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Panama/Alaska – Cruising the West Coast of North America, Panama to Alaska

By Captain Mike Hein, Mea Culpa

IN THE FOLLOWING, I describe a few of the areas heading North to Alaska after passing through the Panama Canal, with a quick stop at Piñas Bay for some Black Marlin fishing. If you need a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft for visiting the Panamanian islands, contact My Flight Corp. The goal of Mea Culpa was to be in Alaska by the Northern Hemisphere Summer months of July and August (we are arriving in Alaska at the time of this update). The passage north is not to be missed with tremendous cruising through different countries and various ports of call.

I have touched on dockage, anchorages, agents, services and attractions in the different ports. The waypoints are from our logbook and should be used as a guide, rather than as gospel. May you all enjoy your cruise North and experience as much as we did with fair winds, following seas and plenty of fish.

COSTA RICA AND COCOS ISLANDS
In Costa Rica we utilized Paramares Agency for all our Costa Rica agency needs. We shipped in a vehicle, golf cart and temporarily imported the vessel and Vespa.
Docking at Los Sueños Marina is convenient, clean and safe. There is a fuel dock, ships store, provisioning facility, restaurants, cigar bar as well as Internet café and hairdresser. There is a great provisioning spot at Los Sueños called Jimmy T’s Provisions. The Marriott Hotel is very accommodating and guests can fly into San Jose, a short helicopter ride with Aerotec or an hour drive on the new highway through scenic Costa Rica. For vessels not wishing to dock in the Marina, anchorage is available in Herradura Bay. (09 38.7N 84 39.9W). There are two annual sportfishing tournaments at Los Sueños and plenty of fish to go around as all billfish are caught and released using circle hooks. Numerous charter boats will take your guests fishing here at Los Sueños.

Canopy Tours are one item not to miss in Costa Rica. This is where the individual puts on a climbing harness, clips onto a cable which is suspended between trees and glides from one tree to the next in a “tour” around the tree tops. The best contact is Robert at robcanopy2378@yahoo.es Everyone that has done a tour, completely loves it. From youngsters to grandmothers! After that fantastic experience, I suggest you dine at the Treehouse. Please contact Jack for reservations nightly at: adventuredining2004@yahoo.com It is a once in a lifetime dining experience where guests actually dine in a real tree!

Isla Tortuga is a nice place to visit from Los Sueños. There is a very nice anchorage at 09 46.7N 084 53.3W, great beach to attend to, small bar restaurant and nice water. Manuel Antonio is a National Park with great tour guides, tremendous animal life, hiking and plenty of bugs. Anchorage is 09 23.1N 084 09.0W. The town of Quepos is nearby and has a fun restaurant, with a bunch of history, called El Avion or the Airplane.

In 2010 a new marina opened in Quepos called Marina Pez Vela. Dockage is available for rent or purchase for full time visitors wishing to base themselves in Costa Rica. For guests wanting to stay ashore, I recommend the Hotel Parador with exceptional views.
There is a great fishing town North of Cabo Blanco, called Bahia Carillo. (09 51.9N 085 29.4W).

One area we did not visit was Bahia Papagayo, to the North toward the Nicaraguan boarder. The Four Seasons has a hotel there and while the Sojourn visited there a few years ago, they were welcomed only with reservations at the hotel. The new Marina Papagayo is open and welcomes visiting yachts.

The Cocos Islands are located 300NM off Costa Rica and are only possible to visit with approval in advance. The Zarpa Issued by the Costa Rica Parks Department is a cruising permit for the requested number of days. See Paramares for issuance of this permit. Upon arrival to Cocos, you will check-in with the officials there and pay a head fee for the number of persons on board for each day you will remain there. The fishing enroute to Cocos from mainland Costa Rica is great as well. We caught sailfish, blue marlin and tuna on the way. Vessels can transit here overnight and back to Costa Rica or head South to the Galapagos for a further adventure! Please note: there is a 15NM fishing restriction for any species and this is enforced by the marine park personnel that are stationed on the island.
Two anchorages exist at Cocos, the initial one in Chatham Bay (05 33.3N 087 02.5W) on the North East corner and the second on the West side called Bahia Wafer (05 32.9N 087 03.9W).

