Update # 15 – Getting ready to leave Ixtapa for Hualtuco

[Ixtapa 17 40.053N, 101 37.055W]

Today is our last day alone on Sans Souci for a couple of weeks. In a few hours three professional crew (Jeff Sanson and team) will arrive to assist us in running the boat to Costa Rica. I suppose that having three guys fly in to assist Roberta and I over the next 1,800 miles isn’t the macho thing to do. All I can say, in self defense, is: “oh well.” I worked hard for lots of years, and this is retirement. My primary goal, at this stage in my life, is to have fun. We have a long run coming up, and of course Roberta and I “could” do it alone if we wanted to, but we’d rather blast through it quickly, and have more time for fun in Costa Rica.

Even with three guys, it won’t be exactly easy. One of the guys coming (Carl) will be the “cook” and the other two (Jeff and Kurt) will assist in running the boat. I like to run two person shifts on long passages. This means Roberta and I will be doing alternating four hour shifts.

And, on a completely different topic…

Roberta and I have spoken often, over the past few weeks, about our planned South Pacific trip next year. Usually, boaters worry about whether or not their boat has the fuel capacity to cross the Pacific, or whether their boat is seaworthy enough to handle the Pacific. We’ve gotten comfortable on both these issues (It IS a Nordhavn!). But, in our case, we have a third problem that has been the toughest of them all: We have a dog (Shelby).

Shelby has cruised with us in many countries, including: The US, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Over the next few weeks we’ll add Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to her resume. We’ve gotten accustomed to the process of getting Shelby a health certificate each time we enter a new country. Poor Shelby has been through more health exams than you can imagine!

There are a few countries that are particularly difficult to enter with a dog. Europe is generally dog friendly, although the UK can be difficult. The South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand are amongst the toughest. I’m an eternal optimist and have always assumed I could “find a way” to get us into at least Polynesia with Shelby. I’ve been working on the project for a couple years, and despite this effort, and the efforts of various consultants, it just hasn’t happened. At this point, we believe we can get her into Hawaii fairly simply, but Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand seem impossible without long quarantines (which we’re not willing to put her through).

Recently, our plan has been to go direct to Hawaii, and then bypass Australia and New Zealand. However, the more we have discussed Hawaii as a cruising destination with various friends, the less appealing it has become. This is tough for me to believe, but apparently, there aren’t a lot of great anchorages, and there is a lot of wind and swell, and not a lot of great marinas. We’re wondering if Hawaii alone justifies the trip to the South Pacific.


We’re officially scrapping our South Pacific plans, at least for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re not giving up on our desire to circumnavigate. There is an Indonesia rally (http://www.sailindonesia.net) that we’re going to focus on. We’ll do it in 2009 or 2010, and then continue on around the world from there. We thought about going to the Caribbean, but Roberta’s comment was “Everyone goes to the Caribbean. I want to go somewhere exotic.” I’m not sure she is exactly right, but Indonesia, especially with a rally, sounds good – so, why not?

The tricky part is: How will we get our boat from Alaska, where we’ll be this summer, to Indonesia? My next project is to research freighters that could transport Sans Souci, from somewhere on the West Coast of the US, to Indonesia. As always, I am optimistic I’ll figure it out. If I can’t, Roberta and I will have a new conversation about the Caribbean.

This is my last email for a couple days. Tomorrow (Friday) will be spent preparing the boat for departure. We’ll change the oil, fuel the boat, load the tender on deck (and, clean it), and do any last minute provisioning. My next blog update will be sent from at sea. We will be running non-stop from Ixtapa to Huatulco. This will require a 400 mile run, which we will easily do in two days. I’m not into fishing, but Jeff and his guys are excited about the prospect. Our plan is to run slow during the day (so they can fish) and run fast at night.

And, lastly…


My son, Chris, and my Dad in Turtle Bay, Baja California, Mexico (11-2007)

I am very sad to report that my father, and best friend, David Williams, has just lost his battle with lung cancer. For those who may not know, this blog grew out of an update I used to send to him talking about our travels on the boat. My dad was along for the first leg of this trip, from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, and spent a couple weeks with us afterward in Cabo with his wife, Sandra. He is known to many recipients of my blog, and is deeply missed by all who knew him. Even with all my moving around, he and I played internet chess virtually every day for the past few years. Believe it or not: I just checked the stats, and we played 1,455 games! I am also happy to report that we achieved another goal of his last year: watching Tiger play the Ryder Cup in Ireland. Just a couple of weeks ago, he asked that we continue cruising to Costa Rica should this occur during our trip, and we’re honoring his wish. He will be greatly missed by all who he had touched.

Make sure you read the “reader email” that follows. There are some great emails this week! There are some very smart people who read this list, and I always learn something reading through my mail.

