Changes in Latitudes

December, 2001

 With reports this month from Secret O' Life on the latest in Mexico; from Velella on receiving news of terrorist attacks while enroute from Bora Bora to Rarotonga; from Tranquilo on the free anchorage in Mazatlan; from Dolphin Spirit on skipper responsibility and proper anchoring; from Estrellita on a last-minute decision to do Mexico; from Suntrekka on the downwind sail from Trinidad to Panama; from Silhouette on the Ha-Ha; and Cruise Notes.

Secret O' Life - Union 36
Terry Bingham
Latest From Mexico
(Eagle Harbor, Washington)

Here's some of the latest - mid-November - news from Mexico.

San Blas: We visited there a week ago, and after contacting Norm Goldie, had it confirmed that the Port Captain continues to require the use of a ship's agent. So in addition to having to pay 290 pesos - about $30 - for checking in, you also have to pay 200 pesos - more than $20 - for the ship's agent. Fortunately for us, the ship's agent was out of town for a few days, so the Port Captain allowed us to do our own paperwork. While our boat was anchored at Mantanchen Bay, we took a road trip to the Mexcaltitan Island, near Santiago, which is inland and supposedly the birthplace of the ancient Aztecs. It was interesting - and since we went by bus, inexpensive.

Playa Chacala: There are new palapas on the beach - which is cleaner than the last time I visited - a Telmex phone in the center of the village, and lots of activity. There's also a huge new communications tower on the hill just above the Governor's mansion. We were the only boat at anchor for the day that we were there, and enjoyed the solitude. Chacala is still a wonderful stop.

Puerto Vallarta: When it comes to anchoring in the traditional spot at the Entrada to Puerto Vallarta's port, the answer is definitely nada! Having heard from some cruisers in La Paz that the Entrada was once again 'open', we went in, dropped the hook, and spent a couple of hours rigging two secure stern lines ashore. We were relaxing and anticipating the sunset, when the Port Captain's boat approached. His stern - but polite - message was "No anchoring here". He insisted that we leave right then, not the next day. When we asked where it was possible to anchor, he pointed across the channel to an area packed with about 25 pangas in four feet of water. "Over there, in the marina, or over at La Cruz," he said. So we're now in the comfortable anchorage off La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, reporting that as of November 15, it and Punta de Mita are the only available anchorages inside Banderas Bay.

In another week we'll be heading to Tenacatita Bay and then on to Zihuatanejo for the winter.

- terry 11/15/01

Readers - Terry did the '99 Ha-Ha, then sailed off to Hawaii, San Francisco, and back to San Diego. He left for Mexico again at the end of 2000. He's also written an article on a pleasant way to renew one's six-month Mexican visa, an article we hope to run in the next few months.

In other recent news from Mexico, the post Ha-Ha cruising in the Sea of Cortez was delightful, as the air and water temperatures were still very, very warm, and there wasn't even a threat of a Norther. Although there were still some hurricane Juliette damaged boats on the beach, all the boats at Astilleros Marina were upright again. Over in Mazatlan, Mazatlan Marina was still closed, and their Cruiser Thanksgiving Party that had supposedly been moved to Marina Vallarta was called off entirely. The Thanksgiving Party at Marina Paradise - which is packed despite the addition of 68 new berths - went off as scheduled. Harbormaster Dick Markie reports that Paradise is a little behind schedule in opening their boatyard and fuel dock because they made the mistake of applying for both permits at once, but both will be welcome additions. Markie also observed that there appears to be a large number of boats headed to Z-town for the Christmas Holidays this year. It's another 400 miles south of P.V., but every few years a large number of boats get the urge to go the extra distance. Apparently this is one of those years.

The continuing bad news is that very expensive and time-consuming check-in procedures are still in effect in Mexico. When
Profligate checked into Cabo, it cost almost $400 in fees - although we did have 11 people aboard. In any event, our campaign to get Mexico to switch to an annual cruising fee with no checking in nonsense begins in earnest next month. We hope you'll join us. And there is hope, because there's a new honcho at the SCT, the agency which has jurisdiction over the agencies involved.

Velella - Wylie 31
Garth Wilcox & Wendy Hinman
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
(Port Ludlow, Washington)

We departed Bora Bora on a Sunday for Rarotonga, and started out with two days of pleasant windward sailing under sunny skies and flat seas. But then the wind gradually started to build, and so did the seas. From then on, we reached in high winds and crashed through large seas, with water steadily streaming down the leeward decks. We were buttoned up tight to keep the water out, of course, which made us long for ventilation down below. There was no moon, so the night watches were very dark. We'd departed buddyboating with our friends Ken and Cath aboard Felicity, so we set up a VHF radio sked every three hours to match our change of watch. It was nice to be in contact with another boat, although we temporarily got out of radio range during the middle of the trip.

I was on watch and listening to the morning net on Tuesday morning when someone came on with the news about the terrorist attacks on the United States. We were all shocked! There was a quick discussion about which short wave radio programs might have more information. We found some through the static on the BBC and Radio Australia, and it was interesting to hear the perspectives from different countries. We also got snippets of news from cruisers on various radio nets, but the lack of information was very frustrating, and we still faced several more days at sea.

We were fortunate to reach Rarotonga shortly before dark on Friday, and to discover that there was a spot for us on the quay in the tiny harbor. We were pretty exhausted and relieved to have stopped. We were also starving, so our friends - who had made the same trip in rougher weather the week before - herded us into town for dinner. On our way, we passed a beautiful memorial that had been spontaneously erected with American flags, mounds of flowers, poems and letters. Having been out of touch with the news, what happened still hadn't really sunk in.

Even on Rarotonga it was hard to get much more news. We found a dated New Zealand paper that had some information, but still hadn't seen any television coverage. Prior to our arrival, the Harbormaster had generously arranged for a television to be set up in a conference room so the cruisers could watch the news as it was happening.

The next day we visited a morning market that reminded us of various weekend fairs back home, as there was fresh produce, food, crafts booths, and entertainment. The Red Cross was there very actively collecting money to help people in the United States! We contributed our emergency cash. The outpouring of love and support for those who had suffered in America was very touching. All the flags were at half mast, and when people realized that we were Americans, they expressed their sympathy.

