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November 2014

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With reports from Irie on problems with their mooring breaking free at Taina Marina in Tahiti; from La Paz and Baja on the aftermath of Odile; from Kiapa on the pleasures of Musket Cove Resort in Fiji; from St. Barth and St. Martin on the destruction they suffered from hurricane Gonzalo; from Destarte on work and play in Fiji;
and Cruise Notes.

Irie — Tobago 35 Cat
Mark & Liesbet Colleart
Trouble In Tahiti
(Ex-Bay Area)

After Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we had to fly to the United States so he could have surgery and get further treatment. Before we left Irie on mooring ball A19 at Taina Marina in Tahiti for an indefinite period, we made sure everything was as well-prepared as possible. When we heard that A19 was a newly serviced mooring because it had broken loose not long before, we thought it was a positive thing. Since our cat is lighter and shorter than the monohulls for which the mooring was designed, we figured there was no way she could break loose.

We attached three mooring lines through the loop of the mooring ball: one off each bow and a back-up line in the middle. This setup served three purposes: 1) It kept the mooring ball between the two hulls; 2) It kept the lines from touching the bottom of the hulls and rubbing the new bottom paint off, and, 3) It eliminated chafe. If one of the lines chafed through somehow, the other two would still keep our cat attached.

We also arranged for friends to check on Irie frequently in case something looked suspicious, and made sure the marina staff knew how to contact us.

When Mark and I returned to Irie on August 15, eager to settle back into life on the water, we were surprised to see that she was lying slack against the mooring ball. Upon further investigation, we found a pile of our mooring lines on the front deck, and only a single line from one bow to the other via the loop of the mooring ball! If our boat moved at all, the sawing movement caused chafe on the line and the loop, with the potential for the line's eventually failing and our boat getting loose. Furthermore, the way the single line was tied outside the bows meant that it was rubbing off the expensive new bottom paint.

Needless to say, we weren't happy.

Our friends denied all responsibility, and our neighbors in the mooring field said they hadn't seen anything. When we paid our bill — which was higher than expected because while we were gone the marina raised the weekly rate without informing us — manager Philippe Olite took our money without comment.

(For the record, cats pay double the rate of monohulls, despite the fact that we were awake many nights worried that oversized monohulls on neighboring mooring balls were coming within inches of our boat during windshifts and changes in the tide. We were charged $6/ft/month.)

How Irie's mooring lines had come off remained a mystery until we got to the anchorage at Arue. When the catamaran Paradocs entered the anchorage, Nicholas, one of the crew, yelled: “Hey, I saved your boat two weeks ago in Taina Marina! She was just floating away."


As soon as Paradocs got settled, we dinghied over to learn more. Nicholas explained that he was dinghying home about midnight on August 8 after playing ukulele ashore when he noticed Irie dragging through the mooring field — with the mooring ball and three lines still attached! He said he banged on the hull of our cat but nobody was home. Since Irie was about to crash into another catamaran, he urged the owners of the second cat to wake up. Together they fended our cat off just in time to prevent any damage.

Nicholas contacted the marina staff, who — begrudgingly because of the late hour — towed our boat to another mooring. She stayed on that ball until A19 was fixed. Philippe and crew later put Irie back on that ball — with only one line attached and without bothering to tell us!

We realize that shit does happen and sometimes mooring balls break free. What we don’t understand is why Marina Taina didn't take any responsibility for what happened, and how Philippe, who told us, "Moorings break all the time", felt fine about not saying anything to us even though we could have lost our home. "That's why you have insurance," he explained. If the wind had come from the other direction, Irie would have ended up on the reefs.

That being said, we are very grateful that Nicholas saved our boat and that no serious damage was done. Discovering that you almost lost your home and way of life is scary. We think our karma, from having saved at least three other cruising boats during our seven years on the water, has been put to the test!

— liesbet 10/01/14

The Aftermath of Hurricane Odile
La Paz, Baja California Sur

A month after Odile, the most deadly hurricane ever to hit the cruising community of La Paz, we spoke with Elizabeth and Alan Baggs of the Annapolis-based Caliber 40 Vivacia to a get better understanding of the preparations, impact and aftermath. The Baggses have had Vivacia in Mexico for the better part of two years. Although they've been to the mainland, up into the Sea, and across to French Polynesia with Lionel and Irene Bass aboard the M&M 52 cat Kiapa, they've spent most of their time in La Paz. They were aboard their boat at Marina de La Paz when Odile struck with 85 knots of wind — maybe more.

Odile did not take anyone in La Paz by surprise, but some people were lulled into complacency by the fact that Odile was originally projected to follow exactly the same path as hurricane Norbert a week before. And Norbert ended up passing far enough to the west to have no effect.

"Even a couple of days before Odile came through, weather forecasters were saying there was only a 50/50 chance we would get hit," says Elizabeth. Everything changed at about 6:30 a.m. on the 14th, when Tom of Baja Insider got on the VHF before the cruisers' net and announced: "Time to get busy, we're going to get hit!"

Most boatowners responded by spending the day getting their boats and friends' boats ready. Those with boats in Marina del La Paz — and presumably the other marinas — were required to strike furling sails and remove canvas. If the owners weren't around, the marina staff prepared the boats — as they had done before, even in cases of false alarms. Many extra lines and fenders were deployed.

In the end, boats in the marinas came through with very little damage. They were helped enormously by the fact that the wind blew offshore rather than onshore. Nobody wants to think what would have happened if the 8-ft chop had blown toward the marinas — especially the piling-free Marina Cortez — instead of away from them.

Before Odile hit, there were 44 boats anchored in the bay. One of them, Carlos Slim's 95-ft Tully, made a run for it to the north. She made it to Bahia Concepcion, where she and her crew rode out 50 knots without a problem. Nine other boatowners brought their boats into marinas, and there was room for more.

Guenter Trebbow, 77, the much-loved German aboard the Fisher 30 ketch Princess, refused the offer of a free slip despite the fact he was in poor health. He would die of a heart attack during the height of the storm. "We feel guilty that we didn't go out, tie him up, and force him to bring his boat into a marina," says Elizabeth.

Paul Whitehouse and Simone Wood, Brits on the ketch Tabasco II, were the other two cruisers who died because of Odile. Apparently they also could have taken a berth. Their boat sank in the middle of the night. Simone's body, clad in a survival suit, was found several days later in the thick mangroves. Given the restricted movement when in the suit, she was apparently pinned against the mangroves by 100 mph winds and eight-foot chop. The body of Paul, a dive instructor, was found on a nearby beach.

Of the 34 boats that started the storm at anchor or on a mooring buoy, some were extensively prepared, with things like triple anchors set and with as much windage stripped as possible. Others got no special preparation because nobody was on them. "It's hard to believe," says Alan, "but some people think they can leave their boat unattended on the hook in a hurricane zone for one or two years, with furling sails and canvas still on."

All but one of these anchored boats was on the far side of the sandbar that divides the bay, meaning they ended up on a windward shore in hurricane-force winds. Small wonder that there were only five boats left at dawn the next morning when the wind was down to 35 knots. The one boat just to the leeward of Marina de La Paz still had a dinghy trailing behind — albeit upside down.

As of the middle of October, a month after Odile hit, 22 of the boats had been refloated, six had been sunk or destroyed, and one was lifted out by a crane. As for the rest, Elizabeth, who has been keeping close track, reports they "either need professional dredging equipment or the owners have simply walked away."

People are funny. The owner of Steel Breeze, whose boat didn't get off for nearly a month, couldn't have been more delighted and grateful to get his boat back. "Others almost didn't seem to care," said Elizabeth. "The owner of one reasonably nice boat that could easily be pulled off is still aground because the owner doesn't want to pay for a new anchor."

"The vast majority of the refloatings were done by completely volunteer efforts," continues Elizabeth, "with the indispensable help of two motor vessels: Jordan Shishmanov's Cheoy Lee Sea Master 47 Sea Witch and Al Winn's Hatteras 46 Oso Negro. The former pulled nine boats off; the latter pulled five off.

"The cruising community, in addition to the help of the two powerboats, did a phenomenal, selfless job of coming together and taking care of its own," says Elizabeth. "There was a core group that worked for days on end."

We'd have gladly published the names, but some don't want the publicity and it's feared others might be left out by mistake. But you know who you are.

Nonetheless, Elizabeth wants to give special recognition to Rosie of the Red Shack Restaurant. While the Mexican government did dispatch a helicopter to 'search' for the three missing cruisers, their search was described as being "brief, at high altitude, not in a grid pattern and more like a sightseeing flight". For three or four days after Odile, Rosie would be taken by Al of Tuna Tamer to the mogote, where she tirelessly searched the mangroves for the bodies of Paul and Simone. It was Rosie who found Simone's body, which quickly led to the discovery of Paul's body.

Luck plays a role in surviving hurricanes. Autumn (last name unknown), who is believed to have been alone on the sloop Rascal, which would go up on the beach, was literally blown off the bow of her boat during the storm. The wind and waves drove her onto the beach, where she was able to take shelter beneath a dinghy for the duration of the storm.

Shelley Rothery Ward, commodore of the Club Cruceros of de La Paz, was described as "our strength, our CEO, and our contact with authorities," says Elizabeth. To date the club has raised over $20,000 to help cruisers out.

Puerto Escondido: Jake Howard of the Hunter 45 Jake offered this 'month after' report from Hidden Harbor:

"A total of 15 boats were damaged at Escondido. Four were sunk and 11 were driven ashore. Of the four sunk, two have been refloated but are total losses. The others were salvaged 'as is', cut up and hauled away. Of the 11 boats driven ashore, three are total losses, while eight are questionable. If the owners are willing to pour in a lot of money, they can probably be saved. Those are big 'ifs'.

"I can also report that a singlehander named Mary (last name unknown) on the 35-ft sloop Ivor had left San Francisquito on Saturday before the storm hoping to make Santa Rosalia. She didn't make it and her boat was driven aground at Punta Trinidad, which is about 45 miles north of Santa Rosalia. Ivor was also dismasted. Mary was spotted several days after the storm, and initially didn't want to leave her boat. Several cruisers finally convinced her to take what she could and leave the boat. She is expected to arrive soon in Puerto Escondido, where she has a temporary place to stay while she looks for another boat."

Santa Rosalia: "My husband Alan and Jordan Shishmanov made the seven-hour trip up to Santa Rosalia because they were under the impression that a sunken boat needed a pump to be refloated," reports Elizabeth. "It turned out to be a waste of time because somebody else had the necessary pump. Alan found that Odile's winds had totally destroyed the old marina at Santa Rosalia, which was in terrible shape to begin with. It was a shame, because it resulted in the loss of the 50-ft Peterson schooner Golden Eagle, an absolutely gorgeous boat."

Ron Strathman, who had worked many years to save the dying schooner, and since then has sailed the Sea for six years, reportedly fled Mexico in the aftermath of Odile. Apparently the owner of the dilapidated marina took legal action to try to hold Strathman and the owners of several other boats liable for destroying his marina, rather than vice versa. Fearing arrest, Strathman headed for the States for legal representation and to let things settle. Settle they did, as API, the local port authority, ruled against the owner of the marina. A fundraiser has been established in the hope of raising $100,000 so Strathman can save the schooner once again.

It's believed that the other two boats blamed for the marina's coming apart are the 50-ft motoryacht Sea Hunter and an unnamed 40-ft sailboat.

A Learning Experience: What did Alan and Elizabeth Baggs learn from their experience aboard at the dock? "First, that even a boat in a marina can heel over," says Elizabeth. "We were knocked down as much as 45 degrees by some gusts, at which point our big worry was that we might get a rail hooked under the dock — something that did happen and cause damage to another boat. Second, until you've been through a hurricane, you have no concept of how powerful the wind can be. The difference between 25 knots and 50 knots, for example, is not double, but four times as much. Had we known, we wouldn't have left our bimini and solar panels up — although they did survive."

— latitude/rs 10/15/2014

Kiapa — M&M 52 Cat
Lionel & Irene Bass
Kiapa's Cruising 'Comes to an End'
(Perth, Australia)

Yes, we know we haven’t updated our blog in months, but that's because we've been having too much fun. Some friends keep trying to convince us to 'get with it' and to 'do Facebook'. Maybe one day.

About two months ago we arrived at Malolo Lailai Island, more specifically at Musket Cove Marina & Resort — and we haven’t moved very far since. Hence the 'Cruising Comes To an End' title. But picture what we have here:

— A safe, comfortable and protected anchorage.

— A cruiser-friendly resort a very short dinghy ride away, where yachties are made to feel most welcome. We can use all the resort facilities for free.

— Excellent — and we mean excellent! — surf and kiteboarding just a short distance away, both easy to reach with our 'car' — aka dinghy.

— No need to ever lock up the boat or hide stuff away. We all leave all our cameras, iPads, toys such as kayaks and SUPs, and diving gear out in the open on deck.

— Terrific snorkeling nearby.

— A great social scene. Every night the Island Bar cranks with cruisers dinghying in to BBQ a snag or steak, and then share a salad or two with others in true potluck style.

— Yoga six mornings a week, and if you want, volleyball in the late afternoon.

— A grocery with all the necessities.

As one cruiser said, it’s a bit like being at permanent summer camp! Yoga first thing, then a coffee at Vina’s Coffee Shack, followed by a boat project/housekeeping job or two — such as clean the bottom or wash the 'Fiji snow' (ash from burning sugar cane) off the deck, have lunch, surf or kiteboard depending on the wind and tide, do some laps in the resort pool, followed by a shower in their fabulous facilities. We haven't had to make much water since we got here. Then off to the Island Bar for BYO dinner, where not only are there BBQs but they even provide and wash up plates and cutlery! Why would we cook onboard or go anywhere else?

We actually have upped anchor to explore some of the nearby islands. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had three lots of friends come and visit: the Marot family from Sydney, Charl from Noosa, and Ray, Youngie and Bea from Perth. Fiji is so easily reachable from Oz, we’ve loved having visitors. I’ll let the photos do the talking!

The main reason we have 'stopped cruising' in the true sense of the expression is because of the surfing and kiteboarding opportunities that are in such close proximity to Musket Cove. Just around the corner there are five world famous surf breaks: Cloudbreak, Restaurants, Namotu Left, Wilkes and Swimming Pools. Maybe you’ve heard of Cloudbreak? Depending on the weather forecast, we either take the mothership Kiapa out and anchor off tiny Namotu Island for the day, then dinghy to the surf break, or alternatively Lionel and I head out in the dinghy – that’s if we just want to have a ‘quick surf’, rather than making a whole day of it. Namotu Island has a small, exclusive, private resort on it, mainly catering to surfers and kiteboarders – no cruiser plebs are allowed ashore! Luckily, we have been given the okay by the resort owners to pump our kites up on their beach. Phew! Imagine not being able to kite a world class break because we can’t pump our kites up! And because of its exclusivity, it’s never crowded! Aahhhh, heaven!

