Season Two: Mexico
For our journals in sequential order, read from the bottom up or use these links to jump around the page. When you reach the end of an entry, click on the "Next journal entry" hyperlink to go to the following entry.
1st series: November 25 - February 24th
2nd series: March 9 - April 1
3rd series: April 6 - April 11
(Steph) It has been a few days since the whirlwind Acapulco trip to recover our missing sail, but here's the synopsis: we have the sail!
Here's the rundown for those of you who can't get enough of tales of the Mexican postal system (I know you're out there). Woj dropped me off on the beach at 0600 so I could catch the 0700 bus to Acapulco, a 4-hour bus ride. I arrived in Acapulco promptly at 1100 and took a taxi straight to the main post office. I looked through pages and pages of names for whom packages were waiting. Not surprisingly, our names were not listed. But I had spoken to someone in Mexico city, the one person out of about 5 who had actual, solid information about my package, and he said that it was in Acapulco. I trusted this man. I was not going to give up without a fight.
I started talking to one of the people behind the desk, the first one I encountered in this quest who spoke some English. Cool! Anyway, he told me that they didn't have the package, blah blah blah, the same stuff I'd heard on the phone a million times. But then one of his cohorts overheard him and me talking, and recognized the name and the address we were discussing. Apparently, one of the many people I'd spoken to the day before had actually put in a call to locate the package. They spoke together for a minute or two, and then decided that if my package was in Acapulco, it must be at another office called Sepomex. They gave me the number and the name Oscar. Unfortunately, I had been given Oscar's name and number the day before, and had no luck getting any information. Then, I had an idea. What if I just showed up at his office? I'd had much better luck communicating face-to-face than over the phone, so I thought I might as well find this guy in person. I got the address, flagged down a taxi, and away we went.
Turns out I was headed straight for the bowels of the Mexican postal service system. I was shown into a warehouse where they were actually sorting mail. I wished soooo badly I'd had a camera. I was introduced to Oscar, the manager of the place. I started telling him my story, about how a package had been sent on March 8, had cleared customs on March 19, and since then no news had been heard. As I was speaking, I looked down at his desk and saw Woj's name and the tracking number for the package sitting smack dab in the middle of his work pile. Someone else had called this office trying to help us! Wow, my faith in the workers of Mexico's postal service was really starting to grow. Oscar asked for a description of the box and sent someone away to look for it.
While waiting, we talked about my travels as he initialed letters and signed his name on many dotted lines. He also asked me if I knew several other yachts who apparently had mail waiting for them at this black hole of a warehouse. I wished I did, because I really don't know how those people will ever find their mail. The only reason I did was because Woj and I decided to take matters into our own hands. And my Spanish skills got us pretty far, too. I've never boasted about my level of Spanish, because it's not that great. But compared with most cruisers down here, I'm damn near fluent. I don't know how we would have gotten this far without the pathetic level of Spanish I've achieved.
After 20 minutes, I started to get anxious, thinking that I might be more effective looking for the package myself, and so offered my services in going through their big box warehouse. He laughed me off, said no, and excused himself. He came back about a minute later with ... the package!!!! I couldn't believe it. I really never thought we'd see the darn thing again.
The rest of the day entailed me dragging around the giant, heavy package and trying to find canned chicken. I never found the canned chicken, but I'm happy to report that our sail is safe and sound.
Today, we've been running around like mad hatters trying to get ready for a Tuesday morning departure. Chances are slim we'll manage to leave by noon, but we'll try our darndest.
Photos below were all courtesy of Jeanne and Metso --
Sailing Neriede with Metso and Kelli
Wojo playing in front of a tough crowd of all musicians
Mr. Zihua -- Juanito (© Metso)
Goh at the final performance of the festival at the zocalo (© Metso)
Kelli playing at Baracruda (© Metso)
Goh playing a gig (© Metso)
(wojo) Yesterday we really had an exercise in managing bureaucracy. Although an "investigation" is currently underway by the US postal service as to where our packages may be currently, we decided to take matters into our own hands in the meantime. Our brilliant ideas included having Steph chat up the local aduana (customs) office at the airport ($7 cab ride in and $15 to get back). At least she was able to determine that the packages were not being held at customs anywhere. Next we decided to use the local post office for any leads. The people working there were most gracious and helpful and at least pointed us in the right direction and gave us the number for the central postal service in Mexico City as well as the one for Acapulco. (Steph: I have never had to stretch my Spanish skills so far. It was like an all-day workout. I kept wanting to give up because it's so embarrassing to ask people to repeat themselves over and over so that my pathetic listening comprehension will finally catch up. But Woj was a good slave driver, not letting me walk away without completely understanding the people I talked to, making me call every single phone number thrown at me, etc. etc.)
Back at the boat Steph found someone in Mexico City who was actually able to track the big package to Acapulco. Now we're getting somewhere. So, Steph is off to the big city of Acapulco with all our hopes with her to recover our drifter sail for those first light airs (1000 nautical miles to the trade winds from 105 degree west here) and our second flopper stopper (OK, she's also trying to get our Angel season five DVDs ...).
Now, onto more pleasant goings-on ... Last night was just one of those nights you can't experience unless you get out there and mix with the animals a little bit. After treating ourselves to a movie (Blade Trinity, lots of shots of people walking around to electronic music looking really cool in this one) we had a couple tequila shots around old Zihua and met up with Jeanne at Rick's Bar.
Jeanne and her little friend
There was a rumor that one of the guitar festival bands, Gypsy, was putting on a free show around midnight at one of the bars next door. It turned out not to be the case, but we found ourselves milling around El Centro with some of the festival musicians just the same.
We ended up staying out 'til around 0400 playing music and chatting up [my guitar idol] Goh Kurusawa and Kelli Ali. Kelli is formerly frontwoman for the band Sneaker Pimps that a few of us enjoyed a few years ago. She's now focused on doing her own solo, pared-down music and is traveling Mexico putting together the sounds of her next album.
Late night fun in Zihua (left to right: Wojo, Steph, Kelli, Jeanne and Goh )
Kelli's partner Metso is also the official photographer for the festival and was busy getting the perfect late night shot of everyone playing on the malecon in front of the gorgeous playa de municipal in downtown Zihua. Vive la rock 'n roll.
Friday afternoon will see this same group (and Steph and I, of course) aboard Jeanne's yacht and having a booze cruise around the bay.
As you know "... dawn comes early on a boat -- every morning just about sun up ..." and today was no exception. After two hours of sleeping as quickly as we could Steph and I headed back across the bay in Bonobo to get her to the bus to Acapulco by 0630 (ugh ...).
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The places we've seen so far have been great but the people we've met in these past eight months of cruising have been totally amazing. If you go cruising for only this reason it's completely worth it.
Dozens of little boxes of super sweet cereals (fellow cruisers: yes, the boxes were discarded so we don't bring aboard any nasty critters).
(wojo) Folks, I don't even know where to begin this week. We have a few things going on right now: trying to get out of here and head to the Marquesas, tracking down our lost packages (including our new sail) between Mexico and Acapulco, and hitting the Z-what guitar festival as much as possible this week.
Although things are crazy right now, underneath it all we're having an absolute blast in old Z-Town. We've made lots of good friends here already and Jeanne from sy Nereida is always up to something fun and interesting every night (and she's a great dancer).
Provisioning for a long voyage means enjoying massive sausages! (Steph) Atkins at sea.
The second annual Zihuatanejo guitar festival was kicked off on Sunday night in Ixtapa. It's hosted by the famous Rick of Rick's Bar and, for Mexico, is incredibly well organized. There are about 20 performers from all around the world. Since it's such a small town we've even been able to get to know a few musicians this week as well.
The laziest snorkel'r in the world ... there was a gorgeous bright yellow fish swimming around the boat today and we were too tired to just jump in.
(wojo) Hard to believe that it's already April and that we've only got about a week left of the Mexico cruising season. What a ride it's been for us true rookies. If nothing else I hope that anyone thinking of making the trip down here will be inspired by the fact that if we can do it than anyone can. I've started working on a little informal cruising guide to everywhere we've been and some lessons we've learned along the way. I'll post it here in about another week or so.
Z-what is really a great little town but it's growing so fast that I'm scared that it'll look like Cancun in a couple of years. You can find just about anything if you ask around a little. The Mexico Boating Guide stated that there wasn't much for provisioning here but they were dead wrong! There's a big "Commercial Mexicana" (a K-Mart of Mexico) and even a place called "Bodega" that's owned by Wal-Mart (scary).
Steph has been amazing about getting super organized and leading the provisioning charge. Today we completed our fourth and last trip into town, each time with the dink filled to near sinking. She's even managed to find a home for every bag, bottle and can for the supplies that are to last us up to three months. Can you imagine trying to buy three months of supplies for your house or condo? I'm starting to feel a little Mormon.
We have been having a little fun each day though. Yesterday we snorkeled the reef on Los Gatas for the second time and even saw a huge honeycomb moray eel with Jeanne. Later we had a most excellent meal on sy Nereida complete with curries and many drink courses (I highly recommend '100 anos' tequila). Jeanne is such a pure joy and I know she's a friend we'll keep in touch with for a very long time.