We knew of several cruisers who were touched by the tragedy, some of them directly. One cruiser lost a family member in the World Trade Center, while another couple's son safely escaped the same burning buildings. Another cruiser had to fly home for a funeral, and didn't know when she'd be back. All mail was stopped, of course, which created all kinds of logistical problems for a group of folks normally on the move. Onboard email was down for 10 days for a few cruisers whose servers had been located in the basement of the WTC.

On Sunday, the town scheduled a large memorial service in the auditorium. A bartender lent us his motorcycle so that we could attend. The speeches and music were beautiful, and the people extremely sincere in their condolences. The event was mostly a local one, but the hall was pretty full. Everyone lit a candle and shared their prayers. It brought tears to our eyes. It was hard to be away from home at a time like that.

That the people of Rarotonga were very warm and welcoming made it a little easier to absorb the impact of such devastating news - although the continuing lack of information was frustrating and made it all seem surreal. While many folks back in the U.S. were no doubt trying to get a break from coverage, we struggled to get more. The gravity of the situation also made for a stark contrast to the somewhat carefree lifestyle that we'd been leading.

During the rest of our stay in Rarotonga, we were relieved to discover that we could afford some special treats that we'd had to forego in French Polynesia. The New Zealand dollar went pretty far, so we indulged in regular hot showers, dining out, seeing movies, renting a sailboard, playing golf, and having our laundry done for us. We also rented a motorcycle, which prompted a need for a Cook Islands drivers license. So Garth got to learn how to drive a motorcycle - on the wrong side of the road and at night! Another Rarotonga treat that we enjoyed was being able to have deep conversations in English with locals - something we hadn't been able to do in over a year.

During our stay, we had the opportunity to enjoy a tasty cocktail called a 'Fuzzy Frog': one part gin, one part tequila, and two parts lime and ginger ale. Unlike French Polynesia where liquor is very expensive, it's duty free and reasonably-priced in Rarotonga - so we were able to replace beverages that we'd long since run out of. We were also amused at the type of prizes to be won at the local golf tournaments: things such as frozen meats and sausages, and cans of corned beef. We were also surprised to learn that Rarotonga has a big recycling program.

Rarotonga was a wonderful place to visit, although the tiny harbor is less than ideal. While we were stern tied to it, a nearby boat regularly blew engine exhaust into our boat! Nonetheless, we did enjoy the cruiser camaraderie on the quay, getting to know some cruisers we hadn't yet met and catching up with several friends. As the wind shifted more to the east, waves in the tiny harbor reverberated off the concrete walls and the anchorage became a little rolly. With northeasteries predicted, we decided it was time for us to continue our passage west. We have about 580 miles to Nuie, with a possible stop three-quarters of the way there at Beveridge Reef - if the conditions allow. Before departing, we had an opportunity to test our creativity as we were asked to decorate a page in the cruisers' logbook - a tradition for all cruisers who visit the island.

- wendy & garth 10/15/01

Tranquilo - Pearson Vanguard 32
Neil & Debra McQueen
Old Mazatlan
(Santa Cruz)

If cruisers want to stay in one of the marinas in Mazatlan, they can - as long as they're willing to spend what seems to us to be big bucks. And most do. The magnificent El Cid - which bills itself as a 'mega resort' - is very popular. Surrounded by luxurious condominiums, two big swimming pools, bars, restaurants, and folkloric entertainment every night, it's for cruisers with pesos to burn. It's also close to the Gold Zone, Señor Frogs and Valentino's - all the upscale stuff - but it's kind of a long bus ride to the real city, Old Mazatlan.

Budget cruisers such as ourselves tend to find their way to the fisherman's harbor, where sportfishing boats, ferries, and cruise ships dock, but which also has a small but sheltered anchorage. The free anchorage is virtually in the shadow of Isla Creston, on which stands the highest manned lighthouse in the world. There are drawbacks to the anchorage. Sometimes it's kind of smelly, and it isn't the sort of place where you'd want to dive overboard each morning. But it's still great to have a free place to drop the pick in a city of 302,000 people.

Three buses - the Playa Sur, the Morelos and the Sabalo Centro - run along the road in front of the anchorage, so for three pesos - a mere 35 cents - you can be whisked away to the delights of the Old City. Or if you're looking for exercise, it's less than a 30-minute walk - all of it along the seawall through the scenic Olas Altas neighborhood.

The best part about the old harbor is the strange but helpful outfit called Club Nautico. You get the feeling Club Nautico used to be something special, something more than just a dinghy dock and a place to buy a six-pack of beer. The grandeur of its tile pavilion is the first clue. It's supported by a circle of 14 concrete columns, textured to look like palm trunks and painted white. It has a domed ceiling and a bar decorated with glossy white bathroom tiles. The upper row of tiles features a design of nautical red and blue burgees.

But the pavilion now stands empty, just a big, slick circle you have to cross to get to the bathrooms. Rooms with three stalls - two with toilet seats, one with toilet paper - a shower, harsh fluorescent lighting, and a beat-up sink dotted with mouse turds. Okay, so it ain't purdy. Although you definitely want to wear shower shoes when using Club Nautico's facilities, there's plenty of hot water - at least on the women's side.

The pavilion is a ghostly reminder of headier, bygone times when live music, laughter, clinking glasses and twinkling lights were - according to veteran cruisers - a feature of anchoring here. Now the vacant pavilion is inhabited by a bevy of cats. Not your standard, scruffy, flea-bitten Mexican cats, these gatos are robust and cheerful, with silky coats and all of their teeth. "Ese gatos son finicos," the night guard told us as he poured expensive, store-bought food into their bowls. These cats may be finicky, but they are also loved.

