Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Banderas Bay

We spent two nights at Isla Isabela altogether. The day after Thanksgiving, we went snorkeling in the morning and took the dinghy to the fishermen’s landing beach in the afternoon. Isla Isabela is a rookery for frigate birds and blue-footed boobies, and they were everywhere. It was amazing! Also incredible was the fact that none of us was hit by bird droppings. By the way, one of the crew on Snow Goose is a stringer for Latitude 38, and we made 'Lectronic Latitude, complete with group photo. Check it out.

From the island we sailed to Banderas Bay. This is where Puerto Vallarta is, but we knew in advance that the marina there was full, so we anchored at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, which everyone calls just La Cruz for short. We didn’t expect a marina here and anchored the first night (Sunday). When we took the dinghy in to look for the dinghy beach, though, we discovered that a new marina was under construction, and there were even some boats in slips. (The photo is of this mostly empty marina.) After talking to some people who were on deck, we decided that we’d take a slip here for a few days. We’ll leave on Friday. John has a weak Internet connection; I have nothing unless I take the laptop into town and the Internet café.

One of the reasons to stay here is to provision. The town is very small, but after exploring it this morning, John thinks we can find the few things we really need before we get to Manzanillo, the next city on our itinerary. Getting to the major stores (Wal-Mart and Home Depot are here) and back to the boat with our booty would be challenging. The bus stop is up on the highway maybe a half mile from the dock, and there are only occasional sidewalks through town with a dirt road the rest of the way to the marina. No problem for walking, but our handy collapsible dock cart wouldn’t make it.

We did take the bus into Puerto Vallarta (PV) yesterday for sight-seeing and a little shopping. PV is charming and filled with tourists and timeshares. We had drinks at a beach bar (the peach margaritas were delicious) and walked the whole length of the malecon (esplanade). The timeshare salesmen are cleverly disguised as tequila tasting room hosts here. We bought a bottle of pomegranate-infused tequila, but no timeshare. (In all fairness, the salesmen were charming and only mentioned the timeshares in case we were interested.) I also bought a snorkel and fins since we discovered at Isla Isabela that I only had a mask, not the rest.

Martha is leaving us tomorrow. It’s been fun having her aboard. She’s going to take the bus through Mexico, stopping at interesting places to explore and practice her Spanish. Any time we’ve stopped long enough to bring out the computers, she’s been using the Rosetta Stone CDs to learn more. (Her son and his family live in Barcelona, and his wife’s family doesn’t speak English. Martha is a motivated language learner.) Martha’s Spanish has come in handy on numerous occasions, but it has probably slowed our own learning. I’m sure our Spanish will improve when we’re on our own.

When we leave the dock on Friday, we’ll sail to PV to top off the fuel tanks and then out of Banderas Bay at Cabo Corrientes. The plan is to sail during the day and anchor at night. There are many good anchorages between here and Manzanillo including Playa Blanca, where we spent our honeymoon at a Club Med 21+ years ago. The Club Med is gone now (maybe they went out of business after many of us got food poisoning while we were there), and a private residence has taken its place. I’m looking forward to using my new snorkeling gear, if not at Playa Blanca, then at another anchorage along the way.

I've just added a bunch of photos to the website. (Finally, you say.) Be sure to check it out.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving at Isla Isabela

Isla Isabela is a National Wildlife Preserve about 80 miles SSE of Mazatlán. When we set out for Isla Isabela at noon the day before Thanksgiving, we anticipated a quiet Thanksgiving feasting on mahi-mahi if John caught one on the way. Sure enough, soon after John threw out the line at the start of his 0600 watch, within sight of Isla Isabela, he landed a four-foot dorado. (We think that dorado, mahi-mahi, and dolphin fish are different names for the same fish. If we're wrong, maybe someone will correct us in the comments.)