Something else that has been keeping me occupied is some small-scale volunteer work. Back in New Zealand we loaded Kiapa up with many boxes of spectacles, kindly donated by the Papakura Lions Club. And each time we’ve been near a different village or community, we have held, what I can only loosely call a ‘clinic’, for those who need reading glasses. For me this has been a wonderful opportunity to meet Fijians. In the beginning Lionel helped me, but more recently it's been our friends who have visited and/or cruising girlfriends who have helped me. Again, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Needless to say this has made me feel my life is not totally self-indulgent and decadent, and that in a small way I'm helping others.

Another reason my cruising life is temporarily ‘coming to an end’ in 10 days' time is that I am returning to Perth for a couple of months. An opportunity to teach back at my old school came up. I put my hand up and was lucky enough to get it. My motivation for going back to work is for a combination of reasons: from topping up the cruising kitty to keeping my teaching registration up-to-date, but most importantly to see all my friends. Lionel will stay here in Fiji for a couple of months more, and at the end of November will look for a weather window to sail our beloved Kiapa back to New Zealand. I'll meet him there in mid-December.

The main thing to know is that we've been having so much fun here in Fiji that we plan to come back next season!

— irene 09/15/2014

Hurricane Gonzalo
St. Barth and St. Martin

The Lesser Antilles Islands of St. Martin and St. Barth were sucker-punched by hurricane Gonzalo for five hours on the evening of Monday October 13. The storm had surprised forecasters with both a quick turn to the north and a rapid building of strength to hurricane force. Marine interests on the two islands were hit particularly hard, as were small aircraft.

The body of one 87-year-old sailor — who had lost his previous boat to ferocious hurricane Luis 19 years before — was found at Boca Marina inside St. Martin's Simpson Bay Lagoon. While one source said nobody was still missing, others were saying a number are, including three in a dinghy off St. Martin and three on a boat off St. Barth.

Thirty-seven boats were said to have been destroyed on St. Martin, most of them sunk. Many were in Simpson Bay Lagoon or at Sandy Ground, Marigot Bay and Grand Case on the northwest coast. Authorities said there had been seas to 18 feet in those locations. In addition, five boats were reportedly washed up in relatively protected Oyster Pond, and the resort bars and restaurants at Orient Beach were said to be devastated.

There was an unknown amount of damage to boats in the boatyards. For example, St. Martin Shipyard, next to the airport on the Dutch side, reported significant damage to boats at their cement docks. La Gamelle, the Wanderer's scruffy but beloved Olson 30, was also in that yard, but was undamaged. The Coast Guard pier on the Dutch side of St. Martin was damaged when a boat slammed into it, and a Coast Guard vessel on a lift was damaged.

Although she wasn't on the island, St. Barth fountain-of-information Melanie Smith reports that her sources say "at least 50 boats sank or were driven ashore at different parts of the island. This storm grew so quickly while on the doorstep of the island that most people were caught totally unprepared, which is pretty rare for St. Barth."

According to Smith's sources, three days after the storm a number of people, including three on one boat, were still unaccounted for.

When hurricanes approach, most St. Barth boats run for the lagoon in St. Martin. But that's 20+ miles away, the bridge opens only a couple of times a day, and the trip would have been to windward. So to our knowledge few if any skippers attempted it with so little advance warning.

Authorities at the Prefecture at St. Martin's Grand Case report that Gonzalo's winds peaked at a relatively modest 86 knots, about a third of the force of mega-hurricane Luis, which some will remember destroyed more than 700 boats in the lagoon alone.

Surprise was Gonzalo's big weapon. Most Caribbean hurricanes start far to the east and give plenty of warning of their approach. Gonzalo started as a relatively benign system 700 miles east of Antigua, and on the Friday afternoon three days before she hit, forecasters said it only had a 10% chance of becoming a tropical storm in 48 hours, and only 30 percent in five days. That lulled a lot of islanders, most of whom have been through storms before, into complacency.

By Sunday afternoon, Gonzalo had jumped to a depression and then a tropical storm, so at 1:30 p.m. authorities issued their first Tropical Storm Watch. But at that point, Gonzalo was supposed to pass to the south of St. Martin. When a huge rainstorm came through on Monday, many residents assumed that it was Gonzalo coming and going. It wasn't. In fact, the real thing had turned and was headed straight for the two islands.

