Thursday, December 30, 2010

Panama City to David

It's been an interesting three days trying to get to remote Bocas del Toro. Flight delays, missed connections, holiday travelers, etc. have conspired to keep us from reaching our destination, but we are pretty sure that with a little ingenuity we'll finally reach Almirante tomorrow, where we can catch a water taxi to Bocas Town. From there it's a short ride in a panga to Bastimento Island, where the Red Frog Marina is located. We left Puerto Vallarta on the 28th and I expect to arrive at the Red Frog a few minutes before the new years eve festivities begin.

Right now we're in the city of David (pronounced daveeed). The ride, around 350 kilometers in a taxi, took us through the heavily industrial parts of Panama city, through rough looking suburbs, and then through wildly beautiful tropical countryside. Looking out the windows of the truck that served as our taxi, we saw people living in squalid tin-roofed shacks, caballeros astride beautiful horses tending their herds of brahma cattle, poor people trudging along the road carrying all manner of things, including chickens in cages, sides of beef, and other small caged animals. At one point we passed an overturned tractor trailer that had split open and kids were taking cases of soda that had burst from its seams. At another point, we passed a scene where the police had captured, handcuffed and roughed up two men alongside the road. Life in Panama is a long way from how we live in Orange County.

I just finished reading David McCullough's fascinating book, "Path Between the Seas". It's an account of how the Panama Canal was built and the forces, political, economic and military that were brought to bear to accomplish that stupendous feat. Just as important to humanity was the discovery and implementation of effective means of controlling and eradicating yellow fever and malaria in ths region. The USA played a key role in the founding of the Republic of Panama and has been involved in many of this country's most important historical milestones, from Teddy Roosevelt's support for it's secession from its mother country of Colombia in 1903 to George 41's decision to invade the country and capture Manual Noriega, Panama's president, in 1989. That particular adventure was called 'Operation Just Cause'.  I suppose it should be no surprise that the local people of this country have shown us little of the buoyant friendliness that we have constantly experienced in Mexico, but I should also say that in spite of the delays and frustrations of our travels, we've been enjoying our time here. Delays are part of travel everywhere in the world at this time of year, and we're very glad that it's not snowing and freezing here. Wherever you are, have a rockin' good time ringing in the new year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in La Cruz

Well, what can I say? We had intended to head south for the holidays, but were waylaid by circumstances and friends and found ourselves once again in the marina at La Cruz for Christmas. In the afternoon we went to a potluck dinner at Philo's. There was enough food for an army, great music and dancing, and over 500 gifts for local kids in need. One has to admire Philo's efforts to help the local children, his excellent and very reasonably priced drinks and food, and the great music. If you are so fortunate as to find yourself wandering down Calle Delfin in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, do drop in to Philo's. You won't regret it.

We are off to Panama in the morning to hang with our good friends, Craig & Liz aboard their 42 foot cruising cat, Salida. In Panama we'll tour whatever we can of the canal, Grab a flight to Bocas del Toro and, once aboard the Salida, explore the Caribbean side of Panama. Then we'll head back to La Cruz to get the boat ready to head south...This time we really are going to get out of the bay to explore Mexico's Costa Alegre...maybe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


We were ever so glad to get out of Puerto Vallarta. It's not that PV is a bad place, it's just that life is better away from the hustle and bustle of the city... any city. Once out of the harbor we headed southwest along the beautiful southern coast of Banderas Bay, looking in on picturesque small anchorages along the way toward Yelapa. We arrived there around 1500 and took a mooring instead of anchoring in the small and very deep bay. The village of Yelapa is situated at the head of a small cove backed by beautiful little valley that is fed by a small river. It is a very photogenic spot. Access to Yelapa by land is limited to a single road that tends to wash out in severe rains, so the place is quite isolated and most people arrive by boat. Unfortunately the place was discovered by hippies in the 1960's, which led to a continuous deluge of tourists ever since. Before the hippies arrived and coined the phrase "a palapa in Yelapa...." it was a sleepy fishing village. Now everyone who lives there is an entrepreneur in the tourist industry, hawking jewelry, photos with Pepe the Iguana, clothing with 'Yelapa' across the front and back, tours to the waterfall up the river, sightseeing boats, fishing boats, horseback riding, four dollar beers and eight dollar coco locos. (We took advantage of the iguana photos, the beer and the coco locos).  It's a bit disappointing to see this stunningly beautiful place converted to a cash cow, but it's their place and they can do with it what they want. Anyway, we spent the afternoon sunning and touring, sipping and pondering the scenery, then got back aboard the boat for a rough and rolly, and fairly sleepless night. The cove faces northwest, exposed to every swell that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. With the night breeze blowing down from the mountains and the swells rolling in from the opposite direction, the Honcho was rolled and bounced all night long, leaving the crew rather unhappy in the morning. But it sure is a pretty spot.
Jaime working on the coconut

