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  Pacific Puddle Jump 2004 - Part 1  

For diehard sailors like us, few things resemble torture more than when we find ourselves standing on a dock waving good-bye to someone who's sailing off over the horizon on an open-ended cruise - especially when they're bound for Tahiti.

Yet that's exactly what we've done for the past seven years, ever since we began the tradition of acknowledging the annual migration of cruisers from Mexico to the Marquesas, a phenomenon which we dubbed the Pacific Puddle Jump. In early spring every year we throw a little fiesta in their honor at Puerto Vallarta - this year generously cosponsored by the Vallarta Yacht Club and the Paradise Village Resort and Marina - so that members of the fleet can get acquainted and also achieve their 15 minutes of fame in the pages of Latitude.

Considering that this 2,800-mile passage is the longest patch of open water most cruisers will ever face if they sail around the world through the tropics, we feel that all the ink we're giving them here, and in a second installment next month, is definitely justified.

As always, the boat types are as varied as the backgrounds of the folks who sail them. Some are half-million-dollar beauties with all the bells and whistles, while others are vintage fixer-uppers that were probably picked up for a song. But they will all reach the same glorious landfalls and palm-fringed lagoons, proving yet again that getting 'out there' is more about having the will to do so than simply having deep pockets.

The Puddle Jump, we should explain, is neither an organized race nor a rally, as each crew starts on their own timetable and follows their own route. While en route, they keep in touch via radio scheds, and by the time they meet again in the sun-kissed anchorages of the Marquesas, Tuamotus or Tahiti, they will have built an undeniable sense of camaraderie through their shared achievement. We are soooooo jealous!

With that as background we'll introduce you to the Pacific Puddle Jump Class of 2004. We raise a toast to their adventurous spirits while wishing them steady winds and sunny skies during their epic crossing.

Matarua - Cheoy Lee 41
Joyce & Peter Shackleton
Vancouver, BC

"We have a big champagne toast every Monday morning to celebrate the fact that we don't have to go to work anymore!" say Joyce and Peter with apparent seriousness.

Although they both hail from England originally, they are longtime Canadian citizens who have also lived in Fiji. They've been sailing for decades, but always in smaller boats. So, after moving up to this classic 41-footer recently, they feel as though they are living in a palace. Joyce explains that she's been working toward adopting the cruising lifestyle for the past five years, but that Peter has had the dream for much longer - to which he counters, "The only dream I have is not going to work!"

"Last summer," explains Peter, "we sailed north around the Queen Charlottes, along Vancouver Island and then south. We just plan to keep on bumping along, but this next 'bump' is a very long one!" Matarua is expected to follow the 'cruiser milk run' as far as Australia, then, "Who knows?"

Esprit - Kelly Peterson 46
McWilliam Family, San Diego, CA

We first met Chay and Katie during the Baja Ha-Ha last fall. Their six-year-old son is named Jamie, but we will always think of him as Peter Pan, as that was his costume at the Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party - Peter Pan never looked so cute.

Although they've spent less than six months in Mexico, they're committed to setting off to the South Pacific now, before they get hung up in mañanaland, as so many would-be world cruisers do. "We want to get around the world before Jamie becomes a teenager," says Katie wisely. She must know how tough it is to break kids away from their high school social scenes.

Along the way, Jamie will practice his reading, writing and 'rithmatic using materials from the Calvert School, as so many other cruising kids have done before him. "Actually, we're all studying Calvert Spanish," notes Katie. "Yeah," adds Chay, "we're about a half hour ahead of Jamie."

Arclyd II - Fraser 41
The Mech family, Salt Spring Is., BC

Looking back, it's a bit eerie that Karl, Michelle and their daughter Kelsey, now 12, set sail on their open-ended cruise on September 11, 2001, initially unaware of the terrorist attacks. But things have been much more upbeat since then.

Because their cruising timetable is open-ended, the Mechs are keeping their options open. Now headed south, they haven't yet decided to turn left or right at Panama, but Plan A is to sail down to Ecuador, then out to the Galapagos - which would more or less qualify them as Puddle Jumpers. Plan B is to head into the Caribbean. Hmmm. . . must be nice to have such decisions to make.

Both mom and dad have been sailing for decades - Michelle did a Vancouver-to-Australia trip years ago - and young Kelsey took her first sail when only four months old. So their advice is worth listening to: "Don't get discouraged when you're getting ready to go and lots of problems occur," says articulate young Kelsey. "The pendulum will swing back up. The experiences and lifestyle are well worth the effort."

Michelle advises, "Seeing parts of the world in your own boat brings one so much more in touch with the people, wildlife and land of countries visited, than probably any other form of travel." To that, Karl adds, "There is nothing quite like being on watch during a downwind sail on a starry night."

