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December 2008

Missing the pictures? See the December 2008 eBook!

With reports this month from Sarana on being attacked in Ecuador; from Swell on the trials of a refit in French Polynesia; from Gallivanter on Cartagena and kissing Miss Colombia; from Wanderlust 3 on doing the Carib 1500; from Convergence on cruising the Whitsundays; from Moonduster on entering submerged Minerva Reef at night; from Sequestor on almost being blown away by Hurricane Norbert; and Cruise Notes.

Sarana — Pacific Seacraft 31
Eric and Sherrell
Attacked In Ecuador

There are two reasons that I'm reluctant to write about our being attacked on our boat at Punta Pedernales, Ecuador, on November 7. First, as foreign travelers, we look forward to and rely on the kindness of strangers. Many of these wonderful people in Ecuador live an existence that is unimaginable to Americans, yet they still smile and offer what help they can. By telling our story, I don’t want the acts of a few bad people to destroy goodwill and openness towards strangers.

Second, I’m reluctant because I'm sure there will be some readers out there who will think, "They must have done something wrong, because that could never happen to me'" or try to find faults or mistakes. The fact is that no amount of second guessing would have changed what happened to us. Sometimes other people can take control of your life.

Despite our hesitations, we feel it is important to get this message out in the hope that it might prevent it from happening to someone else. What follows is a condensed version of what happened. On November 7, we anchored behind Punta Pedernales, Ecuador, along with John Gratton and Linda Hill aboard their Redwood City-based Hans Christian 33 Nakia. Unfortunately, the anchorage offered poor protection in the rough conditions.

We were awoken about midnight by a panga bumping into our port side. I assumed it was just a fisherman who hadn’t seen us on that very dark night. But when I got to the top of the companionway ladder, two guys with guns were entering the cockpit, being followed by two more large men, one with a big knife. A fifth man was waiting in the panga. Two of the men pinned me down in the cockpit, putting a gun in my mouth and holding a knife at my throat. Meanwhile, one of the big guys pulled Sherrell into the cockpit and began smothering her by putting his hand over her nose and mouth. Sherrell thought — as did I — that the men were about to kill me. As I could only hear her muffled screams, I thought she was being raped.

All the men were extremely jumpy and erratic, presumably jacked up on adrenaline and/or drugs, which made them very unpredictable and dangerous. Curiously, they made no demands. When I got a chance, I repeatedly asked them to stay calm. When Sherrell's attacker finally lifted his hand from her mouth so she could breathe, she pleaded with them to stop — and then screamed for help. I continued to struggle with the guys who had me pinned down. We frantically did what we could to try to protect each other.

Sherrell's yelling eventually woke John and Linda on Nakia. When they saw what was happening, they did just the right things: they sounded their air horn, shone a spotlight on our boat, and shot off two rocket flares. This seemed to panic the men, as they started to rush back to their panga. But apparently realizing they hadn't taken anything yet, they grabbed our GPS and a backpack that contained about $40.

We were very lucky Nakia was nearby. We shudder to think what might have happened had they not been there. After there was no response by the Pedernales Port Captain's office to our Mayday calls over the radio, we weighed anchor and headed 50+ miles up the coast to Punta Galera. We've been regrouping here for the last two days among friendly fishermen, getting our paper charts in order — our GPS had our electronic charts — and rigging up a temporary GPS.

As a result of John's contacting the U.S. Coast Guard in Alameda via SSB, the Ecuadorian Coast Guard came to our boat in Punta Galera and filled out a detailed report. We can only hope they can track down the guys who attacked us. That being said, we recommend that no one stops in Punta Pedernales for the foreseeable future, as we believe it is too dangerous.

— eric 11/10/08

Readers — Eric and Sherrell, ex-corporate types who started cruising in '04, are the authors of online cruising guides to Central America and Costa Rica. They can be found at

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
The Boatyard Blues
(Santa Barbara)

I'm still working away in the boatyard, but my 'to do' list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter — which won't come as a surprise to veteran cruisers. But being hauled out means there are more problems than just the jobs that have to be done. For instance, there is only one bathroom here at the boatyard, and it's a B.Y.O.P. — Bring Your Own Paper — facility. Once inside, it isn’t all that bad — considering that it's actually a nook built into a steel container that was converted into the boatyard office. But the drains don't work well, so the floor is always wet with muddy footprints, reminding you that there’s probably someone outside waiting for you to finish.

It’s annoying enough to have to descend the ladder and walk across the boatyard every time I need to use the bathroom, but what pains me more is that it's so indiscreet. The bathroom door fronts the street, and directly across the street are 20 male Tahitians building aluminum boats. During my first week, I desperately tried to retain a sense of restroom privacy, but I've had to give up on it. So now, in a sleepy haze each morning at 7:30 a.m., I stumble toward the bathroom door, waving to the workers across the street, my t.p. roll in hand, fluttering in the breeze like a poop flag.

At least I've discovered a solution to the 6 p.m. traffic jam at the shower — and believe me, at the end of a day in a boatyard in the tropics, everyone wants to take a shower. Because we all finish work about the same time, and because we're all tired, hungry and filthy, the shower line isn't a fun place to hang out. Furthermore, waiting in lines has never been one of my strong suits. So some days I just jump off the jetty wall into the ocean, then rinse with a hose. But there are other days — such as the grinding fiberglass and bottom paint days — when I really need to use soap and fresh water. So when I'm bottom paint dirty, the shower line is long, and the chill of evening is setting in, I get on my bike and pedal to the end of the next bay and back. By the time I return, the shower is usually free, and I’m hot enough not to be bothered by sliding under a cold drizzle.

A number of angels have appeared to help me out during the course of my cruise. The most recent is Taputu, a big, sturdy Marquesan with a smiling face — and a heart of gold. He and his family came here to Raiatea to work, as it's tough finding a job in the Marquesas. After I was here a week, he invited me to eat lunch with the crew and welcomed me into the boatyard’s inner circle. Now I eat with them every day, practicing my Tahitian and French, and gathering tips about yard work. Some mornings I even wake up to find a chocolate croissant waiting for me in the cockpit!