We did two exceptional dives, the first off Piedra Sucia or Boat Rock (05 33.0N 087 05.0W) where it’s a pinnacle that comes out of the ocean about 1NM from the anchorage in Bahia Wafer. There’s a flat on the NW corner which is the drop off point, from where divers can circumnavigate the rock and see schooling hammerhead sharks and
coral life.

The second tremendous dive began at the Southern end of Isla Manuelita or Nuez Island off Chatham. We did a clockwise dive and ended in the shallows to the NE. A 300# yellowfin tuna came into the pattern, checked us out diving, then bolted like lightning away. We were fortunate to dive with numerous Hammerhead sharks.

GUATEMALA
We had a fantastic fishing experience in Guatemala. Each year the Billfish Association give out worldwide awards for the most released billfish and inevitably, every year at least one winner comes from Quetzal.

Captain Brad Philipps from the Decisive came fishing on board with us and we were able to find a few sailfish and marlin. We decided to stay out through the night drifting and the amount of bait, fish and squid in the area was tremendous.

People wanting to have a tremendous fishing adventure should check out the Casa Vieja Lodge at www.casaviejalodge.com or call them in USA at +1 786 243 1552. Captain Tred Barta has a boat at the Casa with Jim Turner and if you want some interesting reading check our www.tredbarta.com.

MEXICO
How does one make the NW trip upwind from Costa Rica, toward Mexico and on to Southern California? My preferred route is offshore from the Gulf of Tehuantepec around 200NM. In my experience, the storm and frontal systems come across Alaska, pass through Canada and the United States, into the Gulf of Mexico. Many times the fronts pass across the narrow strip of land between the southern Gulf of Mexico into the Gulf of Tehuantepec and wind builds to 40+ knots, with a short uncomfortable sea state. At 200NM off shore the influence from the land has dissipated the wind and provides nice traveling weather. Many of my mates have over the years traveled within 20NM of the coast all the way North, but there are numerous unlit “pongas” out fishing, the possibility of visits from the Mexican Coast Guard and lobster pots to avoid.

While traveling north the ports of call that provide services are Acapulco, Zihuantanejo, Ixtapa, Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Puerto Vallarta, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada.
In Barra de Navidad we were able to refuel and took dockage at the Grand Bay Hotel Isla Navidad. The dockmaster is the expert in the area, his name is Secundino Alverez and he can be reached at +52 314 337 9008. There was a tequila bar in the hotel that was second to none. We used an agent Eduardo Pena at eduar580@hotmail.com for customs and immigration formalities. He knew all right people to clear in Manzanillo, which is the port of clearance for the province and area.

In Puerto Vallarta we used The Paper Man, Juan Arias as our agent, + 52 322 205 2458. We docked at Neuvo Vallarta on the face dock just after the Attessa 3 was moored there. Contact them at the Paradise Village Resort at marina@paradisevillagegroup.com. In the years past we docked in Marina Vallarta which is downtown. Recently, Attessa 3 has docked at the Cruise Ship Dock #3, within the port and isn’t tide dependant for vessels approaching 70M. One great spot to anchor for action and a wonderful lunch ashore is at La Palapa 20 36.0N 105 14.6W.

Heading to LaPaz, we moored at the Marina Costa Baja. Vessels over 70 metres can moor there and the fuel dock is capable of refueling almost any yacht. We anchored in the following locations around the LaPaz area some of which may be useful for trip planning. Partida 24 31.8N 110 22.8W, Gacetero 25 01.1N 110 41.4W, Blandra 24 19.3N 110 20.0W, Muertes 23 59.2N 109 49.5W, Frailes 23 22.8N 109 25.4W.

