Cruising Profiles: Akvavit Photo Under Sail

Contessa 32


(The Water of Life)

Skipper: Bob Owen

Homeport: Montreal

Vital Statistics:

Cruising History

Bob left Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1987 heading South to warmer climes. His itinery took him down along the Western Coast of the US - a final stop in San Diego for supplies and then the big jump into Mexico. Like most crusiers, Bob loved Mexico and the genuinely warm, and friendly people that you meet everywhere. Then there are all of those 'happy hours' on neighboring boats in exotic places like Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Acapulco.

The plan is to 'work' your way down the Mexican coast and then get ready for the big jump across the infamous Gulf of Tehuantepec that lies between Mexico and Guatamela. This stretch of water is dangerous because the land that separates the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean is relatively narrow here and wind tends to funnel in from the Atlantic side creating a wind tunnel effect. 'Normal' weather here can be 60 knots right off the beach! The shallow bottom on the Pacific side means heavy chop inshore and steep seas offshore. So the normal strategy is to hug the beach - staying about 1/2 mile offshore! 'You wait for a good weather report and go' - hoping for the best.

But, that crossing opens up a cruising area that most Polynesia-bound boats never get to: Costa Rica and the Islands of offshore Panama. Cruising being what it is - no plans, or rather new plans on the spur of the moment - Bob decided to go through the panama canal after reading a book on its history and construction. His timing could have been a little better, because not long after he got into the canal the US invaded Panama! And, Akvavit was being circled by helicopter gunships. There were a few days when Bob and several other yachties became one of the 'on-the-scene sources' for the world's press - transmitting reports on their ham and marine SSB radios. Luckily, even though there were a few close calls, Akvavit and Bob managed to exit into the Atlantic without a bullet hole!

One of Bob's favorite places was the San Blas Islands, just off the Panama coast.

Back thru the canal to the Pacific and then the run toward New Zealand. Stops at the Galapagos islands, then 3000 miles of ocean to the first group of French Polynesian islands: the Marqueses. Then, the usual cruising route to New Zealand that goes through the Tuamoto Atolls (low and Dangerous), Tahiti (everyone's dream), Bora Bora (a spectacle of color), the Cook Islands, Tonga and New Zealand.

In the past, this dash from North America or the Panama Canal to New Zealand was done in a single sailing season - from April to November - a very short 10 months. This mainly because the South Pacific Cyclone season begins in November and previously the authorities in French Polynesia would not allow cruising yachts to stay over the cyclone season. This was unfortunate because the Eastern Pacific rarely has a cyclone and a 'summering over' among the palms and lagoons of Polynesia is everyone's dream. Perhaps the authorities, in their wisdom, realize that! Imagine the turmoil involved in removing all those boats from 'paradise' after the cyclone season is over.


Indeed there is life after reaching that once reachless goal of sailing across the Pacific to New Zealand. While many American and Canadian cruising boats are unceremoniously packed up and shipped back to their home ports as deck cargo on large container ships, for most 'blue water' cruisers New Zealand is a good reprovisioning spot for further adventures into the nearby islands: Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia.


On the East coast of Australia: it was past midnight and I decided after reading the local pilot book that it was safe to enter a shipping channel which crossed a bar - a feature of many eastern Australian river mouths. The swell was running at about 2 meters and the pilot indicated that the bar should be safe to cross in those conditions. As I approached the bar, I kept a close lookout. Suddenly without warning I could see white water - I was on the trailing edge of a cresting wave! And, another was about to break behind me. With the adrenaline turned up to maximum, Akvavit did a quick turn and motored to safety. 'That was the longest three minutes of my life!' said Bob.


Akvavit's electronics are protected by STO.P Protectors


Here's Bob's list of personal favourites: