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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back In The land of Grocery Stores and Sidewalks


Our seven months in the Sea of Cortez are almost at an end. We are currently at anchor in the “Magote” (the anchorage in La Paz) waiting to meet friends and also for the big Thanksgiving Day cruisers party. It feels somehow odd to be back in the land of grocery stores and sidewalks. La Paz is definitely jumping. By the looks of all the people out and about and the arrival of a giant new Mega grocery store and the opening of the new Liverpool Mall it looks like the economy is truly picking up -a real culture shock after the slow pace of the North Sea.
We came specifically for the chance at home cooked turkey. Club Cruceros at Marina de La Paz organizes the yearly event that is likely to attract nearly 200 cruisers for which they roast 25-30 turkeys! Amazing in that just a few weeks ago there were only a handful of boats in La Paz and now the marinas are all full and the Magote is filling up by the hour. I guess we all love our traditions even if we are far from home.

We arrived yesterday, spent a quiet night at anchor and this morning we were awakened by the sounds of music rolling over the water. Mexican LOVE their music. The louder the better and there are no qualms over multiple sources or overlapping noise. First thing in the morning still bleary without even a cup of tea to jump start me and I was assaulted with loud, simultaneous tunes including the Mexican version of Achy Breaky Heart. I didn’t like Achy Breaky Heart even when Billy Ray was warbling it. Well it turns out today is Independence Day and at 7:30 am the Malacon was already filling up with droves of waiting marchers and the audience was filling in along the parade route. So we grabbed the camera and our shoes, dropped the dinghy from the davits and headed into town.

The parade was not actually parading when we arrived on the Malacon. Instead there were tons of school age kids staging for the event. There were marching bands, dancing groups, traditional costumes and school uniforms. One group interestingly devised giant fabric balls: green, red and white for the colors of Mexico that opened up to disgorge the platoon of marchers. Then the ball closed back up and turned into the skirts of three girl who underneath were sitting on strong shoulders. The girls I think were supposed to look like they were wearing big skirted ball gowns but the idea I think was better in theory than in practice. The gals atop the hoop skirts were having trouble staying balanced and the boys below looked tired out already and the parade hadn’t even started along its two mile path.

There were also horses, lots and lots of horses. All dressed up with everything from traditional costumes and side saddles to one exceptionally gorgeous black stead decked out in silver saddle with and equally impressively clothed Caballero astride. The horse was right out of a picture book and the Caballero sat astride quietly running the horse through some very advanced moves all while holding a tiny tot in his lap.

The Military had a big contingent including both Navy and Army and of course two sparkling fire trucks along with the local Bombaderos (firemen are cute all over the globe by the way.) We actually had a great viewing spot right at the head of the parade route. We were able to watch as each new group assembled. Their truckload of speakers and blaring music would start up and off they go. A great way to start our week in La Paz!

After the parade it was time for a cruisers swap meet where we were able to catch up with a few people and see quite a few familiar faces. It is the start of a brand new season and folks are spilling in from all over. This year’s winter fleet is filled with lots newbies along with the part timers who start their trips from here in La Pa. Along of course with the local La Paz contingent who seem to stay here in Baja for the entire season. By lunch time we were back on La Paz time and a bit more in the groove with the local fleet.

Being at anchor rather than on the dock means the week will be pretty light. The big pre-Pacific crossing jobs mostly need power and dry land so there will be nothing much to do other than wait for our friends and do a few boat chores. A few trips to the grocery stores looking for the things we couldn’t find up north will fill some empty places in the boat and in my menu choices and I will have a chance to hit my first English speaking AA meetings in months. Then if we can get some internet out in the Magote I can finally sift through my back log of Blog posts and get caught up with everyone back home. Maybe I can even get some pictures posted?


Bussing Back Through Baja


Most people might think that Bill and I are seasoned travelers who move around hither and yon packed light and ready to explore. We are, but after just completing a trip north to California I remember one of the reasons why I was drawn to this sailing life to begin with: I don’t have to pack.

As travelers we have become quite spoiled, wherever we go there we are –our home following along with us ready for our next adventure. In fact sometimes at night when we are sitting below in the saloon a weird feeling creeps into me as I realize that as I sit all cozy in my little spot at the dinette we could just as easily be tied to the dock in Seattle as to be bobbing at anchor in some remote cove somewhere. My surroundings are the same, I sit with Bill reading quietly into the night, my fridge is full of fresh nutritious food and the sheets on our big bed are clean and crisp. I don’t need to worry about whether or not I packed my toothbrush or brought along the right chargers for laptops and cameras. I know where the bathroom is and even where the spare toilet paper waits. It doesn’t even really matter if it is 90 degrees out or a blowing a chilling cold I just need to reach into the right locker to find the right attire. Everything we own is already here.

Then things unfolded and we needed to make a quick trip back to the states. It’s still hurricane season –until November 30th so this would be a pretty quick in and out. I packed for both of us, everything we needed in one bag and off we went across the Baja dessert. Friends were leaving for a five months trip to the Galapagos islands and wanted their SUV left back home in California so the travel up as far as Santa Anna was pretty simple. Sixteen hours of dessert, one coyote, 100’s of road side shrines and about a million cacti. We weren’t at all worried about traveling Baja. We knew we had the correct paperwork for the car, our passports were up to date, we had our TIP(Temporary Import Permit) with us in case we brought anything back with us and our visas were clear. What we weren’t sure about was how we were going to make it back to Island Bound since we had been unable to find a bus schedule for our return trip anywhere.