Presumably, it's the Club Nautico management who loves them. They are friendly and helpful people who don't ask for much from yachties in exchange for the services provided. Rumor is that daily use of Club Nautico runs 30 pesos per boat, but they never ask for money unless you raise the subject yourself. They seem to consider it a fair trade if you buy your diesel and gasoline from them. They'll arrange for a truck to deliver purified water, and sell you chips, sodas, ice and nuts at inexpensive prices. They'll also arrange to have your laundry done and delivered, and your mail forwarded to their office. At sunset they lock the gates and a guard is posted, so your dinghy will be secure if you go out for a night on the town.

Since we planned to stay in Mazatlan for two weeks, I decided to take Spanish lessons at the Centro de Idiomas in Old Town. This 28-year-old language center offers intensive, semi-intensive, and private lessons for students serious about improving their Spanish. Every Saturday between 9 am and noon you can register for the following week. Prices range from $120 for two hours daily, Monday-Friday, in a classroom limited to six students, to $360 for five hours a day of private lessons.

I signed up for an intensive group class and lucked out: there was only one other student at my level. The five hours each day were divided into three parts: an hour of pronunciation and listening comprehension; two hours of grammar, and two hours of conversation. Somewhere in the middle there was a half-hour break, during which I usually studied and read Spanish. At night there's both reading and composition homework. The intensive program is not for the faint of heart.

My days were as exhausting as they were satisfying. It's been a long time since I've been in school, and the demands of studying a language are almost physically draining. Often I would return to Tranquilo with my head so full of vocabulary and verb conjugations that I thought it would split right open. I'd collapse on the bunk muttering imaginary dialogue. While in the classroom, I spoke in Spanish, and on the street, I listened to Spanish. By the end of day two, I was thinking, dreaming and plotting in Spanish. When they say intensive, they mean it!

Since we're planning to spend three years in Latin America, I thought it was worth investing in my language skills. I knew for certain that I'd made the right choice when Neil and I spent an evening out at the historic Angela Peralta Theater. This 141-year-old national monument near the artsy Plazuela Machado features cultural events of all kinds. We bought tickets to Jesu Cristo Super Estrella, the Andrew Lloyd Weber rock opera translated into Spanish. We were the only gringos in the packed house, and it was a night to remember.

The performance itself was puro Mexico - sometimes fantastic, other times apocalyptic. It was also irreverent, bawdy, sensually religious and symbolic. King Herod's number was a vision of sparkling blues and golds and great dancing. Maria Magdalena had a deep, throaty voice - I suspect she's got a future as a Mexican pop idol. Every time Judas opened his mouth, I cringed, as he was a troll-like screecher with an untrained voice. As was predictable, Jesus was easy on the eyes, but a middling singer without range.

One needn't speak Spanish to watch Jesus Christ Superstar en Español: the music's familiar enough and the story - well, we all know this chronicle of a death foretold. My Spanish lessons factored into the evening because every time Pontius Pilate had a scene, the sweet-smelling lady in the next seat hit my arm and whispered, "Es mi hijo! Es mi hijo!" Imagine, me sitting next to the mother of Pontius Pilate! During the intermissions, my neighbor and I engaged in a lively discussion of the theater, the actors - many of whom were her children, nieces or nephews - and she was shocked and surprised that I could understand Spanish. "Muy bien," my neighbor said, nodding her approval. "Hablas como una Mexicana." That's when I knew my time and money were being well spent.

Cruisers in Mazatlan wanting Spanish lessons can find the Centro de Idiomas at Calle Belisario Dominguez 1908. Telephone 011-52 (6) 985-5606 in the morning. On Friday nights, they have a free conversation club from 7-9 pm. The Centro de Idiomas is just a couple of blocks away from all of downtown's main attractions: the Cathedral, the main plaza, and the central mercado. And if you stay in the old harbor, you can start every morning with an easy - and scenic - walk to school.

- debra 10/15/01

Debra - Nice report. The biggest marina in Mazatlan, of course, is Marina Mazatlan, which at last report was closed pending efforts to sell it. Say, doesn't Neil have a surf report for Mazatlan?

Dolphin Spirit - Mason 54
Laurie, Carole, and Ryan (13) Pane
Anchoring Tips From On High
(Santa Ynez)

Some six years, 40,000 miles, and 54 countries since we left Los Angeles - and my last regular reading of Latitude - I was stunned to recently see an October 2001 edition of your magazine at the Club Nautico book swap in Cartagena, Colombia. Obviously it was the product of fast travel and even faster reading. It is reassuring to me to find that in this otherwise ever-changing world, the subjects so hotly debated in your pages have remained relatively the same over the years.

The High Adventure In The Low Latitudes article in World of Chartering section caught my attention, as it concerned the Whitsunday Islands and I am Australian. Further, you published an article of mine on the same area some years ago. Whilst you did editorially address certain glaring problems of boat handling and seamanship contained in the story, I would like to raise another problem - using my wonderful hindsight and long-term cruiser superiority as justification.

The author's catamaran was dragging down on another boat, so she went by dinghy to alert him. Showing remarkable restraint, the other skipper pulled up anchor and moved to another position to re-anchor - even though it was clearly the duty of the dragging boat to correct the problem. A second boat was also asked to move out of the drag-path, and they did, proving that Australians must be super-tolerant. By then, the catamaran had belatedly started one engine, but still felt that they had to issue a Mayday. Although not specified, the wind and sea conditions must not have been excessive, as the author was able to dinghy around and two boats were able to move and re-anchor. It isn't clear why assistance wasn't sought from the two vessels that had moved before issuing the ultimate distress signal.

The purpose of this letter is not to heap scorn or derision on the author and her husband, but to point out that no matter whether you're on your own vessel or are chartering one, 'the buck stops with you'. This means that everyone is responsible for the effects of their actions - or inactions. Clearly defined plans for certain everyday problems - and dragging anchor certainly falls into this category - need to be considered beforehand. The authors were warned during the afternoon that they were going to be on a lee shore, but decided to stay. Having made that decision, it was their responsibility to consider what to do in case the anchor dragged in the night. As they proved, making decisions when sleep-fuddled is not wise.

Letting out more scope before dark should have been an immediate task. Checking for lines over the side and then starting the engines immediately would have been be Step 1 on my drag list. Letting out more scope would have been Step 2. Pulling up the anchor and re-anchoring - even with only one engine - would have been Step 3. At worst, one engine would have held the boat in place. Calling Mayday when one has a fully functional engine and operational sails would not have been anywhere on my list.