While John was cleaning up after filleting the fish, I came up into the cockpit and noticed that we were closing the gap on another sailboat. As we neared the island, we saw several masts in the area where we planned to anchor. We were a little surprised because you have to go out of your way to get to the island, and we assumed that most cruisers would be partying in the marinas at Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. In fact, hundreds of boats probably were, but there were six boats, counting us, at Isla Isabela.

Anchoring was a little tricky due to wind, current, less than ideal bottom, and a person snorkeling. After a couple of attempts, we got the hook set to our satisfaction far enough from the other boats to allow plenty of swinging space and a little privacy for mermaid toilettes. John jumped off the stern and dove on the anchor, mostly just because the water was beautiful and warm, while Martha bathed and I cleaned up in the cabin. Finally, with the sail covered, the wind scoop rigged, the dinghy in the water, and everyone clean albeit a little salty, we were ready for a lazy day. Then the snorkeler appeared at the transom to invite us to Capricorn Cat, the big catamaran anchored nearby, for a potluck Thanksgiving celebration. They were inviting all of the boats anchored at the island. Of course we accepted, and John said he'd bring a green salad. (You should have seen her eyes light up at that.)

A 45-foot catamaran is a fine place for a party, and this was a great celebration. The snorkeler was Mary, mermaid and chef aboard Capricorn Cat, according to introductions by the owners, Wayne and Carol. Other boats participating in the festivities were La Sirena, a 42-foot schooner; Endless Summer, a 70-foot ferro-cement ketch; Snow Goose, a Cooper Maple Leaf 50; and Eupsychia, a Catalina 36 (I think). The people were as varied as the boats with ages ranging from 22 (Heather from Eupsychia) to almost 70 (Lynn from Snow Goose). Many of us are full-time cruisers, landless and carless. Four of the boats participated in the 2007 Baja Ha-Ha; seven of the people have called Oregon home (including mermaid Mary from Boring); San Francisco is the home port of three of the boats.

Traditional dishes included in the feast were mashed potatoes and yams. No turkey, but we had fresh shrimp, several kinds of fish, enchiladas, many appetizers (seafood and otherwise), and fresh homemade bread. I pigged out. Dessert was hot berry cobbler, brownies, and ice cream. Except for missing our families on this traditional family holiday, I can't imagine what could have made it a better Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Adventures in Mazatlan

I’ve been suffering from writer’s block since we arrived in Mexico. That combined with inconvenient Internet access has lessened the flow to the blog. I apologize. Fortunately, John has filled some of the gap with his reports via single sideband radio.

When we arrived in Thursday morning, we waited in line to enter the old harbor at Mazatlan. It’s the main commercial harbor, but the marinas are all about 10 miles up the coast. Just inside the jetty is an anchorage, and that’s where we are. There used to be something called “Club Nautico” on the shore. The buildings and dinghy docks are still there, but it isn’t in business. For $3 per day, we can use the dinghy dock, toilets, and showers. It’s a really good deal. The big drawback is that the sewer treatment facility is across the street, and it often stinks. Usually the smell doesn’t reach us out in the harbor, so we only have to deal with it when we go ashore.

After a long bus ride to the marina end of town, we’ve all been very glad that we’re in the old harbor, within walking distance of the cafés and museums in the historic district. We’ve eaten well and visited many shops and a couple of museums there. The marina district has all of the services cruisers could want, but none of the culture and charm of the old city.

Our first day here we had a fine lunch at a restaurant with no other gringos present. The next day we found “Té amo Lucy’s” (“I love Lucy”), an ex-pat hangout, but still far from the marina crowd. Lucy is the chef, and her husband, Tony (an ex-pat himself), is the waiter. We struck up a conversation with some other customers there and got advice for shopping and Internet access. Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the restaurant, so we went back then bearing token gifts to hang from the ceiling with the rest of the decorations. In return, we got 50% off on our orders. Our contribution from the boat was what we think is a shackle key. It had been on the boat and never used, so we decided we could part with it (even though it says “Harken” on it). Tony was thrilled and kept coming back to our table with new ways to use “shackle key” in a sentence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mermaid Toilette

