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December 2010

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With reports this month from Cocokai in the Solomon Islands; from Geja in Greece, Italy and Croatia; from Carina in Fiji; from Misty on getting ready to sail to South Africa; from Tom Thumb on a cruise to the Channel Islands; from X in Palau; and Cruise Notes.

Cocokai — 65-ft Schooner
Coco-Nuts: Greg, Jen and Coco
Fun in the Solomon Islands
(Long Beach)

There’s been a lot of talk about marine heads in Latitude, so I’ll contribute my recent experience from a boat where the heads get used all the time. I recently completed the simple task of changing out the pump assembly on the aft head, as it was clearly wearing out. Everything was fine until the next morning when everyone did their constitutionals. The thing just plugged solid with poop and filled up the bowl!

After removing the head, I spent all day taking it apart and putting it back together — until I discovered we were trying to pump a load down a hose that was plugged with calcium deposits. Apparently a chunk of calcium had broken loose when I was working on the system, moved on down the line, and plugged everything up. I ended up removing all the head hoses and beating them with a hammer to break the calcium free from the insides. I must have sweated out 10 gallons of fluids. Did I mention it’s hot and humid?

Here’s some other ‘crap’ from just the last two weeks:

1) Somehow we got a mouse or rat aboard. It’s hard to believe, since we haven’t been tied to a dock in 10 months. Whatever it is has been eating poison for four days, but is still going strong. So far he’s eaten thru all four tank gauge lines and who knows what else. I will search the boat in a couple days or when I smell death, whichever comes first.

2) The ram on the autopilot sheared off the 3-3/8” lag bolts that held down the half-inch aluminum plate it was bolted to. I drilled out the holes and put in half-inch stainless lags. The wheel doesn’t bounce around anymore.

3) The thermostats on both the fridge and freezer have gone out, and I’ve had to jump them to run them manually. I have replacements to install, but first I have to gecko-crap proof them! If you only knew what the new thermostats went thru to get to me! Jennifer and Coco think the geckos, and their babies, are so cute. But the LCD screen I’m looking at as I type this has large black spots because the geckos have crapped in there!

4) The new transmission we installed in Fiji 10 months ago is overheating. I thought it was a linkage problem, because we can't take the engine out of gear when it gets hot. It's really interesting driving 51 tons of boat you can't stop into an anchorage with lots of coral heads. The problem wasn’t too bad until we got to the Solomon Islands. There isn't much wind here, and the water is between 88 and 92 degrees! There’s a town 60 miles from here where we might be able to find a larger transmission cooler and check the hydraulic fluid control valve to see if it’s sticking. Wish us luck.

5) The wildlife onboard. When we get to Australia, I’m going to tell the officials that we’ve got Hawaiian termites, Fijian ants and geckos, and possibly a Solomon Island rat. The hope is that they’ll tent and fumigate Cocokai for free.

Otherwise everything is great, and after all these years we’re still enjoying cruising. And there are some great folks out here. About the same time we left the Galapagos for the Marquesas, a doctor named Boris and one other crewmember on Entelecheia left Ecuador for the Gambiers. Although the passages are about the same distance and have about the same conditions, we made it in 19 days while it took them 64 days! But they still enjoyed it. Different strokes. What great folks!

— the coconuts 11/09/10

Geja – 1976 Islander 36
Andrew Vik
Getting’ Groovy in The Med
(San Francisco)

[Because the winter winds blow cold on both San Francisco Bay and in the Med, we held off publishing Part Two of Andrew Vik’s report on his third season in the Med, hoping it would warm some hearts and minds. Please enjoy.]

Backtracking north in the Ionian Sea part of Greece, we revisited Preveza and wonderful Paxos before pulling into Corfu Town’s snobby N.A.O.K. yacht club. At least Hook, their open-air nightclub, hosts great parties well into the night, allowing me to finally get my party fix — and fittingly on my birthday!

With repeat crewmembers Lars from Norway and Lukas from Switzerland, our plan was to sail back across the Strait of Otranto to Italy, although we had to wait out some unfavorable seas for an extra day in cozy Kassiopi on Corfu Island. When sailing back to Italy, many sailors make a pit-stop on the island of Ereikoussa, as it’s just 53 miles from there to Otranto, Italy. But when we left Kassiopi for Ereikoussa, the winds favored a course towards Albania. Not wanting to fight the weather, we turned the bow toward the familiar beach town of Himare, Albania. We anchored there for the afternoon and enjoyed an inexpensive fish dinner ashore. Just before dark, we weighed anchor for a 58-mile night crossing of the Strait of Otranto.

After getting hammered transiting the Strait of Bonifacio and Strait of Messina in ‘08, I should have known to expect some potentially gnarly conditions anywhere in the Med with ‘strait’ in its name. Once we were away from the calm waters under the lee of Albania, the winds and seas piped up, and as any lazy sailor would, I unfurled some genoa for the reach across to Italy. It was a lively sail in pitch black, and we often approached hull speed with just the partially furled genoa. Unfortunately, it wasn't conducive to sleep. By morning we were anchored in Otranto, having set foot on three different countries within a 24-hour period. I can think of only one other spot in the Med where such a feat is possible with a sailboat. Can you guess what it is?

Otranto and the rest of the Puglia region in southeast Italy are not popular with cruisers, but my two crew and I loved the many historic walled towns and super-friendly locals. It was no mistake that we visited the area in mid-August, as most Italians were on holiday, having left the inland heat for the relief of the seaside. The beaches were jam-packed with Italian tourists. I thought Alimini Beach near Otranto was the best, as it had long sandy beaches and an excellent ‘after-beach’ party scene. A DJ would set up in the sand, and the Italian girls would dance around, proudly flaunting their lovely bodies. As for their bikini bottoms, they were so small they would have made a Brazilian blush!

At night, entire families, with everyone from grandchildren to grannies, would take part in the passeggiate, strolling around until past midnight, often with gelatos in hand. Sometimes there would be 10,000 people doing this!