It's definitely starting to feel more like summer. The days are getting much warmer and the sun is almost directly overhead. With the boom out of the way just a little we're able to get nearly a full charge from just our big hard solar panel. Normally we put out the full array of flexible ones as well.
Playa de Ropa in Z-What
(wojo) No one ever said that cruising would be easy (at least no one who's ever actually been cruising anyway). Last night we received word that Jeanne of sy Nereida was coming into the Z-what anchorage after dark. We wanted to be able to guide her in and made VHF contact about an hour after dark. Getting excited about seeing our old mate again I rushed off in Bonobo across the bay to the pier to buy ice to start chillin' the cervesas. On the way back (I don't have the best track record of these kind of night trips on my own in the dink) the outboard suddenly died. I wasn't too worried since I brought the little gas can along for just such an occasion and I even had a little light so the pangas wouldn't run me down.
I should have know by the sound the motor made as it died (none, when it runs out of gas it usually runs really rich right before it dies) that I was in for trouble. I topped her up but she was dead as a door nail. Not the slightest sigh or cough ... I assumed that in one of our many less than graceful beach surf launching we'd put some seawater into the little gas can and this was now in the motor ...
But what I think 'really' happened is that we let a bit of gas sit way too long in the bottom half of the outboard's integrated gas tank. Gas will separate after a couple of months into one part gas (and oil if it's a two stroke like ours) and one part water and alcohol! I think this explains why it immediately died on the spot and was impossible to start again. I quickly found myself in my usual position sitting on the floor of the dink rowing two miles back to Mico and Steph, oh well.
The next day (by the by, Jeanne safely made it to anchor the previous night off Playa de Ropa) Steph and I set to work in earnest draining all the gas from the full tank, cleaning the stop cock and all the fuel lines. After reassembly we managed to get a little cough and the motor turned over. But the motor was still very difficult to start (I didn't actually get it to start after the first time for about an hour). Eventually what seemed to work was treating it like it was flooded and shutting off the fuel cock with the throttle at full while pulling like mad.
We had a very nice day in town with Jeanne and the other cruisers from sv R Dreams, sv Wanderer and sv Fifth Element and when we returned I took the dinghy for a nice long high speed bash 'round the bay to get some good fuel in the system. It's basically back to running as good as it was (which isn't very good). But, I did notice that there was some 'varnish' around the carburetor which isn't a good thing at all. I really want to pull the carb for a full cleaning but I don't feel good about doing it without a Tohatsu shop manual (can't believe I didn't pick one up before leaving). So, I think we'll struggle with it 'til I can order one and have it sent along in a couple months with the next mail drop.
Note to future cruisers: before you head out bring lots of spares for your outboard since having a dead dink is depressing. I suggest getting a shop manual, spark plugs, the right tools (I have only imperial stuff and the outboard is all metric), a carb rebuild kit, a kit for the water pump and an extra fuel line. Also bring some carb cleaner (like Gumout or OHC 'engine tune').
When cruising around in your dink it's also a good idea to carry a few "oh shit" items: can of WD-40 (spray liberally after surf landing/launching soaking), little bit of outboard oil in a bottle (put this into the combustion chamber when it gets soaked), spark plug and plug socket wrench, bottle of water (in case you get stuck out there for awhile), and first aid kit. Trust me, having a few spares onboard to get limping home is much better than rowing a rubber dink for miles up wind in a swell.
(wojo) Phew ... after weeks of short day and overnight hops the 210 miles from Barra to Z-what seemed like quite a haul! We'd left after hearing Don Anderson's forecast for 20-25 knot NW'ers day and night. Unless our wind speed indicator is broken (which it is, actually) we never saw more than 5 knots in two days, from the south!
Oh well, it was a pretty uneventful passage and at least we now have even a little more confidence in our trusty old Mrs. Perkins (our diesel engine). With the price of fuel at an all-time high, however, we would have enjoyed more sailing.
We arrived in Z-what and anchored near the NE section of the long municipal beach. We'd spotted some nasty bright, red tide in the water along the passage and luckily it seems to be dissipating. The swells roll right into the bay and we set to work immediately on getting the dink together so we could set our stern anchor (this was after both of our neighbors dropped by to ask it we need assistance getting it set). We cleaned up the decks and sails a bit, Steph threw together an amazing paella, we watched an episode of Angel and hit the bunk.
The next day we took the dink into town. There's a very calm dinghy landing next to the town pier where a friendly guy named Nate will watch your dink, and take your trash for about 10 pesos. We'd always heard great things about Rick's Bar so we set out to find it straight away. We met Rick and stayed on for lunch (Cheeseburgers in Paradise, of course). Rick also has a very helpful map of Z-what (in addition he can provide almost any service you could possibly want/need). Z-what is really a gorgeous town which a lovely malecon but I was still surprised to see how developed everything has become.
Couple of boobies
Things are pretty busy in Z-what this week since it's Semana Santa (the week leading to Easter) but we still managed to complete our check-in with the Capitania in about one day. They do make you jump through a few more hoops than we were accustomed to, however. You need to visit immigration first and get your despacho (your exit from your last port) stamped. The port captain also wants to see proof of insurance, which is the first time we've encountered this in Mexico.
Speaking of insurance, in case anyone else is debating how to handle this situation down here ... I'd heard a lot of different stories about exactly what you "must" have down here but here's what we've encountered: At every marina, we've been asked for a copy of our proof-of-insurance (this is the front page of our Mexican liability insurance we picked up online before leaving). U.S. companies cannot provide liability coverage so you'll have to find a reputable one and go local.
No one ever expects the insurance companies to pay a dime but basically it will keep you out of jail if an accident occurs (e.g., like t-boning a shrimper at night, which we came close to doing about a dozen times the night after leaving Barra). Mexico law is based on the Napoleonic form which clearly states that you are "guilty until proven otherwise." Without insurance you need to provide the cash on the spot for any damage or it's off to the clink until the case can be resolved (which could be months).
My friend Dave likes to say that "we write our plans in the sand at low tide each day" and I have to agree. We were planning to head down to Acapulco before heading further south to the Las Encantatas (Galapagos) but the provisioning is so good here it's looking like we'll just shove off from here. If so we'll probably rent a car and pick up our new sail and all our mail from Club de Yates in Acapulco after Easter, when things calm down a little.
(Steph) Melaque, Barra's neighboring town, has quite the St. Patrick's Day celebration, as St. Patrick is their patron saint (as opposed to the Virgin of Guadalupe, who can claim most of the other towns and cities in Mexico). The days leading up to the official day are filled with processions, parades, a carnival, a rodeo, and music.
Indian headresses, a shamrock banner and smocks bearing the image of St. Patrick. A cultural hodgepodge! (wojo) We just asked these kids on the street for a photo and they instantly assembled into perfect formation.
We happily made plans to meet up with our long lost friends Tom and Maggie on s/v Aurora b, and started the day with breakfast in Barra. We planned to spend the afternoon at Piper Lover's Restaurant, where Woj could find the only corned beef and cabbage for 500 miles.
Tom and Maggie brought along Bob and Diana from s/v White Swan, whom we haven't seen since we left the dock in San Diego. These are all friends we made when we first started off on this crazy adventure, so it's fitting that we managed to finally reunite near the conclusion of our time in Mexico.
After breakfast, we added Jeanne from Nereida to the group and perused the weekly Barra market, attempting to barter for necessities like fly swatters (couldn't talk him down) and tape measures. We found our way to Piper Lover's, got comfortable, and began a looooong afternoon of green beer and the signature green drink (consensus: ingredients unknown but despite that tastes good; alcohol level on the low side. Switch to beer). We were joined by our good friends Sherry and Jim from Mico's sister ship, Bailarina. From here, I'm going to let the photos take over to recount the rest of our time at Piper's.
Mmmm ... mint-flavored maraschino cherries. Dare you.
Jeanne happily puts up with the American/Canadian version of St. Patrick's Day, her first. (wojo) This day only confirmed for me that Jeanne is a true English Rose ...
Tom gamely attempts to keep his eyes open.
I only came into contact with the green beer to take this photo, swear it.
Where it would fall was anyone's guess. It landed on a roof. The roof didn't seem to catch fire, but we left soon thereafter because it was absolutely freezing. We had a lovely, full day celebrating St. Patrick's Day American and Mexican style.
Jim and Sherry -- the dancers with the most avant garde moves, if awards had been handed out. (wojo) Seriously, that Jim is a GOOD dancer. He acts like it's the last night of Burning Man.
Tower of fire. Each for himself. (wojo) I wish we'd shot a photo of the big finale which consisted of a fiery Latin cross lifting off slowly from the top of this monster and then landing on the roof next door starting a fire ...
(Steph) We left lovely Tenacatita on Tuesday morning and had an exhilarating sail on the short hop south to Barra de Navidad. At least eight boats departed Tenacatita at the same time, so it was quite the regatta as we raced down the coast. S/v Dreamweaver, out of New Zealand, got the first photos of Mico under sail.
A beautiful sail leaving Tenacatita (wojo) This was shot by our Kiwi friends on s/v Dreamweaver. We both left Tenacatita for Barra around the same time so, of course, a race ensued. They beat us to the windward mark but we still came out on top. Rick later blamed his wife for a "tactical error" as they waited too late to gybe into the harbor. I would have made the same mistake but luckily I called Jeanne on the VHF, before we made our turn into Barra, and asked her for advice!
