Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A glorious, sunny Sunday morning. We’ve moved once again--this time to the marina at Nuevo Vallarta. There are no open slips here, but our friend Bugeye John from Gualala arranged for us to raft up next to his boat. We get electricity, water and all the conveniences. We just have to climb through his cockpit to get to the dock, no problem at all.
We had to laugh when we took a look at the two boats, ours and John’s, rafted up together. “Bliss” meets “Euphoria.” So California!
There are a number of other boats rafted up here. The marina has had to remove some of its docks after they deteriorated beyond the point of safety, but they’re in no hurry to replace them. Instead they just raised the slip rates and started allowing raft-ups, at the same price.
Another old acquaintance from Gualala, Fred, was down here on vacation with his new girlfriend and he stopped by John’s boat this morning. He looked happy and relaxed, resplendent in a new Hawaiian shirt, only a litttle wistful that he has to go home to the frozen north tomorrow.
I’m planning to take John’s three-day First Aid at Sea course this week, while Jim accomplishes some of our perpetual list of boat projects. We signed up with the Yacht Club across the channel for Internet service so we can get in touch with our customers and getting some banking tasks done. Then we may go back to La Cruz for a few days before taking the boat back north.
An hour before we left La Cruz, I had been visiting “Niki Wiki,” talking knitting with Terry, who gave me four of her prized collection of books loaded with patterns, a couple of pairs of knitting needles and some beautiful hand-dyed wool. I was going to select a pattern for a shawl and she was going to help me get started. Our sudden move to Nuevo brought that arrangement to a halt. But they have to come to Nuevo sometime this week to pick up paperwork, so they can stop by then, though I’ll miss them as I’ll be in class.
“Niki Wiki” (a Gulfstar motorsailer named after their departed cat) almost took my breath away. Jim and I wanted to see how the cabin was designed, to add to our growing list of design ideas for the 43. For comfort, they have two Laz-E-Boy type lounge chairs on one side of the saloon, complete with footstools. A huge galley, with plenty of counter space. A queen-size bed surrounded with storage cabinetry, all beautifully finished. A diesel Gen-Set generator that’s probably bigger than our diesel engine! The whole boat is a masterpiece and an inspiration.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Aerial view of La Cruz, from www.lacruzdehuanacaxtle.com. We're inside the rock breakwater.
Tomorrow we'll have been in La Cruz a full week, and have settled into a comfortable routine here. The day we arrived, we found many boats in the outer anchorage, but noticed the breakwater was mostly completed and there were a few boats inside it. Last year we were here at the same time, and couldn't go ashore because the surf was too rough for a beach landing and the docks hadn't been built yet. We motored inside, found the depths were ok for our shallow-draft boat, and dropped anchor. Most of the time, during a week of gusty winds, our boat has barely rocked, as though we were in a marina slip! We're a minute's dinghy ride to the beach or dock, and best of all, it's free. No doubt when the new marina is finished here, everyone will be assigned a slip and the free visit will be a thing of the past. We have neighbors who have been here for seven weeks!
Our worn-out autohelm made the prospect of sailing further south look more like an ordeal, and we were considering staying here in Banderas Bay until time to head home. Then a couple contacted us over the radio saying they'd ordered an autopilot motor and received the wrong size, after waiting weeks for delivery. They brought it over this morning, it works perfectly and it looks like we're back in business.
This means we'll probably go at least as far south as Barra de Navidad, where we started out last year. The Capt. will be happy, as it hasn't been all that warm here in La Cruz, and I'm also very fond of Barra. But I've found a lot to like about La Cruz, too. Here's a website that gives a bit of an overview of the town. It's popular with cruisers because of the relatively comfortable anchorage, and much more affordable than nearby Puerto Vallarta. In addition to good Mexican restaurants, there are eating places for folks favoring German, French or Italian food and even a British pub. Philo's, a downtown cafe, has very reliable WiFi and a lot of other services for yachties, such as showers for a buck (towel provided), propane delivery and such. There's live music and open mics at a few places in town. Yoga classes, massage and a gringo who'll bring water to your boat (fresh water in our tank, oh boy!). No 8-story condos or hotels tower over the beach. But it's probably only a matter of time.