The Sea Rescue Service reported they were overwhelmed with calls for help, and that many flares were fired from boats in the night. Early in the storm Lifeboat 129 went to rescue a boat with two adults and a baby aboard off Marigot Bay's Beach Plaza Hotel. "When we got the tow line to the skipper, it took the man forever to attach it, as he was busy trying to save his anchor," said one of the crew. "We were shouting that we needed to go forward, and the wind was gusting to 60-65 knots. But we ended up with the line getting caught in our props, which killed both engines. Within 10 seconds we were on the rocks."

Laura Greces of BVI Yacht Charters reports that Gonzalo was originally headed right for their base on Tortola, British Virgin Islands, so they made all preparations. "In line for a direct hit at hurricane force, we ran all our boats over to our hurricane hole at Paraquita and to Village Cay, and had a few on charter go to the marina at Virgin Gorda. I had all the hurricane shutters up at my home, and not wanting to hear the roar, went to sleep at 8:30 p.m. I slept through the night without hearing anything, so I don't think we even had tropical-force winds. None of our boats, including Latitude's catamaran 'ti Profligate, were damaged. We were very lucky."

Compared to the 1990s, hurricanes in the last 15 years have been easy on marine interests in the Eastern Caribbean, particularly the Virgin Islands / St. Martin / St. Barth / Antigua area of the Lesser Antilles. In just four hours, Gonzalo changed all that. Because the hurricane wasn't that strong and didn't last that long, most of the damage to the islands was cosmetic. Most electrical, phone and transportation services, including airports, were restored in a day or two. The islands will be fine for the winter, with only a few masts sticking up through the water to remind people of the most recent hurricane. Indeed, Greces said that winter bookings were "very strong".

— latitude/rs 10/16/2014

Destarte — Bristol Cutter 28
Jerry Murphy and Brendan
Work and Fun in Fiji
(San Diego)

The predawn sky was pink this morning, and the light showers of last night have ended, promising a nice day. My Bristol Channel Cutter, a vet of the 2006 Ha-Ha, bobbed gently at a dock at Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu Island, Fiji. Her crew — myself and my nephew Brendan — had just completed six weeks of hard work bringing Destarte's systems back up, renewing her varnish, and provisioning her for a month of cruising among the islands of Fiji. Our plan for the day was a sortie to Malolo Lailai Island, home of the famed Musket Cove YC. Cruisers from all over the western Pacific congregate at Musket Cove because they are made to feel so welcome. So we'll visit and use the passage as our seasonal sea trial.

Brendan has done a fine job of working hard in the tropical sun, learning to varnish, paint, and 'keep house' on my 28-footer. Others in the marina have taken note of his positive attitude. But most remarkable is his ability to play guitar and sing. He and I have played together and sung on Destarte, but several times he's been called onto the stage at the Boatshed Bar and Restaurant by the band, and has done solos of folk music and some of his own compositions. All conversation at the bar ceased when he played those nights, and he was given resounding rounds of applause.

We haven't started sailing yet, but I've already had some trials. Destarte’s dinghy, for example, was stolen from right next to my boat on the grounds of the marina. Despite a police investigation, a newspaper notice and reward posters, there has been no sign of it. So I've purchased another cruiser’s hand-me-down inflatable, which leaks air and is too big for my boat. But it will likely get us through this short season.

I also had my camera stolen, so I don't really have any photos to share. Brendan, who also appears to be a skilled photographer, has been taking photos with his iPhone. Once we figure out how to download these to the ship’s computer, we may be able to pass some along.

Virtually every ship’s system has required at least some work this year. I started cruising with the 2006 Ha-Ha, so I guess that's to be expected. Fortunately, I brought most of the parts with me in my luggage, and they are now all installed. Destarte is looking really good.

Although the captain has worked from sunrise to sunset most days, and the crew nearly as much, it hasn't been all work. Yesterday was Fiji's Independence Day, and we walked the 50 minutes to the neighboring village where we drank kava with a local family. The countryside here in Fiji is lovely, with lush, tropical vegetation over rough hewn volcanic mountains.

Our plan is to leave Vuda Pt today to begin exploring the Mamanutha and Yasawa Islands, which are on the west and northwest sides of Viti Levu. The Yasawas may be remembered as the area where Robin Lee Graham of the 24-ft Dove fell in love with his future wife Patti. It's also where the movie Blue Lagoon was filmed. Captain Bligh and the Bounty loyalists were chased by cannibals in the Yasawas, but we're not too concerned, as that was many years ago. We hope to do the sevu sevu ceremony with the local chiefs and drink kava in peace and fellowship.

At present, we are thinking of returning to Vuda Point at the end of October, at which point we'll have to decide whether to make the 1,000+ mile passage to New Zealand this year.

(Update: Good news, as my camera was found! It hadn't been stolen after all, but turned up in a hidden cubby of the boat. Having had my dinghy stolen put me in a negative mindset, so I assumed that the camera had fallen out of my pocket and had been taken home by someone.)