Melaque is rumored to be quite the rolly anchorage, but our alternative was the lagoon in Barra that is really shallow, has poor anchor holding with a mud bottom, and gets 20 knots of wind every afternoon. We decided to go with Melaque and put out a stern anchor , as recommended by Terry and Tammy on s/v Secret O' Life. What a difference it made! (Wojo -- this was the first stern anchor we've ever set in our wee lives and it was pretty obvious to any onlooker, but hey, it worked.)
While everyone else swung around on their anchors, rolling with the constant refracted swell, we were snug as bugs. Putting out a stern anchor isn't ideal, and would definitely not be safe if you really need your anchor to work for you to its full potential. But with light winds and the calm state of the weather, we decided to keep it out unless conditions changed.
(wojo) Another beautiful day in paradise filled with adventure ...
After the usual varnishing today Jeanne dropped by and picked us up in Nereidaki ("little Nereida") to start the famous jungle river dinghy trip. A lovely day was spent drifting, rowing, and occasionally motoring through the estuary that is flanked by mangroves.
Snowy egret taking flight
Someone from the heron family (wojo). Send us an email if you know which one.
Jeanne (seven-year, veteran single-hander world cruiser) from Nereida came in just a few hours after us and has been treating us to ice cold beers of the world ever since.
Yesterday we took a hike with the other cruisers across the point, through the jungle to the large beach of the outer anchorage. We spotted our sistership s/v Bailarina rocking around in the bay. We stayed for lunch at a palapa and sampled the local specialty Rollo del Mar ("roll of the sea"). Who wouldn't love a seafood roll that's covered in gravy and wrapped in bacon! Carrot always loves to take a long hike and she definitely got her wish today.
Happy cruisers in Tenacatita. (wojo) The guy in the top right-hand corner is Terry from sv Secret O'Life. Meeting him was a real high point for me since I'd been reading his website for years back in the world! He's a great guy if you run into him down here and will only give you a slightly hard time if you eat it coming out of the surf in your dink ...
"The aquarium" reef in the outer harbor of Tenacatita. We missed it because the water was really cold and cloudy during our stay.
Today we decided to postpone the inevitable jungle dinghy trip, which is mandatory when stopping here, to put on another layer of varnish. Have we mentioned how huge this damn project is?! We have only four layers to go and then it's back to sleeping in and no more getting up at 0730 every morning to work for two or three hours.
After varnishing we decided that we needed to finally get the trash off and even dropped by our neighbors to run theirs in as well. There was rumored to be a few lonely trash cans near the ruins of the McHale's Navy sets (seriously, I have to rent that Tom Arnold movie now). The beach is great. The whole bay at this end is almost totally undeveloped. There is only one hotel which is off-limits to dirty cruisers. They do like to share their disco music with us every night, however. How nice of them.
We met up onshore with a few friends and stayed for a beer at the only palapa for miles (which was even so kind as to give us ten gallons of water for free). We took a long walk along the beach, found some awesome shells (Jill, you'll be seeing these soon), and noticed that it was low tide. We knew that getting the dinghy back through the surf line was going to be challenging so we carefully observed the sets and noted that the periods were somewhere around twelve seconds per set.
The occasional seven- to eight-foot dinghy buster sets were the ones we really wanted to avoid at all costs, so our strategy was to wait for a big set of three and then go for it. Our theory was pretty sound but in practice was something completely different. We launched Bonobo after some big ones came in (we were laden with 100 extra pounds of ballast due to our two jerry cans of water) but it was a long way to the breakers at low tide and we were not making great progress as we kept dragging on the bottom. Our usual plan is to put Carrot in the dinghy with paddle in hand to get us moving and keep us pointed into the surf until we're deep enough to float the outboard, at which time I'll hop in. Sometimes, if the breakers are shallow enough, that strategy sees us easily out into deeper water, clear of the surf line. But today, because we'd seen tons of stingrays hovering just below the tide line, I was just a little freaked out by the idea of stepping on one. I jumped in earlier than normal (i.e., before the line of breakers).
At this point the adventure began -- everything was in slow-motion but basically we took several big waves right on the nose and filled ol' Bonobo right up to her rubber gunwales. If the outboard hadn't started up right away, and we didn't have all that extra ballast, I'm sure that we'd have been hopelessly swamped or even flipped, both of which would have been a disaster. But, for every one you can walk away from ...
All of this provided great mid-afternoon entertainment for all the other cruisers on the beach.
Oddly enough, later that night I was finally able to get our weather fax software to start working with our little YachtBoy (full setup for just around $100, radio and software)! Pretty cool when you consider that a full SSB setup with install can run upwards of $7k and a dedicated SSB WX FAX is around $2k ... Here's an early sample:
(wojo) Hard to believe we've already been here for a week. Banderas Bay is finally in our wake after all this time. Luckily we still knew how to sail as this was our first real passage in a while and it was a twenty hour overnighter around the infamous Cabo Corrientes. We can tell you that, yes, there is wind on the mainland side of Pacific Mexico (we'd previously found almost none since leaving Cabo San Lucas months ago). The wind continued to freshen as we beam reached west around the cape. At 2200 we were reaching round the point nicely making seven and half knots over the bottom!
The night passed without incident and just after first light we arrived in Bahia Chamela. The weather for the previous couple of weeks had been cooler than normal and there was very little sun -- a pineapple express had been troubling the Sea of Cortez. From where we'd dropped the hook on the outside of the fleet we had a great of view of the islands behind us and the long, long stretch of white beaches.
sv Polar Bear at anchor in Chamela
Just as we were pulling into the anchorage we noticed a large boat with crew up the mast. It turned out to be our old friends on s/v Polar Bear of Sitka. They'd been trying to head north around the cape, beating into big seas and thirty knots of wind, when they broke a shroud and then lost the engine shortly after. That series of events will keep you on your toes out there. They reached back to Chamela and sorted out the issues in a couple of days. The next night Polar Bear dropped by for some cuisine a la Steph and to watch The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon playing in sync (have you seen it? Wow ... just don't forget to start the music on the third roar of the MGM lion).
Have I talked about my buddy Dave, yet? Man, if I was looking for a mentor he'd be tops on my list. He really has it figured out. Even though he'd probably the single most successful person I've ever known personally he is as philosophical, relaxed and thoughtful as anyone you'll ever meet. And he's an amazing musician and loves to jam. He's one of those friends where you just decide, instantly, that you like each other a lot from the very first moment you meet.
The next day brought some good snorkeling in the protected north side of the bay. There were so many stingrays it's amazing we didn't step on any as we were climbing out of the coral at the beach. Polar Bear held a perfect pot luck aboard their luxurious Tayana 52 and we met Jeannne from s/v Nerieda who's been single handing for the last two years. We also met Sigmund from s/v Mary T, who has just completed a 17-year circumnavigation. Sig is so cool, right after we met he stripped down, buck naked to not get his clothes wet as we negotiated the breakers out of the reef (which is actually a really good idea)!
The weather has just started taking a turn for the better (85 degrees and not a cloud) and we had an amazing and full day yesterday. I feel it's time for another list representing what a wonderful day here looks like:
0800 awake and start getting ready for the usual three hour varnishing (ugh)
0830 ... but wait! Here comes the Mary T of San Pedro tacking through the boats in the anchorage after sailing off her anchor ...
0835 the skipper Sigmund wants to head over to the islands anchorage for the day and offers to take us along. "Sig" is as interesting of a character as you'll ever meet. He's on the last leg of a 17 year (!!) circumnavigation. He'd just come from the Galapagos so he was full of useful info.
0850 under sail on the Mary T (Sig 'never' uses the engine unless something really bad is about to happen) to the islands
0915 Carrot is getting single-hander practice from the horse's mouth. The wind freshens to 20 knots and we're screaming across the bay.
1130 ... sail into the island bay and Steph drops the hook under sail. Quite a sight. The water is so clean here you can see the ripples in the sand twenty feet under the boat.
1300 s/v Polar Bear with Dave and Michelle and s/v Nereida with Jeanne aboard (so many single-handers down here) join us in the little anchorage.
1330 we spot our friends on s/v Bailarina (another Westsail 32 from San Francisco) and take a hike across to the other side of the island. The boobies are so tame here you could just walk over and pick them up (not that we actually did). The views are breathtaking, but of course we've forgotten to take our camera along -- we'd hate to break the trend so far and actually have some pictures.
1445 ... back to Mary T for some siesta time ...
1515 ... we are challenged by the Polar Bear crew on the beach to a game Dave invented he's calling "twelve pin beach bowling." Twelve nearly fossilized, bright white large half clam shells are the pins and you hunt around for a couple of nearly round rocks. It's a close match but Steph and I rally and pull out a win in best out of three.
1630 a nice round of frisbee in the crystal clear aquamarine water with Dave.
1700 the sun's getting lower so it's a lively beat back to the main anchorage on Mary T. Five tacks and we're home.