In the town of San Jose del Cabo is a new marina called Puerto Los Cabos with ample floating dockage, fuel, golf, hotel, condominiums, restaurants, etc.
Cabo San Lucas has a big marina called Marina Cabo San Lucas and a fuel dock capable of delivering large quantities of fuel.

The other marina is called Marina De Baja. The fuel prices are better, but the delivery is quite slow and a vessel of 40 metres is the maximum accommodated. If fishing is your passion, live bait is available from right outside the marina entrance and anchoring is possible off the beaches in front of the hotels and restaurants.

When traveling North from Cabo toward San Diego, USA the weather patterns must be studied, otherwise the crew will be most unhappy. This short stretch of ocean can stop even the toughest mariners and yachts. There is a cove to anchor and hold up at Bahia Magdalena, then the next spot is off Cedros Island, where anchoring is off the Southern tip. In November, there is typically a fantastic fishing bite off “Mag Bay.”

While in Mexico, a Notice of Arrival to the US Customs and Border Protection must be filed electronically prior to arrival. Depending on where the vessel begins passage to the USA, will determine the duration of time the E-NOA has to be filed. Typically this is 96 hours if the passage is over four days or at least a day in advance when moored and prior to departure. I also note that all foreign crew must have visas in their passports to be admitted to the USA and the B1 / B2 visa is the only one that will work for vessels intending to cruise the United States as the C1/D visa is only good for 29 days and is a transit crew visa. Please also remember that 24 hour NOA is required for all vessels with Cruising Permits, when changing Captain of the Port Zones.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The first port of entry to the USA from the south is San Diego, California. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a number of sections in San Diego, however the Customs Dock can handle most vessels tying alongside inside Point Loma and will provide customs and immigration services. The presence of the US Coast Guard is visible and their team does a tremendous job. Departure clearance can be obtained from the Cruise Ship dock +1-619-557-5730 x 123 at 1240 North Harbor Drive.

This was the home of the America’s Cup from 1987 to 1995. It was defended by the San Diego Yacht Club twice, in 1988 by Dennis Connor and in 1992 by Bill Koch. I was fortunate to be a part of the sailing team in 1992 which last defended the cup. In 1995, SDYC lost the cup to New Zealand. In 2011, San Diego hosted the America’s Cup World Series in the new class of AC-45 catamarans, leading up to the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco.
We enjoy mooring the vessel at Shelter Island Marina across from the San Diego Yacht Club. It’s located at the Island Palms Hotel and offers great access to the bay as well as Point Loma.

San Diego is home to the US Navy Pacific Fleet on Coronado Island, Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Sea World, San Diego Zoo, the Padres Baseball team and the Chargers Football team. There is an exciting downtown district with numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Long Beach has a marina and also there is Marina Del Ray for smaller vessels.
Approximately 23NM off the coast of Long Beach is Catalina Island. This is a beautiful island and a good place to go outside of the Los Angeles area. Approximately 80% of the island is a protected wildlife reserve. Helicopter service is available as well as commuter flights. There is an anchorage for large vessels above 40 metres and a mooring for those at 40 metres and under. Call the Avalon Harbormaster to see if there is one available at +1-310-510-0535.

Further up the California Coast is San Francisco, the home of the America’s Cup and upcoming races. The AC45 2012 World Series Races are in August and on 2 – 7 October in San Fransisco. The Louis Vuitton Series leading up to the Cup event starts on the 4th of July and runs to 1 September 2013. The 34th America’s Cup races are from 7 – 22 September 2013. Thanks to the upcoming races, a pilot is now only required for vessels over 500 Gross Tons.

While in the Bay Area, we tied up at Schoonmaker Point Marina (www.schoonmakermarina.com) and many services are available in the local area of Sausalito. It is just to the North of San Francisco across the historic Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco has everything any yachtsman would care to indulge in. Just a short 90 minute drive to the North East is Napa & Sonoma Valley, where some delicious California wines are produced. I would highly recommend a day trip.

