December, 2003

With reports this month from Örnaerie on the hard in Spain; Cappuccino on trucking a boat home from Mexico; Free Spirit on the long slog between New Zealand and Hawaii; Chewbacca on homeschooling onboard; Annapurna on cruising between the Maldives and Oman; from Saga on Bahia del Sol, El Salvador; Miki G. on Key West; and plenty of Cruise Notes.

Örnaerie -Hallberg 31
Ivan Rusch
On The Hard In Spain
(Moss Landing)

Here I am, sipping a glass of vino rojo at my favorite little bar in Puerto Sherry, Cadiz, Spain. You can't get a bad glass of red in this country! Anyway, I just got done talking with this young couple from northern Europe, and the girl gave me this "environmentally correct" piece of paper to write my Changes on. Ah, Spain, what a great place to be stuck in for 18 months! My Õrnaerie is being repaired after getting beat up on a reef south of Cadiz. The story of that incident will be retold in my homemade book about my many encounters with luck. Unfortunately, most of that book got soaked in my latest case of misfortune.

My daughter, Laurie, and her husband Don recently visited with me for 10 days to make sure my lifestyle here was all right. She'd been worried, but the two of them were impressed with how beautiful, warm, and inexpensive it is here, and how friendly the people are. I will be here for another 18 months or so while my boat gets restored, but for only six of those months will she be out of the water. For fun and necessity, I'm learning to read and speak Spanish, and hope to become fluent before long. Only about 10% of the locals, most of them the younger ones, speak English.

It's common for the levante winds from the Sahara to blow up here for days at a time, filling the air with hot and gritty sand. It's hard to wash that stuff off. At least we've been getting a little rain, which is good for the mahogany planking on my boat, as it swells and closes the seams. That means I can put the primer on and then do the bottom paint.

Although I'm planning on flying home for Christmas and the Super Bowl - I spent the last two Christmases in Spain - I still plan to eventually sail the Med and visit Turkey, Greece, Malta, Mallorca, and the other great spots. My health isn't a problem, as I'm eating well and get exercise riding my folding Belgian bike. The Spanish streets aren't very friendly to cyclists, however, as there are no bike lanes and everybody has a motorbike or small car.

I don't like to say bad things about people, but the locals to tend to be fat and have beer bellies, bad teeth, and talk all at once, yelling to be heard over the existing din. But the señoritas are pretty. In fact, I'm trying to teach a pretty señorita in a music store to whisper responses to my questions about flamenco music, which is a loud wail with an Arab influence and guitar accompaniment.

Andalucia has many beautiful cities to visit - Seville, Cadiz, Grenada, and others. With a new passport to replace the one lost in my wreck, I hope to see more of them soon.

- ivan 10/15/03

Ivan - As much as we admire a charmer such as yourself who takes up sailing in his seventh decade, and then doublehands his boat from California to Scandanavia, we think it's time you make a realistic assessment of your ability to singlehand safely. As most Latitude readers know, even before your most recent mishap near Cadiz, you had to be rescued so many times on both sides of the English Channel that the British tabloids dubbed you "Ivan the Terrible". And no less a sailing icon than Robin Knox-Johnston, winner of the first singlehanded around-the-world race, felt compelled to devote his Yachting World column to condemning your seemingly never-ending series of mishaps.

It's not something we say lightly, but you and your family need to seriously consider your swallowing the anchor. It's not just your life that you're risking, but that of others, too.

Cappucino - Ericson 38
Don & Mary Lou Oliver
Boat Transport Home From Mexico
(San Ramon)

Although it's just the start of the cruising season in Mexico, it's never too early for cruisers to think about how they are going to get their boats home at the end of the season. We had ours trucked back from San Carlos, and want to share our experience so others don't repeat our mistakes.

Knowing that June is a hectic time for the staff at Marina Seca, we called in March to get an early trucking date. That was our first mistake, as it was already too late to get an early date. The first time they had open was June 9, but in the end we selected June 23. As it turned out, problems at the border meant the boat didn't even leave until later than that.

Having previously worked with Marina Seca and knowing the staff, we had a lot of confidence in their abilities. So we hauled our boat ahead of schedule and packed her for the trip home. We ended up returning to the Bay Area a full week before Cappucino left San Carlos for Tucson, where she'd be switched to another trucking company.

At the appropriate time, we called Tucson to confirm that Cappucino had arrived there on time. She had. According to the schedule, she was supposed to be picked up 24 hours later by Kevin's Quality Marine Boat Transport and taken to a Bay Area boatyard. We called Kevin's many times to confirm that things were on schedule - but nobody ever answered. Ultimately, we had to call Jesus at Marina Seca to get a number for Kevin's that would go through.

When we finally did talk to Sean at the transport company, he told us that due to a variety of factors - including truck trouble - they would pick up our boat on July 3 and drop her off in Alameda on July 7. Shortly before the promised arrival date, we eagerly awaited the call telling us to meet the truck. But the call never came.

When Kevin's once again didn't return our calls, we contacted the yard in Tucson. Sure enough, our boat was still in the yard in Tucson! One of Kevin's trucks had been there, but had taken off with some other boat. After many more phone calls, we finally learned that the boat had left Tucson on the 10th, but would be in Sacramento for the weekend and not delivered to Alameda until the 14th. It was then we were told that we had to meet the boat with a cashier's check . . . but they couldn't tell us how much.

When we packed up the boat in Mexico, we had no idea that she would be spending two weeks under the hot Arizona sun where the daily temperatures were from 103° to 113°. And we'd closed her up tight because they said it was the start of what is now called the 'monsoon season' and we had to expect rain. But it didn't rain. Had we known the boat was going to sit closed up under the brutal sun for so long, we would have taken things such as our computers and CDs home on the plane. We also would have removed many more items that would usually be considered non-perishable - except in intense heat situations. We also would have insulated the ports and hatches more securely. The insulation in one of the overhead hatches fell down, exposing some of the electronics to the sunlight.

Cappucino finally arrived in Alameda in the afternoon of July 14 - 15 days after leaving San Carlos. There was some cosmetic damage to the hull finish from the tie-downs, but for the most part things inside - under all the dust - looked pretty good. We had been given wrong information about how high our boat could be on the trailer, which meant that some underpasses had to be bypassed - and we got stuck with a higher bill. Had we known, we could have removed the bow pulpit and saved $600.

We understand there are lots of things in the transport business that can cause delays, but not being able to get in touch with our trucking company made us feel very insecure about the safety of our boat and our belongings. Just a few timely phone calls to update us on the status of our boat would have relieved our fears considerably.

All in all, we would have our boat trucked home from San Carlos again, but would take more care in packing those things that are sensitive to heat. And once the boat left Mexico, we wouldn't count on any adherence to promised schedules. If anyone who is planning to have their boat trucked back has any questions, we'd be happy to answer them. We can be reached by .

