Latitude 38: January, 2015

Latitude 38, “the west’s leading sailing and marine magazine” published part 1 of the first year of our voyage in the January, 2015 print issue.  It’s available online here:


Benevento — Pacific Seacraft 40
The Massaro Family
The Other Latitude 38
(San Francisco)

It’s been more than 12,000 nautical miles since we — my husband Darold, our 10-year-old son Dante, and I — left San Francisco in late September 2013 for a two-year cruise. We sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and a little over a year later sailed under its sister bridge in Lisbon, Portugal — ‘the other latitude 38’.

During the first year of our cruise we rode out the remnants of hurricane Raymond in Mag Bay, dodged a tropical depression at Cabo San Lucas, rode the bucking bronco-like Papagayo winds of Central America, got beat up by the wind and waves off the Dominican Republic, encountered a nasty thunderstorm off North Carolina, and hid from hurricane Arthur in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia. Other than that, our cruise has been great fun.

Truth be told, while all of those weather events were fatiguing, we never felt unsafe. And the great experiences we’ve had have far outweighed the challenges, We love to look back at our photos to remember all of the amazing things that we’ve seen and people that we’ve met — some of whom will be friends for life. There is a great camaraderie among cruisers that makes traveling this way so much fun.

It took us a few weeks to cruise down the coast of California, and then we spent about six weeks cruising Mexico. We loved the Sea of Cortez and the Gold Coast of the mainland, and could easily have spent our two years just cruising in Mexico. But we wanted to see more, so we made tracks south.

After a straight shot from Puerto Chiapas in southern Mexico, we transited the Panama Canal three months to the day after leaving San Francisco. The Canal is an engineering marvel. The experience of taking your own boat through it, along with a 900-foot container ship, will make you appreciate both the importance of world commerce and the relatively small size of your boat.

After transiting the Canal, we visited the San Blas Islands — which we still consider to be one of the major highlights of our cruise. The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of about 378 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They are governed by the lovely Kuna Yala people.

Imagine the stereotypical vision you have of the Caribbean: azure seas, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, and islands with coconut palms and white sand beaches scattered everywhere. That’s the San Blas Islands. There is great snorkeling around the reefs, beautiful anchorages, and enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away and the wind generators spinning. Yet the islands are behind the reefs, so the seas whipped up by the constant 20-knot winter trades break on the windward side of the reef. The waters on the leeward side of the reefs are calm and protected.

We wore our bathing suits all day in the San Blas, and slept without any coverings at night. The temperature is so comfortable all the time! We anchored in 10 feet of water that was so clear that we could easily see that our anchor was set correctly. Although the islands are isolated, fresh supplies were delivered to our boat by Kunas in dugout canoes.

The trades continually charged our batteries and ran the watermaker, and there wasn’t any laundry to do. It was so nice it makes you wonder why anybody leaves! As it turns out, we met a few cruisers who have been on the hook in the San Blas for years — and have no intention of ever moving on.

Our next stop was the Greater Antilles, starting with Jamaica. It was a seven-day beat against the trades to make landfall, but it was definitely worth it, mon. Jamaica is off the beaten cruiser’s path, but it was lovely, the food was delicious, the people friendly, and the music as great as you would expect. And it wasn’t crowded.

We stayed in Montego Bay for a little over a week, taking a road trip inland to see some of the wonderful sights. We happened to be there for Bob Marley’s birthday celebration, and attended a reggae concert in his honor in Negril, the self-proclaimed ‘Capital of Casual’. Needless to say, there was a lot of smoke in the air at the concert. “Are we going to get cancer because of the smoke?” our son asked. “No,” we replied, “but we might get the munchies.”

We also went on a riverboat tour to see crocodiles, jumped off rope swings at YS Falls, and had our fill of Jamaican patties, Red Stripe beer, fantastic fruits and vegetables, and all kinds of ‘jerked’ stuff.

After Montego Bay, we spent several days anchoring along the north coast on our way to Port Antonio, which is a beautiful and protected harbor. Port Antonio has a lot of nice attractions within walking distance of the anchorage and yacht club, as well as a wonderful vegetable market, restaurants and an ice cream shop.

We took another road trip to Kingston to visit Port Royal, the former pirate capital of the Caribbean, and the Bob Marley Museum. Both were well worth the visit. By the way, being on the roads of Jamaica was more dangerous than anything we’ve faced at sea.

Our next stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we would meet up with friends. It took us 12 days to get from Port Antonio to San Juan because it was upwind against the trades. On the way we got pinned down by near-gale-force winds for several days on the coast of the Dominican Republic near Cabo Beata. The anchorages we stopped at were beautiful, and we passed the time swapping recipes with other cruisers.

We had a great time exploring the walled city of Old San Juan, which has fantastic forts. We even took a seaplane ride over Old San Juan to get another perspective of this amazing city.

The Spanish Virgins is the Tourism Board’s name for Culebra, Culebrita and Vieques, all of which used to be owned by the U.S. military and therefore had been off-limits. Because of that, there aren’t anywhere nearly as many boats as at the 10-mile-distant U.S. Virgins. Nice.

Culebra is a laid-back island of just 2,800, and it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Playa Flamenco, a large half oval of a white sand beach with palm trees and crystal clear azure water, certainly fits that bill. A tank tastefully spray-painted with graffiti on the beach is an incongruous remnant of the former military occupation. The beach isn’t crowded and the snorkeling is fabulous. The beach at the nearby island of Culebrita is even less crowded, and just as beautiful. Hawksbill turtles frequently swim through the anchorage.

We met a cruiser at Culebrita who told us that after 21 years of cruising all over the Caribbean, it’s his absolute favorite spot. It was also at Culebrita that someone on a passing boat yelled out to us: “Didn’t I see you guys in the March 2013 issue of Latitude?”

After Culebrita it was decision time. Where should we go next? One choice would have been to continue east toward the U.S. and British Virgins, and maybe even as far as St. Martin or Dominica. But that meant we would have to double back to sail to the East Coast. Our insurance required that we be in Georgia by June 1, So we headed toward the Bahamas instead.

More next month, including our trip across the Atlantic to Portugal.