Lisa working on the coco loco

Mexican Anchor made of rebar

The Honcho in Yelapa

A palapa in Yelapa beats a condo in Redondo?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


The Honcho has relocated from the anchorage off La Cruz to the famous Marina Vallarta, just outside of downtown PV. The reason for the move is that it is much more convenient to take care of business matters and to reprovision here than it was in romantic La Cruz. The banks, UPS, Walmart and Telcel distributor are all within an eight or ten Peso bus ride from the Honcho's slip on gangway E in the Marina. These days a Peso is roughly equal to 8 cents USD. We are absolutely committed to getting out of here by Tuesday morning, and moving on to more interesting places.

In the meantime, I've taken care of a lot of maintenance and repair items. First on the list was the squeak in the steering system. I took the steering pedestal partially apart in Cabo San Lucas and thought I had solved the problem. but on the passage from there to Banderas Bay the squeak came back. This time I tore the whole system down. It's made by Whitlock, a British company, so naturally it is quirky and complicated in ways that only the Brits can devise. In typically British fashion, the bevel gears and shafts that connect the steering wheel to the rudder are elegantly designed and beautifully machined. But the upper bushing is a cheap plastic affair in which the stainless steel steering shaft rides. Since the system was installed 12 years ago, the grease that lubricated this stainless steel-plastic interface has turned to black clay and squeaks to high heaven. It's all gooped up now with Lewmar winch grease and is smooth as silk.

Other items on the list:
1. Replace the main halyard. It was at least 5 years old and was starting to show some signs of wear before we left Long Beach. It wasn't bad enough to warrant replacement then, so I decided to use it on the trip south, but brought a spare along. After a thousand miles of sailing, it was looking a pretty tired.
2. Change the fuel filters. Diesel engines are hardy and reliable machines, but they absolutely need clean fuel. The Honcho is equipped with a 10 micron primary and a 5 micron secondary. It's a fun job if you like the smell of diesel fuel.
3. Change the oil in the engine and transmission. Second to clean fuel, diesels demand clean oil.
4. Clean the primary filter in the watermaker. the Honcho has a Katadyne 80e unit. It's very efficient and reliable, but here in Banderas Bay, where the water is just this side of putrid, the filter needs to be cleaned regularly.
5. Scrubbed the waterline of the hull which was beginning to look a bit skanky. Also gave the entire boat a long needed complete fresh water washdown. It looks like new. Now that the boat is all shiny, the engine purrs like a 30 horsepower kitty and the bloody squeak is history, the Honcho is ready for the high seas again.

We always keep a sharp lookout for whales wherever we go, be it on land or sea. But we never got a good up close and personal look at one until we made the short trip from La Cruz to PV.  We left La Cruz around 1000 and as we motored away from the anchorage we spotted some boats all clustered in one spot about half a mile south of us. It looked to me like they were stalking some whales so we wandered on over for a look. Sure enough, as we got close we saw a pod of humpbacks breach and blow. We followed them for a while and shot some photos then bore away for PV, thinking that was a cool experience. Ten minutes later we spotted another pod 10 degrees off our starboard bow and headed straight at us. I altered course to avoid them and we sailed on for another ten for fifteen minutes then encountered a third pod on our port bow, maybe fifty yards away. We're now old hands at whale watching and hardly jump around and shout when we see them anymore.