Taputu always comes up with whatever stuff I need and/or better solutions to my boat problems. For instance, when I was grinding the paint off the skeg, he set me up with an extra extension cord and the proper grinder pad. And when something is too heavy for me, he'll help me lift it. Furthermore, he discreetly passes by from time to time to see if he can offer me some tool or advice. Not only is Taputu always smiling, but he's also the hardest working guy in the yard. One day I saw him sanding a boat hull with a sander in each hand! Thanks to Taputu, my dad hasn't received that call from me begging him to come down and help.

But I'm doing my best to become as self-reliant as possible. Awhile back I was halfway between the marina and pass on a surfing mission when my outboard stopped. I fished a screwdriver out of the emergency bag, pulled off the engine cover, and discovered there was a fuel problem of some sort. I drained the carburetor, which got her running again. But after a few minutes the outboard conked out again. I drained the carburetor bowls again and got her running. I knew it was foolish of me not to turn back then, but I really needed to ride some waves. Discovering that the engine would only run if I motored slowly, I did make it to the break for some waves — and the even longer five-mile 'idle' back to the marina. Yes, the return trip was slow, but it was blessed with the mountains morphing from orange to pink to purple, and clouds dancing over the ridge.

The next day Taputu helped me haul the engine up to the workshop. I emptied the fuel tank and checked for water. There wasn't too much, but I cleaned the tank anyway. The next step was open heart surgery on the carburetor. The house mechanic eyed me with skepticism, but as I stuck with it, he eventually looked over my shoulder and offered advice. When I opened the first carburetor bowl, it was clean, with neither dirt nor water. But when I opened up the second chamber — what's this? — I found a dead inchworm clogging up the works! How he managed to get by the two fuel filters is a mystery to me. But my commutes to the surf are much more reliable now.

There is no end to the fun that I've had in the boatyard. For example, there was my unsuccessful bilge dive. While filling my water tank a while back, I knocked my big crescent wrench into the depths of the bilge. Now was my chance to retrieve it from the seemingly bottomless hole in my boat that smells of burnt motor oil and stale saltwater. I got so far that the edges of my hips were over the edge of the floorboards, but despite that, and my arms stretched as far as they could go, I still couldn't reach the wrench. So I've lost another 'soldier', at least for now.

Then there were the frustrations of finding yourself in a very tight space with the wrong tool. This happened to me four times once I'd gotten myself squashed in past the aft bulkhead trying to undo a nut to drop the rudder out of the boat. I'd finally gotten the correct sized socket on my last trip in, but the handle was too long to fit into the two-inch space between the rudder post and the bulkhead. It didn't make me feel any better that the aft locker reeked of mildew, and I was convinced that there was at least one surviving cockroach about to crawl on my helplessly contorted and sweat dampened body. I won't even mention that the elastic on my headlamp has lost its elasticity, and kept slipping down over my eyes, making it all but impossible to even try removing the nut.

I didn't grow up a mechanic, so I begin to question things when I reach roadblocks. In the process of trying to dismantle my windlass, for example, I can't help but wonder what the benefit could be of allen head bolts. Why not regular ones? After soaking the bolts in penetrating oil, I finally got three of them out — but the last one wanted to take the battle to the next level. Stymied, I almost gave up on three occasions. But I just moved on to other parts of the project — cleaning the old grease off the other parts, sanding the rusted body — while I tried to think of a way to get that last stripped and corroded bolt out. Ultimately, I relied on the old Tom Sawyer trick. I wandered around the yard with a chunk of metal in my hands looking puzzled. That always got the workers to ask what the problem was. After hearing about my dead end, someone would come up with a solution. In this case, it was . . . "Just Dremel tool and grind out the edges of the bolt head so that you can use a regular flat blade screwdriver — or better yet, an impact driver." That would send me back to Swell with determination — until I ran into the next dead end.

Repairs can take what seems to be an inordinate amount of time. For example, I spent the better part of a week staring at the corroded old aluminum faucet head that I'd removed from the galley. It had been leaking water onto the countertop for over a year, and removing it delighted me as much as tweezing out an unwanted hair. But my initial excitement faded when I realized it meant I had to cross the street to the land of the intimidating boatworkers who waved to me every morning on my way to the toilet. For it was in their facility I hoped to find a replacement faucet. I'll report on that adventure next month.

— liz 10/30/08

Gallivanter — Hylas 49
Kirk, Cath and Stuart McGeorge
Cartagena, Colombia
(St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.)

Cartagena! What a vibrant and beautiful city! We’re anchored at the Club Nautico, the primary yachtie hangout, which is surrounded by skyscrapers, yet still within a 15-minute walk of the heart of the oldest part of this historic walled city. We arrived right at the start of a city-wide, week-long celebration, complete with nightly fireworks, tall ships on parade, fly-overs, beauty pageants, parades, carnivals, food, music, dancing — the works! I don’t know who told them we were coming, but it was mighty hospitable of ‘em to put on such a lavish welcome.

I even found myself close enough to the current Miss Colombia to give her a kiss! Made her day, I’m sure! Cath captured the moment with her camera. Imagine the most beautiful and elegant young woman in the world getting kissed by a grizzled, sweaty, fat, old gringo sailor out on shore leave. It was like a walrus smooching a swan. Her 'handlers' got all pissed off at me for being so bold, but c'est la vie. Besides, I was gentle with her. But one thing is for sure, they sure grow some pretty senoritas in Colombia.

It's necessary to have an agent check your boat in, and there are two fellows at Club Nautico who are running the racket. We used a red-headed guy named Manfred. Our total cost was $60 U.S. for both in and out. For once I reckon it was a good value, as we just handed him our passports, boat papers and last port clearance, and he came back later with a big stack of papers all covered in official stamps.

Things tend to be inexpensive and convenient in Cartagena. For instance, there's a fabulous grocery store a half block away from the dinghy dock at Club Nautico, where the prices are low. And you can get fuel for $3 U.S. a gallon. Overall, we're seeing some of the best prices anywhere in the Caribbean for everything from doctors and dentists to restaurants and boat stuff. For instance, we had our fridge evaporator plate removed, repaired, reinstalled, re-gassed and working perfectly again within 24 hours of arrival. It cost 25,000 Colombian pesos — which was about $120 U.S.

