Pelican in the Whitsunday Islands, Australia.


Pelican at the launching party, San Diego, California.




How do you find a small island in a 4 knot current in a boat that goes about 4 knots? 

One way is to use a GPS, but if you don't have one available, a sextant will do.

In either case, it is important, and most elegant, to descend on the island from up-wind and up-current. 

If you ever find yourself in this situation with the wind going against the current,

it is probably best to forget about the island and go somewhere else.

One of the best things about having your own boat is that you can change your mind whenever you want.


The trick is to be far enough away from the island during the night previous to the landfall,

but still be close enough to get there before the next nightfall.

Normally for celestial sights, we are Limited to a 15-minute window of opportunity during

morning and evening twilights. That's about 12 hours between fixes.

During that time the drift could be 48 miles in a 4 knot current, so you should be about 60 miles

away from the island during the beginning of the nightfall previous to the landfall.

If, during the night, the current is not the expected set and drift,

then you will probably be too far away from the island to make it during the following daylight window.


Your first thought is probably that it would be a good idea to figure the current set and drift

during the day before the beginning of the nightfall previous to the landfall.

The problem here is that normally we can't get fixes all day because there is only

1 celestial body visible (the sun).

Sometimes the moon is visible in conjunction with the sun in the morning,

and this is always a bonus for the navigator, but normally only the sun is visible.

We can get running fixes all day from the sun, but these are not accurate enough

to figure current set and drift, due to current set and drift.


If the weather conditions are just right, you can get star and planet

fixes all night. This occurs when the horizon is clear and

illuminated by the moon. I was fortunate to have just such a night

previous to the landfall on Fanning Island in the Line Island group.


The moon was nearly full and the trade wind was brisk. The horizon

wasn't perfect, but if I could process and plot sights fast enough,

then the averages would be accurate enough to figure current set and

drift. This is where the computer comes in. I was using the first

version of NavPak running on a Timex Sinclair computer plugged into a

TV set. This version would process sights given the sextant angle,

time, and info from a Nautical Almanac, and then it would provide an

azimuth and intercept that you could plot with pencil and paper. It

was an awesome celestial sight machine, and it could also calculate

the great circle distance between 2 points, so it was perfect for

figuring current set and drift.


During the night before the landfall on Fanning Island, I was able to shoot,

calculate and plot an 8-point planet and star fix about every 20 minutes.

Wow, a fix every 20 minutes, this is super high tech navigation using a toy computer.

I was getting very excited.


I was able to determine that the current was running at 4 knots with the wind,

and it was all going my way towards the island. My own boat speed of 4 knots

combined with a 4 knot current makes a whopping Speed Over the Ground

(SOG) of 8 knots! Now I feel like I'm dancing across a ballroom.

This sailing stuff can be exciting at times. To top it off, I got a fix

using a meridian passage of the moon. It's too much, you would of had

to be there to feel the excitement.


So, one way to find a small island in a 4 knot current in a boat that

goes about 4 knots, is to try and plan your landfalls when the moon

is big, and hope for a clear horizon and not too much cloud cover.


Pelican coming into Fanning Island. 




During my travels, I mostly used the methods of navigation developed

by European navigators. I always had the Nautical Almanac and Sight Reduction tables.


To supplement these modern aids, I also had a copy of "We The Navigators" by

Dr. David Lewis. It is fortunate that people like this, took the time to document

some of the techniques used by the Polynesian and Micronesian navigators,

before this knowledge is lost. It has been passed through the generations,

but in modern times the generations are becoming less patient, and

patience is one of the corner stones of Polynesian and Micronesian

navigation. There are however some techniques of these navigation methods

that even the western navigator can use, without learning the ancient star paths

contained in songs and stick charts.


Clouds can be very useful to indicate land. They tend to stick to

islands, which is as expected on a high island, but they also seem to

be influenced by coral atolls which are only about 10 feet above sea

level. I noticed that a coral atoll can have a lee, where you would

expect to find the full force of the unobstructed trade wind. I don't

know the reason for this. Maybe it is because the lagoon in the atoll

is warmer than the surrounding ocean, so it causes a column of warm

air to rise from the lagoon and that causes a lee. Whatever the

reason, coral atolls frequently trap or modify clouds which can be

noticed from far away through patient observation. More obvious is

the green reflection of an atoll lagoon on the underside of the

clouds. This can be frequently seen through the middle of the day and

sometimes shows the exact extent of the lagoon. One of the Polynesian

navigators that Lewis sailed with, stated that the green reflection

on the clouds was so obvious that even a western navigator would

notice it.


Another useful navigation tool is sea birds. Some species stay at sea

most of the time, so they don't indicate the presence of land, but

many types tend to roost on an island at night and fish at sea during

the day. They can be seen coming from a general direction in the

morning and going back in the evening. There is another type of bird

that is so curious that it will fly out from the island day or night

to inspect something passing by miles away.


Wave and swell refraction is frequently obvious when approaching land

but it is less obvious which way the land is.


A completely different technique used by the Polynesians and Micronesians is

navigation by zenith stars. Through their patient data gathering, the

Polynesian and Micronesian navigators knew which stars were above

various destinations at different times of the night and during

different seasons. This information is contained in the Nautical

Almanac in a form that you can easily determine which stars and

planets pass over your destination, and when they are at their zenith

over the destination. I have not tried this, but it looks like it

would be a good indicator of which way to steer. Also I have thought

of computerizing it so that you could click a point on your

destination and then get a list of stars and planets with a ground

position near by.


Don't get rid of NavPak or the GPS yet! It is an ancient tradition of

navigation that the navigator is obligated to use all means available

to determine his or her position.




Clipperton Island -


Clipperton Island is a barren, ring-shaped coral atoll located 1630

miles south-southeast of San Diego, California, and 1600 miles west

of Nicaragua. It is the only atoll in the East Pacific. Clipperton's

total area is about 7 square km, and most of the island is no higher

than 6 feet, except for Clipperton Rock, a volcanic rock formation

that reaches a peak height of 69 feet.


Clipperton Island was originally discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in

1521, but was later named after John Clipperton, an English pirate

who led a mutiny against William Dampier in 1704. It has been

rumored that John Clipperton hid some treasures on the atoll. In 1708

two French ships "Princess" and "Découverte" reached the island

and named it "Ile de la Possession" and annexed it for France. The first

scientific expedition took place in 1725 by Frenchman M Bocage, who

lived on the island for several months.


Over 100 years later, Clipperton was found again by an American guano

mining company. The treaty of Guano was made in 1856, and the United

States had rights for guano mining on Clipperton. In 1857, the French

declared (under heavy American protest) that Clipperton was a part of

Tahiti. But after several years of no permanent settlement on the

island, Mexico occupied the island in 1897 and established a military

outpost on the island. In 1906 the British Pacific Island Company

annexed the island, and built a settlement together with the Mexican

Government in order to mine guano. In that year, a lighthouse was

also erected. In 1914, about 100 people, both men and women lived on

the island. Every two months, a ship from Acapulco went to the island

to bring food. However, with the start of the Mexican Civil War, the

atoll was no longer reachable by ship, and the people on the island

were on their own.


By 1915, most of the inhabitants had died, and the last settlers

wanted to leave on the American warship '"Lexington" which had

reached the atoll in late 1915. However, the Mexican Military

Governor declared that evacuation was not necessary. By 1917, most of

the men had died and only the lighthouse keeper was living (along

with 15 women on the island). Rumor has it, the lighthouse keeper was

somewhat of a letch and the women ended up murdering him! By July

1917 only 3 women were still alive and were eventually picked up by

the American ship "Yorktown".


Ownership of Clipperton was then disputed between France and Mexico.

France approached the Vatican for a decision on who owned the lonely

atoll. In 1930 the Vatican gave the rights to the King of Italy,

Vikor Emanuel II, who declared one year later that Clipperton was a

part of France. When Clipperton was finally declared as a French

posession, the lighthouse was rebuilt and the French settled a

military outpost on the island. The outpost only remained there 7

years and then the French abandoned it. In the late 1930's Clipperton

was visited twice by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who wanted it to

become an American possession for use as a trans-pacific air base,

and in 1944 he ordered the navy to occupy the island in one of the

most secret US operations of WW II. After the war it was abandoned,

and has since only been visited by the French Navy, occasional

scientific or amateur radio expeditions, a handful of cruising

yachts, and fishing boats.



Most mariners will have a special place in their memory for their

first landfall after their first major ocean passage. For me, this

memory is Clipperton Island.


Clipperton is located at about 10 degrees north latitude in the Inter

Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), also known as the doldrums or horse

latitudes). Each ocean has an ITCZ, which is an east-west band

between approximately 5 and 10 degrees north latitude.


When I left San Diego on my way to Clipperton, I was planning to stop

at Isla Clarion in the Revillagigedo Island group. I never actually

found the island, but for a first landfall attempt, I think I did

fairly well. I got within 30 miles of the island and then realized

that I was downwind of it. This is where I learned that if the sun

is directly overhead, it can be ambiguous on which way to plot the

azimuth and intercept. At this point, it would be a major project to

beat 30 miles back to the island, against the wind and current, so I

continued downwind toward Clipperton.


Isla Clarion is isolated, so I could see the pattern of sea birds

increase and then decrease as I went sliding past on the strong trade

wind and current.


The wind and current was strong and consistent all the way down the

coast of Baja, and for a couple of days after passing Clarion Island.

Then somewhere near 15 degrees north latitude and about 550 miles off

of Manzanillo, Mexico, the trade wind fizzled out, and it was

classical doldrum conditions. There is wind in the doldrums, the

problem is that most of it is concentrated in rain squalls. These are

tiny microcosms of a regular tropical storm, and they are the things

that hurricanes are started from. On a typical day in the doldrums,

it will be hot, calm and glassy with more than one rain squall in

sight. They typically have a skirt of black rain across the bottom,

with tall thunderclouds of incredible colors emerging from the top.


To make progress under sail in the doldrums, it is necessary to carry

enough sail to ride the light breezes between the squalls and then be

ready to take it all in before a squall hits. If you have an engine,

it can be a big help in the doldrums.


After missing Clarion Island, I learned the importance of descending

on an island objective from upwind and upcurrent. The wind changes

so fast in the doldrums, that there is not really any upwind

direction, but the current consistently sets to the east at about 2

knots in the doldrums, so it makes sense to aim for a spot somewhere

west of the island. After a few days of playing the wind shifts, I

saw a ship on the horizon, and they confirmed that I was 70 miles

west of Clipperton. Later that night I was intercepted by a rain

squall, so I took in all sail and threw out the sea anchor. When I

woke up next morning, it was calm and overcast, and there was a group

of Booby birds sitting on the water directly over the sea anchor.

They would stick their heads underwater to look at the sea anchor and

then emerge with the most perplexed expression. My guess is that

they had never seen such a contraption, and were thinking that it was

a fish trap that wasn't working.


I started plotting sun sights, and the cabin was soon cluttered with

plotting sheets. The problem of using the sun for navigation is that

you can only get one Line of Position (LOP) at a time, except during

Local Apparent Noon (LAN) when you can find your position by meridian

passage of the sun. So after plotting inconclusive LOPs' all

morning, I got a noon fix that put me about 12 miles west of

Clipperton. This is getting very exciting. I started the engine and

set off toward Clipperton. Shortly before evening twilight, the

first palm trees came into sight. This is where the unforgettable

memory of your first landfall sets in. Suddenly there are birds and

dolphins everywhere, and the whole world seems different. An island

in the ITCZ does not have a windward or leeward side, because the

wind and swell direction changes frequently. After anchoring on the

side closest to my approach, I fell asleep, in spite of the

excitement of the first landfall. Sometime before dawn, the motion

of the boat woke me. The wind and swell had shifted to onshore, and

the tide went out, so that I was anchored just outside the breakers.

This is a serious situation, so I started the engine and headed

offshore, while pulling in the anchor. In the predawn light, the

coconut trees were visible as silhouettes as I motored around to the

other side of the island. As I reset the anchor, the birds were

heading out to sea for a day of fishing.


To be continued.....Next month, I will take you ashore and look at

some of the details of Clipperton.



Going Ashore at Clipperton -


After re-anchoring before dawn to escape the breakers, I went back to

sleep to restart the day later. In some ways this will be like a

normal day. I wake up when the sun starts streaming in the porthole,

make coffee and think about the past, present and future. That is

where the similarities to a normal day end. After a 19 day passage

from San Diego, I've made the transition from a big metropolis on a

big continent in a temperate zone, to a very small and remote coral

atoll in the tropics. It is an amazing contrast of worlds.


I put on my mask, snorkel and fins, and gently lowered myself into

the water to go ashore. The water was crystal clear with clouds of

multi-colored fish, and plenty of sharks. Most of the sharks were

about 6 feet long, and were minding their own business as they slowly

cruised between the coral heads near the bottom. A large school of

small Hammerhead sharks cruised past, also minding their own

business. All the sharks looked calm, except one small shark, which

was very curious, and would not leave me alone until I was in knee-

deep water in the breakers.


When Charles Darwin was on Cocos Keeling atoll in the Indian Ocean,

he formulated his theory about the development of atolls. Clipperton

Island appears to support his theory and so have all the other atolls

I've seen since. After sailing across the Pacific, Darwin noticed

that almost everything is about 10 feet above sea level, except large

islands that were obviously created by volcanic upheavals. He

speculated that coral atolls were once islands that sank or eroded.

As they disappeared, the coral grew as a barrier reef. As the

island gradually sank, the coral grew up to sea level. Eventually

the island disappeared and a ring of coral was left. While that

process is happening, the sea is throwing debris up on the coral to

build up the ring of land. Apparently 10 feet is about as high as

the sea can throw things, and that's about the height of most atolls,

except the pinnacle, which is the last remnant of the disappearing



Atolls range from open crescent shapes to totally enclosed lagoons.

