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December 2013

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With reports this month from Mintaka on sailing and surfing in Panama; from Kurt Roll on the Phantom Quad/GoPro as a cruising tool and toy; from Profligate on a medical emergency during the second leg of the Baja Ha-Ha; from Pacific Highway on losing a rudder near Tonga; from Geja on sailing and socializing in Croatia; from Talion on setting up an iPhone for use in Mexico; and Cruise Notes.

Mintaka — Triton 29
Stefan Ries
Budget Cruising and Surfing
(Punta Mita / Germany)

Hey now! I'm currently anchored at Playa Benao, Panama — sometimes spelled
Venao — where there are small waves and a free WiFi signal to be enjoyed. It was two to three feet this morning with a light offshore wind and just two other guys out. It's a fun beach break when there isn't much swell.

Last week I surfed a very good reef break at Santa Catalina with some sets that were head high. The downside is that the safe anchorage is a mile away and there are strong currents. So instead of making the long paddle, I sailed over both times, but both times had trouble getting my anchor up. So I still haven't found my ideal anchoring/surfing spot.

Here at Benoa, I walk one mile along the beach to get to the peaks while Mintaka stays comfortably anchored in 15 feet of water with a sand bottom. That's at low tide. It's 30 feet deep at high tide. Yeah, the tidal range on the Pacific Coast of Panama is impressive, which also explains the strong currents. It does get choppy here in the afternoon, and with Passage Weather forecasting 20 knots from the southwest for the weekend, I think I'll ride that breeze back to Panama City. Besides, it's time to do a good reprovisioning.

I've also got another surf zone — Morro Negrito — to check out, along with some island surf in the Chiriqui Province. Come December, the prevailing wind will switch to out of the north, so this will also mean a change in which anchorages will be viable. The dry season is supposed to run from December to April.

By the way, the Perlas Islands were very enjoyable, with nice scenery including whales and dolphins, and some very calm anchorages. Isla Espritu Santo was my favorite anchorage. The fishing was very good in the Perlas, too. Almost every time I trolled I caught a bonita — not very good tasting — or a sierra — delicious.

After Panama City, I will probably check out some more anchorages at the Perlas Islands and then keep searching for the perfect anchor/surf place. The sailing has been fine, as I've had to spend very little time drifting. Normally there is an onshore breeze from about 10 a.m. until dark, then an offshore from about 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. The days have been cloudy, rainy and sunny in equal proportion. There is something good in all three of them. Cloudy days keep the temperature down and save on sunscreen. Rainy days fill the water tanks and wash the boat. Sunny days charge the batteries and allow me to paint and varnish.

There are some interesting theories about where the name Panama came from. One is that it comes from the name of a commonly found tree. Another is that it comes from the term 'many butterflies' in an indigenous language. The most popular theory is that it comes from a village named for the abundance of fish. To keep everyone happy, the Ministry of Education has the textbooks say Panama means "an abundance of fish, butterflies and trees.'

— stefan 11/05/2013

Drones for Cruising?
Kurt Roll
Why Not?
(San Diego)

During this year's Little Ensenada Race, crewman Kurt Roll of San Diego brought along his DJI Phantom quad copter, which is equipped with a gyro and a GoPro camera. As Profligate floated in place 200 yards from the starting line, Roll had his quad and GoPro hovering directly over and around the boats starting in the earlier classes. Two days later in Ensenada, he filmed part of the Todos Santos Race and took some great aerial video and stills of the Coral Hotel & Marina. Everybody who saw the results video was spellbound.

Roll also brought his Phantom and GoPro to the recently completed Ha-Ha, then quickly put together a six-minute preview clip of what will be a 20-minute video of the event. Wow.

For years we'd been wanting to buy something that would allow us to take aerial photos of boats and anchorages. We always assumed our only choice was a engine-powered paraglider. We know people who have used them, but they are cumbersome to carry on a boat, expensive, and would put our life on the line. So we've refrained.

The Phantom does almost everything a paraglider does at a fraction of the cost, size and risk to our lives. The Phantom flies to 2,000 feet, at 20 miles an hour, and if it loses contact with you, it returns to your last position. At least when everything goes right. The GoPro can simultaneously take high resolution video and stills.

You can buy the Phantom/GoPro combination in two different price ranges. For about $700, you can get the Phantom and the GoPro to start taking aerial photos and video. The limitations are that you can't change the angle of the camera, the results suffer a bit from vibration, and you have to guess what your camera is seeing. You can have a lot of fun with this starter setup, but if you have some extra money lying around — say $3,000 — you can get a much more professional setup and more professional results.