— jerry 09/21/2014

Cruise Notes:

"Hurricanes aren't the only strong winds that hit Mexico," report Mike and Melissa Wilson of the Mazatlan-based S&S 44 Tortue. "Here in Mazatlan we get hit with fierce stuff locally known locally as torritos or 'little bulls'. They are the equivalent of chubascos and elephantes farther up in the Sea of Cortez, and feature winds to 60 knots and torrential rain. Normally the extreme wind and rain lasts between 40 minutes and two hours, after which it's followed by a softer 'Irish style' rain. But one time we had 17 inches of rain in 24 hours, which left the whole of the city awash. Thank God our Tortue, fully welded aluminium, doesn't leak a drop."

And thanks to what the couple facetiously describe as "incredible foresight", they and their 16-year old black cat Tao missed getting hit by Odile on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. "We didn't go over to that side of the Sea this summer," says Mike, "but I've called the cruising grounds of the eastern shore of Baja home for 15 summers, and Melissa has been with me for the last four of them. We feel for our friends who got hit so hard over there."

"Cruisers who had left their boats in Mazatlan for the summer were starting to return by mid-October," Wilson continued. "The VHF radio, quiet for the summer, has started to crackle to life and the morning net is growing on a daily basis. We're all looking forward to a great season here in Mazatlan."

"The presence of Fonatur at Puerto Escondido has significantly reduced the safety of the place as a 'hurricane hole'," contends a Puerto Escondido-based reader who says his name can't appear in print for fear of reprisals. "I was here in 2002 and was able to lay out 360 feet of chain in Puerto Escondido for hurricane Marty. Then Fonatur, the Mexican tourism development agency, came in and put moorings almost everywhere in Puerto Escondido, leaving very little room to anchor. So when Odile came through in September, I could only put out 260 feet of chain, despite being anchored in 46 feet of water. That's only six to one. It also put me closer to moored boats than I wanted.

"Why did I anchor instead of taking one of the Fonatur moorings?" the reader asks rhetorically. "Because the Fonatur staff that runs the moorings advised me that "none of the moorings are any good". They were the ones who suggested that I anchor. At least three of the Fonatur moorings did fail during Odile, and the larger motor vessels on moorings continuously used their engines to reduce the load.

"I'm writing because I believe the presence of Fonatur has significantly reduced the safety of Escondido as a hurricane hole, and I doubt that many of the new cruisers coming down this year are aware of it. My complaints to Fonatur are useless, and their general attitude is that nothing can be done. Perhaps Latitude could evaluate the situation?"

Latitude's evaluation is simple: we wouldn't want to have to use any of the Fonatur moorings in anything like hurricane conditions. And we'd hate to have to battle with other boats for what little room is left outside the mooring area in order to anchor properly. Has the presence of questionable moorings made Puerto Escondido less safe as a hurricane hole? We believe so.

It seems to us the Fonatur operation in Puerto Escondido has been a well-intentioned mistake from the beginning — which was back in the late 1970s. The moorings, which are quite expensive for what you get, seem to have been a factor in breaking up what had once been a thriving cruiser-based community. Faced with having to pay lots of money for a dubious mooring or have to live with inadequate room to anchor, many cruisers simply move on.

We doubt it's going to happen, but we think it would be in the best interest of cruisers and the community — and maybe even Fonatur — if they eliminated most of the moorings and allowed an anchor-out-based community to revive.

How can Mexicans charged with installing safe moorings not be able to do something so simple? It's easy. Just ask the Americans in Redondo Beach. After months of research and great expense, about 25 moorings were installed behind the Redondo breakwater. As soon as the job was completed, the Harbor Patrol said they weren't safe for use, and the mooring area couldn't be used for anchoring. Just as with Puerto Escondido, we don't think the huge sheltered space Redondo Beach has behind the massive breakwater is being used intelligently.

As for anchoring in 46 feet of water when hurricane-force winds are coming, we can only conclude that the reader was either very ballsy or desperate.

From the files of the Parsimonious Cruiser: "After years of cruising between San Francisco and Mexico aboard my Castro Valley-based Tayana 37 Shamwari, I finally decided to put a hookah aboard," writes Charles Lane. "While a hookah is nice for cleaning the bottom and stuff, I mainly wanted it to be able to spend more time underwater if I get snagged on a fishing net on the outside of Baja. I just turned 70 and I can't hold my breath as long as I used to. I found some good systems out there in the $1,000 range, but being frugal, I made my own for just a few bucks north of $100.

"Harbor Freight has oil-less 3-gal 100 psi compressors on sale for $40. A brand-new regulator (eBay) was about $60. I got 50 feet of PVC hose for $12. I heated the hose in warm water and soaked it with a mild solution of Simple Green and flushed it well to get rid of the plastic taste. And I got the 3/8-inch fittings from Home Depot. I field-tested mine in a Bay Area marina wearing a 3/4-inch wetsuit. It worked awesome!"

For the record, we at Latitude are not recommending that you build your own hookah, just reporting that Lane has.

