December, 2006

With reports this month from Sapien's October crossing to Hawaii; Sensei's visit to Niue; Liz Clark's trying to finish Swell's refit in Costa Rica and get sailing again; Interlude's visit - with a Geiger Counter - to the Marshall Islands; and tons of Cruise Notes.

Sapien - Gulf 32
Dena Henkins & James Lane
October Crossing To Hawaii
(Marina Bay, Richmond)

Starting in October, we made a fast 20-day, 2,362-mile crossing from the Golden Gate to Hilo, Hawaii. Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes suggested that it was a fine time of year to go, but a lot of sailors wondered if we weren't going a bit late.

We got a bit of all kinds of weather. For seven of the first 10 days, we had Seattle-style gray weather, with no sun, no moon and no stars to guide us. Yay GPS! What we did have were winds that averaged about 15 knots, although they gusted to 38 knots. We also had following seas from 15 to 18 feet, but our Monitor windvane worked great. This weather pushed us along at seven knots in the early going, a nice speed for our Bill Garden-designed 32-ft pilothouse sloop.

Our only previous offshore trip was aboard our Garden-designed 50-ft Sea Wolf ketch, when we sailed from Seattle to British Columbia and then down to the Bay Area. That was much more exciting, as we had fun things happen - like the packing gland blowing out and all of our bilge pumps breaking. During one period we had to pump 32 hours on a Thirsty Mate bilge pump - four on, four off - with no auto-steering because we were took close to the rocky Oregon coast to heave-to. We didn't sleep at all on that trip.

The trip to Hawaii was much nicer. On October 25, which was clear and sunny with fair winds, we celebrated our 10th anniversary together. We even shook up our diet a bit by baking a cake to celebrate. Alas, the cake came out sway-backed because of the rocking of the boat, but it was delicious!

We stopped wearing clothes once we got south of the Tropic of Cancer, although we continued to wear our safety harnesses. We also took saltwater baths and used baby wipes - as was highly recommended in the November issue. An egg-timer kept whoever was on watch from sleeping too long between looking around for traffic, but we only saw four ships the entire way. On the other hand, we saw lots of dolphins, albatross, osprey and other birds, and tons of flying fish.

We arrived in Hilo in almost calm conditions, and followed a cruise ship behind the breakwater at Radio Bay. What a change! For our entire trip we figured other vessels were too close when they came within 12 miles, and now we had to Med-tie between two other boats. We did pretty good.

Like just about everybody else, our original plan was to sail south to Mexico and then across to Tahiti. But my mom lives in Hawaii and, over the course of a few visits, we fell in love with the Islands. Although it's lovely, Hawaii is not a sailor's paradise. But Hawaii puts us close to Kiribati, a group of islands we really want to visit. Our plan is to take any jobs we can get through the holidays in Hilo, then resume our adventures by bopping around the Pacific Islands.

- dena 11/15/06

Sensei - Norseman 447
The Mellor Family
Niue, South Pacific

Just 8 miles by 10 miles, Niue (pronounced 'NEW-way') is one of the world's smallest self-governing states - although it is in free association with New Zealand. Some 630 miles from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, and 265 miles from Vava'u, Tonga, it's a frequent stop for cruisers making their way across the South Pacific.

The most westward island-nation in Polynesia, Niue is an uplifted coral atoll, and has landscape is unlike anything we've ever seen. Because the land is porous limestone, there are no rivers, and the cold rainwater quickly filters through the rock and mixes with the warm, clear seawater. So when you look through your mask as the two types of water mix, it's a little bit like swimming in an oil and vinegar salad dressing! When near the shore, the water temperature drops precipitously, and your view is clouded by swirls of fresh water. But if you swim just a few feet deeper into the clear layers of saltwater, you can easily see fish - and the famous poisonous sea snakes that are common to the island.

Niue was devastated by category 5 tropical cyclone Heta during the first week of '04, and two locals lost their lives. The island's crops were even harder hit, so for now tourism is about the only way the 1,500 residents can generate any income. An Australian company believes that the little island has the world's largest deposits of uranium, but it's yet to be proven.

Prior to Heta, Niue had 21 mooring balls for visiting cruisers and a yacht club. The yacht club was blown away and hasn't been rebuilt, and only 12 of the mooring balls survived. One of the interesting things about Niue is that there is no place to land your dinghy. So the islanders erected a crane and lifting hook on the concrete commercial dock, which allows cruisers to lift their dinghies out of the water when coming ashore. The cruising kids quickly master the art of operating the huge steel levers that control the crane, and also like to use the crane's maneuvering rope to swing out over the pier and into the crystal clear water. On an island where nobody lives in fear of liability lawsuits, we cruisers are expected to behave ourselves with a potentially lethal piece of equipment.

Until recently, the island phone system consisted of primitive hand-cranked telephones. But now a charitable internet user's society, with a modern communications station in the main town of Alofi, offers free wi-fi to many of the island residents. Boats anchored in the two main anchorages are also able to tune in. The Kiwis seem to have done a much better job enlightening the local population than the French did in Polynesia.

In order to support the tourism industry - and to enjoy ourselves - we rented a van and each day planned excursions with the other 'kid-boat' cruisers. There were nine kids in all, ages 4 to 12. While hiking through a cave to a natural arch, we found brightly colored surreal-shaped rocks and luminous pools. They were beautiful! The next day we traveled to Togo Chasm. After a 30-minute walk down a jungle path, we scaled a rise to be greeted by a blast of salt air! The scenery transformed into jagged limestone pinnacles, completely impassable were it not for the trail-building done by the locals. Thank you New Zealand, which supplies the island with 75% of its operating budget, and therefore money to make such improvements. We meandered through the black spires to find a chasm near the crashing surf. A ladder led down to a white sand floor with palm trees. The kids scampered about the sharp rocks and cliffs. Luckily, there were no casualties.

Each month one of the 14 villages hosts a town fair, and it was Latoka's turn the month we were there. It was interesting to see how the locals enjoy themselves. Actually, they do it much the way we do - with food, music and dancing. Chris was invited to sample the island's new 9-hole golf course, and Tom from Sandpiper and he were to play under the tutelage of Rex, the female drill sergeant. She whisked us about the course, saying things like, "Come on boys! It's your turn. Get moving. Take the cart." Rex also would give us advice, such as, "Don't swing too hard this time." Invariably, the results would produce explosive laughter. Golf is a pretty casual affair on the island, for as Chris lined up for his last putt, a group of cruisers shouted "Miss! Miss! Miss!"