One major feature of the more expensive set-up is that you get a gyro, which enables you to move the camera in any direction you want while in flight, and it eliminates the vibration that reduces image quality. Thanks to a video screen add-on to the control console, you get to 'see' through the camera as it's filming — just as if you were bombing terrorists. In other words, you get much better quality and control. In addition, you get a special hard suitcase with laser-cut foam slots for all the tiny parts. Trust us, there are lots of tiny parts.

The more expensive quad/camera versions are custom-made, not something that you can have shipped to you the next day from Amazon. We got our Phantom set-up from a phantom friend of Roll's. The custom packages suffer a bit from a lack of instructions, prototype-itis, and other issues, some of which can be quite expensive.

Since it takes some time to learn how to fly the quad properly — for example, it's hard to tell the nose from the tail of the square-shaped device when it's a couple of hundred yards away — we suggest that you take baby steps by starting with the basic quad and GoPro. Once you have mastered the operation of the quad and the GoPro, you can move to greater sophistication.

If you want to start with real baby steps, start with just the GoPro, master it, and then move on to the quad. The GoPro is more complicated than a point 'n' shoot camera, but is a fantastic above- and below-water device itself. Roll's underwater video of dolphins taken during the Ha-Ha is right out of National Geographic.

In addition to taking mind-boggling aerial photos and videos of your boat and crew, you can use your Phantom to check out anchorages in drone-like fashion. For example, if we were more experienced, we could have checked out the bar conditions at Bahia Santa Maria with our quad instead having to do it in our dinghy. And say you're walking around the rim of an active volcano in the South Pacific, as Roll did. He could use the Phantom to find out how close he could safely get to the edge.

You control the Phantom with a common two-joystick game console, and with practice, it's relatively easy to fly. However, we recommend you read the instructions first and don't attempt your first flight in the front room of an ex-wife's house, as we did. No, it didn't go so well, particularly since there is no on-off switch on the Phantom to shut down the rotors after you've scared the cats and crashed into the ex-wife's flat screen.

Later that afternoon we had our Phantom flying beautifully in a nearby park. At least until we sent it screaming over some tall eucalyptus trees a couple of hundred yards away, heading in the general direction of LAX. It got so far away that we couldn't tell front from back, which made it hard to control. The Phantom instruction book advises operators not to panic in such situations. Easy for them to say. Fortunately, our son Nick, a veteran of a number of hours on video games, took over control of the console and brought the Phantom back to us. Daughter Lauren, with much less video time to her credit, was soon doing all kinds of tricks with the Phantom.

The quad uses lipo batteries and a special charger. The batteries are capable of exploding and catching fire — see examples on YouTube — and inexplicably, it's easy to plug the battery into the charger with the polarity reversed, which destroys the charger if not the battery, too. The batteries only last for about six minutes per charge, so you want five or six of them. They cost about $30 each.

If you want to see what the Phantom/GoPro combo is capable of, order Kurt Roll's Ha-Ha video, which should be available December 1 from for just $25. Or you can visit the Phantom or GoPro sites. But be careful, as it may well be what you want under your Christmas tree.

— latitude 38/rs 11/05/2013

Profligate — Surfin' 63
The Ha-Ha Crew and Bob Hoyt
Medical Emergency at Sea
(Punta Mita, Mexico)

If you're the skipper of a boat or the organizer of an offshore event like the Baja Ha-Ha, it's the kind of wake-up call you don't want to get. It was 9 p.m. on the first night out of the 240-mile second leg of the rally from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria when the Wanderer and Doña de Mallorca were woken up.

"Suzi Q says there's a medical emergency," said crewman Dino, "and she needs Doña to come up right away." Suzi Q is a Ha-Ha regular aboard Profligate and, as a retired fire chief, is not one to become unnecessarily alarmed or need assistance with an EMT situation. If she wanted the help of de Mallorca, a mostly lapsed RN, it had to be serious.

Not being a medical professional, the Wanderer stayed out of the way in his bunk and wondered what the medical problem was, and what boat it was occurring on. It didn't take long to find out, as de Mallorca was back in a flash to get the baby aspirin.
"It's Suzi," she told Wanderer. "She's having trouble breathing, her chest feels constricted, and she has a lot of pain in her upper abdomen."

It sure sounded like a heart attack, and there we were about 90 miles from land and even farther from advanced medical care. This could be a life-and-death situation.

Andy 'Puddle Jump' Turpin got on the Iridium satphone and called the Coast Guard Search & Rescue center in Alameda. We wanted to see if there were any medical assets in our area, be they cruise ships, Coast Guard vessels or even Navy ships.

Before the call could be completed, the evaluation of Suzi's condition began to change. It was quickly determined that her blood pressure and pulse were normal, her breathing had returned to normal, and the constriction of her chest was replaced by a "sharp, unrelenting severe pain in the upper abdomen." The good news was that it no longer appeared to be a heart attack.