The pinnacles range from nonexistent to large islands such as Tahiti

and Bora Bora. In the case of Clipperton, it is a ring of land about

2 miles in diameter, about 10 feet high, and a lonely pinnacle about

70 feet high.


I stepped ashore near a shipwreck, where there was ship parts

scattered on the beach. It is a lonely place, except for the

hundreds of birds and land crabs. Looking back at the anchored boat,

I can see that the wind direction has changed already. It is

important to keep a close watch on the boat in case a squall starts

heading our way, in which case, I'll swim back to the boat and

prepare to move if necessary.


In addition to the remnants of the shipwreck, there was a small

motorboat wreck and lots of trash above the high water line. Along

the crest of the ring is sparse coconut trees and, in one spot, a row

of boxes of ammunition from a previous era. I could see that some of

it had exploded spontaneously, so it is probably best to stay away

from it.


Over the top of the crest, the ground slopes down to the enclosed

lagoon. The lagoon is a big inland lake of brackish salt water with a

glassy surface. The whole scene looked like something from another

planet. Except for the birds and crabs, there are no signs of life.

The small-dilapidated shack near the pinnacle represents a lost

civilization that fell to the harshness of the environment.


Life looks hard here. The coconut trees look ravaged by wind and the

birds, in all stages of development, are camped out on the ground

with no shelter. The crabs try to hide in nooks and crannies, but

there are not enough hiding places for them all, so there are crowds

of crabs everywhere. The nesting birds are so thick that it is

difficult to avoid invading someone's territory. I can see that

birds of a feather flock together. The Frigate birds are apparently

not welcome to camp with the Booby birds. They have different roles

in the bird world where the Booby is a proud hunter and the Frigate

is a villainous thief and scavenger.


For all the birds, it is a constant vigil against the crabs. They

are relentless. The young, old and abandoned are consumed by the

crabs as soon as they cannot defend themselves.


Most of the trash is plastic shoes and bottles. This is the same

type of trash that makes incredible ocean voyages and tends to

collect in the central ocean vortex. One particular article of trash

was very curious. It was a raft, which consisted of a plywood

platform on plastic oil drums, which was parked at the side of the

lagoon. It was too big to be thrown there by the waves, and it did

not show the signs of a long ocean voyage. Someone brought it here

and left it, but why?


A few months later in Costa Rica, I learned that Jacques Cousteau was

at Clipperton about a month before me, then a few years later, I saw

the raft on TV, in a Cousteau program about Clipperton. While

there, Jacques and a companion dove 300 feet down into a vertical

lava tube in the lagoon. The tube looks like a black hole from the

air. They used the raft to lower themselves and the camera down the



The incredible dive down the lava tube, and the other scenery of

Clipperton made a great episode of Cousteau's program. Jacques

himself described Clipperton as "a cosmic arena of the absurdity".

Also I saw a National Geographic episode about Clipperton. It's fun

to see a place featured in a TV documentary where you have been.


After a few hours on the island, I swam back to the boat and started

thinking about a meal of fresh fish. I didn't want to spear a fish

while I was in the water because of the sharks, so I speared one from

the deck of the boat. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.


Next day the wind changed to onshore so I decided to leave.


Next port of call, Puntarenas Costa Rica!





How fast is your boat? Passage making speed is traditionally measured

as miles per day measured from noon to noon. This increment was

chosen because noon is a convenient time to get a sun fix. During

other parts of the day the sun will only give you one Line of

Position (LOP), but at noon you can get a fix by Meridian Passage of

the sun. This technique requires only a little simple arithmetic, an

Almanac, and a few sextant sights, so it was used to measure the

days' run. In celestial terms, noon is referred as Local Apparent

Noon (LAN). This is the noon that is observed by the navigator when

the sun is at its highest point in the sky. As the longitude of the

vessel changes, the LAN will also change by a corresponding amount.

When measuring passage time from LAN to LAN, any concepts of gaining

or losing time on a passage are traditionally thrown out, because the

LAN changes as the longitude changes so a little bit of the gain or

loss is absorbed each day. This results in a slight degradation of

the accuracy of the 24-hour run, but sailboats are slow, so it works

well, and the progress of the vessel is expressed in terms of miles

per day.


In my boat, the Pelican, I usually get about 100 miles per day. Each

knot of average speed results in 24 miles of the daily run, so 100

miles per day is a little more than 4 knots. A few days or weeks

with no wind can do terrible damage to your daily average, but some

how there always seems to be enough really good days of sailing to

compensate for the becalmed days and equalize the average over a long

period of time. The long term average for the Pelican is 100 miles

per day, which translates to the same speed as sailing in a moderate

wind and is also 77% of the hull speed as calculated using the

standard formula for waterline length to speed ratio.


While becalmed for 3 weeks in the Leeward Hawaiian Islands near Mauro

Reef and Laysan Island, I looked at the pilot chart frequently,

mostly focused on a note that said "Trade winds persist in this area

to 30 deg N". I could see that I was experiencing a seasonal

aberration. Later I encountered these aberrations all over the

world. Sometimes favorable and sometimes not, but the long-term

average still stayed at about 100 miles per day.


Occasionally we get a request for software that will predict how long

a voyage takes. At best this would be a shot in the dark, and then

the dog starts chasing its tail. My own experience shows that the

best way to predict such a thing is to look at a wind and current map

for the subject area, then figure your average speed in normal

sailing conditions to get miles per day. If you want to make an

ocean passage directly against a predominate wind and current then

figure 1/4 to 1/3 of the progress per day, since you need to sail

about 3 or 4 times more to make each mile to windward. You might get

lucky and have a seasonal aberration of following winds to pump up

your daily average, but something will probably come along later to

tear it back down. He giveth and he taketh away.


Of course I'm referring to nautical miles. I'm sure that there is

some terrestrial reason for statute miles and kilometers, but they

are of no interest to the nautical navigator.




Leaving Clipperton


It was a memorable visit to Clipperton Island, and now it is time to

leave but I can't get the anchor up. Normally I can break the anchor

free by pulling the chain tight and steaming around in circles with

the engine, but this time it's not working. The depth sounder says

the water is 37 feet deep here. I put on the mask and fins and went

back in the water where I could see the chain hooked under a coral

head and a 6 foot shark wandering around the bottom.


Cruising sailors do not like to leave anchors and chain anywhere. This ritual is

normally reserved for fast action emergencies in the middle of the

night, usually accompanied by high winds and/or breaking waves.  Ground tackle is expensive,

and you may need it to save your boat before you have a chance to buy a replacement,

so try not to leave it behind.


After a little meditation and hyperventilating, I swam down there and

unhooked the chain. This is where I learned to anchor in water less

than 32 feet, whenever possible. Fortunately I have never had to

abandon an anchor, but I have had some other uncomfortable anchor

retrevial incidents.  One incident that comes to mind is when the

anchor got caught in the murky, shark filled water of Pago Pago Harbour.

Later I had to borrow SCUBA gear to retrieve my anchor at Christmas Island,

where it fell off a subterranean cliff.


It's 1425 miles to Costa Rica, directly east through the ICTZ. There

was a nice following breeze leaving Clipperton, and the island was

soon out of sight. After a few hours of beautiful sailing under

square sail, it was back to typical ITCZ sailing conditions with

frequent sail changes and long periods of calm. The calm aspect

sounds relaxing, but it isn't. Without a little wind pressure on the

sails, a typical sail boat aligns itself parallel to the ever present

swell and rolls out of control. This is where everything that is not

secured starts making noise.


I always wanted to jump into a school of tuna, and spear one. I had

a rig setup and waiting on deck just for this purpose. It consisted

of a fiberglass pole spear, connected by a long nylon cord to a big

red plastic container. The idea was to jump in to the water, plant

the spear in a fish, and then follow the big red plastic container

with the boat.


Suddenly the boat was surrounded with tuna fish. We were in the

middle of a school. I grabbed the spear and jumped in. As soon as

my feet hit the water, they all disappeared. So much for that idea.


A couple of days later, I got my payback for trying to kill wild

animals. It was late afternoon with a sloppy sea and not much wind.

The boat was going up and down about the same amount as forward,

when suddenly it felt like we were dropped on a rock. There is a

stanchion in the middle of the cabin that holds up a gimballed

table. On impact the stanchion popped out and the table came

crashing down. I jumped up, looked out the hatch, and saw a big

orange cloud in our wake. My first thought is that we hit a red mud

shoal, then the orange cloud turned into a red mushroom cloud of

bubbles. This was obviously some creature, but I never saw it. It

hit directly on the bottom of the 2650 pound lead keel. I'm sure

glad it didn't hit the planking. The only damage is that the

stanchion pushed up the cabin top planking a little bit and separated

it from the framing, and there was a little bit of delamination of

the fiberglass around the keel.


By coincidence, when this incident happened, I was reading the book

by the Baileys' called "Adrift". They are a cruising couple from

England, that were rammed and sunk by killer whales. Also by

coincidence, it happened right in this area of the ITCZ. Another

similar sinking by killer whales happened south of here, also in the

ITCZ. That incident is told in the book called "Survive the Savage

Sea". These two books tell amazing stories of being stranded for long

periods in a life raft after their boats were sunk by killer whales.

They probably all survived because they were in the ITCZ where it

rains alot or at least occasionally. In the trade winds, it almost

never rains, except where the clouds are caught by an island, or

during a storm.


A few days later, I had a chance at another tuna, except this time it

was a single fish instead of a school. It was following the boat,

right under the rudder. We were making a healthy 4 knots under

square sail and self-steering wind vane. When I stopped the boat the

fish would disappear, and when I set sail and started moving again,

the fish was back. We played this game for awhile, then I realized

that I would have to try and spear it with the boat moving. All I

had to do was plant the spear in the fish, and let go. The line and

jug were positioned for a clear path overboard. I tied a big sturdy

line around my chest and lowered myself into the water from the

bobstay. I could see my trolling body was causing a lot of drag, but

we were still making 2 or 3 knots with me trolling a few feet behind

the rudder. The fish disappeared through all the fuss of getting

into position, but was soon back, right under the rudder. Going 2 or

3 knots, I could tip my head down to submerge, and tip it up to

surface. It was like magic. When I went down the fish went down, and

when I went up, the fish came up. We played this game for a long

time and then I gave up. The fish always stayed just out of range.

I was never able to spear a fish at sea, but spent plenty of time

trying. When becalmed in the tropics, the Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) will

congregate under the boat to be irresistible targets. When you get

in the water, they always move just out of range, and then when you

get out of the water, they move back under the boat. Dorado will

also sometimes follow the boat when underway. One time in the Gulf

of Panama, a dorado was tucked under the quarter, right next to the

keel and holding position as we zipped along at about 4 knots. While

lying on deck and leaning over the rail, I let the spear fly about 10

times. Every time it was a near miss, and the fish continued to hold

position, then I got a lucky shot; I could feel the spear hit with

plenty of force, and the slender fiberglass shaft started humming.

This was getting exciting until I realized that the spear was firmly

embedded in the wood keel.


One of the Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) is: did you do any

fishing during your trans-oceanic sailing excursions? The answer is

yes, but without much success. I also tried fishing by trolling a

lure like normal people, but didn't have much luck there either.

When I did get hook-ups, I was always going over 5 knots, which was

not very often.


In a future installment, we will take a look at Costa Rica.


Clipperton to Costa Rica -


The sail from Clipperton Island to Costa Rica was 1425 miles in 27

days. That is only about 52 miles per day, because all of it was

through the doldrums. Probably the current accounted for more

progress than the sailing. I passed within about 100 miles of Cocos

Island, but I did not stop because the rain was very heavy from all

directions, so it would have been difficult to find, and it does not

have any protected anchorages. Back in the days before SatNav and

GPS, you would need enough clear sky for at least two celestial fixes

per day to find an island like that. In a big power vessel, you

could maintain a fairly good DR position, but in a small sail boat

zig-zaging on every wind puff, there is no DR position. So I sailed

and drifted past Cocos Island and a few days later, the mountains of

Costa Rica were in sight. As I got closer to land, I noticed a lot of

shipping traffic running up and down the coast. This is on the great

circle between Panama and Japan, and it is also on the route between

Panama and the west coast of Central and North America.


After entering the Gulf of Nicoya, it was still a full day under

power to get to Puntareanas, which is a port of entry of Costa Rica.

I dropped anchor in a cluster of commercial boats and ships, near the

town water front. It was Friday evening, and I could see the signs

of night life starting in the bars and restaurants. Going ashore for

the first time after a long ocean passage is a special time,

especially this time since I ran out of cigarettes and coffee about

24 days ago. I inflated the dinghy and put on my best shore-going

outfit. I was near a commercial wharf with a government guard and

guard house. That looks like a perfect place to start entrance

formalities. This is the first time I've cleared into a foreign

country by yacht, so I'm hoping that it will be easy as I row over to

the warf and climb up the wrought iron ladder. The guard explained

that I could not go ashore until the administrative offices opened

Monday morning, so I rowed back to the boat to wait out the weekend.


I was anchored next to a very interesting small steel ship. It was

about 200 feet long with a nice traditional design from the era

before ascetics started to die out of naval architecture. I wondered

what kind of ship it was. It had a nice looking hull with a

sweeping sheer line, a trim looking super-structure consisting of a

deck house with pilot house on top, and a shapely canoe stern. The

whole thing was rust brown, without a speck of paint and the stern

had a huge dent, but I could see that this vessel was a beauty, and I

could smell cigarette smoke coming out of the deck house.  Since I had

not had a cigarette in 3 weeks, my sense was particularly acute for

this aroma.