By the way, we enjoyed fine sailing conditions all the way from Curacao to Cartagena, taking the coastal route, which offers three to five places to stop along the way. Few sailors bother with Aruba, as there are no facilities and officialdom is reportedly a major pain. Our only stop was at the Cape with Five Bays, which is at 11°22'N by 74°07'W. We spent two days there in front of the snow-capped coastal range of mountains, one of which is 18,990 feet tall! It was a frontier setting, as there weren't any electric lights ashore at night. However, the word around here is that you don't want to go anywhere near Barranquilla — unless you want to be robbed or murdered! You can enter the port of Cartagena through the northern entrance, crossing over the remnants of the old wall. It's illuminated, so you can enter at night, but we decided to stand off until dawn.

We had seven fish strikes during our trip here, but landed only one. One of the brutes that got away broke the hook, and the last one broke our Penn reel. Nonetheless, we're still enjoying fresh mahi dinners.

The anchorage here at Club Nautico is crowded at the moment, with boats under every flag swinging around all points on the compass throughout the day. However, they do offer cheap WiFi access at anchor, good food, a thriving social scene, showers, a pool table, water at the dinghy dock, and a totally secure place to relax. Every Wednesday evening there is a great happy hour, which ends up with the largest gatherings we've been to since the last Wooden Boat Regatta at Foxy's. In addition, Club Nautico fires up the grill for BBQ potlucks every Sunday evening. There are also two hoity-toity marinas nearby, if you prefer that crowd.

We're also now in company with Zen and Someday Came, both with kids aboard, which makes it great for Stuart.

I'd love to write more, but I think I can see Miss Colombia standing over by the dinghy dock, participating in the bikini contest and gesturing in my direction. Time to comb my hair and go ashore! You're gonna love Cartagena — I guarantee it!

— kirk 11/15/08

Wanderlust 3 — Hunter 49
Mike Harker
The Caribbean 1500
(Manhattan Beach)

I've been involved in only two organized sailing events, one prior to my singlehanded circumnavigation, and one after it. The first was the '00 Ha-Ha aboard my new-to-me Hunter 34 Wanderlust. I didn't know how to sail, and my two German friends mentored me on the way down to Cabo. The Ha-Ha was a perfect first organized event for me, as the Poobah keeps things loosely organized. I would then sail a new Hunter 46 36,000 miles across the Atlantic to the Med, back across the Atlantic, to the South Pacific, Hawaii and California. I then did my circumnavigation with my Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3. So I'd learned a few things between the Ha-Ha and this November's Caribbean 1500, my second organized sailing event.

The two cruising rallies have some similarities, but are really completely different ball games. The Ha-Ha is like two families getting together for a Fourth of July softball game in the park. Some players know what they are doing, but others, such as myself in '00, don't know all that much. The Ha-Ha is only three innings long, and you take 'lunch breaks' between innings, one at Turtle Bay and a second at Bahia Santa Maria. The fleet rarely gets more than 50 miles offshore, the times are taken by the entries, and everybody wins pretty much the same 'prize' at the end because "everybody who finishes is a winner".

The Caribbean 1500, on the other hand, is like the major leagues, with teams in uniforms, umpires, rules and required equipment. That it covers 1,500 offshore miles between Hampton, Virginia, and Tortola in the British Virgins means it's a full nine-inning game. The smallest Caribbean 1500 entry must be at least 40 feet, and it must be deemed 'bluewater' capable. Each boat is required to have a certified liferaft, a Solas Type-1 PFD for each crew member, a Solas MOB pole and second throwable device, 12 or more Solas flares including parachutes, Solas orange smoke cannisters, and some other things on a long list. I only had a Solas 8-person Viking Rescue-You  liferaft, so I was required to go to West Marine and buy all the rest before passing inspection.

The Caribbean 1500 inspectors are professional surveyors who take their volunteer jobs seriously. If some things weren't right on your boat, they'd come back later to make sure you got them right. They made sure that each entry was equipped with an SSB radio and an EPIRB, and that you carried a satellite positioning transponder provided by the organizers. Indeed, there were over three pages of required equipment, including a harness and a tether for everyone. These guys were serious!

And they have to be, because the Caribbean 1500 course is much more challenging than the Ha-Ha course. The 1500 starts off the Navy base at Norfolk, Virginia, and takes the fleet southeast toward Tortola. While the rhumbline distance is 1,280 miles, most boats end up sailing 1,400 to 1,500 miles. Unlike the Ha-Ha, which is always off the wind, most of the 1500 was on the wind.

After doing the Baja Bash back to Southern California in '01, I swore that I would never sail to windward again. This may surprise some of you, but when I did my 28,000-mile circumnavigation, it was mostly all downwind, and I never had wind forward of the beam. But it would be all forward of the beam in the 1500!

The 1500 start had to be delayed three days this year because Hurricane Paloma was nailing Cuba with 120 knots. Another difference between the Ha-Ha and the Caribbean 1500 is that it's not unusual for the 1500 to have to be delayed because of bad weather or for hurricanes to be a big concern. In fact, two 1500 boats were abandoned one year when the remnants of Hurricane Mitch, which had started way the heck over in the western reaches of the Caribbean, came through the fleet in the Atlantic!

I had a crew of two for the 1500, Dennis and John, two guys who own boats on the East Coast and who wanted to get some offshore experience. I met them only the day before the three-day delayed start. Anyway, after the start — I waited 15 minutes because I'd never done a line start before — I set a course east and a first waypoint 150 miles south of Bermuda — which is often a bailout point or shelter for 1500 boats if the weather turns bad. We had three days of 15-18 knots on the starboard beam, with each of us doing three hours on and six hours off. With position reports every six hours over SSB, we knew that we were in the middle group of the 48-boat fleet. The big Racing Fleet boats had all taken a more southerly course, and were pulling ahead. I was part of the Cruising Fleet, and simply wanted to make enough easting into the southeast trades before tacking over to port.

When we got to 65 degrees longitude, just 200 miles south of Bermuda, I flopped over to port tack, which meant we had to point as high as we could. It was blowing 25-28 knots with 8 to 12-ft seas, so we were down to a third reef in the main and just a staysail. We were heeled over 20 degrees, and there was spray everywhere. And that's the way it was for the next four days for a guy who had promised himself that he would never sail to weather again!

One of the crew became terribly sick for 12 hours, so the other crew and I had to do two hours on and two hours off for a day. Our third crew member was able to resume duties for the final day before we crossed the finish line.

So how did we do? We finished in eight days and one hour, and we were the seventh boat to cross the finish line. Four of the seven boats had left early, however, one of them a whole day early. All the boats that finished ahead of us were in the Racing Fleet and were all over 50 feet in length. We were the first cruising boat to finish.