The Coast Guard informed us that there were no military or commercial vessels in our vicinity, but they put us in touch with a Coast Guard flight surgeon who suspected pancreatitis or a gall bladder problem. His recommendation was the same for both — get to advanced medical care as soon as possible. That would be more easily said than done, as we were already offshore of the rhumbline. The Baja coast curves inland along this stretch, and we knew of no place along it with anything like advanced medical care.

On the second of third call to the SAR center, the guardsman told us he'd alerted the Mexican Navy to our situation and that they were willing and able to meet us offshore. Given that it no longer looked like a heart attack, and that the seas were sloppy, we didn't believe it would be prudent to attempt an offshore transfer.

Even though Suzi was in extreme pain — worse than we had ever seen anyone in before — we decided that our original destination of Bahia Santa Maria, about 17 hours away, was the best bet. We knew people there and we knew the location of the nearest clinic and hospital. Coherent and aware of the situation despite the severe pain, Suzi agreed with our decision. "Go with the sure thing," she said.

She may have second-guessed her advice later, for after vomiting up all the bile in her system, the pain became even worse. "I just need a bullet," she moaned, as well as "Just throw me overboard." Although slight of build, Suzi is a hard-working country girl and a veteran of three back surgeries, so she's no wimp or whiner.

Ever thoughtful of others, Suzi gave instructions to throw her body overboard if she died, not wanting to stink up the boat. In the gallows humor pervasive on Profligate, crewman Chris assured her not to worry, that we'd be able to remove enough food from the chest freezer to accommodate her corpse.

Although we weren't yet technically in the tropics, it had been warm all day and it was warm all night, so dehydration was a constant concern. De Mallorca and other crewmembers kept trying to feed ice chips to the dehydrated Suzi. Initially she was unable to keep them down, but later was able to accept some of them.

Daylight brought some good news. Suzi was no longer writhing in pain, searching for a pain-free position, and after she'd held down a pain pill, she even managed to nod off for short periods.

As Profligate passed Cabo San Lazaro a few miles from Bahia Santa Maria at about 3 p.m, the Mexican Navy was there, as promised, with a fast boat ready to rush Suzi to the 35-mile-distant clinic at San Carlos. With Suzi no longer in severe pain, we waited to reach the calm waters of the bay before the crew of Paramour came alongside with their dinghy to transfer Suzi and Doña to the navy vessel.

As soon as the transfer was completed, the Mexican EMT tried to hook Suzi up with an IV, but her flatten veins made it difficult. She finally stuck herself successfully, but it was nearly impossible to keep the needle in once the vessel hit its cruising speed of 40+ knots.

It helps to have friends in remote places, such as our friend in the Mag Bay area, Bob Hoyt of Mag Bay Outfitters. He'd promised to meet Suzi at the San Carlos dock with an ambulance, and he was true to his word. In a matter of minutes she had been taken into the clinic via the back entrance.

The doctor, deemed competent by de Mallorca, had a regular practice in Ciudad Constitucion but came down to San Carlos once a week to volunteer his services. When they left later, de Mallorca noticed about 20 people in the waiting room hoping to see him.

The doctor diagnosed Suzi as having gastritis, and prescribed some heartburn medicine. But he insisted that she get to a more sophisticated facility as soon as possible for a more definitive diagnosis. He had no ultrasound or x-ray capability there.

Once out of the clinic, Suzi, Doña and Bob took off into the night for 45-minute distant Constitucion, hoping to get there before the pharmacy closed at 9 p.m. They just made it. After that, there was another 45-minute drive in the dark over muddy, rutted roads to the village of Lopez Mateo, population about 2,000. This is where Bob has a house and basic quarters for clients of Mag Bay Outfitters fishing charters.

Suzi felt quite a bit better in the morning, and even spoke of returning to Profligate for the last leg of the Ha-Ha. But as she still felt some nausea and stomach discomfort, this idea was nixed.

Thanks to a ride arranged by Hoyt, Suzi caught a flight back to California the next day out of Loreto. In fact, she, the star of the only music video ever made about the Ha-Ha, felt good enough to take the stage the following night to perform with her band, the Random Strangers. The next day she was diagnosed as needing gall bladder surgery, often a quick and relatively safe procedure. Thank goodness.

For de Mallorca, traveling the 30 miles from Lopez Mateo back to Profligate in Bahia Santa Maria was a bit of an adventure. But she lives for that kind of thing. First, she would have to take a rudimentary ferry across the narrow inland waterway that runs from Mag Bay to an outlet 60 miles to the north. Once on the beach on the other side, she could be driven down the beach to Bahia Santa Maria. But this could only be done late in the afternoon when the tide was low, and thus the sand hard enough for the car to fly down the endless stretch of beach at 50 mph.

