The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, 30 July 2007

Further to my recent blog about the bureaucratic difficulties of sailing now to Ecuador, here are two reports by sailing friends who were caught up in the bureaucratic machinations concerning foreign boats. BTW, there is still no agent in Bahia. One German boat left after travelling by taxi to Manta and doing paperwork there. At a price, of course. Still the Port Captain here tried to keep him back.

Report 1

When we visited Ecuador and its off-lying Islas Galápagos in 2006 we were enamored with the country, its culture and its people. We enthusiastically chose to return in 2007. In the interim period many changes have occurred—that may or may not be related to a change in government—which have made Ecuador difficult and much more expensive for cruisers.

The most onerous change has been the recent order by the Admiral of the Navy that mandates that yachts are to be incorporated into a computer tracking system—Sistema de Información de Tráfico Marítimo (SITRAME) —that was designed for commercial vessels. (If you are interested in a description of the Ecuadorian system, in English, we have downloaded it to our website: Select “Our Resources” and scroll down to Ecuador and select SITRAME to download a file in pdf format) If the system’s mandates are followed to the letter, than a sailing vessel is required to report EVERY deviation from it’s predicted rhumb line or waypoints to Ecuadorian authorities while in Ecuadorian waters. The area of jurisdiction: “will be applied in the maritime area of Ecuador responsibility, implicit toward the west until longitude 095 23 00 W, among the latitudes 01° 28' 54" N and 03° 23' 33.96" S; and, 200 NM around the Galápagos Islands…”

The managing Ecuadorian authority is called DIGMER, an acronym for Dirección General de la Marina Mercante y del Litoral (,
And, though the information forms are available on the internet and may be emailed to the authorities in Guayaquil, the net effect for cruisers, at this point in time, is that it has been dictated that an agent must be employed in order to process an entrada and salida (entry and exit) for a yacht for EVERY PORT visited in Ecuador. The agent fees we have knowledge of range from $150 to $200.

We entered Ecuador and were given an entrada before these changes went into effect but we will still have to pay $200 for an agent to process our zarpe from La Libertad. (Our agent: Roque Proaño Párraga, Naviera “J.C.P. Hnos.” Cia. Ltda, La Libertad. Tel. +593-4278-3931, Fax +593-4278-5317, email:< or This agency also has offices in Guayaquil and Manta.) To obtain a zarpe, we must report our outbound rhumb line and the predicted date, time and position (latitude/longitude) when we will exit Ecuadorian waters. Alternatively, if we wished to move our vessel from Salinas up the coast into Bahía de Caráquez, we would require a domestic zarpe from Salinas ($200 in agent fees still apply) and then a new agent would take over to process our entrada (and later salida) from Bahía de Caráquez and we would be charged an agent’s fee once AGAIN.

Previously, international or domestic entradas and zarpes for yachts were handled directly by the Capitania del Puerto and the fees were reasonable—that is, on a par with other countries we’ve visited. These new agent fees, which are IN ADDITION TO all of the fees paid previously, make cruising amongst Ecuador’s anchorages and ports outrageously expensive and, as we see it, will virtually eliminate Ecuador as a cruising ground for private yachts.

To exacerbate this situation, Ecuador now has a law that extrajeros (foreigners) cannot buy fuel at subsidized prices. The law is directed at reducing the cost of the subsidies and preventing low cost fuel from illegally crossing borders into neighboring countries where it can be sold at a higher price. Unfortunately, there are no outlets or any mechanism that enables fuel to be sold at extrajero rates.

Previously, Puerto Lucia Yacht Club in La Libertad (PLYC) sold gasoline and diesel but they have eliminated this service. In addition, when we recently attempted to leave the PLYC premises with jerry jugs—and a local man—to try to purchase about 40 gallons of diesel and 5 gallons of gasoline for our passage to Costa Rica, guardia at the gate attempted to stop us from LEAVING the club and told us we could not buy fuel or bring it into the yacht club.

Even though we thought we had a good relationship with the supervisor of the guardia who was then on duty, when we questioned him as to how we would be able to buy fuel to leave the country, he first shrugged and then suggested we visit the Capitania del Puerto in Salinas to obtain written permission to buy fuel. After a 45 minute wait at the Port Captain’s office, the Capitania himself took our question and was surprised we had been sent to his office. He sent us BACK to La Libertad, this time to the Minister of Energy, who, to his credit, was able, eventually, to help us. He explained the law that diesel fuel (as an example) is subsidized and available to nationals at $1.04/gal., but the price for extrajeros was $2.50/gal. The cost for gasoline was higher. To this, we said “Bueno: donde compramos este para $2.50/gal.? (Good; where do we buy this [fuel] for $2.50?)”. He let out a large sigh and said nothing for a few seconds. He then instructed us to go to a local service station where our jerry jugs were filled with diesel and gasoline and purchased (at the national price) in the name of an Ecuadorian local we had hired. The minister met us at the service station and stamped our facturas (invoices) with an official Ministero de Energia stamp and then signed the document.

When we returned to PLYC with our fuel, the guardia at the club stopped us coming back into the gate, checked and then confiscated our facturas, which were the only proof we had that we were not breaking the law. After meeting the next day with the PLYC manager we were able to repossess our facturas. As a side note: reports from the Manta Yacht Club and Bahía de Caraquez indicate that, at least at the time of this writing, fuel can still be obtained at prices above pump prices but below the extrajero rates.