I only offer this basic sort of primer because Latitude is read by so many charterers and potential charterers, and hopefully some will think more pro-actively as a result. "We know all that, you supercilious bastard," is also an acceptable reaction - providing the reader's actions match the knowledge.

To our dismay we have often found - as you editorialized - that the lack of anchoring expertise is a major problem with charterers the world over. In several countries where chartering is popular, we've been told that people knew we were cruisers because we anchored so far away from everyone else. Self-preservation is the name of the game.

The Letters section of the same issue contained John Hodgson's Are We Dupes To Have CQR Anchors? missive. My Mason 54 is fitted with a 105-lb CQR with 400 feet of chain. Also permanently mounted on the bow is a 75-lb CQR with 50 feet of chain and 400 feet of rode. On the stern we have a 44-lb Bruce with 300 feet of chain. Most long range cruisers we have met have CQRs as their main anchors, and most of the rest have Bruces. The Mediterranean charter fleet seems to be predominantly CQR.

For the record, we have dragged twice in the past six years. Once in Bodrum, Turkey, and again at Bequia in the Caribbean. We also dragged in Cefelu, Sicily, but only because I misread the markings on my anchor chain and thought I had a lot more scope out than I actually did. Complacency played a large part here, as did the distractions of the surroundings. Even the gods may stumble!

Part of Mr. Hodgson's problem may be the 'one pound of plow anchor per foot of boat length' rule, which seems to be promulgated throughout the boating community. I believe the minimum should actually be two pounds per foot. The extra weight on the bow means nothing to a loaded cruising boat while underway, but it means everything when it's on the bottom. Another important factor is scope. Anchor chain does no good in the anchor locker, and it's not whimpy to put out 200 feet of chain in 20 feet of water.

Still another factor is how the anchor is set. Too many times we have seen boats careening all over harbors after adopting the full reverse mode of setting an anchor. There are times when an anchor cannot be set, but if the anchor is of the proper size and there is adequate scope, it can still provide absolute security. An example of this is when there is a thin sand covering over a coral shelf. We encountered such conditions in Indonesia, and since we had a proper anchor and enough scope, we were easily able to ride out 50 knots.

A friend introduced me to the concept of 'aging' an anchor. When anchoring on a bottom covered with heavy weed, do not attempt to set the anchor. Rather we let out a lot of chain and wait. What appears to happen is that over a few hours - assuming the boat has lowered a heavy plow type anchor - the hook gradually wiggles its way down through the weed. When a pull comes, the anchor then is in a position under the weed to set. Whatever the theory, it has worked many times for us.

One final pontification from on high. An anchor must not only be able to be set well and hold, but to be reset immediately after being pulled out by a windshift or some other reason. The CQR does this to perfection. The newer designs appear - at least to my thinking - to still be in the 'yet to be proved' category.

Dolphin Spirit is crewed by myself, my wife Carole, and our now 13-year-old son Ryan - who has been with us for the whole trip. We are planning to complete our circumnavigation in Los Angeles in April of next year so Ryan can attend a land-based high school. I have had several articles published in Sail, Sailing, and Cruising World magazines, and prior to 1996, a couple in Latitude. This marks my second letter to you, and for the life of me, I cannot recall the reason for the first or if you published it. It must have been traumatic.

Oops! Just one more pontification. Reading through the October issue information bios on some of the participants in the Baja Ha-Ha showed a high proportion intending to head out into the South Pacific. I should like to advise that the demands on boats, equipment, and crew in the Pacific are far different from those encountered while coastal cruising in Mexico. When in Mexico, you are only hours away from marinas, service facilities, spare parts, airports with easy access to the U.S. medical facilities, and so on. So what if they are not as good as at home, they are there. Everyone should cruise the South Pacific as it is wonderful, but a season of cruising Mexico is not all the preparation that is necessary. I have separately sent you an article on this subject.

- laurie 11/10/01

Laurie - We have a lot in common. Not only do we agree with virtually everything that you've written, but we have also dragged Big O's CQR at both Bodrum and Bequia.

Estrellita - Custom Ketch
Chuck Riley & Crew
Heading South

When I attended Latitude's Mexico Only Crew List Party at the Encinal YC in early October, I was only about 30% convinced that I'd actually sail south this winter. But finding good crew at the party put me over the top. Although we didn't make the Ha-Ha, we're now on our way. Thanks!

We've been on the move, albeit slowly, since sailing out the Gate on November 3. Preparations for the trip were hectic, as expected. My crew arrived just in time for a very nice send off party organized by my daughters Dana and Dawn, and graciously hosted by Don and Cyn Wieneke at their beautiful home overlooking Sausalito Harbor.

With crew Tom Salvo, Coco Hess and Dylan Higgins aboard, we got underway at 1:30 pm on November 3, and motorsailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. It would have been a beautiful sight had anybody been able to see anything, but there was dense fog. We tacked out the Gate using GPS, and didn't see another fixed object until the buoy off Half Moon Bay. Sailing friends Al and Sandy Fricke live right at the beach there, and treated us to a wonderful salmon dinner that Al caught from his sailboat Pegasus.

On Sunday, Steve Ulrich, singlehandling the Peterson 34 Magewind, and the Catalina 36 Stella Mare, crewed by owners Hans and Theresa Kolber, plus one crew, joined us in Half Moon Bay. Hans and Theresa are quite a couple. Both are Swiss, and Hans used to be the maitre 'd at Jacks in San Francisco. He also owned Lazy Creek Winery in Philo for several years, where he won numerous winemaking awards. A couple of years ago - when Hans and Theresa were well into their 70s - they sold the winery and decided to take up sailing. Ulrich helped them find and equip a capable Catalina 36, and now Stella Mare is sailing with Magewind and Estrellita to Mexico.