Banderas Bay is an interesting place. It's large, well protected, very deep and is apparently the perfect place for humpback whales to spend the winter. Humpbacks are baleen whales that feed on krill and small fish. They are migratory and travel from arctic seas to the tropics annually. They feed and fatten in the high latitudes then come south to mate and calve in the warm waters of the tropics. Here they fast and focus on other, more important things such as finding a mate and stuff like that. Humpbacks are frisky and playful, and quite active considering that they can be 50 feet long and weigh more than 50,000 pounds. They are among the most famous of whales, appearing in television ads for big insurance companies and recording hit whale songs that are especially popular with the Greenpeace types. Like all whales, they have enormous brains. I sometimes wonder what they think of us humans.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Brief Survey of the Cruising Yachts Anchored Outside La Cruz

The Honcho on the hook in La Cruz

Some boats carry lots of stuff on deck.
I wanted to give you a sense of the number and type of boats we see as we sit anchored once again outside La Cruz. So this morning while eating my papayas and lime, I scanned the anchorage with a pair of binoculars. Here is what I can see:

Date: 12-14-2010 0900 CST
Approximately 31 boats anchored outside of La Cruz Harbor
26 monohulls
2 catamarans
1 trimaran
2 powerboats

Sailplan: 4 cutters, 4 ketches, 21 sloops

Boats I can identify:
45' Steel center cockpit sloop
Beneteau 36s7 (Honcho)
Catalina 38
Formosa 41
Hans Christian 38
Horstmann trimaran (approx 45')
Morgan 41
Nordhavn 47 (poweryacht)
Passport 42
Passport 456
Peterson 44 (2)
Tartan 41

I cannot identify the other boats but there are several that look like a Formosa, with clipper bows, bowsprits and center cockpits. The largest boat in the anchorage appears to be about 55 feet and the smallest is the Honcho. There are a couple of others that appear to be in the 36 -38 foot range, but are too far away to say with certainty. It appears that most of the cutter rigged boats were built as sloops, with an intermediate forestay added.  Rigging a sloop as a cutter is probably a good idea for boats with roller furling headsails. Rolling up the big jib and unrolling the little jib is easy to do in a blow. Aboard the Honcho, the only boat I can see that doesn't have roller furling, I simply douse the big jib and set the small jib on the same headstay. This boat is too small to rig as a cutter. It's certainly more labor intensive this way, but the sailing qualities of the boat are not hampered by the weight and windage of the furling gear.
Some boats have been 'rode hard and put away wet'.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Davidson 44

A few days ago an interesting looking boat showed up a few slips down from the Honcho in Paradise Marina. It's all rigged for cruising, with a dodger, dinghy, kayaks, windscoops and lots of the other things that cruising boats carry on deck, but beneath the cruising gear I could see the lines of a grand prix type racer from a bygone era, and a familiar one at that. So I spoke to the guy who was washing it down, and sure enough, it's an old Davidson 44.

I'o showing the original bow.

Laurie Davidson is a yacht designer from New Zealand who is probably best known for his work with Americas Cup racers, but he has also designed a string of custom racers for individuals. The D-44 was one of his more successful racing boats, but an unlikely design for a cruiser. Imagine converting something like a Maserati Ghibli into an SUV.  The I'o (formerly Shockwave) is a very high performance cruising boat. The folks aboard love it and include in their crew three humans and a pair of german shepherds. Over the last fifteen or so years I've worked on another Davidson 44 called Pendragon. My previous post shows what it looked like back in 1993. I'o looks a lot like that drawing. The 2002 version is the result of our program of continuous modifications and upgrades over a roughly five year period. During that time we changed the bow and stern, added a new keel, rudder and rig including a carbon fiber boom, converted the steering from tiller to wheel, redesigned the deck layout, and many other smaller changes. The owner's most recent changes were to enhance the accommodations below to make it into a comfortable live-aboard boat for two.
44 Davidson 1980 Pendragon San Diego
Pendragon II  after I redesigned the bow and converted the steering from tiller to wheel.
Photos courtesy of
The D-44 may not be everyone's first choice for a cruising boat for several reasons. First, it has a tall and powerful sailplan with running backstays and checkstays. This type of rig is requires more of the crew than a shorter, stouter rig would.  Second, the interior is designed for racing with a crew of 12. That means that the bunks are pipe berths, there is no place to stow cruising gear, and cruising comfort was not a significant part of the equation when the boat was built. But the question is whether the D-44 is, or can be made into a good cruising yacht. I would venture to guess that the owners of both boats would say the answer is yes, after they customized the deck, the systems and the interior to meet their needs. Both owners are happily living aboard their boats as well as actively sailing them. Pendragon and I'o are fast boats that perform very well in light air. Speed and light air performance are valuable commodities for cruisers. Both boats are very solidly built and have lots of room below, and the owners of both have made major changes to the interiors to make them suitable for living aboard. Finally, both boats are beautiful. That's important...everyone wants to live in a nice looking house.