With no other foreign tourists to compete with, we really got to know how friendly the people are. My crew for much of Italy consisted of three young guys from Sweden, otherwise known as Team Awesome. In every Italian town we visited, the people were curious to find out who the four Nordic-looking guys were, and often wanted to take photos. When language was an issue — which it often was — they suggested using Facebook to help get to know each other.

Pulling into Monopoli, we noticed a group of local guys and girls mixing mojitos while floating on a large inflatable in the middle of the harbor. Our kind of people. By the time we’d tied up to the public quay, they’d pulled alongside with drinks for all of us. After a half-hour conversation in broken English, they invited us to their home for dinner! Days later, when I needed to get a new used outboard for my dinghy, these guys provided invaluable assistance.

Farther north in Giovinazzo, the rocky breakwater seemed like the popular place for young people to hang out in the evening. So we grabbed a bottle of wine, and the four of us found a spot among the others. Within minutes we were chatting with some local girls. Much to our surprise, a fireworks show started a few minutes later, part of a big celebration for the town. Our night ended after 4 a.m., following a rather rowdy after-fireworks party on Geja. The 11 people we had onboard might have been a record.

Four of the girls joined us the next day for a short sail up the coast to Bisceglie. Unfortunately, the sea was a wee bit rough, and all four girls ended up puking. But once comfortably anchored behind the breakwater at our destination, they instantly perked up and got to work preparing some delicious Italian cuisine in Geja’s galley.
With a new set of crew in fabulous Trani, we sailed farther north and around the Gargano Peninsula, concluding my tour of Italy’s southeast coast at the fancy new marina in Rodi di Gargano. My two weeks in the seldom-visited-by-boat Puglia region of Italy were fantastic! The highlights were Otranto, Ostuni, Giovinazzo, Trani, and Monopoli. The people were amazingly welcoming. Because it was August, many local boatowners had taken off for other places, so slips were easy to come by. Most times they cost less than 30 euros, and one time we were allowed to use a fully-equipped slip for free. With the food, history, culture, and festive August atmosphere, I couldn’t recommend a trip to this region more highly.

I must caution, however, that a visit to the southeastern part of Italy can be problematic. English — or any other foreign language — is seldom spoken by the locals. Security can be an issue when berthing along the public quays, although we never had a problem. The toilet seat situation was a bit better than in Greece, where it had been horrible, but not by much. Worst of all for us, however, is that all of the big discos are located well outside town, and there weren't any taxis! It turns out that the Italians are as completely car dependent as we are in the United States. The result is that we were more or less shut out of the late-night party scene, which was terrible.

With my final crew of the summer aboard — two Bulgarian girls and a German guy — we set off from Rodi di Gargano bound for Croatia via a final stop at Italy’s Tremiti Islands. These are the gems that I first discovered in ‘09. This cluster of small islands, basically the only ones along Italy’s entire east coast, is a kick-ass nautical playground. San Nicola is topped by an awesome town and fortress, while San Domino is fringed by countless caves, coves, and beaches. It is a place that even relatively few Italians have visited, but should be included on any tour of the Adriatic Sea.

It is only 60 miles from the Tremitis to Vis, Croatia, and our sunset departure began with a fast broad reach. Though the wind stayed with us throughout the night, the direction kept changing, making it a chore to maintain speed and course, and still keep the crew comfortable. The last two hours were a beat, but in the end we felt great that we had persevered to sail ‘door to door’. And talk about pleasant surprises, there to catch my lines at Vis was Phillipe, a French sailor whom I had briefly met in Corsica in ‘08 — and hadn’t been in touch with since.

Check-in with the Croatian officials was reasonably efficient. Once again, Geja was back in her ‘home’ cruising grounds of Croatia, ready to wind down the season with some easy cruising along the Dalmatian Coast.

Or so I thought. The Navtex forecasts called for the dreaded northeast bora winds to kick up to 35 to 60 knots our first night. So despite the clear blue skies and hot weather, we faced the prospect of an uncomfortable night. And while it could have been worse, we did have gusts to 41 knots. Although it was only August 28, summer effectively ended that evening, as the weather remained unstable for the next two weeks.

As usual, the bora winds died out by mid-morning, only to be replaced by reinforced prevailing winds from the northwest. We pressed onward anyway, enjoying an exciting flatwater genoa-only reach in the lee of the island of Vis. Once out in the open water, however, it was a very different story, as we encountered some of the steepest seas that I’ve seen anywhere. Anticipating even stronger winds, I attempted to partially furl the genoa, but the furling drum wouldn’t budge. With nowhere to hide, we flew across eight-mile wide Viski Channel with way too much sail up. We finally sailed into a shallow anchorage among the Pakleni Islands, where we were able to throw out an anchor and get the genoa down. The problem had been that the bearings in Geja’s old Pro-Furl furler had given out. So much for Pro-Furl's ads that brag about their maintenance-free, permanently sealed bearings.

My final crew of the summer departed a week later from Split, Croatia, a lively student town in the heart of the Dalmatian Coast. I’d planned to just chill out there for a week, as I’d done the previous two summers, anchoring out in its spacious port. But the local officials had other ideas, and the first morning notified me that anchoring was no longer permitted in the port! “Sometimes the ships need to turn around in here, and the anchored boats get in the way,” the official claimed. Then he gave me 15 minutes to leave before I would be fined. Most of the anchorage is only 10-15 feet deep, so I didn’t quite believe his explanation. After the ‘anything goes’ attitude in Greece, and the friendliness of Italians, the rules and rude attitudes in Croatia really got to me. I returned to the port anchorage that evening anyway, and spent most of the week there as planned, along with several other anchored boats. I wasn’t hassled again.

For me, it was the ‘summer of a lifetime’ — for the third year in a row! I proved once again that you can cruise the Med on a pretty tight budget. It helped that my Islander 36 once again proved to be a reliable and fine sailing boat. So will I be back for a fourth summer of cruising the Med, or will I sell Geja to a new adventurer? Only time will tell.