As we visited the different villages, we frequently saw colorful 'Prohibit Organic Pollutants' signs, and wondered what they were all about. It turns out that local farmers are turning to organic produce to serve the lucrative natural foods market in New Zealand. In fact, efforts are being made to make Niue the world's first pesticide-free country by 2010.

The locals were so friendly and accommodating, so our eight days at Niue flew by. There's not another place to stop within hundreds of miles, so we weren't the only cruisers to be thankful it survived Heta.

P.S. Latitude has been instrumental in making our trip happen. Thanks for the inspiration!

- chris 09/15/06

Swell - Cal 40
Liz Clark
Still Stuck In Puntarenas
(Santa Barbara)

At the end of my last report, Swell was still in the water at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, with almost all of the off-season work completed. All that I needed to do to get out of the Costa Rica YC - and town - was to pick up and install the new refrigerator compressor that the people at Glacier Bay had tried to send to me. It sounded easy enough, but what happened is an object lesson in the problems cruisers encounter trying to accomplish things in the Third World.

On the morning I expected the new compressor to arrive, I was told I had a message waiting at reception. I was disappointed to see that the miserable receptionist was on duty. In my best Spanish, I asked her about the message. She rolled her eyes and showed me a paper that read, "DHL, Aduana" with a phone number. She muttered some unintelligible explanation, dialed the number on the paper, and sent me to the other side of the window to pick up the guest phone. The phone was from the '80s, with the curly cord that you wrap around your finger. I could barely hear the voice on the other end of the line. I do all right speaking Spanish in person, but over the phone - without being able to see hand gestures and facial expressions - my comprehension isn't nearly as good. So when I set the old handset back in the cradle, I only understood that the package was stuck in Customs in the capital of San Jose. It would not arrive that day, nor the next, nor ever for all that I could tell. The evil receptionist thrust the bill for the call at me. I signed it and glared at her. I needed a translator - which meant I had to go to the 'principle's office'.

I patted down an unruly sprig of hair as I knocked sheepishly on the marina manager's heavy wooden door. I heard the buzzer that unlocks the door, and pushed it open. The cold air inside matched Carlos' chilling presence. I sat down nervously, and just as I opened my mouth to speak, he looked at me in exasperation.

"Look, Liz," he said, "I was in a meeting for seven hours last night. I didn't get home until 3 a.m. I'm tired and I don't have the energy to deal with you today. So make it quick, what do you want?"

That was enough to send me over the edge. "I'm stuck in your worthless excuse for a marina . . . paying to be here . . . no one else speaks English, and without a translator my compressor will never arrive . . . I'll grow old and die right here in Puntarenas . . ." At least that's what I dramatically thought to myself.

Instead, I broke into uncontrollable tears, then said, "You're always so mean to me. What did I ever do to make you hate me? I don't care how many hours your meeting was or how tired you are, you shouldn't treat people like you treat me. I'm not your child. I just need a little help, and that's your job!" The words spilled out between loud sobs.

He was startled. When I finally finished, his tone had changed.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just that I'm really tired, and I think I'm going to quit."

"You should," I sniffled. "You don't seem happy."

Although slightly embarrassing, my emotional outburst earned me some translation time, and Carlos dialed the number on the paper. I fell back into quiet sobs as he argued with the woman on the other end of the phone. After hanging up, he gave me the news: "They have to send paperwork to me to release the package because it wasn't addressed to you personally, but rather to the attention of you at the Costa Rica YC. It's going to take a few days, then you're going to have to take the papers up to San Jose and pay taxes to get the package out of Customs."

My heart sank. I wiped my eyes and thanked him as I left the office.

I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, hoping to fall back to sleep and restart my day. "Another week in Puntarenas," I thought to myself, "I can't do it, I've got to get out of here!" Nearing a state of tortured half-slumber, I remembered that Kat and Jenny, a couple of girls from California, had invited me to come down and surf with them at Playa Hermosa. I'd given up on meeting up with them since I'd expected the new refrigerator compressor to arrive that day. But with a new plan, I hopped out of bed, stuffed my favorite 5'9" board into a bag, and grabbed a fistful of clothes and bathing suits. Before long, I was barreling out of Puntarenas on the afternoon bus.

It's true, I only slightly knew Kat from years before, and had only briefly met Jenny once, but I knew they had to be more fun than Carlos Chinchilla and my dockmate, the latter who barbecued in his tighty-whities. The bus was packed with commuters. Thanks to the fact it seemed to stop every 50 feet, the normal 40-minute ride took 2.5 hours. When the driver finally called "Hermosa!" I stumbled down the steps to grab my board from underneath the bus. As it pulled away, I squinted down at the words "Cabinas Las Areas" on the scrap of paper in my pocket. I started down the road in the dark, but hadn't gone 100 yards before I saw those very words on a lighted sign.

The girls gave me a warm welcome, and showed me to my own room. All night I heard waves thundering onto the sand, and every few hours I'd get up hoping to see that dawn had broken. When it finally did, Dan Jenkins, the girls' photographer, showed up in his rental car and drove us into Jacó for an early session, killing time until the tide came back in at Hermosa. I was like a hyperactive kid without my Ritalin, paddling up and down the beach. Despite my maniacal surf buzz, I managed to connect a few open faces to the inside. Later in the day back at Hermosa, the waves were a bit more serious. I even got pitched out the lip into an airborne cartwheel during a ridiculous late take-off, which had everyone in the line-up hooting and throwing shakas. I surfaced giggling. As long as my board wasn't broken, I didn't care. After being stuck up the river in Puntarenas for so long, I was finding wave energy any way I could get it.

With the high sun and the tide low, just about everyone left. But soon Jenny approached with two empty garbage bags, a hat, and a big smile. Earlier we'd talked about cleaning up the beach, and she was ready. All I knew about Jenny is that contrary to what one might expect based on her small frame and delicate beauty, she was a fearless surfer. I'd seen video of her on a massive wave in Puerto Underground 4, and knew big-wave surfing was her niche. As we combed the high-tide line filling the garbage bags with plastic bottles, broken flip-flops, candy wrappers and random debris, I learned more about her unusual life. Her mother, a pro surfer, had home-schooled her and her brother while her father worked. As a child, her playgrounds had been the beaches of places like Bali, New Zealand and Australia. When her family settled into a more permanent life in Santa Cruz, the dangerous big wave break at Maverick's had called to her. And now she was getting ready to head back to the North Shore of Hawaii to train for the big days of winter. I had huge respect for Jenny's courage in the water, as I think she did for mine. Although we plugged our energies into different avenues of the ocean, we seemed to have a similar approach to dealing with fear.