by Martha Marie

To get clean jump into the ocean from the transom of the boat, (this is scary in itself,) awkwardly lumber out again, soap all over, create an elaborate updo with lots and lots of shampoo, and return to the sea (scary transom thing again.) Underwater, wiggle all around and whip your head around to get all of the soap and shampoo off and out. If desired, climb out again apply hair conditioner liberally, do the scary transom thing again, repeat spastic gymnastics underwater while avoiding being bashed by the back ladder or the extended keel. Then rise from the sea as if transformed into a sylphlike thing of beauty all clean. Disregard saltwater residue!

Hassles with the "no hassle" card

While we were in San Francisco, I signed up for a Capital One credit card because they don’t charge fees for foreign currency transactions. Soon after I was approved, I got a call from the fraud department at Capital One to verify my identity, Smith being a common name. During that call, I explained to the agent that we were sailing internationally. She gave me the number for the fraud department, and I gave her the date that we were leaving the US for Mexico. When the card arrived at the boat after being forwarded by our mail-forwarding service, I went through the whole song and dance again when I activated the card.

We used the card for the first time on Saturday to pay for breakfast at the Baja Cantina in Cabo San Lucas. Two hours later we tried to use it again, but it was denied. “Ah ha,” I thought, “it’s the fraud alert. I’ll call tomorrow when I have the computer ashore.” I did call and confirmed that there was a fraud hold on the card, but – and this is a big one – the people I was talking with couldn’t clear it. I’d have to call back on Monday. I was pretty annoyed, but what could I do? I called back on Monday. Then I learned that it was a holiday (Veteran’s Day, but the call center operator didn’t even know what holiday), and I’d have to call back tomorrow. We were planning to leave Cabo Monday afternoon, so I figured I’d deal with it when we got to Mazatlan.

Since we stayed in Cabo one more night after all, I’m trying to clear the account today. We’re at anchor and have good enough wi-fi that I’ve been able to get through to the IVR tree seven times. Four of those times, however, my call was dropped while I was on hold for longer than three minutes before talking with any agent. Three times it was dropped while I held for an equally long time as the initial agent tried to transfer me to someone who could correct my problem. We’re hoping that the dropped calls are because we’re swinging on the anchor and not some automatic feature of Skype that ends calls on terminal hold. I’ll be taking a panga to shore to test that theory in a couple of hours since we’ve already loaded the dinghy back on the boat.

Later… My Skype theory was correct. Once I was on land with a good Internet connection, I was able to hold the line through 30+ minutes of holding and transferring to get the no-hassle card straightened out. It took about 45 minutes altogether, but we were able to buy fuel and water on the card 15 minutes later and saved the cost of the panga ride in exchange fees.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another day in Cabo

Today was provisioning day for the trip to Mazatlan. The wind was from the east this morning, the water was very choppy, and another boat was swinging uncomfortably close to us, so we pulled the anchor. Rather than trying to re-anchor and then launch the dinghy, we did a moving launch because John piloted Solstice into the harbor to get out of the chop. By “launch” I mean getting into the dinghy and untying it from the mothership. It wasn’t any easier on the people (Martha and me) to launch while moving, but it was easier on the dinghy than repeatedly crashing into the big boat would have been.

The shopping trip was my first real Mexican adventure. After a couple of other errands, we asked which bus to take to Costco. (Yes, there is one in Cabo, and Martha’s a member.) It seemed simple enough so we went to the bus stop to wait. There were other people there, so we were sure we were in the right place, but no buses were stopping there. After a while, there was some discussion among the potential passengers, and most of them left. Finally, the remaining guy asked where we were going. When we said “Costco,” he told us that we needed to go to the bus stop a block up the street. We eventually got it all sorted out and even found out in advance how much it would cost in case the driver didn’t make change (he did). The ride was fairly comfortable even though the bus wasn’t air conditioned. The windows were open so there was a nice breeze, and we were on paved roads so it wasn’t too dusty.