— andrew 09/15/10

Carina — Mason 33
Philip DiNuovo, Leslie Linkkila
Fun in Fiji
(Kingston, WA)

Fiji is not a place for sailing if you are faint of heart. Uncharted rocks, reefs and small islands abound, and many boats come to grief plying these waters. Many of our cruising friends have admitted to bouncing off or grinding onto reefs around Fiji this season. We figure that our reef is out there somewhere, so we just hope Carina’s husky little hull is up to the bump. We’d rather not test her though, so when we sail, one of us is usually posted on the bow to try to spot obstacles. Then too, in reef-strewn Fiji we only sail during daylight hours, and try to be safely anchored by mid-afternoon.

After a few days of the easy life of sailing in protected waters, we reached the port city of Lautoka, where we checked in with customs officials. We needed to obtain clearance to proceed to Vuda Point, about six miles further on, where we would haul out. Lautoka is a ‘sugar town’, and the waterfront at the commercial port is dominated by the aging sugar mill. Down the street is the Bounty Rum plant. Rattling by is a narrow gauge sugar train that toots through the countryside while hauling 50 or more miniature flat cars stacked with cane.

Lautoka’s neat downtown is lined with palm trees that grace a branch of this sugar train line. Next door to the sugar mill, adjacent to Queen’s Wharf where container ships call and the Bligh Water Shipping ferry landing, is a mill-sized pile of Fiji pine chips, ready for export.

Lautoka bustles. The Fijian women of Indian decent dress in colorful, shimmering clothing, many with equally lovely head coverings. Oftentimes you can hear the worshippers alerted as the muezzin calls from the mosque. Ethnic Fijians, men and women alike, dress in tropical patterns of brilliant colors. All women wear long skirts, as shorts and even capris are unacceptable for Fijian women. Tourists can get away with modest shorts and capris. The public market is large and filled with piles of fresh fruit, veggies and kava. The fragrance of colorful spices and burning incense fills the air.

The reason we stopped in Lautoka — other than to wallow in its markets and resupply our pantry — was to check in with customs. Fiji attempts to tightly control yacht movement, so they require constant check-ins, even for yachts traveling within the country. Processing a yacht is free, but requires tedious piles of paperwork to document or plan for every anchorage.

To put the process in perspective, if, as a visitor to the States, you wanted to drive from Boston to Philadelphia, you'd first have to check in with an official in Boston, who asks you why you are making the trip, when you will leave, down to the time of day, where you might stop along the way, and when you will arrive. After arriving at your destination in Philadelphia, you'd have to check in with that city’s officials to tell them you’ve arrived, what time you arrived, when you left your departure port, and where you’ve stopped. At both locations, you will need to fill out numerous carbon-copied forms.

The amount of paperwork that needs to be processed for each visiting yacht is staggering. Still, the individual officials with whom you have to deal do not make the rules, and are unfailingly polite, courteous, well-trained and efficient.

We’ve found Fijians to be among the warmest people we’ve met during our journey. It’s impossible to walk anywhere without being accosted by smiles and sing song greetings of ‘Buuuula!’ or ‘Yaaandra’.

— philip and leslie 10/15/10

Misty — Traveller 32
Peter Forest, Bob van Blaricom
A Shaky Start
(Belvedere / Cape Town, S.A.)

While it’s no longer rare for Aussies to come to California looking for good deals on sailboats — the only good part of a falling dollar for us sailors — it’s highly unusual for someone to come all the way from South Africa. But as the following letter explains, that's just what Peter Forest did.

"I’m from Cape Town, and arrived in San Francisco mid-September. The reason for my visit was to purchase Bob van Blaricom’s Tiburon-based Aries 32 Misty. I’ll be sailing her to Mexico at the end of October. From there I’ll begin a two-year journey back to Cape Town, via the South Pacific, Australia, and Southeast Asia.

“I want to say what a pleasure it’s been to buy a sailboat from a true gentleman! Bob has gone way out of his way to help me prepare for my 18,000-mile trip. Toward the end of September, we took a cruise up to Tomales Bay with half a dozen other boats, under the auspices of the Cruising Club of America. It was a great shakedown sail, as I got a chance to get to know Misty better as well as meet some other cruisers.

“The past few weeks have been spent ‘fine tuning’ Misty. I must thank Hans Bernwall and Robbie Robinson at Scanmar, who thoroughly inspected my Monitor windvane — and at no charge. With that, Misty is pretty well ready to go! I'd also like to thank the people who helped me out with charts. And last but not least, the folks at the San Francisco YC — and elsewhere — who always had the time to chat and showed an interest in my voyage.

"Many readers will know Bob as an avid and knowledgeable sailor. He had Misty for 15 years, and took her on many voyages. As sad as he will be to see her go, I know he is glad she is going to an owner who will take good care of her, and most importantly, who will use her for the purpose for which she was made — to cross oceans!

"That just leaves me to say a big ‘thank you’ to Bob and Jane. Other than selling me your boat, you welcomed me into your home, and made me feel like part of the family! Even from the other side of the world, your kindness will always be remembered."

Things were so good, you just know there had to be trouble around the corner, don't you? Because Bob's such an all-around good guy, he promised Peter that he would crew for him from San Francisco to San Diego. Following six weeks of preparation, they departed the San Francisco YC on October 25 during a spell of good weather following unsettled weather and rain.

All went well for two days, with good sailing in fresh but manageable winds of 20 to 25 knots from aft. About 40 miles north of Point Arguello, while running with two reefs in the main and a partly furled genoa on the pole, they gybed smoothly to take the inside passage between the oil platforms and the shore. At eight to 10 feet, the swell was pretty big, and there was a 5-ft sea on top of it. But they weren't taking any spray, so all seemed well.

"Then," recalls Bob, "I noticed that Misty wasn’t responding to the helm! And when I looked back at the stern, I saw that the top of Misty’s large outboard rudder was leaning badly off to one side. It suddenly made me remember a situation we had during our last offshore cruise.

