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December 2012

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With reports this month on Liz Clark's body-surfing accident; on Migration's passage from Fiji to Thailand to get boat work done; on Second Chance's loving the cruising life in Maine; on Panache and the longest four minutes in Zach Lough's life; on Angel Louise making preparations to cross Europe's Continental Divide by water; and Cruise Notes.

Swell — Cal 40
Liz Clark
A Dangerous Pain in the Neck
(Santa Barbara)

Imagine an Olympic downhill ski racer falling down and breaking a leg on a bunny hill. That's probably how Liz Clark of the Santa Barbara-based Cal 40 Swell, who has been cruising French Polynesia for years, feels right now. As many Latitude readers know, she was a champion surfer while attending UCSB, and has surfed some of the most dangerous tubes in French Polynesia. Yet it was while body surfing in small surf off San Diego's Torrey Pines Beach last month that she badly injured herself.

"The tide was dropping, and one particular sandbar beckoned," says Liz, setting the scene. "With half an hour to kill and a bladder full of tea, a swim seemed in order. So without another thought, I zipped up my Patagonia R1 spring suit and hopped down the rocks, one fin in hand. I limped across the short strip of sand and collapsed knee deep into my beloved ocean. Ahhhh!

"My second wave looked like a beauty. It approached from the north and stood up as I kicked into it. But as I plunged down the two-foot face, an odd warble cropped up, tossing me head over heels. Totally unexpectedly, my head hit the sand. My body was angled such that all its weight and the momentum fell upon the forward part of my head, snapping it backwards. “No way!” I thought to myself.

"I came to the surface and ran down the checklist. 'Okay. I’m conscious.' Check. 'I can move my arms and legs.' Check. 'I’m okay. I’m okay.'"

Liz wasn't really okay. Unable to get help because her cell phone was out of minutes, she drove herself the three miles to her sister's house, her neck feeling "unstable and weak," where she lay down in pain. She called a friend, an ER nurse, who rushed the health insurance-less Liz to Sharp Hospital.

The initial results from the CT scan showed no break, so Liz and her friend were ecstatic, and removed the neck brace. But then Dr. Healy, having double-checked the image, rushed into the room and stopped the celebration. "Secure that brace!" He'd found that Liz had indeed fractured her neck.

Liz has been taking the injury with gratitude that she didn't damage her spinal cord, and with positive thoughts and humor. Indeed, she's seemingly become obsessed with how ridiculous her hair looks from her having become a "ceiling inspector". When you can laugh at misfortune, you've got a lot going for you.

By the way, we've hoped to post Liz's favorite cruising recipes for the last two issues, but things have come up, so you'll just have to wait.

— latitude/rs 10/22/12

Migration — Cross 46 Tri
Bruce Balan and Alene Rice
Fast Track to Thailand
(Long Beach)

While in New Zealand last May, we decided that Migration’s 43-year-old polyester-resined fiberglass topsides needed to be replaced. We’d already done the bottom, wing decks, and deck, but now her topsides were starting to delaminate from the ply, demanding the same attention. Since Alene and I have spent months in various boatyards fiberglassing and sanding, we thought it would be nice to have someone else do the itchy work for a change. But where? New Zealand was too expensive, and Oz even more so. Friends in Thailand told us of the good quality work they'd had done there, so after weeks of research, deliberation, and dithering, we made the decision to have the job done there.

But first we wanted to sail back to Fiji, as we knew it would be a long time before we returned to the Pacific. We had a great trip north from New Zealand, with long stops — and some great lobstering ­— at South and North Minerva Reef. Then we had two excellent months cruising eastern Fiji and the Lau Group of Fiji.

On August 4th we left Suva and turned west. We wanted to arrive in Thailand before the NE monsoon set in, so we had about three months to cover the distance. We calculated that we could do it by spending about 50% of the time underway.

Our first stop was Vanuatu, the highlight being Mt. Yasur, the fantastic volcano on Tanna Island. We hiked far around the rim to where we could see the open pit blasting lava high above our heads. It was so exciting that our knees shook. While we were anchored in Port Resolution one night, the wind clocked around. We awoke to find Migration covered in ash. We were still finding ash in nooks and crannies months afterward.

Vanuatu deserves a whole season — if not three or four. But on our schedule we didn't have time to linger. After a stop in Port Vila to provision, we were off on a windy downwind run to North Indispensable Reef, which is part of the Solomon Islands. The open ocean reef is similar to Minerva, but far larger and much less visited. We stopped for only one night, enough time for a snorkel and to sit tight while a front passed through.

Three days of sailing brought us to the Louisiade Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. We’ve been hauling give-away stuff around the Pacific for years — including the original sails that came with Migration when I purchased her in '90, plus a whole set of old rigging — waiting to find someplace where the people could really use the stuff. Well, the Louisiades was the place! The people there need everything.

We had open trading days on Migration, with a constant stream of canoes from morning until night. We are firm believers in trading rather than giving stuff away — except to schools and medical clinics — even if it's only for one yam. If the kids want a treat, we make them at least sing a song for us. We feel this keeps things on an even footing, with both parties respecting each other. We ended up with a lot of wonderful wood carvings and bagi shell necklaces. But our best deal was trading our sails and rigging for a ride on a traditional outrigger sailing canoe.