Bucerias is the next town over. It's bigger and more spread-out, offers more services such as ATMs and banks. The annual Bucerias boat festival was Wednesday, with decorated boats, kids in costume, three solemn masses and blessings on the sea, the land and the fishermen...pretty much everybody got blessed.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
The route we traveled this week, La Paz to La Cruz
The gang's all here! Dozens of sailboats are anchored off La Cruz in Banderas Bay when we arrived Monday.
We took a long walk through La Cruz, getting used to walking on land again after five days
We just spent the past four days traveling south through the Sea of Cortez into the Pacific, trying first to reach Mazatlan, then Chacala, then finally any piece of dry land would do. The Capt. has referred to the patch of sea outside Isla Corralves as his least favorite sailing grounds. But we’re in an El Nino year and ferocious weather and waves can’t be isolated into a single region anymore. Back-to-back northers have made sailing anywhere in Mexico into boot camp.
But, as in boot camp, we learned a lot. Such as, how much we can trust the predictions of the Internet weather services like Sailflow and Buoy Weather. They both said Wed. and Thurs. were going to have light winds and flat seas, with another norther due Friday afternoon. But where we were, Wed.-Thurs. lull was apparently cancelled. The first day out, we took videos of the house-size waves that loomed up behind us, picked us up like a toy and shoved us forward. Following seas, we thought, would speed us on our way. But instead of being powered by Northwest winds, which would have carried us quickly southeast to Mazatlan, they shoved us straight south into the Pacific and any effort to counter them and bear east brought severe punishment.
If you can imagine living through an earthquake that lasts four days with no letup, that’s what it was like. Unlike in a house, on a boat one expects things to go crashing about, so we started out with everything lashed down and tucked in. Or so we thought. Time after time, the water jug in the galley would scoot across the cabin sole, blocking our way, followed willy nilly by the garbage can. The coffee mugs on their shelf crashed into each other until I expected to find nothing but pottery shards. But hey, those cheap mugs are tough! The storage unit that held our toiletries in the head went flying and the entire head seemed to have imploded. I'd clean it up, look again an hour later and it had imploded again. The microwave kept trying to escape its shelf and I watched it nervously every time I was in the galley. On the foredeck, the dinghy, all 100 lbs. of it, was rising and crashing down again directly over our sleeping berth, but it wasn’t safe to go topside and try to lash it down better.
Why didn’t we turn back to La Paz, you might well ask. The only answer is “blind optimism.” La Paz was due for at least another week of cold, clammy weather, not what we’d undertaken this journey to find.
At least we were going south, we reasoned. Eventually the norther should peter out. Then we’d cut straight east and get to the mainland, we didn’t care where. The Capt. would announce that at our present course, we should reach, say, Chacala, in 48 hours. Then the winds would require that we adjust the course five or ten degrees, and the estimate would change to somewhere further south. At one point I serously wondered whether we’d end up in Guatemala.
Finally, on Day Four the Skipper rousted me and put me on the helm while he hoisted sails. We made a sharp turn right into the wind, due East and motor-sailed toward Banderas Bay. The waves had flattened somewhat, but now we were going against them and it was a tooth-jarring ride, accompanied by icy rain and rising winds. But at last we saw the prominent headlands of Punta Mita. Land ho!
What we learned: How to make like a starfish when you’ve got a three-hour sleep window and your comfortable berth is tossing you around like a rag doll. You spread your arms and legs wide so that at least you can’t be rolled around, and you’ll get some rest, if not sleep.
What to do when a reefing line breaks loose from the mainsail and wraps itself around the prop shaft as you’re motorsailing at five knots with 25-foot seas behind you so close you can reach over the stern and touch them. You put the gear in reverse! “That works sometimes,” the Capt. said hopefully, so I did it while he jerked the line and it came loose.