I wondered if it was a tramp steamer plying its way around the oceans

of the world sustained by cargoes of opportunity. They probably have

fantastic stories of far off lands. Now I'm dying of curiosity, so I

got in the dinghy and started rowing over, hoping to start a

conversation. As I got closer, I could hear laughter and what

sounded like the clinking of wine glasses. I hoped I wasn't

intruding, but I could not resist yelling "Ahoy!" The owner came out

of the deck house and introduced himself as Dick from England.



Dick's ship


When Dick appeared on the deck, I introduced myself and inquired as to what

kind of ship his vessel was. I'm a cruising "Yachtie" like you,

except that my boat is bigger. He invited me aboard, so I tied the

dink up to the boarding platform. When I got to the top of the

inclined boarding ladder, we shook hands and he said "Sailing that

runt around is like banging your head against the wall". Oh, I don't

go very far it that, looking at the dink far down at sea level. I

use the sailboat over there that you can just barely see in the

dark. I was joking, and we both started laughing. I said that the

nice thing about a small boat is that the maintenance is manageable,

then I asked if maintenance was a problem for such a big vessel. He

said that he never does any maintenance. He buys a ship from a scrap

dealer that has a running engine and workable steering. Then when he

can't get the engine started, it goes back to the scrap dealer. This

explains why there is not a speck of paint anywhere, and not a single

light. He said the growth on the bottom only gets about a foot

thick, then it falls off in chunks. That's good, because a haul-out

and a coat of anti-fouling paint on a ship this size would be a show

stopper for most yachtsman.


"Let's go inside and meet the others" said Dick. Okay, great idea.

Dick's crew is a group of about 5 backpackers. We exchanged

formalities, and next thing I knew, someone handed me a glass of

wine, and then someone else offered me a cigarette. I like this kind

of yachting. It's been about 27 days since I've had an intoxicating

substance, so I was feeling great. We chatted for awhile by the

flicker of candles and kerosene lamps. The engine starts by

compressed air, and he uses kerosene running lights, so there is no

need for the electrical system, which probably quit years ago.


We took a tour of the engine room. It has a single inline diesel

with direct drive. This means no reduction gear to maintain. The

simplicity of this beauty has allowed it to live for so long. The

engine was about 8 feet high, and I think it had 6 cylinders. Dick

said all you have to do is give it clean oil, fuel, air, and cooling

water, and it always runs.


Dick explained that the fuel to cross an ocean would be much too

expensive, so he uses only enough to get offshore and then drifts in

the current. If the wind is going his way, he hoists a collection of

sails from the radio mast on the pilot house and the light mast on

the bow, and this helps him drift faster. He explained that

sometimes he does salvage work, so he has an assortment of sails from

various yachts.


A couple of years later, I heard a rumor that some yachts were driven

aground in Tonga by a cyclone, and Dick hauled them off for US$10000



About 5 years later, I saw Dick's ship again, anchored outside of

Cairns Australia. Approaching at the first light of dawn, I could

see a hulk in the distance. It seemed odd that it was anchored miles

offshore. Then I recognized it as Dick's ship. I didn't stop since

it was a rough night and I wanted to get the anchor set and get some

sleep. By coincidence, it was the same night that Tanya Aebi came

into Cairns.  And as another coincidence, I was invited aboard another

derelict in Cairns, that was permanently wrecked in the river.


Rumor along the waterfront of Cairns was that Dick's ship was denied

entry to the harbour, and the authorities were anxious to see it

gone. Later rumors said that the ship was used in a movie, and was

blown-up as a reenactment of the Rainbow Warrior incident in Auckland





Clearing into Costa Rica


After waiting out the weekend anchored on the roadstead off

Puntereanas, Costa Rica, Monday morning finally rolled around.

During the weekend of close observation, I determined that the

cruising boats were around the corner and up the river. The

roadstead where we are is a commercial anchorage and international

clear in/out point. The government buildings to do this procedure

are on the waterfront. Once again, I put on my best shore-going gear

and got into the inflatable dinghy and rowed ashore to clear-in at

the government building. Instead of going to the concrete wharf, I

elected to go straight into the beach through the surf, where I

broached and capsized the dinghy and then showed-up at the government

office soaking wet. They saw it happen through the windows, then I

became known as "The Swimmer" throughout the government offices. I

think this is the first time they had seen someone swim ashore to



There was only one snag to the clear-in process. I didn't have a

Zarpe. Sometimes when your paper work is not quite legal, then it is

possible to pay a small fee to make it legal, so I paid $25 to

correct the situation. After that, we were all able to relax and

laugh at broaching the dinghy in the surf and the puddle of water I

was leaving on the floor.


Now I have 2 things in mind. A shower and a meal of fresh food.

Some people might ask why a shower is such a high priority when I'm

surrounded by water in every direction. Nothing compares to a fresh

water shower, especially in a hot climate.



After clearing-in to Costa Rica, I moved the boat up the river at

Punta Arenas. There were about a dozen cruising yachts there from

the west coast of the US and Canada. Most of them coastal-cruised

through Mexico and Guatemala, and then made a jump from southern

Guatemala to Costa Rica to bypass El Salvador and Nicaragua, which were

corrupt and war torn.  About half of these boats will be going through

the Panama Canal, and the other half were to continue on the milk-run

through the South Pacific.


My strategy was a little different. I'm conducting a "Builder's

Trial" on this boat, and I need to take it back to California to

finish building it. I left San Diego at the beginning of the

hurricane season of the northern hemisphere (May-June), so I bypassed

Mexico and Guatemala to go straight to the hurricane refuge zone of

10 degrees north latitude. That's where Clipperton Island is.

Actually it is a good idea to get a little below 10 degrees for

hurricane season, and that's probably why Jacques Costeau left

Clipperton about a month before I got there. From here, I sailed to

Panama, Galapagos, Hawaii, Midway, San Francisco and back to San

Diego. Then I spent 4 years working a 9 to 5 job and finishing the

boat for a circumnavigation.


When I got to the anchorage area in the river at Punta Arenas, it was

obvious how to anchor. The current of the river dictates that all

anchors go over the bow. No one swings on the wind or tide due to

the current, and there is no Med style mooring or stern anchors. In a

flimsy inflatable dinghy, it didn't take long to learn that if you

wanted to go downstream, just relax and you will go there, then to go

upstream, it is necessary to row very close to the river bank.


There are more cruising boats here than normal because it is the

start of the hurricane season of the northern hemisphere, and Costa

Rica is a hurricane refuge. The cruising lifestyle for me unfolds

here in my first port-of-call in a foreign country. Foreign cruising

is not just an activity, it is a lifestyle. It is ironic that the

first "Cruising Yachtsman" I met (Dick) was like no other I have met



After setting the anchor, I prepared to go ashore. I could see that

the cruisers were leaving their dingys at the Ice House, so I rowed

over and tied up. The people there were very nice, but we didn't

speak the same language. It was not long before Ed, an American

cruiser, came up and introduced himself and the people at the Ice

House. The cruisers tie up, buy ice, and take showers here. Ed knew

that my first question would be: shower? So he beat me to the punch

line. "There is no limitation on showers, the fresh water flows out

of the mountains for free and never stops" he said. I knew better

than to ask if it was hot. In a super hot climate like this, a cool

shower is perfect. Then Ed went on to explain that there is a marina

up the river, but most of the cruisers anchor here next to the Ice

House. Ed told me where the supermarket was, the Mercado (market

place), and a restaurant/bar. I was set and starting taking a shower

in my shorts. Ed said bye for now as I was languishing in the cool

shower. No need to dry off; all I had to do was put on my shirt and

walk out the front door of the Ice House and there I was in town.


It was great walking around town. I got a meal at the recommended

restaurant and then went to the supermarket and Mercado. It wasn't

long before I had met most of the other cruisers from the anchorage.

It is not hard to spot a cruising yachtie. They are the ones that

walk everywhere and pay cash for everything. All the local men

always wear long pants, regardless of how hot it is, but they excuse

the yachties wearing shorts because they know that most of us come

from a cold climate and thus are not comfortable in a hot climate,

unless we are wearing shorts. Years later, I found the same to be

true in Indonesia and Africa.


The cruising life style involves a lot of partying. The cruising

yachties are great people to socialize with. They are fun, honest,

hard working people that get off the couch and go for all the gusto

in life, and they share the common interest of cruising in boats, and

the willingness to leap off the edge of their world to go cruising.

Once you get here, you have made a big commitment. From here, it

would be easier to sail to the Marquesas or Hawaii than back to

California.  So you can think of Costa Rica as a point of no return,

or you have arrived, depending on how far you want to go.


The liquor store was a particularly interesting place. It has two

big wooden barrels about 8 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. One

barrel contains Rum and the other one contains Gin. No six-packs of

cold beer here, but that doesn't matter, the fruit juice is cheap,

and I know where to get plenty of ice. Some people mix the Rum and

Gin with soda pop, but I wouldn't recommend it. Fruit juice is a

much better mixer because it is so healthy.


This must be the main liquor store for miles, because people are

standing in line with 5 gallon Jerry jugs to fill up. Apparently

this is one of the errands for the rural people that periodically

come into town to re-provision their staples.


In addition to meeting the cruisers, I met some locals. Across the

street from the Ice House is a fishing vocational school. There I

met the brothers Juan and Jose mending their nets. Their father was

an instructor at the fishing school. We went to their house in the

suburbs for a meal and then a few days later, Juan and I took a bus

ride to the capital city in the mountains and stayed with his

relatives overnight there. After a couple of blissful weeks in

Punta Arenas, it was time to get moving down the coast.




In my high school, I was the only kid that had a voracious appetite

for all the classic sailing literature. This included the material

on yachting, starting with Joshua Slocum up to the Hiscock's and

everything I could find in between. In this was a mix of sailing

stories such as Vito Dumas in Lehg II, and technical details such as

Howard Chapell's Wood Boat Building and The American Fishing

Schooners. I was caught in the web of the fantastic sailing stories,

so near the end of high school (1970) I started building my own

cruiser. I combined all the features that I liked from various

boats, and the result was the Pelican that was launched 4 years later.


The square sail was inspired by William Robertson's book Deep Water

and Shoal, where he described his square sail as pulling like a

hundred horses and well balanced for steering. I know that a

spinnaker will pull more than a square sail, but it is not the type

of sail you can use while sleeping under self-steering. The square

sail is perfectly suited for this, and I carried it for thousands of

miles while sleeping thousands of hours. Nathaniel Hereshoff

mentioned the well-balanced characteristics of the square sail in his

excellent book: The Common Sense of Yacht Design.


Pelican Stats:

24 feet on deck, 21 foot waterline, 8 foot 3 inch beam and 3 foot six

inch draft. Empty displacement: approx 6200 pounds. Fully laden

displacement: approx 7200 pounds. Lead keel: 2850 pounds. Inboard

diesel auxiliary engine: 12 HP, 1 cylinder with 2:1 reduction gear.


Sail area: depends on which sails are set. In addition to the gaff

main, I have a small marconi main and a storm trysail that are set on

the Throat halyard. Also I have 2 square sails, gaff-topsail, and 5

different sizes of Jibs.


Typical 24 hour run in the trades, 120 nautical miles.  The long term average is about 100 miles a day. 

With a strong and persistant wind, she sometimes makes 140 miles per 24 hour day.


Pelican Sailing history:

1979-1981: San Diego to Clipperton Island, Costa Rica, Panama,

Hawaii, Midway, San Francisco, Newport Beach and back to San Diego.


1984-1990: San Diego to Hawaii, Fanning Island, American Samoa,

Tonga, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia, Christmas

Island, Cocos Keeling Island, Rodriguez Island, Mauritius, Reunion,

South Africa, Namibia, Saint Helena Island, Ascension Island,

Fernando de Nahrona in Brazil, French Guiana, Grenada, Jamaica, Grand

Cayman, Galveston Texas and back to San Diego on a flat bed truck,

driven through the desert by an oil rig work-boat captain. Now the

boat resides on a mooring in San Diego harbour. If I win the

Lottery, I'll go cruising again in the same boat.



The Ultimate Cruiser:

Some people ask me what I would do to make my dream boat.  I would make the Pelican bigger to make faster ocean

passages.  By stretching it out I could add another mast to make a schooner.  It could be stretched out enough so that

there is standing head room below the deck beams. Then it can have a flush deck, with all of its advantages.

 In my opinion, this would result in the ideal cruising boat:


It looks very much like an American fishing schooner.



Most of the rigging details of the Pelican came from the book American Fishing Schooners, by Howard Chapelle. 

He was a nautical historian that cataloged the details of boat design with plenty of hand drawn construction details.


The schooners that fished the Grand Banks were fiercely competitive because the first fish to market commanded the

highest prices.  This need for speed, coupled with the serious weather of the area, produced fast reliable schooners

that could carry a press of sail in gale conditions.

 One of these rough and ready work boats, named America sailed across the Atlantic

and won a prestigious yacht race in England.  It was a case of the uncouth work boat taking the title from the

refined racing yachts. The Americas cup is named after this fishing boat.

Pelican on a mooring in Walvis Bay, South West Africa.





Punta Arenas is about 20 miles up the Gulf of Nicoya, so it takes

awhile to get to the open ocean from there. After leaving Punta

Arenas it was continuous head winds while heading down the gulf

towards the open ocean, so I decided to anchor and wait for the wind

to change. I crept into Bahia in the dark and dropped anchor. The

next morning revealed a beautiful bay surrounded by sand beaches and

rain forest. At one spot were a few small buildings, so I decided to

row over and say hi. When I got ashore, there was a small store, a

restaurant bar, and a pig in a pen. The people were friendly, but

did not speak English. I bought some food from the store and had

breakfast on the beach, then I starting walking up the road. It

wasn't long before a Land Rover pulled up next to me on the road. An

unmistakable North American accent said "Hi, where are you going?"