1800 Steph is tacking the boat expertly with help from Sig through the anchored boats. We anchor under sail again (twice in one day -- that's twice as many as I'd ever done this maneuver previously) ...
1830 the 'crew' puts the boat away and Sig creates a feast of delicious omelets and potatoes in the galley below.
2000 ... exhausted and feeling so satisfied we put the outboard back on Bonobo and head back to Mico to watch a movie and hit the bunk. Thanks for a spectacular day Chamela, you kicked our ass!
Alas as rare SE wind picked up today and it was time to bid adieu to our good friends who had been waiting so patiently to head north around the cape. Jan from Nereida stuck around an extra day before heading south and we decided to join her in the beautiful island anchorage south of the bay. Steph put together a quick picnic lunch and Jeanne provided ice cold Canadian beers. We even managed to not get too swamped coming and going through the surf this time.
On the beach at Isla Colorado with Jeanne from Nereida
Nereida and Mico Verde off Isla Colorado (sometimes it's very nice to be reminded of why you made this trip ...)
PS -- here's a link to a letter I wrote a couple months back to 48 North.
Since we've been making such great progress on boat projects lately (including finally starting the work of refinishing the massive teak cap rails and installing yet another fan and reading light just today) we treated ourselves to a day of play at Mismaloya yesterday.
For about forty cents you can take a bus around the bay to Mismaloya which leads to some spectacular jungle hikes up the mountains complete with waterfalls and sets from the movie Predator.
The littlest predator
When you get off the bus the locals are happy to point you in the right direction up the trail. The first waterfall stop is at Chino's Paradise where you can rest your tired feet in clean, cold river water and enjoy the scenery. A bit farther up you'll encounter El Eden with a slightly larger waterfall and super fun rope swing next to the bar.
Tarzan boy at Eden
Taking a break at Chino's Paraiso
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
(Woj) They fit! By Zeus they all fit!!
Three new stays in three days, not too bad for Mexico. It was a rewarding experience doing all the work ourselves as we'll know what to do when disaster strikes. I'll say that the learning curve was diminished as the stays progressed as evidenced by the fact that the forestay is a little too long, the jibstay is pretty good and the backstay (the longest stay on the boat) is as perfect as one could hope for.
We've been thinking about this work for so long now it's hard to believe that it's actually finished. The hardest part of the job was definitely the measuring. But, for some reason we were most stressed at first about the prospect of doing all the compression fittings ourselves but those are a joy to work with and brilliantly designed for the "home" end-user market. It also helps a great deal to have a nice long wooden run, like a dock, to stretch your old stays upon (the fifty footer we pulled into was perfect for the job). I'm also looking forward to not making three trips up and down the mast tomorrow.
Carrot's first Sta-Lok fitting
More than anything else in the last couple of months we've learned the hard way that if you're even contemplating a major project down the road (i.e., after you've started the grand adventure) then you need to be prepared. Bringing all the materials you'll need for the job is ideal but otherwise plan to have your stuff waiting for you at the next destination where you'll be performing the work (try to get it there at least two weeks before you're scheduled to arrive and it might just work out).
Sunset at Marina Vallarta
We're booked in Marina Vallarta 'til Friday but this place really motivates you to get out fast. What a dump! The security is non existent, the dock cleats are pulling out, it's expensive and there's only one set of filthy showers for all the docks. We also found it pretty amusing that the marina staff asked us for an $800 peso (about $80 USD) deposit for our marina keys ... come on!
I don't wanna get off on a rant here but PV also doesn't let you check in without using an "agent." This means that you can tack on another $40 to the port captain's fees ... ugh. We can't wait to turn the corner on Cabo Corrientes and see what's beyond in Mexico's "Gold Coast."
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
(Woj) YES, we're still in Banderas Bay ... ugh. But I guess it could be worse. The good news is that we've finally received our rigging package and have just installed the first of three new stays on Mico.
We checked into Marina Vallarta yesterday afternoon after spending two weeks in La Cruz. The first week Steph was on her own as I flew back to the US of A to thwart the customs folks and renew my passport. I returned to Mico with five bags of goodies. Lucky for us I had the 'passe' light (not 'revision') when I passed through customs at the airport! The airlines only managed to lose one box of our stuff (all our new Pacific charts no less) so it was better than average.
I enjoyed my brief stop back in the US but overall I think it mostly made me appreciate all the more the opportunity to keep traveling. My first night was pretty surreal since I stayed in my favorite hotel in west Hollywood -- The Standard -- and as I walked in (wearing my best rottie yachtie duds) a movie was being shot in the lobby. Later as I was walking by Skybar Sean Astin pulled up in a brand new Ferrari in which he was very awkwardly trying to perform a U-turn (I also saw Chuck Zito at the Rainbow later, too -- of The Sopranos fame).
The 'plan' is to finish up the rigging work in the next couple of days, provision, get checked out, receive our new sail and flopper stopper and then finally head south. If anyone reading this is ever planning a similar trip I'd highly recommend going straight to Chamela or Z-what from Cabo/Frailes and then work north. PV is a black hole.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit
(Steph) Despite the fact that we are supposedly "living the dream," morale has been a bit low lately. We had expected to stay in the Puerto Vallarta area for three weeks, which would have been perfect. Instead, we've stayed almost two months, mostly because we were totally unprepared for how difficult it is to get parts here. I realize, in the future and in countries even further away from the U.S., we will be pining for the days of ease and accessibility in Mexico. But man, right now, we be hurtin'. And the most disappointing thing of all is that an entire month has been taken away from our expected Mexico cruising schedule -- we won't be able to spend as much time as we'll probably want to in the best cruising grounds in Mexico (along with our friends, who all departed for those environs weeks and weeks ago).
The biggest problem has been waiting for rigging supplies (Lesson 1: If you did not have the foresight to bring your project supplies with you, exhaust every possibility of finding the parts in the country you're in). We contacted our U.S. supplier about two weeks before we arrived in PV, thinking that the parts would be waiting for us and we could efficiently go to work on our stays. Well, a month later, the stuff finally got in the mail, partly because there were some unanswered questions for us from our supplier (Lesson 2: use a phone, not multiple emails over what amounts to weeks, to order your parts), and because his supplier had given him a hard time about an invoice.
We had been told that our rigging equipment would be sent by a source experienced in the ways of shipping to Mexico. So, of course, they went right ahead and shipped via FedEx, exactly the WORST way to get anything shipped to Mexico (and I'll hazard to guess, anywhere). Two working days my ass. Try 10 working days and change. And then, to add insult to injury, we were not at the specified delivery location on the day it finally arrived, so went back to meet them the next day, as instructed, only to then be informed that they only deliver to that location once a week. Uh ... once a week? How the hell does FedEx have any business at all? I think of all the propaganda we were handed in that lame movie Castaway where FedEx is furiously driven and single-minded about delivering things on time. What a gi-normous LIE. And lastly, we had to fork over 1500 pesos (about $150 US) for duty on the package, which technically we shouldn't have to pay because we have a permit to import things for our boat. But FedEx is soooo focused on being efficient that they don't bother managing that step and just pay the duty for you, so you have to reimburse them to ever get your package out of their slow, customer UN-focused hands. Anyway, long story short, we got our package which was about the size of two large pizza to-go boxes. We could have totally just carried this stuff with us from the beginning, and circumvented this entire saga.
But, as usual, there is always something bright that can give us a little reminder about why we're doing this thing. Last night, I woke up to some strange sounds. A kind of bloop, bloop, and then a long, upward keening sound, kind of like a squeaky door swinging open. It was so regular, that at first I thought it was a sound emanating from the boat. But as I shook myself awake a bit more, I realized I could hear splashing outside. Could I be hearing whales singing?? I jumped out of bed, climbed into the cockpit, and sure enough, through the darkness, I could see some giant whitewater waves as whales breached close to the anchorage. I went back to bed as the whales made their way through the bay, and I could still hear them singing as I fell back asleep. Today, Woj and I went snorkeling one more time before heading back to a marina to work on our rigging. We could hear the whales' songs much more clearly, and we ended up just floating around with our ears underwater to hear their calls.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit
(Wojo) We're finally back on the hook and lovin' it! The first couple of days were quite stormy however, in fact we didn't see the sun once in the past week. I almost feel sorry for the tourists ... We are anchored in front of one of our favorite towns in the bay, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
Yesterday was one of those days that is difficult to describe to people who haven't been on their own extended adventure. We awoke from one of the best nights sleep either of us could remember after having spent a great night having pizza, drinking wine and playing guitar with our wonderful friends David and Shell on s/v Polar Bear. The night had been overcast and cool but calm with our new flopper stopper working merrily away at its task. Around nine though the wind once again started to build, first to 15 kts and then peaking with gusts to around 30 within the next couple of hours. The rain picked up as well and Mico had a nice freshwater rinse.
When the rain and wind finally abated we thought that perhaps the big cold front had finally passed us and soon we'd be enjoying the usual hot, sunny days again. However, as the wind died in La Cruz big swells started coming in from some other, much more unlucky location from around the Cabo Corrientes in the south of the bay. At first I just thought they were very pretty since the period was so long that we weren't getting tossed too badly. I even called Steph up on deck to check things out. The periods soon became smaller and the fleet was left with a bay full of uncomfortable massive waves (some may have been in the 8 to 10 foot range, but it's hard to tell when you're on your beam ends). All boats were tossed around mercilessly for the next three hours. I don't know exactly where the swells originated but I was glad to have not been there.