We decided it couldn’t be that hard so armed with a head full of suggestions from other cruisers based on their own trips and a mindset of being flexible off we went.
The hundreds of miles unfolded as Bill did his best to avoid the potholes, the cattle, the unbanked corners and the many steep guardrail-less cliffs(many with wrecked cars still scattered over rocks at the bottom of the ravines.) We were glad to have had the cruiser advice to get gas in certain towns or risk running out between stations because there was in fact a long stretch where there were lots of little towns but no gas-who would have thought looking at the map that all those towns wouldn’t have gas station?

Having lived my whole life in Seattle I often forget that in other countries moving about from place to place isn't always so simple. One look at the half dozen 18 year olds with automatic weapons at any of the many check points reminds you of that pretty fast. They do sort of feel weird though. Every so often you are required to stop for a military lookie loo. They sometimes just flag you through but more often they have you stop for a question or two and a vehicle inspection. The inspections seemed cursory at best: they never asked for papers of any kind and with us anyway they were not really looking at anything or into anything. They often had us open our tailgate and one fellow seemed to chuckle over our two folding bikes but mostly they looked like they were going through the drill. There is a job to do here (and many nationals are still dying in the drug wars every year) but it’s clear we are not their target. They simply serve as gatekeepers of the roads: A low tech response to the ongoing war on drugs. Evidently the US Border patrol isn’t looking for tired worn out 50 something smugglers either, we hardly garnered a look. Getting into the US was pretty much the same except we had to wait in a slowly inching line for over two hours even at 10:30 at night.

The most interesting part of the crossing was definitely the “open all night” market conducted in staging lanes of the border. The ever industrious Mexicans run a market of immense size right there amongst the lanes of inching cars. Even in the middle of the night you can buy tacos, sodas, chips, candy, coffee, fruit cups, ice cream, empanadas, flan, blankets, velvet last supper paintings, huge carved Jesus’ nailed to wooden crosses, Chiclets, hair clips and headbands, magazines, baseball caps, sombreros, serapes, Miss Kitty dolls and teeny tiny puppies. They cater to the always moving throng right down to the billboard with a number to call for duty free alcohol delivered right to your car. Oh and if you had a driver and a runner one of you could jump out of your car step just out of the lanes to any number of pharmacies for a prescription-less prescription of Viagra, Oxycontin or Rogain. Commerce at its best! We saved our pesos and scanned the internet for a hotel room. Finally at 1:30am sixteen hours after we left Santa Rosalia we pulled into a parking spot at the Comfort Inn San Diego. Whew!

The rest of the trip was pretty straight forward. A trip to West Marine in San Diego, a stop to pick up some friends mail, pick up a rental at the Santa Anna airport, drop off the car, a lovely visit with fellow cruising friends set to leave this season . Time flew by and we still had a three hour drive north to Santa Barbara where the kids live. It was nearly midnight when we made it to their place and luckily they’re young and resilient so were still up to welcome us in. I was pretty much at just the nodding and hugging state by then but after several more hours of visiting I finally found my head on a pillow at about 200am. After so many months of up with the sun down with the dark two night of travel and I was definitely out of steam.

We had a lovely visit with the kids but with such short notice it’s a marvel they were able to spend any time with us at all. Josh is nearing the end of his PHD work at UCSB so his days are very full and it just happened that our last minute visit fell during a week he was obligated to help teach a diving class. Dianna had her work during the days but shared her free time with us and she and I even worked our way through a corn maze at a nearby pumpkin patch. Bill opted out but stood by heroically waiting to rescue us if we couldn’t find out. Even with the busy schedules we found time for a lovely meal out and lots of late night and early morning visiting before we had to say good bye.

The trip home was a slow slog. We dropped off the rental car at the San Diego airport and caught a ride to the Greyhound station with one of the Hertz guys. Then we only had an hour wait for the short bus ride to Tijuana. Crossing the border back was simple once we figured out where not to get off the bus. All we had to do was exit the bus with the cattle call, grab our bag, stand in a short line and then push a button while a customs agent stood by. If the light flashed green we were on our way through if the light stopped on red it would mean a search through our baggage. We both green lighted and then back on the bus to the main Tijuana bus station. Again our wait wasn’t long. Armed with sandwiches and bottled water we stepped onto the 4:00pm ABC bus (along with three drivers) to Santa Rosalia and were soon stretched out in the front seat settled in for the 16 hour ride.

The long route buses in Mexico are really quite nice. They have everything you could need: big seats that recline, curtains, air conditioning, a bathroom, evening showings of Spanish language movies, and short layovers at bus stations where you can stretch your legs. At dinner time our bus driver jumped out and was first in line at a roadside taco stand. By dinner time there was only one drive in sight and we figured the other two had gotten off at one of our stops. So Bill was astonished when at 3:00am as he stood next to the bus stretching his legs the original driver stepped off the bus, opened the luggage compartment and switched places with another driver! Viva Mexico!

We finally arrived in Santa Rosalia, dropped just a block from the marina. We were a bit stiff from curling up like pretzels to sleep and freezing cold from the ever present air conditioning but it was good to be home and great to see Island Bound bobbing serenely in her slip just waiting for our next departure.