These canoes are still the primary source of transportation in these islands. The locals even use wave patterns to navigate when making overnight passages on them on moonless and starless nights. And they know how to sail these canoes! We had an awesome ride, with the boys showing off and really making the canoe fly. In fact, they pushed a little too hard, causing the steering paddle to crack, ending our day outing a little earlier than we'd hoped.

From the Louisiades, we had three windy, rainy, downwind sailing days to the Torres Strait that separates Australia and Papua New Guinea. We didn’t want to check in to Australia, as many cruisers were complaining that customs was a big hassle and the fees were high. But we did anchor for three successive nights behind various islands, something which is permitted as long as you don’t leave your boat. We did this because Alene was hard at work restitching the leech and foot of our relatively new — '10 — North Sails jib, which we'd purchased in New Zealand.

Torres Strait was windy and rough, but life changed dramatically as soon as we exited it to the west side. Suddenly we were in Mexico again, with downwind sailing in flat water. Oh, it was heaven! For days we sailed through the Arafura Sea, flying the spinny with 12-18 knots from astern, and not a swell to be seen. After all those years in the Pacific, we’d forgotten sailing could be so easy.

East Timor, which has been trying to get back on its feet after years of strife, was an interesting stop. We found excellent snorkeling at Jaco island on the east end. But at Dili, the capital, the number of people from NGOs and the United Nations, as well as police and military personnel and vehicles, was a bit overwhelming.

The vast majority of boats visiting Indonesia join the Sail Indonesia Rally so they won’t have to deal with the paperwork. We found the paperwork wasn’t too hard to do ourselves — but it wasn't cheap. We had organized our cruising permit (CAIT) in advance via email, and we hired an agent to handle clearance in Kupang. The latter is a complicated procedure, and friends who tried to do it themselves eventually had to give up and hire an agent.

Besides the flat water sailing after the Torres Strait, the biggest change was the food. For all the delights of the South Pacific, excellence in the culinary arts isn’t something that comes to mind. In the Pacific islands you can go a bit crazy on taro, yam, cassava, and breadfruit. And while we love New Zealand, the food is forgettable there as well. Now, however, we were in Asia, where there was lots of spicy and delicious food — and for little money. As for provisioning, it took weeks for us to get used to the fact that there were markets everywhere selling fresh produce. We didn’t have to stock up every time we saw a fresh green.

Indonesia was delightful, and we were frustrated at having so little time there. The Komodo area is awesome, with incredibly good diving, and, of course, the dragons. Surprisingly, the area looks almost exactly like Baja California — especially the way the light falls on the hillsides at sunset.

Bali was fantastic — exotic and with a rich culture. All the islands in the area are fascinating, but Bali deserves a visit of many days. We definitely will return.

We moved north quickly with just a few stops until we crossed the equator, returning to the northern hemisphere after over 4 1/2 years in the southern hemisphere. We were surprised to encounter more dolphins in Indonesian waters than in Fiji or Tonga.

We cleared out of Indonesia at Nongsa, where an excellent little marina took care of all the paperwork. We then crossed the busy Singapore Strait. Singapore is an interesting city-state, but it's one big mall. When it comes to shopping, the locals put Americans to shame. Not exactly our cup of tea. However, the Biodomes and SuperTrees are very cool, and the local food at the hawker stands is incredible.

The Malacca Strait along the west coast of Malaysia was challenging, but we did all right with two night passages and a couple of bumpy anchorages. It's amazing we didn't get hit or hit anything, for the quantity of ships, fishing boats, floats, nets, and debris is staggering. We were there in late October, the transition period between the monsoons, so there were thunderstorms every night. Thankfully, only a few bolts came close.

Langkawi, at the north end of Malaysia, was a fine stop. We checked into and out of the country there, and it was the easiest clearing we’ve ever done. We also stocked up on beer and rum for friends who were already in Thailand, as Muslim Langkawi is, curiously enough, a duty-free port. People in Thailand appreciate all the alcohol cruisers can bring north. We then spent a couple of days in the beautiful southern Thai islands, getting in our first swimming and snorkeling in a long time.

We arrived in Phuket on November 10, 98 days after our departure from Suva, and only a week later than we’d originally planned. We’d travelled 5,919 miles and spent 38 nights at sea. Now we’ll find a yard for Migration, research contractors, empty her completely out, move into a cheap apartment, and give her the big refit she deserves. As long as we’ve come all this way, we’ll do it right so Migration has another 40 years on the sea.

There are definitely some challenges on a trip such as the one we did. Moving so fast, it helps to be lucky with the weather. We kept a close eye on it, and we were lucky. Once out of the Pacific and into the waters around Indonesia and Malaysia, the weather is generally benign at the time of year we passed through. But there are a lot of calms around Indonesia and Malaysia. Because we were in a hurry, we ended up motoring more than in the previous 18 months. And all that motoring means fueling — often by jerry jug — which can be tiresome. We certainly wanted to stay longer in every place we visited. We had to keep telling ourselves we’d see them on the way back. That’s another challenge — how to get back to the Pacific? There’s so much more we want to see in that ocean. But we’ll deal with that after the refit.

However, this trip has made very clear our biggest problem — there are just too many intriguing, amazing, fascinating places to visit in the world. How can we decide where to go next? But at least that’s a pretty cool problem to have.