Propane is also subsidized in Ecuador. Recently the country’s supply chain was interrupted by protests and a brief embargo ensued. PLYC employees have also been instructed, by memo, not to help cruisers obtain propane. We have now been assured by Galo Ortiz, manager of PLYC, that PLYC employees will once again facilitate the purchase of propane for cruisers though we cannot be sure this is the case since the situation seems to change daily and we hear conflicting reports.

PLYC has also made other changes. In addition to a reduction in services offered, fees have continuously been increasing. An additional fee, recently initiated, is a “live aboard” fee of $200 per month for all vessels in the yard or med-moored. For our vessel the increased fee would amount to roughly a 50% increase in monthly fee. What follows is what PLYC charges (as per price increase in mid-July 2007, add 12% for IVA tax) for a typical 44’ cruising boat:

Monthly Fee (Med-moor or in yard; slips are roughly double this rate):
$484 (1ST 3 months), $460 (4th), $436 (5th), $387 (6th month and beyond)
Live Aboard Fee (in addition to Monthly Fee): $200
Electricity: $0.25/kwh
Water: $3/m3
Travelift, round trip: $ 377
Re-Blocking (using Travelift): $180

These prices were valid as of this writing. Contact: Note also: Galo Ortiz, Puerto Lucia’s manager will be leaving as of sometime in September 2007. We do not know yet who will replace him.

In spite of the changes in the government’s attitude and the recent exorbitant cost increases at PLYC, and at least at the time of this writing, PLYC is a good place to land if you need significant and potentially difficult repairs to your boat. However, there is no guaranty that the excellent resources in place now for such repairs will here when you arrive. (Contact Stewart Yates y Servicios email: or tel: +593-(0)99-778-868). The 50 ton travelift operates daily and the large yard is paved and (relatively) clean. A plus for PLYC is that the security in the marina and yard is at such a high level that you can travel away from your boat to visit the spectacular and historic sights in South America secure in the knowledge of the safety of your vessel.

As an alternative, Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador with the Bahía Yacht Club, Puerto Amistad and Saiananda offers hosting services for visiting yachts at anchor or (for the latter two facilities) on moorings for $210 and $150 per month respectively, irrespective to the size of your vessel. A Naugala Yacht Services (agency) is expected to open there soon (affiliated with Puerto Amistad) and will charge and agent fee of $150 for an entrada/salida package, solving the moratorium on vessels arriving or departing from Bahía de Caráquez imposed in June by the Capitania del Puerto.

As a result of our experiences during our most recent visit, we cannot recommend Ecuador, in general, and PLYC in particular, as welcoming or economical stops for cruising yachts. We will not be returning to Ecuador until the country again becomes—as we sincerely hope it will—cruiser-friendly.

Report 2

Today we leave Ecuador; our international zarpe is in hand. There are a couple of other things that have happened here that should be added to our letter sent earlier this week to complete the picture of our experiences in Ecuador this year. The first thing that happened was that after 90 days in Ecuador and our refit incomplete (we were without chainplates), Immigration in Ecuador declined to renew our tourist visas. They told us to leave the following day and were unmoved that our boat was not fit to go to sea. Nor would they explain the rationale for their decision. Unfortunately, three separate Migracion Officers (they are Policia Nacional here) gave us three separate indications as to when we would be allowed back into the country (a weekend, three months, six months). We spent two days in Guayaquil trying to resolve this, had magnificent interpretation help from Marisol Stewart (wife of George of Stewart Yates y Servicios) and even got the opinion of an immigration lawyer (also facilitated by Marisol). The advice offered by the lawyer was that Migracion was wrong but to fight it would cost a lot of money. Not wishing to be separated from our boat in a country going through turmoil, we chose to stay illegally in the country for 31 days. Friday we paid fines totaling $400 (are now legal again) and were given three days to leave. We did not report this previously because we were not sure what fines we would face. We thought being illegal was the worst possible thing imaginable until Aduana (Customs) weighed in this week. Wednesday June 25, at around suppertime, a Puerto Lucia lancha arrived at Carina and whisked Philip away to a meeting with our agent and Puerto Lucia manager, Galo Ortiz. The reason was that Customs (Aduana) was threatening to impose a fine of 10% of the value of our vessel because Carina has been in Ecuador for over 90 days. We went on record as absolutely refusing to pay anything and after the tenacious intervention Señor Ortiz and Roque Proaño Párraga, our agent, Aduana signed our zarpe paperwork the following day but indicated other boats here would not be immune from this new "law". Puerto Lucia, maintains, as do their lawyers who are now involved, that there is no legal basis for Aduana's claim. And since Aduana refused to issue a factura (bill) for the money they were requesting, it does appear that this may simply be an illegal attempt to extract more money from cruisers visiting Ecuador. Boats here that haven't yet been in Ecuador for 90 days are being asked to renew Customs paperwork. They are not being asked for a fee at this time. We do not know if this situation is limited to the port of La Libertad/Salinas. It's been an interesting stay here in Ecuador in 2007, and though we'll be missing many cruiser and Ecuadorian friends, and the opportunity to explore more Andean villages, we are looking forward to hoisting sail and heading for the high seas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One of our main pastimes aboard Vilisar is reading. In fact, while many cruisers are off climbing mountains, scuba-diving, hang-gliding or otherwise up to various hardy physical activities, Kathleen and I are usually to be found each with a book in hand. So, while the others appear to be on a round-the-world sports meet, Vilisar’s crew appears to be on an extended reading tour.