Baja Road Trip

We have been in Santa Rosalia for a few days as we work our way south and it has been a busy few days. The boat was dirtier than I think it has ever been but after being away from a hose for 10 weeks it’s par for the course. We can see through the dodger windows again, the stainless actually looks like stainless again and the laundry is all done including the once very salty cockpit cushions and pillows and all the blankets we used to save our upholstery from the salt and sweat of a Baja summer. The marina has no money to fill the propane tanks that power the hot water and the dryers so all the wash had to be line dried which left Island Bound looking a bit like a gypsy caravan but not having to do the wash in Home Depot buckets made it a treat instead of a chore.

Once back in civilization and back with access to the internet there was plenty of catch up to do. I had been stacking up blog posts, we had tons of pictures to go through, things that needed to be ordered and business matters to attend to. As fulltime cruisers we do just about all our banking and paperwork via the internet so if you leave the net things pileup. When we arrived in Santa Rosalia Bill began the process of officially retiring from Boeing. Surprise, surprise they need birth certificates, marriage certificates, papers notarized and no they won’t take a Mexican notary. San Diego here we come! Yep tomorrow morning we head north by car to California and as is par for the course if you’re a Russell once again it is one of those last minute arrangements.

Friends of ours on Sirina have their SUV here in Santa Rosalia and they are leaving for a five month trip with friends through Central America and to the Galapagos. They had hoped to leave their car back home in California but a course of events left them leaving it here in the parking lot at the marina. They generously offered to let us drive it home for them so it works out great for us and them. We get a road trip through country I have never seen by car plus we will be able to complete all the business we need too.

We will drop off their car and rent another then drive three hours and stay a few days with the kids in Santa Barbara. So as I type this Bill is feverously working the net trying to arrange car rental for California, auto insurance (we no longer own a car so we have no auto insurance) boat part shipments, replacement kindle delivery, bus routes back into Mexico, notaries and bank visits. We will spend just a few days but will work in a visit with family, a stop to see friends we met on our way down, a shopping excursion or two and the legal work that needs to be done. The logistics of our return are a little uncertain as we prepare to leave but the plan is to drive a rental to the border, walk across and then bus it back south with maybe an overnight in Ensenada. Always an adventure!


Puerto Refugio -or Hurricane Hillary part II


By the time we had motored back south from Bahia Willard things were looking pretty settles and we felt safe in postponing going all the way back to Puerto Don Juan in favor of waiting and watching from Puerto Refugio. In the end Hillary simply blew herself out allowing us to remain in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled anchorages in all of the North Sea.

In all we spent several weeks in the clear, clean, warm waters of Refugio. Tucked in safe and sound, no matter the winds there is a nook to slip into for protection which kept us safe from an array of weather. We had evening Westerly’s and a late night Chubasco or two along with afternoon thunderstorms and glorious sunsets. There are no inhabited areas close by which meant when the sun set at night the skies were amazingly dark and the stars were astoundingly bright. The entire time we were there we rarely had a boat close yet there were people close enough often enough to have a shared dinner or two and even hold a potluck while all our friends were potlucking in Puerto Don Juan to the south.

The fishing was by far the best we experienced anywhere in the Sea. We fished essentially every day and it never took more than a few minutes to catch enough for dinner. It was hot days, warm evenings and cool nights and the promised no-see-ums were few and far between.

These were the most isolated and most laid back of all our days so far. We discovered we didn’t wither away and die from the four month break from the internet. Instead I stacked up these blog posts and spent the days fishing, reading, swimming and baking bread. One day it was even cool enough to bake cinnamon rolls!
We learned to simply do without while keeping up a list of all the things we hoped to bring aboard again once we sail south. Laundry in buckets, showers everyday(we’re lucky,) simple meals and loads of solitude.

Of the thousands of boats that enter Mexico each year there were perhaps 20 who stayed all summer. Yet even many of them never make it as far as Refugio: most prefer to stay close to both the Village at BLA and to the refuge of Don Juan’s’ hurricane hole. But with the sea lions singing us to sleep each night and the birds calling us awake each morning we will look back to these days as some of our very best in Mexico.


Hurricane Hillary Headed Our Way?


Hurricane Hillary has been under the watchful eyes of the fleet for days now. She was officially classed and named five or six days ago but is nowhere near the North Sea Fleet. There is no worry or panic because every model and every long range forecast shows her missing the Sea completely. That’s one of the good things about hurricanes they don’t exactly sneak up on you.

Every morning and every evening on the local Nets she’s been tracked and talked about, debated and studied. Every dinner gathering and every afternoon float has held conversations on strategy and new decisions are made for course changes and moves to better ground. Finally today the models show her making it up the outer Baja coast and then (possibly) turning east to jump across the peninsula in three or four days. Right now her pattern says the farther north she blows the weaker she becomes (she was at one time blowing 125mph) with a jump over the peninsula expected to take her top wind speeds down to about 35mph. Piece of cake, in fact if she brings some rain we will wallow in the fresh water boat rinse.

Like everyone else have been following Hillary along her path. We chose to north to Puerto Refugio knowing that if Hillary was truly coming our way -which is still a guess-, we would have two choices for safe anchorage: Puerto Don Juan to the south and Puerto Willard to the north. So, after spending days in Refugio we left yesterday at 7am for a 10 hour passage to Willard. Too tired to deal with the shallow waters we spent the night in the deeper outer anchorage and planned to enter the shallow inner safe harbor on the mornings rising tide.

