Florida to San Francisco
Frank Robben - December 1995
We left the port of Cape Canaveral, Florida (the home of the Kennedy
Space Center) at daylight on Tuesday the 10th of January. Away from Cape
Marina, near the lock where the barges with the spent boosters of the shuttle
enter the Banana river, past the scallop boats and processing plants, past
the cruise ship dock for Carnival Lines, past the little city of Cape Canaveral,
finally past the city cruise ship docks and on out into the Atlantic. Behind
were left some new and interesting friends, memories of Christmas celebration,
and the attachments coming from 5 months in a hospitable place. It was clear,
cool, and no wind. We motored at only 5 knots due to the accumulation of
weeds and barnacles on the hull of Kialoa.
By hugging the coast of Florida and staying inside the northbound current
of the Gulf Stream we had the help of a countercurrent which increased our
speed to more than 6 knots. Past Ft. Lauderdale, where we had purchased
supplies and had the mainsail repaired, past Miami at night, where Cynthia
stood for hours in a long line at immigration, and then along the coast
of the Florida Keys the next day and night. We were sailing nicely now,
running before a pleasant northeasterly and glad to be free of the noise
of the diesel. And pleased to have the temperature climb as we worked our
way South. Nowhere along the Keys could we put in to any of the ports, all
are too shallow for Kialoa's 12 foot draft. Early Thursday morning we could
see the loom of the lights of Key West, the southernmost city in the continental
US, and by 10:00 we had anchored in the western part of the harbor among
a group of other yachts.
We were 4 on board, Cynthia, 7 year old Maria, and Marcus, a most compatible
24 year old who was a friend of old friends and had joined us only a few
days earlier. He came because he wanted a sea adventure and some time away
from school. We enjoyed him greatly and by the time we reached San Francisco
he had learned to make repairs to Kialoa as well as the elements of sailing
Key West turned out to be a very pleasant port and city, perhaps not surprisingly
since Hemingway loved it and wrote a number of his novels while there, and
Harry Truman had made it his Presidential retreat. Cynthia especially found
the pleasant streets, stores (or boutiques, mostly) and picturesque homes
very attractive. It is a little hard to believe that the early prosperity
of this city depended on the number of shipwrecks on the nearby reefs.
We had planned on stopping at the Dry Tortugas next, but the weather and
currents, and the schedule for a friend who joined us in Key West, did not
permit that. After a night in rougher conditions where we made no progress,
Kialoa slowly sailed close along the coast of Cuba as we tried to stay out
of the strong opposing current of the Gulf Stream. Almost 4 days after leaving
we landed at the Mexican resort island of Cozumel. Pleasant and interesting,
like many places we have been, but not exceptional. We joined the tourists
along the coast for snorkeling, but in a short time it is hard to find a
really good place, and perhaps I am spoiled.
We left planning to put in along the coast of Mexico, but a strong easterly
made that inadvisable and we proceeded to Belize and its capital Belize
City, towing our new dinghy. Luckily I have learned not to worry too much
about such things, and it did not turn over nor get caught under the stern
of Kialoa in the large swell. Belize is a very interesting country - I am
glad it has not been taken over by Guatemala. The barrier reef has been
considerably publicized, but the inside portion north of Belize City is
rather murky with not much marine life. Apparently there is better diving
is in the northern part, too shallow for Kialoa, and along the coast of
the offshore islands and reefs. We spent a couple of weeks in Belize, traveled
inland, and saw some Mayan ruins.
We left Belize February 11, spent one day offshore at Long Cay, and proceeded
to the Colombian island of Santa Catalina, anchoring in the harbor of Providencia.
A very pleasant place, not yet built up as a tourist attraction, and we
greatly enjoyed our 6 days there. Our next stop was Puerto Cristobal, the
entrance to the Panama Canal. There we were joined by my friends the Naylors
and Bill Myers, so we had 6 on board for the transit of the Panama Canal,
no need to find the necessary line handlers.