"Don't do it! It's huge! You're gonna die!" she said, mimicking what the other surfers would say to her when she was about to paddle out on big days. It reminded me of all the people who had told me not to take off in Swell, telling me that I'd drown in a storm or be taken by pirates. Jenny and I had both understood the risks involved in our decisions, but nonetheless decided to go ahead. We agreed that it was crucial to block out the negative energy generated by the fears of others so as not to absorb that fear. On our way back towards the cabins, a kid from the smoothie stand called us over and treated us to free smoothies for cleaning up the beach. The good energy was alive and well. We surfed another session that evening and headed out on the town to celebrate Kat and Jenny's last night in Costa Rica.

The girls gave me a ride to the airport in San Jose the next morning, and after we separated I called a number of a Johnny Rodriguez that was given to me by Carlos Chinchilla. When Johnny answered, he told me to stand where I was and look for a blue car. Ten minutes later, a man in his 50s, as round as a beach ball, with his pants cinched high to the middle of his belly, pulled up in an old blue Honda Civic. I understood little of what he said, but he looked over my paperwork and told me that Customs wouldn't open again until 2 p.m., two hours later. After a short drive, he parked his car, walked around to the back, and opened the trunk. He proceeded to wrestle out the most rickety old BBQ that I've ever seen. One of its wheels flew off and rolled down the sidewalk, so I chased it down the street, unable to keep from laughing. As it turned out, it was Costa Rican Independence Day, and Johnny was setting up his Q in a dilapidated building covered in flags where a band was playing. It looked as though I wasn't going to get my compressor anytime soon.

Nonetheless, at 2 p.m. Johnny and I filled out a few papers, after which I followed him - and his BBQ - back to the car and then the DHL building. Amongst the chaos, I grabbed a number, and said good-bye to Johnny. I wasn't sure how he'd helped me, but I thanked him nonetheless. This was when the real circus began, as there was absolutely no sense of order to the system. After 45 minutes, I finally made it to the front of the line for a man to calculate the duty I owed. As soon as I got there, his computer crashed. After 30 minutes, he decided to call a technician. It turned out the technician was in the hospital, so a guy wearing a 'Where's Waldo' shirt showed up to lead me and several others across the street and two blocks up - in the pouring rain - to another building.

As we sat in another line, a woman tried to print our paperwork. It was one of those old printers with paper that's in one long connected piece with perforated edges to guide it through the machine. As my luck that day would have it, she couldn't get the printer to start the document at the top of the page. Instead, the little wheels would spin the page halfway down, shoot black ink back and forth in the middle, but not at the top. She had to let the whole page finish printing before trying to start over. After four failures, she called another lady over. Although it was frustrating, it was so ridiculous that I couldn't stop smiling to myself. I finally walked out with my document printed in the middle of two connected pages, and followed Waldo shirt back across the rainy intersection.

Next, I waited in two payment lines, and forked over a total of $120. Then came the glory moment: 10 minutes after I handed my papers to a guy with a forklift, he reappeared with a large white box with my name on it.

"Perdoname, necesitas ir a San Jose?" asked the extremely patient man who had been in line behind me.

"Sí!" I replied excitedly. I had observed this man, who turned out to be Dr. Orlando Herrera, throughout our four-hour line-dancing extravaganza, and not once had he made a face or acted frustrated. I could tell his intentions were good, so he backed his car up to my box, loaded it in, and off we went. But my day of practicing patience was not over yet. Dr. Herrera had said he only needed to do a "few things" in San Jose, after which he could take me all the way down to Naranjo, which was halfway to Puntarenas. He spoke very little English, but he spoke slowly and clearly, so I could understand him. He had kind eyes and polite mannerisms.

By this time it was 5 p.m., and the rush hour traffic to San Jose settled into gridlock. More patience. We finally made it to the auto parts place he needed to visit, and he disappeared inside. I sat in the car and waited until well after dark. More than once I thought to myself, "Why didn't you just get a taxi to the bus stop? You'd probably already be on your way to Puntarenas by now." There was more traffic on the way out of town, and Independence Day fireworks in the air. But Dr. Herrera went out of his way for me, and even knew a refrigeration guy in Puntarenas. After giving me a tour of his town, we stopped at his office to get the phone number of the refrig guy. I didn't make it to the bus stop in Naranjo until after 9:30 p.m., and by the time I lugged the 60-pound box from the bus stop through the gate at the Costa Rica YC, it was close to midnight. Nonetheless, I smiled when I finally looked at the box sitting in the cockpit of Swell, and realized that I'd made it through that day.

The next morning was Friday the 15th. I called Dr. Herrera's refrigerator friend, but with Independence Day and the holiday weekend, he wouldn't be working again until Tuesday. I was determined to get everything else done on Swell before then. That notion collapsed when I noticed a four-foot shorebreak crashing out in front of the yacht club, at a place where it's usually flat. I spent the next few afternoons surfing Barranca's long lefts, and running from the vicious brigade of mosquitos that patrol the beach.

Well, the compressor is installed and the refrigeration is working, my new halyard is spliced, and the headsail is back on. In addition, myy bilge is clean, the starboard running light is working again, and I replumbed the watermaker to my liking. The new fans are wired in and purring, and the sole is shining with two fresh coats of varnish, so all that's left to do is test each of the vital systems, get fuel, propane, and pay my bill at the yacht club! After all the obstacles of getting things done in the Third World, it sure will be good to get back to sea again!

- liz 10/20/06

Interlude - Deerfoot 74
Kurt & Katie Braun
The Marshall Islands
(Alameda / New Zealand)

We arrived at Majuro Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in mid-December a year ago after a wet windy sail from Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati. The Marshalls are becoming a popular alternative destination for yachts wanting to avoid the South Pacific's November through April cyclone season. Other popular options include New Zealand and Australia, but these involve leaving the tropics, and we've been on a quest for the endless summer.

The R.M.I. has a Compact of Free Association with the United States, which pays tens of millions each year for building trust funds and renting parts of Kwajelein Atoll for missile testing. Bikini Atoll is also located in the Marshalls, and many artifacts from World War II can be explored on land and underwater.