Up, breakfast, a bit of tea and we moseyed into the shallow inner harbor plotting a deep route and discovering where the bay shallows up. We found a great spot where we would be well tucked in from the fetch. Fetch is how far the waves have to build up: If you are in a small enclosed bay the waves have no room to build to raging heights. If you are at the end of a big open bay the waves can build the entire length of the bay leaving you working against the high winds and the big waves. We congratulated ourselves on finding a deep enough channel to enter the hurricane hole and on being the first boat here which gave the very best choice of spots if high winds blow.

Then we started having problems. Once Bill maneuvered us to just the right spot tucked in snug behind the hills and spits and out of reach of virtually any fetch I dropped the anchor. But the anchor drug and drug and drug. I pulled her back in again and saw that we had a twenty pound ball of mud and wire grass scooped up in the head of our Rocna. Ok, let’ try again. We dropped her five times each time we simply drug across the bay scooping up mud and wire grass and leaving the tip skittering across what must be hard pan or shale under the mud.

We tried several methods of laying out our all chain rode but only succeeded in bringing up bigger and bigger balls of mud and that damn spindly wiry grass. Frustrated and disappointed we even moved to another less desirable part of the bay hoping maybe we could find a spot where the wire grass wasn’t thriving but no such luck.

By now it was almost 11:00am (it was a ten hour day to get here from Refugio) and our options are getting fewer. We simply cannot stay if our anchor won’t set. If reversing out engine at full throttle drags our anchor and us across the anchorage then it stands to reason that if a big wind comes along it too will drag us across the bay until there is no place else to go which can only be the beach. Bad idea!

So OK regroup. There were a couple of other anchorages close by but neither of them would offer us protection from a hurricane. Puerto Don Juan is 80 miles away, two days of traveling unless we want to do an overnighter and is undoubtedly filling up fast with other boats as part of their hurricane strategy. But, but…..we had traveled ten hours yesterday and it was a really, really long hot day. And, I was really looking forward to dinner off the boat. And, I was going to have a chance to get on the internet for the first time in almost two months. And, worst of all we can’t possibly make Refugio until well after dark and we hate entering an anchorage after dark.

So what’s the big deal you may be thinking? Isn’t Hillary predicted to at worst have pretty much blown herself out by the time she crosses the peninsula to the Sea? Don’t the models show that she isn’t even all that likely to make it across the peninsula? Yes but since we expect at least a 35 mph blow and since hurricanes have been known to do some pretty unexpected things and since the possibility for damage if she were to change her fickle little mind are pretty enormous the only prudent thing for us to do is to plan on being somewhere safe and asecure. Even if it means motoring 80miles back to Puerto Don Juan. Better safe than sorry is our motto.

~hot and tired already~


The Gadget Gods Were Smiling


Today Bill saved us five thousand dollars! One of our last moment purchases before we left Seattle 17months ago was a used dive compressor. We love to dive and the thought of being able to fill tanks along the way ourselves seemed like a great idea and would be a fantastic luxury. We had no idea where we were going to put it but the bid went in and we “won.” The seller shipped it our way while Bill ordered a rebuild kit and downloaded an owner’s manual. Two days later we picked it up at our mail drop and hauled it’s 30”x15”x17” bulk back to the boat.

Once aboard there was no obvious place to store it. We already had the parts and pieces of dozens of other pending projects crammed into every remaining inch of locker space and by this time we even had piles of lumber and still more project supplies tied down on the cabin top and deck. The only place left for the compressor was the back deck. We stuffed it into a big open ended blue plastic bag our new main sail had been shipped in, tied to the back rail and off we went.

Jump ahead to a long hot summer in the sea: the dive compressor is still tied to the back rail. It’s now been sitting barely sheltered from the elements for thousands of miles - Seattle to Alaska and back, a six hundred mile off shore from Neah Bay to San Francisco, through two and a half months dilly dallying along the coast of California and then almost eleven months here in Mexico –through rain and salt spray, heeled over in the wind, through Coromuels, Chubascos and months of dissolving UV rays from above.

I am tired of worrying about it, tired of stepping around it and frustrated with trying to clean up the thousands of tiny blue bits and pieces of shedding plastic bag. By now I have fine-tuned a fantasy of silently shoving it over the side and exclaiming in dismay that we’ve been robbed. I know I can’t fix it myself and am completely convinced that it will never be resurrected. Bill on the other hand I think just wishes it would disappear or better yet rebuild itself and spontaneously begin filling tanks.

I’m sure the procrastinators out there will be able to relate to the problem: days have passed, opportunities slipped by and the job just keeps getting pushed aside and pushed aside. There are only two cures. 1. Time itself steps in and renders the whole thing a moot point: the kid is now five and doesn’t need the pretty knitted baby blanket anymore or the house burns down and that dryer vent simply no longer needs to be reattached. Or 2. A deadline looms and you are forced to bite the bullet and get the job done.

So, here we are the summer season is winding down. It is finally cool enough to begin thinking about boat projects again and our thoughts have turned to our upcoming passage to the South Pacific. We are making lists and reading cruising guides. We are thinking about what we need to buy before we leave and are talking with friends who have been there before us. The conversation keeps coming back to the world class diving we are all anticipating and to conversations about dive compressors.