"The previous year, following an arduous voyage from San Francisco to Valdez, Alaska, I inspected Misty while she was on the hard for the winter. I saw a crack in the rudder just below the upper pintle. Since there was no boatyard in Valdez, the best I could do was to strap the rudder with some large hose clamps, and hope for the best on the 2,200-mile trip home. Fortunately, it proved to be a pretty easy trip, and we didn't have any problems. Once back in the Bay Area, I unshipped the rudder and had a local boatbuilder reinforce the cracked area. It was obvious that the repair hadn’t been successful.

"In any event, there we were, in fresh winds and reasonably large seas, with night coming on. We dropped the sails and stopped to collect our wits. We were 21 miles, more or less, offshore of Point Buchon. Calling the Coast Guard crossed our minds, but knowing that their modern credo is ‘we save lives, not property', we weren’t about to abandon Misty in return for a ride ashore.

"Peter made the first move by pulling the top of the rudder stock upright, and lashed it in place with the top more or less free to rotate a little bit. We could see that just a strip of fiberglass was holding the rudder together, but it allowed us to steer — very gently — while we motored toward port at a moderate speed. We managed to motor toward shore this way for two hours — at which point the rudder broke into two separate pieces! By this time we were only about 10 miles from shore, and, mercifully, the sea had settled down considerably.

"Our next stratagem was to for me to climb back on the boomkin, and lash the water paddle (servo-pendulum) of the Monitor windvane into a vertical position. This was something easier said than done, as I had to hold on with one hand while I was being washed up to my knees by passing seas. But once it was lashed, we could use the little water paddle as a small — very small — rudder by manipulating the air blade bracket. Amazingly, Misty slowly but surely responded to the undersized makeshift rudder, allowing us to head in the direction of Port San Luis, a spacious bay with an open entrance and great protection from the prevailing winds.

"Once we got into the bay, the wind caused us to lose our heading a couple of times, but we were able to get back on course by running the engine in reverse to allow the stern to ‘walk’ around until we got lined up again. By midnight, we dropped the anchor in 45 feet of water near a large wharf. You can imagine our relief — and sense of satisfaction at having saved the boat with the help of 'Hans', our stalwart little windvane.

"The next day the Harbor Patrol moved us to a mooring buoy, where we were able to unship the rudder and load it into a rental car for the trip to San Rafael for repair or replacement."

Is it just us, or do long trips often seem plagued with significant problems at the start?

— latitude 11/15/10

Tom Thumb — Havsfidra 25
John and Dylan Boye
Eleven Weeks With My Son
(Brookings, Oregon)

My 25-year-old son Dylan and I — I’m 64 — recently returned from a sensational sailing trip from Brookings, Oregon, to the Channel Islands, then back home. We explored those wonderful islands for most of the 11 weeks, and even saw Profligate.

It took us nine days to sail from Brookings to the Channel Islands, including three days in Monterey to visit the aquarium and play tourist. We then took a slip at Anacapa Isle Marina in Channel Islands Harbor — a great place with great people — which we used for a resting and supply center for multiple three- to five-day trips to anchorages out at the islands. While at the islands, we snorkeled, visited the Painted Caves, explored ashore — and generally got our minds blown away by the quiet beauty of the islands.

This was a father/son odyssey for two guys who enjoy being together. We took 1,500 pictures, as well as underwater movies of porpoises at the bow, and movies of swimming through fantastic kelp beds, and movies from a remote camera mounted on the masthead!

Because I was able to enjoy that trip with my son, I feel like I’m the luckiest dad in the world. If anyone has kids, they’ll understand. It was the trip of a lifetime for both of us.

— john 10/12/10

X — Santa Cruz 50
David Addleman
Malaysia to Palau

I’m having a great time here in the Republic of Palau, which is 500 miles east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles south of Tokyo. This is a great half-discovered cruising destination with a population of just 20,000. On the positive side, they have things like microbrew beer. On the negative side, the prices are as high as in the States. There are several other Northern California-based boats here, but unfortunately I can’t remember their names right now.

My new best friends are the Barrie family — Andrew, Jenny, and kids Diana and Shannon — from Australia aboard the catamaran WindRider. The family was stranded on nearby Mog Mog Island about six months ago after they were blown aground in a storm.

When I filed my last report with Latitude, I was at Labuan, Malaysia. With the coming monsoon season about to make the South China Sea less than pleasant, I decided to sail to Palau in October. I started by sailing northeast around the tip of Borneo and into the Sulu Sea. While I was rounding the tip of Borneo, a squall, strong currents, and a bad tack conspired to tear the tapes from my favorite old headsail. So I spent two weeks in the pleasant Kudat area of Sabah, Malaysia, slowly stitching 70 feet of tape back onto the sail. Sabah, by the way, is the second largest of Malaysia’s 13 states.

I wasn’t the only cruiser in Kudat, and some others were making much more ambitious tours of Sabah. For example, some with steel boats had been exploring far up the rivers of Borneo to see things such as pygmy elephants, orangutans, and the primitive jungle fishing villages. The hazards of such inland explorations — running aground, colliding with logs floating downstream, and hitting unmarked but low-slung powerlines across the river — prevented me from taking my relatively fragile Santa Cruz 50 on such expeditions. But with the sail repaired and the galley well-stocked with fresh produce from the Kudat Central Farmer’s Market, I departed for Palau. It would be a 1,300-mile trip that would take me east across the Sulu, Celebes, and Philippine Seas, and out into the North Pacific Ocean.

The Sulu Sea has a reputation for pirate attacks on shipping lines and cruisers. According to some, there is considerable smuggling between the southern Philippines and nearby Malaysian Borneo. There have been no reliably reported attacks against cruisers for many years, but as one analytical cruiser pointed out, that could be because no cruisers were willing to take the risk anymore. On the other hand, several cruisers told of visiting Philippine ports in the area, and said they'd been treated very well.