Then it happened. We were sitting around the cockpit trying to not be seasick when we heard a call on the VHF from a boat about to get rundown by another boat in the harbor that had fouled their anchor and was dragging. We listened for a couple more minutes, heard another boat respond with help and then checked out the scene for ourselves with the binoculars. The two boats were now almost touching. The woman who had issued the first call was trapped on her boat as the crew was in town with the dink. Steph decided that one of us should head over and offer assistance.
I jumped in Bonobo (Mico's dinghy), grabbed the handheld VHF and motored over. When I arrived an older gent had gone aboard the dragging vessel to try and start her up and re-anchor. No luck ... Word of advice, ALWAYS leave your key in the ignition when you're away on shore (maybe even a note next to the hatch on how to start her up if it's not completely obvious)! So now this meant that we'd have to try to move the boat with just our dinks. I was doing OK with our little dink keeping the dragging boat away from her neighbors but I knew that just the two of us would not be able to re-anchor her upwind in a choppy sea. I called Steph on the mobile and had her request more dinks to assist on the local net.
Not two minutes after I'd made the call to Mico the other dinghy that was on station got too close to the dragging boat's plow anchor (which should not have been pulled 'til more boats arrived) and was completely wiped out. It happened in a heartbeat: the port hull of the RIB was gashed, instantly deflated with such force that it flipped the dink and crew into the sea. Yikes.
I now started yelling at the guy on deck to drop the hook again and proceeded to pull the man and his wife into Bonobo. After the unfortunate crew was onboard Bonobo we searched around over the side for what we could salvage and quickly realized that with the big outboard underwater we'd not be able to right the foundering dink. I took the soaking wet crew back to their mother ship and other boats arrived to tow the overturned dink back as well.
The dragging boat had drifted downwind enough in the melee that she was no longer in danger of swinging into other boats. Within an hour the owner was located and the boat re-anchored.
As the day progressed the sun peeked out just enough to prompt the Polar Bear crew to drop by in their swim gear and take us to a nice beach at Piedras Blancas for a little swim and walk on the Saturday playa.
Back on Mico we quickly showered, changed and headed into town to hit Philo's Bar (owned by a former cruiser in La Cruz) for some music. I wish I could remember the name of the band but they were amazing! It consisted of a family from BC that plays Marimba from Africa and South America. They are passing through Mexico to expand their repertoire. It was so fun to see a family (including a six year old who does solos and leads!) all working in harmony and enjoying themselves this much. Ergh, wish I'd brought the camera with us that night but we'll remember it for a long time.
It was good to return to Mico after a very long day and hit our bunk ...
We awoke to a completely new world from the previous day. The sky was clear, sun shining. Time to make a big breakfast, hop in the dink and anchor her off our favorite snorkeling spot ...
PS -- we also had leaping manta rays and big tuna right next to Mico this morning. We shot a little video here.
(Wojo) OK, FINE. I'm coming clean. It's been over three thousand miles all the way from Seattle and I haven't changed the secondary fuel filter even once during that time. Nor did I ever manage to find the time to even learn how to do it while Mico was in her long repose at the dock in Shilshole Marina. Sheesh!
After running around PV once again (this time to visit the US consulate office and two hospitals to get our booster shots) and the 45 min bus ride back to Nuevo, I knew that it was now or never for changing that filter. I'd much rather have an air locked engine at the dock than on the hook somewhere. I assembled my tools, diapers and the filter and set to work in earnest. However, I had a little trouble with some of the instructions in the Perkins workshop manual -- namely that part about the filter being "self-priming." Well, I can definitely tell you that priming the filter is not an automatic process. I started the engine after changing the filter, it ran for about thirty seconds and then died -- I knew that I would now be learning all about the FULL version of bleeding the engine of its trapped air. Ugh.
I went through a few steps in the bleed process and thought I was doing quite well but the engine was still not even sputtering. The other nice thing about doing this at the dock is that when you kill your starter battery you can just plug it in again. Finally I admitted that I didn't know what I was doing and called our friendly neighborhood English mechanic "Teapot Tony" on channel 22. Earlier in the week Tony had completely rebuilt our salt water pump and did a beautiful job (he even had a new shaft spun for us after finding the old one was scored). I thought about calling one of my friends here to assist, but ultimately couldn't deal with the shame of making it this far never having changed a secondary fuel filter.
Tony came over within half an hour of my call and immediately took me to school. I would have saved myself a heap of trouble if I'd had actually filled the filter with fuel using the lift pump before trying to start the engine (Perkins owners: to do this you need to verify that the filter is completely full by taking the filter-to-injection-pump line off at the filter end w/o losing the fuel olive seal). However, it was good that this happened because Tony took me through the complete bleed sequence for the engine and gave me tons of useful hints and tricks (like keeping a wrench to use on the bleed screws permanently mounted on a tether in the engine room). After a few tries the engine roared to life once again. I was so inspired I even changed the oil afterwards in the 85 degree heat and cleaned up the melee before Steph came home.
PS -- ever wonder where we put everything on Mico?
Cocodrilo sighting right off our dock today! Steph shot a little video of the croc here ...
7 foot cocodrilo keeping watch of Mico
In other news, Carrot was recently interviewed about her past life as a Hardware Technician here.
Guadalajara, JAL to Guanajuato, GTO
(Steph) We finally took advantage of the safety of the marina and left the boat for a few days to travel inland. Guadalajara and Guanajuato were our cities of choice. We got a great dose of art, architecture, and urbanity. Both cities retained a lot of the architecture and city planning left by the Spaniards, so we often felt like we were walking around streets in Spain.
Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico. The sidewalks were packed with people at all times of the day -- from people heading to work in the morning, to families strolling the plazas in the evening. Woj had his shoes shined from one of 30 plaza-side shoe shine stalls ("Mira tus zapatos" was their logo: "Look at your shoes") in front of the central cathedral.
The central cathedral in Guadalajara
The central market is huge in Guadalajara -- get breakfast for $2, peruse the butchers' stalls for the freshest head of goat and then buy a Paracho guitar. We did all that. Well, we accidentally ended up in the butchers' area and were pretty happy to leave without a goat's head. But we didn't leave without a guitar! Woj managed to haggle us a guitar for a decent price. We are both excited to play again. We also went to traditional department stores for new bed sheets and bathing suits, at 1/3 of Puerto Vallarta prices.
We also managed to do some sight seeing. There are massive murals painted by the artist Jose Clemente Orozco in some of the government buildings.
The priest Miguel Hidalgo signs a document banning slavery in Mexico in 1810. Housed on the ceiling of the congress in the governor's palace (Wojo: in this mural Hidalgo doesn't look too confident to me. I think one of the slaves picked up on this fact and is trying to snatch the stylus away to finish the job)
Also in the governor's palace. This mural was painted in 1937. If you look closely, you can see a lot of Nazi and Soviet imagery, foreshadowing WWII (Wojo: if you can't see the mural sorry about the glare)
Another impressive example of the scale of Orozco's work. Housed in the Instituto Cultural de Cabanas
Public art is also prevalent in the many plazas and pedestrian-only streets. We took tons of pictures of sculptures, statues and fountains. We'll subject you to only two.
Woj made me do it. I don't normally kiss sculpture. But don't get me wrong, if you're into it, that's cool
The highlight of Guadalajara was our night spent at Bariachi (get it? A bar and mariachi bands, brought together. Brilliant!). At first, I was a little hesitant, because I can't say I'm the hugest fan of the mariachi music I've heard in plazas or had to endure awkwardly while trying to enjoy a meal as 5 guys stand over the table. But Bariachi had a stage devoted to their bands, and they have to be good to play there. We were the only gringos in the entire place, and everyone in the crowd sang along. We saw a 12-piece band with six violinists who more or less lead the crew. They were incredibly polished, and really fun to watch. The band members were all young and energetic, and looked like they were having a great time. They had little dance moves worked out between their violin parts. We wished we could have taken pictures, but the camera was left at home that night.
Wojo asked a public official for directions to a landmark, and upon finding the address she'd given him, realized she had directed us to the Secretary of Tourism. Gee, thanks.
Guanajuato was another delightful city -- the center is small and compact, with narrow, winding streets. It reminded both of us of Madrid. It was much cooler there, as it is in the center of the country and at a higher elevation. We are incredibly spoiled by the consistent 85 degrees in Puerto Vallarta, but the city is so charming that hanging out in our cold hotel room was not an option.
One of many grand churches in Guanajuato
Another church with an impressive facade
The 20th century artist Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, so we toured the house he was born in. It is also a museum with a nice variety of his works. Before then, I was mostly familiar with his murals, famously featuring the subjects of the working man and communism. Here, we were introduced to a much larger repertoire. Poor Diego, however -- despite the fact that the museum is devoted to him, the gift shop featured more items bearing his wife Frida Kahlo's art.
We also toured a museum displaying works by a huge variety of artists that had all chosen Don Quixote (the protagonist of Cervantes' novel) as their subject. It was surprisingly fascinating, and now we are both determined to read the novel if we can find a copy.