For most divers having your tanks filled is sort of an incidental. You go out on a dive boat where the crew fills your empty tanks or you drop off your empties at a shop and pick them up filled like you pick up your dry cleaning. But for cruisers like us the truth is that if you don’t have your own compressor you simply don’t dive. It is always more important to have a filled tank on hand in case of an emergency than it is to drift that wall or do that amazing reef dive. You can’t afford to find yourself with three miles of fishing net wound round your rudder with nothing but empty tanks aboard waiting for the next dive shop you find.

It finally came down to #2! Time was running out and the discussions had come round again to renting a car with some other boaters and driving to San Diego for the sole purpose of buying a couple of $5000.00 dive compressor. It would be the epitome of procrastination to make the drive and spend the money without at least trying to get the used compressor running. Amazingly once the oil reserve was filled and the gas tank topped off she started after only a couple of pulls. Walla’ a working dive compressor and money in our pockets. A few tweaks, a new charcoal filter and a notation on our “to buy” parts list for some replacement oil filters and we were rocking and rolling.

Bill lavishly emptied a tank cleaning the bottom and replacing our prop zinc before hooking the tank up to the compressor and in just 20minutes we had a full tank. Oh one more thing, if you own your own dive compressor you are guaranteed to make friends in every anchorage. Hmmm, some cruisers make money filling other diver’s tanks, me, maybe I can make a trade for some shiny stainless or a scrubbed hull????


Swimming with the Sea Lions in Puerto Refugio


Our heat reprieve was short lived. Regardless of the calendar we are once again in thick sweaty humidity and temps in the high 90's. Oh well at least the nights continue to cool everything down and that makes a world of difference. Everyone is joking about how we are going to be shivering in Mazatlan and Puerta Vallarta in a couple of months and ~gasp~ will have to break out the pants and jackets. Meanwhile frequent dips in the sea get you through the days projects and siesta time is remains mandatory.

The last three nights we have been at Puerto Refugio and it is beautiful here. The hills are a thousand shades of burnt reds and browns, the waters are teaming with fish and pitch black nights make the night skies almost hypnotic. Yesterday we dingied out a mile to a guano covered islet that is home to a sea lion rookery. We had heard that it was possible to swim with the lions there and I couldn’t wait to try it. Sure enough at the sight of the dinks the lions started to bark.

Ashore we could see maybe a hundred sea lions and among them all on the rocky beach were a couple of big bulls. Despite the reports of amazing human and lion encounters they are still wild animals and deserve respect and we had been told that you shouldn’t attempt to swim with them during breeding season but when is breeding season? Friends had been in the water here two weeks prior but at the sight of the bulls I wondered if our timing was Ok or if they were going to view the encounter as trespassing. My mind just for a minute didn’t really think the whole thing was a very good idea.

We dropped our little anchor and started putting on our fins and the Bulls had done nothing but bark a bit. The rest of the lions were pretty uninterested, and then slowly they began pouring into the sea. I was the first one in -a little scared but very excited. At first they were sort of standoffish but the longer we were in the more curious they became.

Most of the lions that came to play were young. They started out rather timidly by swimming around us without making eye contact. Then I began to experiment. What if I dive? What will they do if I roll or simply grab a rock and stay under for a bit? The more we acted like ssea lions they more excited they got. By now they were rushing past just barely out of reach. Some would come and pause and peer right into my eyes and others would come in groups suddenly from every direction rolling around you then leaving nothing but swirling water in their wake. The more eye contact we made the more daring they got.

At one point I rolled onto my back on the surface and lifted just my feet and head out of the water and slapped my big flippers together. I have no idea what they thought of that but it sure got their attention causing a bunch of them to surface and lift their heads and upper body out of the water to peer at me. They looked like big wet groundhogs peeking out of their dens. Interestingly if we began to withdraw, to swim away from them instead of into them they would chase after us until we turned back around.

All through this the air was alive with barking and splashing and the sound of the sea on the beach. Surrounded by sea lions I rolled and barked and snapped pictures nonstop. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I swam and dove until I was completely tuckered out and my camera battery died. I can’t wait to try it again.


September Full Moon Party and Floatie Parade


What a party! This year’s September Full Moon Party and Floatie Parade were held 9/12in La Gringa just north of the Bay of LA. Twenty three boats showed up for the mid-day lagoon ride. We met at the beach just before full slack tide, rode the last of the current into and around the large lagoon then caught the current and flowed past the judges back out into the anchorage. A good 50% of the attendees came in full costume or float regalia

What is a floatie Parade you ask? Well it’s sort of like off season grown-up Halloween. The judged categories included: Best All Around, Best Homemade and Best Store Bought, along with two Honorable Mention, Cutest and Most Detailed. The only requirement is that it floats (at least initially.) The secondary characteristic is that all of them were made out of things we had on hand on our boats. A few had been here before and had given enough thought to their designs as to purchase and bring components from back in civilization. My own design though it won no prizes was made from a blue pool noodle –a five foot long spaghetti noodle shaped piece of foam with a hole running down the middle though its length- which I sat on like in the crick of a big foam “J.” A black polka dotted umbrella was duck taped to a length of aluminum rod and then the rod was stuffed down into the hole of the noodle. I and the umbrella were festooned with lengths of beads and sequins. I floated along in my sparkles and bit of shade trying to stay upright and above water by paddling along with my snorkel flippers. Bill on the other hand came sans costume and was hoping for the prize for Least Effort. He did though help me in and out of the water so I didn’t lose my bangles and beads.

