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November 2012

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With reports this month from Sea Level at Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean; from Geja in Italy and Croatia; from Fleetwood back in Amsterdam; from Witch of Endor on getting a dinghy ripped off in Costa Rica; from Larrikin on a summer in the Sea of Cortez; from Harmony on tropical storm Paul in the Sea of Cortez; and Cruise Notes.

Sea Level — Schionning 49 Cat
Jim and Kent Milski
Across the Indian Ocean
(Lake City, Colorado)

With Somali pirates having curtailed cruiser interest in heading to the Med via the Red Sea, the only choices for westbound West Coast cruisers who are in Indonesia/Thailand/Malaysia are to sail home backward via the Pacific, which isn't that appealing, or continue west around the world via the Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope, and up the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Since we'd already sailed more than halfway around the world, and it's easier to continue on than to backtrack, we're continuing west.

We're heading to South Africa via Rodrigues Island, where we are now, and Mauritius. Our last passage, from Sumatra, Indonesia to Rodrigues Island, was more than 2,000 miles. It was also our roughest passage to date. Cruisers who made the passage just before us or just after us reported the same rough conditions.

The problems were that it was windy and the sea conditions were not pleasant. It was so windy that all we ever flew was a double-reefed main and between one-half and one-third of the headsail. That's not much. The other issue was that we were getting a big swell from the southwest, but wind waves from the southeast, making for sloppy conditions.

We hove to for two nights. The first time was for comfort and to get some rest. One of the lesser publicized positive attributes of catamarans is that they are easy to keep pointed into the wind in bad weather. For example, we would roll up the jib completely, secure the double-reefed main amidships, center the rudders, then turn off everything except our navigation lights. In this configuration Sea Level would maintain a heading of about 30 degrees off the wind, and depending on the current and the strength of the wind, make one to two knots. We could control what tack we were on by moving the traveller to port or starboard of center. The constant motion was reduced to a minimum, which allowed us to enjoy a decent meal in relative peace, watch a movie, or get some sleep.

The second time we hove to was just off Rodrigues, and we did it for safety. We were going to be losing the last of daylight as we entered an unfamiliar port, and we didn't think that would be prudent. So as much as we wanted to enjoy the tranquility of a harbor, we hove to until the next morning.

A French cruiser who arrived off Rodrigues about the same time we did, decided that he would go in. His boat went up on a reef. We're happy to report that he, with the help of others, was able to get his boat off without her suffering too much damage. But we were happy with our decision.

Talk about lightning hitting the same place — or boat — twice! We just learned that our catamaran friends Greg and Debbie Dorland of the Tahoe-based Catana 52 Escapade had their boat hit by lightning for the second time — with predictable unpleasant results for much of the electronics — in three years. At last word they were in Florida, but we're hoping to cross paths with them in the Caribbean in January.

— jim 10/01/12

Geja — Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Summer In The Med
(San Francisco)

When I left off last month's installment of my latest summer of cruising in the Med — more specifically the Adriatic — my crew and I were thrilled to be back in Italy, where the people are so friendly and lively, and where the food is ridiculously delicious. On the downside, far fewer Italians are fluent in English than are residents of the former Yugoslavian countries.

After clearing in at Bari — no fuss and no cost to enter the European Union — we headed down the coast. It didn’t take long before the horizon was a frothy white again, with 20+ knot winds and a nasty little swell. Once reefed down, it was an exciting and wet close reach. Geja rose and fell with the waves, sometimes taking a direct hit that sent spray back into the cockpit. We were soaked but satisfied, as Geja handled the conditions like a champ.

Unlike the steep-sided Croatian side of the Adriatic Sea, the Italian side is shallow with mostly man-made ports and virtually no islands. The approaches to the harbors can have as little as 10 feet of water, which makes entering precarious when five-foot swells roll in. We entered little Giovinazzo with not much drama, and took an awkward spot at the end of a floating pontoon, which required us to partially raft to a resident powerboat. I discovered Giovinazzo by accident in '10, and it quickly became one of my favorite spots in the Med. It’s a small harbor where Geja was again the largest boat — something I can't often say in this part of the world.

It was no accident that we arrived during Ferragosto, the period in August when most industries shut down and Italians flee to the coast to escape the inland heat. As the late afternoon siesta wraps up, Italians of all ages converge on the nearest town for the nightly passeggiata, which of course includes a stop at the gelateria. There is often some kind of program being presented in the town piazza, and on our first night in Giovinazzo, it happened to be the regional competition for the Miss Italy contest. My all-male crew and I were quite happy to hang around and root for our favorites!

My plan was to end the week at Trani, just a couple of stops up the coast, but the sea had other plans for us. The onshore wind and waves just didn't let up, and the harbor entrance was closed by breakers. So Geja was stuck in Giovinazzo’s surging harbor for two additional nights, and I constantly worried that the metal gudgeons on the end of the floating dock would poke a hole in Geja’s hull. But what a great town to be stuck in!

With another new crew and calmer weather, we had a great sail up to Trani, its famous seaside cathedral visible for many miles down the coast. The bars around the large harbor really get going at night, with one offering its own liquid concoction called Rocket Fuel — a far cry from the standard one-ounce pours in Croatia.