I was skeptical about the negative rumors, so I went ahead across the Sulu Sea — although with some caution. The Malaysian Army has a considerable presence in the Malaysian waters of the Sulu Sea, so I held a southeasterly course near the Malaysian shore for as long as practical, thinking I might be safer closer to the Army. As it turned out, I never saw another boat, friendly, hostile, or Army. After a few days of pleasant sailing, I left the Sulu Sea and entered the Celebes Sea, which separates Indonesia from the Philippines.

Still a bit wary of possible trouble from pirates, I stayed well offshore. The only problem was that there was an adverse current of one to two knots, and the winds were light and shifty. So progress was slow. I made as little as 25 miles a day — on a Santa Cruz 50! However, the conditions — often becalmed — were ideal for a singlehander such as myself to get some good sleep.

After a couple of hours of sleep, I would wake up, discover that I’d drifted backwards — and that I wasn’t alone! For strewn all along my easterly route across the Celebes Sea were FADS, or Fish Aggregating Devices. These are made up of several steel barrels welded together. They are, of course, invisible to radar and uncharted. If I looked carefully during the day, I could almost always see one, so there had to be hundreds of them out there. But I was never able to see one at night, even when there was a full moon. Mind you, I was seeing FADS as far as 200 miles offshore and in 18,000 feet of water. Some had fishing boats moored to them.

Some of the fishing boats were large and colorful motherships, and there would be a dozen or so fishermen working small boats near them. While I was passing my first such ship, a few fishermen headed closer to check me and X out. They idled along about 100 yards away, watching me slowly sail by. I was a little concerned, but nonetheless waved a hello. I now know that a cruiser’s wave is the signal to attack, for all the men on the little boats instantly dropped what they were doing and sped toward me from all directions.

The thing that was a little disconcerting is that they were all standing with one hand behind their back. Did they have machetes, or maybe guns? No, like all good dinghy sailors, they were just holding onto a tiller extension. All they wanted was some conversation and cigarettes.

They told me that the 13 of them spend a month at sea on the trimaran mothership, tending hundreds of baited hooks around the FAD mooring. This meant they had to leave their wives and children at home in Mindinao. For this, they earn the princely sum of $200 a month. I was able to learn this because several of them in each group were fluent in English. Every few minutes they would ask again for cigarettes, just in case I was holding out. They always offered whatever fish they had in their little boats, and twice I received beautiful whole fresh mahi mahi. All I had for gifts were chocolate bars, which were well received.

I would have these encounters about twice a day, unless I steered a course away from the mothership. I eventually felt I needed to do this, as I’d run out of chocolate. I finally clawed my way from the grip of the Celebes Sea and its 160-degree tacking angles, and made my way into the Philippine Sea. When I did, I thankfully traded the adverse current for the beginnings of the favorable equatorial counter current. I was also getting better at intercepting squalls for the breeze they offered — until I was humbled by one that featured two fearsome waterspouts.

After 16 days alone at sea, X was happily moored at Malaka Harbor in the paradise that is the Republic of Palau. Formerly ruled by the Germans, the Japanese, and us Americans, Palau is strikingly different from nearby Southeast Asia. Between the noisy yacht club bar, superb diving attractions, and slightly cooler climate, I think I’ll like it here.

— david 11/20/10

Cruise Notes:

Laura Zekoll of Atlanta, Georgia, who had been a member of the Caribbean 1500 fleet aboard Rule 62, a Jeanneau 46DS, is presumed to have been lost at sea on November 13 or 14. She disappeared when the liferaft she and the other three crewmembers had gotten into, after Rule 62 hit a reef, flipped in big seas near Lynyard Cay, Abacos, the Bahamas. Earlier that evening, the boat’s owners, Richard and Debra Ross, also from Atlanta, had advised the Caribbean 1500 staff that, because Debra and Laura had been seasick, Rule 62 was not going to complete the course from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgins, but rather divert to Marsh Harbor. Eleven of the 80 boats in the Caribbean 1500 had already opted to be in the Bahamas Class, which finished at Marsh Harbor instead of the British Virgins. Because they had started earlier than the BVI fleet, most of them had already arrived.

The Rule 62 crew found themselves in the liferaft at about 9 p.m. local time after the boat hit a reef “attempting to enter the Bahamas”. Richard and Laura were both washed overboard, but then recovered. But with Rule 62 helpless on a reef, Richard, Debra, Laura, and fourth crewmember David Shepard of Ellsworth, Maine, put on PFDs, got into the liferaft, and attempted to row to shore in the dark. After becoming separated from Laura, Richard, Debra and David made it to the beach. An extensive search for Laura was undertaken by the U.S. Coast Guard and numerous resources from the Bahamas, but ultimately called off when she couldn’t be found. Laura Zekoll was an enthusiastic sailor and adventurer — despite having lost her right arm as the result of a motorcycle accident at age 16. Latitude salutes her adventurous spirit, and we offer our sincere condolences to her family and friends. The other three members of the Rule 62 crew were airlifted to safety in reasonably good health.

This year’s Caribbean 1500 — the 21st and final one for founder Steve Black — was a bit star-crossed. Because the course to the BVIs was threatened by tropical storm Tomas, the 70 or so boats intending to sail to the British Virgins had their starting date postponed seven days, from November 1 to November 8 — although two boats left early. The Bahamas Class, which was to stop farther down the East Coast at Charleston as opposed to sailing offshore all the way to the Bahamas, was also delayed, but not as long. That fleet fragmented a bit, too. The group sailing to the BVIs experienced relatively rigorous sailing conditions, including gusts to over 50 knots and seas reported as high as 15 to 20 feet. Before it was all over, boats had dropped out to a number of places, including Bermuda, the East Coast’s ICW, and Puerto Rico.

As we’ve noted many times, the Caribbean 1500 course is almost always a much more difficult one than the Baja Ha-Ha, as it’s twice as long, the few places of refuge are very far between, and the weather is normally much more challenging. Sunsets, Howard Weiss and Kelly Reed’s MacGregor 65, hailing port not listed, took line honors in the BVI fleet.