Our overnight sail from Half Moon Bay to Morro Bay was pleasant but quite cold, with plenty of moonlight on the water. Stella Mare didn't have quite as pleasurable a trip. Their autopilot quit; they split the main from leach to luff; and their crew attached the whisker pole directly to the clew of the headsail so when the sail was eased out, it hit some rigging and bent the pole. They motored for awhile, but then the diesel died. Changing filters didn't help, so in the early morning we offered them a tow. The wind and waves weren't bad, but the swell was running at about 10 feet. Even with a very long towline, it put a terrific strain on our cleats.

Finally the wind picked up, so we asked Stella Mare to sail on with genoa only. Once under sail, we asked their crewmember to drop the towline. He did so, but didn't wait for us to begin to retrieve it. As a result, Stella Mare sailed over the towline and it caught around their rudder! Consequently, we ended up in a very interesting situation: I was sailing Estrellita at about six knots dead downwind under main and genoa - while towing Stella Mare backwards by her rudder! I didn't want to slow us down by using the engine for fear of getting the towline caught around our own propeller, so I ran forward and dropped both of our sails. As I did this, the Stella Mare crew made a serious but often committed mistake among sailing novices - they started their engine. It ran just long enough to wrap my towline around their propeller about 50 times. Once we got untied from them, they had a pleasant sail on to Morro Bay.

Upon reaching the sometimes dangerous entrance to Morro Bay, Estrellita towed Stella Mare in - but not before two whales put on a terrific show about 50 feet off our beam. They flipped, sounded, blew and breached.

The Morro Bay YC is a great little organization, and welcomed us with open arms at their dock. We found a local canvasmaker to sew Stella Mare's main back together. Steve and Tom repaired Hans' whisker pole, and they got their engine running again. I couldn't believe it when Hans suggested another overnight passage to Monterey, but everyone from the three boats agreed that we'd shove off in the middle of the night. On the way out, I got a call from Steve telling us that Stella Mare's engine had quit again. We doubled back and towed them back to the club. Steve and I tracked down the culprit, a leaky fuel filter. Later, Hans told me that when the engine quit again, he was ready to throw in the towel and quit the trip. I wouldn't have blamed him a bit.

But once they got the engine running again, they bravely powered out of Morro Bay into a very big sea and darkness. Now it was our turn for some bad luck. With Estrellita pitching into very large seas, the two bolts holding our self-steering rudder fractured. This allowed the rudder to swing up astern so that the top of the rudder post tried to rip the top bracket off of our newly-repaired teak taff rail. At some point in all this, the windvane also decided to take flight. So for the sake of about $5 worth of bolts, we had a fairly expensive repair ahead of us. We also had to hand steer the boat all the way to Oxnard.

The next day we elected to sail to Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island, while the other two boats continued on to Oxnard. Cuyler looked very protected on the charts, but once we got the hook down the boat swung beam to the seas and rolled big time. I put out a stern anchor very early the next morning, and it worked wonders for keeping Estrellita pointed into the swells. So we settled in for a great day. We later went to a delightful tiny cove on Santa Cruz Island, and the next day our crew climbed the cliffs and got some great photos of the boat.

Speaking of crew, Tom, Dylan and Coco have worked out fantastically well. I'd known Tom for years and have sailed numerous races with him aboard Sceptre. What I didn't know was how handy he is at repairing everything from engines to holding tanks. And he's great on the foredeck. Dylan has far less experience, but absorbs knowledge like a sponge, is willing to help with anything, and is a super nice person. Coco, whom I first met when she was a volunteer for my daughter's America True USA 51 dedication, is the most upbeat person I've ever sailed with. No matter if she's waking up for the 0300 watch, she has a huge smile on her face. She's also a good sailor and great cook.

I hadn't seen Coco between the America True dedication several years ago and the Latitude Crew Party - at which, as I mentioned, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be sailing south this winter. But meeting Coco and Dylan at the party changed my mind, and I'm sure going to miss them when they get off the boat in La Paz. Three times a week I have to give myself injections of Interferon, after which I'm fairly worthless on deck and spend lots of time sleeping. So it's been great having crew that I can depend on.

We're now at Anacapa Marine in Oxnard's Channel Islands, and Estrellita is out of the water for maintenance. Coco and Dylan painted her bottom, Steve's uncle welded up a brand new stainless steel bracket for our self-steering, a new windvane should be ready tomorrow, we've had all the thru-hull fittings serviced or repaired, and a new depth-sounder installed. I've been in lots of boatyards in my life, but this is one of the cleanest, best-equipped, and most friendly-staffed ever.

- chuck 11/15/01

Readers - Over the years we've had a lot of experience taking boats south from San Francisco for the cruising season in Mexico. If at all possible, we recommend that it be done prior to October 15 - for the probability of better weather, warmer temperatures, and more daylight.

Suntrekka - Endurance 36
Bob Case
Trinidad To Panama
(San Diego)

With about 20% of my circumnavigation left to go, I departed Trinidad on May 28 bound for Aruba and then the Panama Canal. The first day was rough, with an easterly wind that built to 30 knots, but things eased off for the rest of the trip. I had angled north to about 12°N in order to stay above the coast of Venezuela and some of her islands. Initially I had thought about stopping along the way to Aruba, but recent reports of piracy in the Trinidad and Isla Margarita areas changed my mind.

As I got close to Oranjestad, Aruba, I encountered a cruise ship loitering in circles waiting for daylight to enter the harbor. Since they didn't pay any attention to me, I called them on the radio and asked if they could kindly keep an eye out. They sounded embarrassed, and admitted that they didn't have me visually or on radar until I gave them my position - which was only two miles away. So much for navigation lights and radar reflectors, on even calm and clear nights!

Oranjestad was an easy harbor to enter in daylight. The Harbormaster directed me to tie up along the quay near his office and wait for the clearance officials. This was at 8 am. Seven hours passed and still nobody had arrived - which was actually fine with me, as I needed the time to tidy up the chaos that comes with any passage. Finally, I walked up to the office and learned there had been a breakdown in communications. They were pleasant and we got everything squared away before sunset. After a hot meal - dehydrated, of course - and a nightcap, I was down and out for the count. No sleep is as sound as the first one in a safe harbor after a long passage. It's the sleep of the dead.