The Panama Canal is interesting but not difficult for either large or small
ships to transit. They had us anchor overnight at Gamba, near the Pacific
side locks, but we could have completed it in one day. In Panama City, on
the Pacific side, we (and particularly me) were a bit careless one evening
in town and I had my wallet taken from my front pocket. But Marcus ran down
the thieves and miraculously I recovered it intact.
We left Panama City 7 March and soon were out of the cold water of the Gulf
of Panama and back into nice warm tropical water - I have become spoiled
with warm water for swimming and snorkeling. The islands off the west coast
of Panama are beautiful, seemingly unspoiled, lush and tropical. We spent
a couple of nights anchored in idyllic settings, and then arrived at the
port of Golfito, Costa Rica.
Polly Ann Naylor flew back from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, Jim
Naylor rejoined us along the coast at Bahia Herradura, and Adriaan Van de
Haar joined us at Bahia del Coco, where we departed from Costa Rica. And
not without some clearance paperwork difficulties, as I had not done all
the things quite properly (for a reason, of course). But no major problem,
Costa Rica is a pleasant place. However, I thought Panama with its lush
tropical islands was most inviting. And we did not find so many time and
paperwork consuming regulations as in Costa Rica.
Our longest passage on this trip was from B. Coco to Acapulco, almost 8
days. We passed the feared Gulf of Tehauntapec well offshore, maybe 150
miles, and experienced no heavy weather. Generally it was upwind sailing,
close hauled, in light to medium winds. We went slowly but almost entirely
under sail and it was a pleasant passage with very compatible crew - we
had a good time. A couple of fish, good food (by Cynthia), and shared work.
I was pleasantly surprised by Acapulco, the old town was reasonably charming
and hospitable, the yacht club was very hospitable, and the older tourist
area near the yacht club now caters primarily to Mexican nationals - which
for me made it more interesting.
We were down to our core crew of 4 for the next stop, Zihuatanejo. This
pleasant and charming place, called Z-town according to Richard of Latitude
38, had quite a few US yachts at anchor. From here we made a trip inland
(by rented car) to Paraiso - another world from the coastal tourist cities.
Although a reasonably large place, way up in the mountains, there were ruts
in the streets in which you could almost lose a car, and my efforts to stay
there ended when the available room at the only hotel in town (almost indescribably
bad) had cockroaches crawling around the bathroom. Cynthia refused to stay
in such a place and we instead drove back the way we came, went to Acapulco,
and by 10:00 PM found a very reasonable and pleasant local hotel.
We anchored off the Las Hadas hotel complex in Manzanillo on 6 April and
were joined there by Marcus' mother Diane and Alan Knotts. On the way to
Puerto Vallarta we spent a day exploring Bahia Navidad and another couple
at Bahia de Chamela. We tried to go in to Bahia de Careyito, where there
is a Club Med, but the area was too tight for a yacht of Kialoa's size and
We arrived at Puerto Vallarta just before Good Friday and amiably enjoyed
the Easter weekend docked at the pleasant but rather pricey Marina Vallarta.
Technically I completed my circumnavigation here, kind of interesting. Diane
and Alan departed and we spent the last night very uncomfortably anchored
just outside the harbor, in rolly seas, to avoid my paying another day's
marina fees. Not a good choice. From there it was a close-hauled upwind
course to the tip of the Baja California peninsula. As we approached land,
after 2 days, the wind increased to 30+ knots apparent and we were about
10 miles downwind of the protected anchorage at Los Frailles. We were tired,
hungry, and it was getting dark. So I took the easier way, dropped the sails
and motored the remaining 10 miles. Not any faster than sailing, but it
pleased the cook and avoided double reefing the main and changing the jib
to the #4.
Now I was back in very familiar territory and it was interesting to see
the changes in the last 8 years. On the way to La Paz we spent a day off
the south end of Isla Cerralvo, a desolate and stark desert island. Our
few hours hike inland showed another kind of beauty from the tropical islands
with which I have become familiar, the various kinds of cacti and other
desert plants, the small animals, soaring frigates overhead, and the erosion
of the infrequent heavy rains. Very nice, and although Baja was the first
really foreign place I visited with Kialoa, it still remains a very beautiful
and hospitable country.