-Ken Williams Sans Souci,

Reactions to Update #13 (Email me your comments, to: kenw @ seanet.com)
My comments are interspersed in the emails that follow, preceded by +++

+++ In my last update, I responded to a question about feathering props saying that I didn’t think they were possible (as a main prop) on a boat such as mine. I’ve been thinking of techniques for extending the range of my boat, and one technique is to run my twin engine boat as though it were single engine. Whereas I have two identical main engines, most Nordhavns have a main engine, and a smaller engine, known as a wing engine, that has a feathering prop. The wing engine is used as a backup to the main engine, and has a feathering prop, that folds up when not in use. This avoids the prop shaft on the wing engine spinning all the time, potentially damaging the transmission. The email that follows is from Dan Streech, President of Nordhavn commenting on this discussion.

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the great updates. I am sitting here at home on a rainy Sunday catching up on e-mail and paperwork that fell behind during the Miami show. I took time out to daydream a little while looking at the great photos from blog #14. I saw the quesiton from Sam M regarding a “feather-able” propeller. The answer to his quesiton is yes. We are useing the Hundested CP (controllable pitch) propeller as standard on our new 56’ motor sailor. http://www.hundestedpropeller.dk/?id=4172 We are using it for two reasons: (1) To adjust (increase) the pitch when running the engine at low RPM while being assisted by the sails in a ‘motor sailing” configuration. (2) To adjust the pitch to a “feathered” position when sailing without assist from the motor.

We also once installed a Hundested CP prop system on an N57 (single). CP prop systems could be installed on a twin engine N68. They are quite pricey. The system on our 56’ motorsailor costs us in the range of $65,000.


Dan Streech

+++ Thank you Dan! I had forgot about the Hundested props. I actually investigated these for my boat, but then figured we already had enough “pioneering” going on. Congratulations on the motor sailor. I predict it will be a huge hit. And, thank you for building our 68. We’re having a blast!


Controllable pitch propellers installed at time of construction would permit feathering. They could serve to eliminate transmissions as well. You had asked about shaft brakes. I think that I may have a better solution. A freely rotating propeller offers less resistance than one that is static. The reason that many transmissions cannot tolerate this is due to their requirement for cooling and lubrication. What about a separate pump to circulate oil through the oil cooler and maintain pressure while the engine is off? The pump could even be driven hydraulically from a PTO on the running engine.


+++ Interesting. I’ll research an external oil cooler. I like the idea of letting the shaft spin, but protecting the transmission from overheating. This seems like it would be reasonably inexpensive, and effective.

Hi Ken:

Everything you hear about Tehuantepec is true. Make certain you fold up or remove all exterior canvas, biminis, plastic curtains, and those you cannot remove wrap tightly with line. You might get by the short way, but it is a poor risk. Also Papagayo, the headland north of Tehuantepec will throw some really nasty swells. After the first hour of it you will learn to relax.

+++ Good point. We will be prepared for battle before leaving Huatulco. There are two approaches to the Gulf of Tehuantepec. One is to wait for a long weather window, and cut straight across, saving 50 miles. The other is to wait for a shorter weather window, and run the Bay “one foot on the beach” – meaning following the shore, for all 200 miles, in 30 to 50 feet of water. I’ve been told that even in 40-50 knot winds, the swell is acceptable close to shore.

Hi Ken,

I agree with your decision to “run the beach” along Tehauntepec. Despite “better forcasting” I have seen forecasting to be wrong, especially when you are dealing with relatively slow boats, such as a trawler, and a fairly long run–and boats have been lost because they did not respect this area. A NOAA web site describes the meterology: http://daac.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/scifocus/oceanColor/papagayo..shtml for those who have not researched this potential hazard. We encountered the full strength of the Papagayo winds in on a South Bound trip because in the 80’s it was prudent to stay at least 50 miles offshore of the upper Central American Coast, because of hostilities. On other trips we have run right along the Central American Coast with no problems.

The “pirate” radio signals, may have been due to Tropospheric ducting of VHF radio signals. This is fairly common in this area. We communicated clearly with a US Naval vessel over 400 miles away one night. On one trip North, we went directly from Puerto Rico to San Diego with only stops in Panama, Golfito and Acapulco for fuel–each stop less than 48 hours, and only my wife and I as crew on our 62 foot boat. This run was about 4000 miles and done in 30 days.

Have a good trip.

Bob A

+++ I had never realized that VHF broadcasts can go great distances in the right weather conditions. That could explain why I was hearing the broadcast reasonably clearly, but couldn’t find any boats on radar within 24 miles. As to 4,000 miles in 30 days: I am impressed!

+++ Speaking of the Tehuanepec, here’s a message board posting from Scott Bulger, who is on a Nordhavn 40 which just crossed the Gulf of Tehuantepec a few days ago. It generated a bit of controversy on the boating message boards…

“…Several people commented that they preferred the “foot on the beach” approach to crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec. With the aid of Bob Jones at OMNI, Enrique (Harbormaster at Marina Chahue), and my dad in FL, we had three sources that all said the GofT would be flat calm. They were exactly right, with Bob Jones even correctly anticipating an early morning rain shower to lightly rinse the salt off our boats! Most people I talk to are taking the direct route, AFTER waiting for a window. I suspect this will become the norm in the future as more people discard the practice of hugging the beach. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for those of you that will never do anything different based on your experience! I’m sure it’s born of real world experience where the Tpeckers beat the heck out of you or a friend. I also think it’s gotten much more predictable as the weather systems that cause Tpeckers are better understood….”