- don and mary lou 9/15/03

Free Spirit - Pearson 424
Jerry and Barbara Phillips
The Long Trip Up From New Zealand
(San Francisco)

After doing the Ha-Ha to Cabo in late '99 and being part of the Latitude-organized Puddle Jump to the Marquesas in March of 2001, we took one season to go through the South Pacific and south to New Zealand. Free Spirit was then placed on "hardstanding" at Dockland 5 in Whangerai for a year. We have nothing but praise for this well-run establishment and Charlie, the manager. It's definitely cruiser friendly.

We then traveled the North and South Islands by bus and rental car for two months in January and February of this year, then came home to spend a month with our family. Returning to our boat in April, we had Free Spirit's rigging, lines, and motor checked in readiness for the long trip through the Pacific back to Hawaii. We took a little side trip to beautiful Great Barrier Island, then picked up my brother Tom in Auckland where we did our final provisioning. When we left New Zealand on April 22, there was a beautiful 146-ft ketch in front of us at the Customs Dock. It was Mari Cha III, which was headed non-stop, with a crew of 12, for the Panama Canal. Wow!

We waved good-bye to New Zealand at Cuvier Island early the next morning. Two hours later, the wind was blowing at 30 knots and more from the southwest. That afternoon, one of the 10 to 12-ft swells broke over our starboard bow, washed over the dodger, half-filling our cockpit, ripping the dodger and bending the frame. Solid water is powerful stuff!

During that first week, we experienced winds to 40 knots and more, and after a bit of experimenting, learned how to best manage the sails. We finally discovered that all we needed was a bit of jib pulled out from our roller furling. This gave our boat direction but didn't let her become overpowered. Even in the 8-10 foot swell, the ride was relatively smooth - with a slight vibration resulting from the heavy winds.

It was during that time I was particularly thankful that Jerry had had the boat re-rigged with heavier rigging before we left San Francisco. Were we scared during that week? At times, yes. In fact, there was a time at night when I just wanted to get into a fetal position in our bunk and pretend I was back on land. The shrieking of the wind in the rigging was pretty disturbing at night.

On the seventh day, I made the following entry in our log: "The winds have been at 20-25 knots, but now just gusting to 35 knots. We have a double reefed main and a small bit of jib showing. The seas are three meters, foaming on the tops, and carry us along like a toy boat. When a wave carries us along, the GPS reads more than 10 knots, then it drops down to 2.9 as we settle into a trough. It's hard to figure out our average speed. Jerry thinks we'll be halfway there tomorrow, our eighth day out. It can't be soon enough, for it's been a bit of a rough trip."

On the ninth day out, the winds abated to 15-20 knots from the SW. By day 11, the wind started to shift from the SE and then E. We reduced sail from two reefs in the main and a bit of jib, to just a bit of jib.

From April 30 to May 2, Des, our weather man at Russell Radio in the Bay of Islands, had us moving south in order to avoid a heavy weather system coming through. When the winds became easterly, we resumed our northerly heading, since we were headed directly for what Des was describing as a "vicious" low. We could actually see the blackness ahead of our boat.

We were finally able to continue due north because the winds remained easterly, so we decided to head for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. It was also the closest land, and by now we were eager to set foot on some green stuff. From Day 12 to our landing on Rarotonga on the 17th day, we had a great sail and motoring trip. The winds calmed down to 15-20 knots from the east, with smooth seas.

We arrived in Rarotonga on May 8, and tied up to the familiar seawall. We had stopped in Rarotonga on our westerly trip through the South Pacific, and it felt like coming home. The trip had been quite an initiation for my brother, who decided that he'd had enough of the open ocean for awhile. So he flew home to his beautiful acreage in Fiddletown, California. It was great to have had an extra person to take a section of the night shift. To be able to sleep for six hours at a time was something we'd not experienced before, as we'd doublehanded across the Pacific.

Rarotonga was busier than before with commercial fishing boats, so the few cruising boats there had to anchor out in this tiny harbor. At times we would have to move our boats in order that a larger trading freighter could turn in the harbor. There were three other cruising sailing vessels in the harbor. There was the Westsail 32 Saraband, which had become famous in the Pacific Cup. Dave and Ruth were taking her from New Zealand to Portland. Different Worlds was there with Al and Debbie, heading west to Fuji to bury their boat in the ground for the cyclone season. Finally, there was Chyka with Henry, a singlehander, who was just heading west.

After six beautiful days in Rarotonga, we took advantage of light winds and motorsailed ENE to Raiatea/Tahaa in French Polynesia. The trip took four days. The Immigration Department in Raiatea didn't know how to handle our paperwork, since it is seldom that they have a boat cruising east checking into the country.

On the way to Raiatea, we'd lost our autopilot. Not wanting to handsteer Free Spirit all the way to Hawaii, we started the process of ordering a new Alpha autopilot drive arm. It ended up taking 3.5 weeks. Customs in Tahiti was very helpful, even to the point of letting us know on which plane the part was to arrive on. They were aware that the marina at which we were staying would tack on a hefty sum just to go one-and-a-half miles to the airport and pick up the part.

On June 14 we left Raiatea for Hilo, Hawaii. Most of the trip was fraught with rain cells and little wind, but the ICTZ was unusually wide. We did not get good northwest trades until 10°N, so we spent over 140 hours powering at 1500 rpm. When we did get to the trades, they were beautiful, giving us 15 to 25 knots under clear and sunny skies. What a ride! We arrived in Hilo on July 3, a day before the fireworks. Our passage had taken us 19 days.

Free Spirit is now residing at Ko Olina Marina on Oahu, a beautiful four-year old marina, hotel, and golf course resort. All that is missing to make it like Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta is a zoo. Our ketch will be our 'condo' in Hawaii this year, and next June we plan to sail to Washington and British Columbia.

- jerry & barbara 9/15/03

Chewbacca - Crowther 30 Cat
The Winship Family
Home Schooling While Cruising
(Alameda, California)

When people find that we've been cruising with two kids for several years - we're now at Puerto Pedregal in Western Panama - they often ask how we handle schooling. It's been an evolutionary process, so we'll describe it hoping to help other folks cruising with school age kids.

When we left California with the 2000 Ha-Ha, we'd only lived aboard our 30-ft catamaran for a total of one month, and we had never home schooled our girls, then ages 5 and 7. All at once we were in for some major life changes! Our first year was truly a dizzying time. But with time, practice, and patience, onboard life gradually fell into place. It's been four years now, we're still cruising, still home schooling, and still having fun!