Since it wasn't going to be low tide until 4 p.m., de Mallorca had some time to kill. She decided to get a pedicure at one of the typical places in Mexican villages where a woman provides the service in the front room of her house. Alas, it didn't go so well, as after the old polish had been taken off just a couple of her toes, the woman's four-year-old boy came into the room with a guilty look on his face. Suddenly everybody smelled smoke. As all curious young boys do, the little fella had been playing with matches and managed to burn the back bedroom down.

De Mallorca reports that the ride down the beach was fascinating, as there were bunches of abandoned cars and the last bones of a wrecked ship, plus the bow of the Downeast 38 Tachyon that had gone ashore two years before while her skipper slept. To spice it up, the car behind hers with a fishing group kept breaking down. It was dark when they made it back, but they did make it.

Lessons: Having a satphone with lots of minutes is invaluable in the case of a medical emergency. The Mexican Navy is super-friendly and ready to help. Bob Hoyt is the man!

— latitude/rs 11/15/2013

Pacific Highway — Davidson 44
Bruce and Laura Masterson
Feeling Like a Rudderless Child
(St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands)

After five weeks in Tonga, we decided to sail our Davidson 44 to Fiji for our final two months of cruising before heading down to New Zealand to wait out cyclone season. Our weather window was perfect: 8-12 knots of breeze and calm seas. We were able to sail downwind with reefed main and a poled-out jib. With a strong current behind us, we were doing 7-8 knots under a full moon. This was looking as if it would be our easiest passage since leaving Mexico last March.

Then at 1:30 a.m. — when else? — the autopilot started beeping, indicating the boat had veered off course to port and the autopilot wasn't able to correct. I shut off the autopilot and grabbed the wheel, which was hard over to starboard, but couldn't get the boat to respond. I yelled for my husband Bruce to come on deck. He confirmed that the steering system was working, which could only mean one thing — our rudder must be gone!

We dropped the sails, started the engine, and began the process of figuring out how to steer the boat without a rudder. Anybody who has had to try do this with a larger boat knows how close to impossible it can be.

First we tried using our spinnaker pole as a tiller/rudder. It proved to be too difficult to control and there wasn't enough surface area in the water to change Pacific Highway's course. Then we tried tying two fenders together, running a line under the stern and adjusting it so that one fender sat alongside the hull just above the waterline. The theory was that when we pulled up one fender, the one on the other side would go deeper into the water, creating drag, and causing the boat to turn. Great in theory, but in reality it didn't work at all — except for covering the line with bottom paint.

Bruce's next idea was to attach a piece of plywood to the end of the spinnaker pole to make a more effective 'rudder 'blade. But it was now 4:30 a.m., we were tired, and we were in no danger. Pacific Highway was drifting downcurrent at about two knots and the nearest reef was about 300 miles away. So we decided to get two hours of rest and come back to the problem after the sun came up.

Once the sun was up, Bruce jumped over the side to confirm that the rudder was gone. It was gone, having sheared off at the hull. Fortunately, there was no damage to the hull and we were not taking on any water. The weather was settled, and we were about 80 miles from Tonga and in no immediate danger.

Bruce drilled holes into our piece of plywood, then we lashed it to the end of the spinnaker pole. Next we lashed the pole into place with lines going to our cockpit winches to control the pole. What we hadn't anticipated was that the plywood would float. So we drilled more holes and added more lines to try to hold the 'rudder' in position. But it was impossible to keep it submerged. Plus it took way too much effort to try to control the spinnaker pole. Even if we could steer this way, we'd be exhausted after an hour. Even worse, it still didn't allow us to hold the boat into the wind and current.

We knew that there was a Southern Cross net on SSB Ch. 8191 at 8 a.m., so we checked in and let them know our position and situation. We reported that our intention was to return to Tonga. The folks on Egret said they had just arrived in the harbor and would put out word on the VHF net that we would need a tow once we got back to Vava'u.

Our next project was to try to steer by dragging a bucket. Bruce drilled five holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket so it wouldn't become a sea anchor, drilled holes in the side for running a tow line, and we put it behind the boat with lines led to winches. The bucket veered from side to side, resulting in the boat turning through 180 degrees — but making no forward progress. We put a second bucket behind the first to keep the first bucket facing forward ­— two buckets in a series like a drogue. This worked somewhat, but we still weren't making much progress in the right direction.

