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December 2010

Readers look a little farther afield, and share four of their favorite destinations, along with valuable tips about how you can follow in their wakes

Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Whale's Tales

By Bernadette Bernon, Rhode Island

Right around the corner from us here in the United States is a body of water that must be seen to be believed. Protected by the embracing arm of Baja California Sur, the Sea Of Cortez is the paradise where, for centuries, several varieties of whales have come to calve in peace during February and March. It’s here the mothers give birth and train their young before venturing back out into the Pacific for the long migration north. Before facing the perils of those tiring months of journeying, mothers and calves take time to play, explore, and leap out of the water in seemingly total bliss as they explore Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

We all have our dream lists of places in the world we hope to see by boat. For Douglas and me, the Sea Of Cortez when the whales are calving was near the top of that list. Last year, we chartered a catamaran from The Moorings for three weeks, and made that dream come true. What we found was stunning. Mountain ranges painted in variegated orange and red; little islands draped in sleepy seal families, whose babies rushed out to cavort with us as we swam together; thousands of unusual plants and cacti, some of which grow nowhere else on earth; powdery-white beaches where our footprints were the only ones in the sand; and sweet solitude, anchored alone in liquid turquoise.

Once you leave the chartering base, there’s no shopping, bars, or restaurants. We’d been hoping to unplug, connect with nature, and get back to basics; this was the place to do it.


Getting There: Mexico’s Baja Peninsula runs almost 800 miles from the California border to Cabo San Lucas. Most charter boats leave from La Paz and most flights to La Paz from the U.S. connect in Mexico City or Guadalajara. Alternatively you can fly directly to Cabo San Lucas from the West Coast of the U.S. and hire a car. www.visitmexico.com

The Boats: The Moorings offers power cats, sailing cats, and sailboats. Prices for a week charter aboard a two-cabin 35-foot sailboat in 2010 started at $3,500. You can order full provisioning, or order partial provisioning and do the rest of the stocking up yourself at one of the large grocery stores in La Paz (which also carry liquor). www.moorings.com

Seaward, Alaska

Into the Great White North

By Ralph Naranjo, Maryland

When my wife Lenore and I arrived in Seward at the start of rainy season, fleece jackets, Gortex foul-weather gear, heavy socks, hats, gloves, and sea boots were considered essential, so we knew this would be a charter with a difference. At Sailing Inc. we were checked in, given some local knowledge, and pointed to where Denali Mist, a well-maintained Catalina 30 MKIII, awaited our arrival. While the compact cabins, sail system, and reliable diesel engine were all great, it was the Webasto diesel heater that became our best friend.

In many ways, a bareboat charter mimics cruising aboard your own boat. The anticipatory feeling of getting underway is almost the same, and so is the elation associated with departure. With provisions onboard, and tanks full, we were ready to go, except that the VHF weather channel warned us about 60-knot winds and 25- to 30-foot seas in the Gulf of Alaska. So we regrouped until the next day. Waiting for weather in Seward proved to be a great experience as we got to explore the surrounding area. When we awoke to calm seas and a clearing sky the next morning, we pointed Denali Mist’s bow toward open water.

Resurrection Bay’s fjord-like geology presents a different set of navigational challenges. Running into a log or a growler (big chunk of ice) is much more likely than running aground. Glacial moraine also form sandbar-like shoals well noted on charts. Late afternoon at this time of year in this part of the world transposes to about 7:00 p.m. local time, so you’ll see a few Seward-based cruisers with the hook down broiling salmon on stern-rail barbecues very early in the day.

With only a week, we meandered among a few of the spectacular anchorages of Kenai Fjords, enough time to wet our appetites and hope our first cruise in Alaska wouldn’t be our last. (For Ralph’s full account of his Alaska charter: www.BoatUS.com/cruising/connection/alaska.asp)

Everglades, Florida

Florida’s Far-Out Waterway

By Hiram Sleaster, Maine

To spend 24 hours without hearing another motor is my ultimate goal during a boating vacation. For the past eight years, I’ve rented 16-foot Carolina Skiffs and kayaks from Back Country Marina in Everglades City and headed out into the Wilderness Waterway. Everglades City is known for its fishing and the Ten Thousand Islands so it always surprises me that the Wilderness Waterway isn’t well known. It’s part of the Everglades National Park and it’s the definition of out of the way.