Most ports-of-call for yachts have some sort of book exchange. While mostly these exchanges are a jumble of books and magazines in some unneeded corner of the marina complex, in some places some kindly person has actually organized them into some semblance of a lending or exchange library. I remember the one at the Club de Cruceros in La Paz, Mexico, with fondness: the three sides of the square room lined with shelves and the books neatly classed by types. With no trouble at all you could avoid the romance novels, which to be frank make up the bulk of such book exchanges, and get straight to the historical, biographical, politics and economics that I like. Sometimes too you will even find back numbers of Harpers or The New Yorker.

Every once in a while you find a gem. Of course, not many of the books are the latest creaming of the best-seller lists. But you will find enough to keep you going. We stock up for long voyages. And, as you might expect, you find lots of sailing-related books: how-to books on rigging, boat construction, navigation, sail-making, cooking at sea, etc. Included in this category are also cruising guides (usually somewhat out of date and for cruising grounds that you too have just recently left astern), marine charts and tourist guides for faraway countries.

Soon after I moved aboard Vilisar in August 2001 I also resolved to follow the wine-drinking maxim of a German acquaintance of mine. I don’t recall anymore who it was, but he said that he drinks the best wines he could afford. “Life’s too short for plonk!” was his motto. He was a lot younger at the time than I am now. So I resolved to avoid reading literary plonk. Even when I am reading something lighter between two heavies, I try to tuck into something well written. Scott Turow, for example, rather than some finger-exercise, murder-mystery fluff.

I also resolved to read all the classics that I was supposed to have read at university. I actually took courses back then in “The English Novel”, “18th Century Poetry” or “Modern Drama”. But I never seemed able to cope with the volumes and volumes to be read. I am still not a fast reader: I don’t actually use my finger to follow the line of print or mouth the words as I read. But I do amble my way through the books. Here now was my chance to delve. What a pleasure too! It just proves once again that youth is so wasted on the young. The problem was to find the vintage amongst the plonk.

But, as I mentioned, every once in a while I would find a genuine classic at a book exchange. I had read Flaubert’s Madame Bauvary years ago but re-reading it now many years later and older was a real pleasure. At the moment I am reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Surely I had dipped into this huge work years ago. Now it’s been on board Vilisar for aover a year and Kathleen is in a Fly Lady mood, embarking on a “21 Fling Boogey” and threatening to take it back. I had been postponing getting started at it because it was over 700 pages – and that’s only for Part I! But once started I could hardly put it down. I am sure now I had never read it before. Unfortunately, I once saw the film and all I can recall is Henry Fonda as Pierre, as wooden a piece of acting as you could find anywhere. It almost spoils the book for me.

The photo of the stack of books at the foot of my berth give some idea of what’s more-or-less on the front burner:
Allende. City of the Beasts
Austen. Sense and Sensibility
Blanchet. The Curve of Time
Brink. The Other Side
Cawthoren. Vietnam; A War Lost and Won
Dos Passos. U.S.A.; The 42nd Parallel
Faulkner. Three Famous Short Novels
Fedors Guide to New Zealand
Flaubert. Madame Bauvary
Forrster. A Passage to India
Fromm. The Art of Loving
Hardy. Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter
Holy Bible (King James Version)
Horgen. The River; The Rio Grande in North American History
Hughes. A High Wind in Jamaica (Is this slush? But it’s maritime.)
Kent. To Glory We Sail; Enemy in Sight; A Tradition of Victory (OK, these are kind of superficial too. But must-reads for yachties. I picked up the whole set of Hornblower novels and this smattering of Kent and O’Brian at a boaters’ flea market in Mexico)
Lonely Planet: Baja California
McMurray. Cadillac Jack
Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival
O. Henry. 41 Stories
O’Brian. H.M.S. Surprise
Obama. Dreams of my Father
Orwell. Animal Farm
Parkinson. The Law
Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers
Randall. Sandino’s Daughter
Ruddick. Writing That Means Business
Theroux. The Kingdom by the Sea
Thomas Wolf. Look Homeward Angel
Lovell. Straight on Till Morning

These are just the ones at the foot of my berth. There are lots more stashed around the boat somewhere. Sometimes they get shoved down a hatch and, occasionally mildewed, are happily rediscovered months later. They are what I could get. There’s no system.

For regular reference we pull out books from our more permanent onboard library:
501 Spanish Verbs
British Admiralty. Sailing Routes for the World
Calder. Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual
Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia
Church of England Prayer Book (1662 Edition)
Clay. South Pacific Anchorages
Cornel. World Cruising Routes
Episcopal Prayer Book & Hymnal
Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Groene. Cooking on the Go
Hinz. Landfalls in Paradise
Hyam. New Thai Cuisine
Jafrey. Foolproof Indian Cookery
Joy of Cooking, The
Merck Manual, The
Meyer. The Book of Living Verse
Moosewood Collective Cooks at Home, The
New York Times Atlas of the World, The
Parsons. Spanish for Cruisers
RCC Pilotage Foundation. South Pacific Crossing Guide
Sailmaker’s Apprentice, The
Smith. The Marlinespike Sailor
Spanish-English Dictionary, The New World
Sunset. Breads
Sunset. Chinese Cooking
Toss. The Rigger’s Apprentice
Webster’s Dictionary (11th Edition). (Used a lot for writing, for proofreading and for Scrabble)
Cassell’s German & English Dictionary
Stonehouse. Sea Mammals of the World

This is just a sampling. We carry a few dozen books that stay with us all the time.