We were able to navigate Calalin Channel, which is the entrance to the lagoon at Majuro, at night with the assistance of radar and by keeping a sharp lookout for buoys - which were not all located and/or lighted as indicated on our charts. We crept up to the lee of Anemwanot Island and dropped the hook at 10 p.m. for a well-deserved night of uninterrupted sleep. The next day we made our way to Uliga, the main island, and secured to a mooring that had been specifically built for our 35-ton vessel by Matt Holly, a local salvage operator and real estate mogul. The rental fee was a whopping $2 a day.

After a painless check-in with Immigration and Customs, we enjoyed our first burgers and fries in months at the air-conditioned Tidetable Restaurant. The next day we were fortunate to have our grocery shopping coincide with the arrival of the monthly supply ship delivery to the Payless Supermarket. As such, we found a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables from the States. In addition, there were a lot of U.S. brands and specialties - such as dill pickles - that we hadn't seen since leaving San Diego in '02. Majuro had the best provisioning and parts procuring we'd seen since leaving New Zealand, as there are supermarkets, an ACE Hardware, and a NAPA Auto Parts. In addition, the mail system is tied to the U.S. Postal Service, which enabled us to received packages from the States within one week.

We spent the next few weeks enjoying the holiday season with fellow cruisers and locals. There were carols in the church, a cruiser Christmas potluck with turkey and trimmings, and a New Year's Eve block party with two bands. There were several hundred people for the New Year's bash, and the cruisers showed off their '70s disco moves. These moves really impressed the Marshallese who, by local custom, move very little when dancing. At midnight, a local dance troupe named Girl Power came out onto the street to perform some hip-hop choreographed dance routines. Katie was so excited to see some locals with good dance moves that she started shouting words of encouragement, such as, "You Go Girl!" Kurt pointed out that every single dancer in Girl Power was male. Nonetheless, their gender-bending performance - which even included hula dancing - was the best we'd seen since Tahiti.

The Marshalls are home to some unique sea life, such as the three-banded Nemo fish, so we did some scuba diving with Jerry Ross of Bako Divers. He gives cruisers a special standby rate when there is extra room on a boat. Our first dive with him was to call up sharks outside the lagoon. Jerry has the equivalent of a bird caller for sharks - an empty plastic bottle that he scrunches underwater. Just 100 yards from breaking surf, we dropped down from the dive boat into six-foot swells mixed with a lot of wind chop. But there was spectacular 100-ft visibility, and before Jerry even had a chance to use the shark caller, we saw 6-foot reef sharks, a big tuna and a turtle.

We were 90 feet down for about five minutes when the inflator valve on Katie's BCD got stuck in the 'on' position. With her bouyancy increasing rapidly, she swam over to Kurt and started screaming for help. Yes, it's possible to scream underwater through the regulator. Kurt grabbed Katie, but was unable to hold the two down, secure the valve, or disconnect the hose. So within 10 to 15 seconds, we were both on the surface. No harm done, as we hadn't been down long enough to need to decompress. In addition, both of us were breathing rapidly and had clear ears, so we had no ill effects due to the rapid pressure change.

Katie manually inflated her BCD for the second dive of the day, and we had a great time diving a solid wall of hard coral that was swarming with turtles and fish. Luckily, Jerry was unsuccessful calling any of the big sharks that sometimes make an appearance, for we might have looked like a champagne lunch to them. We did numerous dives with Jerry that were nothing short of spectacular, and even returned to the Shark Chute to watch Jerry call up several 400-lb silver tip sharks. Our favorite dive was at a place called The Aquarium. You do a fast descent to 110 feet outside a pass into the lagoon, and then hang onto the reef to observe 'the aquarium' before drifting back inside. With 200 feet of visibility, we saw schools of sharks, barracuda, tuna, trevally, and numerous other fish. There were turtles and giant rays, too.

In addition to diving, we kept busy participating in the scheduled activities of the local Mieco Beach YC, which has an annual membership fee of just $25. Many activities benefit local charities, and a yacht club membership brings discounts at some restaurants. The club also organizes local personalities to give educational talks to members about the geography, history and culture of the Marshall Islands. One such talk was by Jack Niedenthal, an American who came to the Marshalls as a Peace Corps worker, but subsequently married a Bikinian. He's become Bikini's liaison in all financial matters, including tourism, trusts and nuclear claims.

Katie was enthusiastic about visiting the atoll that the bathing suit was named after, and we wanted to dive on the sunken nuclear test fleet. Fortunately, the cruisers convinced Jack to make the first week of the 2006 diving season with Bikini's exclusive dive operator Bikini Atoll Divers available to the cruising fleet. They are usually booked over a year in advance, but had a cancellation for the first week in March when a documentary film crew couldn't get the permits for their submarine.

On January 22, we left Majuro Atoll to explore some of the outer islands on our way to Bikini. Most of the islands fit our cruising agenda of traveling to places you can only get to by private yacht. Some of them do have regularly scheduled flights/ferries, although the Marshallese definition of a schedule leaves much room for interpretation. Once on island, there is no place to stay. Some of the tourist guides suggest camping, but all the land is privately owned and water is in short supply, so visitors have to quickly make friends. Despite the remoteness, we found all four of the islands we visited - Aur, Maloelap, Wotje and Rongalap - to have some form of electricity, and several were in the process of building resorts. Maloelap had an incredible collection of WWII Japanese artifacts, including planes, bombs, anti-aircraft guns, fuel tanks, sunken supply ships, and so forth. Another highlight was when the cruisers played softball with the school kids on the grass airport runway. With all ages of children playing in one game with the cruiser adults, Katie taught them the concept of a set batting lineup - which they enthusiastically endorsed.

When we entered the lagoon in Rongalap, a shark ate the better part of our mahi mahi, which we'd caught coming through the pass. Rongalap had the best infrastructure of any of the outer atolls we visited, complete with basketball court. The main island there is being rebuilt for resettlement, and they are in the process of building a dive resort. Rongelap was evacuated after the fallout from a hydrogen bomb test on Bikini made the place uninhabitable. No people have lived on the atoll for over 50 years, so the sea life is some of the best in the South Pacific - although the presence of strong seasonal tradewinds limited our exploring the outer reefs.