Bruce figured we needed a wider 'V' for our tow line, so we put the spinnaker pole across the stern with blocks lashed to the ends. The tow lines led from the bucket, through the blocks, and to the winches. It was then 5:30 p.m., but we were finally tracking in a straight line! We were only doing about 2¼ knots, but it was in the right direction. It's hard to believe, but we were euphoric!

In addition to trying to create a 'rudder', in the 15 hours after we lost the rudder we'd experimented with every possible sail configuration. Motoring directly into the wind, we ended up using a triple-reefed mainsail sheeted way out and secured with a preventer. This seemed to steady the boat, and if we wanted to come up on our course, we would sheet in.

We arrived in Vava'u — 80+ miles and 52 hours later! — at daybreak and were met by a boat that towed us to a mooring.

As vets of both the 2012 Ha-Ha and 2013 Puddle Jump, we can't stress enough the value of having an SSB radio. If we hadn't had success with jury rigging a steering system, we could have gone to the net for suggestions. Having the SSB meant we knew that our position was being monitored, and if necessary, we could have arranged for a boat to tow us the 80 miles to Vava'u. The SSB meant we never felt alone out there, and meant we never felt in danger. Some cruisers are electing to carry a satphone in lieu of an SSB radio, but whom would you call or email in a situation like ours? Your sister in Cleveland? Your broker? Facebook? Our Icom 802 may be a technological dinosaur, but it connects us to other cruisers and provides a safety net that you don't have with a satphone.

All in all, this was a great 'McGyver' experience for us. We replaced our $5,000 Autohelm with $15 worth of plastic buckets. We were safe on our boat, and had friends watching our backs and a good story for happy hour at the bar. Short of a sinking boat, there is probably a low-tech solution for any problem. Now we just have to make a new rudder and get some new buckets before the cruise continues.

Why did the rudder fall off? The remaining rudder stock indicates rust and resulting metal fatigue as the culprits. The Davidson 44s were built in the early 1980s. We are currently in Vava'u awaiting delivery of a new rudder that is being built in New Zealand, and hope to have it within two weeks. If all goes well, we'll be on our way to New Zealand by early December.

If anybody is feeling bad for us, please don't. We're in a really protected place here in Vava'u, the water is clean, and we have lots of cruiser friends in the anchorage and new friends ashore. By the way, the South Pacific has exceeded all of our expectations, and sailing here was one of the best decisions we ever made. We can't wait to continue on.

— laura 10/15/2013

Geja – 1976 Islander 36
Andrew Vik
A Quickie in The Med
(San Francisco)

[This is Part II of Vik's sixth annual report from cruising in the Med — mostly the Adriatic — aboard Geja. Part I appeared in the October issue.]

After arriving in Zadar, I lost my Swiss crew Lukas, but picked up first-timers Henrik and Mats. Great winds took us from Zadar to Sali on the island Dugi Otok. Alas, the port was full. Actually, it was our fault that we didn't get a spot. Another boat had entered the harbor and claimed the last of 50 spots while we were enjoying a refreshing swim just outside the harbor. Not getting a spot in a harbor is a common problem in the high season, so you always need to arrive with a backup plan. We had just enough time to reach an anchorage a few miles away before dark, enjoying a gorgeous sunset and moonrise on the way.

Crap weather hit us during the night, as had been forecast, robbing us of valuable sleep. But after all these seasons here, I’ve come to trust my anchor. It’s no longer nerves that keep me awake, but rather the excessive swinging on the hook and the noise of the wind.

Once the cool morning rain had subsided, we sailed Geja into the Kornati National Park, a dense archipelago deforested by humans over many centuries. The landscape is very stark, but there is some great hiking. A National Park boat stopped by that evening to collect the usual visitor fee of $45/boat/day. While Croatia recently was allowed entry into the European Union, government officials are not always as honest as most in the E.U. For example, the friendly rangers suggested that instead of paying $45, we simply give them $17 — which they immediately stuffed into their pockets.

We had another blustery night, but things settled down in the morning. We sailed off the anchor and eventually hoisted the spinnaker for a fast ride to the party town of Vodice. After two nights 'in the wild', it was time for some action, which, as usual, began with an onboard pre-party. Vodka and Red Bull anyone?

From midnight until 2 a.m., the place to be in Vodice is Makina, just a few steps from the marina docks. There we made the mistake of ordering bottle service — a vodka bottle, four Red Bulls, and a table for $65. It's certainly not expensive like the South of France, but we certainly didn’t need the extra libations — although it did lead to a fun little onboard after-party at sunrise.

More great wind allowed us to sail most of the way up the narrow Krka River to the town of Skradin, some 11 miles upstream of the Adriatic Sea. It's a most peaceful and romantic place nestled into a little bay along the river. It is also the gateway to the Krka National Park, home to a series of dramatic cascading waterfalls. By accident we discovered the restaurant Toni in Skradin, where they cook each dish for an hour under a preheated iron bell. Compared to the bland, uninspired food at most Croatian restaurants, this place stuffed us with simple but fresh platters of meat, potatoes and veggies.