I replied "Just curious to see what's up the road." He said "There's

nothing up there except my house. Jump in and I'll show you." OK,

and I jumped into the Land Rover. After about a half-mile, we came

around a bend in the road, and there was this big stilt house built

in the trees. He built it himself and enthusiastically explained the

technical details of its architecture. It was very impressive with a

panoramic view of the Bay. I could see that my boat was still

anchored where I left it. He explained that he was a Pensionado and

was allowed to own land and retire in Costa Rica, as long as he was

receiving a Pension of $300 a month from a foreign country. After the

grand tour of the house and a cold drink, he gave me a ride back to

the beach.


Next morning, I pulled up anchor and headed south towards the open

ocean. The wind was light and fluky, but that is better than

consistent headwinds like it was before I stopped at Bahia. It took

a few days to get to Quepos which is a small town on the coast. The

anchorage is an open roadstead, so it's not a great place to stay for

long if you arrive by boat. Like Punta Arenas, there was a concrete

warf with a government guard. I rowed over, and presented my passport

and papers to the guard. He spoke good English, and verified that I

was legally cleared-in to Costa Rica. With that out of the way, we

had a nice long conversation. He said that they don't get too many

yachts here because the anchorage is open. They mostly get

commercial vessels that load and unload by lighters because the water

is not deep enough, next to the warf, for a ship.


I said good-bye and walked into town. There was a nice boardwalk

along the shore with shops and restaurants. I talked to some surfers

from Southern California, and they assured me that Quepos was a

favorite destination for surfers from all over the world. I had a

fantastic dinner at a restaurant and then went back to the boat. The

next day, while sitting at anchor, a local guy in a dugout canoe

dropped anchor nearby and rolled into the water with snorkel gear and

a hand spear. I was surprised at how fast he filled the canoe with

really big fish, like 2 and 3 feet long. These were not odd shaped

multicolored reef fish, they were more like silver torpedoes. He

could see that I was impressed, so he paddled over so that I could

take a closer look at his catch. After nods and smiles, he didn't

seem anxious to sell any. I think the message was that if you want

some fish, just jump in and get some. So after he paddled away, I

decide to give it a try. The first thing I noticed was that the

visibility was only about 2 or 3 feet. I already knew that it was

about 25 feet deep from the depth sounder on the boat. As I dove

towards the bottom it became darker and the visibility was

diminishing. I leveled off near the bottom and browsed around with

my spear ready. It was not very interesting, then suddenly a silver

torpedo zoom past. It was in my small field of view for only an

instant, since it was going very fast and I could only see a couple

of feet. After numerous dives, I saw a few more, and I could see

that they weren't standing still. I don't see how anyone could spear

one in these conditions. The guy in the canoe was probably watching

me from shore and laughing at my incompetence with a spear.


Costa Rica has plenty of rivers, so the diving is not good in most

places because the rivers cloud the water with silt for miles out to

sea. However, rivers are frequently good for surfing because of the

sand bars that form along the delta.


After leaving Quepos, I stopped at Caño Island. This island is

mentioned in nautical history as a pirate lair. I could see why. It

has a small freshwater stream and lush rain forest, and it would be a

good refuge from the insects and hostile natives on the main land, 12

miles away. Like Quepos, Caño Island does not have any protected

anchorage so it is an open roadstead anchorage. This makes it easy

to maneuver a lumbering pirate ship in and out of the anchorage, but

for a small yacht, it makes uncomfortable living. After dropping the

anchor, I grabbed my snorkel gear and spear and jumped in. This is a

ritual to check the anchor before leaving the boat, and possibly

stumble on an unlucky fish. The visibility was good, about 20 feet,

but I didn't see anything that looked like a game fish, so I swam

ashore and climbed up the rocks where a small creek was trickling

down. I made my way upstream through the thick underbrush, and

suddenly came to a small clearing. It was like a natural shrine with

crystal clear pool and a small waterfall, surrounded by lush

vegetation. When I was on Caño, it was completely unhabitated and

looked timeless and undiscovered from another era.


Caño Island is now a Biological Reserve with a ranger station.

Unique pre-Colombian artifacts were found there, including perfectly

spherical stones, tombs with stone statues, polychrome ceramics and

golden votives. These are believed to have marked offshore burial

grounds for the indigenous Diquis tribe who inhabited the area until

the Spanish invasion. Juan de Castanada discovered this island during

his explorations in 1519. Legends tell of this island becoming a

pirate hideout after the Spanish invasion. Some believe that Caño

Island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's fabled

tale, Treasure Island. I think that Castanada anchored in exactly

the same place that I did, and saw the same waterfall in the same

magical setting that I saw, and was inspired to name this island

after a waterfall or Caño.


In a future episode, we will continue south to Golfito; one of the

most beautiful natural harbors I've seen.


After exploring Caño for a short time, I swam back to the boat and

starting planning the next move. I had heard good things about

Golfito through the cruising grapevine and from a classmate from back

home in California. Golfito is only 42 miles from Caño, as the

crow flies, but I need to go around Punta Sasipuedes, so it will be at

least one night at sea. Most of the ships coming out of the Panama

Canal will hug the coast here, so it will be necessary to stand a

continuous watch. The anchorage here at Caño was too exposed for a

good night of sleep, so I decided to get going.


It was a nice sail to Golfito with fairly consistent wind all the

way. This is still in the ITCZ (doldrums) so the wind was a bit of

good luck.


Golfito is a bay connecting to Golfo Dulcie, about 15 miles up the

gulf from the ocean. Sailing up the gulf, there was no sign of

civilization, until inline with the bay of Golfito where the small

town came into view. Just then a lightning bolt struck the water

about 100 feet away. It was very fast, loud and bright. I was feeling

a little tired before, but now I'm alert and wide awake. The wind

fizzled out, and it started pouring rain. I started the engine and

headed into the bay. The high canopy of the rain forest all along the

shore was impressive as I got closer, and the details of the small

town revealed an antique ambiance.


There were about 5 yachts in the bay, all anchored across the bay

from the town. I recognized a couple of them from Punta Arenas. I

wondered why they anchored there and not in front of the town. Since

I didn't have a detailed chart of the bay, I decided to anchor where

everyone else did.


Adjacent to where the yachts were anchored, there was a stone house

on the beach with a big veranda and sea wall, under the tropical rain

forest canopy. The scene looked like something out of a fairy tale,

and there was a party in progress on the veranda. A cruising yachtie

rowed past in his dinghy and said hello.


I was wondering about the party.  He read my mind and said, 

"That's Captain Tom's House; it is open to cruising yachts;

I'm going there now". 

"Okay, thanks I'll be over in a few minutes" I replied.


As I rowed in, a sign came into view that said "Ex-Geniuses Club".

I don't think I qualify to be one of those, but I'll go and introduce

myself to Captain Tom. As I came up on the veranda, I recognized a few people,

and then met Tom. He is a Pensinado, similar to the guy I met in Bahia with the house on the hill.

Tom explained that the bar is self-service, just mark it in the book and pay later.

Then he showed me a big walk in closet full of

all kinds of magazines. And then he said "There's a bathing area in

the river behind the house". Now I see why everyone is anchored on

this side of the bay.


Out on the veranda, it was a beautiful view of the town across the

bay, framed by the overhanging canopy of the rain forest. I

recognized Bruce from California, who I met in Punta Arenas.


I ran into Bruce 3 years later in New Port Beach, California, where he told

me his boat was crushed in the Panama Canal. He was side tied to a tug

in the lock.  The tug came loose and crushed his boat against the 

lock wall.  Then I saw him 2 years later on Maui, where he started Maui Snorkeling.


Also there on the

veranda were two backpackers from Dick's ship. They said he was

underway across the Pacific, but they decided not to go, since they

thought drifting across the ocean in a derelict was not their cup of

tea. Also on the veranda was a couple from San Francisco, with their

son. I met them in Punta Arenas, and saw them again in Panama. Then

someone I didn't recognize said, "That was a great party at your

house in Ocean Beach"! "Wow, it is a small world", I replied.

I had a nice time reading magazines and talking to the Ex-Geniuses on

the veranda. I stayed in Golfito for a few days and went to Tom's

house everyday for cocktail hour. During the day I spent my time

filling the water tanks and replenishing my stores for the trip to




Two days of provisioning the Pelican for the trip to Panama helped

keep me from going Tropo (lazy) in Golfito. The cruising lifestyle

keeps you fit, and one thing that contributes to that is provisioning

your boat without using Taxis or outboard motors. It is a rare treat

when you can pull up to a dock and fill the tanks with a hose, so

most of the water and fuel is carried aboard in Jerry jugs. I don't

use very much fuel; only a little bit of Diesel fuel and no

gasoline! So I don't spend too much energy carrying fuel, but I

always leave with plenty of water.


Since the town was across the bay from Capt Tom's house, it was a

moderately long row to get over there in the dinghy. I could have

moved the Pelican, but there weren't any docks over there, so I would

still need to use the dinghy. I decided to leave the boat where it

was and do a little extra rowing.


Before leaving Coasta Rica, it was necessary to purchase stamps for

the passport. These were available at a government office in a small

town in the mountains, so I made a bus trip with some of the other

yachties to the town in the mountains. The stamps were only a few

dollars, and it was a fun excursion. The bus went up and down the

mountain through miles of banana groves and lush local vegetation.

After getting our stamps from the government office, we had a very

cheap and good lunch in a small restaurant.


Next morning I said good-bye to every one and pulled up anchor.

There was a light wind, which lasted into the night. After a few

hours, I was clear of the gulf and out in the open ocean. By

nightfall I had rounded Punta Burica. That's about 40 miles since I

started this morning. It's about 200 miles from here to Punta Mala

(Bad Point), around a group of Islands along the coast, and then

another 90 miles up the gulf to the Panama Canal. After sighting one

of the islands near Punta Burica in the dark, I didn't sight land

again until within sight of Panama City. It was like a weeklong

ocean passage, but I only covered a few hundreds miles along the

coast since Golfito. Bad Point certainly lived up to its reputation

on this trip.


After I rounded Punta Mala, I sailed up the gulf in a beeline for

Panama City. This was a tactical error. The current in the Gulf of

Panama goes out here. If you want to go in the gulf, then you need

to go to the other side. I wondered why I was sailing so hard and

didn't seem to make much progress. This is the area where the trade

winds of the southern hemisphere get sucked into the ITCZ. It is a

fuzzy line of distinction between the two different weather zones

here near the coast because of weather influences coming across the

Isthmus from the Caribbean. So the whole area is a convergence zone

of winds and currents, and that's what makes Bad Point what it is.


With all the rain and clouds I was just barely able to keep track of

my position with the sextant. Fortunately the heavy shipping traffic

gave a good confirmation of questionable celestial sights, because

the ships follow a tight line through here. Where I'm going against

the current, and should be on the other side of the gulf, the ships

don't worry about the current and go in and out of the gulf in

specific Traffic Separation zones. These are not physically marked

with buoys, but are shown on the chart. The ships are using SatNav,

so they have no trouble following the lanes without buoys. When you

see 2 or 3 ships on the same day, going the same way, then you are

probably on a shipping lane.


During the week I sailed down the coast, made a hard left turn around

the cape and skirted along the edge of the Perlas Archipelago,

without sighting land. I finally sighted Isla Bona and Isla Otoque,

19 miles from Panama City. I wanted to see Punta Mala, but I think

that when I got near, the current coming out of the gulf probably set

me to seaward. I also wanted to sight some of the Perlas Islands, so

I spent days tacking towards them during the day, but at night, I had

to tack away from them, so I didn't see them on this passage.


It was evening twilight when I came around the corner of Otoque

Island and headed for the bay with a small town. I started to drop

the anchor, and the people onshore motioned for me to tie up at the

dock. I didn't hesitate to accept this hospitality. As I came into

the dock, I could see that everybody in town was enjoying the fine

evening along the waterfront.



Otoque Island, Panama -


I tied up at the dock, and suddenly the whole town was there. One of

the village elders explained that this is the ferry dock which

connects the island to Panama City, and there will not be any ferries

until tomorrow morning, so it is OK to tie up here for awhile. I

handed out some food bars and fishing tackle and they gave me some

mangoes and avocados.


I pulled out some charts and showed them the route by which I had

come from San Diego. They said that I sounded exactly like a Zonian,

except they knew I wasn't one of those since I was from California.

After I settled into the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama, I found out

what a Zonian was. They are canal employees and their families.

They live in a segregated section of town which looks exactly like a

Middle American suburb. They have American TV and radio stations,

Americanized supermarkets, churches, military base, etc. In a sense,

it is like a US territory where the people are completely

Americanized; more so than in most overseas US territories. As the

canal was gradually being turned over to the Panamanians, the Zonians

had to leave their enclave.


The descendants of the multiple generation Zonians were not

recognized as US citizens, so they were "men (and women too) without

a country". Apparently some of the Zonians were having terrible

immigration problems after generations of service to the US canal

company. I hope these issues were resolved to everyone's



The villagers on Otoque Island told me that there was another small

town on the other side of the island. I said I would like to go

there, and a woman stepped forward and said that her son could take

me there tomorrow. OK, I'll be ready.