A bit of rain and scattered thunderstorms kept us in Trani for an extra night before we continued up to Vieste in dreamlike sailing conditions. A bustling hillside holiday town, Vieste had an excellent outdoor food market. The town’s location on the 'spur' of Italy, only 60 miles from Croatia, makes it a popular place to head back across the Adriatic. But taking the direct route means missing Italy's Tremiti Islands, which are gems of the Med.

Spoiled by another day of perfect sailing conditions, including a fast spinnaker run, we opted to take the detour to the Tremitis. Those who say that the Med lacks wind should have been there when I was. During the eight-day span from Montenegro to these islands, we covered some 250 miles, 90% under sail.

The Tremiti Islands lie 13 miles off Italy’s relatively featureless southeast coast. They consist of a cluster of five islands housing about 500 permanent residents, with visitors ferried in by the thousands during the summer months. One of the things to do there is to hop into the dinghy and do the four-mile circle around Isola San Domino, the coastline of which features coves, grottos, and sandy beaches. As a nautical playground, the Tremiti Islands are hard to beat. But you need stable weather, as the anchorages offer poor protection.

As we prepared to depart the Tremitis for the overnight sail back to Croatia, a dinghy pulled up for a visit. Two Italian men from a neighboring boat wanted to chat, and presented us with a nice bottle of white wine. Geja, thanks to her crusty looks and American flag, is no stranger to special attention. But then Italian hospitality never ceases to impress me.

Our overnight sail back to Croatia was for the most part sweet pleasure sailing, with 12 knots of wind on the beam in flat seas. I chose to check in at the town of Vis, where unlike Cavtat, these isn't a special customs quay. You just take a regular spot on the public quay and begin the three-step check-in process: harbormaster, police, and customs. The customs official seemed really cool at first, even suggesting that my crew get coffee while they wait. Take that, Cavtat!

While things began smoothly, slowly but surely, they started to go downhill when the beer-guzzling customs guy asked me to run around town and photocopy some of my documents for him. Unable to find a place to get copies, I returned to his office pissed off. “If you really need copies, I’ll email them to you,” I stated angrily. Then I began to take photos of my documents with my iPhone.

“No, no!” said Mr. Customs man, but I kept snapping away. He then took my papers and walked away. I asked the policeman in the same office if the customs guy was normal. “Not really,” he said with a confirming smirk. A few minutes later, the customs guy returned with photocopies, likely from his copy machine in an upstairs office. I chewed him out a bit before storming off, some two hours after beginning the check-in process. Mind you, my cruising permit from before was still valid. A Croatian bureaucrat had once again been a source of frustration. Hopefully some of this bureaucratic nonsense will disappear when Croatia is admitted to the European Union in '13.

Tired from the overnight sail, and pissed off due to the fat customs jerk, we continued on for another couple of hours to the Pakleni Islands — another of my favorite stops in the Med. Palmižana is a busy but relaxing bay with excellent restaurants lining the shore.

Just before weighing anchor the next morning, I was to enjoy one of the most pleasant surprises of all my time in the Med. An older Croatian sailor in a dinghy came alongside, and explained that 13 years before, he and his wife had invited Dick and Shirley Sandys, the Palo Alto-based previous owners of Geja, for dinner while their boats were anchored together in Palmižana. Unbelievably, he produced a note written by the Sandys from his scrapbook that read, “Hvala for dinner.” Hvala being the Croatian word for 'thank you'. I often think of Dick and Shirley Sandys, and the crazy adventures they must have had while sailing Geja from California to the Med many years ago. This chance encounter blew me away!

Back in lively Hvar, my having closed the loop I'd begun four weeks earlier, my final crew of the season hopped on board. Though Geja’s winter port near Split was just a day sail away, there were plenty of islands and attractions in between, which resulted in an easy and relaxing final week. Best of all, the weather forecast was as stable as I’ve seen, with clear hot weather — and none of the nighttime offshore bora winds that cause boatowners to lose sleep.

After overindulging once again in the town of Hvar, we relocated Geja to a nearby island, one that happens to be home to the Carpe Diem Beach Club. When the bars in Hvar shut off the music at 2 a.m., folks are shuttled to the beach club, where the festivities continue until 5 a.m. Anchored strategically near the club, we waited until folks began to arrive. At 2:30 a.m., we hopped into the dinghy, figuring that our stealth approach would save us the 20 euro cover charge. We had no such luck, as a guard intercepted us and led us to the cashier.

Halfway through the final week, having had several late nights out in a row, I sought out the quietest anchorage possible. Both of my pilot books led us to the east coast of the island Bra, and the sweet little bay called Rasotica. It was a great little playground for my crew — three fun girls and Big Steve, my buddy from high school.

The next night we were back to the bars in Makarska, a very happening place on the mainland. We took refuge before seeking quiet once again back on Bra at the adorable quarry town of Puiša. For centuries Croatians built both streets and structures using their distinctive light-colored stone. In Puiša the art of stone-making is still very much alive. Even the White House in Washington, D.C. uses stone from there.

We enjoyed a wild Saturday night out in the town of Split before concluding the summer voyage at Geja’s winter home of Trogir. We immediately rinsed and removed the sails just before a nasty little weather cell with 40-knot winds blasted through the partially protected marina. It was the first truly crazy weather since I'd arrived four weeks before. Less than four days later, Geja was on the hard ready for winter, and I was on my way back to San Francisco.