We arrived at Bikini Atoll on February 25 - just in time to participate in the First Annual Yachties Week at Bikini. Once inside the lagoon, we caught a 30-lb yellow fin tuna. With so few people living there, the fishing is great. The only people currently living on Bikini are associated with the tourist dive operation or the U.S. Department of Energy.

In 1946, the U.S. Navy moved the native population off of Bikini and moved in 242 ships and 42,000 men for Operations Crossroads, the first two of 23 nuclear bomb tests designed to demonstrate nuclear superiority and the efficacy of nukes as a tool in war. Seventy-three target ships - mostly obsolete U.S. warships and captured German and Japanese vessels - were outfitted for combat - fully fueled, loaded with antiaircraft guns, ammunition, bombs and torpedoes - for the test. Submarines were also included to test the underwater effects of the blasts.

The first explosions, Able, on July 1, and Baker, on July 25, resulted in 14 vessels going down directly due to the blasts, with nine additional vessels sinking within a few days. The end result is that Bikini Atoll now has what most experienced divers would consider to be the best wreck diving in the world. Not only are most of the vessels historically significant, but since the citizens of Bikini were granted ownership of all the wrecks, they have declared them off-limits to treasure seekers, and therefore all the original artifacts remain. One of the American wreck dive masters said he has seen more artifacts in one week than in his whole diving experience up to that point.

The most recognized ship is the USS Saratoga, the nation's first fleet aircraft carrier and the wartime flagship of Admiral Bull Halsey. Initially intended to be built as a cruiser, her design was changed during construction to add flight and hanger decks before her launch in 1928. For 17 years she held the record for aircraft landings, nearly 100,000. Her deck length is 880 feet, and with her hull intact, she's the only recreationally diveable aircraft carrier in the world, and also the largest intact divable wreck in the world. Her normal complement of aircraft was 80, some of which can readily be seen underwater on the hanger deck and on the lagoon bottom near the ship. She housed over 3,000 men, and we saw many artifacts.

Another famous diveable ship is the Nagato, Admiral Yamamoto's flagship, from which he commanded the attack on Pearl Harbor and uttered those infamous words, "Tora, Tora, Tora." Other divable wrecks include the destroyers USS Lamson, USS Anderson, the battleship USS Arkansas, the attack transport USS Carlisle and the submarine USS Apogon.

We both did three dives on the USS Saratoga, barely scratching the surface of things to see. The visibility was at least 100 feet, a nice feature considering that the diving is all of the technical decompression type to depths in excess of 160 feet. A typical dive includes 30 minutes of bottom time before a gradual ascent to a 'deco' station, which consists of a series of metal bars hanging at 30, 20 and 10 feet below the surface, where at the first stop a diver switches from compressed air to a regulator feed of nitrox (74% O2) mix. Over the next 20 or so minutes, the nitrox mix allows a diver to off gas nitrogen faster than using compressed air. Occasionally sharks - including big tiger sharks - will come to investigate the deco station with all the meat hanging there. As dive master Jim says: "The surface is not an option", due to the severe bends one could get by not completing the decompression stops. It's a good thing that Katie didn't have her BCD malfunction here! Our dives all went smoothly, and we entertained ourselves while decompressing by watching a two-foot by two-foot giant spadefish.

A record 11 yachts got together for two potluck parties ashore, and we helped to provide entertainment by playing our guitars. We also enjoyed walks and jogging on the well-graded roads that the DOE uses to gather soil samples. Kurt also did some tests with his handheld Geiger Counter. The current thinking is that the island is not dangerous to live on - provided that you don't eat locally grown food. Most of the Bikinians were relocated to Kili Atoll, and they live either there or on Majuro. The elders hope they may someday return to Bikini, but the younger generation seems content with life closer to the western world conveniences that can be found on the more populated islands.

It's obvious to a visitor that one of the greater injustices of the U.S. involvement in the Marshall Islands is the mismanagement of transfer payments. To begin, many of the mayors of the individual islands are very self-serving in their fiscal dealings. Secondly, a significant portion of the more than $250 million allocated by Congress as compensation for the nuclear testing and the $30 million per year the U.S. pays for renting Kwajalein, ends up in subsidized living for the locals either as inefficient government jobs or, in effect, welfare payments. Additionally, the Marshallese birthrate is approaching the theoretical maximum of 4.24%. For example, there were originally 161 Bikinians moved during Operations Crossroads, but now there are more than 4,000! This, combined with dependence on imported foods, has resulted in a loss of culture and self-sufficiency. The local basket-weaving is thought to be the best in the world, but very little of it is made. On the outer islands you can still meet people who work hard at copra or catching fish - or turtle for an upcoming feast - but the homes are almost all made of imported materials. The transfer payments per person for the average Marshallese is going down, and soon there will be a painful readjustment of the current reliance on outside food and materials.

- kurt & katie 03/10/06

Cruise Notes:

Think lightning doesn't strike the same boat twice? Read on.

"At 2:30 a.m. on November 6, while at Panama's San Blas Islands, our boat was struck by lightning twice," report Dennis and Cindi Roquet of the Roche Harbor, Washington-based Gulfstar 68 Sea Bear. "The thunder and lightning were all around us and the other boats in the anchorage, but we didn't think that much of it because thunder and lightning are a daily occurrence in the San Blas Islands at this time of year. The first strike set off the electrical panel fault alarms - they sound like car alarms - for things like the bilge pumps. After a few more clamors of simultaneous light and noise, the next bolt hit the ring holding the foredeck light on the mast. The flash was blinding, the noise deafening, and the boat shook. What's more, the lifelines were illuminated! Unless you've been this close to thunder and lightning, it's hard to imagine the ripping sound and shaking caused by Mother Nature. Although the ring was later found on the deck and the indicator light on the control panel was literally blown out of its socket, the bulb still dangled from its socket on the mast - and the light itself still worked!"

"Although shaken, we and our crew - Russel and Lucy - were not hurt," the Roquets continue. "When daylight came, we began to assess the damage. The good news was that all the electric toilets still worked, as did the engines, generators and the VHF radio. On the other hand, we lost three GPS units, two autopilots, all three Furuno instrument combos, two radars, two navigational computers with three plotters, a single-sideband radio, a modem for SailMail, two of the seven refrigeration systems, the sat phone, the sat tv, various lights, and transformers throughout the inside and outside of the boat. And this is the short list. The clincher was that the 'up' button on the anchor windlass was blown, so we had to raise the big hook and all the chain by hand and feed them into the chain locker. At that point we returned to Colon - truly the asshole of planet earth - using paper charts, pencils and parallels. We now look forward to dealing with the insurance company, boat surveyors, and replacing the gear in a Third World country. Naturally, there is no way we can make our goal, which was the Antigua Charterboat Show on December 6, which comes as a major disappointment to all of us. Currently, we're at Shelter Bay Marina, where Russel's curly Maori hair is now straight and stands up on end. He truly thought he was going to become a San Diego Charger."