This year's three-week summer cruise — my shortest ever with Geja — went by much too quickly, as we found ourselves back in little Trogir on a Saturday night. Though small, Trogir has its fair share of nightlife, and my crew and I could not help but notice what I affectionately call the 'supermodel' parade. Girls from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast are naturally tall and thin, and they love to emphasize their body type with high heels and short skirts. It was yet another late night, but a fun end to an abbreviated season of Mediterranean cruising.

My crews and I covered 360 miles during the three weeks, 40% of them with the motor off. Usually this percentage has been higher, as much as 60%. We were underway 19 out of the 21 days, and overnighted in 14 different places, six of which were new to me. Two hundred dollars/person/week pretty much covered the shared costs, such as onboard food, berthing and fuel. Groceries cost about 25% more in Croatia than in the Bay Area, despite income levels in the United States being several times higher.

Based on my six years of cruising Croatia and the Adriatic, I can vouch for its being a great place for sailing adventures. The afternoon winds are pretty consistent, the water is sparklingly clear, and there are so many spots to explore. The fact that there’s a book called 777 Harbours and Anchorages says it all. Development is greatly restricted, so you rarely see modern, multistory hotels along the coast. The historic villages are as quaint as can be. Croatia is as clean and as safe as any European country you can find. We seldom lock the boat, and I never worry about somebody snatching my iPhone out of my hand — as I do at home in San Francisco. In many ways Croatia is more civilized than San Francisco.

As lucky as I was to buy an affordable boat in the Med, I’m even luckier to have so many good friends to share my sailing and social adventures with. In six years, a total of 59 people have joined me. As long as they keep showing up, count on me to continue my adventures in the Med.

— andrew 10/15/2013

Talion — Gulfstar 50
Patsy Verhoeven
iPhones in Mexico
(La Paz, ex-Portland)

I finally got the chance to singlehand from San Jose del Cabo to La Paz. I made it to my homeport with no problems, but decided that singlehanding is kind of boring. The best part was discovering that there's a new cell tower at the Los Frailes anchorage. That may become my new favorite spot!

I love it! That 'it' I'm talking about is my iPhone.

While in the States, I became addicted to my iPhone 5 for email, Web searches, marine and land navigation, texting, and even as a cell phone. After my unlocked Blackberry — which I used with a Mexico cell phone number — died last year, I tried to do the Mexican smart phone thing by purchasing a Mexican Android LG phone for $100. What a nightmare! No matter what I tried, it just wasn’t easy. I could connect to WiFi to get my email, but even though I changed the language to English, the phone was in Spanish with Spanish icons, and extremely confusing. Forget any searches on the Web.

When I returned to the States, I contacted LG, and was told that my model was made only for Mexico and would never speak English any better. All right, chalk up that mistake to experience.

So I decided to take a risk on an unlocked iPhone on eBay. For an iPhone to be unlocked, it has to be an older model, and I found a 16 GB 4s for $275. It arrived two days later in perfect condition. I took the old LG phone and the new iPhone down to the TelCel office in Tijuana, where I was rewarded with an agent who spoke perfect English. She switched the LG’s SIM card for the mini iPhone type, and I was all set with my same Mexican phone number!

When I asked the cost of getting data and internet on the phone, she told me to deposit more money into the phone and purchase a pay-as-you-go plan, such as Amigo, just as I do for the Telcel Banda Ancha (broadband) modem for my computer. OMG, it was so simple! Now I'm riding around Cabo on a bus watching my location on Google Maps. Ain't technology grand?

You can, of course, use any unlocked phone, and there are many available for under $100. After the initial cost of the phone, the Mexican SIM card costs about $12. The cell phone usage is pay-as-you-go. The Internet data is roughly $30 for the 3 GB/30 day plan, but there are lots of plans from as little as 10 MB/hour for 40 cents. To purchase the data plan, send a text message to 5050. Put 'Alto30' in the message for the 3 GB/30-day plan, or 'Bajo1h' for the 10MB/hour plan.

If anyone wants to see a chart of the current rates and plans, visit

There are numerous way to add more money to your phone. If you go to a store with a 'Recarga Amigo' sign, the clerk will take your phone number and money, then put the credit on for you. Some businesses sell Amigo cards in different denominations. You then dial *333 and enter the scratch-off code that you got. You can also go to a Telcel office, give them your number, and they will recharge it for you. But my favorite is buying the credit on line. This can be done anywhere even from the U.S. just before you head south. You can find the instructions at:

What this means is that whenever I'm near a cell signal, my email, Passage Weather, ‘Lectronic Latitude, Shazam, and news are all as close as my pocket. Plus, I can finally find my way around Mexico’s cities with audio directions from Google Maps!