Once again my 40+ year-old Islander 36 provided me with a trouble-free summer — aside from some propeller shaft bolts that mysteriously loosened on the rough overnight crossing to Italy, and a bilge pump check valve that didn’t appreciate being submerged for hours at a time. Geja's old Yanmar 3GMF must qualify as ancient by now, yet it purrs along without fail, partially thanks to regular seasonal maintenance performed at reasonable rates by the boatyard crew. Geja's sails are hand-me-downs from the really nice members of the Islander 36 Association of San Francisco Bay. But they are quite decent. And what a sweet sailing boat the Islander 36 is!

As I mentioned in my last report, my fifth straight summer aboard Geja consisted of 37 days and 36 nights, with 27 different overnight stops and two overnight sails. I covered nearly 700 miles, 60% of them under sail alone — the highest percentage of the five summers. The best part has always been sharing the experience with friends, 10 of whom joined me this summer.

— andrew 10/15/12

Fleetwood — Naja 30
Jack van Ommen
The Med To Amsterdam
(Gig Harbor, WA)

Some readers may wonder how far it is, how many locks you have to pass through, how long it takes, and how much fuel you need to motor a 30-ft sailboat with an unstepped mast from the Med coast of France to Amsterdam.

Having arrived in Amsterdam in early October after making the trip, I can provide answers based on my experience. It took me seven weeks and 1,000 statute miles to pass through France and Belgium via the Rhone, Saone, and various other waterways. During that time I transited a total of 251 locks, burned about 40 gallons of fuel, and spent about $325 in mooring fees. Those interested in details of my trip north through France and Belgium should visit my blog.

Belgium became the 49th country that I have visited with Fleetwood since departing California in '05. I've lost track of how many miles my boat and I have sailed together, but it's something close to 35,000, most of them singlehanded. I did, however, have company for the trip from the Med to Amsterdam.

After so much traveling, Fleetwood needs a lot of work. Her 33-year-old teak deck, for example, needs to be removed. I hope to do this under cover in the spring. Fleetwood will spend the winter not far from Amsterdam.

I had planned to sail the Baltic Sea next summer, but after talking to a few of the members of the local yacht club, I am now planning to join them on a trip to Bretagne — northwest France — via the South Coast of England in June and July, then follow Spain's north coast to Portugal. In January of '14, I plan to take off from the Canary Islands for Cartagena, Colombia, where I will begin exploring South America by land.

— jack 09/15/12

Witch of Endor — Vagabond 47
Steve Cherry
Costa Rica, El Salvador
(San Diego)

Bob Willmann of the Casamance 47 cat Viva! and I had a very interesting Labor Day weekend. We were anchored at Isla Muertos, which is across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas in Costa Rica. We’d been here 12 years before — both with our previous boats — so we were kinda excited to check out the Luminosa Resort.

In the 'old days', the resort was just a big building with a bar where I'd gotten my picture taken with Pancho the monkey. Times have changed. Pancho is gone, having lost an altercation with dogs. Sven, Luminosa's old manager, has been replaced by an Italian couple. And the Luminosa Resort is empty — so empty they only had one beer in stock. After we drank that and some wine, Bob and I headed back to our boats.

That places 'aren't what they used to be' seems to be the norm as Bob and I retrace our paths through Central America from a dozen years before. But there is one constant — theft.

My dinghy was stolen the second night we were anchored off the Luminosa. As Latitude readers know, the bad guys all over Latin America steal the dinghies for the outboard motors they can use on their cayucas, pangas, lanchas, or whatever they want to call them. You never see a Latino driving an inflatable dinghy. Nonetheless, these poorer than dirt people all have $2,000+plus Yamaha outboards for their pangas. Go figure.

Bob and I hoist our dinghies in the davits every night, making it very unlikely that they can be stolen. We never trail our dinghies behind our boat because it would be just too easy for thieves to cut the lines, and drift away with them. After this they would take the motor off and either hide the inflatable in the mangroves or set it adrift.

For the past dozen years, I have religiously hoisted my dinghy at night, both to prevent theft, and to have it secured in case bad weather hits and I have to quickly bail out of an anchorage. A rare exception to the rule is for me to remove the motor, put it on the rail of the big boat, and let the dinghy trail astern. After all, if there is no outboard on the inflatable, there is no reason for a Latino to steal it, right?

So, the one time that I make the rare exception — I had put my outboard on the rail of the big boat in Panama's Perlas Islands because I was starting an open ocean trip, and the extra 80 pounds tends to make the dinghy bang around in rough weather — my inflatable gets stolen. I discovered it was gone at midnight. When I pulled in the line, sure enough, it had been cut with a knife. So I was dinghy-less!

Bob wasn't having such good luck either, as his anchor windlass quit working. We had a good idea why, but needed a real electrician to repair it.

So it was that at 4:30 a.m., Bob and I assaulted the beach in his dinghy, and walked up to the bus stop to catch the 5:15 a.m. bus to Paquera and the ferry. When we got to the bus stop, we found out that the bus leaves 15 minutes before 5 a.m., not after 5 a.m. Something had been lost in the translation when we asked about the ferry schedule. But there was a lady at the bus stop waiting for a ride in a car, and we managed to tag along with her, thus making the 6 a.m. ferry to Puntarenas after all.