"I'm late in responding to Latitude's request for information about the frequency of dinghy thefts in Mexico last cruising season," writes Gordon Hanson of the Sausalito-based Valiant 40 Far Country. "While we were in Barra de Navidad in February or March, there was a dinghy stolen from in front of the Sands Hotel, a place where nobody locks their dinghies. The dinghy was recovered on a nearby beach a day or two later, but without the engine. There were one or two other motor thefts I heard of as we went north, but I don't recall the details. Usually just the motor is taken, but I've started to see locals using inflatables, so it might change if the inflatables don't stand out so much."

If we recall, there was a dinghy slashed and the inflatable taken at Chacala last year. And at the end of this year's Baja Ha-Ha, Dave Dury's Monte Sereno-based Offshore 54 Pilothouse Freedom, one of the four motoryachts in this year's Ha-Ha, had her Novurania inflatable tender and outboard stolen from the back of their boat while at anchor in Cabo San Lucas. The dinghy had not been locked to the boat. A nearby sailboat had jerry jugs stolen from their deck.

If cruisers in Mexico could alert us [email Richard] about dinghy and outboard thefts, we'd be happy to report the news on 'Lectronic Latitude to warn people of areas that might be experiencing an unusual number of thefts. While dinghy thefts in Mexico are comparatively rarely, locks should still be used.

"Just as the Ha-Ha fleet was arriving in Cabo, we received a notice from Customs that a Banjercito bank has opened up in Cabo San Lucas," reports Mary Shroyer of Marina de La Paz. "This means that members of the Ha-Ha fleet - as well as everyone else - can get their Temporary Import Permits in Cabo while standing in line for the rest of their clearance papers. Or they can do it out on the ferry dock at Pichilinque when they come up to La Paz. I don't know if anyone has tried anchoring in the commercial part of Pichilinque and then taking their dinghy ashore to get their T.I.P. It could be a problem if they don't have a copy machine there - unless applicants get lots of copies made in La Paz proper and take them out to Pichilinque."

The Banjercito indeed opened in Cabo in time for the arrival of the Ha-Ha fleet. Unfortunately, their computers weren't working, so they were unable to process any papers. But this year is certainly not like last year, as there seems to be a number of ports in Mexico where the permits can be easily obtained. In any event, several members of the Ha-Ha fleet reported they were able to get their permit quickly and easily over the internet. For those not familiar with Temporary Import Permits, they cost $50 and allow owners of boats to return to the States without their boats. For those not familiar with Pichilinque, the correct pronunciation is pee-chee-link-key. Try it, it's fun to pronounce.

According to Capt. Roy Rose, skipper of the San Diego-based Royal Polaris commercial sportfishing boat, on the night of November 13, singlehanded sailor R.T. Osborn of Portland discovered that his Balboa 35 - no name given - was taking on water 35 miles from Baja's San Benitos Islands. The islands are about 300 miles south of San Diego. When Osborn's pumps were unable to keep up with the inflow of water, he issued a Mayday. Although there were three boats in the area, the Royal Polaris was the only one to respond. When it was clear the boat was not going to make it, Capt. Rose advised Osborn to put on his survival suit if he had one, and gather his most important possessions. According to Rose, Osborn grabbed his wallet and a box of cigars. Other than being in a slight state of shock when rescued, Osborn was in good health, and taken back to San Diego. The retired steelworker had been on his way to La Paz.

"It was good to see the Grand Poobah at the Baja Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party at the Encinal YC in Alameda," writes Suzette Connolly of the Seattle-based Cal 35 Altair. "It brought back memories of when Paul Baker and I attended the same party before setting off around the world together in '00. We can't believe how green and inexperienced we were! We started with the Baja Ha-Ha, and as luck was with us, completed our circumnavigation via the Cape of Good Hope in August of this year. During our six-year sailing adventure, we were always in touch with the West Coast sailing news because my father, Jack Connolly of San Francisco, faithfully picked up a copy of Latitude each month and mailed it to whatever exotic location our next mail drop would be. It was always fun to get the magazine and see which of our cruising friends had contributed to Changes in Latitudes or Letters. As for Paul and me, we're home for a few years to spend time with our parents and to replenish our cruising kitty. We plan to live aboard Altair in Seattle and take advantage of the great cruising opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. While enjoying life here, we'll be keeping an eye out for another boat that has a little more room for storage and a little more waterline for speed. Nonetheless, it will be very hard to find a better boat than our Cal 35, which has now been around the world twice, and is tugging at her lines ready to go cruising again. Paul and I loved the cruising lifestyle, so we'll definitely be going out again."

Despite the doubling of number of berths in the last couple of years at La Paz, marinas were filling up fast after the Ha-Ha. Gabriel Ley of Marina Costa Baja, which two summers ago was giving away berthing, reports that their 250-berth marina only had about 16 berths that weren't spoken for. And this is the high end marina in La Paz. Fortunately, Marina Fidepaz, one of the Singlar facilities in Mexico, was slated to open in mid-November, as soon as some dignitaries were available for an opening ceremony. The marina, which is on the far west side of town, will have 40 slips accommodating boats from 22-75 feet. There will be a maximum stay of 15 days in order to accommodate transients - which we think is a great idea. They'll also have an 80-ton Travel-Lift - which we're told will be able to handle catamarans - a restaurant, showers, and eventually a pool and spa. Hot dang, you should see the nice docks, structures and beautiful palm trees. But with the exploding demand for slips in La Paz, it's good to know that the El Paraiso Marina, ultimately slated to have 500 berths, is planned for the big El Magote development across from the La Paz waterfront. Only 25 berths will be available in the beginning, and even they won't be ready for a year or so.