A year before our departure, I'd started reading books on home schooling and collecting articles on the subject from sailing magazines. I also perused the internet, where there are literally hundreds of home schooling sites. Talk about information overload! We finally decided not to buy a correspondence course nor a complete packaged curriculum. Instead, we went to Costco and purchased one grade-level workbook appropriate for each girl.

Armed with a book, we figured we were pretty much there. For surely the girls would love having their own mom as a teacher. And surely I was competent enough to improvise and make school fun. Was I ever wrong on both counts! Just using work books was a real disaster because there was too much busy work and too little substance. Before long, I began to lose confidence and wonder whether I would be able to be a 'real' teacher to them. With all the other cruising skills I was having to learn, how was I going to be able to find time to learn to take charge of the girls' education?

As we began to cruise, we soon learned that some seemingly simple things - such as making phone calls, getting money, and even making it to shore without getting dumped in the surf - could be challenges. We also were faced with adapting to a new culture, language, currency, climate, food - and sometimes sleep deprivation. When adding the responsibility of schooling on top of all these, it was quite stressful!

However, with time, patience, and practice, our family gradually came to feel more comfortable at sea and at anchor - despite being elbow-to-elbow on a 30-footer - and began to develop new indentities. As life onboard become smoother and more relaxed, we fell into the groove of cruising . . . and schooling.

Nonetheless, after the first year, we bought a 'complete' home schooling curriculum called Oak Meadow. Another curriculum widely used by cruising kids is the Calvert School. These programs come with lesson plans, a teacher's manual, text books, and even craft and science supplies. What a positive difference this made for all of us! It meant that I had a guideline to follow, and the girls had real textbooks. Similarly, the expectations of what they were supposed to learn was not set by mom, but by 'The Curriculum'!

Our school day goes something like this: We start somewhere around 9-10 a.m. with 15 minutes of 'circle time', which can be reading, free writing, memorizing a poem or song, talking about a recent trip, reading aloud, drawing, or penmanship exercises. It's a time that signals the end of play and the beginning of school. Now that Kendall is 10 years old, she plans our circle time each week. This is followed by one hour of either language arts or social studies; an hour for lunch, free time, or boat chores; 30 minutes of math; and 30 minutes of science. We also have leisure-time reading every day.

Our school day is typically 3.5 hours long. Some subjects are taught two or three days a week, while others - such as math - are every day. We find that consistently having school five days in a row is necessary to establish and maintain an acceptable level of learning. If this is not done, the learning is too sporadic and piecemeal. Our school year is 36 weeks-worth of lessons. Some years we complete it in nine months, but this past year it took us 11 months. When we are making a passage, reading and writing are favorite pastimes. We don't do any book work while underway. Our passages are times of wildlife observations, navigation practice, and practical boat handling lessons. The girls also stand a short watch with each of us.

Obviously, the whole act of cruising is a learning experience, with lots of 'field trips' ashore that we incorporate into our Social Studies and/or Geography lessons. For instance, we sometimes supplement our curriculum with separate unit studies that relate to where we are. When we visited the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras, we did a mini-lesson on the Mayan Indians. When hurricane Juliette decided to visit the Sea of Cortez, we studied hurricanes and associated weather. In each country we visit, we have the girls write short books about them. Since animals are all around us, they also make natural subjects to write about. Imaginative play, help with errands and the maintenance, and everyday operation of our 'house on the water' are considered viable subjects aboard Chewbacca.

Even though our curriculum gives a weekly lesson plan, I still spend two hours every weekend planning for the upcoming week, and may add worksheets or ideas of my own, or delete things that are not possible for us to do on the boat. At the beginning of each 12-week segment, I make a checklist of skills that will be covered - and periodically check it - to make sure I don't miss something.

In the beginning, I did all the teaching. For the past two years, however, Bruce and I have shared the responsibility. Bruce teaches math and music, while I teach language arts, science, and social studies. Having two teachers has added variety and spice to the schoolweek, making it more fun and rewarding. The girls like seeing us work as a team, and they are smart enough to realize we form a united front. It's not so easy to wear down two parents!

As the girls get older, the curriculum has become more intensive and requires more hours to complete. As such, we've spent less time traveling and more time sitting tight in places for longer periods. Since we have an open-ended cruising plan, we are not pressed for time and have the luxury of traveling at whatever pace we like. We believe that this style greatly enhances the girls' schooling experiences - on board as well as ashore.

The following are some of the most helpful online resources I've come across:;;

I hope this information makes the path less rugged for any parents just starting out on their home schooling adventure. I feel that with commitment, practice and patience, cruising and home schooling can give your children and your family shared years of wonder and happiness. By the way, we have set up a website for cruising kids to keep in touch online. This can also be used as an open forum for potential cruising kids and parents to ask questions about home schooling, and cruising as a family. Many cruising parents and different-aged kids are available to answer particular questions. The 'Cruising Kids Message Board' address is

- april, bruce, kendall & quincy

Annapurna - Hans Christian 48
Buddy & Ruth Ellison
Cruising Arab World During Wartime
(San Francisco)
[Continued from last month, when the Ellisons reported on their trip from Thailand to the Maldives.]

As those of us on 15 cruising boats in the Maldives got ready for the next leg of our trip, the 1,256 miles to Oman, our first bonafide Arab and Muslim country, our thoughts and emotions were understandably going crazy. It wasn't just a long ocean passage and pirates that we were worried about, but the fact that our country had sent hundreds of thousands of troops to the Middle East in anticipation of attacking Iraq. Even after we reached Oman, it would be another 600 miles to the southern mouth of the Red Sea, then about 1,500 more miles north to the Suez Canal. It would be at least a month before we left the Arab world again.

I wish I could better describe the pre-departure anxiety we felt. Only the women, emotional creatures that we are, would admit to our fears. The guys were tough and didn't show it, but we knew better. The piracy issue was a concern, but with such a major military presence, we didn't think it would be a problem. But what if war broke out while we were sailing up the Red Sea? We might be escorted, we might be turned around - who knew what could happen?

I'm not sure anyone in the 'real world' can appreciate the control over our lives we were about to relinquish. When we return to to the real world again someday, I can assure you that we certainly won't complain as much about the insignificant things in life. There is no question but that we are very different people from when we left - which, it's hard to believe, was almost seven years ago!

Losing control of our lives was certainly the bad side, but there was a good side. For one thing, there was the phenomenal camaraderie among the yachties of all nations. It was wonderful. Then too, there were the incredible experiences we had visiting each country. Indeed, we were looking forward to the stops along the way up the Red Sea - if the weather, imminent war, and politics allowed it.

Our group of 15 boats travelled close together, but not necessarily in eyeball range. Every morning and night we'd check into the net - which I ran, much to my surprise - so we knew where everybody was. As it turned out, we had a wonderful eight-day trip, a '9' on a scale of one to 10, and arrived in Oman on February 16.