After a couple of hours talking to the people on the dock, one of the

village elders informed me that the tide was going out, so I better

move the boat. I said OK, I'll move away from the dock and anchor

right over there. He shook his head and said "bad place to anchor,

you can pull into the boat basin if your boat can go aground at low

tide". The boat basin looked like it was made by stacking boulders

to make a small enclosure with a narrow entrance to the sea. Too bad

it goes dry at low tide, otherwise it would be the perfect snug-

harbor. It is perfect for the small open boats that they use, but

not for a sailboat with a lead keel. The first thing that would

happen is that the rigging would get tangled in the trees when it

started to lean over as the tide went out, then the rocks on the

bottom of the basin might damage the wood hull when it came to rest

on its side.


I routinely "beach" Pelican on its side to repaint the

bottom, but only on sand or pebble beaches in protected waters where

there is no possibility of a surge or swell.


Pelican beached at the Durban Yacht Club, for a coat of bottom paint. 

One low tide gives you just enough time to paint one side, then turn it 

around at high tide and paint the other side on the next low tide.



I politely declined the invitation to use the small basin and

anchored the boat about 100 yards off the village. It seemed to be a

very good anchorage, somewhat protected by prominent headlands on

both sides. The water was glassy smooth, and the lights of the town

were mirrored along the waters edge.


In the middle of the night, the tide suddenly dropped and the wind

starting blowing gale force from the north east. This was my

first encounter with the Williwas that blow across the Isthmus from

the Caribbean and the big tidal range of the Pacific side of Panama.

Where this was just previously deep calm water, it is now shallow

with heavy wind and breakers. The keel started bumping on the

rocks!! Time to move immediately!!


In a future episode, we will see how Pelican Pete blunders his way

out of this mess.




So here I am at anchor with the keel bouncing off the rock bottom

every once in a while from the wind chop. Fortunately all the

ballast is external, so damage is unlikely, but the jarring from keel

to tuck is unnerving. I need to get an anchor into deeper water;

quick. Now I can see why the village elder advised against anchoring



Instead of pulling up the existing anchor, I could leapfrog over it

and set another one further out, then stream on both anchors over the

bow. I started the engine and headed for deeper water, against the

wind. Somewhere between where I was, and where I wanted to set the

other anchor, the engine started racing and I was losing headway.

Sounds like something sheared in the transmission. I went below to

check it out, and found that the rubber propeller shaft coupling was

sheared off. The coupling is a chunk or rubber with a bolting flange

on each end. One end is connected to the flange of the transmission

and the other end is connected to the flange of the propeller shaft.

When I powered over the existing anchor, the anchor line got caught

in the propeller, and it sheared the coupling. This is a good argument

for all chain anchor rode, and for paying attention to important tips.


What a mess I've made here. The anchor line is stuck in the prop,

but at least I accomplished the task of moving to deeper water.

Now the boat is hanging on the anchor line by its prop. This is not

a good time to do something else stupid. 


I still need to get the second anchor into deeper water, so I put the

anchor and chain in the dinghy and rowed it out. This is easier in a

rigid dinghy than an inflatable, but it can be done either way. This

is a frequently used technique to set another anchor, and is now my

first choice rather than taking the anchor out under power. Don't

ask me about setting 2 anchors under sail; I've never tried it.


Clearing the line from the prop was a major project in itself.

I never liked night diving very much, but sometimes you have to do it.

So I donned snorkel gear, and armed with a big knife, I jumped over the

side.  The boat was hobby-horsing (this is a real naval architectural term)

quite a bit in the wind chop, and I got bopped on the head a few times,

but after a struggle, I had the line free.


So, I'm securely anchored with a broken prop shaft coupling. If I

had 4 long bolts, I could make a nice repair. There was nothing more

I could do tonight, so I fell into the bunk exhausted. Next morning,

I rowed ashore and asked if anyone had any 3/8 x 8" bolts. The

villagers asked around, and nobody had such a thing. I know that

these are a special size bolt. I met up with Jose for the

prearranged hike to the town on the other side of the island. It was

less than a mile, with the first half up and the second half down.

At the top were an avocado grove and a beautiful view of the isthmus

and Panama City.



Going down the other side of the island was steep, and the town there

was terraced down to the water. The town had a very nice public

meeting place which was a big covered veranda perched on the hill

with a good view of Panama City and all the traffic going in and out

of the canal. Jose and I stayed for a drink and a chat with the

locals and then went back over the top of the island.


Back on the other side, I inquired about the ferry schedule, and

decided to go to Panama City the next day to get some 8" bolts to

repair the propeller shaft coupling. They said I could take the

ferry in the morning, then take a taxi to the bolt shop and then

return on the ferry in the afternoon. I'm not actually cleared into

panama, but it sounded like an enticing plan. My other option was to

sail the boat to the Quarantine area and then try to sail it up the

canal to the Balboa Yacht Club without engine capability. I'm

obligated to seek a port of entry before gallivanting around the city

in a taxi, but for the safety of my vessel, I think it is OK. I'll

take my passport and throw myself at the mercy of the officials

rather than try to blend into the crowd and be deceptive.


Rowing back to the Pelican, I passed a fishing boat. I asked if they

had any 8" bolts. They invited me aboard while they looked for some

bolts. The boat was a shrimp trawler built in the traditional way out

of wood. It looked old with many layers of different colored paint,

but structurally sound. They had some nice bolts, but a little too

short. The fishermen noticed my interest in their elaborate trawling

rigging and explained how the whole process worked.


The trip to Panama City and back went like clock work. When the ferry

arrived in Panama City, I handed my passport to the official at the

gate and said that I needed to get some bolts to repair my boat. He

said OK and handed my passport back. Right outside the ferry terminal

were taxis waiting. I explained to one of the taxi drivers about the

bolts that I needed and dropped a name suggested by the people of

Otoque Island. "No problem" he said. Within minutes, we were deep

into the industrial zone of Panama, and abruptly stopped at a hole-in-

the-wall shop. I explained about the bolts I needed and 1 minute

later they were retrieved from the stock room. To make a long story

short, I was back on the ferry out of the city in a very short time,

and was relieved to have crashed the gates of legal entry without a



The bolts made a great repair for only a few dollars, including

transportation. I said good-bye to my new found friends, and

proceeded to the Panama Canal.





After leaving Otoque Island, it was a windward sail to the Quarantine

Anchorage on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. It is only about 18

miles and I wasn't planning to make any stops, but Tabago Island was

right in my path. I didn't have a very good approach chart for Panama,

so I decided to stop at Tabago for directions from a fellow mariner. I

could see a big North American yacht in the anchorage there. I

motored into the bay and anchored between the beach and the yacht. It

was a nice place with a protected bay and a small town. There was

something that looked like a yacht club or a hotel near where I was

anchored. I was within earshot of the yacht, so I asked if they had chart

of Panama that I could look at. "Sure, come on over" they replied. So I

put some tracing paper and a pencil in a plastic bag and swam over.

They had a nice boarding ladder, so it was easy to get aboard. After

introductions they said we were surprised that I swam over, because

the bay is full of sharks. While I traced their chart, we chatted about

cruising and then they gave me a ride back to the Pelican in their dinghy

so that I would not have to swim with the sharks again.


I went ashore at Tobago. This time I took the trouble to inflate the

dinghy instead of swimming ashore as I frequently do, due to the sharks

in the bay. There was a hotel with an open air bar and garden area, so

I stopped for a drink. There I met a Dutch Seaman. He had spent a

career at sea, all over the world, on tramp steamers. He had some

fabulous stories of exotic far flung ports, and other tidbits about life on a

commercial cargo vessel.


From Tabago to the Quarantine anchorage was only a short hop, but a

long wait at anchor for the Customs boat to arrive. After formalities

were completed, I was cleared in, and made my way up the channel to

the Balboa Yacht Club. The moorings are very expensive at the yacht

club, but with the shallow draft of Pelican, I was able to find a place to

anchor near the club.


The yacht club is open and spacious with a great view of the channel

leading to the first canal locks. Next to the yacht club is a night club

which is a hangout for the Zonians. My stay here was a whole epic saga

in itself. It was an unforgettable experience of adventure and

romance. I won't bore the reader with the details of this.


After a few weeks at the Balboa Yacht Club, it was time to get going to

Hawaii. I decided to stop at the Perlas Islands on my way out the Gulf.

While at the Panama Yacht Club, I met some people that had a place on

Isla Isabella in the Perlas Islands. They showed me where it was and

invited me to stop by, so I did, and here I am. I cruised straight into a

river with a rain forest canopy, that gave a Sleepy Hollow effect. I went

up the river until it was too narrow to continue, and then I pulled up to

the bank where I was greeted by some locals.


In a future episode, we will take a look at this fascinating island.



I spent a lot of time in Panama and it was time to leave. This will

be the first step in my first transoceanic passage. Panama was a

great place to do all those inevitable little repairs necessary to

keep a cruising boat going. It was also the ideal place to provision

the boat and the Balboa Yacht Club was a really nice respite for the

weary mariner. I anchored the boat outside the club mooring area

over a sandbar, so I was able to leverage the advantages of a small

boat with shallow draft to save some money on mooring fees. At low

tide, Pelican was sitting in a puddle in the middle of the sand



The club was a crossroads of the world, with yachts of many

nationalities transiting the canal both ways. It was a pleasure to

meet other yachties in the great atmosphere of the club. I still

remember the heavy colonial style columns, slow turning fans and the

view overlooking the mooring area and the Pacific end of the canal.


While in Panama, I had taken 3 side trips. Twice, I was a line

handler for yachts going through the canal, and the other excursion

was to the Perlas Islands on a super yacht. I said good bye to my

new found friends and pulled up the anchor to leave my comfortable

little hole in the sandbar near the Balboa Yacht Club.


On my way out of the Panama Gulf, I stopped at Tabago Island and the

Perlas Islands. Apparently Tabago Island was known as "The Isle of

Flowers" to Paul Gauguin, who once tried to buy property there. I

only stayed for a couple of hours at Tabago, while I bid farewell to

some cruising people anchored there, then I continued on my way.


It was a mundane transit across the Gulf to the Perlas Islands. The

wind was light and inconsistent so it was all under power. I don't

like powering because the self steering windvane doesn't work in

that mode, and hand steering is boring. Also I'm always worried that

something will snap inside the engine. I could fix it, but it would

be a major hassle.


One plus of hand steering is that you tend to see more. On this

occasion, I saw a Manta Ray leap out of the water and do an

incredible belly-flop. It is etched in my mind like a short video.

The Perlas Islands were just visible in the background, the late

afternoon light was reflecting off the glassy water so that it

sometimes looked like shimmering silver and sometimes steel gray,

and then suddenly the Manta did its leap and belly-flop. Wow, that

looked and sounded like it hurt. Someone later told me that they do

this to shake parasites loose.


Approaching the Perlas Archipelago, the scenery gradually improved.

I threaded my way through the islands on my way to Isla Del Rey. It

is like a miniature archipelago with a story book look about it.

There is lush vegetation everywhere. The coast lines of the islands

are very irregular and there are numerous small islets with tufts of

vegetation, scattered at random. The colors of the blue water, white

sand beaches, red earth bluffs and green vegetation mixed together

perfectly in the afternoon sunshine to make a beautiful scene of a

miniature archipelago.


My destination was Isla Del Rey. This is the largest and most remote

Island of the group. I was headed for Rio Sucio (Dirty River) on

the west coast of the island. While at the Balboa Yacht Club, I met

some people that had an encampment there. It was a place to get away

from the rat race and relax with the locals. They invited me to stop

and visit the encampment on my way out the gulf, so I did.


My host

at Rio Sucio was Donald. He was a Costa Rican that was educated in

the US, so his English was good. One of the entourage was a Cuna

Indian. He also spoke good English. We called him Fred, since he

had a long complicated name, which required vocal tones not easily

achieved. Donald and Fred explained that the Perlas Islands are

Autonomous, so there is tribal law. It is peaceful there, but a lot

of people carry guns. The island is covered with Marijuana

plantations so they said don't be shocked if you see someone smoking

a joint there. They continued by explaining that the inhabitants are

descendants of workers brought in to dig the canal. After the canal

was finished, there was an excess of people. So that they would not

be a burden on the Panamian government, they were moved to the

Islands and allowed to govern themselves autonomously. Their main

exports are marijuana and lobster.


So far I haven't seen any one or any signs of habitation, except the

patch work quilt of cultivated fields on the hillsides. Most of the

fields are marijuana, but some are corn and other vegetables. While

approaching the destination, I threaded my way through some little

islands and then spotted the entrance to the river.


In a future episode, we will enter the Rio Sucio and sail the

Pelican right into the middle of a marijuana plantation, populated

with armed guards.



In the last episode, Pelican Pete was approaching Isla Del Rey in

the Perlas Islands, Panama. He will pick it up from there:


I'm on my way to Donaldo's Rest and Relaxation camp on Isla Del Rey,

near the River Sucio. Donald recommended that I enter the river,

and stash the boat under the jungle canopy. The entrance was narrow

but easy with no appreciable breaking waves. I was going in on a

rising tide in case I ran aground. Near high slack tide, I was

under the high jungle canopy with the river narrowing to a trickling

brook. There I nestled the Pelican against the soft river bank,

killed the engine and jumped ashore with a mooring line. Suddenly a

group of 4 armed men and a boy emerged from the jungle. These were

serious looking people that made no pretense to be a friendly

welcoming committee. I knew this was a Marijuana plantation, so

maybe that is why they look so stressed. There was a long awkward

silence, then I said I was invited by Donaldo. One of the men

snapped his fingers at the boy and said something in rapid fire

spanish. The boy took off at a run into the jungle. A few minutes

later Donaldo appeared with enthusiastic salutations and everyone

relaxed. We walked over to the camp, being careful not to step on

the seedlings of tomorrows crop. As we approached the lean-to

shelter, the aroma of a hot meal hit me. One of the first things a

mariner thinks about after a land fall is a fresh water shower or

bath and a hot meal; even in a hot climate. Now it was a short

transit from Panama City, but never the less these things had a

tremendous appeal.