"Our website is updated and we are now accepting entries for the 2015 El Salvador Rally," report Bill Yeargen and Jean Strain of the Honolulu-based Irwin 37 Mita Kuuluu. This popular event for cruisers heading down the coast of Central America doesn't really have a starting date, but everyone is encouraged to reach the Bahia del Sol Hotel base by March 16 to enjoy over a month of social and educational opportunities. Yes, they will assist everyone in getting safely over the bar, and yes, the good folks at the Bahia del Sol Hotel will put big blocks of ice in the pool when the water gets a little warm. The entry fee is $76 and the website is

Bill and Jean like to point out how easy doing the paperwork is for El Salvador compared to doing it for Mexico:

"1) After crossing the bar, go to the Bahia del Sol hotel dock, where you'll be greeted by the Port Captain and an Immigration officer. 2) Walk up to the onsite offices with your welcome drink, and pay $10 for a 90-day visa, and $30 for a temporary use permit. That's it, you're done. No declaring dinghies, engines, or listing of serial numbers. No need to have insurance or a fishing license. If the process takes you an hour, it's because you spent so much time chatting with the officials."

God knows that we'd all like the paperwork process for Mexico to be less screwed up, but we actually think by next year they'll pretty much have it down. Remember, too, while El Salvador charges you $40 for 90 days, it only costs $55 dollars for a 10-Year Temporary Import Permit for multiple entries to Mexico, which we understand can be renewed for another 10 years at no cost. And to be fair, Mexico is a big country with much bigger visiting boat and fishing issues than tiny El Salvador has.

Latitude readers who have enjoyed photos of lovely European ladies taken by San Francisco's Andrew Vik during his annual Mediterranean cruising adventures aboard his Islander 36 Geja might be worried that he missed a year. There is nothing to be concerned about, as Vik did another voyage this summer in pursuit of furthering international relations. Although it sounds as if the trip had some ups and downs. "I had seven weeks on the water this summer with Geja," writes Vik. "Among the highlights were persistent bad weather, a return to Venice, and a threesome." Can't wait for the details in next month's issue, can you?

"Four more years! Four more years!" It's not just a chant for fans of incumbent presidents. Other Northern California cruisers in the same general part of the world as Vik are Jim and Debbie Gregory of the Pt. Richmond-based Schumacher 50 Morpheus. Writing from the Porto Cervo Marina on chic Sardinia, Jim had the following review of the couples' cruising:

"Four years ago today, Debbie and I sailed out under the Golden Gate and turned left. Having cruised the South Pacific for quite some time after having had the boat built in New Zealand, we had a reasonably good idea of what was in store for us. This trip, however, has exceeded all our expectations. Here's to another four years!"

Panamanians claim the name of their country means "an abundance of fish, trees and butterflies". It would be more accurate if it were named Humiditara. Mike and Robin Stout of the Redondo Beach-based Aleutian 51 Mermaid have been kicking around Panama for awhile, and are currently in Boca del Toro on the Caribbean side. But Robin flew back to L.A. for a week in early October and made two observations: 1) She missed avocados, and 2) "California weather is the best."

While we think the second claim is questionable for a state with a coast afflicted with a near-constant marine layer, we understand how California weather might seem like a pleasant change after fall weather in Panama. Consider the fact that Panama's average year-round humidity is 95% in the morning, and during the June-to-November rainy season — it rains 263 days a year! — it only drops to the low 80s at night. We can remember banging on our computer aboard Profligate off Panama City one morning, sweat literally pouring off our face onto the keyboard. While Panama can get excessively humid, there is something to be said for a country where the average low nightly temperature is a near constant 77 degrees. And if you ever get sick of the heat and humidity, you can quickly freeze your buns off by heading to the nearby highlands.

Let's talk music. Over the years a number of cruisers have tried to figure out some kind of connection between the lyrics of the iconic Van Halen song Panama! and the southernmost country in Central America. There is none. David Lee Roth explained that critics complained that the group's songs were all about partying, sex and cars. When he realized they'd actually never written a song about cars, he came up with Panama!, inspired by a car named 'Panama Express' that he saw in Vegas.

If someone told you they'd sailed the equivalent of two circumnavigations in the last four years, you'd assume that they'd seen a lot of world. In the case of Brian Fury, that wouldn't be true, as he did it all in the course of driving and narrating 1,100 catamaran tours along Kauai's Na Pali Coast. As spectacular as the Na Pali Coast is, variety is good for the mind and spirit. So no wonder he writes, "It's time for a change. I'm going to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show in a few weeks to jump on — and hopefully drive — something bigger. Preferably with sails. Fury previously drove some great sailing yachts, such as the 65-ft Alaska Eagle and the 79-ft Kialoa III for the Sailing & Seamanship School at Orange Coast College."

Once your fiberglass boat is lying on her side on coral in the South Pacific, it's usually curtains. Thanks to a lot of luck and great help from the folks of the Toberua Island Resort in Fiji and their two powerful boats, Brett and Stacey Hoopes' Seattle-based Hylas 45.5 Bella Vita lives to cruise on. Despite being heeled far over on her side for a low-tide cycle, and for a long while looking as if she couldn't be pulled off, Bella Vita suffered very little damage. The Hoopes must have some good karma.