The other entries ranged from a giant blue hammerhead shark, a rendition of the Love Boat, a wonderful homemade jellyfish costume and a beautiful and intricate blue ringed octopus. There were a host of pirates, numerous decorated chairs, a young mermaid complete with her own parade float and 14 year old Jack from S/V Just a Minute who came as Tom Hanks from the movie Castaway. His escape raft came complete with a piece of port-a-potty as sailing rig and his faithful companion “Wilson.” The party ended with a great potluck and the awarding of prizes. This time next year I will be thinking of everyone here and the parade but I have filled away some ideas for future reference. You never know when you might need a costume that floats.


A Sorry Soggy Kindle


Never leave your electronics below a port light window in a Chubasco.

Just a friendly suggestion for all your users of electronic gizmos and gadgets: tuck them away someplace guaranteed to be safe whenever they are not in your hot little hands. Of course I know that none of you are addicted to your Face Book pages, your cell phone or your internet connection. I will simply pass this information on as a public service to those who may be irrevocably addicted or completely in denial of the dependence on their electronic connection. Of course I know all of you routinely keep a written record of all the important telephone numbers and email addresses you use every day and I realize that you must certainly religiously back up your home computers and laptops so that you would never find yourself at a loss for how exactly you can function without the contents of your 21st century electronic lives. But for the sake of argument take my advice and make a pact with yourself to always pause, think, and then store your goodies somewhere safe, dry and secure.

For my 50th Birthday this last May Bill bought me a beautiful laptop so I can stay connected with folks back home and also I think so I don’t hog “his” during all my hours blogging. Then just six weeks ago we bought a brand new Kindle 3G, International version also just for me as well. We had one of the original first generation Kindles which I had never used, replaced it with a 3G International which I had also never used and so decided it was time for Kat to move into the 21st century and give up all the space I was using to hoard my books. Great idea except the original Kindle was dead as a door nail. We have now managed to amass a Kindle Library of over 1700 books so decided the cost was justified just by the storage space we would gain by jettisoning my hoard of books aboard. We arranged to have another Kindle International 3G shipped to a friends in the states who then picked it up and drove it back to us in Mexico. If you’re a book lover it takes a bit of an adjustment getting used to the Kindle but the transition was virtually painless and in time there was something very cool about sitting with such a small object in your lap that opened the world of so many books with just a flick of your fingertips.

So, cut to our second Chubasco. We are at anchor at La Gringa with virtually the entire summer Sea Fleet the day before the big September Full Moon Party. Nearly everyone is near shore aboard a flock of dinghies sipping cold drinks and listening to Hermie and Jack on S/V Ewa give a talk on Central and South America. The skies were looking a little ominous off to the SW but the disturbance looked as if it would pass us by. Regardless (and having learned a lesson or two from the last Chubasco) Bill and I took down our sunshade and cleared off the decks before we left for the seminar raft-up.

As we all settled in we heard birds calling. Someone even says, hey is that a bird. but we are engrossed in the talk. Then finally over the wind we hear a shout “the winds are coming.” The whole flotilla turns and looks out past the anchorage towards the now lightning bolt filled clouds over La Mona and we can clearly see a BIG wind line rolling our way.

Just like the first Chubasco here we are in a group, most boats left unattended. Instantly everyone is rushing towards their boats in our little dinks as the winds rise and the rigging begins to howl. This one neither lasts as long nor is as strong as our first encounter a few weeks ago but it is quick, violent and powerful and again we are on a lee shore. A lee shore means the wind is coming from a direction that blows your boat directly towards a close by shoreline rather than away from the imminent dangers. Not a good thing.

Happily Bill and I are getting smarter. With the sunshade already down and the deck miscellanea already stowed we need do nothing other than secure the remaining windows and hatches, switch on the electronics so we can monitor wind speeds, depth and our exact location and turn on the engine to be ready to power our way from dangers. I also grabbed the brand new Kindle and my lovely new laptop and put them safely on the saloon table out of harm’s way. We were safe and sound and not at all upset by the whole thing. For us they are not terribly scary but rather simply push your adrenalin up and steal your attention and some time. We have sat out days at anchor back in Washington and BC in higher winds than were in store here. Some in the fleet though are extremely unnerved by them. For us we may lose some sleep keeping a watch out but mostly you just sit in the cockpit watching the storm power over you while keeping an eye out for any potential problems.

A surprise for me though is that during a Chubasco I tend to get seasick quickly and pretty severally. I have always been prone but the problem has decreased with the miles we have under our keel. The Chubascos nature is to come on fast and furious which leave little time to adjust your internal gyro. Both times Bill has stayed above deck at the helm while I scurry around trying to get everything ship shape. The port lights and hatches especially have to be closed down tight as the violence of the winds instantly raise big seas which crash over the bow (and even sometimes over the dodger into the cockpit) and then roll off the decks back into the sea. By the time I reemerge above decks the mal-der-mere has taken hold and it is only by virtue of the wonder drug Sturgeron (which steps up to fix things even after the problems have started) that allow me to feel better in a short while.

The storm began to subside in time for me to go back below decks to fill my stint as Sundays Net Controller for the Southbound Net and then as the boat continued to roll in the left over slop I started trying to throw some dinner together. That’s when Bill noticed the puddle. As the Sea had been washing over our bow and rolling off the decks it had found itself to the not quite dogged down port light directly over the saloon table. The one smack dab above my precious electronics. A steady drip of highly salty and teaming with life sea water was now in a puddle around my Kindle and my little pink plaid laptop.