During the passage to Oman, we'd read Nine Parts of Desire, the Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks. The author is a journalist who lived in the Middle East in the '80s and '90s, and her book provided us with excellent insight into the Arab/Muslim perspective - especially their attitude toward Muslim and non-Muslim women. We cruising women knew right away we wouldn't be wandering Arab streets without our men, and in any event wouldn't be dressing in shorts and tank tops.

Despite our anxieties, Oman proved to be one of our favorite places, as the people were unbelievably friendly. "Where are you from?" everyone asked us. We said we were from the U.S. - unless we felt uncomfortable, in which case we claimed to be Canadian! But we always had a good feeling about the people of Oman, as they welcomed us and tripped over each other to show us their country.

While in Oman, we had our first camel experience. They were everywhere, from blocking our path in the middle of the streets to being in herds alongside the road. Unlike the people, the camels didn't make us feel so welcome. Oman had some great restaurants, serving local and Lebanese food, and incredible grocery stores with every product you might need. Although the prices weren't the best, we used the old cruiser dictum of "if you see it, buy it". Our driver took a real liking to me and called me "my sister", so I called him "my brother". It was great.

There were quite a few warships - French, Spanish, and American - in the harbor. While having dinner at a very Western and ex-pat hangout, we talked to some American military during dinner. We couldn't get too much information out of them, but we knew they were diving the waterfront area to check for underwater explosives. One night they slipped a little by telling us, "The shit is going to hit the fan the next full moon." We all knew exactly what they were talking about, and sure enough, the U.S. attacked Iraq on March 19th, the day after the full moon.

We formed a convoy of six boats - Max Grody II, Ocean Flyer, Regina, Excess Lines, and Carillion - when we departed Salalah, Oman. Our game plan was to try not to attract attention by staying off the VHF - a plan that lasted almost an hour. Too many people wanted to talk along the way. There was also some thought given to not having running lights on. Buddy liked the idea, but the majority said it was more important not to run into each other. We kept a half mile away from each other during the day, and no more than a mile apart at night. We agreed on a maximum speed of six knots under power, and five knots under sail - which almost never happened.

Our plan was to close ranks quickly if any of us was approached by a small boat. When the first fishing boats came close to us, I thought my heart was going to stop. Out came the baseball bat, spearguns, and flare gun. "Boat approaching, boat approaching," I bellowed into the VHF. But it turned out to be some friendly fishermen.

Another time Mary on Carillion yelled on the radio, "Hostile Indians, hostile Indians approaching!".

"No, no, we are Pakistani!" they replied. "Want to trade cigarettes for fish?"

We all got a good laugh out of that one. Some of the yachties - mostly crazy Americans and Aussies - wanted to attack first and show'em who was boss. "Let's storm the beach in Yemen," some said, believing that the best defense is a good offense. That certainly would have confused the pirates. These comments were probably made in jest to relieve some of the tension, as we were all on edge. We talked about using weapons if approached, but nobody had any - or at least not any they were willing to admit to. Having weapons is against the law. But we did get out our spear guns, sling shots, machetes, baseball bats, and the flare gun.

About 200 miles from Oman, Carillion lost her engine. It was a huge problem because there wasn't any wind to sail. So Regina, having the largest engine, towed them the rest of the way to Aden. We were planning on stopping there anyway because we all needed fuel. It ended up being an impressive formation, with Regina and Carillion in the middle separated by a 200-ft tow line, with Excess Line and Annapurna on either side to stop fishing boats from going in-between them. Max Grody II and Ocean Flyer brought up the rear.

While we were in the area, there was one pirate attack and another attempted attack off the coast of Yemen. These were attempted by folks who primarily smuggle Somalians, but who try to pick up a few extra bucks by robbing yachts! During the first attack, money and electronic equipment were stolen from the yacht Bambola. The second attempt was thwarted when the yachts outran the pirates!

We arrived in Aden, Yemen, on March 1, two weeks before the start of hostilities in Iraq. We know you're all saying, "Now we know you're really nuts!" The truth is that we had the same experience there as everywhere else - almost everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming. The one exception was at a gas station when Buddy filled up a can of dinghy fuel. When asked where he was from, Buddy replied "America".

"Oh," replied the attendant, "America bad." The real problem there was poverty, which was exacerbated by its close proximity to Somalia. We also felt a little uncomfortable because Aden is where the USS Cole was attacked by a small boat with bombs, but it turned out to be another Arab country where we didn't have any problems.

A couple of days later, we left Aden for the 100-mile trip to the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

[To be continued next month.]

- ruth 09/15/03

Saga - Alberg 35
Nancy Birnbaum & Jann Hedrick
Costa del Sol, El Salvador
(Northern California)

Much has been written in these pages about the Costa del Sol, and especially the hotel Bahia del Sol, yet we wanted to share some of the greater aspects of the place. For anyone looking for a safe, secure, and mas tranquillo atmosphere, this is the place. Whether you plan to leave your boat and travel back home for a visit, or tour inland Central America, Bahia del Sol is your spot. The best part is that it's free! That's right, you can leave your boat for nothing. And it only costs a small amount to have Carlos from the hotel or another cruiser keep any eye on your boat while you're gone. Keep this in mind when hearing how expensive the marinas are in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. For cruisers like us on a tight budget, it was perfect. In fact, we left Saga for two weeks to do some inland touring in the Guatemalan Highlands, to see the Mayan Ruins at Copan, and to visit more of El Salvador.

Upon our return, however, we had to get serious about boat projects before we could head down the coast. So we were fortunate to met Santos Torres, who lives just across the estuary from the hotel. For the regular boat rate of $10 U.S. a day, he worked on Saga for almost three weeks. We coached him in the finer points of wood care on our 40-year-old Alberg. He scraped, sanded, and varnished our caprail and cockpit combing, which had been sorely neglected in the heat of two San Carlos, Mexico, summers. Santos also cleaned our entire chain, and the hull and prop. By the way, you really have to stay on top of the growth here. We recommend cleaning the bottom every three weeks, and rotating the chain so that some part of it drags in the sand and cleans itself. Anyway, Santos' work was fabulous and his English improved daily. Our praise for Santos is endless!

We are so glad to have Santos and his family. Instead of having lunch with us aboard Saga, on some days he'd invite us to his house for some of his mother Dena Elizabeth's homemade tamales. What a treat. By the way, Santini, Santos' father, is well-known around here for being a magician with outboards. He can fix anything, and his prices are very modest. We think any boat coming to Bahia del Sol should consider having Santos for the difficult projects that you've been putting off. Santos can be reached at 821-1051 or 780-8902.

