other popular cruising destinations on the Gold Coast, including Tenacatita Bay, Barra de Navidad, and Manzanillo, suffered much more from flooding than from wind damage. The most noticeable damage was to many of the beachfront restaurants lining Barra, most of which were built on sand and with bogus foundations. As of press time, we've been unable to make contact with the marina at Barra, but we'll bet they did fine and will be ready for the start of the cruising season. Karina Loccano, dockmaster at Las Hadas Marina, tells us they had a lot of wind and rain, but no damage at all. By the time cruisers get to the Gold Coast cruising destinations in December and January, we're confident they'll mostly be as good as new, and there will still be plenty of Barra beachfront restaurants at which to enjoy sundowners. In other words, we're not changing our plans to cruise the Gold Coast with Profligate in January.

On the other side of the Americas, Greg and Debbie Dorland of the Squaw Valley-based Catana 52 Escapade hauled out in Belfast, Maine, to escape hurricane Irene. Once their cat was out and Irene had passed, they decided to leave her on the hard for the month so they could enjoy a month of fall at Squaw. They've since relaunched Escapade, hurried down to Annapolis for the boat show, and are now back in Solomons, Maryland, where they are getting residual problems taken care of, the result of having had to replace all their lightning-damaged electronics. By the time you read this, the couple, along with Bill and Patty Meanley of San Diego, with whom they reconnected during the '08 Ha-Ha after 30 years, plan to make the passage down to St. Barth in the Caribbean. Lucky them.

Connie ‘Sunlover' wants this year's class of cruisers to know what's going on in Puerto Escondido, which really went through the wringer last season.

"The good news is that the summer heat has abated and we've finally been able to turn off the air conditioner. With the lower temperatures, attitudes around Puerto Escondido have been improving. Contrary to what some cruisers have reported, the Fonatur management at Puerto Escondido has not changed any rules, but is rather enforcing the rules that had always existed, so everyone is being treated equally. For example, those on Fonatur moorings get free use of the showers and garbage disposal, while everyone else has to pay a small fee. With everyone chipping in, maybe there will be hot showers all day rather than just a few hours a day. If cruisers and friends want to sit around and visit in the shade, they can do it in front of the Hidden Port YC. There is a fee required for the use of other Fonatur facilities.

"There are many services for mariners and non-mariners at the Fonatur facility and around Puerto Escondido," 'Sunlover' continues, "such as Porto Bello Restaurant and Tienda, Hardy’s Marine Chandlery, Shelter Island Sailing Charters, Cast and Reel Charters, and Puerto Escondido Maritime Service. Dean of Aye Weld does all kinds types of boat repairs around the Waiting Room and Ellipse. If boatowners want someone to work on their boats in the main harbor, they must have a request letter on file in the Fonatur office. The idea is to eliminate the problem of who is allowed to work in what area, which became a major source of controversy last season. To work in Marina Seca — Fonatur's land facility — one has to rent a bay from Fonatur. Marinos y Submarinos will be missed, and we will all try to fill the void."

'Sunlover' tells Latitude that it's been a slow summer, and the business owners in Puerto Escondido are concerned about the effect Fonatur's recent price increases will have on the number of cruisers who will call there. "But if we can all work together and support each other, everyone wins, especially those needing our services," says Connie.

Everyone working together in Puerto Escondido — wouldn't that be a pleasant change from last season? We have to admit that we're concerned what effect Fonatur price increases will have on the number of boats visiting Puerto Escondido. We say this because the berthing fees were raised a few months ago at the police dock in San Diego. And when we visited in early October, usually a very busy time of year, their little marina was less than half-full. And the prices are slated to increase again in February.

A boatyard in the Tuamotus? Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell tells us that one has opened up in Apataki called — what else — Apataki Carenage. Liz recently spent four months in the Tuamotus, and when she had to abruptly return to California for the funeral of Barry Schuyler, her biggest patron, the yard took great care of Swell. We'll have more on Liz in the Tuamotus next month.