The four racing boats that started on time and finished ahead of us were a Santa Cruz 52, a Hallberg-Rassy 62, a Hallberg-Rassy 49 ketch, and a Swan 58. Some of the race boats that finished the course after us were a MacGregor 65, Catana 50 catamaran, Beneteau 57, Jeanneau 57, Farr 50, Tayana 58, Taswell 58, and a Hinckley 51. The Cruising Fleet didn't record official times because, for insurance purposes, these boats aren't racing. But we also finished ahead of a Hylas 54, two Amel 54s, a Tayana 55, a Passport 515, a Jeanneau 54 DS, and many others.

Most of the sailors in the event were impressed with the Hunter 49 as being a "very bluewater boat".

— mike 11/20/08

Readers — We agree with Harker's analysis of the two rallies. The 1500 is a much more difficult event, as it's twice as long with no stops, requires lots of sailing to weather, and often involves strong winds. While there are no weather guarantees on the big ocean, there has never been any severe weather in the 15 years of the Ha-Ha, and 42 of the 45 legs have been all downwind. There is a philosophical difference, too. The 1500 is a top down event, with the organizers assuming the authority to tell you whether you are prepared to go. The Ha-Ha is all about personal responsibility, so it's up to each entry — and the marine surveyors and trip planners they might hire — to decide whether they are ready for the event.

For the 'results' of the 1500, see this month's
Cruise Notes.

Convergence — Wylie 65
Randy Repass and Family
(Santa Cruz)

My wife Sally-Christine, my son Kent-Harris, and I cruised Australia's Whitsunday Islands all of October. Unfortunately, we didn't make it back in time to join the Ha-Ha, but I'm glad to hear that it turned out to be another big success.

From what I can tell, the Whitsunday Islands are the most popular cruising destination in Australia. They are protected from ocean swells by the Great Barrier Reef, which makes for smooth sailing. In addition, they have lots of roomy anchorages in reasonable depths, and are often separated by only an hour or so. The tradewinds average about 15 knots, and at 20° S, the weather is very pleasant.

While the snorkeling is very good at the Whitsundays, it's only a 17-mile sail to the Great Barrier Reef for even better snorkeling and diving. It’s a trip anchoring at the Great Barrier Reef because the reef is all below the surface, so it looks as though you are anchored in the middle of the ocean.

There are two well-stocked marinas and two airports in/near the Whitsundays, which, combined with all of the above, make the islands a popular charter boat location. Between Sunsail and other outfits, at least 100 boats charter out of the Whitsundays. Some of the anchorages had lots of boats, but we found that others had none at all. And there are at least as many Australian cruising boats, plus a smattering of international cruisers, as there are charter boats.

The Whitsundays are also a retirement area for lots of maxis, such as Drumbeat, Boomerang, Condor, Matador, British Defender, and so forth, as well as America's Cup boats. These boats are used for day and overnight charters, and there is lots of partying on them!

We met quite a few Aussie cruisers, and they were all lots of fun. Aussies seem more lighthearted than the average American. Maybe it has something to do with the criminal ancestry or the amount of alcohol they consume.

A typical Aussie cruiser does the opposite of cruisers in North America. While we cruise 1,500 miles south in November or December to Mexico or the Caribbean, they make the 1,000+ mile trek north from Sydney and Brisbane in May, June and July. In both cases cruisers are heading for the tropics during the winter in their temperate zone, then returning home at the start of hurricane/tropical cyclone season.

Cruising is not all without some excitement though, as there are two types of jelly fish — the box and irikanji — that can inflict potentially deadly stings to humans. Fortunately, these types of jellyfish aren't so prevalent during the high cruising season, but nonetheless cautious swimmers still wear the Lycra 'stinger suits' that some cruisers in the Sea of Cortez also wear to prevent contact with non-lethal jellyfish.

All in all, we found the Whitsundays to be a very relaxed and fun place to cruise. It's certainly a lot different than cruising the islands of Fiji, Samoa, French Polynesia, Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, where there are far fewer boats, stores, airports, and well-charted waters. We loved the South Pacific, but we enjoyed the Whitsundays very much, too.

Incidentally, we had a Class B AIS, with transponder, installed in Australia, and used it a bit while there. It was easy to install and use. There wasn’t a lot of commercial traffic in the Whitsundays, but there were a few vessels that showed up on our Nobeltec Admiral charting software. There was also a Nordhavn 78 with AIS that showed up. But we wish we'd had AIS when we went into Brisbane a year ago, as there was a ton of ship traffic down there! Much of China is unfortunately being powered by coal, coal that is coming from the rich fields of eastern Australia. And there are lots of container ships, too.

We talked with two cruisers who said that they had used AIS when cruising in Indonesia, and they'd found it very useful while transiting between islands where there is a lot of traffic. I noted that Steve Dashew wrote, "I would put an AIS-B way ahead of most other 'necessities' for a cruising yacht, especially when cruising in areas with lots of rain."

— randy 11/05/08

Moonduster — S&S 47
Wayne Meretsky
Taking Big Chances

And so, there I was. It's always ominous when it starts that way, no? But really, I was there, perhaps 50 miles from Minerva Reef, on my way from Tonga to New Zealand. It was about 1 p.m. and I was doing 7s and 8s, but with sunset around 6:30 and a dying breeze, it looked like my only chance to get a respite on the 1,100-mile passage would be tough. Nobody wants to enter a mid-ocean submerged reef with a dogleg entrance in the dark. I started to write the idea off.

Then the breeze started to fill. Sure, it brought some rain — cold rain. I’d say freezing rain, but no one would believe me. The speedo started climbing and I thought, gee, maybe this is gonna work out after all. The breeze filled, well past the 'breeze' stage. It filled to 20, then 25. I furled the jib, raised the staysail and reefed the main. Then it filled to 30 and 35 knots. I put the second reef in the main and started thinking about the storm jib. The highest sustained gust I saw was 39.7 knots — call it 40. My wind instruments have 10 second averaging, so it’s likely that there were gusts much higher. The spray felt like pebbles kicked up by a dirt bike — and that's with my body being protected by foul weather gear and a layer of fleece. It hurt. It was no fun.