We exchange reading experiences and, if one of us has had a good or a bad read, the other moves the book up on the priority list or dumps it unread in the return-to-book-exchange bag.

Early morning and late evening are the main reading times aboard. Since we moved aboard Vilisar in August 2001 our day-to-day life has become more attuned to the daylight hours: we are awake at dawn and, when it’s dark again, we move inside. After light evening meal we play Canasta or Scrabble before cracking open the books again. The reading lights over the berths are usually out by 2100. I usually wake up again, refreshed, after about six hours and can find to read or write for a few hours again during the dog watch.

Good books get passed on to friends. Occasionally however, Kathleen, the chief thrower-outer around here, culls the books and we tote plastic bags of read or “forget-about-it” books back to the nearest book exchange. This is like parting with friends but there is only so much room on a cruising boat.


Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, 27 July 2007

Thought you might enjoy these.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, Saturday, 21 July 2007

Well, I suppose it’s been too good to last. Besides the fabulous scenery, friendly people, temperate and storm-free climate, Ecuador has also been attractive for cruisers because of its hassle-free administrative environment and its very low day-to-day costs. This is definitely changing.

Galapagos set to get much more expensive

Leave aside Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands some 600 nm offshore: a fair amount of bureaucratic cha-cha has always been associated with sailing there. Cruising costs have been significant out there and are now set to shoot up again. In an attempt to reduce the numbers of visitors to the natural wonder, the Quito government plans to limit visitors - not only, as at present, by requiring cruising permits, charging park fees, etc., but also by the classical capitalist method of raising the prices just to get in and now the obligatory use of an agent.

Mainland Ecuador

Mainland Ecuador has up until now been a different story. Show up at a port, fly your yellow “Q” (Quarantine) flag, receive the Port Captain’s petty officer for a brief inspection of boat, crew and papers, check into Immigration and you are set to be a tourist for 90 to 180 days. No hassle about importing your boat. No mandatory fishing licences. No park fees. The Port Captain’s fees are minimal. No anchorage fees. In fact, it’s been rather like cruising in Canada. By comparison it is a minor inconvenience that there is no Migración in Bahía itself and you have to get over to Manta, about two hours or more away by bus.

At Bahía de Caráquez there is a virtual-marina called Puerto Amistad. “Virtual” because there are no docks, no breakwalls or the like. But Tripp Martin, the ex-cruiser and ex-pat American who owns it along with a local partner, has set out about 24 mooring buoys in front of his up-scale restaurant in the huge estuary of the Rio Chone, provided dinghy-docking facilities, showers, laundry, fuel/water delivery, etc. The holding in the Rio Chone is great even if you want to leave your boat long-term at anchor and travel to Peru or the Ecuadorian sierras.

Life is calm and quiet in Bahía, personal and boat safety is tops, the bureaucracy has been barely present and the local prices have been reasonable and stable. It does cost $30 a pop to hire a pilot to get you in or out of the silted-up river mouth and, since Ecuador is not a “cruising ground” like British Columbia or New Zealand (i.e., there aren’t that many places to visit along the coast), most people come to find a safe and inexpensive place to park their boats while they fly back to Europe or the States for a summertime visit or to trek to Machu Picchu). Nobody makes day or weekend sailing jaunts out of this harbour.

Mooring costs shooting up

Local prices have stayed quite stable (you can eat a set two-course lunch with a freshly squeezed juice at local restaurants for $1.50 a person; you can travel by executive bus to Quito for $9 a head). But boating costs are inflating sharply. A couple of years ago the river pilot cost $5. It costs $30 now. A mooring ball at Puerto Amistad, for example, cost about $100 monthly two years ago (and included showers and dinghy docking) and dinghy-docking fees (with shower usage) for anchored-off boats cost only $1 a day. That same mooring ball now costs $210 monthly, however, and the dinghy dock costs $2 daily. Tripp Martin is cagey if asked about further increases but points out that Salinas (i.e. Puerto Lucia) charges much, much more and is introducing a liveaboard charge of $200 for moored-off boats. For moored-0ff boats!

So, cruisers are gritting their teeth and expecting “marina” prices will go up again next season even though general price inflation in Ecuador is very low (under 5% p.a). It remains to be seen just how elastic demand for moorings and dinghy docking really is.

No fuel to be sold into portable tanks

Pump prices for diesel are $1.04 anywhere in Ecuador; Super and Regular gasoline are about double. There has been no fuel dock at Bahía since the earthquake and El Niño damage back in the 1980s and ‘90s. Puerto Amistad would therefore deliver jugged diesel to your boat for a slight mark-up over the pump price. To fill up their portable outboard-motor tanks, most cruisers simply dropped by the nearby gas station themselves. Commercial ships were supplied with un-subsidised fuel at Guayaquil but there was no provision for yachts to get in to that fuel dock.