The next morning I scouted out a new marina run by a helpful South African couple. They only had Med-style moorings available, so I decided to stay on the hook. It was a longer walk to shops, but it was free and secure among the commercial wharfs. The Arubans I met were friendly and warm, but the island is obviously geared to fly-in tourists. The big attractions are duty-free shops and bars. After five days of rest, I was ready to shove off on the often boisterous 850-mile passage to the Panama Canal.

When I left on June 5, my only waypoint was just north of the Peninsula de Guajira, the northernmost point of Colombia. The second day out the winds kicked up to 25 knots with gusts to 30. The third day it blew 30 with gusts to 35 knots. Fortunately, there was no rain, although the blowing spray made it wet enough. Since there was so much wind, I slowed Suntrekka down to four knots carrying just a bit of unrolled headsail on the pole, and made lots of amps on the wind generator. The winds tapered off on the fourth day and then went light.

About that time, I received an email message from a retired Navy friend of my father's. He warned me about the particularly windy stretch of Caribbean along the northern coast of Colombia. He'd been on patrol aboard a destroyer in those waters during his naval career, and remembered frequently getting beat up by the weather. He knew where I was because every day I sent a position report to my dad using my Magellan GSC 100 Satellite Transceiver, and my dad shared the info with family and friends.

I enjoyed 12 to 15-knot winds until I got about seven miles from Colon, at which time I was zapped by a huge thunderstorm accompanied by 40-knot gusts and blinding rain for an hour. So I slowed my boat down by carrying only a few feet of unrolled headsail - and prayed that none of the many ships converging on the Canal would hit me. I came out of the rain on a collision course with a French freighter, so I went through a few antics to avoid them. They tooted and waved in appreciation. When I made contact with the radio operator at Panama's Cristobal Control, I found him to be very professional. He allowed me to skip through the breakwater between ships, and I dropped the hook at Anchorage F, 'The Flats', six days out of Aruba.

In a hurry to get cleared in, I lost no time in chucking the dinghy over the side and rowing to the Panama Canal YC. As I staggered up the rickety dinghy dock, Rudy, one of several Panamanian taxi drivers who hangs out at the club, introduced himself. He immediately saw that I was in my usual post-passage state of sleep deprivation-induced stupidity, and showed me where to go for the first step of checking in. It turned out to be an office in the yacht club, as an Immigration official and a representative of the Port Captain are on duty in the club. Since I didn't have a visa, I was directed to go to the downtown Colon Immigration Office. Thank heavens that Rudy was there and knew enough to take me to a copy shop to get the required copies of all my papers, to the bank to get the stamp for something, and then walked me through all the offices. He spoke to the various clerks - it was obvious that he knew them all - on my behalf, filled out all of my forms in the requisite Spanish, and in less than one hour I was checked in. Rudy was terrific - and a bargain. He charged me just $10 an hour, and that included his cab rides! He was such a big help that I tried to give him all my business in Colon - and also used him and one of his friends as my line-handlers for my Canal transit.

I stayed out in The Flats for a week, during which I transited the Canal twice as a line-handler for other boats. The first was the Dutch boat Teranoua, while the second, Morning Glory, was from South Africa. Both transits were lots of fun and good experience for my own trip. The only bad thing was almost getting mugged walking from the bus depot back to the Panama Canal YC. Had Neils - the owner of the South African boat - not been with me, it might have turned out badly.

It was dark and Neils and I were loaded up with piles of line over our shoulders. The mugger jumped out of the bushes, and as he came after us we both started moving faster. We beat him to the last corner before the final 100 yards to the yacht club gate. As we ran, the mugger was calling to his compañeros for help. By then the adrenaline had kicked in, and Neils and I were setting a speed record for both a middle-aged South African man and an amputee. I figured the mugger started laughing too hard to effectively pursue us two gringos, our kneecaps and elbows flapping, eyes as big as tea cups, huffing and puffing under a mountain of one inch nylon line. As we entered the yacht club gate, we were greeted by the barrel of a .45 automatic - and the toothy smile of a young soldier moonlighting as a night watchman. "Buenas noches," he said with a grin.

By this time it was nearly midnight, and Neils and I both had a cold beer to settle our nerves. We spent the next three hours in a comedy of errors trying to get out to our boats. I vowed that I would never go into Colon again at night.

- robert 6/15/01

Silhouette - Cabo Rico 38
Alan Wulzen
Post Ha-Ha
(San Francisco)

Years ago we decided that we'd begin our cruising adventure by being part of the Baja Ha-Ha fleet. So when we sailed under the Golden Gate on September 25, we had a definite time and place from which to start our cruise in Mexico: October 30, 11:00 a.m., from San Diego. We expected to meet other sailors in the Ha-Ha who shared our passion for the adventure, although their boats might be bigger (what an understatement), faster (no question about that), more expensive (in some cases beyond reason), and even a few powerboats (which we previously referred to as 'stink-pots'). As it turned out, a number of the Ha-Ha boats were some or all of the above, but many others were similar to ours. We liked being part of a group, because if the weather got out of hand and we became anxious - particularly at night - we'd know that many others would be experiencing similar fates.

As I write this paragraph, all that's left of the Ha-Ha is tonight's awards ceremony, after which the fleet of 106 boats and 420 sailors will begin to take off in many different directions. But for our family, I can say that the Ha-Ha lived up to our wildest dreams, and has instilled in us the confidence to sail on! We greatly enjoyed the event, as we made friends with many cruisers that we're sure we'll stay in touch with throughout our cruising lives. In addition, the experience greatly elevated our confidence in our sailing abilities. As a group, the Ha-Ha fleet pretty much faced the same conditions, but had experiences as different as night and day. Some boats had problems with things like engines, sails, charging systems and even steering. A few folks had physical problems, such as thrown out backs, bruised ribs, mal de mer, and the flu. However, the majority of us Ha-Ha'ed with gusto and much joy! We arrived at the southern tip of Baja looking forward to the end of night watches and rolly seas, some boredom and the lack of sleep, changed diets and no showers, and fears of the unknown.