+++ In a follow up posting Scott once again explained his decision to take the short cut across the gulf:

“…Today, sitting in the river estuary in El Salvador, there are 9 boats that made the crossing in the last few days. All 9 went straight across, not a single boat stayed on the beach. Things change, equipment evolves, knowledge is shared. Having 3 weather sources tell you a window for 7 days exists, and your only exposed for 48 hours seems like manageable risk to me. Would I do this in a Meridian or SeaRay? No, I only did this because our boat was a Nordhavn, and if the predictions hadn’t held true I was willing to either tough it out, run downwind or turn back. The purpose in sharing this information was to aid those in transit who are reading the Rains book and only considering the historical practice of following the beach. The Harbormaster in Marina Chahue sealed the deal when he talked about the fishermen in Salina Cruz. He said these guys manage the Tpeck every day of their lives to make a living. They do it in pangas (22′ open boats with outboard motors) and run 10, 20, 60 miles out to sea. I’m sure there are countless stories of Tpeck disasters and each skipper will have to make his or her own decision. My point was there are more people choosing to wait for a window then to go along the beach (which has it’s own risks, such as the 62′ Nordhavn on the rocks near Turtle bay can attest to)….”

+++ Personally .. regardless of the weather window .. I’m a “one foot on the beach” kind of guy…



Don’t forget when running Tehuantapec southward: the current is very strong and moving against you the whole way. I think I had a knot to a knot and a half going with me on the way up. Figure that much against you going south.

Steve A

+++ I am totally stumped as to how to determine currents here in Central America. I am sure there is a way, and I will be embarrassed when I figure it out – but, for now I’m not certain. I just installed Visual Passage Planner, and it wasn’t much help.

Hi Ken:
I have enjoyed reading your wonderful blog. My husband and I spent 3 seasons in Mexico covering the same ground, (water) in our Hunter Passage 450 and would do it again in a heartbeat. I had a stroke however one year ago, so we sold the sailboat and have been looking at power boats since then. I have several comments.

First about dogs, We had with us our two Portuguese Water Dogs. 55 lbs each. We often thought about the problems of puddle jumping westward but never heard encouraging words about dogs in French Polynesia. However we were once docked in Marina Mazatlan next to a very small McGregar who’s occupants included several dogs. They had once been headed there until a hurricane turned them around, now they have plans to do the same. I was in awe that they would go in such a small boat and with dogs. I asked about the requirements and the young boy told me that his parents had done a lot of research and had found they could take the dogs. he said they had mounds of paperwork on the subject. but we left the next morning and I was unable to make further contact. They also did not have SSB. .. Best restaurant in Tenacatita at end of jungle river cruise is La Fiesta. Best restaurant in La Manzanita is Martin’s at the far south end of town near where the main road crosses the little river just beyond the new small zocalo in the middle of the street. Best book on provisioning in Mexico: A Cruising Cook’s Guide to Mexico by Heather Stockard

I hope you find a way as I know there are many of us who could not be without our “man’s best friend” […].

BTW, don’t let Roberta feed Don Pedro, [+++ I assume she is referring to the crocodile who has been hanging out behind our boat…] he’s fat enough. One day as my husband was going from the dock through the dock gate a very well dressed gentleman from the building where the marina office is came down and said to be very careful with the dogs. He said the crocs are very cunning and will lie in wait just under the surface until opportunity is right. They have the ability to leap out of the water and onto the docks. He told us that at the gates where the rip rap is low to the water the gates and fencing form a trap. The crocs can run up and you and Shelby can’t get out. He said “I have observed this from my office window, Be very careful.” We were only 4 boats from the gate and we always made sure one of us went ahead and opened the gate while the other with the dogs ran up the dock and through the gate. We also had one swim under our boat while anchored out at La Ropa beach in Z’wa. He was being chased by the harbor master. I didn’t know they could swim like that. Apparently there is a river and lagoon behind the restaurants that line the La Ropa beach and the crocs hang out back there. I have seen them escape their fencing so be careful if you let Shelby run unleased on the beach. We almost always kept the dogs leashed everywhere in Mexico. You never know whats just over that high water line in the sand. Dead porcupine fish can be deadly to dogs at a certain point of their decay – it’s when they are all slimey […]

Oh, I can’t wait for a stand up engine room.I could go on and on but I won’t make you read all day/night. Anyway love your Blogs. Roberta, stop feeding Don Pedro!

Leslie E.

+++ Grin – thank you for all the info! Don’t worry: I have been carrying Shelby whenever we are on the docks!

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