But there’s a perverse sense of joy I get watching my boat sail upwind at 7 knots into a 35-knot gale. So I sat out and watched it all for about an hour. By this time it was starting to get dark, and I had written off Minerva completely. Between the intermittent rain and the driving spray, the visibility and boat handling would be too tricky to negotiate the 100-yard-wide pass.

I changed course a bit to take better advantage of the wind and to pass farther from the reef. I had a bite to eat, and started looking at the distance to Opua. After an hour of fussing about keeping myself busy, the wind was down to 25. I called the boats inside Minerva and got some GPS coordinates from their entry.  I plotted them on my electronic chart and entered them in my GPS while I discussed entering Minerva after dark. The crew of both boats were fairly noncommittal about the idea.

At 9 p.m., I had to make a final decision. The wind was down to 15 knots, and I had the full main and big jib drawing again. One of the boats called and suggested rather strongly that it wouldn’t be wise for me to enter that night. It was raining, cloudy, no moon, no stars — the reef was invisible, and the cost of an error would be very high.
I agreed, and got my mind around the idea of no mid-ocean rest. Then the wind died. Completely. Then, horror of all horrors, but with timing that couldn’t have been better, my autopilot failed. The failure is simple to fix, but not when sailing in the open ocean. So I turned back toward Minerva, made a few radio calls, and started to line up the entrance.

There are four waypoints into Minerva, making something of a dogleg. There was lots of current pouring out the pass, which made steering tricky. With no autopilot, I had to hand steer in the cockpit with no access to radar or electronic charts. All I had was GPS information giving me four bits of data — my course, the course I should be driving, distance to go, and cross track error, which is the amount that I’m off course. Those numbers change slowly because the GPS updates only once every few seconds. With the current pushing the boat around, driving by numbers was a bit like driving down the freeway by looking in the rear-view mirror.

The sound of waves crashing on the reef kicked in when I was about 1/4-mile from the pass, just as a dull roar and a constant reminder of the potential for disaster. I wanted to creep in, but with the current I had to use quite a bit of throttle to maintain control. The ordeal lasted about 35 minutes. I never saw the reef, the waves or any other visible indication of it. Just four numbers, black on red, distance to go, giving a bit of encouragement and cross track error yelling at me to move left, now right, then back left.

Inside the reef, all was calm. I anchored just behind the two other boats. I got my boat all tidied up and had some really good tortellini for dinner. Tomorrow I’ll fix the autopilot and then the wait-for-weather game starts all over again. Instead of going to sleep, I stayed up and talked to my friends Dennis and Janet on Shilling. When the wind died they turned around, too. They should be here in about 90 minutes — at 2:30 a.m.

— wayne 11/05/08

Sequestor — Tahiti Ketch
Hans List and Sophie van der Voort
To Mexico

After 68 years of patiently waiting on the waters of San Francisco Bay, the Tahiti ketch Sequestor finally got to depart on her first bluewater voyage. Back in June, Sophie, my bride-to-be, and I decided that if we were to be married, we should take our love for a 'sea trial' on a leaky old woody and see if we still felt the same way. Thankfully, we’ve returned even more fond of each other — and our stout little boat.

Our adventure took us south along the California coast, with a couple stops here and there before arriving at the beautiful Channel Islands. We spent a couple of weeks hopping from island to island before entering Mexican waters. Not having an SSB radio or being able to get cell service south of Ensenada, we had no way of receiving any weather information. 'No problema', we thought, 'the weather is fantastic down here.

We continued south, and anchored under San Martin Island one night, and close to the beach on the lee side of Cedros on another night. The next morning at Cedros, however, we awoke early to the horrible motion of Sequestor rolling around like a drunken whale. The swell had tripled in size overnight, and the wind was already blowing strong. We weighed anchor immediately, and started heading for 40-mile distant Turtle Bay where we could find some much needed shelter.

The swell continued to increase, then the wind shifted violently from west to south. I remember Sophie calmly asking me if the weather signs meant anything. "Well," I answered, "I suppose they could." Under jib only, we were flying down these walls of water, which pushed our 20,000-pound 30-footer at around 10 knots.

When we finally pulled into Turtle Bay, Enrique came out to advise us that Hurricane Norbert was just to the south of us! Well, that explained it. We hunkered down in Turtle Bay for a short week, and made some nice friends who were more aware of what was going on with the weather.

Our trip north wasn't as windy, but it was wet and tiring due to the fact that our autopilot was useless after filling with water. In addition, Sequestor had been taking on a fair amount of water, which made it mandatory that we pump every hour.

Once back in U.S. waters, we returned to the Channel Islands, where there are lots of obscure anchorages and great fishing. We spent about another week or so there before making the final leg our trip back to the Bay. It was fairly calm on this passage, with lots of fog.

We passed back beneath the Gate on October 30, completing a journey of 2,000+ miles. Our old 1940 gaffer lived up to her reputation of being seaworthy, comfortable — and yes, very slow to weather. 

— hans and sophie 11/15/08

Cruise Notes:

Running a cruising boat is like running a small city, as you're reposible for all the utilities — water, communication, waste and energy. So when it comes to producing and using electrical power, you want to be smart and efficient. That's why we installed two solar panels and will be installing two more. And why we were so interested to see Ha-Ha sponsor Solid State Marine at the Crew List Party in Alameda in September with their LED tricolor. Saving energy so we can run our engine as little as possible is something that gets us excited, so although LED masthead tricolors aren't cheap, we went ahead and bought one from Solid State. And we love it, because it replaced our old incandescent tricolor, which was always the faintest one in the fleet, and because it uses 1/10th the energy of the incandescent tricolor! So it's been both literally and figuratively brilliant. Furthermore, such LED lights are supposed to last forever. Prior to getting our solar panels and LED tricolor/anchor light, our battery bank would frequently be 50 to 100 amps down — and that's not good. But by the end of every afternoon now, our batteries are completely topped off. And we still haven't hooked up our second set of solar panels, or our Blue Sky — they're another Ha-Ha sponsor — solar panel controller, which, thanks to some black box magic, will get 30% more electricity out of the same panels. Next on our list, LED lights for the interior of Profligate. Anyone with any recommendations?