We went to the Costa Rica YC looking for an electrician and possibly a dinghy, but we found that our old friend Carlos, the club manager was gone. Fortunately, the hotel manager, a sweet young thing who speaks perfect English, rounded up an electrician who thought he might have a friend who might have another friend with a dinghy for sale.

While sitting at a table in the yacht club at about 8:45 a.m., the girl suddenly said, "Earthquake — oh my God!" There was indeed a little shaking, followed very quickly by some major shaking. Glass was breaking, planters were falling over, and about a quarter of the water in the swimming pool sloshed out. We ducked under a table until things settled down, then got the hell out of the building.

As it turned out, there was no major damage in Puntarenas other than the power and cell phone service going out. But the main highway from Puntarenas north was jammed with traffic, as people fled the threat of a tsunami — which didn't materialize. Steve and I took a taxi downtown looking for a dinghy dealer, but thanks to the earthquake, every store was shuttered.

The only place that was open was the Bar Porton Verde, which we had frequented when we were here years before. So we went in and drank beer in the semi-darkness for an hour or so, then went back out to the yacht club to check out the dinghy possibility — which turned out to be a bust. So we took the ferry back to Paquera, made a strategic beach withdrawal in Bob's dinghy, and got ready to attack our problems the next day.

My next move was to try to call Apex, the Costa Rican-based inflatable manufacturer who had made my stolen dinghy. After lots of busy signals that were the result of earthquake damage, I got through to them. Alas, they wanted $4,000 for the new dinghy — way more than I'd paid for the old one in Panama years before. Plus, there was no easy way to get one to me. So I guess I'll just have to have the folks at Barillas in El Salvador order one for me and pay whatever it costs. After that, I'll hoist it every night!

Bob has been luckier, as he now has two functioning windlasses.

Update: Bob and I are now at Barillias Resort in El Salvador, where Sun Runner is the only other boat here besides Viva! and Witch of Endor. When we were here 11 years ago, there must have been 30 or 40 boats. Of course, it is late summer, the lowest of the low season, when it rains like crazy.

Barillas is still just perfect in that it's very un-Central American like — which means that the employees are friendly and actually understand that we are paying guests. Management, in the personage of Heriberto Pineda, is very accommodating, and assists with boats checking into the country.

My message to everyone coming this way is obvious — always lift your dinghy out of the water at night!

— steve 09/15/12

Larrikin — Catalina 42
Verdo and Gabriella Verdon
Summer In The Sea
(Queensland, Australia)

"To be or not to be," that was the question for Hamlet. "To spend a whole year cruising Mexico so we can see the Sea of Cortez, or take off across the Pacific in the spring without seeing it," that is the question for many cruisers.

Verdo and Gabriella, Doña de Mallorca's friends from her days working on big yachts in the Med, who sold their home in Queensland to come to California to buy a cruising boat, faced the 'Sea of Cortez Question' last spring. While Verdo and Gabby can't wait to return to the remote islands of the South Pacific, they decided, after a winter on the mainland, that they couldn't just pass the Sea by. So they spent the summer there.

"We absolutely loved it!" gushed an enthusiastic Gabby. "The Sea of Cortez has spectacular geological formations you don't see anywhere else, so my biggest disappointment was not being able to find a proper geology book about it. But the colors, the formations — I wanted to learn all about it."

Not the types who need a crowd of people to be happy, Verdo and Gabby were surprised — and pleased ­— to feel as though they almost had the Sea to themselves. "We hardly saw a soul," says Verdo, "it was just wonderful."

"We had all the anchorages we wanted to ourselves," confirms Gabby, "but we met some really lovely people, too. I'm in love with the people of Mexico! They are truly the salt of the earth."

Verdo is a fishing maniac, so he had a fabulous time spearing pargo, rock cod and lots of other fish. "It was easy," says Verdo. "On the other hand, the Sea is not like it was when I was here 14 years ago. Back then it was magic trolling for dorado. The big sardine boats have come in and taken everything, so in that respect it's been a catastrophe."

One of the things that surprised the couple was how long it took for the water to warm and clear after the winter cold. "When we first got to the Sea the water was too murky to see much, and it was cold," remembers Verdo. "It wasn't until the beginning of July that the water got warm. But it turned warm overnight, and when it did, it suddenly became very clear, too."

The Verdons naturally knew all about the famous summer heat of the Sea of Cortez, but were nonetheless stunned by the reality of it.

"We've been at the equator, Panama, Singapore, and many of the other hot and steamy places in the world," says Gabby, "but we had no idea about the August and September heat in the Sea. It was so stinking hot — over 100 degrees every day! The focus of each day in those two months became finding a place with air-conditioning."

"We had lots of shade for our boat, and slept outside all the time, but still weren't prepared for it," admits Verdo. "Fortunately, we were able to buy an air conditioner from another cruiser for 400 pesos — less than $40 — and it worked a treat. We could only use it when tied up to a marina, of course, but that's where you really needed it, because when you're on the hook there is usually a little breeze."