Local fishermen use it to get to their fishing holes but very few have run the whole 99-mile trip to Flamingo. It takes about seven days by kayak, and can be done in a powerboat in around six hours. The fishing here is some of the best in Florida but the water is shallow so you have to use a small outboard. You also need to use a tide chart and time your trip in some areas — or you can just run on the outside when it’s low tide.

There are hundreds of rivers, creeks, islands, and beaches. The wildlife’s amazing, too. On the route to Flamingo, there are about 20 campsites spaced about 10 miles apart for anyone to use. Everglades National Park has permits for $10 per site and you can pick them up across the street from Back Country Marina. These campsites are simple, often just docks with a roof over them. There’s beach-site camping on the outside of the islands. Back Country Marina in the middle of the Ten Thousand Islands rents everything from small boats with 30 hp to pontoons for larger groups.

Getting There: Strictly for outdoor enthusiasts, the Wilderness Waterway runs from Flamingo at the southwestern tip of Florida to Everglades City. While the route is well marked, boats over 20 feet or with high cabins are not advised to attempt it because of narrow channels and overhanging foliage. The closest major airports are 50 to 100 miles away and include Fort Myers, Miami International, Fort Lauderdale International, Key West International, and Palm Beach International.

Where To Stay: Most of the Ten Thousand Islands are too small for human habitation but the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has designated plenty as suitable for overnight camping visits. Rent boats from Back Country Marina (formerly named Glades Haven Marina) in Everglades City. Rentals for 20-foot pontoons start at $210 per day or $150 for 16-foot Carolina Skiffs. www.Everglades-Wilderness-Waterway.com

Spanish Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico

Sail Away To The SVI

By Nancy Birnbaum, Florida

A couple of years ago, my partner Jann and I took a bareboat charter with Island Yachts in Red Hook, St. Thomas, owned and operated by Skip and Andrea King, who offer the full range of Island Packet yachts in both bareboat and crewed charters. The checkout and customs process before you get to your boat takes about an hour; afterwards you’ll feel ready to handle anything.

Although they’re just 15-20 miles from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Spanish Virgin Islands, (SVI), are still relatively untouched. The islands of Vieques and Culebra are especially lovely and the tiny offshore cay of Culebrita is a must-see. The anchorages are fairly deserted during the week, but on weekends everyone from Puerto Rico with a fast boat heads for Culebrita. It’s hard to pick out just a few highlights, as it’s really the unspoiled beauty that makes the SVI special. That said, a definite stop for foodies on Culebra is Juanita Bananas, a restaurant run by chefs Jennifer Daubon and Javier Cabrera. They’re a young couple offering fresh organic foods and local-caught seafood, and grow some of their own produce hydroponically, right next door.

Vieques, the furthest-out island, has more restaurants and local businesses than Culebra and many cruisers consider the bays, coves, and beaches of this island the best of all Virgin Island anchorages. The Marines and U.S. Navy used the island of Vieques for bombing practice until 2003, which kept land developers away. As a result, mile-long white sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, and healthy intact reefs teeming with fish, coral, and crustaceans abound.

The bioluminescent bay (Puerto Mosquito) is another mustsee in Vieques. At night the water emits a bright glow whenever it’s agitated so it’s like jumping into the starry sky.

Getting There: Sometimes known as the Passage Islands, the Spanish Virgins, mainly Vieques and Culebra, lie just east of Puerto Rico and are part of its commonwealth. Both are accessible by air from San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico or by ferry from Fajardo (about 40 miles southeast of San Juan).

The Boats: Island Yachts in Red Hook, St. Thomas, on the U.S. Virgin Islands has been family-owned and operated by the Kings for the past 32 years. They offer Island Packets ranging from 32 to 50 feet, from $2,500 to $4,200 depending on season and boat size. www.iyc.vi

To read more of Nancy Birbaum’s work, visit, http://yourcruisingeditor.wordpress.com/