Costco is Costco, and it’s air conditioned, so we took our time. Knowing that we’d have to lug everything we bought onto the boat from a bouncing dinghy, I practiced restraint, but we still bought more than we really needed. Martha was game to take the bus back, but I firmly insisted that we take a taxi. The transfer of goods to Solstice was challenging, but the three of us made it work and didn’t drop anything.

When we got up this morning, we planned to leave Cabo this afternoon. After our adventure, though, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. We have decent enough wi-fi at anchor (but not good enough for a real conversation with Mom via Skype this morning). In the south of the border spirit of things, mañana is soon enough to go.


PS: Check out the earlier post on flying dinghies and the one before that. With the wi-fi here, I've been able to add some photos.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Audrey!

The Baja Ha-Ha has ended, but we're still in Cabo. Our sailing plan is changing, but we don't know exactly how much yet, so I haven't updated it. We'll be spending a little longer in Mexico than we had originally planned because we're going to take care of a repair here that we had scheduled for Florida. We're only talking about a couple of weeks, so it isn't a lot in the scheme of things, but it's important if you're planning to meet us along the way. We'll get the new plan out as soon as we know what it is.

Meanwhile, today is Audrey Forbes's birthday, so happy birthday, Audrey. I don't think John got her called, but he definitely remembered.

John's off having a beer while my friend Martha and I hang out at the Internet cafe catching up on stuff. I'm also waiting for our laundry to be done. We're spending $7/load for wash and fold. In order to use the coin operated machines, we'd have to get a slip in the marina at $140/night. That's a big enough difference that we can afford a few loads of luxury laundry.

Mexico is spectacular -- and hot! We're all doing OK with the heat, but Märzen doesn't like it as much as she did as a puppy in Arizona. The water is beautiful and so clear that we can see the anchor 35 feet below the boat. Amazing!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Flying dinghies of Bahia Santa Maria

Bahia Santa Maria is a large and well-protected bay, but there is a big, easy swell passing over the bay from the Pacific. The swell is barely noticeable from below decks. On the beach the swell builds to very steep, crashing waves. At the north end of the bay is a mangrove swamp with a channel from the bay into the trees. There is a large beach on the west side of the channel with a trail that leads to a cantina.

Between the bay and the mangrove channel is a bar with breaking waves across the channel entrance. Timing and speed are everything for getting into the channel to a avoid a wave breaking into the dinghy. Getting out is an even greater challenge with the waves moving towards you. Crew member Derek Lee and I went over the bar to get to the cantina. Getting in was pretty easy. I got behind a wave and just followed it in and landed on the beach. The cantina was great with $2 cerveza and a Mexican cover band playing 80s music. The cantina overlooks the bar and provides a another source of entertainment: watching the dinghies cross back and forth.

We had a couple of beers and then set out in the dingy back to Solstice. We got out into the channel and waited for a good window to cross the bar. The waves seemed to come in groups of three. It looked good so I gunned the engine and started planing over the water. Suddenly a new wave formed and broke 20 feet ahead of us. I backed off the engine a bit and hopped over it. Then a bigger, steeper one formed. I had no chance to turn around so I aimed straight at it and picked up speed. If I slowed down, the wave would probably overpower the boat and broach us.

We hit the wave seconds before it broke. It was like being launched up a wall. Derek's weight in the bow kept us from going completely vertical. The entire boat jumped out of the water even clearing the prop out of the water. Then we came crashing down with no more breaking waves in front of us. To our port was a water taxi filled with cruisers all cheering our acrobatic feat. Derek was holding on with one hand and pumping a fist in the air yelling, "That was great!"

In the end, crew and vessel were OK. My shorts were wet, but I don't think any water came in the boat.