Had the Verdons to do it again, they would do the Sea a little differently. "It's foolish to stay on your boat for the most brutal heat of August and September," says Verdo. "The people who have spent a lot of time in the Sea all head back to the States or cooler places during those two months, and with good reason."

The other downside of the Sea in the summer are the chubascos and elephantes, which are the unpredictable, powerful, but usually short-lived nighttime storms.

"We eventually got tired of the 35-knot and 40-knot storms almost every night when we were at Bahia de Los Angeles, so we headed over to San Carlos on the mainland," says Verdo. "We only paid $16/night at San Carlos Marina, and that included water — and the electricity for our air-conditioner. With the marina water temperature 91 degrees, you can imagine how hot the still air was."

When we spoke to the couple at the beginning of October, they were excited to be heading off on a trip to the Copper Canyon, and noted that the summer heat in the Sea had finally broken. "The southerlies of summer have been replaced by winds out of the northwest" said Verdo. "By the time we get back from the Copper Canyon, the cruising weather should be ideal."

Barring late-season tropical storms, many Sea vets consider October to be the best weather month for cruising. The water is still warm and clear, the daytime highs are high 80s to low 90s, and the nighttime lows are a positively chilly 70 degrees or so.

It's one of the perversities of human nature to take what is easily accessible for granted. So many of us on the West Coast lust for what's in the distant South Pacific or Southeast Asia, when we have unique cruising treasures such as the Sea so close to home.

"Verdo and I are not the only ones who loved the Sea," says Gabby. "We had some Kiwi friends — true world travellers — who spent two weeks cruising with us. They were in awe of the Sea of Cortez, having not had any idea what a spectacular and unique place they were coming to. In fact, they told us it was one of their best holidays ever."

We didn't ask, but we assume the Kiwi couple didn't visit in August or September.

— latitude/rs

Harmony — Islander Freeport 41
Robert and Virginia Gleser
Hurricane Paul

Mother Nature always seems to find new ways to test us. As far as storms go, mid-October's hurricane Paul was not the strongest or longest lasting tempesta to hit the Sea of Cortez. But for us, it brought a day to remember.

We want to thank everyone who called all the many gods of weather on our behalf, because although Paul passed close by, he showed us mercy. We were particularly fortunate in that we had no thunder or lightning in our neighborhood — which for the duration of the storm was Santa Barbara Cove, Concepcion Bay, which is about 220 miles NW of La Paz and 80 miles NW of Puerto Escondido.

We had wind from all directions, but much of the day we were bucking into wind out of the north — the one direction for which Concepcion Bay affords no protection. It was nonetheless the place to be, as we knew that the stronger winds would come from the south, meaning we'd eventually have great protection from seas.

Sure enough, the wind direction suddenly switched from north to south in the middle of the afternoon. All seven of the other boats in the anchorage with us quickly turned on their hooks to face the new direction. The wind then gusted to close to 60 knots, just shy of hurricane strength.

And then the rain started pouring down. We opened the water tank fill and let the rainwater water flow in until the tank was full. We also collected water in bowls and a five-gallon bucket so we could rinse our hair. But then a strong gust hit, knocking the full bucket over, dumping water into the cockpit. Doh!

The wind blew a sustained 25 to 30 knots for about 20 hours, with regular gusts to 40 knots, and a couple to 50. Thanks to the never-ending torrents of rain, we found all of Harmony's leaks, which our normal dry season cruising allows us to ignore. But with eight inches of rain in just 12 hours, we were scampering around looking for towels to catch the leaks, then having to wring the towels out. There wasn't any permanent damage, but we can't ignore those leaks any longer.

The eight inches of rain in the afternoon created gullywashers. By midday, the usually blue-green water of the bay was mixed with muddy swirls of water littered with cactus and other debris from land. It was an eerie sight.

Fortunately, there wasn't any damage to the boats anchored with us. One boat had the dinghy with the outboard in the water and tied to the side of the boat. Before long, the dinghy was airborne, then landed upside down, soaking the motor. The local mechanics stopped by the next morning to flush the engine out. They had it running again in no time.

A boat in a nearby anchorage was in shallow water when the new moon tide reached its lowest point, and went aground. He was able to kedge off in the rising tide. We heard that one boat in San Carlos broke free from her mooring and landed on the beach, but compared to previous tropical storms and hurricanes that have come up the Sea, there was apparently little damage.

Since one of our dodger window covers had blown off during the height of the storm, the next morning we borrowed Ben, 6, and Huon, 3, the two little Tasmanian kids off the catamaran Sonrisa, and took them treasure hunting on the beach. We didn't find our dodger cover, but we did find lots of shell treasures, sticks, and mud holes to splash in. After that we brought the kids back to play with Rob's gun collection. Fun times!

So Paul turned out to be about what it had been forecast to be. Had stronger winds been predicted, we might have run to a real hurricane hole, or maybe a marina. That said, a buddy who was in the Santa Rosalia Marina just north of us said he had to bail out at 2 a.m. because the docks were disintegrating.