Elvin 'Sealover' and Connie 'Sunlover' of the trimaran Western Sea, who are the unofficial ambassadors of Puerto Escondido and the Loreto Fest, stopped by the Ha-Ha awards ceremony in Cabo San Lucas to give a big welcome to everyone in this year's group. They reported that Singlar's Travel-Lift has arrived, but the haul-out infrastructure isn't quite ready. They also report that Singlar is going to redo all of the 175 or so moorings in Puerto Escondido. The problem is that, when initially installed, they put big cement blocks at the bottom, to which they attached some nylon line, and then some chain to the mooring floating on the surface. Oops! What's needed is the chain rather than the line attached to the block, so the nylon line doesn't chafe through when boats swing.

The news isn't quite so good out of Mazatlan where, in late October, Antonio Cevallos, Harbormaster at Marina Mazatlan, told us that the marina and much of the development around it had been sold, and that the new owner would be installing a new harbormaster by November 1. This is a terrible disappointment, as Cevallos, whose brother Geronimo is the harbormaster at the nearby El Cid Marina, has been one of the most effective, well-respected, and well-liked harbormasters on the coast. He'll be sorely missed. The other not-so-good news out of Marina Mazatlan is that the prices have taken a big jump. Once one of the low-cost marinas in Mexico, during high season it now costs $420/month, plus 15% tax, for a 40-ft boat. According to the calculations of Frank Keavy of Portland, the total price of keeping his 42-ft boat at Marina Mazatlan jumped from about $350/month to $550/month, which he said made it more expensive than Marina El Cid, the three big marinas in La Paz, and Marina San Carlos.

The slip pricing in Mexico reflects, unfortunately, a growing imbalance of supply and demand. The number of boatowners wanting slips is rapidly outgrowing the number of slips becoming available. While there are three 450 to 500 slip marinas in development - at La Cruz, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz - none of them will be ready with any significant capacity for a year or two. Even then, we expect the number of boatowners wanting slips to outpace supply for years to come. The one positive sign is that there is lots of on-the-hard capacity coming online, so, as prices go up for slips, more folks not using their boats may choose to keep them on the dirt. The other really great thing about Mexico is that there are so many great places to anchor that getting a berth is strictly optional. We can't think of anywhere in Mexico that doesn't have a good to great free or nearly free anchorage near the marinas.

Those looking for inexpensive berthing might want to consider Nova Scotia. Sutter Schumacher, Latitude's new Racing Editor, was up there two months ago and had this to report:

"While in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, which is 60 miles southwest of Halifax, we tied the 55-ft Chris White cat we'd be taking to the Caribbean at the old Scotia Trawler wharf. The cost of six weeks worth of dock space for the big cat, including shore power, was less than $300 Canadian - or about $270 U.S. The downside was that we had to climb through a gap in the fence to get to the boat after working hours. But there's a decent grocery store just outside the gate, a chandlery 100 yards down the road, and the town center is less than five minutes by foot. Because the shipyard is virtually empty - there was only one boat in drydock while we were there, the 122-ft Alumercia - it's quiet. It's not the Ritz of berthing situations, but it was a great deal."

Heading to Cabo even before the start of the Baja Ha-Ha were Dan Zuiches and his wife Danielle Dignan aboard the San Francisco-based Farr 44 Confetti. "We bought Confetti in July of this year, and began a two-year cruise that may or may not result in a circumnavigation. In any event, Cape Horn is on our agenda. Our boat has already been around twice, so we figure that she knows the way. But first we'll stop along Baja's west coast for some surfing, then head into the Sea of Cortez to teach for NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School) for the winter. Danielle knows Rich and Sheri Crowe, who built Confetti in the late '80s, and who are about to finish their second sea-foam green Farr 44, from the School of Seamanship at Orange Coast College. We hope to be able to have the boats side by side in Mexico, as it would probably result in the most sea-foam green anyone has ever seen in one place!"

"I noticed your comments about the lack of hurricanes in the Caribbean," writes John Anderton of the Alameda-based Cabo Rico 38 Sanderling, who spent the summer in Trinidad. "It's my understanding that there's an El Niño in the Pacific, and when there is, it affects the weather on a global scale. A few months ago nobody knew that the El Niño would form this year, as they haven't figured out what causes it, so they can't forecast it. Starting in late September or early October, the moisture content of the atmosphere became very dry in the Caribbean, as dust storms from the Sahara desert began to travel across the Atlantic via tropical waves, robbing tropical waves of the fuel they need to develop into hurricanes. Shortly after that, the mid to upper level winds switched to their winter configuration, which means blowing from west to east. As such, any tropical waves that tried to form got their tops sheared off, and thus weren't able to develop into much of anything. Meanwhile, the sailing in the Windwards has been the best that I've enjoyed in the five years I've been here. In addition, the forecasters have declared an early end to the hurricane season, so I'm already in Bequia on my way to St. Barth."

Actually, scientists knew that El Niño conditions, which are associated with fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, have been developing for quite a few months now. The real puzzler is why mild El Niños - such as the one we're having this year - often seem to have a greater effect on 'normal' weather patterns than do strong ones. One of the El Niño effects is warmer water in the Eastern Pacific. During the Ha-Ha, the water on the Baja coast was the warmest we can remember, and Rob Wallace of Kialoa III, Orange Coast College's S&S 80, reported sailing through a patch of 90 degree (!) water about 30 miles north of Cabo. Then there is Sergio, a rare November hurricane off mainland Mexico which, as we go to press, was featuring steady winds of over 100 knots. It's not moving much, and seems to have forecasters stumped. Some predict that it's a threat to Cabo and La Paz, albeit with only tropical storm force winds, while others predict that it will head due east and smack into Acapulco.

You're all invited! George Perrochet, President/CEO of the Bahia Luminosa Resort in Costa Rica, tells us that all cruisers are welcome to visit his hotel and enjoy the facilities free for their first day ashore - courtesy of Latitude 38! He likes the magazine that much, and says his visiting north and southbound cruisers anchored out front do also. His resort is located at 9º51'N, 84º56'W, fronting "the most protected bay in Costa Rica" on the gulf side of the Nicoya Peninsula. By the way, the "facilities" don't include hotel rooms.

But if anybody far from California wants to get their Latitude right away each month, and with the photos looking more brilliant than ever, the only option is to subscribe to Latitude 38 on e-Books. It's the complete and entire electronic version of each issue, and they look great. The price is $18 a year. For details, visit

According to a decree by the Port Captain at Wreck Bay in the Galapagos Islands, visiting yachts will now only be given permission to stop in those enchanted waters for five days. For many years, cruisers were only given 72 hours. That why everyone showed up claiming to have a broken engine or some other malady required them to stay longer on an 'emergency' basis. But for the last three or four years, yachties have been allowed to stay in the Galapagos for weeks to a month without any problem. Only time will tell how hard and fast the new five-day rule will be.