"It was Latitude that fueled the cruising dream of a guy teaching school in Prince George, B.C., a place that makes Kansas look like a sailing paradise," reports Jay Bigland of the Nanaimo-based Spencer 35 Karina, a vet of the 2010 Ha-Ha. "I will be thankful for the rest of my life for taking on the adventure. In fact, my wife Anita and I later did a presentation at the Nanaimo chapter of the Bluewater Cruising Association, and I told the audience that the best shot at a successful cruise to Mexico is to join the Ha-Ha and read Latitude 38.

"But I've since learned that retirement comes in three stages: 1) You get old. 2) You get sick. And 3) You die. Stage 1 for me has been short and very sweet. I have no regrets. A recent diagnosis of low-grade cancer is my Stage 2. I need to be closer to Canadian health care than a five-month winter cruise each year would allow, so we'll be returning to Canada. Once we get Karina back to Canada, we will continue cruising the Gulf Islands and Inside Passage."

We greately appreciate Jay's kind words and wish him the best of health. We note that he's also become very concerned about the Mexican bureaucracy.

"Is diving gear considered fishing gear in Mexico? Bigland asks. "I've been getting by without a license as I don't fish and would only use my dive gear for freeing the anchor in ugly situations. This hasn't happened, so if I had to get a fishing license, I would be disposed to leave the gear in my truck.

"Another thing. After we leave Mexico in the spring, I may have some advice on what Mexico can do with their Temporary Import Permits (TIPs). We were going to sail Karina home on her own bottom, but my health suggested a tamer plan. However, what I lack in strength, I make up for in just plain old mean. If Karina got 'impounded', we'd hang for a bit, water up, then make a run for B.C. via the offshore Clipper Route. Hell will freeze over before I buy another TIP. The Mexican government just doesn't have a clue, so I expect that future Ha-Ha Kick-Off parties could be held in a phone booth."

We completely understand Jay's frustration, as last November's impounding nonsense was an epic blunder on the part of the Mexico government. When we asked if AGACE might conduct similar raids this winter, honchos from Immigration, SAT (their IRS), and Pesca at the 'paperwork meeting' in Huntington Beach all but shuddered when they said, "No, no, no, that's not going to happen again!"

It's true that so far Mexico has made a mess of online pre-clearance procedures, too, but their intention really has been to make things better and easier for foreign visitors. They aren't there yet, but they told us they are not in a "prosecutorial" frame of mind. So we're optimistic.

If you don't have a bunch of hooks and spearguns on your boat, we wouldn't worry about having dive tanks and not having a fishing license. The fishing Mexico really hates is when private boats fish semi-commercially in their waters. "That's abuse and must stop," we were told. And we agree with them.

If you're going to leave Mexico by next spring, Jay, we doubt you're going to need a new TIP. But if you did need one, remember they only cost $55. You'd perhaps strain your health to save a mere $55? That may be mean, but it wouldn't be smart. Lastly, despite last year's debacle, over 170 boats signed up for this year's Ha-Ha, more than in the last couple of years. Go figure. Indeed, we just got a note from a couple whose very large and very expensive boat was unfairly impounded for four months in Ensenada last year, a couple who swore they would never spend money in or ever go to Mexico again. Even they have changed their minds.

Our prediction is that while there will be minor issues with paperwork, there won't be any major problems this year. We really believe that. We'll take a lie detector test to prove we believe it.

While at Downwind Marine's Mexico Cruiser Kick-Off Party in October, we bumped into Bob and Gail French of 29 Palms, who were hawking their book 18 Endless Summers of Sailing. Their book recalls the cruise they did from 1989 to 2007 with their San Diego-based Peterson 44 Tulum III. "We didn't really want to stop," Gail told us, "but our kids told us they needed grandparents around." The book hardly mentions the fact that the couple did a four-year cruise from San Diego to Florida aboard their Garden 41 ketch Tulum II from 1975 to 1979. How did they afford it? "We had two rental units, and we did all the work on our boat ourselves," says Gail. The couple, now in their 70s, relentlessly travel around the States and the world, but no longer by cruising boat.

Dates in Mexico to remember:

November 15 — the La Paz Welcome Party for Ha-Ha boats. See their ad in this issue.

December 12-16 — The Banderas Bay Blast / Opening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club / Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity out of La Cruz and Paradise Marina. This is days of Ha-Ha style sailing and other fun on Banderas Bay. Watch out for the whales!

Early January — The Tenacatita to Barra Cruisers Sailing Festival with a feeder from Banderas Bay via Chemela. Details to come.

February 2-8 — The Zihua Sailing Fest, the most successful cruiser fundraiser for education on the planet. Have fun while doing good. Real good.

Missing the pictures? See the November 2014 eBook!


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