Scarlett O'Hara - Serendipity 43
John & Renee Prentice, San Diego, CA

John is one of the only - if not the only - Class of '04 Puddle Jumpers who has made this crossing before. In 2002, he crewed for Clark Straw aboard the Mason 54 Final Straw, and had a wonderful time. This year he'll doublehand with 'co-captain' Renee, who is excited yet just a wee bit tentative about making such a long passage. To reassure her, John often reminds her that his trip to the Marquesas was much more pleasant than any of the TransPacs he's done.

To John, one of the most impressive things about that first trip was the natural beauty of the Marquesas. "But as beautiful as those islands are on the coast, they are incredible in the interior. I highly recommend taking an inland tour."

This duo has been sailing together for 30 years, and have owned eight boats together. Over the years they've developed a watch system that is a bit out of the ordinary: "John will basically be singlehanding," says Renee with a laugh. She is a very experienced sailor, but hates night watches. That's okay by John. Besides, he's looking forward to much better eating en route than on that last all-guy trip.

Bobulona - Liberty 46
Denis & Shari Dicks, Seattle, WA

Although this is Denis and Shari's first trip into the vast South Pacific, they've already figured out that overplanning is a waste of time. "You make plans and they change. You make more plans and they change again, but really, any which-way you go is just fine," says Shari.

With an open attitude toward their itinerary, this highly athletic pair are looking forward to "meeting people, diving, windsurfing, surfing and laying back." They met, in fact, while windsurfing at the Columbia Gorge. For them, this dream has been a long time coming. Denis began sailing at age 10, and Shari's mom tells her she became fascinated with ships and boats as early as age 7. When she hooked up with Denis years ago, she quickly adopted his cruising dreams. "I decided I'm only going to live once, I'm never going to be a blonde, so I might as well have fun."

Mary C - Catalina 36
Fred Adam, Seattle, WA

Fred has crossed oceans more times than he can count - but never at ground level. A former Navy and airline pilot, he explains, "After 30 years of touring the world from 35,000 feet, it's time to really see it from sea level."

During the year and a half since he left Seattle, he has greatly enjoyed the Mexican culture, but has been most impressed by the "incredible cooperation, cohesiveness and camaraderie among cruisers." He won't say whether or not he'll do a complete circumnavigation. Having run three marathons, he figures the best strategy is to take it one step at a time.

When we met Fred last month he was officially singlehanding, but was open to taking along "a mature female co-captain." His primary requirement was that she possess "joie d' vivre!" Apparently he gave up on finding her, however, as Mary C was the first of this year's fleet to set sail (March 15).

Camira - Alan Payne 41 yawl
Mike & Dana Snyder, Bellingham, WA

Oddly enough, Dana learned to sail as a kid while Mike didn't sample the sport until he was a Navy pilot on a tour of duty in the South Pacific. But it was Mike who had fantasies of crossing oceans in a sailboat, and when he and Dana got together, she quickly bought into his cruising fantasies. Together, they worked for 10 years to make those dreams a reality.

Reflecting on his new cruising life, Mike says, "After spending a lot of time going 500 knots, its very cool to slow down and experience a completely different pace. In fact, as a friend put it recently, 'You have to be a 'Type A' to get here, but you'd better switch into a 'Type B' pretty quickly."

"You might say we're successfully mellowing," adds Dana. "I think I'm a 'Type C' or 'Type D' by now."

Their plan is to island-hop to New Zealand, then reassess. So far they seem to be having the time of their lives, exploring new cultures and making new friends. "We've made more friends than we ever had in our former, furiously-working lifestyle," they say. "The cruising community is composed of giving, intelligent, gifted people. Sailing is just a small part of it all."

Tenacity - Valiant 40
Andy Rausch & Holly MacRae
St. Helens, OR

We have to wonder if Andy knows just how lucky he is. There must be thousands of guys out there whose greatest desire is to find an ideal cruising companion. And here Andy is, headed off to the South Pacific with lovely Holly, who is game to go even though she's only been sailing for one year! "The most important decision is the crew you sail with," says Andy.

Apparently they both approach life with positive attitudes. They bought their boat in the Bay Area just last August and set sail, southbound, only three months later. But in nasty weather off Pt. Arquello their engine caught fire, causing a litany of problems. They didn't take it as a bad omen, though. As Holly says, "It would take more than that to deter us from our dreams." They plan to do a complete circumnavigation via Africa.

Mag Mell - Endeavour 37
Ed & Melissa Phillips, Charleston, OR

Both Ed and Melissa are very well traveled, but more so by land than by sea. That is about to change as they set off on an open-ended cruise.

Europe is among the places that Ed hopes to revisit by boat. He'd like to pilot the canals of Germany, eventually connecting to the Danube, then continue down to the Black Sea. Meanwhile, Melissa has her sights set on Indonesia and Thailand, where she hopes to linger a while.

Back in the real world - before heading south on the 2002 Baja Ha-Ha - Ed was a cop and Melissa was a stressed-out chemical engineer who worked 75 hours a week. But the cruising lifestyle has mellowed them. "Now, when I talk to my mom she can hardly understand me," admits Melissa, "because . . I. . . talk. . . s-o. . . s-l-o-w."