Now don’t forget: since the purchase of the Kindle I gave away most of my entire hoard of books, we have 6 more weeks here before we return to any kind of civilization and, I read books morning, noon and night: five to six books a week!

The Kindle is kaput. It did turn on again and I sat down and read about ten pages before suddenly the writing started to sort of fade and waver before locking up in a ghost image. I got it restarted twice then nothing. Bill tried and thought it was going to be OK, then nothing, no words and no light, no charging and no resuscitation. The laptop I decided to just let sit for a few days before I even try to turn it back on. Maybe it will dry out? I have since lovingly rinsed it with fresh water (it can’t really get more broken) and sit hoping it will dry out and spring to life again. A girl can wish can’t she? The computer though amazingly I am using to write this post, yea! It seems none the worse for wear.

Not all is lost though. I won’t have to spend the next six weeks arm wrestling Bill over one Kindle. One of our fellow Seattle boats, S/V Grace had a spare Kindle. It was still in the box! We negotiated a deal: we promise to return it if one of their Kindles dies, I made Paul a batch of gooey brownies and we will either have someone bring one back down in the coming weeks to give to them as a replacement or we will bring one back (along with another spare for us!) for them when we return from our Seattle trip in a few months. A swear I have never met a group of people more helpful and giving than cruisers. If you need it someone has it and will happily offer it. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of friends.


Fall, finally-sort of.


The entire fleet has been affected by the Sea of Cortez summer weather. We glue ourselves to the daily weather reports and listen nightly for the Chubasco report then spend hours discussing and debating when to run for cover where to run to and just what those clouds over there mean. (So far in the hurricane department this season there has been absolutely nothing of significance to worry about. Yea!) The heat though is altogether different. The stifling heat cannot be outrun and it has only rarely given us even a short break. We were warned that we would simply perish if we didn't have an air conditioner (Well duh, haven’t the local Mexicans been living here for centuries?) The effects of the high heat and humidity are pretty diverse from person to person. Many bouts arrived in Mexico with AC and many more purchased them just for these few weeks of summer (some rented cars and drove all the way to San Diego to buy units.)

But since most boats do not produce or carry enough power to run an AC unit at anchor dozens of boats remained at the docks in Santa Rosalia or San Carlos for weeks on end with electrical cords attaching them like umbilicus to the dock power. Many stayed virtually locked below in their cabins away from the heat and away from all the dock activities. Most came up like gophers from their holes come evening to venture out for dinner or provisioning trips. Some rarely ventured outside.

“It’s not the heat it’s the humidity” yet there seems to be a pretty wide range of reactions to the climate. Some seem content to ride it out. Others seem to have acclimated themselves over time and most have their own coping strategies including lots of swimming, damp towels, hand held misting fans, fans throughout the cabin, lethargy and naps. The siesta was definitely invented for reasons other than a long lunch! A couple of the women are quite vocal about their hatred of the Sea’s weather and now even Mexico in general. Some will be leaving looking for more temperate climes; others will just return with more prepared boats and minds and some will give up cruising all together.

There have been many long discussions wondering exactly how a desert as vast as Baja can hold so much humidity. When the humidity is low the heat is tolerable, when it is high everyone suffers to some extent. Some seem to be nothing more than a bit inconvenienced. Bill sits more to the inconvenienced end of the spectrum while I sit somewhere sort of sticky in the middle. I do think that given the comfort I would have become equally addicted to AC and in the end suspect that simply trying to adapt and adjust was simpler, easier and cheaper than trying to re-outfit Island Bound with an air conditioning unit.

Santa Rosalia and San Carlos were by far the worst. But everywhere even on the dry days the wet rolls in come evening when a dampness falls over every surface. The wood cockpit floor looks like I just washed it down and the cushions inside take on a damp tackiness. The worst for me is the feeling of my sheets. The humidity moves in but in order to exploit every wisp of air movement I leave all our hatches and ports open and the dampness simply rolls in. Over our bunk is a large 30x30 hatch and the dampness falls through the opening and onto my sheets: yuck. On the worst of days I have taken to shaking baby powder over them to help dry them out otherwise it is like laying down to sleep on a damp towel.

We have a friend named Jake (on the sailboat Jake) who has some years of experience here in the Sea. Months ago he made a statement which has now grown to mythic proportion. He stated that come September 10th we would wake up and suddenly realize we needed a blanket (or it was cooler or fall or however the hearer remembers the tale.) So we have been holding him to it for weeks now. Asking (interrogating him really) for clarification, coaxing the answer we all want to hear, listening to him back peddle then state the same thing again in slightly different words. He’s continued to stand by his statements and the essence again was that come September 10th we would wake up and realize we had turned a corner on the incessant heat.

Well it’s September 11th and he was absolutely right. It is not quite as clear as when fall fell back in Seattle. There are no leaves changing color, no dogs beginning to put on their winter coats, no cool crisp evening air to stir the senses. No one is suggesting hot apple cider or touch football games and we are still routinely meeting for our 4:00pm floatie time where everyone in the anchorage jumps in and floats around like talking heads for an hour or so as a way to socialize and beat the heat. But for the first time in months I pulled up the sheet to cover me in the early morning hours.