Friday, December 10, 2010


After living four days at the edge of a swampy, overgrown, mosquito infested tropical estuary and hearing innumerable stories about the crocodiles that inhabit the place, Lisa could stand it no longer. We had to go on a crocodile hunt! So, armed with a camera and a full can of bug repellent, we set off in the dinghy in search of a croc. We wandered up and down various channels of the swamp that backs up to the marina with the motor set at dead slow for hours peering into the dense mangroves that overgrow the banks on both sides. In some places we felt a little like Charlie Allnut and Rose in the African Queen when we had to use the oars to pole our way across shoals, in other places we would round a bend and see a palatial estate with exquisitely landscaped grounds running down to the water's edge. We saw lots of exotic birds, creepy viney things hanging from the trees, dark shadows that looked like crocodiles lurking but turned out to be mangrove branches, even mistook a large green iguana that swam across our bow for a croc. But in the end we didn't see any. I told Lisa we could come back tonight and hang out in the mangroves with a flashlight, where we'd be sure to see some crocs, but she said she'd rather go out to dinner at the yacht club.

There really are crocodiles around here. They are of the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) species and they range throughout the tropical, and some subtropical, parts of the Americas. They generally inhabit swamps and marshes, but also spend some time in saltwater harbors and bays. These are big animals. Starting as a hatchling 9 inches long and weighing a couple of ounces,  the average adult male grows to about 13 feet long and weighs over 800 pounds. Females are somewhat smaller. Normally they crawl, but they are capable of galloping along at speeds up to 10mph for short distances on land, and 20mph swimming. Needless to say, they are at the top of the food chain in their habitats and can eat whatever they can catch. But they don't waste energy chasing prey, instead they lurk in the water or shadows, waiting for unwitting critters that happen to get close enough for them to lunge at and grab before they know what hit them. Apparently anything from small mammals, birds and fish, to larger prey such as cattle and humans is lunge-worthy to a crocodile. In 2007 a croc ate a human a few miles south of Puerto Vallarta. In other, more remote areas, crocs take humans frequently enough that such unfortunate occurrences don't make the headlines on CNN.  Fortunately we learned all this after we went poking around in the mangroves in our little 8 foot inflatable.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nuevo Vallarta

The days were slipping by way too fast in La Cruz and we had to get out of there. There are more than a few people who set out on an ambitious voyage...until they got to La Cruz, where there are many reasons to stay and few reasons to get up off your anchor and move along. The Honcho is now in Nuevo Vallarta, about 6 miles closer to downtown Puerto Vallarta. We didn't even hoist a sail to get here. We're in a slip in the Paradise Village Marina. Paradise Village is a destination resort with hotels, marina, yacht club, all manner of restaurants and shops, and plenty of traffic. Reminds me a bit of Marina Del Rey. Being one of the smallest boats here, we were assigned a slip way back at the far end of the marina, up a long and narrow estuary far from the center of things. Way back here the sounds we hear are a curious mixture of wildlife and auto traffic, but we are spared the throbbing beat of the nightclubs that serenaded us all night long in Cabo. The "Please Don't Feed The Crocodiles" signs have made Lisa a bit nervous, though.