Here at Donaldo's camp we had the River Sucio

for unlimited baths, and the perpetually smoldering camp fire for a

hot meal whenever the whim dictated it. It was like a paradise

except for the ever present biting insects.


Fred was stirring a

stew and it smelled great. Fred is the Cuna Indian that has a name

that is hard to pronounce, so we called him Fred. Even though the

stew was made from yesterdays leftovers, it did not diminish the

appeal. After a hot meal and a cool bath, I was feeling relaxed and

refreshed. We took up positions around the camp fire and caught up

on the latest news from Panama City and other parts of the world.

For a few days, we just ate, slept, talked and toured the Marijuana

fields. I was feeling great after all this relaxation, but all good

things must come to an end and it was time for me to depart across

the Pacific Ocean for Hawaii.


Leaving the Perlas islands in Panama, my intention was to go direct

to Hawaii (any island of that group that I could find). This was my

first Ocean Passage so to speak. Previously I was about 800 miles

offshore when sailing down the coast of Baja, but that wasn't really

an Ocean Passage because I always knew I could turn left (to Port)

and find a port. This time I'm planning to actually go out there

across the wild blue yonder and fall off the edge.


In a future episode, we will take a closer look at Pelican Pete's

attempted Ocean Passage to Hawaii.




Leaving the Perlas Islands, my intended destination was Hawaii. As

the crow flies, that is about 4465 Nautical Miles with at least half

of it through the ICTZ where the current sets east. The ITCZ is a

good place to make up some easting, like going from Hawaii to the

Marquesas, but to try and go west in the ITCZ would be like trying

to make a profit in a falling stock market. It can be done using

advanced tricks, but for the average person like me in a small boat,

it is not advisable. The alternate plan is to go south to the trade

winds of the southern hemisphere and ride them parallel to the

equator until about 2/3 of the way to Hawaii, then turn north and

cross the ITCZ in mid ocean where it is not as wide as it is along

the coast of Central America. This whole strategy worked in the

sense that I eventually made it to Hawaii. As with planning most

ocean passages, the objective is to get to the nearest trade wind

area and ride it as long as possible. Trade wind miles

are easy if you are going with it, so it normally pays to go out of

your way to find them. In this case, the closest trade wind is the

South East Trades near the Galapagos Islands. These could be

approached by going down the coast of Columbia, or sailing strait

there offshore. For a single-handed sailor with scant chart

coverage, the offshore route is preferable, so the plan is to sail

strait to the Galapagos, not stop and pick up the trades somewhere

around there, probably south of the islands.


The boat was provisioned and ready to go. Donaldo, Fred and I

decided to go to Esmeralda, the nearest town at the south of the

island. They needed some staples for the camp, and I wanted to get

some fresh food. I was fully loaded with packaged food that I got

in Panama City, but for a long voyage, it is always good to get some

fresh food at the last minute. We went to Esmeralda on the

Pelican, towing the Panga (dug-out canoe with outboard motor). I

would leave from there and go to Hawaii and they would go back to

the camp in the Panga. It was a pleasant and scenic trip down the

west side of Isla del Ray. When we rounded the southern point of

the island, the town of Esmeralda came into view. It was built

along the coast and extended up the hill. Most of the buildings

were Bamboo with tin roofs. The compact town nestled in the dense

foliage was altogether picturesque. Since we had the Panga with us,

there was no need to inflate the dinghy to go ashore. We walked up

the hill to the store where they actually had ice cream bars being

sustained by a diesel generator and WW II vintage freezer. This

was a great treat that none of us had seen for awhile so we decided

to stop everything and have a couple of ice cream bars right there.

Donaldo and Fred got their staples, and I arranged to have a stalk

of bananas and a box of cucumbers delivered to the boat, next day,

by a local farmer. We sat on the front porch of the store eating

our ice cream bars. From there we had a nice view of the town and

the bay with Pelican sitting at anchor waiting to go to Hawaii.

After finishing our shopping, we went to visit a family that Donaldo

knew. They lived in a simple, immaculate house, where we had a cup

of tea and a chat then it was off to a party where some local

musicians performed. The effect of the music, bamboo shacks and

White Lightning type drink produced a sort of timeless feel where we

could be in one of the past centuries. The only signs that I could

see of this century were the synthetic clothing and flashlights with



After the party, we went back to the boat to sleep it off. Next

morning the bananas and cucumbers were delivered by Panga and I was

ready to go. It was a nice sparkly day without any wind so I got

going under power. After only a few miles, the sky suddenly grayed

over, and a strong headwind built up. The Perlas Islands were still

in sight two days later.


In a future episode, we will rejoin Pete as he is forced into the

Galapagos for repairs on his voyage to Hawaii.




One of the early Pilot books describes the passage from Panama to

the Galapagos as "vexatious to the mariner", meaning that you could

expect almost anything, and it may not seem logical. For my passage

in November, it was just plain headwinds all the way. The distance

is only 800 or 900 miles, but it took me 32 days. Remember, for

every mile going to windward, you have to sail 3 or 4 miles through

the water. Anyway, bashing to windward for 32 days is a great way to

test your boat and the nerves of your crew, if you have any. When

beating to windward, you can feel the stresses and shock loads in the hull and

rig permeate the air, thick enough to cut with a knife. One of the

failures on this passage was a toggle pin that slipped out of a

turnbuckle that was holding a shroud (rigging wire that holds up the

mast). On a modern boat with an aluminum mast, stepped on deck, the

failure of any one shroud or stay is enough to suddenly lose the

rig. In the case of Pelican, the mast is made of wood, covered with

fiberglass, and stepped on a traditional mast step, so that if

something critical breaks, the mast will bend like a fishing rod for

awhile before it breaks. So on this passage, the rig had its

ultimate test when a clevis pin slipped out while beating to

windward. It sounded like a cannon shot that shook the ship. I

didn't waste any time getting on deck and lowering the sails so the

rig was saved. Once the sails come down, all the stress stops, and

the whole world is suddenly different. Instead of the stress you get

rolling where everything starts to swing, slide, bang, rattle, and

creak. Nothing dangerous, unless you have a modern rig, but



After lowering the sails, I had a new clevis pin in place and the

turnbuckle pounded back into shape, within a few minutes and was on

my way again. The passage was an uneventful beat to windward except

for the sighting of Malpelo Island. There is something special about

this lonely island, hundreds of miles from the nearest land. Malpelo

was uninhabited during my visit, but later a small military post

manned by the Colombian Army, was established in 1986 and it has

since become a nature conservation. The only thing I knew about it

while sailing past was that the Pilot book said it was surrounded by

off-lying rocks. Since I didn't have a detail chart, it was best to

steer clear, besides it looks like it has breaking waves all around.

I first sighted it up to windward with a sunbeam descending from the

clouds to its pinnacle. Sometimes when you make a landfall, you see

it a long way off as a small spec, and then watch it grow as you

close in. This time I suddenly saw it close up after a long bout of

bad visibility.


For a few days previously, the cloud cover was too thick to get any

celestial sights, and GPS was way in the future, so I didn't know

exactly where I was, but I knew Malpelo was near. After a few days

of peering into the gray haze for the island, it suddenly appeared

in a clearing when I looked away. As I zig-zagged to windward, I had

the opportunity to see it from all sides. It had sheer cliffs on

most sides that were undercut from some angles. It was a great

experience to see Malpelo. This island really illustrates the

grandeur of nature with its high cliffs, pounding surf, and off-

lying rocks.


In a future episode, the next land sighting after Malpelo is the

outer islands of the Galapagos. I can see why the Galapagos Islands

are sometimes called The Enchanted Islands.


DESTINATIONS and DETOURS – Honolulu to Lahina


When leaving a port you most likely have a route and destination in

mind. Sometimes you may take a big detour or end up somewhere else.

This happened to Captain Bligh more than once. On exploratory

voyages the destinations were not known, however on one notable

voyage, the destination was known, but the planned route could not be

followed. The point of departure was somewhere in England. The

destination was Tahiti and the planned route was around Cape Horn.

After beating against the wind for too long, trying to go west about

the Cape to the Pacific Ocean, he finally gave up and went the other

way via the Southern Indian Ocean. Although he finally made it to

his destination, there was a big detour, resulting in a long voyage

that helped his crew lose their taste for sailing. Bligh may have

changed his mind about the route when he could see that the onions

would not hold out to Tahiti, and the crew may have lost their taste

for sailing after eating raw onions for too long. [Bligh and Scurvey]


I had to make a big detour once, but on a much smaller scale than

Bligh's historical detour. It's not surprising that it occurred in

Hawaii. This is a tough place to sail because it is mostly a one-way

trip westward when the trade winds are blowing, which are most of the

time. In the channels between the islands, the wind speed increases

10 or 15 knots over the ambient trade wind speed, and the current

speeds up a knot or two, due to the venturi effect.


The ferocity of the wind and current in the channels seems to depend

on the direction of the wind relative to the alignment of the

channel. With an east-north-east trade wind, the channels on the

north and south of Maui are lined up with the wind direction to

create a wild one-way ride to the west. These 2 channels are also at

the windward side of the archipelago, which gets the full force of

the trade wind.


On my detour experience, I was going from Honolulu on the island of

Oahu, eastward to Lahaina on the island of Maui, a distance of about

72 nautical miles. The most widely accepted strategy for a small

boat making this trip is to sail into the lee of Lanai Island, and

then sneak around the southwest side (leeward side) of the island and

try to get to Lahaina through the channel between Lanai and Kahoolawe

Islands. I had previously made the same trip in reverse from

Lahaina to Honolulu, and that was a fast exciting ride, going with

the wind and current.


I left Honolulu late in the day, and had great sailing most of the

night. It did not take long to clear the lee of Oahu and get into

the consistent east-north-east trade wind. Initially it was a

comfortable close-hauled course on the port tack, and it wasn't long

before the beacon at the airport on Lanai was visible. The

aeronautical beacons at airports are very bright, and thus one of the

most important features on a nautical chart. As dawn approached I

was rapidly slipping to leeward. As the position moves closer to

Lanai, it also moves more inline with, and closer to, the channel

between Lanai and Molokai, which is fed by the channel between Maui

and Molokai. The wind is near gale force near Lanai, and it was a

hard beat to windward under storm jib and trysail with the diesel

running to get into the lee of Lanai. Once in the lee, everything

settles down, and it is a leisurely transit of the coast with

interesting scenery. The lee of Lanai is not very big, so I was

soon out of the lee and back into another channel, this time between

Lanai and Kahoolawe. This started as another comfortable close-

hauled course on the port tack towards Maui, but once in the middle

of the channel, the wind is gale force. The tack of the jib broke,

and the whole sail rode up to the top of the forestay where it

bunched-up and started flogging violently at the top of the mast,

about 25 feet above the deck. After clearing that mess, I was way

down wind, and could not get back to the lee of Lanai or Kahoolawe

against the wind and current. The best choice at this point was to

try and make it into the lee of the big island of Hawaii. This

island is very high and has a big lee area, so it was an easy

target. After another night of sailing I was in the lee of the big

island and about 60 miles offshore, so it was about 3 days under

power to get to the Kona coast.


Now I'm on the other side of my destination from where I started so

now my destination is downwind instead of upwind, and the rest of the

trip was a fast exciting downwind sail from the North tip of Hawaii

to the lee of Maui. What started out to be a 1 day excursion took

about 2 weeks, including a leisurely transit up the Kona Coast with 2

stops. Sometimes you can't sail directly to your destination, but

you can almost always sail to somewhere else that is a more favorable

point of departure for your destination, if you have enough time,

food, and water.




Watch out for barges. They have very long cables. One time in the

vicinity of Mossel Bay in South Africa, I was cruising along about 20

miles offshore on my way to Cape Town. When people ask me what the

scenery was like going around the Cape of Good Hope, my standard

reply is that if I can see land, then I'm too close to shore. Anyway,

it was about 3 AM and slightly foggy. I saw this tug going by with a

Christmas tree of colored lights on its mast and spreaders. I decided

to do the conservative thing and let him pass in front of me. Then

something possessed me to drag out the reference book of light

patterns. As I leafed through the illustrations of light

combinations, I saw one that looked like the tug that just went by.

The caption said "Tug boat towing barge". I swung my head around, and

there was the barge coming out of the fog! Then I jumped on deck and

swung the tiller hard-over and went back the other way; I was just

about to cross over the tow cable. The cable can be very long, and it

hangs in a cantenary curve below the water. I'm sure glad I was awake

for that encounter.


Sometimes in a sailboat you need to wait out at sea for a weather

window to go into port. This can be the same for a tug and barge.

Brody, a tug pilot, tells us that he has had to wait up to 5 days for

a weather window to go into port. During that time, he has to keep

moving so that the cable does not drag on the bottom or catch on an

obstruction. So next time you're hove-to in nasty weather, waiting to

get into port, beware you may have the company of a tug and barge

going in circles.



Bad Weather & The Big Blue Sea


There are many different theories about how to handle rough weather

in a small sailboat. Assuming that you have a good storm jib and

trysail, the strategy varies depending on the wind direction relative

to where you're going and how much sea room you have. If you don't

have much sea room, and a lee shore, then you have a problem. This

is an inevitable situation when going around The Cape of Good Hope,

but can normally be avoided in other areas with experience and the

willingness to change your destination to suit the conditions. The

best way to minimize a gale situation with a lee shore, is to try and

predict where you will be when the weather hits by studying weather

reports. Where some may surf the channels on TV or the Internet, the

cruiser surfs the weather channels, sometimes while surfing in his



The preparation for heavy weather starts way before the weather is

actually encountered. You should be aware of the seasonal

probabilities of weather and plan a strategy for various likely

scenarios. This means that when you leave port, it is a good idea to

have a few different destinations in mind, and have the charts and

enough provisions to go there. If you know that you cannot escape

bad weather, then you can use the time to get yourself in the most

advantages position possible. One of the most useful aids, aside

from weather reports and charts, is in the book "The American

Practical Navigator".