Incidentally, we found marine quality varnish, outdoor type plywood, and lots of other necessities at the closest ferreteria at the corner of the road to Costa del Sol and Zacate. It's an easy bus ride. It was harder to find epoxy resin to remake our dinghy floorboards. We finally located some at Marinsa, the marine store owned by the ever-friendly and helpful Gabrielle in San Salvador. If we didn't specify resina epoxia, they would assume we wanted polyester resin.

Getting to the city was always a pleasure in Jose's taxi - 747-2104. It cost $35 plus lunch for the whole day, but since we weren't spending any money for berthing, it was worth it. Jose knows where to find everything - and we mean everything. His English is good, and when we weren't singing Beatles' songs with him, we were teaching him fun phrases.

Carlos and his crew at the hotel were extremely helpful with just about everything. He runs the marina for the hotel. Having studied in the States, he's fluent in English. His crew, Mario and Jorge, are available for hire for bottom jobs.

All in all, we're really glad we stopped over in El Salvador. They locals are shy at first - what a change from mainland Mexico! - but are so nice and friendly that you can't help but love it here. We'll be sad to say good-bye, but Costa Rica and Panama are calling, and we're ready to sail once again.

-nancy birnbaum & jann hedrick

Miki G - Gemini 105 Catamaran
Michael Beattie & Layne Goldman
Key West, Florida
(Santa Cruz)

Layne and I have been living aboard our Gemini catamaran in Key West for more than a year. We arrived here from Santa Cruz after doing the '98 Ha-Ha, transiting the Panama Canal, and sailing up to Florida. We passed through Key West on our way to Fort Myers, which turned out to be dull, so we returned to Key West to settle down for a while.

Key West is as close to a bowl of 'California granola' as we've been able to find on the East Coast, as the city of 27,000 prides itself on being funky, laid back, and non-judgemental. One fifth of the full-time population is gay, and not for nothing is the city's official motto "We Are All One Family". While it reads well, putting such a philosophy into practice tries the patience of the police department, the locals, the homeless, the RV people, the anchor-outs, and supporters of the - I'm not making this up - wild chicken population, who frequently end up at loggerheads. Cruisers who can't cope with the free-spirited nature of Key West retire in disgust 50 miles up the Keys at Marathon, a solid working-class town. That is home to Boot Key Harbor, the most protected - and polluted - anchorage in all the Keys.

West Coast cruisers would probably be approaching Key West from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, a distance of 335 miles, or possibly Cuba, about 90 miles. When arriving late in the day, I suggest anchoring discreetly and waiting for regular office hours before starting to make phone calls to check in. The only legal place to get clearance in the Keys is Key West. Your boat must be docked someplace to be cleared, and I suggest the Chevron Fuel Dock. If it's after 8 a.m. and before 4 p.m., the Dry Tortugas ferry leaves a huge hole on the dock and you won't be blocking the fuel pumps. Once tied up, call the National Customs number - 800 432-1216 - from a pay phone with your decal number in hand. If you don't have an annual Customs decal, you'll have to present yourself and 25 of your dollars at the local Customs Office within 24 hours. The local Customs Office number is 305-294-3877 - but they can't clear you in as they only serve the cruise ships.

After you call National Customs, call Immigration at 305-296-2233. If they're busy with a cruise ship - "Honey I'm alone in the office," one nice woman told us after our trip back from the Bahamas last year - they tell you to report to their Simonton Street office within 24 hours. Sometimes they'll come to your boat and bring the Agriculture Inspector with them. We've found all the officials to be unfailingly polite and easy to deal with - unless you've been to Cuba or try to clear in from someplace down in the Keys. If you do the latter, you'll have to rent a car and drive to Key West Immigration within 24 hours - and you may still get a tongue-lashing.

Those wanting slips in Key West between December and April can expect to find the marinas full. If you happen to luck into a short term - less than three months - slip, get ready for East Coast slip fee shock. They run about $2/foot/night! The state of Florida has no income tax, but they make up for it by Key West charging 7.75% tax on slips. Ex-military personnel can use the nice marina at Boca Chica eight miles north of Key West for just 29 cents/ft/night.

For those looking to anchor out, there are three free anchorages visitors can use not far from downtown. Christmas Tree Island, called Wisteria Island on the charts thanks to the abundance of Australian pines, is deserted and makes an excellent place to walk your dog(s) when you first arrive. Despite the chart, there's plenty of water around the island except on the north side. Protection is all right except for southerly to northwesterly winds - which honk in the winter when periodic cold fronts come through town. Most visitors prefer the anchorage west of Fleming Key north of town, but it's also badly exposed to the south through northwest. Although there is a maximum tidal range of just three feet, Key West has ferocious tidal currents. Combine an ebb tide with a strong prefrontal southerly, and your neighbors' boats will drag even as you're being bounced out of your bunk.

While you can anchor out for free, you have to pay to tie your dinghy to a dock. Dockage for dinghies up to 12 feet is available one dock over from the fuel dock at $4 a day, $20 a week or $60 a month - including water and garbage. Showers are $30 a month per person. 'Dinghy rage' is a common phenomenon at the overcrowded dinghy dock during the winter.

Key West also operates a mooring field north of Garrison Bight for boats up to 40 feet. The fee is $130/month. The moorings are exposed to the north, but the fee includes the use of a floating dinghy dock inside the bight on the southwestern seawall.

Layne and I live in a modern marina on the north side of Stock Island with floating docks and excellent protection. We pay $500/month for our 34-foot slip, $100 for electricity, plus $60 a month for four pump-outs. When you add the tax in, it comes to about $700 a month - so let's not hear any complaining from you folks back home in the Bay Area!

Key West has all the facilities a sailor might need - although it may take a bit of a struggle to find them. There is an excellent bus service around the island that will take you as far north as Stock Island - home to the fishing fleet and several haul-out yards - for one dollar. It also makes for a much cheaper, though less informative, scenic tour than the tourist Conch Train Tour. That costs $20!

By the way, 'conch' is pronounced 'konk'. While it used to mean a rubbery kind of mollusk, it now means a long term resident of Key West. There is Greyhound service to Miami, which is about 3.5 hours away by car - if there aren't any accidents blocking Highway One aka 'the Overseas Highway'. Key West International airport has no international flights, but does connect to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta.

To put aside some misconceptions, Key West is neither in the Caribbean nor in the tropics. At 24°30' north, it's 120 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer. Indeed, the island has two distinct seasons. Summers, which starts in May, are windless, rainy, humid, and have many thunderstorms. Winters, starting in November, are gloriously dry and sunny - except when occasional gray and windy fronts blow through. Most winter days are like the best summer days in California, with temperatures around 80° and low humidity. But beware of cold fronts, which can drop temperatures 30° in less than an hour! Last winter a record low of 41 degrees was recorded. When there's a northwesterly howling at 45 knots, 41° is real cold.