Making your way North toward Seattle, Washington, one must plan the weather patterns. The prevailing winds from the NW make this passage sporting. Heading into Seattle, through the Straits of Juan de Fuca has Vancouver Island Canada to the North and Washington State to the South. It’s a very nice passage monitored by Torfino and Seattle Traffic in the VTS scheme. The State of Washington has pilotage exemption application available for vessels under 200 foot and 500 Tons (www.pilotage.wa.gov).

We made landfall at Elliott Bay Marina at (www.elliottbaymarina.net). A very interesting and fun way to refuel in Seattle area is to transit the Ballard Locks to Shilshoal and visit Ballard Oil (www.ballardoil.com) into Lake Washington. A quaint place to visit in the Seattle Area is called Friday Harbor (48 32.4N 123 00.8W) on San Juan Island and marina dockage is the most reasonable worldwide. Friday Harbor does have Customs clearance and reporting station for the USA.

Traveling North from Seattle we traveled thru the Inside Passage between mainland Canada and Vancouver Island. The Canadian Charts are excellent and the VTS system is first rate. After clearing from Canada and transiting North to Alaska, we made landfall at Ketchikan. A pilot was required for our initial first visit to the state. I was able to apply and be granted a pilotage exemption for our vessel for certain waters in the inside passage areas of Alaska to include Ketchikan, Juneau, Glacier Bay and Sitka with a few exceptions.

I work with ships agent Debbie Azure at North Pacific Maritime at +1-907-225-2200 or operations@norpac1.com. The pilotage exemption application now works on Registered Length, not Length Overall, which is beneficial to more yachts wishing to travel without a pilot on board. While in Ketchikan we stayed at Doyon’s Landing and chartered their sea plane for a tour of the area.

We traveled toward Craig and did some Salmon Fishing & Catching. The famous Waterfall Lodge (55 17.8N 133 15.7W) hosts guests and has tinnies with guides to charter for yachts wishing their guests to enjoy the salmon fishing. We anchored in two memorable anchorages, the first Port Asumcion at 55 22.3N 133 33.0W and also Port Real Marina 55 25.3N 133 29.6W. We were drift fishing (catching) King Salmon off Cape Addington with all the local boats. This was a truly great experience not to be missed and will be repeated in 2012 by the Mea Culpa. Check out the Northern Spell Lodge and Sam Peters (Slammin Sam) at spetersak@gmail.com

Heading North from Craig we made landfalls at Warren Island for a nice overnight anchorage at 55 52.6N 133 51.2W along with the commercial fishing vessels in the area. The next area we anchored was Red Bluff and the fantastic waterfall. We went fly-fishing for salmon there, saw brown bears walking on the shoreline and went up the river at the head of the inlet and anchored a second night at 56 52.3N 134 47.3W. This inlet is one of the most beautiful in all of Southern Alaska.

Glaciers are a must when visiting Alaska. We visited the Sawyer Glacier and anchored in Tracy Arm 57 48.5N 133 38.1W prior to making the transit up and back by lunchtime the next day. We tied up in Juneau in Auke Bay. The local fishing guide whom we personally recommend is Zach Kohan 907-209-6883 (zachkohan1571@gmail.com) as a true local, he has his own boat, is educated and versed on superyacht crewing and expectations if you want him on board. Our next visit was to Glacier National Park. We made reservations (exactly 60 days in advance) and went to orientation at Bartlett Cove after entering the Park. We then found our favorite anchorage at Beartrack 58 36.2N 135 50.9W. At sunset and sunrise the brown bears are feeding along the shoreline while teaching the bearcubs tricks of the trade. We visited both John Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers in the same day.

There was heavy fog heading North, but it was crystal clear when we arrived at both glaciers. One item to consider when visiting Alaska is to charter a sea plane and go fishing at one of the numerous rivers where salmon are headed upstream to spawn. We used Ward Air at www.wardair.com with their Otter and Beaver sea planes. We also used guides from Bear Creek Outfitters at www.juneauflyfishing.com
If there is further information you would like on all the areas mentioned above, please contact me at HeinLLC@aol.com and let me know if this is helpful