I drove Woj crazy taking pictures of all the interesting graffiti we happened upon. Maybe you'll appreciate it.
Mexico's obsession with death is apparent everywhere
"Kinda creepy, kinda cool" (Steph). "Jaguar man, Jaguar man, does whatever a jaguar can!" (Wojo)
Guanajuato is also famous for its annual Cervantes festival, in which a huge number of international performing arts groups perform their works (whether or not they're related to Cervantes). Thusly, you can't go far without finding references to Cervantes or Don Quixote. In the square outside our hotel, young people dress up in costume presumably from the time in which Don Quixote is set, sing traditional Mexican songs, and lead crowds through the winding city streets.
(Wojo) Avoid the momias (mummies) exhibition in GTO if you ever want to sleep again.
Devotees to Cervantes lead tourists and locals through the streets
We returned to Puerto Vallarta happy to see the boat and happier still for the 85 degrees. Our friend Becky happened to be in town and we just managed to catch her before she left for the airport. We rode horses on the beach. Everyone's idea of paradise realized.
Woj's horse refused to trot much to Woj's disappointment (Wojo: not according to Becky -- she was upset that her horse would do basically whatever my horse was doing, usually running!)
All Becky wanted to do was ride a horse in Mexico. Finally! Note the cutest little colt in the world accompanying her on the ride
Now for a few last projects in Puerto before we move on. We are looking forward to leaving the marina and getting out there again!
Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit
(wojo) Mico's first guest, Melanie, departed for the world a couple days ago. It was very interesting and refreshing to see our life from someone else's eyes (and reminded us how good we have it). She was a great sport and spent half of her trip on the hook or on passage between ports! She also is a much better photo historian than either of us are, so we should have some good photos to post once she forwards the best of.
We had originally planned on heading to the Marieta isles for a morning of snorkeling (in the afternoon the winds pick up considerably) but due to the tides in the marina here we added on an extra day. We've sounded the channel in NV pretty well by this point and in a blow boat you definitely don't want to come into the main channel on a negative tide (at datum it's six feet).
We set off for Punta Mita and headed over to Isla Marieta (the island in the middle of the chain) the next day. While in PM we were fortunate to briefly hookup with Nereida again.
Our passenger must have brought some good luck since we started seeing humpbacks shortly after leaving the marina, continuing all the way to Punta Mita!
When they returned I decided to just try my luck snorkeling in our little "anchorage" and swam from ship to rocky shore. It turns out that our side is where all the tourist boats full of fifty tourists arrive as well. The visibility could have been better that day but it was still gorgeous underwater viewing and I enjoyed swimming around the sheer cliffs and under the inner lagoon's arco. Being unable to contain my excitement after swimming back to Mico the ladies we inspired as well and set off to explore via their pastel rafts.
We're currently back in p\Paradise Village Marina hoping to fit in a land excursion to Guadalajara in between boat projects. We received our first package at the marina yesterday from West Marine (a new VHF and two more fans) and were promptly slapped with a big duty charge of at least 20%. We just received our temporary import permit so we're hoping to get some of that refunded on our next trip to customs (I don't hold out much hope, however). In addition to the new rig next week I'll start working with a local diesel mechanic on the engine overhead and oil leak issues.
Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit
(Wojo) Well, here we are at long last in our berth in Paradise Village Marina for our three week stint ... I wouldn't necessarily call the place my exact idea of paradise'found but there are quite a few benefits. Staying in a five star resort community living almost on top of your neighbors has taken some getting used to -- but sleeping every night in placid waters has let Steph finally catch up on some well deserved sleep. We're still working on getting a flopper stopper for our usual anchorages.
If you come here you'll need to be aware that the channel leading into NV is very shallow, unmarked (don't use the ranges -- they don't work) and extremely narrow. The harbormaster was kind enough to personally escort us into our slip and even called to let us know that we'd just missed the sandbar by three feet on the way in (our take was that you're either on the beach or not). After checking into the marina office we set about giving Mico a good scrub and waxing.
The estuary at Paradise Village Marina
Getting back to our accommodations here -- there are two pools each with water sides, many bars, a yacht club, a zoo, a mall with lots of fast food joints and a really nice beach. Honestly, though, it was very surprising that Steph and I both had the exact same reaction after being here just a couple of days. We were surprised to note that we might want to speed things up a bit to try to get out of here a bit sooner. When you're accustomed to having lots of space around the boat in a quiet and private anchorage, marinas are a bit tough to handle. We reflected over beers in the cockpit last night that after being anchored out for a couple of months one can get nearly everything they need out of a marina in just one or two days in most cases, and then be off again.
This week also marks the first time we'll have crew staying aboard Mico in her Mexico adventure. Melanie has been very kind to play burro bringing in lots of goodies from Seattle (West Marine goodies, Perkins parts, dinghy repair kit, oh my!). I've spent most of the morning making room for our guest. Steph's mom Jill always says that if you want a clean house have lots of company. I agree! Steph's away all day in La Cruz taking a first aid class and is then off to the aeropuerto to pick up Mel.
We have enjoyed meeting everyone here and connecting with 'old' cruising buddies we met along the way so far. As soon as we stepped foot on the dock there were many friendly faces to greet us. One of these couples was from sistership s/v Alaya who treated us to some pizzas and a tour of their lovely W32 (Vince and Jan -- thanks for letting me talk your ears off about engine overheat issues and advice!). It was too bad they were leaving the next day for sailfest in Z-huat (aka Zihautenejo). We'll see 'em again down the road I'm sure.
PS -- why is it impossible to find blocks of ice in PV??!!
Punta de Mita, Nayarit
(Steph) We wish everyone luck in the new year! Our thoughts are with the people who suffered through the tsunami -- news reaches us slowly here, but we're as shocked and saddened as anyone.
We spent the last few days, and the First Night, in the anchorage at Punta de Mita. It's a quiet and large anchorage just on the northern edge of Banderas Bay. Banderas Bay is the huge bay on which Puerto Vallarta sits. The bay has been said to be on par with the size of San Francisco Bay. It has a depth of ~600 feet, so is a happy playground for many large and small marine species. Whales, dolphins and sea turtles (all of which we spotted on our day sail enroute) frolic here, free from the threat of sharks -- apparently, the dolphins have mounted patrols around the entrance of the bay to keep the predators away from their newborns. Go, dolphin patrols!
Our New Year's Eve was quiet, but wholly enjoyable. We started the evening off with a huge filet of fresh wahoo, caught by Chris from s/v Aquamarine. We met him and his family in Chacala, and they followed us to Punta de Mita a day later. On the way, he spotted all the sport fishermen out for the day, so thought he'd try his luck with throwing out a line. Not long after, he hooked himself a 60 lb. wahoo. When he saw us in the anchorage, he waved us over and gave us a massive fillet that fed us for two nights.
We waited out midnight in the cockpit, enjoying the glowing phosphorescent trails of little fish swimming under the boat. Our plan was to crack open a bottle of champagne and swim around the boat in our birthday suits when the new year arrived. But our nights are now ruled by what we call "Baja Midnight" -- by 10:00, if you can keep your eyes open, you are quite the night owl. That goes with every crew we've talked to around here. So, at 10:30, we decided to pretend we were on Eastern time (almost -- we're on Central time here) and break open the champagne early. What good is it doing in the icebox anyway?
With the champagne flowing, we started anticipating our night swim. I made the remark that I was glad for the phosphorescence, because a shark swimming by would be immediately apparent in the otherwise black water. Woj reminded me of the dolphin patrols, but I was skeptical about them patrolling way up here on the northern edge of the bay -- their resources are probably pooled in more strategic areas. Not two minutes later, we heard the unmistakable snort of a large marine animal taking a breath. We looked over the port stern, and although it was a dark night, we saw a dolphin take a turn through the anchorage, jumping out of the water three times in a row. I am totally not making this up. What a New Year's Eve, huh?
With the bottle empty (Mico had her share of the champagne -- we were rolling with a bit of southerly swell, and the bottle had tipped over twice), we stripped down, dove in, and enjoyed our (almost) midnight swim. Swimming among the phosphorescence is amazing -- it's like being surrounded by fireflies. We rinsed off with water heated on the stove, the first hot bathing-method-resembling-a-shower either of us have had in over a month. Fifteen minutes later, the clock struck twelve and we were treated to about 25 different fireworks displays. I think every resort and hotel in the entire area had their own show. The closest to us was the Four Seasons, whose golf course meets the beach of our anchorage. Twelve miles away, across the bay, we could see dozens of fireworks displays, along miles of beaches. It was incredible.
By 12:15, the toothbrushes had been put away and we were gratefully climbing into bed. We remarked that my brother, Bennett, was probably still out partying in Spain, where it was 7:15 am. Good for him. Hope he had fun. We did, too.
Sunday brings a quick jaunt to Paradise Village, a marina resort where we plan to stay for three weeks. One week of fun, and two weeks of boat projects. Our friend Melanie, from Seattle, is flying down to join us for the week of fun. We're looking forward to giving her a taste of the cruising life, while also swimming in pools, lounging in hot tubs, and getting daiquiris delivered dockside.