Layne and I are doing what our friend the Wanderer hates - using our cat almost exclusively as a home. But Layne is working as a juvenile probation officer, and her office is literally across from Sunset Marina. Compared to her former job of being an attorney, it's very low stress. As for myself, I commute five miles to downtown Key West by bicycle or Moped to my job as a charter captain. I get paid very well, thank you, to take cruise ship passengers 'racing' on one of the four 27-foot Stilletto catamarans owned by my very laid-back boss. I'm also earning my associates degree in marine engineering at Florida Keys Community College, where I'm learning all about repairing diesels and outboards, as well as doing fiberglass work. It's an extremely comprehensive and hands-on course.

Emma, our well-traveled yellow Lab, is growing old and stiff, and is weary of travel by boat. So while I face the day with dread, we aren't going to go cruising until she passes on.

Our big regret about our trip from California to Florida is that we had but $15,000 and couldn't be out longer. Next time, we hope to set off with a five-year budget so we can sail to more distant horizons - say Europe via the Caribbean. That should take a few bucks. We'd also like to sail back to the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Our original cruising plan called for a 2006 departure from California when 'everything was ready'. That's all changed, but we still have our (mortgaged) Santa Cruz home to retire to, and even though we are glued to the dock, we are still very much 'out cruising' - mentally at least, keeping an eye on the horizon like cruisers should! If any West Coast cruisers arrive in Key West and need a hand, we have a splendid car, filled with dog hair, and would be happy to ferry you around. Feel free to give us a call at 305-296-1865, or .

Lastly, I want to say that setting off in the 1998 Baja Ha-Ha launched us into a whole new life that has increased our self confidence in our survival skills. We both now know that we can earn money doing pretty much anything, and when the boat breaks, we are far less panicked or annoyed than we - or I - used to be!

- michael 10/15/03

Cruise Notes:

Murder most foul. "Captain Lucky Wilhelm, who along with his wife Aggie owned the Oasis del Pacifico Resort Hotel on the water in Costa Rica, was murdered by robbers at his home last month," reports William R. Carr. "It was a great loss all yachtsmen who have called on the west coast of Costa Rica, as Lucky was a great friend to them, and they often used his facilities."

We didn't know Lucky, who was in his mid-70s, but Carr's tribute proves he lead a most interesting life. A captain in the merchant marine for more than half a century, Lucky spent considerable time around Viet Nam during the war, and later opened up a marina in Jeddeh, Saudia Arabia! There is even a report that he met Osama bin Laden long before 9/11. Based on the number of letters we've received lamenting Lucky's death, we can tell that he will be greatly missed by his many cruising friends. By the way, this is not the first time an elderly American landowner in Costa Rica has been brutally murdered.

"I'm a 13-year-old girl sailing down to Mexico with my parents," writes Kate Reid of the Santa Cruz-based Kelly Peterson 44 Carmelita. "We're currently in San Diego, and I thought I would meet some other cruising kids my age - but so far they have all been considerably younger. I'd really like to meet other cruising kids my age, so if anyone can help, I can be reached through my parents' . We're also on the SSB, and our call sign is WCW 7952. My parents are Paul and Carol."

It's too bad you couldn't have made the Ha-Ha, Kate, as there were a bunch of kids in that fleet. But don't worry, once you get into tropical Mexico and hit the nets, you'll find kids your age. From then on it should be easier, as boats with kids tend to cruise together for obvious reasons.

"We're having the best of times and the worst of times," report Robert and Virginia Glesers of the Alameda-based Islander Freeport 41 Harmony. "We're bombing down the San Jose Channel about 50 miles north of La Paz in 18 to 25 knots of wind from aft. It's rolly but grand, considering what wind we've had trying to sail south in the Sea of Cortez so far. Harmony needs real wind and is loving the conditions. We were going to Evaristo to visit some friends, but at the last minute decided to push on since the sailing was so good. It's only eight miles ahead to Isla San Francisco, and since we started from Los Gatos at the crack of dawn this morning, that's where we'll stop for the night."

"We're now at 'The Hook', as Isla San Francisco is affectionately known," the Glesers continue. "With the wind blowing, it's a delightful anchorage with fine protection and the most beautiful turquoise water - we jumped in as soon as we arrived. Although sailing down here was wonderful and the anchorage is pristine, there is a big problem - the no-see-ums. Ever since the wind backed off, the ferocious little bugs - which, despite their name, you can easily see - pack a ferocious bite. And cruisers are their preferred fare. Virginia, who was recently stung by some jellies, got some more red marks on her lovely white skin from the no-see-ums."

Bill Claypool of Sausalito forwarded this latest report from friend Larry Jacobson of the Stevens 51 Julia, who left San Francisco two years ago December:

"We're off from Vanuatu to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oztralia! We departed at noon in clouds and rain, and headed out to sea. What a wonderful feeling to head offshore, knowing that the land will soon disappear and it will be just us and the sea! One's concentration gets focused, senses become more keen, and the heart gets lifted with each rising swell. The rain was a trough of weather that packed a punch of 25-30 knots, and within two hours of departure we had ripped our heavy spinnaker. As with any passage, the first day consists of getting used to being back at sea, the motion of the boat, and keeping some simple food down. By tomorrow, we'll be 'old salts' again! It's evening now, and the spinnaker has been stuffed away until we can get it to a sailmaker - but we're still making 6.5 knots with just our mainsail and yankee. We're headed downwind with the 15-20 knot southeast trades right behind us. Our route will take us over the top of New Caledonia and Huon Reef to Chesterfield Reef, where we may stop. But if the good wind holds, we'll turn south again, and head between Frederick Reef and Kenn Reef, after which we'll be off to Bundaberg on the east coast of Australia. At this rate we should be there in six days. There's been a lot of radio talk tonight, as about half a dozen other boats also left Vanuatu for Australia. Everybody reports their position and weather so the boats further back know what to expect. Cyclone season is fast approaching up here, and so it's time for all of us to get south!"

"We're back on our boat in Bonaire," report Larry Hirsch and Dorothy Taylor of the San Diego-based Hylas 45.5 Shayna. The very active mid-70s cruising couple say they'd love to "sink" their generator, a unit they'd had little trouble with during their years in Europe, but which has apparently become a major source of frustration. The couple expect to head for the Panama Canal and Mexico soon.