How to adapt when you lose the relative luxury of steering by automatic pilot. I had been grumpy about three-hour night watches, but at least the first couple of nights I spent them at the nav station snugly wrapped in my serape, watching the radar, not up in the cockpit with the wind and icy sprays. The autopilot did all the steering. But then it started going haywire. The Capt. methodically took apart the mechanism that goes on the wheel, having had some success with adjusting the belt before. But this time, though he changed the belt, cleaned all the components, oiled them and put them back together while I hand-steered, nothing could make the device hold a steady course. The result: a long day and night of hand-steering, done mostly by the Capt. as it required his skill to quarter the waves and try to bear southeast while keeping sail trim. Feeling guilty to be relatively warm and dry below, I spent my time picking up after each big wave caused objects to go flying.
He kept his sense of humor in spite of the cold and wet. Once, he informed me, a squid landed splat! against the back of his neck. Later we found another one, still alive, about 3" long in the cockpit staring up at us in terror. We tossed him back into the sea.
One time I looked up at the Capt. at the wheel and he said, with a manic grin, "Now this is real he-man sailing!"
What to eat when you’ve been queasy for two days and cooking is a major ordeal. A couple of baking potatoes, added a little butter and crema (our Mexican substitution for sour cream) turned out to be the ultimate comfort food.
How to find out if there are any islands in a dark anchorage, when they don’t show up on radar. We entered Banderas Bay at night and spotted a cruise ship, lit up like a Christmas tree. We watched it until it disappeared and then realized it had passed behind a large black object ahead of us! When cruise ship reappeared again in a few minutes we could see the outline of a large rock not in the guidebooks, but indicated on our chart as Roca Corbatena. It was supposed to have a light on it. Unsure whether there were any more unlighted rocks or islands, the Capt. had me steer toward the cruise ship and watch carefully to see whether it disappeared again, while he studied the chart and set up a course on the GPS to take us into Punta Mita anchorage.
The best thing I heard all day was at 3:45 a.m. when he announced, “Well, let’s drop the hook here, shall we?” We were so exhausted after four days of being constantly in motion that just turning off the motor and experiencing zero knots per hour was a thrill. There was a bit of rocking, but it was more cradle-like.
After eight hours of sleep, a major effort to bring order back to the boat and a big breakfast of french toast, bacon and eggs, we are beginning to feel human again. Neither of us had been able to consume much more than crackers and tea in the last 48 hours and we were both weak from hunger.
Now we can string words into a coherent sentence, pick up the litter and make some plans. We found that the boat itself can handle almost anything (here’s to Charlie Morgan!) It’s our systems and methods that need improving.
And our attitudes, particularly mine. I learned a lot about myself and my reaction to fear and pain. The second day out, I was thrown to the floor of the cockpit by a preventer attached to the boom, and bruised the ribs on my right side. That pain plus the queasiness had me miserable, until I was called upon to take the helm or deal with a dire emergency. Adrenaline is a marvelous painkiller.
These were probably the four most terrifying days I’d ever experienced in sailing. I felt awkward, fumbling and unequal to what was required of me. The Capt., too, had close calls: falls, “boat bites” that at one point left blood spots all over the cockpit, even queasiness.
As I admitted to the Capt., I was a wuss and a whiner, but I’ll try to do better next time. No, I’m not ready to quit and there will be a next time.
This just in from my sister-in-law, who lives in Greenwich Village (blocks from Ground Zero):
What the hell's been going on out there? Get off that freaking boat before it kills you, man. What the hell you doing? Might be exciting for you but for me it just looks like trouble from here. How can I tell you to take care of yourselves when you allow your lives to the whims of God and sea?
Now you just stop it.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The City of La Paz from the waterfront, with its twin-towered church
Sailing into Bahia de La Paz, we passed a hotel where a Ballet Folklorico was being performed
A bass player with his cohorts in downtown La Paz. I've always had a weakness for bass players.
A wonderful grouping of bronze statues in downtown La Paz, with no plaque to honor the sculptor
The Old Man and The Sea, redux with a happy ending, I hope
La Paz! Capital of Baja, arguably my favorite city in Mexico. (Arguably because I haven’t seen a lot of Mexican cities yet, and probably won't.)
To get here, we had to meander through the very shallow bay trying to find a channel deep enough for our modest 3’11” draft. At one point our depth finder showed 2’9” and we dragged, but we pulled out of it.