— bruce 11/01/12

Second Chance — Hylas 46
Dick Oppenheimer, Linda Dalton
Sailing the Maine Coast
(San Francisco)

As we write, it’s early October in Camden Harbor, Maine. The famous 'windjammer' schooners have been covered in shrink wrap. Brilliant yellow, red and orange leaves are dropping. And the temperatures have definitely cooled. All are signs that sailing here is finished for the season. So it's time to haul our Hylas 46 Second Chance, and place her in a covered shed for the winter. Once that's done, we'll return to San Francisco, having enjoyed another wonderful summer of sailing.

Just a month earlier, a small fleet of historic, lovingly restored wooden ships sailed past our mooring and into the harbor for the annual Camden Windjammer Festival. Victory Chimes, a magnificent 132-foot three-masted schooner, glided her way into the harbor with her yawl boat maneuvering her through the mooring field to the city waterfront. The yawl boat provides power for the schooner when needed. With a hand on the tiller, crewmembers can gently nudge an engineless tall ship forward and into her slip. It was an extraordinary sight to see the schooner come into port, and a wonderful demonstration of skilled seamanship on the part of captain, crew, and yawl boat drivers.

Even after several months in Maine, it feels as though we have just begun to explore this extraordinary cruising area. With almost 3,500 miles of scenic coastline, thousands of pristine islands, and the only fjord on the East Coast, there is no shortage of beautiful anchorages in this state. Wildlife abounds, and it’s not unusual to see osprey, bald eagles, porpoises and seals.

While it’s difficult to pick a favorite spot in Maine, Northeast Harbor stands out as a place of exceptional beauty. It is to the east of Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island, and is one of the major yachting centers in Maine. It is home to a small fleet of beautiful pleasure craft as well as working lobster boats. With Morris Yachts located near the town slips, there is a constant stream of Morris vessels on show.

Since it's water-oriented, Northeast Harbor has all the facilities, services and shops that a sailor could want, all located just a short walk from the harbor. A free shuttle takes passengers from the harbor to Acadia National Park, home to many fine hiking trails, as well as to the neighboring villages of Bass Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and Bar Harbor.

There are a number of challenges that make cruising 'Down East' unique. They include thousands of lobster traps, dense fog, a tidal range in excess of 12 feet and unmarked rocky ledges. Established lobster fishermen are allowed a maximum of 800 traps, with no apparent restrictions on where the traps can be set. Lobster buoys can be found in open water as far as 15 miles offshore, in the middle of mooring fields and scattered in narrow channels. 'It’s not if, but when, your boat will get tangled in a lobster line,' is a famous local saying.

Outside of Stonington, a small fishing village that boasts the largest lobster catch in Maine, Second Chance became entangled in a 'double buoy'. To make lobster trap retrievals easier, a second buoy is sometimes tethered to the first buoy by a slightly submerged line five to eight feet in length. It's that line we got tangled in. After conferring with lobstermen on a nearby boat, we contacted a Stonington marina for assistance. Several attempts to untangle the line were unsuccessful, so we reluctantly started the engine and engaged the line-cutters on our propeller shaft, severing the line to release our boat. Unfortunately, it was not possible to reattach the lines marking the traps, which we wanted to do in order to save the fisherman’s investment of $200.

The last two summers saw record lobster catches in Maine, with the overabundance causing wholesale prices to plummet to as little as $2/lb for the fishermen, while the retail price remained around $6/lb. Restaurants certainly didn't pass on their lobster savings to customers.

Dense fog is common in Maine and can descend quickly, reducing visibility to just a few feet. We managed to navigate safely using our eyes, ears, radar, an AIS receiver and a chart plotter. But there were still some close calls with sportfishing boats.

While cruising the Gulf of Maine in dense fog on our return trip from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, we tracked a 980-foot Disney cruise ship on our radar and AIS receiver as she moved through the water in excess of 22 knots. When she got within two miles on a converging course, we contacted her on VHF radio to verify that the crew were aware of us and that we would pass safely. To be more noticeable to commercial traffic, cruise ships' and high-speed ferries in reduced visibility, we'll be installing an AIS unit that doesn't just receive AIS signals, but transmits ours as well.

Even the most popular and picturesque harbors in Maine can contain hidden ledges and rocks. Beautiful Bucks Harbor, which seems almost unchanged since Robert McCloskey featured it in his 1952 children’s’ book One Morning in Maine, has a particularly hazardous ledge. Located in the middle of the mooring field, it’s covered by about four feet of water at low tide, and surrounding boats often obscure the orange and white marking buoy. Entering the harbor at low water early in the summer, we narrowly missed the ledge. When we returned two weeks later, we learned that two boats had gone hard aground until they were lifted off by high tide. To enhance safety, the harbormaster installed a large inflatable orange buoy with 'LEDGE' written on the side. It's not very elegant, but it's effective.

Even though we've just left Maine and Nova Scotia, we can't wait until we return next summer for another season. We think it's wonderful!