Apparently there has been a lot of smuggling of cheap fuel to Colombia where the prices are not subsidised. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that the smugglers were using 5-gallon jerry jugs on a large scale! To put a stop to all this, however, the federal government has now decreed that fuel will no longer be pumped into portable tanks. Gas stations are now only allowed to sell into built-in vehicle or vessel tanks. Outboarders and catamaraners are out of luck and so, it would seem, are cruisers who need diesel in a harbour with no fuel dock whatsoever.

The rules apparently apply to locals and foreigners alike. I am not sure how local panga fishermen are dealing with this situation, but I certainly see no reduction in the number of pangas heading up and down the river. The panga passenger-ferries plying the Rio Chone (operated or licensed by the Armada del Ecuador) are also all still using portable tanks and so, I discovered yesterday, is the Armada del Ecuador itself in its outboard pangas.

Of course, this being Ecuador, you can get your outboard fuel from penny-ante profiteers who sell fuel straight from their truck or car tanks. For a price, of course. Puerto Amistad has always delivered diesel to your boat. The rules to prevent on-selling have actually created an incentive to do exactly what it was intended to stamp out. But the hassle and the price for cruisers coming to Ecuador has just shot up.

No fuel for foreigners at all

Given that retail fuel is subsidised in Ecuador, the Ministry of Petroleum has decided that foreigners cannot benefit from these subsidies. Yachties are now required to pay the full, unsubsidised price the way commercial vessels already do in Guayaquil. God only knows what that price might be. Maybe it is still cheaper than in the USA. But no service station is willing to take on the hassle of running a fuelling station with two sets of prices. One assumes that “foreign” means “foreign-flagged”. Local service stations refuse to get involved. Not that it matters much in Bahía since there is no fuel dock and you can’t buy diesel or gasoline in jugs. Go figure!

One assumes that these are “green table” decisions, i.e., decisions made by distant bureaucrats sitting at green-beige-covered desks without realising the full impact of their deliberations. That’s about the best slant you can put on these stupid rules. The worst is that foreign yachts are being targeted.

New level of government hassle and expense for yachts to cruise in Ecuador

If you think the new rules about portable fuel tanks and subsidised fuel sales are classic green-table decisions, you will love how cruisers are now faced with even more bureaucratic hassle and a sharp increase in prices for entering and leaving Ecuadorian waters.

The Ecuadorian Admiralty has decided that the rules governing the movement of large foreign-flagged commercial freighters, tankers and reefers should now be applied to everybody including private pleasure vessels as well. (The legal basis is “Armada Del Ecuador, Dirección General De La Marina Mercante, ‘Maritime Traffic Information System Ecuador, International Traffic’ (Sitrame) in case you want to look it up in English.)

The first rule has to do with giving prior notice when entering and navigating in Ecuadorian territorial waters (200 nm limit) and getting advance permission. Like their giant brothers, sailboats and trawlers now have to give notice by “electronic mail, telex or telefax” two hours before entering these Ecuadorian waters along with the GPS waypoint where one intends to enter and the anticipated GPS waypoints for every two hours along the anticipated route. Any deviation must be reported promptly by “electronic mail, telex or telefax”. For yachters with no “electronic mail, telex or telefax” aboard, the permission will have to be acquired before leaving the last port. How en route deviations are to be reported is unclear. The prices for marine telex machines has shot up around here.

Never mind that many small pleasure vessels do not carry communications equipment that can reach 200 nm. We certainly don’t! The best we could do on our 35-foot classic wooden sailboat is a VHF radio with a range of about 25 nm. Nor, given the vagaries of winds and currents, are sailboats likely to be able to predict their positions accurately even for a day in advance let alone for the several days needed to traverse that 200 miles or more to reach harbour. The Armada del Ecuador understands the problems with sailboats and will be lenient, says at least Tripp Martin of Puerto Amistad in Bahía, the Bahía agent-designate. Not sure how he knows that.

That brings up another issue. Harbour entry and departure rules that up till now have only been applied to commercial vessels are now to apply to yachts and small private motor vessels as well. Although the Admiralty wants these rules applied, they do not fancy actually having to deal with cruisers themselves: yachts too are now also required to hire an agent. Since there is no agent in Bahía (the nearest one is in Manta, two hours away by taxi), the Port Captain has simply closed the port of Bahía de Caráquez. No entries or departures until there is an agent.

This bureaucratic cha-cha has been going on for several weeks. Foreign-flagged yachts showing up all unawares off the mouth of the Rio Chone from Costa Rica or Panama have been denied entry and denied a pilot. So far we have not seen any Ecuadorian yachts at all although local fishing smacks and pangas go in and out at all times of the day or night. There is even a hot rumour that a yacht claiming an emergency was sent packing. Eventually a couple of yachts got into Bahía after first having to detour to Manta, hire an agent ($150 in their case) plus normal harbour entry fees (lights & buoys, port captain, etc.) to bring the total up to over $200 where it would once have been about $25 (depending upon the size of the boat). They then sailed back to Bahía. Three vessels wishing to put out for French Polynesia or Easter Island in the last weeks were also prevented from leaving for days or weeks because the port captain refused to deal with the yachties. It amounted to a de facto detention. The Port Captain says the rules now require an agent. No agent, no entrada or salida. Forget the fact that there is no agent in Bahía.