We took a slip at Marina de La Paz, our favorite place to dock because of its proximity to downtown, affordability and comforts. It’s not posh, but it offers very clean bathrooms, a reasonable restaurant right on the dock, a friendly cruisers' club that does some good in the community and it’s only a block from the beginning of the Malecon, the tiled walkway along the beach. The plan was to duck in here until the weather eased up, then make a dash across the Sea to Mazatlan. Looks like that weather window is tomorrow and Thursday.
Our friends from “Came to Believe” (a Morgan 41) have been here for weeks on the same dock, so they stopped by shortly after we settled into our slip at the top of the dock next to the launching ramp. We’ve gone out with them for a couple of meals and caught up on their adventures. At a local swap meet we were given a legal copy of "An Inconvenient Truth" and we invited them over to watch it one evening.
If I’m fond of La Paz, it’s not because of the weather. We’ve been cold and damp ever since we got here Saturday, but conditions are much more comfortable than nine years ago when we stayed out in the anchorage and rode the dinghy to get ashore, through choppy waves, cold winds, rain, everything the weather gods felt like throwing at us. Now we just walk up the ramp and we’re on terra firma.
Tomorrow morning at “0-Dark-30” in the Skipper’s words, we’re going to head for Mazatlan. So today I walked the Malecon and took photos of the changes I found in downtown La Paz. They’ve got Burger King, Applebee’s and Office Depot now. But they also have developed a very attractive waterfront for the arriving cruise ships and the rest of us crusty boat bums. My favorite landmark along the Malecon is a bronze of an old man in a lifesize paper boat, gazing with mad optimism out to sea. I couldn’t translate the entire poem that appeared at the base of the statue, or find the name of the sculptor. But I love the joy in that old geezer’s face. Hope my photo does him justice.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Eco-Mundo's round straw-bale headquarters
Mulege's little plaza, with bandstand and sculpture of two dancing white geese
You can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need.
Sunday we took the dinghy to the beach in search of two things we’d read about in a boaters’ guide: Eco-Mundo, and a bakery.
Eco-Mundo, out of curiosity and the very practical necessity of offloading some trash and aluminum cans. We can’t expect at every stop to find a place where our trash can be recycled, but we weren’t about to miss a place where it could. We landed directly in front of Eco-Mundo’s round straw-bale, thatched-roof building and found it was closed for the season, but the trash pickup was still going on. About ten thatched shelters in various stages of repair, which a sign informed us could be rented for 75 pesos a week, lined the beach on both sides of the headquarters. Most were three-sided sheds with the open side facing the beach, very basic, but there are showers (solar, we assume), a little lunch counter (organic, no doubt) and other amenities when they’re open.
We wandered the entire community, which is composed of two streets lined with stone houses and a utility/storage yard, sniffing the air for the fragrance of sticky buns and hot bolillos but if there’s a bakery, it’s not open this time of year.
What we found instead was Diana from Moscow, Idaho, who has been staying in her boss’s vacation home for a winter break, with her sister, nephew and a friend. (I can only imagine what Moscow, Idaho is like this time of year!) She manages a motel there, lives in an apartment above the lobby just as we used to do in Gualala. She invited us to ride to Mulege and I grabbed the chance to see the town our friend from “Inclination” says is the best place in Baja.
The six miles from Posada Conception (the name of the little community on the beach where we’re anchored) to Mulege is only about six miles, but seemed longer. Highway One here in Baja is very much like it is in Northern California: steep and winding, with few guardrails and sweeping views.
Finally we were in Mulege, looking for a carwash, an internet cafe, a half-gallon of milk and information about replacing our inverter. We found a lot more.
Mulege is a fair-size town that McDonald’s, WalMart and Blockbuster passed by. We arrived during siesta, so there weren’t a lot of people on the street; in fact when I photographed the zocalo, it looked deserted, though I could hear kids shouting as they played basketball in the enclosed court adjacent to the square.
The Capt. remarked that it reminded him of Costa Rica. This, of course, would be Costa Rica in 1991, when we were there last. Mulege obviously appeals to fishermen and tourists on a budget with its many cantinas, restaurants, small hotels and tiendas selling clothing, pottery and curios. I came to a halt in front of a mannikin on the street wearing a beautiful serape the color of the sea, in a soft, cuddly yarn that’s probably acrylic but the wool ones tend to be scratchy. It cried out “Take me home, you’re going to need me,” so the Skipper negotiated a good price and it was mine.