— dick and linda 10/25/12

Panache — Catalina 30
Zach Lough
Four Wild Minutes Off Niue

I'm an ultra budget cruiser who took off with the Ha-Ha in '11, shortly after my girlfriend dumped me and backed out on our cruise. I've nonetheless made it much of the way across the South Pacific with countless adventures, which you can read about and see photos of at

My most recent — and nearly last — adventure took place in October at Niue, a remote island-country in the South Pacific where you have to take a mooring buoy because there is no place to anchor. In poor weather, such as we had, even being on a mooring buoy isn't much fun. Here's how the adventure went down:

Dinghying back to the boat was a bit strange in such colossal swells, particularly since there was no light to see them coming. Panache rocked back and forth violently, so getting aboard was a task in itself. The wind was from the north and the swell from the northwest, which kicked Panache around just enough to make sleep impossible.

I had to get up in the middle of the night for a breather, as a can of spray paint clinking back and forth was keeping me from sleeping. No matter how I moved the can or packed material around it, the sound of that little mixing ball inside continued to keep me up.

"While on deck, I checked the boat's line to the mooring ball. The mooring was a refrigerator-sized block of concrete with a nylon rope, with an eye splice on a metal thimble to tie off to. Panache would periodically stretch the mooring line taut. Each time she reached the end of the line, I was jerked more awake. As I climbed into the cabin to go below, I was careful not to step on the bundle of papayas my crew Vlad and I had put in the cockpit in case they had bugs intent on stowing away. With so many papayas, there really wasn't any other place for them!

Throughout the night I woke up periodically and made a visual sweep of the surroundings. Same waves, same wharf being beaten by the waves, nothing new of note. My crew Vlad and I never fell asleep, but we did fall into a limbo dream state where our brains were just conscious enough to lurch into action if need be. This must be how most animals sleep. In our state of grime and sleep deprivation, Vlad and I felt like animals.

Little did Vlad and I realize that during one of our partial dream states the rocking of the boat had slowly untied the line between Panache and the mooring line. Like a blind man walking toward a cliff, Panache slowly and unnoticeably rocked toward the hard, coral shore just 100 feet away from the mooring.

I don’t know what I was dreaming about, but the most terrible sound woke Vlad and me at the same time. It was as if a wrecking ball were ramming the bottom of the boat! Our animal sleep broken, both of us shot up.

BANG! With the force of a cannon blast, the wrecking ball struck again, jolting the whole boat like an earthquake. “We’re on the reef!” Vlad shouted in a shaky voice. Never had my heart sunk so fast or my adrenaline risen so high in the same instant. Smashing your boat on a reef is a sure way to end your cruise quickly. And if it doesn't sink your boat, it will sink your cruising ambitions.

“Wow! Wow! WOW!” Vlad couldn't stop yelling the same thing each time the reef battered the keel. Noting that the bow was pointed toward the reef — meaning the prop was in deeper water, I screamed at Vlad to turn the engine on. "Now!!!" I kept hoping that I was just having a nightmare.

Vlad instinctively turned the ignition. “It doesn't work!" he shouted. "Should we call for help!?”

“What do you mean the engine doesn't work?!!” I responded sternly. As I hopped into the cabin to get the engine started, a wave pushed us deeper onto the reef, shoving Panache over at a 40-degree angle and dumping all of our belongings in the cabin onto the sole.

Noting that Vlad hadn't turned the battery on for the engine, I did, and the engine immediately came to life. I jumped into the cockpit, wrenched the tiller to center, and threw the engine into reverse.

Every wave was accompanied by the terrible noise of the reef trying to shatter Panache’s fiberglass hull. My jaw was clenched together in solidarity with Panache. “Come on. COME ON! COME ON!!!” I kept urging through my teeth. With each wave we crept farther toward the point of no return. It wasn't working.

“We need to call for help!” Vlad insisted. I turned the engine off and did what every sailor fears — make a Mayday call.

"Trying to steady my hand, I picked up the VHF radio. Then it was time to steady my voice: “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the sailing vessel Panache. We have two persons aboard. We broke from our mooring in Alofi Bay and are on the reef. Requesting assistance. I repeat, we are on the reef and requesting ...” BANG! “assistance!”

I paused for a moment but got no response. It was 3 a.m., but I figured somebody had to be up and on 16.

“Should we abandon ship in the dinghy?” Vlad asked.

“No, it’s safer on the boat for the time being," I answered quickly. I repeated the Mayday, and again got no response. “Fuck it," I announced, "I’m getting us off this fucking reef!” Then I turned the engine back on.

Panache wasn't totally on her side, and because the reef was steep, if I gunned the engine in time with the waves, I thought I might be able to shimmy her free. Giving the prop every ounce of horsepower available at the right instants, I soon could tell that we were slowly making progress.

Then I looked aft and saw a huge black mass heading for us. Before the wave struck Panache’s stern, the water under us was pulled into the black mass, and the tiller twisted violently into my side. There was a loud SNAP! — the sound of Panache's tiller shattering like a Louisville Slugger being destroyed by a fastball. The tiller then hung on by a thread. But that last big wave had been enough to lift Panache off the reef! We were moving in reverse. We were free, but were we slowly sinking?

I instructed to Vlad to check the cabin sole for water. There was a little, but nothing like in a Hollywood movie. “Shit. It’s the toilet water!” said Vlad. During all the commotion, our plugged up toilet had dumped its smelly contents onto the cabin floor. But at the moment, it was the least of our problems.

“We need to anchor, but those moorings can’t be trusted.” I said. Right then I saw mooring ball #1, the one we had been on. And I quickly noticed that there was nothing wrong with it. It was the knot that had attached Panache to the mooring that had failed. The knot that I had tied!