For us, the end of the Ha-Ha means our cruising adventure has just begun, and we're now confident that we'll enjoy this lifestyle. At times we'd all been wet, cold, tired and hungry, but we knew that was just part of the territory. Our vessel also served us well, and we didn't have any incidents that caused us to doubt her seaworthiness. Although we have a multi-year cruising adventure ahead of us, we'll always look back on the Ha-Ha as the true beginning - as well as a special time and event in our lives.

So here we are, tied up in a slip, getting our 'land legs' back, visiting and partying with new friends, sharing stories, and cleaning up our salty boats and dirty clothes. As much as we're looking forward to the next adventure, we're mostly wallowing in the utter joy of having 'made it'. Our foulies are dried out and packed away, as we're far enough south to sail in shorts at night. It may be cool back home, but down here the blankets have come off the beds and the sun awning has to be up to protect us from the heat of the day. Silhouette has had all the salt washed off and is looking shiny. We're at peace, and have little care for the rest of the world's problems.

I also want to wholeheartedly thank the Wanderer/Poobah, publisher of Latitude and founder of the Ha-Ha for running such a successful event. The formula has been well thought out, and the daily radio check-ins were both educational and provided comic relief.

- alan 11/10/01

Alan - Thanks for the kind words. In our estimation, this was one of the easiest and most pleasant Ha-Ha's to date, characterized by mild and consistent winds, generally flat seas, unusually warm weather, and bright moonlight. If some folks with relatively little offshore experience found it more challenging than that, we believe it's because they were just getting their feet wet. The first time people go down a bunny hill on skis, it seems like a big challenge because it's all new and unfamiliar. But after a couple of days on the easy slopes, they realize it's not a big deal. Similarly, after folks get some more offshore experience, we think they'll understand how mellow Ha-Ha VIII was. We also suspect they'll come to appreciate that night sailing - at least in the tropics - is perhaps the most fun sailing of all.

Cruise Notes:

We were thrilled to have Grant Todd drop by the Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party in San Diego on October 28. As some of you might remember, a year or so ago Grant's Hans Christian 48 Kookaburra exploded and sank off El Salvador. Were it not for two nearby buddyboats, he surely would have perished. As it was, the burns he suffered put his life in jeopardy for several months. Fortunately, Grant tells us he has nearly fully recovered and is about ready to look for a replacement boat. As to what caused the explosion on his former boat, he's not completely sure, as he has no memory of the incident. But he suspects that it had something to do with a diesel fuel leak catching fire, eventually reaching the hoses to the propane tanks, and ultimately causing the propane tanks to explode. It's unlikely anything else could have caused such a massive explosion.

"We're back in Brisbane, Australia, working on our boat," report Sally Andrew and Foster Goodfellow of the Alameda-based Yamaha 33 Fellowship. "After many years of cruising from San Francisco to the Northwest to the South Pacific, Foster began having some inner ear problems. We've waited 18 months for the symptoms to stop or stabilize, but all they've done is change tack and get wackier. So rather than risk more ocean voyaging, we're regretfully going to have to sell Fellowship and will probably buy a canal boat in France. It's going to be very difficult to part with our boat after so many miles - and because Foster has been busy with varnish and various upgrades making her look great. For anyone interested in a proven long-range cruising boat that's ready to go, Fellowship is a 1981 Yamaha 33 with a double spreader tall rig mast, lead keel, vane, solar panels, propane stove, and is fully equipped for cruising. We're asking $35,000, and if necessary, I would be willing to help deliver her back to the South Pacific islands after cyclone season. We can be reached by ."

"We have completed our first year of cruising in Mexico," report Rick and Lyn Parnell of the Seattle-based Crealock 37 Sapphire, which is currently in Puerto Vallarta. "Our summer in the Sea of Cortez has definitely been the highlight of our cruising in Mexico so far. We almost skipped 'the Sea', but are delighted that we decided to extend our visit to Mexico to include it. Our advice to new cruisers is to not rush through Mexico, but take the time to enjoy this wonderful country. Our plans are to continue south to Panama this spring."

"Sundance is now 'in the ground' at Vuda Point Marina in Lautoka, Fiji," reports Michael Stitt and crew Chaz of the Aspen-based Bayfield 40. "I decided to park the boat on the hard in Fiji rather than make the run to New Zealand just to store her for cyclone season - and then have to bring her 1,200 miles back to Fiji again next April. Vuda Point appears to be a good place to ride out the South Pacific tropical cyclone season. Sundance looks strange - but safe - in a hole in the ground. I hope all my cruising friends made it safely to New Zealand."

"We have been spending hurricane season in Norfolk, Virginia," report John Bringetto and Amanda Berks of the Half Moon Bay-based King's Legend 41 Gingi. "Come November, we'll head south to Florida and then on to the Bahamas."

"I've married my Thai girlfriend Tisama, swallowed the anchor, and have bought a house in Sisaket, northeast Thailand," reports Gene Schenk, formerly of San Diego. Our 'crew' are Boom and Bang - and yes, those really are their names. Cruisers headed this way should be informed that they can enter Thailand at Krabi, which is an excellent base for land excursions. If anyone has questions about cruising in Thailand, ."

"In 1996 we began a slow westbound circumnavigation aboard our 1980 Alden 44 Lyric," report Tad and Joyce Lhamon of Bainbridge Island, Washington. "All the way we have enjoyed our copies of Latitude that have been sent from home at irregular intervals. Attached is a photo of Joyce reading the August 2001 edition at Cascais Marina in Lisbon, Portugal, while waiting for weather to clear for a southwest passage to Madiera. Note the 17th Century fort in the background, protecting the harbor. Thanks for keeping the West Coast news coming."

"I'm fulfilling my promise to write more about my cruising experiences in Malaysia, which is 60% Muslim," writes John Keen of the San Francisco-based Gulf 32 pilothouse Knot Yet, currently in Lumut, Malaysia. "I travelled to Kuala Lumpur, the capital, with four other yachties - two Americans and two Swedes - and we were joined by yet another American couple during our visit. We enjoyed Kuala Lumpur so much that we extended our stay another night. For many in our group, a big attraction was purchasing Video Compact Discs (VCDs) that contain movies that can be played on a PC as well as a VCD player. The movies retail for about $1 each, and are bound to become prized trading items as they are much handier than videotapes. One couple purchased nearly 100 movies!