After checking our email at the Internet cafe, we asked a nearby gringo if he knew where inverters might be sold. He turned out to be owner of a Mexican food restaurant near the square and very informative. He doubted any store would have inverters but suggested we look at a bulletin board at Saul’s Market, a few blocks away.
The bulletin board turned out to have exactly what we were looking for! A fisherman named Marty was advertising a 2000-watt unit.
”We could run air conditioning on that!” said the Capt. And make ice, microwave pocorn and brew cappuccino, using our diesel or even the power from our solar panels and wind generator.
We gave Marty a call on the nearby payphone, he was in and promised to meet us at Saul’s in 15 minutes. By now Diana and her family were waiting for us at the carwash. The afternoon was getting chilly but I was wrapped snug as a cocoon in the new serape.
Marty pulled up in his green camper, The Doors belting from his stereo system, and gave us a gap-toothed (lots of gaps) grin. He pulled out an inverter he swore was brand new, but unused because he’d decided he’d go with propane instead of electricity for cooking on his 24-footer. He ran us over to the carwash so we could ask Diana to wait for us, then to the ATM and back to the carwash, raving the whole way about his boat, fishing, the landmarks of Mulege and the joys of life in Mexico. We learned he was from Coos Bay, OR.
I was thankful that Diana was willing to wait for us. Marty had offered to drive us back to Conception. This man was a genuine throwback to the hippie generation, complete with ponytail, grizzled face, squinty eyes and air of being more than half-stoned. When he said the name of his boat was “Mary Jane” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), I decided I’d walk back before I’d ride those twisty six miles with him. There was no panic bar in his truck, I was squeezed between him and the Capt. in the tiny front seat and he was too busy giving us the fifty-cent Mulege tour to pay much attention to his driving.
Diana didn’t seem at all put out that we were a half-hour late, and we gratefully climbed into her van for the trip back to Posada Conception, where another surprise awaited: the tide had gone out, and our dinghy was sitting in the mud, far from the water. We had to drag it back into the water and then came the fun part, mucking our way through about another quarter mile of ankle-deep water until we found a spot deep enough to allow the dink to float. I had always been warned about stingrays that bury themselves just below the sand’s surface and react with understandable outrage when stepped on by a clueless, barefoot human. But it didn’t take long for me to put stingrays out of my mind, with the cold wind causing my teeth to chatter, and the vision of our sailboat ahead promising a hot supper and warm bed.
By the time supper was ready the wind had developed into the fierce storm we had been expecting, several hours ahead of schedule. But then when has weather ever obeyed a schedule?
This morning, after a somewhat restless sleep interrupted by various bangs and thumps on deck in the 40-knot gusts, the Capt. made another happy discovery: we have WiFi! Right here in the anchorage, we can go online. And yes, the new inverter works. Life is sweet.
Friday, January 05, 2007
A short post today, but with photos! We’re in Bahia Conception, a little community of mostly snowbirds, strung along a pleasant little beach. These houses are vacation homes, but most are made of stone and look like they could survive almost any weather. At one end is EcoMundo, a little retreat with palapas, showers, ecological-minded trash and recycling and a round straw bale house. It’s closed for the season, but they have ecological events here that sound very interesting.
We met a lady from Idaho on the beach, and she invited us to drive with her to Mulege this afternoon, which will give me a chance to see the town and post my blog at an Internet cafe.
We were anchored a short time outside Mulege yesterday, hoping to buy some oil, and the Skipper managed to get his jug filled for 150 pesos (about $15) on a nearby fishing boat. They carry their oil in 55-gallon drums. If we were further from land, the fisherman might have been more interested in trading for chocolate, but this close to Mulege the cash looked good to him.
We leave in ten minutes, says the Capt. sternly, so I’ll grab my sandals and go now.
The photos: the community at Bahia Conception, with a palapa in the foreground that shades a little hotspring where you can dangle your feet. Also an example of the houses here: a quirky mock mission complete with bells on top.