What a sinking feeling!

We limped to the mooring ball and attempted to attach ourselves, only managing to tangle our dinghy with the mooring line. Another clusterfuck! We were stern-to to the swell, making Panache roll dangerously. We needed to fix this, but first we needed to remove from the cockpit all the papayas that we had smashed into the world’s largest fruit salad. Vlad and I dug out the papayaed cockpit like dogs digging to China, not realizing we had flung half the smashed papayas into the dinghy. Whatever.

I hopped into the dinghy and started untangling the rat’s nest of knots that were preventing us from making a second approach to the secure mooring. It was bad. The dinghy smashed against Panache as Panache rolled violently into the dinghy, all while I tried to free us from the mooring, covered in papaya. It was madness.

After what felt like an eternity, the knot was straightened out and Panache was once again drifting back toward the boiling breakwater. We definitely had steering problems, but we managed to inch forward once again and secure ourselves to mooring ball #1, this time with two lines and extra tight cleat hitches.

Exhausted and letting our heart rates return to normal, Vlad and I congratulated each other for moving quickly. It was time to call off our Mayday to Niue Radio, which by this point was getting lots of attention. We disinfected the cabin sole with bleach and sat on deck to hide from the fumes while doing a play-by-play breakdown of the four minutes of madness.

I couldn't help thinking about all the things that, had they been slightly different, would have prevented Panache from going on the reef. If we had only left Niue with Elliot, or tied the mooring line tighter, or kept an anchor watch on deck, or turned the engine on a moment earlier, we might be in better shape. But all things considered, we were extremely lucky, because we were both safe and Panache was still floating. Our exhaustion was overwhelming, but sleep never came. Fear of breaking free from the mooring was enough to keep us both awake.

I jumped into the churning water the following morning and, when the bubbles cleared, could see the damage. Panache’s keel looked as if the shark from Jaws had chewed it apart, and there was a superficial scar on the bow. The bad news was that the rudder was fractured. I took a few pictures and then hauled myself on deck. New Zealand was out of the question. I had gotten lazy, tied a shitty knot, and lost New Zealand. It may sound silly, but losing New Zealand made my time in the Pacific seem like a waste. It's like hiking to within visible range of a mountain's peak, and then having to turn around.

We would have to remove the rudder and jury rig a fix good enough to get us to Tonga 310 miles away. Before any of that, though, we would have to wait out the low pressure system that was twisting the wind and waves into two days of torture. No toilet, no sleep, and all the luxuries of land teasing us by being only meters away.

The wharf was being swallowed by the westerly swell, making a landing suicide. Grudgingly we waited out the low, all the while awake and overly vigilant of the lines connected to our mooring ball keeping us away from the reef. I had plenty of time to be bummed out, and my immediate plans sequenced between scuttling Panache and flying home from Niue, fixing the boat in Tonga and waiting out the cyclone season, and everything in between. Whichever way, landfall in New Zealand had never felt so far away. I had failed.

— zach 10/10/12

Readers — So ends Zach's report. In a private email, he wrote to say that his cruising was probably "winding down." Since then, Vlad has flown home, Zach has gotten the rudder fixed, and he has checked out of Niue for Tonga. We're thinking that New Zealand, after the South Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season ends, might not seem that distant any longer.

Zach is too young to realize that he's not been a failure at all, but a raging success. No matter what he decides to do, the responsibilities and experiences he's had in the last year have given him not only a bigger bang-for-the-buck education, but a better real-life education than he could have gotten at Harvard. But even more important, dude, you've been living life to the hilt, not just existing. A tip of the
Latitude hat to you.

Angel Louise — Catalac 36
Ed and Sue Kelly
Doing the European Divide
(Des Moines, Iowa)

We write from the islands of Greece, the 34th country on our ship's log. Getting Angel Louise to the Aegean Sea has been worth the effort, but it's been a different kind of effort than we anticipated — and it involved a route that we had never read about before. Capt Sue and I have the distinction of having taken our sailboat from the North Sea to the Black Sea and Southern Turkey, which required crossing the 1,340-ft-tall Continental Divide by four principal canals and rivers of Europe. In the process of traveling up the Rhine and down the Danube, we learned new skills in poorly charted areas, while often testing the laws and regulations of nine different countries. We hoped the trip would be uneventful, but it proved to be anything but.

Capt Sue is a retired nurse practitioner, and I'm a retired assistant United States attorney. Having been inspired by the stories in Latitude and the philosophy of the publisher of Latitude, Sue and I bought Angel Louise in Maryland in the fall of '07 to be our movable retirement cottage until it wasn't fun anymore. We haven't looked back. Our quarter-century-old Angel Louise was the 26th of 27 Catalac catamarans built by Tom Lack of Christchurch, England.

We'd done five years of cruising prior to our European adventure. Our previous trips took us up and down the Intercoastal Waterway from Maine to Florida several times, and we spent two years cruising in the Eastern Caribbean as far down as Venezuela and the ABC Islands. By the summer of '11, we'd finally garnered enough courage to cross the Atlantic. It took 38 days, not counting the time we spent in Bermuda and the Azores. We then spent six winter months at London's St. Katherine Docks.