For some reason the local Port Captain has apparently also designated Tripp Martin at Puerto Amistad to become the agent. Tripp avers he doesn’t want to take on the job because cruisers will only blame him personally for agency fees. On the other hand, if he does become the agent he intends to make money at it, he announced to cruisers recently.

Although he now seems willing to do the job, getting the agency set up has taken a long time and is still not functioning as this is written. The Bahía agency is to be a sub-agency of Johnny Romero’s agency in The Galapagos.

The new agent-designate however has stated that the agency will be open for business in a few days and he will be charging initially $150 for a return trip into Bahía harbour (i.e. his price is for one round trip entry/exit). Cruisers note that one has to add another $30 each way for the pilot at Bahía (not necessary in Manta or Salinas). Also, many boats sail down to Salinas to use the haul-out facilities and boatyard there. Add the agency fees for each port-of-call and the costs start mounting. As Senator Everett Dirkson once replied to questions about mounting budgets, “A million here, a million there. It begins to add up.” Cruisers are understandably more than a little chagrined.

Tripp says he has no alternative: either he takes on the job or there will be no more boats entering or leaving Bahía at all and his business will be ruined. And, as to prior notification, Tripp says most boaters let him know in advance anyway so he can have the pilot standing by. Leavi9ng aside that only Bahia requires a pilot, cruising boats could show up in the past in the “waiting room” outside the Rio Chone or call on VHF from a few miles out. And surely there is a big difference in kind now between informally contacting Puerto Amistad sometime up to the time of arriving off the port, on the one hand, and getting permission in advance for entering Ecuadorian waters and being compelled to use it as an agent to get the permiso. Since most boaters these days have SSB, ham or onboard email, says Tripp Martin, there’s really no problem.

Puerto Amistad’s aim is to stay in business and make a profit. To do this it needs to provide services to cruisers. Cruisers, by contrast, are trying to keep their costs down, to avoid bureaucratic hassle and maintain their freedom of movement. They do not believe that anyone is taking their interests in all this to heart. The new regulations taken individually or together, they are convinced, will impact tourism in Ecuador negatively. In fact, cruisers are really pissed off. Many are swearing to leave (if and when they can somehow get fuel, and when and if they have the dinero to hire an agent to get a salida/zarpe). Most are saying they have changed their plans and intend not to return as long as these rules are in effect. And every cruiser knows of a few boats that have already opted to stay in Costa Rica or Panama this season rather than risk not being able to get fuel in Ecuador or be saddled with unnecessary agency fees. The word gets around pretty fast.

Some boaters also fear a conflict of interests where Tripp Martin is the agent. Tripp wants to have customers for Puerto Amistad. Wen business gets tougher, who is to say that a boat that declines to use Puerto Amistad while in Bahía will be able to get prompt service or indeed any service when the time comes to clear out?

Bottom line

It is hard to imagine how Ecuador can benefit from this nonsense. Cruising yachts have an urgent need to buy fuel in portable jugs. The new rules actually encourage contraband sales. The principal beneficiaries of subsidised retail fuel in this country are the Ecuadorian car-owners, not surely the neediest people in this country where car ownership numbers are low and basically concentrated amongst the well-to-do classes, not the poor. And surely the costs of administering the unsubsidised sale of less than 5,000 gallons of fuel annually to foreign-flagged yachts is hardly worth the administrative effort.

Boaters, as usual, are discriminated against the way foreign car drivers or foreign airplane passengers are not. Rent a car here and you will get your fuel at local prices. Rent one in Colombia and tank up across the border in Ecuador and you will receive not a moment’s hassle. Drive or fly to Quito or Guayaquil and you might have to sacrifice your nail clippers or knitting needles. But no one will require you to give your GPS waypoints in advance or to acquire permission to enter the country in advance, terrorism or no terrorism. Nor will anyone stipulate that you must use an agent to clear you in. It’s not that other countries never do stupid things like this, of course. I have always for example resented having to pay the US Customs Service $25 annually as a misnamed “User Fee” every calendar year. I don’t want to use them. No car drivers or arriving airline passenger has to pay this stuff. So again, why boats?

Is this goodbye to paradise?

Some of the attraction of making the long side trip to Ecuador has definitely rubbed off. Yes, the weather, the local prices and the people remain the same: benign, low and friendly, respectively.

But budget sailors – aren’t we all? – are set to take a drubbing. There is hassle and much higher costs for entering Ecuador and moving around by boat in the country. Add to this the fact that marina prices are rising much, much faster than local prices (at Puerto Amistad by about 50% per annum whereas price inflation in the country generally is under 5% p.a.). Salinas is shooting up even faster.

Ecuador is not exactly on the major yacht routes. As its charms became known (cheap, temperate, hurricane-free, interesting tourist spots inland, low bureaucratic hassle and, in Bahía at least, personal and property security) the number of cruising boats arriving here has increased in recent years. About 200 boats a year now pass through Salinas and Bahía; most spend at least six months here and spend a lot of money in the country. Now that fewer boaters will be going to The Galapagos under the new regime, Ecuador is even less likely to find itself on the main South Pacific sailing route for cruisers. The rapidly-rising direct boating costs (marinas, etc.), the higher price of fuel and the difficulty of even being able to purchase it are severe disincentives for visiting this country. And don’t forget the expensive obligation to use an agent and to report one’s movements to Big Brother in advance for tracking. Yachties ain’t goin’ to like it. I'll wager they’ll vote with their rudders.