Just days after the huge Ha-Ha fleet departed the then-once-again sleepy Turtle Bay, the Belgium-flagged Privilege 495 catamaran Ker-Tidou was rocked by one, if not two, propane explosions. By the time eye-witness Ron Powell, who was fueling his Seattle-based Tartan 41 Dulcinea at nearby Gordo’s Fuel Dock, could turn his head around, “40% of the catamaran was engulfed in flames”. Powell, his brother Craig, and two crew, as well as several panganeros, rushed to see if they could help. The Powells report that Thierry Bonnefille, the cat’s French owner, had been the only one aboard, and had managed to escape the inferno with just his backpack, get into his dinghy, and reach the safety of another boat. Described by some as “hysterically” shouting “my boat, my boat”, Bonnefille was escorted to the Turtle Bay clinic by Gordo Castro and others. Although Bonnefille would later inform Latitude that he'd suffered some second degree burns, he was soon released. According to the Powells, it was only 10 minutes after the explosion(s) that the cat’s mast toppled, and just 40 minutes before what was left of the hulls — which had burned almost to the waterline — sank to the bottom.

We’d written about the Bonnefille family — which includes Thierry’s wife Dulce, son Mathieu, 14, and daughter Eva, 11 — in the Passing Thru segment of the October issue of Latitude. We reported that the family had cruised their beloved cat for eight years between France and California, including several months in Cuba, and had enjoyed many extraordinary experiences. We also noted that the cat was now for sale because the children, as many children do, wanted to attend high school with their peers.

We’re shocked that some people, who, apparently because the cat was for sale and insured, and Bonnefille was reportedly singlehanding her to Panama, began mouthing the ‘scuttle’ word. This seems preposterous to us, as only someone with a powerful death wish would even dream of inducing a propane explosion while they were on a boat.

Oh no, not another one! We’re sorry to have to report that another singlehanded cruiser has lost his boat. Retired schoolteacher Michael Rafferty, who did the ‘09 Ha-Ha, and who singlehanded in this spring’s Pacific Puddle Jump, reports that he lost his San Diego-based Islander Freeport 36 Aquila about 80 miles west of the New Caledonia island group. Details weren’t available prior to our going to press, but Rafferty, who promises a full report for next month's Latitude, believes the loss of his boat was the result of some substandard work he'd just had done at a boatyard. “Aquila sank in about one hour," he wrote. "I lost everything but the clothes I now wear, my passport, my merchant marine ID card, a flashlight, and my hearing aids.” Rafferty, who suffered no injuries, was rescued by the French Canadian boat Azzar, and sailed the rest of the way to Australia on her. “In a very few days I will fly to Thailand to start over,” Rafferty announced. “So, as Robert Hunter once wrote, ‘There’s nothing left to do but smile.’”

For the record, there were two Islander Freeport 36s named Aquila that sailed in the Ha-Ha last year. Please don’t get them confused.

As we were about to go to press, a record 239 yachts had gathered at Las Palmas in Spain’s Canary Islands for the November 21 start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the granddaddy of all cruising rallies. The course will take the fleet 2,700 miles to the finish on the leeward side of St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. To our knowledge, the only entry with a West Coast connection is George Backhus and Merima Dzaferi’s Deerfoot 2-62 Moonshadow. Originally from Sausalito, Backhus, who nearly lost his boat after she was driven high on a reef in the Tuamotus and severely damaged, is in something like the 16th year of his circumnavigation. He met Merima in New Zealand, and the couple now spend six months a year in Kiwiland and cruise the other six months. When we did the ARC about 15 years ago with Latitude’s Ocean 71 Big O, it was a dreamlike sail, with the wind always warm and always from well aft of the beam. We hope this year’s fleet has similarly grand conditions.

"We just completed our transit of the Panama Canal," report the Mather family — Jim, Emma, daughter Phoebe and son Drake — of the Redondo Beach-based DownEast 45 ketch Blue Sky. "We are now back in the North Pacific. After just a few more days here to see the sights of Panama City and re-load the boat with goodies that we haven't seen in awhile, our plan is to head north at a steady pace. We look forward to getting back to Mexico as soon as possible — provided we get the weather that will make for the most opportune passages. In '06 we participated in the Zihua SailFest, and wonder if you know when it will be held this year. By the way, Zihua is where we'll be crossing our outbound track, and thus will be where we complete our circumnavigation! We plan to be back in Southern California sometime in the summer of next year.

Congratulations on the imminent completion of your trip around! Zihua SailFest, the super successful cruiser fundraiser to educate kids in that magic city, will be from February 1-6. Your presence and assistance will be greatly appreciated.

“On November 13 — or November 12 in the States — near Pangkor Island, Lumut, Malaysia — we crossed the imaginary line that signifies we’ve sailed halfway around the world!” exult Charles, Catherine and son Jaime McWilliam of the Colorado-based Kelly-Peterson 46 Esprit. “We celebrated with a bit of rum in our coffee, as well as giving some rum to Neptune for getting us safely this far in our journey.” As the McWilliams started with the ‘03 Ha-Ha, at the rate they’ve been going, they should finish their circumnavigation in just under 15 years. We presume they are enjoying themselves.

Speaking of Ha-Ha vets who have been enjoying themselves with further cruising, Pamela Bendall, who did the ‘08 Ha-Ha with her Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46 Precious Metal, reports that she “can’t find adjectives adequate to describe the fabulous time” she’s been having in Peru since early April. The highlight was a two-week Amazon tour in late October and early November, with five friends from the U.S. and Canada, during which time they adventured everywhere from Machu Picchu — where Pamela was photographed doing a one-handed handstand — to the deepest and more primitive Amazon rainforest. But it was an experience that also taught her that there is one aspect of cruising she “truly dislikes” — having to say goodbye to the wonderful friends she makes. Pamela is now headed for Central America and Mexico, after which she’ll set sail for the South Pacific.