If anybody thinks that lightning isn't nasty stuff, here's the latest from Pamela Bendell of the Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46 Precious Metal, currently hiding out from Tropical Depression 12E 12 miles up a mangrove estuary just outside San Lorenzo, Honduras:

"Over six months have passed since Precious Metal was hit by lightning, and the impact has been enormous. Virtually every inch/part of my precious baby has been repaired, replaced or upgraded. Lightning has no conscience when it decides how and where to attack its victims. It's almost easier to list what on my boat didn't get affected than what did.

"That said, my six months in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador was an extraordinary experience. Although it's an incredibly primitive place, I can’t say enough about the local people, and how safe I felt. The summer weather was surprisingly good, given that it’s the rainy season. And the crews of the five to six boats in the bay provided wonderful support and companionship. I also enjoyed two terrific excursions inland around Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and found this region to be safe, hospitable and incredibly interesting. I’m reiterating ‘safe’ because the media have done a disservice to these wonderful people. Anyway, we've been battling 40-50 knots of wind from 12E, plus huge rains. They tell us it should end in about a week! Oh well, October is known for both stock market volatility and huge depressions in this part of the world."

"Are you sure you can check into Mexico at Cedros Island without having to clear into Ensenada first?" asks Dave Dury of the Alameda-based Offshore 66 Paramour. "I keep reading in Sea magazine and other places that you have to check in at Ensenada first. Like others, I've had issues when checking in at Ensenada, and have vowed to try to avoid it in the future. We're headed to Puerto Vallarta in mid-November, and I was hoping to stop at Cedros Village on the way. So if we could check in there, it would be great. By the way, we did the '04 and '06 Ha-Ha's with Freedom, our previous powerboat, and have been to Mexico a total of six times on our two powerboats. Marina Village Harbormaster Alan Weaver will be doing the trip to Puerto Vallarta with us — almost right after he finishes the Ha-Ha aboard Profligate!"

We're positive you don't have to check into Mexico at Ensenada, because we've sailed right past it for 17 of the last 18 years, and always used Cabo as our port of entry. And so has almost every one of the more than 2,000 Ha-Ha boats over the years. Furthermore, when we cleared out of Mexico at Cedros Village in August, the port captain insisted that we encourage all cruisers to check in or clear out of the country there. Tell him that Dona de Mallorca sent you.

"We've had good experiences checking into Mexico at San Carlos in Magdalena Bay," reports Will Green of the C&C 38 Monsoon. "The port captain was a gentleman, and running to the bank and back was quick and easy. Great taco stands downtown, too."

If all goes as planned, the San Carlos port captain and Immigration officials will have come up to Bahia Santa Maria just to check in a bunch of Ha-Ha boats on November 1. We'll have a report in the next issue on how that worked out. In any event, it means that cruisers have had good luck checking in and clearing out of larger Mexican ports of entry such as Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, but also at smaller ports of entry such as Cedros Village and San Carlos. So take your pick, remembering that you must check in at the first port of entry where you stop.

John Halley, who ran Club Nautico in Cartagena for so long, is now working at Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. Lucky Shelter Bay!

The good news out of Southern Mexico is that the new Chiapas Marina, with about 60 slips, is about ready to accept visitors. Formerly known as Puerto Madero, it's where cruising boats had to tie up in the dirty old commerical basin with tuna boats and such, and where officials had earned a reputation for sometimes being less than scrupulous. This is all supposed to have changed, so we'd welcome a firsthand report.

"We have been cruising the Sea of Cortez for the last 10 months," reports Anna Schrenk of the Chula Vista-based Allied Wright Seawind II ketch Seawind II. I purchased my fishing permit in Puerto Escondido from a representative of the Mexican government. He and others had spent the day answering our questions and selling both National Park and fishing permits. I specifically asked the officials if every person on a boat needed a fishing permit, or just those who would actually be fishing. They told me only the person fishing. This was a cost savings for us, since my husband doesn't fish and I'm the fisherwoman of the family. I just thought this information might be useful to this year's cruisers."