Even before we got to England, we'd dreamed of doing the French canals in the summer of '12. But those plans were dashed when we discovered that Angel Louise was too wide and tall to transit the locks and key canals of France. We were crestfallen. But the next morning we saw an ad in the Sunday Times for a trip from Holland to Romania aboard a River Hotel ship. It was as though the ad were put there to give us another way to achieve our dream.

We looked closely at the ship's pictures and route, and found that our cat was nowhere near as wide or tall. Despite our boat's tall traveler and antennas, we decided that she could make the trip. The fare for the River Hotel trip was $14,000 per couple. I told Capt Sue that I would take her for free. There are always advantages for those who get to sleep with the captain.

While living aboard in London, we joined the English Cruising Association, The Royal Yacht Association and the Dutch Barge Association, and attended two lectures by the owners of two English boats that had made the trip. We found that Euro-critters are ethnocentric. For example, none of our U.S. Coast Guard licenses were acceptable. European authorities require an International Certificate of Competence (ICC), of which there is a separate one for inland waters and canals, and they also require a separate endorsement for sail. And unlike in the United States, you have to pay for examiners to test your skills on the water. You also have to pass a CEVNI written test showing you know lock and canal signals and rules. Having sailed our boat from the United States to England, it would have been comical for us to take a test to prove we knew how to sail — were it not for the fact that we were charged over $1,000 U.S. for both licenses.

Early research revealed that only a handful of pleasure boats had made the trip by the rivers that we proposed, and most of them were powerboats with much larger engines. And a majority of them got to the upriver Rhine in Germany via canals. Boaters familiar with the Rhine warned us not to even try our proposed route with just two 37-hp Yanmar diesels, as they said we wouldn't have enough power to get our heavy boat past the Rhine's fabled Lorelei Rocks. But a few more adventurous folks encouraged us to give it a try, although they cautioned it would be a hard and slow trip for us. We even considered — briefly — putting a mount on the back of Angel Louise for our 15-hp Yamaha.

We finally decided that we would make the effort without being assured of success. If we couldn't get past the Lorelei Rocks, we'd just consider it another adventure, turn around, and head to the Med via the Atlantic.

We're happy to report that Angel Louise turned out to be the little train engine that could. We discovered that we could make better headway in the areas of greatest current by weaving back and forth. But it was eerie and disconcerting in several places on the Rhine when it would take us a full minute for the length of our boat to pass a river buoy.

We had to much to learn. For example, if your boat is less than 45 feet long, she is free from the river regulations governing larger vessels. And the locks would be free for our cat, but pleasure boats have no right-of-way in any circumstances on the waters. And lock keepers would let us go into the locks after the larger ships if there was space, but we would always have to wait for a commercial ship going our way through a lock to use it.

With that introduction, we hope you'll read next month's report on our actual trip.

— ed / 11/15/12

Cruise Notes:

If you're unlucky enough to be caught in a remote area when a hurricane blows through, and your boat gets driven ashore, you're going to need a lot of things going for you in order to have a good outcome. Among them are decent weather, a responsive insurance company, a good rescue company, a powerful tow vessel, and helpful local authorities. Fortunately for Craig Blasingame and Sue Steven of the Coronado-based Hylas 46 Sea Silk, who were aboard with three friends when their big sloop was driven ashore at Mag Bay by October's hurricane Paul, they got all of them.

"Markel, the insurance company for the boat, was very responsive, as they called us the next day and told us to do whatever we needed to do to save the boat," explains Ari Kreiss of the Cabo Yacht Center. It was Kreiss and his team who ultimately pulled Sea Silk free, towed her 170 miles to Cabo San Lucas, and are now repairing her. As the boat was stranded at Isla Santa Margarita, an island that forms the western shore of Mag Bay, they weren't able to use a backhoe to dig a trench for the boat to deep water, so they blew and dug the dirt out of the way. "We then rigged a harness to distribute the tow loads all around the boat, and pulled Sea Silk off with a powerful triple-screw 110-ft work boat," says Kreiss. "Sea Silk came off in better shape than any big boat we've pulled off a shore. The greatest damage was to the rudder, which had broken in half. There was also some relatively minor damage around the keel, some cosmetic damage, and a little water inside. But in three weeks she'll be repaired and her owners can continue the one-year cruise they had started."

Kreiss noted that Sea Silk had gone up in about as ideal a spot as possible, and that the Mexican Navy, which has a base half a mile away, took extraordinarily good care of the boat and the five people who came off it in the storm. "The Navy put the crew up, fed them, and did everything they could for the owners." Viva Mexico!

While we were having a cerveza in the Baja Cantina in Cabo, a man sat down next to us and said "hello." It was Bob Barry, who knew us because he'd done the '06 Ha-Ha with his Beneteau 523 Latitude 23. When we asked him where he'd sailed since the Ha-Ha, he told us mostly around Cabo San Lucas.

"I started a day charter business out of Cabo in '07 with a Mexican partner, and two years later I bought him out. Despite all the competition, and the fact that I'm not Mexican, it's been a good business for me. A lot of my friends told me that I'd go crazy after I was in Cabo for a month, but I have a lot of friends and I like it here." Barry tells us that he gets most of his business from TripAdvisor, where his charters are ranked high on the list of popular activities in Cabo. Nonetheless, when the onetime Merrill Lynch employee gets his boat paid off in a couple of years, he says he'd like to buy a catamaran and sail the Caribbean.