The good news is that all the fuss is already over, and the bands of clouds are getting thinner while the strips of blue between them are getting larger. Our solar panels are pumping juice again after three days of nothing. In addition, the bay water is already clear again, and the desert is a lush, verdant green, with butterflies — and probably some biting bugs — multiplying by the minute. Since the weather files suggest that this would be a fine time to head south toward La Paz, we'll soon be on our way. With any luck, Paul will have been the last tropical weather threat of the season.

— robert and virginia 10/18/12

Readers — Paul came ashore as a Category 2 hurricane at Mag Bay on the Pacific Coast 160 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, but quickly began to lose power over land. La Paz, 90 miles to the ESE in the Sea, had lots of rain but no wind. Puerto Escondido, 120 miles to the north, had 10 inches of rain and 30 knots of wind. David Eidell reports that Asunsion Bay, 50 miles southeast of Turtle Bay approximately halfway down the Pacific Coast of Baja, had 40 knots of sustained wind but no damage.

Cruise Notes:

"That was a nice photo Latitude recently ran of some cruisers holding up clams they'd taken in the Sea of Cortez, but it might be a nice idea to remind everyone that it is illegal for non-Mexican citizens to take any shellfish," writes James Hassberger of the La Paz-based Valiant 40 Kanga. "I know of one cruiser who had his dinghy, outboard and fishing gear confiscated — fortunately only temporarily — but had to pay several hundred dollars in fines, and had to travel all the way from Loreto to La Paz to get it straightened out."

Hassberger is correct, and we apologize for the massive brain fade on our part. We knew full well that it's illegal for foreigners to take shellfish in Mexico, we just somehow figured that anything smaller than lobster really didn't qualify as shellfish. Idiots! A complication, of course, is that from time immemorial some Mexican fishermen have offered to sell cruisers shellfish — almost always lobster. Once again, that's not only illegal, it violates the rules of the cooperatives that most of them belong to.

We're shedding buckets of crocodile tears for Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, the three Somali pirates who have been charged with the February '11 hijacking of the Marina del Rey-based Davidson 59-ft Quest, and the subsequent murders of Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, and their crew, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle. Attorneys for the three Somalis are challenging the fact that 22 of the 26 charges they are facing are "death penalty-eligible". Their attorneys, paid for by you and us, argue that the death penalty is unconstitutional because, among other things, it's "cruel and unusual punishment". Perhaps their attorneys would also like to argue that the cold-blooded murders of four innocent cruisers was somehow 'kind and common behavior'.

In related news, Somali pirate attacks have dropped in the last year. Forty-six vessels were hijacked in '09, 47 in '10, but only 25 in '11. According to an Associated Press report from Hobyo, Somalia, business has been so bad for the less-than-devout Muslim pirates that whiskey consumption is way down, and prostitutes — well-known for their 'no cash, no splash' policies — are being asked to provide their services on credit. Despite the sharp drop in hijackings, we doubt that traffic on the one-time cruiser freeway from Thailand to the Med, via the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, is going to pick up anytime soon.

"My goal is to be the first person to circumnavigate with a San Juan 24 sailboat," advises 61-year-old Rimas Meleshyus of the Port Townsend, WA-based Cesura. Born on the shores of the Black Sea in Russia, Meleshyus is used to taking calculated risks. "I escaped the Soviet Union in '88 by fleeing to the American Embassy in Moscow and claiming political asylum. I have lived in many places in the world since then, but have resided in the United States for quite a few years — and will thus be proudly sailing under the American flag."

Apparently a bit of a nautical masochist, Meleshyus plans to depart Port Townsend in May on the gloomy 5,270-mile upwind and upcurrent sail to Japan on his 24-ft Cesura. We can't think of why he's starting by sailing to Japan, except for the fact the's fluent in Japanese. Anyway, from Japan he'll sail to Guam, Cape Horn, St. Helena, South Africa, Thailand, Vanuatu, Guam again, and finally back to Port Townsend. "It takes a high degree of self-sufficiency and physical fitness to do such a circumnavigation, and I have both," says Meleshyus, who is supremely confident despite, if we're not mistaken, having lost his first San Juan 24.

We wish the proud Russian-American a safe and successful voyage. It will be interesting to see how his attempted circumnavigation compares with that of Webb Chiles — see this month's Sightings — who is hoping to complete his sixth circumnavigation, this time aboard his Moore 24 Gannett.

Having visited Ensenada twice in the last four months, we're here to tell you that the fishing port 62 miles south of San Diego has been overlooked by cruisers in recent years. Our most recent visit was as participants in the Southwestern YC's 62-mile Little Ensenada Race from San Diego to Ensenada. While we managed to complete only 61 of the 62 miles before the wind shut down completely in the early hours, we still had a blast. The sailing was even better on the 16-mile around Todos Santos Island Race two days later. While downtown Ensenada could hardly be described as posh, it's lively after dark, and the locals are as friendly as anywhere in Mexico — and that's saying something. Thanks to Cruiseport Marina and the Coral Hotel & Marina, the berthing options are clean and secure. The fact that mariners have to check in to Mexico and get a tourist visa is, of course, an impediment to visits by California sailors. However, Mayor Enrique Pelayo told us that he and some legislators are looking to get this changed.