Approaching Point Conception, heading for Mulege, of all places! We were expecting to be halfway to Mazatlan by now, but things happen, and here we are in Baja.
The tradeoff for spending months on land in a comfortable house that stays in one place is that my first day at sea is often miserable. My stomach must adjust to the motion, and while it might not be head-over-the-side seasickness the way some have experienced it, the sensation is uncomfortable enough to make me want to sleep and forget about food. In other words, I’m pretty useless as First Mate and galley slave. The Capt. even had to do the dishes. He was extraordinarily gallant, letting me sleep while he scrubbed the cockpit, once we were underway. Then when I woke and stumbled topside to see what progress we’d made, I saw that he had attempted to do some painting. Urgh! The paint odor made my stomach clench. Then I looked back to see how far we’d gone and that was enough to drive me back to the berth. San Carlos looked so close, after four hours of slogging along, I could practically see our house!
The Sea of Cortez was rough all day, with the kind of chop that swooped the boat up and then dropped her in a corkscrew motion; yet with minimal wind, we had to motor to gain any headway. Having just done a major overhaul on the diesel (back to three cylinders instead of one) we were making good time until the Skipper’s well-trained ear caught a discordant sound and he checked the oil. Almost empty! Having seen Omar the mechanic add oil when he finished his work, this was puzzling. He shut her down, put up the jib to keep us moving, and began adding more...and more...and more. Finally he realized the drain plug had popped out, and his fresh new oil was running through the system into the bilge! Caramba!
Lesson learned: while the Capt. is filling the oil, I should watch the drain plug and see if any is coming out.
While he plugged the drain with a finger, I searched madly for a magnet in his tool bag. “Orange handle!” he said. “One end looks like an antenna!” What? Nothing in the bag resembled a magnet, so I just dragged the whole kit over to him and he pulled out something that looked to me like an orange-handled screwdriver, except that a bolt was clinging to the business end.
“See? It’s a magnet,” he said. He poked around in the muck for a moment and found the plug. One problem solved. The other dilemma: our oil jug was almost empty. We ended up using every drop and topping off with some two-stroke oil we keep for the outboard. Deciding it was unwise to continue a long journey without a backup supply of oil, he decided to head across the Sea to Concepcion, where we could replenish our supply instead of keeping our southern course to Mazatlan. For a while, I was disgruntled, thinking he hadn’t had the foresight to bring enough oil, but the jug he’d brought held plenty more than the diesel needed. It was inadvertently filling the bilge that used it all up. I confessed I’d misjudged him.
Last night I felt enough recovered from the queasiness to take my three hour watches, nine to midnight and three to six. I bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants, slipped into the Skipper’s down vest and made myself as comfortable as possible in the cockpit, dazzled by the full moon behind us and its silvery path across the sea. We were still jolting along like a stagecoach on an old potholed road, but the night was beautiful and I was determined to stay awake for my full watch.
I was trying to avoid using lights in order to keep my night vision, but this ruled out reading or using my computer. I was startled out of a doze by a green light on the starboard side that seemed to be coming from a white tower, about 50 yards away. By the time I realized it was another sailboat with a green mast light and its mainsail up, we were bearing down on it. Nobody on deck, the boat seemed to be sitting still in the water like a ghost ship. In a panic I called for the Capt. and he jumped out of the berth, rushed up topside and peered at the apparition.
“What is it? I don’t have my glasses on!”
By now I was feeling foolish. Lesson learned: what I should have done was calmly make note of our course, disengage the autopilot, take the wheel and turn away from our collision track, then reset the course, all without making a fuss. Which is what the Capt. did, of course, without grumbling.
Then later on during his watch, he attempted to use the inverter, which had already been fried earlier . A piercing shriek woke me up to the smell of burning electronics filling the cabin. So I guess we’re even.
The high point of the watch was when I heard a splash, looked out to port and saw a whale. A large dorsal fin, a huge rounded back glinting in the moonlight, a big patch of disturbed water. Dorsal fin? Does this mean it was a killer whale? I kept watching and the fin appeared again, four times, a few yards away as though he were following us. I stared at the water until I was nodding off, but he had better things to do than entertain me.