"We arrived in Grenada a short time ago, having come east from Aruba," reports John Haste of the San Diego-based Perry 52 catamaran Little Wing. "The last two days were not very pleasant, as we chose to go north above the islands to make a nonstop sail from Bonaire to Trinidad. The wind actually came in from the southeast at tradewind strength, and we could have gone north on a reach, but had to go to Grenada to avoid visa problems with a Colombian crewmember. But all in all, our easting all the way from Panama was quite favorable. Getting to Cartagena wasn't too bad, and then it took just 8.5 days from Cartagena to Grenada - including a two-day stop in Aruba, and two days in Bonaire. While in Cartagena, I was able to sign on Charlie Collins, Julian Amery, and Sugey to join John Folvig of Elysium in crewing for me on what had the potential to be a miserable trip to Aruba. But it turned out to be a pleasant one. In my last email, I forgot to mention that while we were off Colombia's Rio Magdelana one night, we heard a loud bang. It turned out to be a 10-inch diameter tree, complete with roots, passing between the hulls! The Magdalena is notorious for spreading its debris miles into the Caribbean Sea. Even cars have been spotted drifting offshore."

The big one began on November 23. We're referring to the granddaddy of all cruiser rallies, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which takes the fleet 2,750 miles from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, in the Eastern Caribbean. Although this is the 18th year, the ARC is more popular than ever, with all 225 slots having sold out - it's not cheap - in May. The boats range in size from English-owned Rustler 31 Eumenides to the Swiss-owned Swan 86 Aspiration. Fifteen of the entries are catamarans, eight of them having been built by Catana - ironic for a company that was reportedly bought this summer for just one euro. Far more than half of the entries are from England and Germany. There are, however, 15 entries from the United States. The only one we're familiar with is the Catana 581 Aurora, which is owned by Northern Californians Mark and David Bernhard, who also did the ARC last winter. The fast rally boats should finish in about 12 days, the slow ones in about three weeks. If you're interested in what kinds of boats the Brits and Europeans sail across oceans, check the entry list at ARC boats tend to be well equipped and maintained.

With the ARC having sold out and there still being demand for rally spots across the Atlantic, the World Cruising Ltd. folks started a companion event, the Rubicon Antigua Challenge. This event starts in another of the Canary Islands, also on November 23, and finishes in - you guessed it - Antigua, a couple of islands north of St. Lucia. So far 16 boats have signed up, three of them owned by Americans. The only one we recognize will be skippered by Steve Pettengill, who will be aboard the Hunter 50 Hunters Child II.

Good luck and safe sailing to all! It will be remembered that in last year's ARC there was one death from drowning after a man went overboard in his harness but couldn't be brought back aboard. Another boat had to be scuttled in the mid-Atlantic after the rudder broke twice.

While it was another easy year for the Baha Ha-Ha - see the feature story earlier in this issue - it was a very difficult one for the West Marine Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virginia, to Tortola in the British Virgins. After the early November start, the weather began to deteriorate. The Wormwood 55 catamaran Avalon was dismasted, and about a third of the 33-boat fleet took refuge in Bermuda. With the bad weather continuing, they were stuck there for nearly a week, throwing almost everybody's schedules off. In fact, most of these boats didn't depart Bermuda until about the time the crews of the other 22 boats were celebrating the awards ceremony in Tortola! We'll have more details next month, but can tell you that Dr. Ian Gordon of Bethesda, Maryland, who has participated in four previous 1500s, took first with his Tayana 65 Bravado.

For what it's worth, West Coast cruisers should be thankful that it's so much easier to get to the tropics from the Left Coast than the East Coast, which can be very challenging. Anybody who thinks it's hard to sail to and in the Sea of Cortez should spend a season sailing from the East Coast to and around the Caribbean.

Glyn Frost, writing the Lagoon Lines column in the Caribbean Compass, had a line we liked about the financial ups and downs in St. Martin in the Eastern Caribbean: "Waiting for the boats to come, like characters in a play by Becket, or adherents of some South Seas Island cargo-cult, we cheer each other with tales of vast, gleaming palaces floating into the lagoon with largesse for all, and times when a hundred dollars will be a tip rather than half a week's salary." Yes, it's boom or bust with the high and low seasons in the sunny Caribbean.

Since we're talking about that area of the world, we should advise that entries for the wildly festive Heineken Regatta in St. Martin the first week in March are starting to come in, and officials say they've already received entries from 11 boats over 60 feet - including Roy Disney's new Pyewacket and Hasso Plattner's new Morning Glory, both of which are MaxZ86s with canting keels. The 11 entries over 60-ft don't include Latitude's 63-ft cat Profligate, which we're going to use to try to attract the biggest fleet of cruising cats ever in that event. If you've got a cat in the Caribbean or are going to charter one at that time of the year, and if you like great sailing and wild partying, don't miss it. For further information, visit the Heineken Regatta website - By the way, it's expected to be a great sailing year in the Caribbean, with all the great yachts finally back from New Zealand, and a host of new ones - such as the brilliant 144-ft Mari Cha IV - making their debuts in events such as the Heinie, the British Virgins Spring Festival in late March, and Antigua Sailing Week in late April.

"As of February 2003, Customs in Australia is charging all foreign boats less than 50-ft as much as $5,000 to be "fumigated", plus another $1,000 to be guarded for 24 hours," reports a cruiser who asks that his name not be published for fear of retribution. "The Aussies are also getting tough on foreign boats by making them leave the country for at least a couple of days each year - or pay import duty on their boat. This is even true with cruisers holding two-year and four-year visas. Import duty is 5% of the value of the boat, and GST is another 8%, making for a total of 13%. So how do they stick it to you if you leave the country once a year to avoid the import duty? The 'fumigating fee'! If someone were emigrating to Australia, I could see how such a fee might be justified, but it can't be for visiting cruisers. Legislators in Canberra must have gone nuts, for the only thing the 'fumigation fee' will exterminate is the desire of cruisers - who leave lots of money behind - to visit Australia."

There's sad news out of the Caribbean, as David 'The Caribbean Weatherman' Jones passed away in British Virgins hospital at age 62 on November 7. His weather reports and weather website had been extremely popular throughout the Caribbean Basin.

On the subject of Caribbean weather, Kirk and Catherine McGeorge, who have a new son Stuart, as well as a new to them Hylas 47 Gallivanter in addition to the custom 37 pilothouse Polly Brooks they sailed most of the way around the world, report that it was a bone-chilling 75 degrees last month - a 20-year low according to the local newspaper. It was so cold, they were even thinking of putting on some shoes. In other Virgin Island records, they report sport fishing boat Black Pearl set a record for catching a 91-pound wahoo in a tournament, so in addition to all the normal prizes, they won a pickup truck. This pleased the owner and captain, who a couple of months before had been fined and the boat confiscated for fishing in British Virgin Island waters without a license! So, you don't want to mess with those guys.