Sailors that head up to La Paz after the Ha-Ha get a sometimes unpleasant reminder that not all cruising is off-the-wind. Nathan and Naomi Beckord of the Sausalito-based Islander 36 Hurulu report:

"After the awards ceremony in Cabo, we bid adieu to our crew and headed up the Sea of Cortez toward Cabo. Our first stop was Los Frailes, a very chill little bay. It had taken us most of the day and early evening to sail there, so after successfully anchoring in the dark among 13 mostly Ha-Ha boats, we passed out. The next day we fired up the dinghy and outboard, and cruised around the corner to Pulmo Bay for some snorkeling and R&R. It was very beautiful, and therefore has been named a marine sanctuary. We had it to ourselves except for a few hardy souls who arrived by 4x4. As we laid out the sarong on the sand and had a PB&J picnic, we had one of those moments where we looked at each other and shared a wordless sentiment: "Yeah, this is what we came here for." That evening we joined fellow Ha-Ha'ers aboard Vlandon Landes' Seattle-based Hallberg-Rassy 46 Sarita for a sierra fish fry.

"The following day turned out to be the real action," the Beckords continue, "for after rounding the headland at Muertos we were confronted with 20+ knots of wind and 10 to 12-ft seas. We decided to sail into the mess because: 1) our Yanmar isn't very powerful, and 2) we went cruising to sail, not to motor. As we pounded up the channel between the mainland and Isla Cerralvo, the wind and seas continued to build, and each time we launched over the top of a particularly big breaking wave, our little Islander 36 sounded as though she was exploding. The radio chatter at this time was interesting, as other Ha-Ha boats making the same passage were growing concerned about the sea state and having various engine or gear problems. Fortunately nothing broke, and eventually we got some respite from the swells when we entered the San Lorenzo Channel and the lee of Isla Espiritu Santo. Since the moon was nearly full and very bright, we kept sailing on toward to little Ballandra Bay, where we dropped the hook to get some rest. After 18 hours of bashing and getting bashed, we got our reward the next morning by being anchored in a beautiful little cove surrounded by desert mountains. After snorkeling in the very warm water around the famous Mushroom Rock, we set off for 12-mile-distant Marina Palmira, which was renting slips at 30% off for Ha-Ha boats. And before long, we'll head up to crescent-shaped Isla San Francisco, then spend Thanksgiving with new Ha-Ha friends at Isla Espiritu Santo. So far we've been having both an exciting and relaxing time."

Nobody asked us, of course, but as time goes on most cruisers look to avoid exposing their boats, sails — and selves — to unnecessary abuse. As such, if we'd faced strong winds and 12-foot seas upon leaving Muertos for the even windier Cerralvo Channel, we'd have headed back into the anchorage and spent a day hiking, snorkeling and waiting for potentially less destructive weather for the sail north. After all, you don't want your boat knocked out of action at the very beginning of the season with some rig failure or other problem.

For the record, as of November, the fee for taking a 42-ft boat through the Panama Canal was $600, not counting the damage deposit in case you — ha ha ha — damage the Canal, or the cost of hiring an agent to do the paperwork for you. Also remember to claim that your boat is capable of motoring at eight knots, or else they'll increase the charge. Speaking of the Canal . . .

"After a summer in the States teaching youth sailing in Massachusetts, we and the dogs flew back to Quito, Ecuador, and then made our way back to our boat at Bahia de Caraquez," report Chris and Heather Stockard of the Juneau-based Saga 43 Legacy. "Our boat survived the summer, so we're preparing to head for the Panama Canal and to give the Caribbean a try for a few years. We still miss the great cruising in Mexico, but the clear waters and the tradewinds of the Caribbean beckon us — and Kira and Minnow, our Portuguese water dogs."

"My Hydrobubble anchor has a major flaw," writes Jim Milski of the Lake City, Colorado-based self-built Schionning 48 catamaran Sea Level. "The day of the Ha-Ha awards ceremony in Cabo, we left the boat on the hook in the bay, which has great holding. We dove on the anchor twice before leaving, and everything looked fine. But the problem with this type of anchor is that when the boat does a 360 degree turn in a windshift, the chain can get under the bubble and flip the anchor over. The weight of the chain holds the anchor in this inverted position, preventing the anchor from resetting. This is what happened in the middle of the afternoon, and we were very lucky some of our fellow cruisers took immediate action to save our bacon. A local panga driver was first to notice our boat drifting, and immediately got a rope on our cat and pulled her off the vessel that had anchored off our stern. Then the cruisers took over: Bob Smith of the Victoria-based custom 44 cat Pantera, Timothy and Michelle Lutman of Washington-based Passport 45 Bamboo, Mike of the little yellow boat he's been singlehanding down the coast, and Holly Scott of the Long Beach-based Cal 40 Mahalo — who ironically teaches a course for West Marine on anchoring. They were our saviors. Humble pie never tastes very good, but it’s easier to digest if the damage isn’t severe, and thanks to these folks and others there was no damage. I switched to my Delta anchor, which buried itself when set and gave me a little more comfort. By the way, we had a great time on the Ha-Ha, and the hardworking folks responsible for putting it together did a good job."

We don't consider ourselves to be experts on anchoring, but it seems to us that just about every kind of anchor has the potential to be fouled by its own chain during a 360 degree windshift. Anybody with any thoughts on the matter?

"My favorite way to get to Mazatlan is sailing on Ramble On Rose, our San Francisco-based Caliber 40," reports Michael McNamer. "My wife Ceacy Hart and I arrived in Mazatlan after a 59-hour passage from San Carlos, having sailed when we could and motored when we had to. This was the longest and most enjoyable passage the two of us have ever done alone, and the weather was nice enough for Ceacy to be able to make fabulous gourmet meals featuring the likes of rib-eye steaks, Shrimp Louis and fresh fish. All served at sunset, of course. And finally, there was the dorado we landed on our first morning out. As we travelled down the mainland coast, we kept a watchful eye out for lightning, as there were many thunderclouds over the coastal mountains. But our only anxious moment came on the third night, when we ran smack into the Mazatlan shrimping fleet, which is the largest in the world. Their season was open, and we were passing through the most popular harvesting grounds. Peering out into the blackness, it looked as though we were approaching a wavering forest of red, green and white moving lights. But we were never in any real danger. We were pleased with ourselves when we arrived off Mazatlan — but then we had to wait seven hours to enter the harbor because they were dredging! So we dropped the hook off Deer Island. Ah, the cruising life! But now we've had showers, enjoyed the sights, and celebrated Ceacy's birthday."