Enroute to Punta de Mita in Banderas Bay, Nayarit
We had a great Christmas in San Blas, complete with music by Neil Diamond (thanks to the crew of Nereida).
Christmas dinner a la Steph
At the moment we're on our way into Banderas Bay with a stop at Punta Mita before checking into Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta for three weeks. There's a cold front somewhere west of us in the great Pacific that we're hoping to avoid. This morning has classic cold front conditions complete with backing winds and altocumulus/stratus clouds. Ever since we left Cabo the winds have been non-existent, never more than five knots or so (usually from the SE).
For the past three days we anchored in Chacala, which is only about four hours south of San Blas. Not too much to say about it, only that it's a very popular beach with the locals during the holidaze. We met a nice couple and their daughter on s/v Aquamarine from San Diego. We did find an amazing secret beach around the corner from Chacala in Bonobo. If you send us an email we'll give you a waypoint.
San Blas, Nayarit
(Wojo) We were very fortunate to have an easy, light wind crossing (too light -- we motored the last day) from Cabo to San Blas. Compared to other cruisers we've talked to we got off pretty lucky.
View of the continental shelf approaching mainland Mexico
As usual, today for better or worse was completely full of adventure. It began at 0900 after an amazing night's sleep (finally) in the peaceful bay of Mantachèn right around the corner from San Blas city.
We set the hook in three fathoms of calm, swell-free water. After getting cleaned up we launched ol' Boney and set off around the Punta Camarone for San Blas proper to clear in -- later we'd learn that our good friends Cliff and Rene watched us in amazement from their palapa restaurant on the beach and wondered why we didn't just get a ride into town with them. Oh well.
The first thing you notice about the tropical mainland here after a month in the deserts of Baja are the smells. I couldn't believe all deep jungle scents welling up as we headed closer to land.
The dinghy ride was thirty minutes or more of open ocean passage making to the estuary before San Blas. A young man flagged us down when we were close and we pulled up the dink at his mama's house. Our first stop was to vist the Capitania and officially clear into the port of San Blas. As usual the info in our cruising guide was out of date unfortunately so we spent the better part of an hour running around in search of a ship's agent who no longer exists. We ended up simply clearing ourselves in which was very easy since there were no separate trips required to Migracion or Aduana, just the bank and the farmacia to make copies (it you come here by boat always bring way more copies of everything than you think you'll need). In the end we were feeling great since we'd managed to do a complete check-in and check-out in less than a day -- it was time to have some fun and chill.
We took Boney around the point again and back to Mantachen and found that we were no longer alone in the bay. Four more boats quickly filled in around us. In most cases if one yatero sees a boat anchored all by themselves in even a huge bay they'll drop the hook about twenty meters off your bow -- I guess people "ass"-ume we know what we're doing. It wasn't long before we'd met most of our neighbors and even invited Kate and Tom from s/v Nereida of Vancouver for a few cervezas on Mico. We love to meet everyone but it's really a treat if we get to hang with a crowd under forty once in awhile (this was only the second time in a month). After all the cervezas and most of the rum was caput, they invited us over to their gorgeous C&C sloop for dinner. Tom had grabbed a nice bonito on the way into the bay right off the stern. He BBQ'd it with some cajun spices thrust upon him while spending time in Avalon. It was delicious and Steph even had time to make her mom's Chinese cabbage salad as an accompaniment.
With large heads and still full bellies we awoke the next day after one of the best non-rolly sleeps we'd had in what seemed like weeks. We made plans, if there is such a thing down here, to meet up later in the day to ride into San Blas city. There's a great restaurant in the bay named Neptuno's here which is probably the most cruiser friendly anywhere. Cliff and his esposa Rene spend about half their time in San Blas and the rest in the US. They have it all -- ice, diesel, water, steaks and even a ride into town. If you come here you should give Cliff a shout on 22 right away.
We left Boney on the beach in front of Neptuno's and rode into town with the nine other yateros visiting. We were the only ones who cleared in yesterday so everyone else was off en masse to the Capitania (footnote: when they arrived he was so overwhelmed that he wouldn't clear anyone in that day ...). Steph and I hit the mercado centrale, always one of favorite spots of the ciudad, and found tons of fresh produce and delicious chilaquiles at a lunch counter for about $2. I told the nice dama at the counter "... mi esposa's mama hace chilaquiles tambien pero su comida es el mejor!"
In addition to seeing the sites in town the big thing to do in SB is the fresh water spring (Tovara) and the jungle boat trip. Earlier in the day we'd asked around a bit and were told that it's about a mile from the ruins to the jungle boat docks. This was another case of things going bad when you don't trust your instincts -- Steph and I both knew from the drive in that it was going to be way longer of a hike than one mile. Now, it's not that we don't enjoy longish walks, quite the contrary. However, this little jaunt consisted of about three miles of open highway roadstead with no shoulder, both sides of which had rivers full of snakes (which we saw numerous deceased family members). Anyway, to take a long story sideways you should spend the 30 pesos to catch a cab from the city to the jungle ride and forego the experience of the walk. Eventually after numerous near encounters with trucks going 80 MPH on the road we were generously given a lift by Ismael (of the Mantachen Restaurant on the beach).
If you're a bird lover, the jungle trip is definitely for you.
After a long day on the sightseeing circuit we had a wonderful dinner in store for us at Neptuno's. Having seen all the boats arrive Cliff knew that everyone would be in the mood for some downhome non-palapa food for a change and made arrangements for a big group t-bone steak dinner with all the trimmings. Everything was sooo good, they even flew in sourdough bread from San Francisco for the occasion! After lots of wine and many good margaritas we finally turned in ...
A full sized male in the wild
This guy is basically known for snapping at all the tourists all day long, and is therefore messed with incessantly
The fleet in Mantachen Bay (Mico is on the left)
I've also started to compile a few notes and observations about Mexico in general. Since we've only just now been here a month I'm hoping these will start to make more sense eventually.
PS -- if you make the crossing from Cabo to PV be sure to avoid the prison colony islands!
Tres Marias penal colony -- rings are the twenty mile markers (update: last month in Lattitude there was a story about a cruiser without a cruising guide who got tired after the crossing from Cabo. He made it to the Tres Marias and said "hey, this looks like a nice anchorage to spend the night." After getting about 5 miles off he was met by the prison cops and brought to the local pokey for questioning ... stay 20 nms off!)
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
(Steph) Check-in today went relatively well, considering we had no idea what we were doing. Despite two different manuals we have that describe the process, we were still reeling in confusion. Luckily, all the officials we dealt with were friendly and patient. My Spanish skills seemed to serve no purpose -- I had trouble understanding anything I was told. The most amusing instance of this was when the port captain kept saying that I had to get happy, or be happy, or something about being happy. I pointed to my smile and said, "happy?" He kind of smiled back at me in a bewildered fashion. He must have thought I wasn't quite all there. Finally, Woj figured out he was saying "API" which is another office we needed to visit in order to pay our port fee. Geez, what a dork.
Los Arcos -- you are required by law to take a picture of this scene if you arrive by boat
After that morning-long project was finally complete, we bought some badly needed provisions for the boat and spent the afternoon at the beach. The anchorage has turned out to be one of the most uncomfortable we've ever encountered. The violent rolling from the offshore swell is never ending. Today we plan to finish up our provisions, get some laundry done, and prepare to leave tomorrow.
Our neighbors in the anchorage in Cabo
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
(Steph) Our last few days in Bahia Santa Maria were just as idyllic as the first. We hiked through desert arroyos, we snorkeled in a little reef, we shared birthday cake with Jennifer from s/v Mystic Rhythms. But we were running low on fresh provisions. Actually, I should say we didn't have any fresh provisions. Our ice was completely gone by Saturday morning. Every meal was an adventure in what we could whip up with a lot of canned goods and potatoes. We left Santa Maria at 10 pm Monday night, and arrived Wednesday around noon. The passage had its highs and lows -- finally, it's warm enough to wear a t-shirt and shorts during the day, and we don't have to wear thermal underwear at night. The auto tiller, which allows us to sail without having to manually steer, keeps pulling the pin out of the tiller. So the Krazy Glue had to come out again until we can try to re-re-pot it in more epoxy in port.
What a change of scenery. Hotels and restaurants line every inch of the waterfront. In fact, right now, I can hear Wang Chung floating across the water. We've not heard one positive thing about Cabo from other cruisers. But with low expectations, chances are good we might actually like the place. In any event, we really need to re-provision, so we're willing to stay here a few days. So far I'm not too offended by it all -- we can finally have a margarita or two, and maybe a hamburger if we can work up the nerve (the craving had no trouble working itself up).
Another item on the task list is to check in. We've been in Mexico for 2.5 weeks, and still haven't had the opportunity to let any Mexican official know we're here. So that's the priority on our minds now.
Bahia Santa Maria, Baja California Sur
(wojo) Today I was reminded of the fact that if one is foolish on land they will at least as foolish at sea...
Around 1400 this afternoon Steph and I had just returned from a great hike up the arroyo, took a nice swim and had a scrub with the sun shower. It was time for siesta and she opted to chill with a Patrick O'Brian book. I decided to explore the far side of the bay (about five miles) in Bonobo where I had seen some interesting looking dunes and sweeping huge beaches. Being the sensible one Steph made me take along the 'good' portable VHF (the one I got for Christmas three years ago from the Parry clan).