Is hoisting your dinghy and outboard for the night no longer enough?

"On November 12 we had our grey Achilles inflatable and her 9.8-hp Tohatsu outboard stolen while we were anchored at Isla de Piedra outside Mazatlan," report John Gratton and Linda Hill of the San Francisco-based Hans Christian 33 Nakia. "The theft occurred at 12:30 a.m. local time, and the method was unusual. Our dinghy was raised high out of the water on a halyard, and the outboard was locked to the dinghy and then cabled and locked to Nakia with 3/16-inch lifeline wire. The thieves placed their panga beneath the raised dinghy, cut the bridle suspending the dinghy, then cut the cable from the dinghy to the boat. I was woken up by the sound of the cable pulling tight on Nakia, and was on deck in time to see the thieves cut the cable and race away in their panga.

John and Linda report they've been cruising Mexico since '04, and this was the first time they'd had anything stolen. But they were disappointed, because the only reason the outboard hadn't been mounted and locked to the back of Nakia is that shortly after sunset John had taken their inflatable to help a vessel in distress. As like Mark Twain said, no good deed goes unpunished.

For the sake of others, if your dinghy is stolen in Mexico, please let us know so we can alert everyone to possible hot spots and techniques used to steal dinghies. Historically, dinghy theft has not been a big problem in Mexico, so let's work to try to keep it that way.

Are cell and data antennas stronger in Mexico than in the United States? It seems like it. Twelve miles after leaving Cabo for Puerto Vallarta aboard Profligate, we were still talking on the phone and surfing the Internet with our Telcel modem. That's about 11½ miles farther offshore than when we sail south of Pt. Loma. And Renee Neal of the San Diego-based Peterson 44 Serendipity reports that she was reading her Facebook page — using her Telcel modem — while sailing down the length of the east coast of remote Cedros Island at 4 a.m. "There Barritt and I were, motorsailing along under a full moon, having a great time, and all my girlfriends were writing about how worried they were for me."

We met up with the Neals and buddy-boaters Chip and Katy Prather of the Dana Point-based Morgan 45 Miss Teak while at Punta Mita, and both couples had nothing but great things to say about their current cruise in Mexico. They all raved about Cruiseport Marina in Ensenada, whose staff drove them — at no cost — to and back from the immigration/port captain's office. "In all ways the Cruiseport folks treated us royally," says Barritt. Their big discovery at Turtle Bay was the Annabelle family's surprisingly large restaurant on the bluff above the cove just to the west of the pier. "Annabelle's food was delicious, and it was inexpensive," says Chip. They also bought diesel from Annabelle that was delivered to their boat at $3.40 a gallon, a price that will give Californians a case of energy envy. Having already spent a lot of time in Cabo, both boats passed by this time in favor of Puertos Los Cabos Marina at San Jose del Cabo. They found that marina assistant manager Shirley Collins runs a pleasantly tight ship, and they enjoyed the less touristy town.

The crews of the two boats had the biggest laugh at San Blas, where they saw an enterprising man riding around on a three-wheeled bike while smoking marlin on half a 55-gallon drum mounted on the bike's handlebars! The man does this every day, and goes around selling the fish on a route. When he dropped five pounds off at a restaurant, the four cruisers asked if they could have a nibble to see how the marlin tasted. In typically stranger-pleasing Mexican fashion, the woman who ran the restaurant lifted a big chunk of the smoked marlin right from her husband's lunch plate and gave it to the cruisers to taste. Yum!

The Neals and Prathers loved their stop at Chacala, where the water was astonishingly warm. Then they rounded the corner of Banderas Bay to anchor at Punta Mita, where they found themselves in company with two Mexican naval vessels. The vessels were part of a security team for President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who was about to take office, and Felipe Calderón, the outgoing president, both of whom were staying at that the St. Regis Hotel in the so-called Four Seasons complex. The Neals and Prathers are loving Mexico as much as, if not more than ever.

"When cruisers apply for U.S. passports, they should get business passports, not the regular ones," advise Jim and Kent Milski of the Lake City, Colorado-based Schionning 49 Sea Level. "We were almost denied entry to South Africa because our passports were full," they write. "We had to get the American Embassy in Durban to glue some additional pages in. When we first got our passports, we could have gotten the business version, which costs no more but has 32 extra pages. We've learned that European Union airlines won't let anyone fly to South Africa unless they have at least four blank pages in their passports. Anyway, we're currently at the international check-in dock, which is free but not very secure. But it's the only place that has space available for our cat. We could tell lots of tales of nasty seas getting here, but we're off to see lions, leopards and elephants, our daughter Samar will join us for Christmas in South Africa, and we think we'll make it to the Caribbean by March or April."

We presume the docks in South Africa are crowded because most circumnavigators still think that the only other option — going by way of the Red Sea and the Med — is still too dangerous thanks to Somali pirates. While piracy is way down, it's not out, and most cruisers don't see the risks of the Red Sea route as outweighing the rewards yet.