"It's been a very busy summer for us, as we've done everything from surfing in Nicaragua to buying a retired Wonder Bread truck and naming her Cupcake; from fixing up rental property in Texas to driving a Red Cross emergency vehicle from Baton Rouge to Fairfield, California — and much, much more," report Michael and Rene Ditton of the Channel Islands-based Fuji 45 Ahea Kali. "But we arrived back in Mazatlan three weeks ago and have been getting Ahea Kali ready to sail again. We plan to do Thanksgiving in Mazatlan, Christmas in Barra, and then cruise down to Huatulco. After some time that far south, we'll head back northwest to be back at Mazatlan in May. Due to the economic conditions that are affecting everyone, we plan to return to the States next summer to work."

As best we can tell from the website, there were 47 starters and 46 finishers in this year's 19th annual Caribbean 1500 from Hampton, Virignia, to Tortola in the British Virgins. The Swan 56 Clover III had to drop out in Bermuda with a broken headstay. Line honors went to 1500 vets Tom and Diane Might, with crew Ian Jones, aboard their Arizona-based Hallberg-Rassy 62 Between the Sheets. We have no idea how the Caribbean 1500 is scored, but apparently they do allow motoring, even in the racing fleet. Mike Harker, who wrote an earlier Changes about the 1500, tells us that he motored for 25 hours, and only at 1,800 rpm, which he believes was the least time in the entire fleet. Be that as it may, 1500 officials proclaimed Kirt Schuldt and his crew aboard the East Coast-based Hallberg-Rassy 49 Elusion, from Division Three, to be the overall winner in the 25-boat Racing Fleet. They beat Between the Sheets, the winner of Division One, for overall honors by just 38 minutes. The Division Two winner was John and Susan Bankston's East Coast-based Outbound 44 Watercolors. In addition to the Racing Fleet, there were 20 boats in the Cruising Fleet. Rather then a finish order, they were all listed as being "successful". Tom and Harriet Linskey of the East Coast-based Dophin 460 cat Hands Across the Sea won the Doublehanded Award. Congratulations to all!

Leaving Beaufort, North Carolina, at almost the same time as the Caribbean 1500 fleet, and headed for the same British Virgins destination, was Randy Sparks of Royal Oaks, California. He was paid crew aboard the Kentucky-based PDQ 36 catamaran Drifti 'n Days. Owner Robert Gaffney decided that rather than pay a $1,500 entry fee to the 1500, he'd use the money to hire Sparks so he'd have an experienced mentor on his first trip to the Caribbean. Sparks gave top marks to Robert for preparations, noting that preparing a boat for a passage is usually much harder work than the passage itself. Robert's wife also got top marks for having "methodically planned, shopped, prepared, cooked, cooled, bagged, and frozen solid 15 heat & serve meals for four." Alas, Sparks said the three crew were almost Three Stooges-like in their periodic near inability to heat the meals. Using Commander's Weather, the same forecasters that the Caribbean 1500 uses, Drifti 'n Days and the 1500 both delayed their start several days because of hurricane Paloma. Sparks was glad to hear that his Santa Cruz-based friend Don Radcliffe, a longtime circumnavigator aboard the Beneteau First 456 Klondike who happened to be in North Carolina, agreed with Commanders about when was a safe time to head to the Caribbean.

The early going wasn't too bad, but it was bumpy and noisy, as Sparks expected it would be on the small, light cat. Then it got light, and for a time they even had to put 54 hours on the outboards. But when the wind filled in, they hit 17.3 knots in the middle of the night. The strategy in getting from North Carolina to the British Virgins is to head east to longitude 65, then turn south down the so-called 'Interstate 65'. As it turned out, I-65 turned out to be a little farther east then necessary, but when you're sailing a small cat, you don't want to cut the corner only to have to beat your brains out later on. Once 700 miles north of the British Virgins, all that was needed were shorts and T-shirts, even in the middle of the night. This was true even when it was windy, which it sometimes was. "Once in the trades, a small jib and double-reefed main were all that we needed for the autopilot to steer the boat to bursts of 8 to 11 knots." Eventually they crossed paths with Stray Kitty, another PDQ. When the adults discussed how bumpy and noisy it was aboard such small and light cats, the kids asked, 'What noise?" The PDQ 36 completed the 1,289-mile passage in 10 days and 16 hours, having made between 133 and 189 miles per day.

Having made a run down to the Caribbean from the Northeast, it seems like former Bay Area sailor and '04-'05 Vendee Globe finisher Bruce Schwab will strut his Wylie 60 Ocean Planet in the St. Barth Around the Island Rally/Race on New Year's Eve. Sailors don't need a dinghy in the nonstop round-the-world Vendée Globe, so Schwab can be forgiven for having forgotten to bring one to the Caribbean, where life is tough without one. Also assuring us he'll be in St. Barth for the Around the Island is circumnavigator Mike Harker, with his Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3. We also wouldn't be surprised if Jimmy Buffett didn't do the race again this year. Some folks rag on Buffet because he's done so well, but folks who know him well say he's a really down-to-earth guy. What's more, he got the crap beat out of him in strong tradewind conditions in last year's Around the Island with his 32-ft Groovy — yet he still showed up after midnight to play for free until the wee hours. One stalwart that won't be in St. Barth this winter will be the great Herreshoff 72-ft ketch Ticonderoga, which is a legend everywhere from Honolulu to Holland. She's been such a fixture at the end of Charles de Gaulle Quay on New Year's that people will start wondering what's next — will the sun rise in the morning? But it's refit time for Big Ti, which was built way back in '29.

"When I last wrote in late July, I promised that I would tell you when I discovered my reason for abandoning my Florida to Europe crossing this summer," writes Jack 'around-the-world-before-80 years' van Ommen of the Gig Harbor, Washington-based Naja 29 Fleetwood. "If you thought it was because I'd struck gold while in the Chesapeake, you're right. Her name is Lynne Poland. Having sailed 4/5 of the way around the world by myself, my singlehanded days are over. Lynne and I met last summer on the Rappahannock River, and among other things, we share the same passion for sailing. She's done a number of doublehanded offshore passages and crewed on ocean races. But frankly, I will miss some of the aspects of solo sailing. I always enjoyed the long solo crossings, so I eventually I may finish my circumnavigation — all that's left is Trinidad to the Pacific — by myself. But I did not enjoy the solo sailing on the Chesapeake last summer, and I look forward to sharing the excitement of the short island hops and destinations in the Caribbean with Lynne. We did, however, get off to a bad start to the Islands, as we failed to clear the infamous 48-foot bridge over the Elizabeth River. I expected that my VHF antenna would endure a little bending, but the bridge took my masthead tri-color right off instead!"