“We saw the photo, in both ‘Lectronic and Latitude, of the bolt of lightning off Catalina in the middle of October when many boats were hurrying south for the start of the Ha-Ha in San Diego,” write Keith and Susan Levy of the Pt. Richmond-based Catalina 470 C’est La Vie. “Actually, we were doing the same thing, but coming from much farther — New Zealand and Hawaii — to make it to the start. And we didn’t just see the lightning, our boat was hit by it near Pt. Conception! It knocked out all our electronics, and we had to hand-steer through the night to reach Channel Islands Harbor. Bob Nahm at the Catalina Yacht Anchorage took good care of us, which allowed us to do the Ha-Ha on time and in good shape — well, except for that stuffing box leak at the start of the second leg. During our 10 years of cruising — starting with the ‘00 Ha-Ha and including Mexico, the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia — we were always concerned about getting hit by lightning. So how lucky for us was it that when we finally got hit, it was close to home where good people could make repairs?”

Having sailed to much of the South Pacific and back, the Levys now plan to spend six months a year cruising in Mexico, and six months a year at their home in the Sierra foothills — hoping not to get hit by lightning again at either place.

“We haven’t written for a few years, but we did keep in touch during our 16 years cruising in Mexico and the Caribbean, and six years in Europe aboard our Hylas 45.5 Shayna,” write Dorothy Taylor and Larry Hirsch of San Diego. "As you know, in ‘05 we ended up in Mazatlan, where we bought a condo and cruised Mexico for a couple of seasons. The cruising in Mexico was a bit tame after crossing oceans. Shayna could easily have taken us across the Pacific, and we considered it, but since both of us are in our 80s, we thought it might be pushing it. So in July of ‘08, we put Shayna on the market and sailed her up to San Diego. We assumed that we’d get to cruise California a bit, as boats never sell quickly. But Shayna sold two days after we got to San Diego! Unable to get the saltwater out of our veins, this year we bought a Catalina 30 we've christened Murphy’s Law. She is being contrary, with her electronics living up to her name, but we think we now have them under control. So when you’re wandering around Southern California waters next year, you may see us. We’ll be returning to our condo in Mazatlan for the winter months.”

God bless the both of you, Dorothy and Larry. We remember spending Thanksgiving of ‘05 together at Marina Mazatlan as though it were yesterday.

Longtime cruiser William Gloege of Santa Maria, owner of the San Francisco-based Morgan 38 Gaia, wants all cruisers to be aware of the shortcomings of medical care in the Third and Fourth World countries. Gloege had some friends buddyboating in Tonga with another couple, and the woman on the buddyboat — whose name he prefers to withhold — developed a boil beneath one ear. The boil became infected, and after what was described as a series of mishaps, including at the hospital in Tonga, she passed away because of it. The deceased woman’s husband is of the opinion that she got less effective treatment at the hospital in Tonga than she would have gotten from “an African witch doctor throwing bones”.

Knowing so few facts about the case, we’d just like to make two points. First, any infection in the tropics has the potential to become extremely serious very quickly. Secondly, medical care in most, but not all, parts of the First World is usually, but not always, superior to medical care in places like Tonga. If we or anybody in our family were to have a problem with an infection at a remote location in the tropics, we would quickly get them to the First World for treatment. Our first choice would probably be Australia, where they have good quality medical care and lots of experience with tropical infections. We’re reminded that Blair Grinols, currently of Oregon, who made something like seven trips to the South Pacific with his custom 45-ft cat Capricorn Cat, once got himself flown out of Palmyra Atoll to seek treatment for an infection. And was thankful he did.

"All is well here," reports Connie Sunlover from Puerto Escondido, "and the local services for mariners have been improving. For example, the Fonatur/Singlar Yard at Puerto Escondido had so many boats wanting to haul out last season that they had to turn some of them away. As a result, they are looking into acquiring more land on which to store boats. In addition, longtime cruiser Martin Hardy of the San Pedro-based 52-ft trawler Cat’s Meow is running a chandlery out of the Fonatur/Singlar building. While he doesn’t stock a lot of inventory, he can have parts and products shipped so they’ll be in Puerto Escondido when a boat arrives. Connie reminds everyone that the Hidden Port YC’s annual Loreto Fest fundraiser, the biggest thing in the Sea, will be April 28-30. It will be followed a few days later by the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week, which will be rallying back down to La Paz this year.

What kind of speeds can one expect to hit on a 33-ft cruising cat in the Ha-Ha? It’s hard to say, but crewman David Berke, who sailed on Clifford Shaw’s Emery Cove-based Crowther 33 Rainbow in the most recent Ha-Ha, has put a video on YouTube that shows them hitting a sizzling 17.6 knots — and looking to be in complete control. Check it out at

“Having found Windrose, a Perry Tatoosh 42, in Fort Lauderdale, my wife June and I are off on Act Two of our cruising life,” reports Steve Jones of Sausalito. “We hope to be in the Bahamas by Christmas, then St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands after that. My longtime business, Steve’s Marine, is now being competently manned by Alan Olson and Hans Rau, who continue to be a bulwark against Sausalito’s Marinship being turned into office space, while at the same time providing quality woodworking to the local boating community. We want to thank the publisher of Latitude and his hardworking staff for all these years of good reading, and especially Latitude readers, who were my customers at Steve’s Marine for the last few decades.”

We’d like to advise everyone that Latitude’s Caribbean office — onboard the Leopard 45 cat ‘ti Profligate, anchored off Fort Oscar, St. Barth — will be open next year from mid-February through mid-April. We hope that Steve and June — and everyone else — will stop by and say hello.