— patsy 11/05/2013

Cruise Notes:

In the November issue of Latitude we promised the Sandstrom Family that we would happily remember and honor Don Sandstrom, who passed away last month at age 76, with a toast to Neptune during the Baja Ha-Ha. Below we offer photographic evidence of doing just that. It will be remembered that Sandstrom, after being afflicted with early onset Parkinson's at age 36, nonetheless built the Oakland family's 40-ft trimaran Anduril, then took his family on two circumnavigations. We not only toasted Sandstrom, but all those sailors who have accomplished so much, but who for one reason or the other have received so little recognition. RIP.

Speaking of health issues, a sailing friend called the MariMed Hospital in Puerto Vallarta the other day because of concerns about swelling in his legs. He was told to come in the next morning to be examined by — not a screener or a nurse — but a vascular surgeon. Our friend found the MariMed Hospital to be extremely clean and the staff very friendly. The vascular surgeon then spent 45 minutes with him, most of the time doing doppler sonograms of the veins in his legs. The cost? Just under $160 U.S. If you're not a U.S. Senator, we wonder if you could get an appointment to see a surgeon so quickly, have him spend so much time with you, and charge you so little.

For some health issues an ounce of prevention, of course, is worth a pound of cure. Although it's a little late in life, the Grand Poobah decided to go on the Baja Ha-Ha Diet — which is actually the pretty much plant-based Mediterranian Diet as recommend by Kaiser. The Poobah has actually always been on that diet, but had been augmenting it with steaks, Costco hot dogs, chocolate covered nuts, baked products, pizza, cheeses, dips — and anything else that remotely looked as though it might taste good. It might seem as though it would be hard to change nasty eating habits during the Ha-Ha, as most of the rest of the 11-person crew were still eating pretty nasty stuff. But for whatever reason, the Poobah didn't find it hard at all. Indeed, after eating nothing but good food for a few days, the Poobah found that he was nowhere near as hungry as when he'd been eating all the junk. It took the Poobah 10 days after the Ha-Ha to find a scale, but when he did, there were 13 pounds less of him. He was jacked, as it meant that in a very short period ot time, he'd dropped more than half of the pounds he was hoping to lose. When last seen, the Poobah was in a mad search for a doctor's office to get some blood work done. "I think my numbers are going to be great!" he shouted as he ran down the street.

Good news out of La Cruz. The Subway store has closed. The fast-food franchise was as out of place as a _________ in a __________. Fill in the blanks yourself.

"On November 16, the Hidden Port YC in Puerto Escondido celebrated its 20th birthday with a party for almost 100, with a live DJ, fabulous weather, and a new pizza/bread oven made by cruisers for cruisers," report Marek Nowicki and Helen Chien of the Green Cove Springs-based Cape Vickers 34 Raireva. "We became members because for 300 pesos per year you join a helpful bunch of cruisers and get to use an extensive library of books and DVDs, a very nice club house, our own landing beach, a fabulous location — and now, a bread/pizza oven!" For further information, and dates of the Loreto Fest, go to Hidden Port YC.

The Banderas Bay Splash welcome party for new cruisers to Mexico, with free T-shirts, food and other goodies, will be held on December 13 at the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz. It will be followed, after a 'lay day', by three days of Ha-Ha-style racing on the 15th, 16th and 17th, and will include free berthing at the Riviera Nayarit and Paradise Marinas, the opening of the Punta Mita Yacht & Surf Club, and the Pirates for Pupils Spinnaker Run. Tune in on the Banderas Bay VHF cruiser net when you reach the bay for details.

"What's the story with getting fuel in Turtle Bay?" asks Tom Collins. "For years Enrique at Gordo's had a monopoly and charged very high prices. Then Reuben came along with Servicios Anabelle, and the competition made prices more reasonable. But Reuben passed away recently, and the prices went way back up. Word is that Reuben's son will be running Anabelle's again. What was getting fuel like when the Ha-Ha fleet went through?"

Enrique had a monopoly when the Ha-Ha fleet came through — unless you wanted to jug it from the Pemex station. But Anabelle's was supposed to get their certification a day or two later so they could resume service. The reality is that the cost of diesel has gone up substantially in Mexico, primarily because of the fixed price that everybody must charge. The difference in prices at fuel docks and Pemex stations is what the provider charges as a fee for the use of their dock or delivery service. Depending on which Mexican official you are talking to, such premiums are perfectly legal or absolutely prohibited. At any rate, unlike in previous years, diesel is now more expensive in Mexico than it is in San Diego.