This excellent publication is public domain

and available online, but every boat should have a hard copy

onboard. Of particular interest to the voyager in bad weather is the

part about the dangerous and navigate-able semi-circles of a storm,

and how to get from one to the other when necessary.


Ideally you want to be where you will be going downwind with the

storm, and if you have plenty of sea room, then you're in for a

treat. It should be an exciting ride, reeling off hundreds of miles

per day.  If you are going upwind, you may be lucky just to hold

your position.


Many people ask me if I have encountered any storms at sea. The

answer is yes; I've done it both ways; upwind and downwind. One of

my most memorable experiences was when I left New Zealand. My first

choice of destinations was New Caledonia, and I actually got there,

but I was also prepared to go to Tonga, Norfolk Island or mainland

Australia if necessary. It is a well known fact in the cruising

communities, that if you go to New Zealand, you will probably get

hammered either coming or going or both. I tend to be a

procrastinator, so I left New Zealand late in the autumn (June), and

got hammered while going.


The sail to New Caledonia was the most exciting thing I've ever done

in my life. Everything else pales in comparison. Whenever I get

bored in my now suburban life style, I only need to think of that

experience, and my mind is thousands of miles away. It was a

fantastic 8 day sleigh ride with sustained winds of 45 knots, and

gusts up to 55 knots, which is near hurricane force. The waves were

enormous and breaking with tons of white water cascading down the

steep faces. Charging along through the darkness with the screaming

wind and roaring water was exciting and spooky. Being alone and

hundreds of miles from the nearest land intensified the aura to be

like nothing I've ever experienced. It was like floating across the

dance floor with an occasional trip and fall.


The best way to survive these conditions in a small sailboat is to

keep it moving fast downwind. You would not want to go straight

downwind because that would be straight down the steep walls with the

risk of pitch polling, rather you want to keep the wind over the

stern quarter, so that you are surfing the waves at an angle, just

like a surfer on a surfboard. When a cruising boat starts surfing,

it will try to broach and end up on its beam-ends. The secret to

avoid this is to crowd the sail area far forward. I don't know how

it could be done in a boat without a bowsprit. I still broached and

was knocked down a few times, but the pulling power of the mighty and

tiny storm jib way out on the end of the bowsprit allowed the boat to

quickly recover and get some way on.


The traditional long

shallow keel and outboard rudder also helped to minimize broaching.

The ensemble of bowsprit, long keel and outboard rudder is seeped in

tradition where it was perfected over centuries to handle rough

weather. In my opinion, the modern boat designs without a bowsprit

are an experimental fad. They may have a place for some types of

sailing, but for serious cruising, I'll choose a traditional design.


The traditional design has another advantage that I haven't mentioned

yet. It is normally better under self-steering wind-vane provided

that the hull shape doesn't have a radically unbalanced meta-centric

curve. I don't hand steer under sail for more than a few minutes at

a time. If the Pelican will not self-steer under wind-vane, then

there isn't enough wind to sail. I always hand steer under power

when there is no wind. As the wind increases, so does the power of

the wind-vane, and while in a gale, I can stay snug below decks while

the boat does its thing. I also keep it moving full speed when I

sleep. This comfortable situation requires a lot of different sails

and a bowsprit.





It's fun looking for small islands in a small boat, but even in a

boat that will go over 4 knots in some conditions, and with modern

equipment like a plastic sextant and digital watch, you can't always

find the island you're looking for. At other times, you may find an

island without actually looking for it. This is just part of the joy

of "messing about in boats".


I had both of these uncommon experiences on the same ocean passage

across the Coral Sea, from New Caledonia to Australia.


This is not a long passage, only about 900 miles, but it took me a

long time. I left Noumea with a blustery trade wind and overcast

sky. The sailing was fantastic. The strong wind, gray sky and

undulating seascape gave the whole experience a mystical aurora. The

square sail, wind vane and swell period were in perfect sync for a

gentle see-saw type ride. I felt like a mouse galloping across the

tundra, weaving along between the high spots.


Good things can't last forever, and the wind fizzled-out after about

3 days. For the next week it was rain and fluky winds, so the

progress was very slow.


The Coral Sea is sprinkled with interesting reefs where you can

anchor. Most of them were not on my way, but Cato Island was.


The wind is still inconsistent and it is still overcast and I'm

gradually getting closer to Cato Island. As darkness closed in, I

decided to take up position about 35 miles away from the island and

wait until morning. At first light of day, there wasn't much wind,

so I started the engine and headed in the direction of Cato.

Throughout the day I was able to get a few sun sights for a running

fix. As night approached, I figured I was still 12 miles away. This

is a little close for comfort, so I stayed awake all night to listen

for pounding surf. Next morning I got a few more sun sights and

found myself on the other side of the island! That was a surprise.

Apparently during the night I drifted around the south side of the

island. So I set off again towards the island, and once again I

could not reach it before dark. Another sleepless night found me

back on the other side of the island where I was 2 days ago.

Apparently I drifted around the north side this time. Still no

island in sight. I was tired and perplexed so I decided to skip the

island and continue my journey to Australia. It is merciful that I

didn't run aground on the island while trying to get away from it.


A couple of days later, I was approaching the southern portal to the

Great Barrier Reef, between Break Sea Spit and Lady Elliot Island.

The sky had cleared and conditions were perfect to get a good star

fix during evening twilight. I dragged the sextant, watch, pencil

and paper on deck and started shooting stars and planets. After

writing down a couple of sights, I looked over and there was Lady

Elliot Island about 2 miles away! This is the case of not finding

the island you're looking for, and finding another island without

actually looking for it, all on the same passage. All I had to do

now was keep going towards Bundaberg, confident of my position and

with enough clear water to get a good sleep. (I had to sleep while

sailing across a major shipping corridor, but this is off the record).


When out of sight of land, it is easy to forget about tides. This

part of Australia has a fairly big tidal range and thus strong

currents. Cato Island, being only 155 miles offshore of this huge

continent, would probably also have a big tidal range. While

recuperating from the short, tough passage, I started putting

together the pieces of the missing island puzzle. I'm not an

Oceanographer, but I am qualified to make wild guesses. The ocean

current was not especially strong in the Coral Sea, but I think when

you get near an island with a big tidal range, then the presence of

the island generates strong currents, and if I'm not mistaken, they

seem to swirl around the island in one direction, then stop and swirl

around in the opposite direction. Does this sound like the tide

going in and out? I think this is the reason that I couldn't find

Cato Island. Later, I heard from a couple of sources that the light

bucket on the end of Break Sea Spit has been reported floating at

sea. The tidal currents roar across this spit, with tidal over falls

on the seaward side, so I can image that it is difficult to keep the

light bucket moored there. Don't go there in a boat that goes about

4 knots.



Africa, The Obstacle,


When sailing around the world in a sailboat, by the normal tropical

route, the biggest obstacle is Africa. The route through the Red Sea

involves a lot of headwinds, sandstorms, shipping traffic and not

many places to stop. This could result in weeks of tough sailing.

The route around the Cape of Good Hope is only days, if you're lucky,

but it is more dangerous. A couple of situations you want to avoid

during a gale is a lee shore and a current going against the wind.

When you go around the Cape of Good Hope, you will very likely

encounter both of these at the same time. Neither one of the routes

around Africa is easy for the single-hander.


While in Australia, the decision to go over the top of Africa via the

Red Sea, or go around the bottom via the Cape of Good Hope was

frequently on my mind. It may seem premature to think so much about

something on the other side of the world, but the best route across

the Indian Ocean and the time of departure from Australia depend on

this decision.


In the end, I decided to get it over quick, even if it is a little

risky, so I chose to go around the bottom. Allister and Rosilyn are

famous Ham radio operators that assists yachts approaching and

transiting South Africa by giving weather reports and local knowledge

from experienced yachtsmen/yachtswomen.


Approaching the east coast of South Africa is a little bit tricky.

The ever present Agulhas current flows fast down the coast, and the

constant procession of storms cause gale force winds to blow up the

coast. This strong wind against a strong current causes very steep

waves. More ships break in half here than anywhere else because of

the steep waves. The objective to landing on the east coast from a

seaward approach is to time it so that you get across the Agullus

current and into port before a gale hits. If you don't get into port

before the gale, then the natural reaction is to head to safety at

sea, but the dangerous current is there, so you get caught between

the current and the rocky coastline.


This is the situation that makes sailing around the Cape difficult.

When a gale is blowing, you have to wait between the coast and the

current until the storm passes. This is where handling rough weather

in an upwind attitude comes into play. It is a narrow band that you

must stay in without too much leeway, and it is too deep to anchor.


Well before approaching the east coast of South Africa, I started

listening to Allister's weather reports on his Ham net. This allowed

me to see the pattern of gales going up the coast, and I was able to

get across the Agulhas current and into Richard's Bay without

incident. I was greeted at the harbor entrance by a government pilot

vessel. These friendly chaps congratulated me on my passage from

Reunion Island and directed me to the government docks for the entry

formalities. When they saw I wasn't making much progress, they

offered me a tow, which I gladly accepted. After clearing-in, I went

over to the yacht Club.


There was a sizable cruising community there, and I quickly settled

in. Dusty and Mary on the Sagan from Tasmania were there. I had

never met them, but I had been talking to them for years on the

radio, across the Indian Ocean. Mark and Jean on the Shadowfax were

there. I haven't met them either, but they were good friends of my

good friends Phil and Sybil from Sydney on the yacht Parriwi. So I

felt like I was among friends right away.


As soon as I was tied up, Mark asked if I would like to go to a

Barbecue in Zulu Land. Of course! So we all piled into a car and

drove for about 2 hours to the heart of Zulu Land. Mark's friend is

a high ranking Zulu Chief that welcomed us warmly. He and his wife

spoke excellent eloquent English. We made a few local excursions to

get supplies for the Barbecue, and at each stop we were welcomed by

crowds of Zulus because we were friends of the Chief. It would be

dangerous for a local Caucasian to go into these situations, but they

understood that we were Americans and Australians, and were thus

against Apartheid.


We had a great time at the barbecue, and then a few days later, the

Chief and his entourage came to the yacht club to party with the

yachties. All in all, Richard's Bay was one party after another, but

there was still work to do. When we cleared-in, we were given a

stack of papers to process at various locations around the harbor.

Since Richard's Bay is a commercial port, the paper work is normally

handled by a shipping agent, so the vast distances between government

offices is not an issue. For us foreign yachties, it was like a

rally and scavenger hunt combined. At one stop we had to get into a

heavily guarded government compound to get to one of the required

offices. We pulled up at the barricade in our tightly packed little

car. The armed guard asked Tim the driver for his permission paper

to be admitted into the fenced compound. Tim said he didn't have

it. I pulled a paper out of my stack and said "this is it", while I

slipped it out the back window. The guard took one look at it and

then signalled the barricade to be raised. He handed the paper back

and waved us through. I looked at the paper, and it said "not

legally entered into the Republic of South Africa...not allowed

to...can not go...etc...". We all had a good laugh over that one. I

think the guard was impressed by the fancy coat of arms and wax seal

on the paper.


After clearing-in, all of us were going south to Durban. From there

Dusty sailed the Sagan back to Tasmania via the Southern Ocean, and

Mark and I went around the Cape. Durban was another fun spot.

Allister had a barbecue for all the yachties, and some of us went on

a 3 day tour of numerous far flung small towns in the heart of Africa

sponsored by South African Breweries as a promotional stunt. It was

the holiday season and we were partying!


The owner of the local boat chandlery store gave an excellent

presentation on how to sail around the cape, based on his extensive

experience. It was a "Skippers Only" meeting held at the Point Yacht

Club. When everyone was assembled in the meeting room, the presenter

started by saying: "All of you are sailing around the Cape. One of

you here won't make it, and that includes your boat and your whole

crew. Since you know your crew better than I do, I will leave it up

to you to tell them. That's why this is a 'Skippers Only' meeting."

That got everyone's attention, and shook us out of the party mood,

quick. Now we were in a mood to prepare our boats as best we could

for the Cape transit ahead.



The cruising sailors at The Point Yacht Club in Durban started making

preparations to go around the Cape of Good Hope. The ideal season

was near. I generally keep the Pelican in cruising order, so I

didn't have much to do except buy charts and food. I left Durban

late in the afternoon and powered out the channel in a dead calm. I

stopped about 10 miles offshore and waited for the some wind. I was

becalmed all night, but drifting in the desired direction due to the

notorious Agulhas Current. Next day the wind came up in the South

East as expected. This was the first sign that a gale was

approaching. There is a constant procession of gales going up the

coast. When it approaches, you sail to windward into it, then as it

passes, you hove to between the Agulhas Current and the coastline.

This is a situation of weathering a storm up wind, because you don't

have sea room to run with it, and you don't want to go that direction

anyway. The best you can do at the height of the storm is to

minimize leeway.