La Paz was a real throwback for me, many memories of interesting, intense,
and somewhat difficult times all experienced with the ever present and dominating
presence of Kialoa. And now with another chapter opened. Sometimes almost
dreamlike, almost as if I only read of what had actually happened. My friends
the Carlsons joined us for a bit more than a week, followed by my daughter
Pippi and the Prices (who had originally planned to join us at Panama).
We spent a few days enjoying Baja Race Week at the beautiful cove between
Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, even entering one of the races (and
falling from the leading yacht to the last yacht as the wind died - even
a spinnaker did not help us that much).
In Cabo San Lucas we were joined by Heike Meissner, a most pleasant German
girl I had met years before in Apia, Western Samoa and had persuaded to
accompany me and Ali on our passage to Tonga. With the Prices, the 6 of
us worked our way pleasantly up the Baja coast, sailing most of the time
in moderate headwinds and stopping frequently at several of the interesting
and well known anchorages. Kialoa spent 17 days on this leg, it was a pleasure
not to rush and somewhat more casually enjoy both the places we stopped
and the passages at sea.
We visited Isla Guadalupe, and although we were not supposed to land we
were shown some of the southern part of the island by the Mexican Navy personnel
stationed there. Unknown to us, Guadalupe is one of the few places where
the magnificent albatross nest and raise their hatchlings. The baby albatross
were right at the Navy base and were proudly shown to us by the officer
who toured us around. They are large, can only walk awkwardly, are unafraid
of humans and of course extremely vulnerable to predators such as us. I
had never seen them before and it was an unusual and unexpected meeting.
I have watched the albatross at sea, mainly in the North Pacific, effortlessly
soaring and searching for food. Their wingspan is, I believe, in excess
of 8 feet even though they are a relatively small bird. To see the chicks
in a basically wild setting was a special experience.
The scenic beauty of the cliffs where we anchored was almost indescribable.
Marcus, with the aid of the local fishermen, finally managed to get some
of the abalone he had promised and proudly treated us to a special feast.
We also visited the northern anchorage where there had previously been a
military base as well as various commercial operations. Strong winds swept
over the steep mountains into the narrow anchorage along the indented coast,
and a 40 + knot beam gust flipped our dinghy (and 25 HP outboard!) while
I was searching for the best location. But no real problems. Landing on
the beach there amongst the hundreds of ponderous sea lions was an interesting
experience. Between the flying sand whipped up by the strong wind and the
barking sea lions Maria retreated in fright to the dinghy and could hardly
be persuaded to cross the beach.
We spent a few pleasant days anchored in Ensenada, and then finally reentered
the USA in San Diego on 30 May. Two pleasant weeks passed there, some enjoying
the hospitality of the San Diego Yacht Club, the rest at a couple of anchorages.
Cynthia, Marcus and I gave Kialoa another coat of varnish and made some
repairs in anticipation of a rough and wet trip up the coast to San Francisco.
Next was Newport Beach where we took advantage of an offer by a fellow sailor
we met in Ensenada to park Kialoa at his house at Bay Island. A very exclusive
address, and a pleasant place to visit. But in Newport Beach I also got
a ticket in for operating the dinghy without registration or life jackets.
Return to the Land of Regulations!
The resort island of Catalina and City of Avalon beckoned and we visited
there with a number of friends. Next stop was the Channel Islands off Santa
Barbara. The weather was a bit dull and overcast, there was no wind forecast
around feared Pt. Conception, and we had finally become anxious to "get
home". I took advantage of an easy passage and we wound up motoring
most of the way to San Francisco in almost dead calm conditions. We stopped
at Morro Bay, then at Monterey where we visited the Prices, and finally
crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge on the first of July and went to one
of my old slips at the Berkeley Marina. So we were home, a chapter closed
and another opened.
Copyright 1996 by Frank Robben