The other thing that impressed us were the veteran cruisers who have decided to base out of Ensenada rather than California, and not because it's less expensive — diesel was just $3/gallon — but because they like Ensenada more. Among them are longtime cruisers Jan and Ramona Miller, who three years ago returned to the West Coast after a long trip across the Pacific with their Odyssey 30 Jatimo. As much as they liked their old homeport of Santa Cruz, they like Ensenada better. Another couple who think Ensenada is just great are Lionel and Irene Bass of Perth, Western Australia. A little more than a year ago the couple purchased Pete and Susan Wolcott's M&M 52 catamaran Kiapa. They plan to take three years to sail and surf her across the Pacific to Perth.

"It was great to read about and see photos of Ensenada, as well as both the 'new' and 'old' Hussong's Cantinas," write Jim and Robbie Hill of the Peninsula and Sayulita, Mexico, former owners of the Farr/Tompkins 55 Amazing Grace. "After finishing the Big Ensenada Race in about '54, some friends and I went to Hussong's Cantina. As we were sitting there, two guys on a rented horse rode in. They ordered three margaritas. "One is for the horse," they explained. They had no problem getting served.

We don't know if you can still ride horses into Hussong's, but paying a visit to Hussong's on their wedding day is still a tradition for many Ensenada brides.

"I am still in Palau, but leaving in October for Puerto Galera in the Philippines in order to participate in the Royal Cargo All Souls Regatta," reports David Addleman of the Monterey-based Santa Cruz 50 X. "The regatta sponsors claim their regatta is 'the most fun in the world', and sailed on 'the most beautiful bay in the world'. I don't speak Tagalog, so it's a good thing Shayne, my liveaboard girlfriend, is Filipina."

We'd never heard of the All Souls Regatta, which is held November 2-4, but based on our research and knowing how much Filipinos love fun, it's sounds like a blast. The event was founded in '04, and at least 30 boats are expected to participate this year, from small boats, to cruising boats, to multihulls, to IRC boats. Event organizers emphasize that everyone is encouraged to participate, no matter what kind of boat they have — or even if they don't have a boat at all.

Norm Sween is hoping that someone gives him the finger when he, his wife Susan, and crew Justin and Erika Sween of Bodega Bay arrive in Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas with their 32-ft cutter Monte Cristo in the summer of '14. "I first ventured to the South Pacific in '93 aboard the same 32-ft cutter, which was named Monte Crest back then," says Norm. "By accident, I left my right index finger in a plastic bottle at Hana Vatu on Fatu Hiva as a 'gift to the gods'. I later heard from a French vessel in Bora Bora that my finger had been found, but spirits would keep it there until I returned. If anyone else has found my finger, please contact me at ."

"When Latitude recently wrote about Mexico, I was surprised that you didn't mention Barra de Navidad," writes Capt Adriana Kenlan, with the 'Wonder Poodle' Boxer of the Oceanside-based Catalina 36 Stimulator. "Barra, 135 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, is amazing because it's safe and secure, has crystal clear water, is easy to enter, and has every amenity a sailor could ask for. When I needed a hurricane hole for the summer, I discovered Marina Isla Navidad, which turned out to be the best marina in Mexico — and better than most in the world. The marina is connected to the Wyndham Grand Bay Hotel, which is ranked the #1 Mexican Resort by the Travel Channel. Marina tenants have access to everything. In addition to 207 new slips with water, electricity, and Internet, there are eight spotless shower rooms, a massive pool with a water slide, bar and food service, a spa, tennis courts, a great golf course, inexpensive restaurants, and magnificent scenery. A French baker even delivers French pastries and bread every morning by boat. I know my boat is safe because she is guarded 24/7 and maintained by a conscientious staff."

Our neglecting to mention Barra was certainly an oversight — and for more reasons than just the Marina Isla Navidad. As Mexico vets know, the marina is right across from the charming and inexpensive waterfront town of Barra de Navidad, which shares the same small bay as Melaque. It's also right on the shores of the Barra Lagoon, where cruisers can anchor securely for free in totally protected waters. The Grand Bay Hotel and the marina are both very nice, but with all due respect, we think it's a stretch to claim that the marina is one of the best in the world and the resort the top-rated one in Mexico. We like them both, but they both have plenty of competition.

A woman sailor who owns a boat named Stimulator? If we didn't know better, we'd think it was provocative.

How are we supposed to believe anything Pat and Carole MacIntosh of Roseville tell us? A while back they sold their Hunter, and said they were moving to powerboats. Yet on September 28, they sent the following email: "We're about to close a deal on a Cheoy Lee 35 in Barra de Navidad — and she is not a project boat."

Jim and Chris Machado of Puerto Vallarta-based Jeanneau 41 La Ballona are another cruising couple who have changed boats. "It's the fault of Dave Wegesend of the Puerto Vallarta-based Maluhia, who took us sailing on his Catana 42 cat, that we've gone over to the 'dark side'. "We're now the owners of the Catana 43 Bright Wing, the only tall-rig 43 ever made." La Ballona was brought up from Puerto Vallarta for sale in San Diego, while Bright Wing, which was in Alameda, is now in Ensenada. As Jim is recovering from back surgery, he and Chris probably won't sail south for Mexico until December.