"In addition to shopping and eating," Keen continues, "we took a city tour and did a fair amount of walking around. We never encountered any hostility, overt or covert. Malaysia emphasizes that their Muslim, Chinese and Indian populations live in harmony, and that appears to be the case. Since leaving Port Dickson, I've been singlehanding and have twice anchored near the mouths of rivers, so I've been passed by many fishermen, both underway and while at anchor. As usual, we just exchange waves - although I was once asked for cigarettes. Then last night one fishing boat came alongside and the crew yelled, "Americans O.K.!" while giving the thumbs up. Nonetheless, most cruisers are still unsure of their plans for the new year. My guess is that a number of boats will ignore all the hostilities and transit the Red Sea in groups. I hope this is the case, because I'd really like to spend some time in the Med on Knot Yet. And if I had to avoid the Red Sea and go by way of South Africa, I'd have to sail across the Atlantic to South America and Panama, bypassing both the Med and the Caribbean. And that would be a shame! But we'll see. I'm off to Langkawi in a few days and hope to be in Phuket by mid-November."

We're confused, John, why you think you'd miss the Caribbean if you had to go around South Africa. Only about 15 miles separate Trinidad from the South American continent, and when you're in Trinidad, you're at the bottom of the 600-mile crescent that is the sweet sailing area of the sunny Caribbee.

"We have been cruising in Costa Rica since June, and have almost finished a detailed account of the anchorages that we visited, mostly in the Gulf of Nicoya," report Dorsey and Janice Warren of the Tahoe City-based Mariner 48 Sun Dazzler. "We also have several digital photos from Isla Gitana - you may remember publishing a Changes by the last owner in the spring of '89. Carl died a few years ago, and we have spent some time putting the word out and getting other cruisers to visit the place. We also helped the caretakers fix some things. Isla Gitana is funky but great. One question: How do you like to receive the photos? A friend could carry back a disc with the shots and the text in Word 6.0, or must we send it to you through the web? Sending it from some of the funky little cybercafes is sometimes a problem, as they have hiccups when trying to upload and download files. We hope everyone is keeping the faith up there with all the negative stuff we're hearing in the news. We love Latitude - you started us on this, you know!"

Having somebody bring a disc with photos and text in Word is fine, as is having the text and high resolution photos sent by email. We're quite anxious to get your report, as Costa Rica seems to have fallen out of the cruising news lately.

"In the last several years we have seen many improvements and additional yacht services added to our small port of Golfito, Costa Rica," reports Bruce Blevins of Banana Bay Marina in Golfito. "We now offer a wide variety of mechanical and repair services, such as refrigeration, electronics, engine and transmission, canvas, and wood. Many of the local yacht facilities have made security a priority, so the theft problems have been kept in check. We know that Golfito has had its problems in the past with port clearance procedures. Today, all but one of our port officials are courteous and friendly professionals who welcome visitors to our community. We now always have two officials working in the port captains office, so service is much improved. However, one notorious individual still causes problems and unnecessary expense to visiting yachts. Our community is starting to appreciate the importance of yachting tourism, so everybody here wishes to remove this last vestige of corruption and rudeness from our 'welcoming committee'. As such, we would be grateful for any copies of old articles in Latitude about the corruption and difficulties with the port officials in Golfito. I remember a sarcastic one titled The Delightful Port Captain of Golfito. Thanks in advance for your time and consideration in this matter. We look forward to any assistance that may help us make Golfito a better port of call."

Unfortunately, Bruce, we don't have the time to research all the articles and Changes that have been written over the years, so we're going to suggest that anybody who has ever had problems with the port captain in Golfito - and we know there have been a bunch - write a brief account and send it to you at We appreciate the effort you're making and wish you success.

Most cruisers have a good idea of how difficult the Baja Bash from Cabo to San Diego is aboard a typical monohull. If you're one of them, you'd probably shudder at the prospect of singlehanding a 40-ft, 7,500-lb catamaran from Puerto Vallarta to Vancouver, British Columbia. It turns out it's not so bad - at least that's what Bob Smith claims after having done it last summer with his homebuilt cat Pantera.

"In the last couple of months there have been some reports on using Randy and Lourae Kenoffel's - they're on the Beneteau 510 Pizazz - route for making the often difficult passage from Panana or Cartagena to the Eastern Caribbean," writes David Wilson of Panama. "I recently helped deliver a Baba 30 from Cartagena to Trinidad, and had a relatively easy trip using some of the excellent anchorages the Kenoffels recommended. The trip was mostly like travelling 900 miles to weather at a slow walk. By the way, the Pedro Miguel Boat Club inside Miraflores Lake - which is inside the Panama Canal - continues to operate at or near capacity. In other news, the Balboa YC now has significant competition from the new marina east of Flamenco Island. In addition, there are three other marina projects hoping to get approval from the Panamanian government - and these don't include either of the marinas Latitude has reported on in Bocas del Toro."

"For the last three months - between having to return home for business commitments - we've been working our way south from Portland," report Michael and Catharine Whitby of the Vancouver and Portland-based Contessa 38 Breila. "We, along with our Jack Russell terrier Rosey, are now in San Diego and plan to leave for Mexico and South America at the beginning of December."

"Sorry that we missed the Baja Ha-Ha, but we're nursing a failed dodger - the trip down from Washington was hard on the old girl - our gel-cells finally needed replacing, and our fridge & freezer died and may need the same," report Bill and Mary Makepeace of the Boulder-based Lord Nelson 35 Grey Max. "It's one of those 'when it rains, it pours' situations. At least Ventura West Marina, where we are now, is a great place to be slowed down. We're hoping that all's well with the Ha-Ha fleet and everyone had a great cruise." Everyone did have a great Ha-Ha, we're sorry you missed it. But there will be more.

Happy winter cruising to everyone! Don't forget to write - and above all, don't forget to send or email high resolution photos.

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