Welcome to the jungle! One of the most beautiful times to be on mainland Mexico is in early November, right after the end of the rainy season and extreme humidity. That's beause the jungle is in its full glory, speckled with all kinds of colorful flowers and huge, white butterflies. You have to be punctual, because once the weather breaks and the rain and humidity stop, it's only a matter of days before it's no longer quite as green. But the fabulous sunsets continue. The only problem with all this is that it's also one of the best times of the year to be in the Sea of Cortez.

Speaking of cruising rallies, the granddaddy of them all, and still the biggest of them all, is the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). The 23rd running of the ARC, which is 2,680 rhumbline miles between the Canary Islands and St. Lucia, started on November 23, with most boats expected to take between 14 and 21 days. The oldest skipper will be American Lurelle Verplank, who at age 77 will be skippering the largest boat in the fleet, his new Oyster 82 Sundowner. Way to go for it, Lurelle! The youngest skipper will be only 24, and the smallest boat is Madonna, a Beneteau First 31, not the singer. The ARC will feature 30 boats built by Beneteau, 17 by Oyster, 15 by Hallberg-Rassy, and 15 multihulls. We hope everyone has as safe and as fun an ARC as we did with our Ocean 71 Big O back in '94.

Important dates for the season in Mexico: SailFest in Zihua, February 3-8. Memo Tee Bar will be replacing Rick's Bar as the headquarters. This is a superb cruiser fundraiser. The Banderas Bay Regatta, March 17-21, Paradise Marina, Banderas Bay. This 'nothing serious' racing for cruising boats put on by the Vallarta YC features both the best cruiser racing conditions and venue you can imagine. And it's free! Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, starting at La Paz but held out at the nearby islands, will start, appropriately enough, on April Fool's Day and run for six days. The crews of 29 boats had a blast last year, but don't go looking for websites, just show up. And finally, Loreto Fest, which we apparently gave the wrong dates for in a previous issue. It runs April 30-May 3. Bring your musical instruments for this, yet another cruiser fundraiser.

"Last year several cruisers at the popular Tenacatita Bay anchorage on Mexico's Gold Coast were lamenting the lack of any services being available," writes Dobie Dolpin. "This gave us an idea, so I and my friend Arturo Alvarado, who owns the mini-super on Tenacatita Beach, will be trying to fill the need. We're located in front of the Blue Bay Hotel, and we'll pick up garbage for a small fee, and bring whatever provisions — legal, of course — that cruisers might want, including purified water, ice, beer, soda, wine, booze, eggs, fruits, veggies, paper and canned goods, and so forth. Arturo can be reached by VHF, but since he doesn't speak English, I'll be helping him communicate."

Sounds great! Good luck to both of you on your venture.

"We indeed did participate in the Caribbean 1500 with our Lagoon 380 catamaran Honeymoon, and are indeed from San Francisco — Chestnut St. on Russian Hill," writes Seth Hynes. "Our boat has the name she does because my wife Elizabeth and I quit our day jobs — she was a merchandiser for Banana Republic and I was in wine exports for Robert Mondavi — and we're now on a year-long honeymoon. Despite our experience sailing in the San Francisco Bay, the 1,500 mile passage from Virginia to the British Virgins was our first open ocean voyage, and we were happy we did it as part of the 1500 Rally. We joined the Cruising Division, and were very encouraged by the moral support, weather briefings and safety inspections that came with the event. Steve Black and his crew did an incredible job, and so we would recommend the 1500 to everyone from rookies such as ourselves to the very experienced.

"We didn't race because of insurance reasons," Hynes continued, "but we felt we did well considering all the challenges we faced. On Day 2, our port winch failed. Even worse, our mainsail headboard cars jammed at the top of the mast when we tried to reef for a squall. Eventually the car itself was ripped from the mast, and on Day 3 we had to make an eight-hour repair at sea. It was hard, but it allowed us to continue south rather than have to divert to Bermuda. The repair required that we swap cars with the lower part of the sail, then continue on with a permanent reef in the main. Other things broke along the way, but Elizabeth and I, and our two crew, overcome them as a team."

While the Hynes didn't complain, we apologize to them for leaving them out of our previous 1500 coverage, as the 1500 website made it hard to determine if they had participated.

"Debbie and I want to report that we had a great time on the Ha-Ha," writes Greg Dorland of the Lake Tahoe-based Cantana 52 Escapade. "We enjoyed the two stops immensely, as we kayaked and dinghied up the estuary at Bahia Santa Maria — and how about climbing those sand dunes! We loved it all. Then I surfed all the way into the beach on my kayak, with Nasho, my 12-year-old blue heeler, along with me. And our crew Robbie thought that taking off for the waves with his board directly from our boat, once we anchored a few miles up from Turtle Bay, was really cool. Here are six other things I liked about the Ha-Ha: 1) It gave us a firm departure date, so all the work had to be done by then — or else. 2) As soon as it started, I could stop spending money! 3) We really enjoyed the competitive part of the rally, as it gave us a reason to push our boat and try to figure out how to get the most out of her. 4) All the great cruising information available through the pre-Ha-Ha seminars in San Diego in the days before the event, as well as Latitude's not-to-be-without First-Timer’s Guide to Cruising Mexico, were extremely helpful. 5) We met some great new cruising folks, and rekindled some old friendships. 6) And last but not least, Keith Sedwick and the guys on the Sausalito-based J/130 Bonkers showed us what true hunter-gatherers could do, as they provided us with fruits of the sea for dinner aboard Escapade in Bahia Santa Maria. After the Ha-Ha, we went up into the Sea, where local fishermen sold us lobster near Puerto Los Gatos, then taught us how to find our own clams and scallops. You should have tasted the ceviche Debbie made with it! We then made the crossing from La Paz to Puerto Vallarta in just 48 hours, half of it with the chute up in 18-20 knots of wind. Now we're in Nayarit Riviera Marina, happy to be at the dock for the first time in a month with real internet connection. We hope to entertain family and friends here, then head south. But Debbie and I are both loving it, and we love our boat."

We hope you're all having as much fun with your cruising, too.

Missing the pictures? See the December 2008 eBook!


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