The plan is to hang out here for a few days, reprovision, then head south. Yesterday we took a bus into downtown PV and wandered down the Malecon and up Cuale Island, which is located at the mouth of the Cuale river and is in many ways the cultural center of the city. We found the Museum of Mexican Naval History and entered a world that most Americans don't think much about, the Mexican Navy. Among the many exhibits we saw scale models of the Manila galleons that brought treasure across the Pacific Ocean from the Philippines in the 1500's. The ships used Banderas Bay as a refuge from storms and pirates and by the mid 16th century permanent settlements had been established. Later, when gold and silver were discovered in the Sierra Madre mountains inland from the bay, a thriving business in salt was established. Apparently salt was necessary to extract the precious metals from the ore that was mined up in the hills. Later a town was established, called Las Penas. The surrounding countryside was fertile and soon ranching and farming also became important parts of the local economy. This was lucky for the people of the area because when gold was discovered in California in 1849, the mining industry here collapsed. By the early 20th century there was a thriving agrarian community in the area. The place was doing so well that around 1915, the town was renamed Puerto Vallarta in honor of Don Ignacio L. Vallarta. Senor Vallarta was a big time lawyer in the area who eventually became governor of the Mexican state of Jalisco, and so got the city renamed for himself. We learned all this and more at the museum. I especially liked the photos and models of the Mexican Navy in action apprehending narco traficantes and protecting the territorial waters from threats of all kinds.

All that museum work made us thirsty so we found a beachfront bar nearby. The Spanish Merlot was pretty good and the Italian Pinot Bianco was so-so, but the view was spectacular. Banderas Bay is the largest natural bay on the west coast of North America. For you yacht racers out there watching the billionaires bicker over where to host the next Americas Cup, this bay makes San Francisco Bay look like...not much. It's roughly 12 miles east-west by roughly 20 miles north-south and is blessed with reliable northwesterly winds. With the near perfect sailing conditions along with excellent facilities and many thousands of hotel rooms, my vote is to have the next AC regatta right here in PV.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Banderas Bay Blast

We've been enjoying our stay in La Cruz in very low key fashion... Early morning jog on the beach, midmorning breakfast at a waterfront cafe, nap in the afternoon, wander around the town and dinner with friends in the evenings. Then we heard about the Banderas Bay Blast. It's three days of very informal racing or rallying between Nuevo Vallarta, La Cruz and Punta de Mita. All the money raised from entries, t-shirt sales and other promotions goes to help disadvantaged kids in the surrounding areas. So we entered the Honcho, which in cruising trim is no racer by any measure. But I thought it would be fun to for Lisa to steer the boat in a very low key competitive situation. So we entered for one leg of the event, an 8 mile beat from La Cruz to Punta de Mita. There was a total of 19 boats entered and we were the smallest. The competition ranged from fairly seriously prepared boats to fat old cruisers. The Honcho, in its current trim, is a pretty small tub compared to the racers we wanted to beat, but we got our race faces on for today's event. Here in La Cruz, we're on mountain time, but 12 miles away in Puerto Vallarta it's central time. With today's race/rally starting in La Cruz we assumed it would be on La Cruz time so we puttered out to the start line a bit more than what we thought was an hour early only to learn that the start is in 7 minutes instead of an hour and 7 minutes. I rushed around and got sails up and we barely made the start on time. Fortunately we had just time to run the start line before the horn and managed to win the start on starboard tack in about 8 knots of wind. We sailed out to Punta de Mita in a couple of hours, during which time the wind piped up to about 18 knots. We won our class and were the fourth boat to finish, behind a J/160, Beneteau Farr 42 and a Jeanneau 40. All of these boats were in the next higher class. We beat the second place boat in our class, a well sailed Wauquiez Praetorian 35, by around 14 minutes. Lisa was thrilled by her class win in spite of the fact that it was just an informal rally. But the fact is that whenever sailboats have a start line and a finish line IT'S A RACE! Aftewards we all went ashore for dinner and music at the El Dorado. I'm not sure how much money was raised for the kids, but we sure had a great time.