Monday, November 5, 2007

More on the Baja Ha-Ha

Before we started this, I didn't realize that there were three separate legs of the Baja Ha-Ha. Each leg has it's own race start. That's one of the most exciting things: 170+ boats jockeying for position. We were behind the pack for the start of leg 2, so it was pretty easy. Since we're sailing downwind, the spinnakers came out immediately, and we got a great view.

Today at Bahia Santa Maria, I've been out in the dinghy visiting people. First I stopped by Paradise Bound looking for my friend Martha. She was out, so I continued on. This time I was looking for a boat called Pacific Star. We figured out when we read the write-ups on the entries in this year's Baja Ha-Ha that the owners of Pacific Star used to own our old boat Resolution. At least, we thought they did. And we were right. When I located Pacific Star and called out asking if they used to own a boat named Resolution, they were amazed and seemingly delighted. It was great fun for me too. It turns out that they often saw us sailing Resolution out in the San Francisco Bay. Also, and this was news to us, soon after we bought Resolution, Latitude 38 had a photo of us in the "looking good" item. Horst said we were heeled over and you could clearly read the name of the boat. As soon as we get a good Internet connection, I'll have to go searching for that photo.

My other stops were at the other two Sceptres. We're finally all in fairly close proximity in the anchorage, and we're going to try to get together this evening. I took Märzen with me when I visited Pacific Wind with Steve Dana, DVM, and Laurie aboard. They were crazy about her and took many photos of her in her life jacket.

We're having a great time -- sailing as much as we can and motoring when we need to catch up with the group. The weather is finally gorgeous, and as John would say, "It's all good."


Leg Two of Baja Ha Ha Complete

We are now anchored in Bahia Santa Maria 600 miles south of San Diego. It took 48 hours of sailing and motor sailing to reach this anchorage form Turtle Bay. Along the way the water became bluer and warmer. Here in Bahia Santa Maria the water is 85 degrees and it is sunny and warm.

Fishing was the dominant theme on this passage. We caught Yellow Tail and Yellow Fin tuna. We had a Dorado on the line, but it managed to shake the hook near the boat. Several boats reported outstanding fishing. One member of the fleet caught and released a seven foot sailfish.

Today is a rest, relax, and catch up on sleep day. Tomorrow we'll go explore the mangroves, hike the beaches and there is a party planned with live music. I will also try my luck fishing in the bay.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Completed first leg of the Baja Ha Ha

We are now anchored in Turtle Bay, Mexico. It has been cool and windy on the trip down. Some of the boats that were more offshore reported gusts to 30 kts. We had sustained winds in the mid 20s for most of the ride south.

The start of the rally in San Diego was very exiting: 170+ boats all sailing at the start. Shirlee was at the helm and I was getting the spinnaker ready for launch. Shirlee did great dodging and weaving amongst the fleet. At 10:00 AM the cannon sounded and the fleet was off. I did not do so good getting the kite up. After two attempts and untangling the various lines, we had the spinnaker flying and we were doing 8 kts on a close reach headed for Mexico.

We started fishing soon as the boat and crew were settled on long tack. We started catching mackerel and promptly releasing them. From the morning radio check-in no tuna catches were reported until Wednesday (10/31). And that's when we caught our first yellow fin. It was about ten pounds and very tasty. Last night we had an appetizer of pan seared tuna. Tonight we'll have the remainder of the tuna grilled with soy, ginger, garlic and lemon.

So far the boat is holding together. I have two things to fix: a towel holder needs to be reattached in the galley and a set screw in the bimini needs to be tightened. Other boats have not been as fortunate. The list includes raw water pump failure, all batteries dead, leaking one gallon per minute through the keel bolts, four boats with torn main sails, two shredded spinnakers, two broken travelers, and a sprinkling of non- or poorly-functioning radios. I'm feeling really good about Solstice and our two seasons of shakedown/breakdown in B.C. and Alaska.

Today's plan is for showers and a no-host party in town. I plan on fishing in the bay just to see what's down there. There is a potluck beach party tomorrow. The plan is to leave Turtle Bay Saturday (11/03).