No matter if you believe the Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from June to the end of November - like the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season - or just until the end of October, now is a good time to look back to evaluate the storm season in both regions. Despite a relatively active Atlantic/Caribbean season - eight tropical storms and six hurricanes - the Eastern Caribbean was virtually untouched, making it one of the most relaxed seasons there in many years. The East Coast wasn't quite so lucky, as hurricane Isabel, at one time a Category 5 hurricane, nailed the Annapolis area in September just a couple of weeks before the start of the big boat show. Fortunately, it had lost much of its strength shortly before making landfall or the damage would have been much worse. The other damaging hurricane in the Atlantic was Juan, also in September, which destroyed many boats in Bermuda before moving north and creating waterfront havoc in Nova Scotia. Hurricanes in Nova Scotia, which is as far north as Oregon? That's what the warm waters of the Gulf Stream will do for you.

While it could have been much worse in the Atlantic/Caribbean, it was a terrible year for hurricanes in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico's summer cruising grounds. The nine tropical storms and seven hurricanes aren't huge numbers for Mexico, but two of them, Ignacio and Marty, headed for the Sea of Cortez rather than wandering northwest into the Pacific as most do. Ignacio hit La Paz in late August, but did little more than give everyone a big scare. Marty, about a month later, was the real deal, destroying the breakwater and many boats at Marina del La Paz, sinking or driving 15 unoccupied boats ashore in Puerto Escondido, and doing proportionally less damage further north and over at San Carlos on the mainland. Longtime locals said Marty was the strongest hurricane to have hit La Paz in 20 years, and did the most damage ever to cruising boats in the Sea - in part because the number of cruising boats in the Sea has dramatically increased in recent years.

If you were in La Paz for both Ignacio and Marty and want to lose your faith in weather records, be advised that some records say Ignacio was the stronger of the two, and that Marty, which caused far more destruction, peaked at only 85 knots. We're certain that everyone who was in La Paz will strongly disagree with these 'facts'.

Despite the damage done by hurricane Marty a couple of months back, things are happening in La Paz. "Among the many cruiser activities in La Paz is a Paradise Found YC-sponsored trash cleanup day December 8 at El Mogote," reports Slade Ogletree. "A local plastics company is donating kilos of trash bags, Tecate is donating beer to keep the troops hydrated and happy, and the city of La Paz will haul the garbage away. We expect support from both the cruising and local communities. There will be a happy hour and food specials at PFYC after the cleanup. And after the Monday Night Football game, the La Cachana band - which performed for the Ha-Ha fleet at Bahia Santa Maria - will play."

"It's a bit cool and windy here in La Paz," reports Greg Retkowski, who is with Cherie Sogstie, Anne Blunden, and Renne Waxlax aboard the Swan 65 Casseopeia in La Paz following the Ha-Ha. "There are lots of signs of hurricane damage around. We're in Marina Palmira, which fared well, but down the street at Marina de La Paz, the docks are still in a shambles and masts are sticking out of the water at strange angles. There is a channel inside the marina marked by plastic bottles to show where it's navigable and where there are still hulls on the bottom."

"The Mexican sailing season got off to a good start in Mazatlan on November 11 with a margarita party sponsored by Marina Mazatlan and Costa Mariner Restaurant," report Rick Cummings and Bob and Liana Buchanan of Mazatlan-based Total Yacht Services. "Many cruisers showed up, as did Harbormaster Gerardo Sanchez and his assistant Sylvia, to sip tequila-based cocktails, listen to the band, and make new friends. But it's just the start, as many more activities are planned for December: A Full Moon Howl party on the 8th, the Marina Mazatlan Potluck on the 12th, a Lighted Boat Contest on the 23rd, and a non-denominational holiday service on the 24th. Mazatlan is a great place for cruisers, the locals and officials are friendly, so stop by and spend some time with us!"

If you're in Mexico, you've got a great cruising season ahead of you. Here are some important events and dates to remember: Zihua Sail Fest, which for the last couple of years has been held at the end of January; Carnival in Mazatlan, February 19-24; Banderas Bay Regatta at Paradise Marina, March 25-28; Island Madness at La Paz and and the nearby islands, April 18-25, and Loreto Fest, the first weekend in May at Puerto Escondido. If there are other events, official and otherwise, that cruisers in Mexico should know about, please let us know so we can publicize them.

Owners of boats 60 feet and longer planning to go through the Panama Canal after next July need to prepare themselves to shell out big bucks for a piece of equipment they don't really need. Pete Stevens, whom Profligate used as a ship's agent in Panama during the recent 'festivities', says that after July 1, the Canal Commission will require all boats over 60 feet to carry a transponder like the ones big boats carry can currently rent for $150/transit. But after July, you won't be able to rent the $5,000 units, you'll have to have it permanently installed in your boat! The word from Panama is that ever since the Panamanians took over, they're squeezing every cent they can out of the Canal. We're not sure how requiring transponders accomplishes that goal, unless, of course, some commissioner's cousin has a monopoly on the transponder concession. By the way, the transponders are not required on boats under 60 feet.

As many of you are aware, Profligate left Cabo November 7, the morning after the end of the Baja Ha-Ha, on a blue streak for Panama in the hope of being able to cross the Caribbean Sea before the winter trades started blowing the dogs off their chains. The cat made the approximately 2,300-mile trip in 13 days, with short fuel stops at Barra de Navidad, Acapulco, and Puesto del Sol, Nicaragua. Just 50 miles from the Canal, the progress was looking terrific, and there was a great 72-hour forecast in the Caribbean, suggesting Profligate might get a great start east. But then disaster struck, as on Wednesday the 19th one saildrive failed and the other started to sound like an old washing machine.

That necessitated about 150 phone calls across North America to various Yanmar dealers and distributors regarding the availability of saildrives, whether or not the new and more rugged SD-40 version could replace the SD-31s we had, whether or not it would require modifications to the engine bed, and whether or not it would require new props. As much as we'd have liked to have gotten the same answers from everyone, there initially was lots of conflicting information. Then there were all the issues about getting the saildrives to Panama quickly, through Customs, and taking care of all the other red tape. Finally, there was the matter of finding a place in Panama to haul a 63-ft cat. The good news is that just four days after the saildrive had broke, the boat had been hauled, the more rugged saildrives delivered from Florida, the engine beds modified, and the saildrives installed. The cat will be relaunched on Monday the 24th, and if the installation checks out, will hopefully transit the Canal on Tuesday the 25th.

There have been two lessons of the trip so far, one new, another a reminder. First, too much pitch on the props is as bad for the saildrive as it is for the engine. Second, trying to meet tight schedules with a cruising boat is frustrating and expensive. You have no idea how we envy those of you who don't have to be in a rush.

Help! No matter where you'll be for the winter - New Zealand or Australia, Thailand, the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America - we'd love to hear from you, and so would your cruising friends and folks back home. So won't you drop us a short email? For bonus points, include a high res digital photo. But above all, have a great winter cruising season!

Top / Subscriptions / Classifieds / Home

©2003/2007 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.