While countries like Mexico and Canada have actually been reducing barriers to boat-born tourism, Ecuador seems to think that all of this will have no effect whatsoever. My bet is that is will have a negative impact.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Monday, 09 July 2007

Our plan to head toward The Marquesas in French Polynesia (FP) as from mid-August or early September this year is very much up in the air. Weather-wise we would be relatively safe in The Marquesas during the cyclone season because, like Ecuador, the archipelago is close to the equator and hurricane-free. The SE Trade Winds, on the other hand, start to die out by mid- to late-September and, without them, we would be faced with beating to windward or, worse, motoring. It is 3,000 Nm to Fatu Hiva and a month-long sail. With bunker capacity of about 60 US gallons, we simply couldn’t carry enough diesel fuel to motor it. We have to sail it using the SE Trades. This is certainly feasible as long as we leave here by mid August or so and make no stop at The Galapagos.

We can stay in Ecuador until mid-November. The core problem now has more to do with French-Polynesian visas. If you are a non-EC citizen you can get a 30-day visa just by showing up in FP. You can also get a 90-day visa for FP from the French Consul-General in Quito, but with no extensions after reaching the islands. Do you suppose the Gendarmes would just jettison us out of the islands into the approaching cyclones when the three months expires. The French! Finally, for longer periods, you can apply for a Carte de Sejour for any length of time and it might be granted. That’s nice of them.

The hitch, however, is that you must apply through a French consulate in your "place of domicile", which in our case would be Frankfurt, Germany. The consul there has told us by email that we must present ourselves personally to make an application that will in any case be forwarded to the High Commissioner or other poohbah in French Polynesia.

Going to Frankfurt seems a bit much just to make application. And sending the originals of our passports by post to Germany and back seems a little risky, not to mention that we are legally required to be able to identify ourselves with a sedula here in Ecuador at all times. And why, for heaven’s sake, make us go to Germany when the decision is going to be made in Papeete, the French consul in Frankfurt acting simply as a messenger boy?

Oh, well. Maybe we shall just have to wait till the spring and sail to FP from Panama under the 30 or 90-day plan. In this Plan B, we would sail to Panama while the winds are still favourable, i.e., still from the south. They remain so until about late October or November and then go around to the northeast, i.e., ·"noserlies" for us. I don’t fancy motoring or motor-sailing to windward for 600 Nm. So we would have to be out of here before our Ecuadorian visa expires.

Plan C is to leave Vilisar here in Bahía again and take on another house-sitting gig somewhere interesting. We have been eyeing Italy and possibly Argentina, the former just because we like Italy and the latter because it is very inexpensive and we have never been there before and everyone says it's nice. While house-sitting we could concentrate on writing and internet work, order new sails for the boat and fatten up our cruising kitty.

Stay tuned.

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Monday, 09 July 2007

The good news is that the wooden mast repairs have now been completed. The actual work took about 20 hours and Karl from S/V Muk Tuk has done a great job.

By far the biggest problem was getting the materials. After exhausting all the sources I could identify around Bahía and Manta, I undertook an overnight dash (9-10 hours each way) by bus to Quito to return with several bundles of re-cycled fir or spruce.

Getting the epoxy was just about as problematical. But Brian Woodward of S/V Ikarion told me that George Stewart, the ex-pat Canadian manager of Stewart Yates & Servicios SA in Salinas, a boatyard, would sell me some. I gave him a call. A charming fellow from British Columbia. Brian then said that he himself would pick up the epoxy on his way back from Guayaquil.

That plan almost collapsed when Brian became the victim of a drug-caper in the big city. Several ladies slipped a “mickey” into his coffee one afternoon at a café along the very public Malecón in Guayaquil. In small doses this drug is used to treat seasickness. In larger doses it is like truth serum and makes the recipient more-or-less putty in the hands of someone else. There have been one or two incidents even around quiet Bahía and we have heard of the drug being used even in English pubs. It's called the Date Rape Drug in some countries. Fortunately, a security guard at a big store noticed the bizarre behaviour of the group and called the police. They arrested the three women who were busy making a lot of purchases on Brian’s credit card. He is all right, fortunatley, but has basically no memory at all of an incident that lasted about twelve hours. Who knows how what they might have done with him when they had maxed out his credit card! In a case here in Bahia last year, the robbers set the drugged cruiser adrift in his dingy with no paddles and no motor hoping he wold drift out onto the Pacific. I thought it was pretty plucky of Brian to stop by George Stewart’s place after all that and bring back the epoxy for me. He is taking a ribbing from other cruisers about how he is going to explain the three girls to his wife.

With both wood and epoxy on hand, by the time I myself arrived back in Bahía on Sunday afternoon, Karl had finished all the gluing-up and had only one or two small things left to complete. The twenty hours of actual woodworking and gluing have eaten up some five weeks.

Sure looks good though. It now remains just to give the mast lots of paint, reassemble the standing and running rigging and re-step the mast using again a couple of other sailboats. This is becoming almost routine.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, Monday, July 09, 2007

It’s good-bye William. After six weeks with us in Ecuador, son William, 15, heads back to New Orleans to Band Camp. William is a now a high-school sophomore an hour away from New Orleans in Picayune, Mississippi, where he lives with his mother and his older brother and sister, Andrew and Antonia respectively. Being the youngest kid in the family has some advantages: after everybody else has flown the nest, you get to spend time alone with your parents. Andrew, 20, is jobbing this summer in his college town, and Antonia, 17, having just completed high school, is on an extended tour back to Europe before starting college in September.