Right after a number of readers wrote in to say how safe things were in Mexico, and right before the start of the Ha-Ha, Mike ‘Kona’ Meredith, a San Diego-based crewman aboard Intrepid for the multi-million dollar Bisbee Black & Blue (Marlin) Tournament, was wounded by gunshots in Cabo San Lucas. Meredith told reporters that he was walking back to his hotel room alone after dinner when a thief came up to him in the area near where the cruise ship shoreboats dock, and demanded his wallet. Meredith told the thief he could have his money, but not his I.D. As Meredith was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, the thief reportedly fired a .25 caliber bullet into Meredith’s shoulder. When Meredith still hesitated handing over his wallet, the robber fired a second shot into his neck. For whatever reason — an adrenaline rush or perhaps he’d had a cocktail with dinner — Meredith didn’t feel either shot, so he didn’t realize he was hurt until he saw blood squirting out of his neck. Unfortunately, the NBC reporters failed to ask Meredith what time the crime occurred. Nonetheless, Meredith apparently feels it was an isolated and uncharacteristic incident, for while recovering in a clinic in Cabo, he said that he would gladly return. “Cabo is a beautiful place. People here are nice.”

When we reported the incident at the Ha-Ha skipper’s meeting, it was noted that four people had been shot the night before in San Diego. In the month since Meredith was shot, we’ve been to Turtle Bay, Cabo, Punta Mita, and La Cruz. We feel safer and more loved down here in Mexico than we do in the States, and that’s the sentiment of just about all the other Americans we’ve talked to down here. But if somebody threatens us with a weapon, we’re going to hand over whatever he wants.

“The recently completed Ha-Ha was my third as crew, and it was terrific, thank you,” writes Richard Frankhuizen of Folsom. “I also follow the blog written by young Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell. The reason I enjoy Liz’s blog so much is that it isn’t just about sailing, but about all of her experiences as she cruises. Liz has created an adventurous life, so kudos to her. For the rest of us, the two weeks of the Ha-Ha are an opportunity to experience two weeks of our life with friends and the sea, 'Away from the things of man,' as Joe of Joe Versus the Volcano would say. I’m now back at work, missing the gentle roll of the sea, the chill in the night air, the night sky full of stars, and the shared meals and varied conversations. So in the end, two weeks of that life is better than none. Thanks for creating the Baja Ha-Ha.”

De nada. You can’t imagine the pleasure we get from seeing so many people accomplish personal goals and enjoy such a great adventure. That and helping people get their first surfboard rides at Punta Mita are two of the highlights of our winter. Speaking of Liz, she reports that she’s back on Swell in French Polynesia, having spent three months in California taking care of various kinds of business.

“Thanks to Latitude’s coverage of the tsunami that devastated Robinson Crusoe Island, we are well on the way to sending aid there in the form of school supplies,” reports Mark Drewelow of San Diego. Having spent 20 years moving luxury yachts 250,000 miles over the oceans of the world, Mark founded the non-profit YachtAid Global, which regularly coordinates these sorts of relief and assistance efforts. In this case, he’s got the yacht Big Fish from Fort Lauderdale delivering the school supplies to Robinson Crusoe Island. And when we looked at the website, we noticed that the 155-ft Vitter's ketch Timoneer — our ride for the Around the Island Race in St. Barths a few New Year's ago — had also just picked up a big load of supplies in San Francisco for the needy residents of some other island. YachtAid Global sounds like a fine program to us.

“I was hoping to do the Ha-Ha this year, and even managed to get two weeks off work so I would be able to do it,” writes Gregory Clausen of Marin County. “Despite attending both of the Crew List parties, I was unable to find a ride. My Plan B was to fly to Maui and go island-hopping with my cousin aboard his Westsail 42 Cornelia. We enjoyed warm winds, and cold rum, saw lots of playful dolphins, and had lots of great times. Maybe I’ll find a ride for the Ha-Ha next year."

“We just sailed in from Chacala and anchored next to Profligate at Punta Mita,” writes Arjan Bok of the San Francisco-based Schionning 43 cat Rot Kat. “I love Profligate’s deck lights! There is no way the panganeros would not be able to see your cat at night.”

We love our deck lights, too. They are 16-ft strings of solar-powered LED lights we bought for under $20 at Target. They come in a variety of colors and, if you're in a wild an crazy mood, can be set to flash on and off. Profligate has a brilliant LED light on her masthead, but if you’re on most sailboats or in a panga, it’s so high up that it can easily be mistaken for a star. So we always illuminate Profligate's salon and cockpit, and the solar-powered lights are an easy and inexpensive way to do it.

Gnashing your teeth because the Obama Administration is allowing all kinds of companies and unions to opt out of Obamacare because — what a surprise! — it was going to cost them way more money for insurance under the new health care program? Maybe Mexico has a better system. Folks with a condo down there tell us that their condo insurance, of all things, provides for a doctor to make a house call for things like cuts, food poisoning, and infections — on an hour's notice! — and for just $22. And that there is no charge if the doctor has to write a prescription. Try to find something like that in the States. Philo Hayward of Philo’s famous bar and music studio in La Cruz, who cruised his Cal 36 Cherokee across the Pacific, is just one of many former cruisers in Mexico who raves about the price and quality of health insurance and health care in Mexico. Dick Markie, Harbormaster at Paradise Marina. is another. Just as the future of more Mexicans may be in California, the future of more California sailors may be in Mexico.

And speaking of Mexico, we've been kicking around Vallarta Coast from Nuevo Vallarta to Sayulita for the last several weeks, and we're here to tell you that life is vibrant down here, with countless stores, restaurants, Wal-Marts, Pemex stations, and other businesses having opened or been remodeled since we were here just five months ago. It's a striking contrast to much of California, where too many businesses have closed, where too many storefronts are empty, and where there seems to be a pervading sense of malaise and gloom about the future. Maybe a reporter for the L.A. Times ought to visit Mexico before writing another article about Mexico being a 'failed state'. And then maybe the reporter should take a closer look at the future prospects of the once Golden State.

Well, enough of all that! It’s the start of another fabulous cruising season in the northern hemisphere. If you're one of the lucky ones who is getting to enjoy it, we'd love to hear from you. If you’re already doing a blog and have some great info and photos, let us know, and we’ll see if we can’t feature some of it in Latitude. Write, — or swing by Profligate. But above all, be safe while having an outrageously great time. Life is short; live it to the fullest!

Missing the pictures? See the December 2010 eBook!


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