By night fall the wind had built to gale force and was still

increasing. Some people would suggest a sea anchor * in this

situation. Everybody has his/her own special technique to weather a

gale with a lee shore. My favorite method is to set the storm

trysail and storm jib and keep it sailing to windward. The wind

increased through the night, and I was able to hold my position

between the coast and the offshore current using the storm sails. In

these conditions, the shipping traffic also moves inshore to avoid

the killer waves out in the mainstream of the current, so the area

gets crowded with an onshore wind and the lights of the coast

sometimes visible. It's impossible to take Celestial sights in gale

conditions like this, so this is where a depth sounder is a very

handy thing to have as a warming that you're getting too close to



Early in the morning, the wind veered favorably to the west, still

with plenty of strength. This is part of the strategy, and

everything was going as predicted. After setting a larger jib, the

boat took off like a sleigh going down hill. This is where you want

to go offshore to get in the middle of the current. It was an

exciting 2 day sleigh ride. Late in the evening, the wind tapered

off a little, so I came in close to Port Elizabeth, but the wind was

still favorable, and sometimes it's better not to go into a port in

rough conditions, so I decided to keep going. To make it back

offshore, I had to cut across Riy Bank with a sounding of 11.9

Metres. The notation on the chart said "Breakers after SW gale".

The gale was gone earlier today, otherwise I wouldn't be so close to

shore, so I figured it would be OK to sail over it. I called Port

Elizabeth on the VHF to report my position, and they were surprised

that I was sailing over the Bank. It was dark so I couldn't see any

breakers, but I could feel some turbulence. They made some comment

about the balls of a brass monkey. The port control stations in

South Africa appreciate it if you report your position when you can;

it saves time and money later on Search & Rescue.


After clearing Riy Bank and Cape Recife, the way was clear to Knysna,

my first stop after leaving Durban. Knysna is one of my favorite

harbours. In a future episode, we will enter the Knysna Heads and

see what adventures are there.


Notes on Sea Anchors -


Sea Anchors are traditionally used to weather a storm when you want

to minimize leeway or lost ground. They work great on a Schooner, or

ship rig, but on a sloop they don't work so well. On a sloop or

other single mast rig, the mast is forward of amidships, so most of

the windage is forward. The windage makes the boat want to point

downwind, so if you deploy a Sea Anchor off the bow in a gale, the

boat will end up somewhere around broadside to the wind and swell.

This is the worst place to be. If you attach the Sea Anchor to the

stern, it works better by keeping the boat pointed straight downwind,

but then you get breaking waves in the Companion way hatch, you don't

get the benefit of the pointed bow parting the seas, and the rudder

can be damaged if you are not careful. Another problem with Sea

Anchors is that if another vessel approaches, you may need to pull it

in real quick, or cut it loose to regain maneuverability. Neither

one of these prospects is appealing, so I find it preferable to hold

my position under storm canvas. I still use a sea anchor, but not to

weather storms. As luck would have it, I always seem to arrive off

my destination at night. Sometimes I go in, if it looks easy, and

sometimes I wait till the dawn light. If it is a small island

without any lights then I would use a sea anchor to hold my position

about 20 miles away from shore until the sun comes up.



The scary part of rounding The Cape of Good Hope is over now, but of

course I will continue to maintain vigilance like a good mariner

should. Looking back on the passage down the east coast of South

Africa, I had to coin a new term because I couldn't find the right

word to describe it. Maybe one of our readers can help. I call it

the Break-Away-Point or BAP. This is the wind speed (in knots) where

the vessels starts losing ground to leeward, when you are sailing to

windward. If you tack back and forth, and end up at the same spot,

then you are right on the BAP. The BAP is the sum total windward

performance in gale winds, measured in wind speed relative to how

much leeway you make. It is influenced by many factors. To get the

highest BAP, steps should be made to minimize windage and optimize

weight stowage. Things like dodgers, dinghies, and RADAR towers, have

a lot of windage and will drag you to leeward in a gale to lower your

BAP. A spartan deck is better than a cluttered deck. Weight should

be stowed low, and close to amidships. Most boats have a chain locker

in the forepeak and/or a dinghy with outboard motor hanging from

stern davits. These weights far from the center cause hobby-horsing

which kills the performance to windward and drags the BAP down.


For my boat, the best way to take a storm to weather, as in going

around The Cape of Good Hope, is to keep it sailing to windward under

storm sails. When the wind gets somewhere around 35 knots (gale

force), it starts to lose ground. This would be my BAP. To stay in

that narrow band between the coast and the current, the BAP is very

important, so stow your gear carefully, and try to minimize windage

where possible.


Early in the morning hours, while it was still dark, I started to

approach the coast near Knysna. As the sun came up, the land

gradually came into view, then near the entrance to Knysna, I could

see a local yacht that was drifting about a mile offshore.



Entering Knysna can be a little bit tricky. It's important to pick

the tide, and watch for rocks. There are Range Markers, but they

will lead you a little too close to the rocks. That is no fault of

the Range Markers. By nature, they can only describe a straight

line, where entering Knysna is best done with a dog-leg turn in mid

channel. This requires local knowledge or an observant navigator.

So I approached the local yacht, and took up a position drifting next

to it, about 100 feet away. It was a flat calm morning and the sun

was out. They were waiting for the right tide to go into the Knysna

Heads. That's a stroke of luck for me. I don't have to look at the

tide table ( I couldn't find it or I didn't have one ), all I have to

do is follow the local yacht in.


While drifting and waiting for the tide, I introduced myself and my

boat. We had a conversation across the water while waiting for the

tide, and I received an invitation to the Yacht club before even

entering the harbour. Shortly before slack high tide, we started our

engines and headed towards the entrance. They threaded their way

right through the rocks with a neat dog-leg turn. I was following

right behind. I could see exactly where they went from the tell tale

line of their wake on the water. After going through the heads, the

bay opens up into an Estuary environment with foot hills in the

background. The local yacht lead the way up the Estuary and pointed

out the dock where I should tie up. It was a concrete wharf right in

front of the Jetty Tapas bar and Restaurant. This is a great place to

tie up. I went inside and I could see everyone was having fun eating

and drinking. It was a diverse crowd of European, South African and

Rhodesian people, and now there is a North American here. These

people were not sitting separately at different tables, they were all

mingling together like a big party. I fit right in and started eating

and drinking. The atmosphere and company was excellent, and I had

just finished the hardest part of the circumnavigation. These

elements combined, had me feeling good.


After a couple of hours at the Jetty Tapas, some of us decided to go

to the Knysna Yacht Club. This club was amazing. It is completely on

piles over the water, like a stilt house, and connected to the shore

by a jetty. It looked like a big Colonial house built in the

traditional style, with a walkway all the way around it to tie up

dinghies. It had a big dining room and Bar, all beautifully

furnished, with panoramic views of the bay. We made our way to the

bar, and introduced ourselves. Some of the people that I was with

were members of the Royal Cape Yacht Club, so they were well known

here, because the clubs have reciprocity.


Suddenly someone shouted

drinks all around, and the conversation turned to cruising. This is

an infinite subject, and the serious cruisers love to talk about it,

especially when their inhibitions are softened by a few beers. We

covered all aspects of cruising into the wee hours of the morning.

The bartender was getting tired, having filled so many pitchers, so

he threw us the keys to the club and said "Just tally the books, lock

the bar, and the front door, and drop the keys back into the mail



So we did all that, and I made it back to my boat before dawn.

I slept like a log, for a long time. This was the first good sleep

since leaving Durban. I stayed in Knysna for about 3 days. During

that time, I refilled the water tanks, bought provisions at the local

super market, and visited the yacht club and Jetty Tapas. All

together, Knysna was one of my favorite stops. It had all the magic

ingredients: friendly people, scenic beauty, secure, free tie-up, and a

super market.


Pelican in a bay at Ile de Pines, New Caledonia.

Pelican close reaching under square sail.

Pelican close reaching under square sail, main and jib.





The square sail can also be used to sail on a close reach (slightly

to windward) that is another advantage over the spinnaker. On a

reach, it is possible to set all sails at once, giving a huge sail

area for light winds, and the sails compliment each other with slot



To sail on a reach, the yardarm must be braced till it hits the

forestay. At this point, it is almost parallel to the keel. One

clew of the square sail is sheeted to the whisker stay on the

bowsprit, and the other clew is sheeted to a mooring cleat on the

stern quarter. Now you have a huge sheet of sail, almost parallel to

the keel that will sail to windward. The traditional arrangement of

cross trees and futtock shrouds gives clearance to brace the yardarm

at a tight angle for reaching to windward. You can quick-tack to

windward with the square sail if you have a few people to reverse the

bow and stern clews at the same time while waring ship. This is like

watching a ballet on a 24 footer.


Some people ask how is it feasible to have a ship rig on such a small

boat, where it is normally considered too heavy. The secret is to

have a light rig, and a high ballast to displacement ratio of the

hull. All the spars are hollow wood, except the bowsprit. Sitka

Spruce is the wood of choice for spars, but it was a little too

expensive for my budget, so I used clear Fir for all of them. The

main mast is round, hollow, and tapered at the top. It is made of 22

pieces of wood glued together, shaped, and covered with fiberglass.

One man can carry it on his shoulder while running a relay race. The

other spars are made of two 2x4s' hollowed out like a dugout canoe

then glued together and shaped to make a hollow spar. The details of

the rig are true to traditional form, except that the crew does not

go out on footropes to furl the square sail, instead it is hoisted

from deck with 3 halyards.


The hollow spars make for a light rig, and a light hull makes for a

high ballast to displacement ratio. The ballast is a 7 foot long bar

of lead bolted to the bottom of the keel. The hull is also clear

Fir, which is edge-nailed and glued, and covered with polypropylene

cloth. The polypropylene cloth is similar to fiberglass, except that

it has a little stretch to it. It is applied with a special type of

resin (Isopothalic Polyester resin) that also has a little stretch.

The frames are laminated Apitong (similar to Honduras Mahogany). The

end result is a hull that is very light and strong. The

polypropylene covering protects the hull from Toredo worms and the

wood core gives a traditional wood boat interior. The interior

joinery is Birdseye Maple and Philippine Mahogany. The hull shape is

a traditional type, with a balanced meta-centric curve to

assist self steering.


Other modern enhancements, which do not seriously degrade the

traditional appearance of the vessel, are stainless steel rigging

wire and dacron sailcloth. The low stretch characteristics of these

materials allows the Pelican to sail a little closer to the

wind than the square riggers of previous eras that were rigged

with cotton, Manila and hemp.



Captain Bligh and Scurvy


Scurvy became known to European Explorers when they started sailing to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. 

For centuries, the cause and cure were not known.  Some credit Cook for conquering this dreadful disease,

but later it was discovered that his remedies were not very effective.  According to one source that I read,

it was recorded by the British Admiralty that Bligh's voyages had very few cases of scurvy. 

When asked about it, Bligh replied that he required his crew to eat raw onions everyday. 

When asked what that was based on, he said that it seemed like a good idea.


I think it is probably true.  It makes sense that a mariner with so much experience in long voyages would also

know what types of cravings that the long distance voyager would experience.  Personally I like junk food,

but sometimes I need to dive into a big salad, especially after a long passage. 

I have never been at sea for more than 54 days, but this is enough to get the salad craving.

Bligh's ample experience at sea taught him that onions were one of the longest lasting components of the salad.


Through modern science, we know that almost any fruit or vegetable will prevent and cure scurvy, so on the Pelican,

I carried cabbages and onions.  These things are perfectly wrapped in layers by nature,

so that if you peel off the outer layer, there is a fresh one underneath. So everyday I would peel off a layer and eat it raw.

  This was my stay healthy ritual, since I did not especially like it, but it seemed like a good idea.


I have seen people cut through the middle of a cabbage or onion, but this will start it wilting all the way through,

so it is not a good strategy unless you want to consume the whole thing at once.  To make it last a long time,

just peel off a layer from the outside when needed.





Every navigator should have one, and know how to use it.  I have seen

these things called Perpetual Almanac.  Such a thing may exist for

the sun, but the correct expression is Long Term versus Perpetual. 

While this is a great aid to navigation, bear in mind that it is for the

sun and stars only, as it should be.  To accurately calculate the

apparent GP of the moon requires an observatory and a team of

scientists with a main-frame computer, according to Dr Dogett of the

US Naval Observatory in the 1980s.  Things may have changed since

then, but I still don't think there is any way to tabulate the GP and

corrections of the moon long term.  And the same applies to the

planets, to a certain extent.



This is unfortunate since the moon is the best celestial body for

navigation, and the planets are the second best, because the brightest

bodies will give you the best accuracy.  The exception to this is the

sun, which of course is the brightest body, but when it is visible,

normally nothing else is visible.  So where you can get the best

accuracy from the sun, you can only get one LOP, unless you do a

running fix or a meridian passage.  These techniques should be in the

navigators trick bag, but they are not all inclusive.


The most accurate fix is to do a round of sights on the moon,

planets, and stars. During evening twilight, the planets will show up

first, so of course you will want to shoot these first, and during

dawn twilight the planets will be the last ones standing so you can

afford the time to shoot them 2 or 3 times. Of course when the moon

is visible, you would want to shoot that a couple of times. 

After getting 6 or 8 sights, you only need to compute and plot 3 or 4. 

Then if the cocked hat is too big, you can compute and plot a couple



What is the point of all this rambling? Well, what I am trying to say

is that the long term almanac is great, but you should also have a

hard copy of the Nautical Almanac for the current year.



"I only told you half of it because I didn’t think you would believe the other half. "

 Marco Polo




 "The world is far, far away; it has ceased to exist for you - seemed a

fading dream, along in the first days; has dissolved to an unreality

now; it is gone from your mind with all its businesses and ambitions,

its prosperities and disasters, its exultations and despairs, its

joys and griefs and cares and worries. They are no concern of yours

any more; they have gone out of your life; they are a storm which has

passed and left a deep calm behind. "

 Mark Twain



Final Quote:

 "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed in the things

that you didn't do than in the ones you did do. So throw off the bow

lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your

sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

 Mark Twain


----------------------  END