I zoomed across the bay for about half and hour. I can distinctly remember thinking to myself 'wow, it's a really long way out here, I hope everything is cool with the outboard.' As I approached the beach I could see that there's some major shore break action happening but I wasn't too worried since we'd just made our first surf landing the day before (meaning that I'd done this exactly one before and was probably pretty lucky). I started trying to pick my set to head into the beach but it looked pretty treacherous so I started to head back. But then I thought 'hey, what if there's something cool to see over there, I might never be back this way again.' So I turned back and started eyeing the sets of waves on the beach again.
The theoretical plan for a surf landing is pretty straightforward in theory -- you just head in as fast as you can after a big wave has passed you, giving you max distance between the next breaker. In practice it's a bit messier -- all waves don't break in the same spots and it's hard to find just the right wave to follow in.
Here's a better perspective on the distance between Mico and wojo:
I finally got my courage up and started powering in JUST as the outboard decided to take a little holiday. This meant that I was now beam on to the breaking waves. You ever have that feeling that something big is about to happen and it's probably not going to be good? The next breaker pounded poor little Bonobo (and me) and almost dumped us. 'Whoa...that was close.'
When I made it through the waves I also found that there was a major red tide in effect. I remembered something about this phenomena from fifth grade science class but only enough to know that it wasn't good.
I made it up onto the beach and checked the dunes for awhile. I eventually realized that I was prolonging the inevitable and that if the trip in was bad the one out would only be worse. So instead of taking a minute to figure out a plan for getting past the breaker line I pussy footed 'round in the shallows too long. I wondered too far out and a real bad ass wave came in. If I'd been paying attention I'd have seen that the waves were coming in sets of three and that just looking down the beach you could see the pipeline of the big ones forming way before they made it to where it was.
I don't remember much about getting nailed by the wave too much I just know that in a fraction of a second my face underwater dragging in the sand with the flipped over dingy on top of me. My immediate thoughts were: the outboard is definitely fucked (any water, especially salt water kills gasoline motors on the spot) AND I bet my little radio is history. I turned out that I was correct on both accounts. I managed to hurl everything else that had been tossed onto the beach (oars, air pump, gas can, bilge pump, Tevas) but I did manage to lose my sunglasses (again) along with the radio. This meant that not only did I have an inoperable dink but no way to call in the troops for some backup five miles away. It also meant that now Steph will really never let me have good sunglasses again (we blew the REI dividend on the last pair and the pair before that we lost back at Shilshole).
With the sun starting to make its way down I didn't have a lot of options. I could: wait on this deserted beach for Steph to call in the search party, beach the dink and walk about 15 miles to the nearest fish camp and find a panga, or the craziest idea -- try to row all the way back to Steph and Mico. For whatever reason I chose the former of these options but this time I sat on the beach for a spell and had a good study. It then occurred to me that the solution was simple. I just needed to walk the dink out through the line of breakers, swim a bit if necessary and then dive in. Somehow it worked and as soon as I was beyond the shore waves I paddled like mad to stay clear.
I kept rowing (inflatable boats with no hard bottom are worthless row boats as everyone knows) for about a couple hundred yards. It was slow work since the tide wanted to put me right back on the beach. I then made my first attempts to start the outboard but it was just a bad joke -- not even close! So on I went alternating between pumping the red tide (nasty stuff it got into everything) out which was up to the gunwales, rowing and trying the outboard. I tried to make at least two knots over the bottom while rowing since this meant that I could make it back in about three hours. I was also aware that if I the tide got any stronger on the ebb I could be sucked out to sea (I had no anchor with me).
Eventually I remembered that this was after all a desert and things tend to try pretty fast. I took the bonnet off the outboard in the hope that the spark plug and everything else might get just dry enough to make a little spurt.
On about the tenth cycle of trying to start the outboard it miraculously made a few subtle attempts to start but this was enough to make me try harder. With the choke out all the way and bonnet still off she came back to life!! I was so amazed and almost moved to tears. I expected her to conk out at any second and now surely be hopelessly dead forever. But she didn't! I was able the get Bonobo on a fast plane and head back towards home. I was so incredibly grateful at this stroke of luck but as if some great cosmic force of the universe still wanted me to learn some humility I managed to run over a tree (yes, a tree in the ocean, in a desert) on the way back and almost lost the prop.
I made it back to Mico with Steph waiting on the rail yelling 'WHERE have you BEEN??!!' She said that she knew immediately that something bad had happened since my beard and hair were full of gook, along with the bottom of the dink. I told her the story while I jumped in the sea and had a good scrub with Joy followed by a nice hot sun shower.
There were a lot of lessons to be learned here but those are for another day. For now I'm just glad to not be out on the sea rowing!
Oh, I did mention we'd had a great day before all of this unpleasantness. Here are some pics:
This dude is unflappable
We saw tons of gorgeous cacti today
Mico stands alone in repose
Bahia Santa Maria, Baja California
(wojo) Oh my gawd it's sooo great here -- it feels like we've finally arrived somewhere ... The temperature has finally reached the 80s and we've been able to swim in the non-hypothermia-causing water. More later but I thought it would be interesting to note everything we did today:
Bahia Tortugas, Baja California
In wind, rain and sun we're in love with BDT. Here's a short poem about our time here:
"Bahia de Tortugas"
We loved our time in TB but I should probably noted that after writing these tranquil lines we rode out a nasty cold front with the fleet in the southern anchorage in about 40 to 50 kts. We all had a good laugh the next day (no one dragged thanks to the massive amounts of kelp). Oh well, still a wonderful place.
San Diego, CA to Bahia Tortugas, Baja California
(Steph) I don't know why everyone in the Pacific Northwest is so freaked out about the voyage down the coast to southern California. That is small potatoes compared to our trip from San Diego to Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay), which is located about halfway down Baja California. Let's just say that Woj and I would have come in first and second, respectively, if ever there existed a Baja Barfing Championship.
On Saturday morning, as we were preparing to leave by 1100, we bade farewell to some of our dock mates. "You're leaving with the weather that's coming?" they asked, incredulously. We had heard that it was supposed to rain that night, but it didn't daunt us. "Nah, rain is no big deal! We're from Seattle!" (Although, truth be told, I don't think we ever cast off in Seattle when it was raining.) It might have behooved us to find out if it was the rain they were referring to. Because, looking back, we think that they were probably talking about the 35 knot Santa Ana winds that we had to fight for the last 19 hours of our voyage.
We encountered the expected rain and squalls that night, and besides getting a little wet, were doing just fine. In fact, we were finally sailing, which had been a rarity since we had come south of Point Conception. The next day, the wind got a little flukey, and we had to motor for a bit. Around 2100, the wind picked up, and Woj asked me to help him hoist the sails again. I suggested we put a reef in, because the apparent wind was reporting 15 knots, and I'd rather not have to get up from my nap again. Woj decided to put two reefs in. Thank our lucky stars. When I came on watch an hour later, winds were 30-35 knots NE. Water continuously poured in over the starboard rail, soaking the cockpit. We were flying along between 7 and 8 knots. The only way I could sit in the cockpit was by perching on the windward edge and bracing my feet on the leeward edge. Basically, I was standing at about a 25 degree angle. The winds did not let up until we finally got in the lee of land, at about 1500 the next day.
This is what can happen to stainless in 40 kts
This little cruise was more of a shakedown than any we'd encountered yet. Our ratio of stuff broken on this voyage, compared to any other, is about 5:1. But all in all, it was a good experience. We really cooked, and got into port long before we had expected to. And it's always a good thing to gain more experience, eh?
We dropped the hook at about 1700 (Mountain Standard Time), picked up the trashed cabin (cushions, books, clothes, everything had been thrown topsy turvy), ate dinner and promptly fell asleep at 2000. The next morning, we woke to a beautiful, sunny day in a calm anchorage. Friendly locals stopped by in kayaks or pangas (a 25' open boat) to offer their services, like taking trash to shore, or bringing us fuel or water. Ah, our first Mexican landfall!
San Diego, CA
(Steph) For sentimental reasons, we decided to stay in San Diego for a few more days. Who wants to be sick at sea on Thanksgiving? The point is how much you can keep down, not how much you can bring up! Thanksgiving, for us, was an intimate affair. All we did that day was cook a little meal for the two of us, so the day actually had the feel of a holiday. Every day is very similar to previous days, because we usually do the same kind of thing -- work on a project or two in the morning, then play or relax in the afternoon. So just hanging out all day savoring vegan eggnog and squash soup was a nice change.
Hanging around San Diego for a few more days than expected did pay off. A boat tied up at the dock that had been down to Cabo San Lucas at the beginning of the month. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, the least of which was the crew abandoning ship while the skipper napped, the skipper decided to give up the cruising lifestyle he'd adopted for a month. He planned to sell his boat to the first bidder, but not before letting the cruisers at the Police Dock scavenge his boat like a pack of wild hyenas. We made out with a pile of books we had considered buying at some point, but never did. Their worth paid for the time we'd spent at the Police Docks for 10 days!
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