"October 14 was an interesting day here at Boca Chica, Panama," reports William Nokes of the Chetco, Oregon-based Gulfstar 41 Someday. "I was running the engine to charge the batteries when Pamela Bendall's Port Hardy, B.C.-based Kristen 46, Precious Metal, a vet of the Ha-Ha as well as cruising in Central and South America, motored in behind a sailboat named Rapscallion. To my surprise, they passed through the anchorage — apparently on their way upriver to Pedregal — without responding to calls on VHF 16. Both Derek of Seagull Cove Resort and I tried hailing them on a variety of channels, but got no response. Derek finally jumped into his small boat and took off after them, wanting to make sure that they knew of the local hazards. Obviously they didn't, because Derek caught up with them just in time to see Rapscallion's mast take down the power line, and then Precious Metal go aground on a reef. It took several hours, but we finally got her boat off the reef and anchored. The fact that Precious Metal is a steel boat may saved the boat's life, as she suffered no leaks."

Nokes, who writes a frequent and very readable blog from onboard in Panama, reports that it's possible to continue on past the Boca Chica anchorage the seven or so miles up the windy Rio Garibaldo to Pedregal and the big metropolitan area of David. But you do need the latest local knowledge to do it safely.

Who needs the mainland?

"I sailed down in the '11 Ha-Ha with plans for open-ended 'commuter cruising' in the Sea of Cortez," writes Jimmy Peter of the Malibu-based Pacific Seacraft 37 Island Time. "After the Ha-Ha ended, I quickly left the noise and madness of Cabo for San Jose del Cabo. It was like exhaling. Cruisers told me that if I liked San Jose del Cabo, I would love La Paz. I did love La Paz! Initially I had a very busy cruising itinerary, with lots of anchorages, fishing villages and ports to check off my list. But whereas I used to just stay one night in places, I now spend two, three, and even four nights. And I now think an anchorage is crowded if there are more than three boats. I love the weather in the Sea, although I've gotten an education in how to deal with the coromuel winds and the sudden and strong chubascos and elephantes, as well as the brutal heat of summer. I also learned that siestas make so much sense! I might make it over to the mainland this winter, but if I don't, that's cool, because I still have so much more to see in the Sea. The one thing I'm going to do for sure is cruise farther up into the Sea this spring and summer."

If you've been sailing in Mexico this winter, you know that the air and water temperatures have been unusually warm. For instance, the Prathers' thermometer read 86 degrees at Punta Mita, which is about 12 miles from Puerto Vallarta, and an astonishing 87+ degrees at Chacala. We don't know if Miss Teak's thermometer needs recalibrating, but we do know that surfers and SUP-ers are hitting the waves at dawn sans wetsuits and staying out until noon! Warm water means big fish. In April, Robert Pedigo landed a 428 lbs yellowfin tuna on the Puerto Vallarta-based sportfishing boat Journeyman. In September, Dana Point's Guy Yocom landing a 428 lbs yellowfin at Cabo. The latter is the new International Game Fishing record because a deckhand had touched Pedigo's rod during his fight, disqualifying it for a record.

Having sampled plenty of yellowfin, dorado, and yahoo during this year's Ha-Ha — thanks to the fishermen aboard Profligate and other Ha-Ha boats — we've decided that wahoo (ono) makes the best sashimi, but nothing can compare with Dino's baked yellowfin tuna.

There was sad news out of La Cruz in mid-November, as Dick Schubert, a lifetime member and staff commodore of the Half Moon Bay YC, passed suddenly as the result of a carotid artery aneurysm. He and his wife Tami had done the '11 Ha-Ha with their CT-54 Journey, and had been popular members of the cruising communities in both La Paz and La Cruz. In fact, we're told Ha-Ha friends of Dick in La Paz even held a memorial service for him there.

La Paz, of course, is a popular 'next stop' for many members of the Ha-Ha fleets. Patsy Verhoeven of the La Paz-based Gulfstar 50 Talion, whose boat was one of only three that sailed the entire course, reports that the northers weren't as strong as predicted north of Frailes, and Los Muertos "was fabulous, as was the food at 1535, the palapa restaurant right on the bay."

"The arrival of many Ha-Ha boats coincided with the finish of the Baja 1000 and Mexican Independence Day, so the town was jumping," says Verhoeven, "and the net was busy with new arrivals asking for local knowledge. The Ha-Ha Welcome To La Paz Party, put on by the local businesses and Mexican government, was a huge success, and not just because four boats won weeklong stays at the five-star Costa Baja Resort and Marina. La Paz, my town, is a fun and active place for cruisers in the winter.

There are several big events coming up on the cruiser calendar in Mexico. December 11 is the Riviera Nayarit Sailor's Splash, which is a welcome to that region for Ha-Ha and other cruisers by Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz, and many other tourist businesses. The Splash is immediately followed by the three-day Banderas Bay Blast, which is strictly 'nothing serious' Ha-Ha-style racing for cruising boats, and also features the annual reopening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club and the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run for Charity. See 'Lectronic for details.

Farther down the calendar are Zihua Sail Fest, the great cruiser fundraiser in early February; Banderas Bay Regatta, the biggest cruiser regatta in Mexico, in March; and Loreto Fest, the biggest cruiser gathering in the Sea of Cortez, in early May.

In the 30+ years we've been cruising Mexico, there have been two constants: 1) The great cruisers you meet. And, 2) The fabulously warm and kind people of Mexico. Two things to keep in mind if you're considering doing next fall's 20th Annual Baja Ha-Ha.

Missing the pictures? See the December 2012 eBook!


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