Low Pressure - Peterson 46
Nick & Megan, San Francisco, CA

You might say that Nick and Megan are our 'mystery couple'. We didn't have a chance to get to know them because they had to leave the Kickoff Party early to attend to family who'd flown down for the couple's wedding a few days earlier.

We know that they are both only 30. But they didn't give us their last names, apparently trying to preserve their anonymity, because Nick used to work as a Bay Area TV personality. No worries. Protocol within the cruising community never calls for last names anyway.

Having moved up recently from a Merit 25 to this full-blown cruiser, Nick and Megan are just beginning their cruising adventures. "We haven't decided where to go next, but it will be warm." As to places they'll avoid, they rule out anyplace "north or south of Latitude 38."

Antares I - Gulfstar 44
Bill Cowan, et al, Vancouver, BC

"For me, this dream began a long, long time ago," explains Bill. "In fact, I think it started when I read about the Kon Tiki Expedition as a kid." However, his pursuit of ocean voyaging apparently aided in ending his first marriage, and wife #2, Halina, isn't interested in making the long crossing to French Polynesia. A while back, Bill did have a "rock solid" commitment from one friend to crew, but he eventually bailed, as did a second crewman some time later.

Luckily, though, Bill ran into Anna Lachmuth at our Kickoff Party, and within an hour she was signed on to make the crossing - with the blessings of Bill's wife, Halina. (They'd all met previously.) Halina will fly out to rejoin Antares in Tahiti.

Anna (who appeared in Sightings last month) came down to Mexico to catch a promised ride to Australia, which eventually fell through. But then - voila! - serendipity intervened. She has already toured Southeast Asia extensively by land, but now that she's become a sailor we wouldn't be surprised if she successfully hitchhikes all the way 'round the planet.

djadara - Niagara 35
Mike Hyde & Victoria Hamilton, Toronto, ON

"The name djadara," explains Victoria, "comes from Eastern Australian Aborigines and means a spell of love magic cast upon a woman."

"And it's still working!" adds Mike with a mischievous smile.

He and Victoria have long-range plans that are pretty unique. They intend to do the 'coconut milk run' through the South Pacific islands to New Zealand, then head back across the North Pacific to Vancouver in 2006 to restock the kitty. Then, before they get too hung up, they hope to sail to Europe, via Panama, and explore the interior via that continent's extensive canal system. "You can actually enter at Amsterdam," Mike reports, "and work your way all the way down to the French Riviera."

Their game plan, however, is no more unique than their careers. They've both worked extensively in the film industry, Mike as a set construction foreman and Victoria as a set painter. Their advice to the wannabes back home? "Let the kids pay for their own university!" Actually, they plan to take their 21-year-old daughter along as crew, at least part of the way, where she will undoubtedly get a splendid education in the school of life.

Ascension - Beneteau 38
Gord & Ginny Kerr, Victoria, BC

From their homeport of Victoria, on British Columbia's Vancouver Island, Gord and Ginny have been exploring the Gulf and San Juan Islands under sail for the past two decades. But six months ago, they cast off the docklines on this long-awaited, open-ended cruise. "We have no definite plans," they say, "and no definite date of return!"

In addition to their lifelong desire to see the world, they were inspired to make this bold move due to "a love of the ocean and the desire for the freedom to live a simple life."

So far, they've been most impressed by "the wonderful people we've met along the way - both locals and cruisers."

Sowelu - Custom 42' sloop
Boja & Mai Kosmak, Edmonton, AB

According to Boja, a Canadian who grew up in Czechoslovakia, the word sowelu originated with the Vikings many centuries ago. It has to do with one of the rune stones used by Viking fortune tellers and magicians to predict the future, heal the sick, banish evil and bestow blessings. In present-day context it symbolizes to Mai and Boja "the choices you make which come from your inner soul, from the core of your personality."

Since their home in Alberta is a long way from the ocean, they would seem unlikely candidates to do the Puddle Jump, but Boja says he has been fantasizing about ocean voyaging all his life - even back in landlocked Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic).

They set sail from Vancouver, BC, just last September with plans for an open-ended cruise. "The crossing to the Marquesas will be quite a challenge, but a great learning experience. We have already discovered things about ourselves and our souls that we didn't know before, and we're eager to get out into the magic of the South Pacific."

We'll put a cap on the 'profile pen' here. But we promise to introduce you to the rest of the PPJ Class of 2004 next month - including many of those who were departing from elsewhere in Mexico. In the meantime, keep a good thought for the health and safety of all those adventurous souls who are - as you read this - crossing that enormous patch of blue water.

- latitude/aet

This story was reprinted from the April 2004 issue of Latitude 38. To order a copy (complete with photos in living black & white), use the subscription order form, and specify the 4/04 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.

Please note: After a couple of years, the actual issue may no longer be available, but we will still be able to make photocopies of it.

Link to Pacific Puddle Jump 2004 - Part 2

©2004 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.