The citizens of Panama voted 78% to 22% last month to go ahead with a $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. The plan is to add another set of much larger locks at each end of the Canal, and deepen the Canal to make it capable of handling almost all of the world's ships. (One ship, the just-launched Emma Maersk, the largest container ship in the world, will be three feet too wide for even the new locks.) With the expansion expected to take seven years, and the Canal expected to be operating at maximum capacity in three to five years, who is going to take the extra load? It's going to have to be divided among the new port facility and rail head at Prince Rupert, Canada, the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico, and the Suez Canal.

What effect will the Canal expansion have on private yachts? It will almost certainly result in higher transit fees, as somebody is going to have to foot the bill for the improvements. And, as already has been seen, shipping concerns have been cutting into recreational boat facilities in Panama for terminals and other infrastructure. To our mind, the biggest blunder the Canal Commission planners could make with their expansion plans is to not spend a little extra money so that recreational boats under 60 feet could be taken around the locks by mobile lifts rather than having to go through the locks. Using 1,050-ft by 110 -ft chambers, as well as millions of gallons of fresh water, to raise and then lower small boats 85 feet makes no sense to us.

Given the greatly increased demand for shipping capacity between China and the East Coast of the United States, there have once again been noises about building a Canal across Nicaragua. The biggest obstacle is the $21 billion price tag. Speaking of Nicaragua, the citizens recently elected Daniel Ortega, the Marxist arch enemy of the United States, who was booted out of power 16 years ago, as their new president. Although nobody seems to know for sure, Ortega appears to have mellowed and become less combative than before. For example, he's devoutly embraced the Catholic church that he once battled against, and even supports Nicaragua's new law that outlaws all abortions - including those when a mother's life is at risk. He's even spoken of Nicaragua's need for foreign investment. The tortured screams you're hearing are coming from Karl Marx, who is thrashing about in his grave. Since Ortega has not made any particularly provocative anti-American statements yet, the U.S. government's response to his election has been equally muted. Since Nicaragua is the third poorest country in the region behind Haiti and Cuba, let's hope the leaders of both Nicaragua and the U.S. can work together to improve, rather than destroy, the lives of the citizens of the country. Whether the Sandinistas will return to their old ways of expropriating private property - such as Roberto Membrano's Puesto del Sol Marina - and/or realign themselves with the PLO, is yet to be known.

If there had been a fishing contest on the Milk Run across the Pacific last year, the hands down winner would have been Ross Novak of the Fairbanks-based Westsail 32 Kabuki. According to fellow '05 Baja Ha-Ha participant Chris Mellor of the Richmond-based Norseman 447 Sensei, Novak's goal has been to try to catch 200 specis of fish between Mexico and New Zealand. By the time he got to Tonga, he'd reeled in 159. Remarkable.

When it comes to scuba diving from a boat cruising the coast of California, can anybody top the haul by Scott Stolnitz of the Marina del Rey-based Switch 51 Beach House? During a single dive not far from Isthmus Cove on October 8, the dentist bagged, "Twelve bat ray, stingray, flounder, halibut, angel shark, and all the other usual stuff - on one dive!" Is there anything left?

"Everybody said that there weren't any open berths in San Diego, but I want everyone to know that we were able to host 36 of the Baja Ha-Ha entries of all sizes, from two days to a month," reports Scott Mac Laggan of Sunroad Marina on San Diego's Harbor Island. "We enjoyed having them at our marina and were pleased to be able to help out. They even had a BBQ at our poolside pavilion, during which time they and some of our tenants got to meet each other."

Rick Carpenter reports that his Rick's Bar and Zihua Cruisers' Club reopened for the season on October for the Halloween Party and remodeling. They'll have the same services as always - restaurant, bar, internet, showers, coin-op laundry and live music. In addition, Nathaniel, the 'dinghy valet', will be back at the foot of the muelle to help everyone land and launch their dinghies.

"As many Latitude readers are aware," writes Carpenter, "we started the Cruisers' Club last year, with members paying $50/season for free wi-fi service on the bay, free showers, and discounts on events such as the Thanksgiving feast. It cost $1,800 to set up the wi-fi service, but 36 cruisers signed up as members, so we covered our costs. This year we're mounting additional repeaters to expand the area of service, and are also installing a live camera feed overlooking the bay that will be broadcast over channel 11 TV to the local community. As such, cruisers will be able to go to any restaurant or bar in town and check on their boat on tv! It also will allow the port captain to put a VCR in his office and video all events in the bay - in case he needs to review an accident or whatever. We hope it will also appease the panga and fishing boat people, as it will afford them 24-hour surveillance of their vessels from their home. I want to remind everyone that Zihua SailFest, the terrific fund-raiser for local schools, which be held January 31 through February 4. This is a great event that nobody should miss. And finally, Marina Ixtapa, just a few miles up the coast, now has a fuel dock and can haul boats to 100 feet!"

'Super J' of Two Harbors saves a life in Cabo! For an off-season adventure, Seasonal Harbor Patrolmen Chad Powell and Scott Cincota, from Two Harbors, Catalina, decided they would take an authentic Mexican panga from Catalina to Panama. Friends and fellow harbor patrolmen Brett Ruppert, and Jason 'Super J' Clarke from the dive shop, decided to join them for the Catalina to Puerto Vallarta portion of the trip. We met them in Cabo, where they told us about their good times, being scared of getting rolled going across Bahia de Vizcaino, great surf sessions and all the rest. In recognition of the four guys great service to all mariners who visit Two Harbors, the Grand Poobah made them honorary members of the Baja Ha-Ha. Later on, Super J and the Poobah were standing on the beach at Cabo during the Ha-Ha beach party, when a set of three unusually large waves came through, scattering parents and infants alike. Everyone directly in front of the two seemed to be all right, but suddenly the two noticed that a woman, not part of the Ha-Ha, off to the side was floundering. She'd obviously been drubbed by the three waves, was gasping, disoriented, tangled in some line - and about to be brain-damaged or die not 100 feet from throngs of people. Super J, 'body by Budweiser' - ran down, grabbed her as the next wave was rag-dolling her, and pulled her up the beach to safety. It wasn't the most difficult rescue in history, but if it hadn't been for Super J, she'd have been toast.

The cruising season has begun!

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