As we reported in 'Lectronic a few weeks ago, The Dîv Bar ­­— at the far west end of Newport Harbor, and which used to be Josh Slocum's Restaurant, and then for a time was owned or fronted by Dennis 'Sexual Chocolate' Rodman — welcomes cruisers to come by and use their dock space to take on water, wash their boats, and tie up to go shopping. But — and it's a 'but' as big as Kim K's — the docks have to be cleared by noon to let paying restaurant customers use the space. The Dîv Bar is easy to find. Just look for circumnavigator Ernie Minney's DownEast 38 Anita, "named after my fourth wife." Much more than a bar, the Dîv Bar is a great smokehouse, too. Even more important to frugal cruisers, it's only a moderate walk from inimitable Ernie's Minney's Marine Surplus on Newport Blvd. It's the biggest marine surplus store on the coast, and is loaded with bargains.

You're on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver, British Columbia, across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia, on a Boeing 777 on October 17. When the plane descends from 24,000 feet to 5,000 feet, you're not too worried, because you're 12 hours into the flight and figure you must be getting close to landing. But then the captain asks if any of the passengers has a pair of binoculars he can borrow. Wha?!!! Actually, there wasn't any reason for the 270 passengers aboard flight AC033 to freak, because the captain was just responding to an Australian Maritime Safety Authority request to search for the source of an EPIRB signal. In fact, the captain asked the passengers to look out the windows for a dismasted vessel. When a passenger with a pair of binos did spot the vessel, a big cheer went up from the other passengers. The distressed vessel's singlehanded skipper had left Sydney for New Zealand two weeks before, had been dismasted, and ran out of fuel 300 miles east of the Australian coast — i.e. in the middle of nowhere. He and his boat were later rescued by Australian resources.

As reported several times in 'Lectronic, Mexican Immigration laws have changed, with potentially major ramifications for cruisers. According to the letter of the new laws, boats arriving in Mexico have to electronically notifiy officials at their port of entry 24 hours before they arrive; will have to be inspected at their port of entry; and will not be permitted to stop anywhere in Mexico prior to clearing in at a port of entry. In other words, if you don't clear in at Ensenada, you can't stop anywhere along the coast of Baja until you check-in at Cabo San Lucas. At first glance, it may seem as if Ensenada is making a grab for Immigration and business income. But when you think about it, what other country would allow you to leisurely cruise 750 miles of their coast before clearing in?

Nonetheless, the new rules had the potential to create problems for this year's Ha-Ha, because Ensenada doesn't currently have the facilities or manpower to handle 150 boats arriving at once. Fortunately, Neil Shroyer of Marina del La Paz, Fito Espinoza of Coral Marina, and other members of the Mexican Marina Owners Association, were able to work with Immigration officials in Mexico City to delay implementation of the new rules until November 9, the day after all the Ha-Ha boats should have cleared in at Cabo San Lucas. In addition, implementation of the other rules will be "gradual". This is out of necessity, because immigration and port captain offices are not equipped to handle the new procedures. Given that there will be a whole new federal government taking over on December 1, and the current impracticability of the new rules, it's possible that some or all of them will be rescinded.

The bottom line is that if you're heading south after the Ha-Ha, and you want to be in accordance with Mexican law, you'll need to clear into Mexico at Ensenada — at least if you want to stop anywhere along the coast of Baja before Cabo San Lucas. Shroyer also recommends getting your Temporary Import Permit online, although you probably need to allow two weeks to get it. We'll keep you posted on how the situation evolves.

What's up for cruisers in Mexico this winter? Here are some of the major events:

November 20 — Multi-sponsor Welcome to La Paz Ha-Ha Party and festivities. Everyone welcome, but first 50 Ha-Ha participants get in free.

November 22Thanksgiving celebrations everywhere cruisers gather. It's always been big in Mazatlan.

December 12 Nayarit Riviera Sailor's Splash, Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz, and a bunch of local restaurants welcome members of the Ha-Ha fleet — and everyone else. Free.

December 13-15 Banderas Bay Blast, 'nothing serious' cruiser racing between Paradise Marina, Riviera Nayarit, and Punta Mita, also including the Swimming Pool Volleyball Championships, the opening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club, and the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity on the 15th. Free except for $1 yacht club membership. Free berthing for one night at both marinas.

December 25 and January 1 — Holiday celebrations everywhere cruisers gather.

February 7-12 — Zihua SailFest. For years this has been the biggest cruiser-led fundraiser in Mexico, all for local schools. But it counts on a new group of cruiser volunteers each year. Great fun, terrific cause!

March 19-23Banderas Bay Regatta. While still 'nothing serious' racing fun for cruisers, this is the biggest one of the season in Mexico, and the Paradise Marina / Vallarta YC venue is world class for fun. Free.

April 12-15Club Cruceros de La Paz Bay Fest. All kinds of sailing and social fun to kick off the season in the Sea of Cortez. Free.

May 4-6Loreto Fest, Puerto Escondido. The biggest cruiser gathering in the Sea of Cortez, with lots of music, seminars, and fun. Free, but also a fund raiser for local schools.

There are lots of other smaller events in Mexico over the winter that are great fun, too. Tune into your local VHF nets for further information.

With another cruising season upon us, we wish everyone safe sailing! Don't forget to write — short and sweet is perfect — or send in the high res photos.

Missing the pictures? See the November 2012 eBook!


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