According to the Mexican government's Conapesca website, everybody on the boat needs a fishing license. Having been in Mexico a while, you're probably familiar with Mexican laws and regulations being interpreted in different ways by different people in different places. We wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

We've been going to Mexico for nearly 35 years, but never knew the background of the expression "Viva Mexico!" Thanks to the website of Ha-Ha vet and South Pacific cruiser Philo Hayward of the Mendocino-based Cal 36 Cherokee, and more recently of the famous Philo's Bar and Music Studio in La Cruz, we now know. According to Philo's website, Viva Mexico! was the shout — or grito — that started the Mexican Revolution on September 18, 1810. It's become famous as the Dia del Grito or the 'Day of the Shout'. Philo used the Dia del Grito as re-opening day of his music studio and bar, which has long been popular with cruisers in the Banderas Bay area. By the time you read this, the place should be rockin' for the season.

The Mexico Cruising Calendar:

November 17 — The La Paz Ha-Ha Welcome Party. The first 50 participants from the '11 Ha-Ha get in free; everyone else has to fork over mucho pesos. Just kidding, although there is a fee for everyone else. Details can be found in the half page ad in this issue. Take note that La Paz is very dangerous place! What we mean that so many cruisers fall so in love with it that they never leave.

November 24 — Thanksgiving is celebrated everywhere that American cruisers gather in Mexico, from Puerto Escondido to Zihua to Catalina 42 Destiny John and Gilly's place halfway in between at Punta Mita. Just keep your ears open for the gathering nearest you or start your own. If you're cruising in Mexico, you've got a lot to be thankful for.

November, Late — The Cruz to La Cruz and Banderas Bay. Details ­— including the date of the grand opening of the pool at Marina Riviera Nayarit — to come in 'Lectronic Latitude.

Nov 29-Dec 2 — The Banderas Bay Blast, including the annual opening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club — $1 and paddling with carbon fiber SUP paddle required for membership — and the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. Punta Mita, La Cruz and Paradise Marina are all included. While it's free for all, it's also a charity event, so make a donation in a country where a little money goes a long way.

Dec 3 — The Vallarta YC Chili Cook-Off. This is the club's big fundraiser of the year for worthy charities, and attracts 500 people or more. Wear a clean shirt and BYO Beano. And did we mention a little charitable giving goes a long way in Mexico?

Feb 1-Mar 27 — Pacific Puddle Jump seminars on a broad range of topics will be held at both Vallarta YC at Nuevo Vallarta's Paradise Village Resort and at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz.

Feb 7-12 — Zihua Sail Fest, Zihua. One of the greatest cruiser charities ever, the event relies heavily on a new group of cruiser volunteers to run it each year. Be a part of something you can be proud of and that will make you feel really good!

March, First Week — The Pacific Puddle Jump Party at the Vallarta YC at the Paradise Village Resort and Marina Complex, hosted by Latitude 38 and Paradise Resort. If you're going to be a Puddle Jumper, Latitude's Andy Turpin will be there to take your photo, get your story, and share his insights.

March 10 — The Third Annual Cruisers' Rally from Mexico to El Salvador, which is becoming more popular every year. Some participants win cash prizes of hundreds of dollars, yet there is no entry fee. Curious.

March 20-24 — 20th Annual Banderas Bay Regatta. The last two years have seen record fleets in this 'nothing serious' event for cruisers only. You're not competing with anyone; you're playing with friends on boats. So don't miss it. Nada on the entry fee.

Early April — Club Cruceros' La Paz Bay Fest. It's mostly social activities — and lots of them — but there's one day of 'nothing serious' racing, too.

May 4-6 — The one and only Loreto Fest, the super-popular Hidden Port YC fundraiser for local charities. No matter if you're on your way up to the Sea for the summer, or if it's your last call in Mexico for the season, you don't want to miss it. Countless activities, events and seminars. Hundreds attend.

Right After The Loreto Fest — Sea of Cortez Sailing Week. This is a smaller, more intimate gathering for those who really love to sail. Stops and ultimate destination still to be decided.

What's to stop you from starting your own sailing event in Mexico, for example at Tenacatita Bay or Barra or Mazatlan? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you do, let us know, and we'll be happy to publicize it.

In any event, the cruising season is finally here, so let's get it on! Be safe, have fun, and spread the love.

Missing the pictures? See the November 2011 eBook!


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