The photograph of William may come as a surprise to some of his friends who perhaps knew him when he was younger. He is 15 now and bigger than his parents! Also, now that he can wrestle Dad to a standstill, Dad claims he is now too old for that sort of thing. And, warning: Don’t take William on in cards or Scrabble. Deadly!

The original plan for the summer was to sail with William to The Galapagos Islands, a week away from Bahía de Caraquéz (which is on the Ecuadorian mainland). Unfortunately, the repairs on the mast have taken up all the time William had available for visiting with us. We tried to make up for it by spending a week up in Cuenca in the Central Sierras.

Life as always in Bahía was quiet. Dad was busy with boat things (as usual), Kathleen was proofreading (as usual) and William spent lots of time at the cyber café chatting with his friends around the world and loading up his i-Pod with music.

On the way back from Cuenca, we saw William off at Guayaquil airport. He should be home and attending Band Camp by now.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Guayaquil, Ecuador, 07 July 2007

A little Vilisar history

I mentioned that I have been in email correspondence with Joe May, one of Vilisar´s previous owners and now a resident of Alaska. He gave a potted history of his years aboard Vilisar with his wife Sandra. I got the photo off the internet. Not sure how old this photo is but it was he was still competing in the Iditarod dogsled race.

Vilisar history:

June 12, 1987: Took possession from Bill Taylor of Maple Bay, B.C.

June to September, 1987: B.C. & SE Alaska

Winter 1987/88: Hoonah, AK. Interior work and wiring.

May to October 1988: B.C & SE AK. southward.

Winter 1988/89: Friday Harbor, B.C. & Port Townsend, WA. Overhauled engine.

May 1989: Trucked boat to Lake Michigan necessitated by illness in the family in Wisconsin.

October to December, 1989: Illinois River to Mississippi to Ohio to Tennessee to Tombigbee to Black Warrior to Mobile River to Mobile, AL.

February to November, 1990: Mobile to Tortugas, Gulf etc. then north to Chesapeake Bay.

Winter 1990/91: New Bern N.C. Built wind gen & overhauled engine on "Sheherazade".

May to September, 1991: New Bern N.C. to Sturgeon Bay, WI. via Hudson River, Erie Canal, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron.

December 1991: Trucked boat back to Port Townsend WA.

Winter 1991/92: Port Townsend. New mast.

May to July 1992: Port Townsend to Prince of Wales Island via B.C. coast.

July 1992: Purchased Thorne Bay (SE Alaska) residence. Set mooring block in anchorage and moved ashore.

1992/98: Short trips, fishing, grocery & supply trips mostly in the Wrangell/Ketchikan/Sitka area. Routine maintenance Organized and ran "Great Northern Boaters Net".

June to July 1998: Thorne Bay, AK. to Bainbridge Island, WA. for sale of boat.

Many miles, many harbors, many people, many adventures, mostly good, a few best forgotten. 1998 was just a year to turn a page in a life of many chapters. Vilisar was better when I passed her on than when I took possession. That's the proudest thing a wooden boat sailor can say. We live now on a homestead a hundred miles north of Anchorage at the end of a gravel road with a salmon creek on one side and a sandhill crane sanctuary on the other. Sandra, my wife, is an ex-patriot Brit and a sculptor and painter of no small ability. She teaches art classes in the community, gardens in season, and fears not for the anchor dragging in the night anymore. I've made a life's work of turning pages. Licensed Merchant Marine captain, gold miner, homesteader, trapper, dog musher. Some ventures more successful than others but always with satisfaction and a joy for life....Joe May (June 2007)

SV Caracolito

The photo of Vilisar was taken while she lay at anchor in the estuary of the Rio Chone at Bahia de Caraquez. You can visit the photographers, Pierre and Helen of S/V Caracolito out of Toulouse, France. They are now on the way to French Polynesia with their tiny new-born daughter Eleanor.

Cuenca & Guayaquil with William

Kathleen and I are in Guayaquil today after a week with our son William in Cuenca in the Central Sierras of Ecuador. Cuenca was for years a forgotten gem hidden in the Andes. It is an archtecturally harmonious "colonial" ciudad that reminds you somewhat of a middle-sized Italian city. Very enjoyable but much colder than the coastal region. Take something warm to wear, especially at night since Ecuadorian hotels assume everyone is as accustomed to the alpine climate as a sherpa. In addition to visiting museums and natural alpine thermal baths, we played a lot of Scrabble on our travelling Scrabble board. I regret to have to admit that William turns out to be a brilliant player of this game. Don´t bet against him, is my advice.

Today we are relaxing in Guayaquil. William leaves by air tonight for New Orleans after six weeks with us. Unfortunately, the promised voyage with him to The Galapagos Islands has not materialised since the mast is still lying on sawhorses in the yard of the local Club de Yate. Now that we have the wood AND the epoxy, till now the main causes of delay, the mast can now be repaired and re-stepped. At the speed at which things happen in Ecuador we should have everything re-assembled by next spring. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, 01 July 2007