We received a secondhand report that the dinghy and outboard from Britt Finley's Denver-based Peterson 44 Restless were nicked while the boat was anchored at Turtle Bay on October 15. While dinghy and outboard theft is relatively low in Mexico, leaving a dinghy and outboard unlocked at night creates an 'attractive nuisance'. Please lock up. By the way, we hope readers will again inform Latitude of dinghy and outboard thefts in Mexico this season, so we can alert people to 'hot spots'.

The Baja Bash has a bad reputation," reports Paul Marston of the Ventura-based Contour 34 Orange, "but it's not always that bad. After the Ha-Ha, my trimaran Orange made it to San Diego in fewer than six days, and I've seen photos of my delivery skipper Jared Brockway lounging on the net in his boardshorts, and crew Danna Pomykal SUP-wakeboarding behind the boat for kicks. Jared said that the first day out of Cabo sucked, but the rest of the trip featured pleasant motorsailing at up to 10.2 knots. I must point out that Orange's Bash never would have been possible were it not for Jerry Gahan of the Dana Point-based Peterson 44 Endless Summer, Craig Shaw of the Portland-based Columbia 43 Adios, and Scott Schreiber of the Hayden, Colorado-based Choate 44 Roller Coaster showing the kind of spirit that makes the Ha-Ha so great. Jerry let us use his spare backstay so we could make a new forestay, and Craig and Scott worked long and hard all day to do the rigging."

"If I clear out of Cabo," wonders an anonymous reader, "can I go straight to the U.S. or do I have to stop in Ensenada?" If you clear out of the country at Cabo, you don't have to stop at Ensenada. Indeed, you're not supposed to stop anywhere else in Mexico. But if you just cleared out 'domestically' by calling the Port Captain on Channel 16 and leaving a voice message, you do have to stop at Ensenada to get your international clearance. We know that some sailors haven't done this, and simply blew by Ensenada on their way to Cabo. That's not a good idea, as Mexican officials are making much greater use of computers to keep track of boats. So if you ever try to clear your boat back into Mexico without having checked her out the previous time, you might have some serious 'splaining to do.

For a minute there after the conclusion of the Ha-Ha we thought we were back in Thailand rather than Cabo San Lucas. It's not that we could find pad thai and a 7/11 every 20 feet, but rather the startling number of young women in all black outfits going "Psssst, massage?" from what seemed like every tenth storefront. We have to say it's a lot cleaner look than when the tawdry hookers sometimes used to lurk in the dark around the corners from Squid Roe, but we found the sheer number of 'therapists' to be a little disturbing. As reporters, it was our duty to find our what a 'massage' costs and whether there were 'happy endings'. Alas, we shirked our journalistic responsibilities.

Are four young adults and one dog too many mammals for an extended cruise aboard a 31-ft boat? We're going to find out, for four idealistic young outdoor folks — Eric, Pam, Kevin and Tyler — plus Ketch, a dog they found abandoned during a snowstorm on a Navajo reservation, set sail from Ventura on October 31 aboard the Columbia 31 Emma Belle. They propose an around-the-world sailing and surfing adventure that they plan to document extensively to inspire other young folks. What's more, they hope to finance it all through Kickstarter. As of the middle of November, they had made it to Ensenada.

We're sure that a lot of readers are scoffing at the notion that four people, particularly young people, could get along for more than a few days on such a small boat. We share your doubts. On the other hand, we love dreamers who try to make their dreams come true. Furthermore, no matter how long the trip lasts, it's going to be a great learning experience; thus there is no possibility of failure — as long as they stay safe. So good luck Eric, Pam, Kevin and Tyler. You folks got the spirit.

"We’re back in the States for a couple of more weeks, but will be returning to New Zealand in early December to rejoin our boat, which is currently moored in Opua," report Harley, Jennifer and young Sophia Earl of the Tiburon-based Deerfoot 63 Kailani. "We plan to cruise New Zealand during the austral summer, and will head back to the tropics in May. While we were in the South Pacific we had the odd issue of Latitude dropped on us by fellow cruisers, and it was nice to get caught up. The America's Cup coverage was great, although it would be hard to beat watching it on YouTube at Musket Cove with a roomful of Kiwis each morning."

Want to make friends when visiting cruiser friends in the South Pacific? Bring a few Latitudes. (Or drop by our office and grab a bundle.) We're told you can trade a single magazine for two or three ice cold Hinano beers in Tahiti — and Hinanos don't come cheap.

We regret to report that because of technical difficulties, Changes got shorted two full pages this month. We promise we won't let it happen again!

Missing the pictures? See the December 2013 eBook!


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