This morning I woke to the sound of rain drops and a cloud cover overhead. The rain didn't amount to much. Our friend Bernard on S/V Simple Pleasures refers to it as 4” of rain. “You get one drop every four inches.” I wasn’t sweating by 9:30 and I am still sipping the last of my hot tea. It’s cooled enough that this afternoon at floatie time we will start in the water to cool down and then raft up in our dinghies to listen to Jack and Hermie on S/V Ewa give a talk on Central and South America. As we fall asleep tonight instead of fighting the heat some of us will be thinking of tomorrow’s potluck and Full Moon Party: The change of tide lagoon drift and floatie parade will culminate with a juried contest for best design/decoration/costume of one’s personal floatie (pool noodle, blow up chair, air mattress or one off design of course.) Like a floating version of Halloween without the makeup and Value Village shopping. It should be a colorful parade!

Happy Fall. Kat

The Generosity of Our Fellow Sailors


I have never met a more generous bunch of people in my life than boaters. I first experienced it when we moved aboard at Shilshole Bay Marina. People giving their time and help in any manner of ways when it comes to boat projects and expertise. Then I experienced the ladies room and the laundry room at the marina. Walking into either you will see a shelf of things on display: boat parts and clothing, books and movies, odds and ends too good for the dumpster but that have outgrown the space at hand. I have personally acquired many things including: a brand new sun shower, a very pretty sun dress, jeans, a sleeping bag, pillows, pots and pans, Christmas lights, Tupperware, books, movies, music and line.

Then you have the dumpsters where you can literally find things worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. When it came time at last to leave the dock in Seattle I cannot even come close to remembering all that we gave away by leaving it sitting next to the dumpster. This after taking everything we could to the second hand consignment store and giving other stuff to friends and family. When the new racing season comes it is not uncommon to have a race team strip standing and running rigging from a boat that is only one season old and leave it at the dumpster as they re-rig with new for the coming season. There were two fellows who lived on our docks who had become something of legend. It was possible to see them both running to a recently filled dumpster trying to stake their claim before the other arrived: some in fun but competition to the bone.

Now that we are cruising fulltime I am taking a back again at the generosity surrounding me. It comes out in force with any kind of emergency: people offering up their expertise along with their stored spares and supplies to help another boats distress. But it really shines when it comes to some of the cruisers favorites: books, movies, music, cruising guides, charts and now the new electronic books. We could I suppose be seen as the world’s biggest bootleggers. There are a few boats here that pay their way from country to country selling movies and music but mostly it is just friend to friend filling ridiculously small tremendously capacious external hard drives with thousands upon thousands of movies and Kindle format books. We left home with one Kindle with an array of free out of copyright books and now have bought our third Kindle and have more than two thousand books.

Until we left to cruise we had never even watched a movie aboard our boat now we have three hard drives full of blockbuster movies to fill our nights. The movies are big hits with cruisers though it remains to be seen if Bill and I will shift over from books (we have to date watched only a handful of TV shows and five or six movies.) What used to be a luxury -having enough room to store books and movies- has now become routine. A high tech addition to our light footprint, low tech life.

Recently we met up with some friends who were on the brink of their own departure for a life of sailing. They too are big readers and when I offered to share our store of Kindle books she actually became teary eyed! Oh the wealth and luxury of books. A small consolation and comfort for another library addict.


Our First Chubasco


Last night we experienced our first Chubasco. The name itself always makes me think of a cross between a Chewbacca (Chewy was Hans Solos’ seven foot tall furry side-kick) and extra hot Tabasco sauce but trust me they are a lot less fun than that. Chubasco: A violent but short lived squall, usually accompanied by thunder, lighting, rain and strong winds. The next closest comparison I could find is the tropical storms which bring winds of 34 to 63 knots –just one step down from a category I hurricane.

We have been hearing about Chubascos since we arrived in the Sea. There is a whole subcategory of cruisers who devote time to providing amateur whether reports, Controlled radio nets that spread the forecasts, Chubasco report emails, Chubasco report emails relayed over the VHF and plenty of warnings and stories. They typically occur in the late evening or early nightfall and other than static on the Ham radio and flashes in the skies there are few warning signs. We had been lucky so far to only have listened to the reports of our friends.

Segway then to dinner ashore: Bill and I had met Mauro a transplanted Italian who opened a pizzeria here in the tiny town of Bahia de los Angeles in March. He was such a nice guy and we hit it off instantly. We sat at his shop eating his delicious ice cream, talking about travel and hearing about his path to Baja and his motorcycle trips: one from Italy to Beijing and another from Argentina, Tierra del Fuego to Kodiak Alaska and on to New York. Later we started to pass on his restaurants location and a good word to the other cruisers and before we knew it we had 20 people who wanted to make his Thursday Night Pasta Night.

When we had gone to pizza a couple nights before we had run him out of pizza dough with our group of ten so Bill and I stopped to let him know he was going to have a crowd. He only has a couple of tables and a few chairs and doesn’t serve beer or wine so I jumped into the job of “event coordinator.” A couple of VHF announcements later and everyone knew our meeting time and place and the suggestion to bring their own beach chairs and beverages. After a the regularly scheduled afternoon floatie party at S/V Camelot everyone met at the beach in front of Guillermo’s, parked the dinghies above the high water mark and set off walking to Mauro’s place. He greeted us warmly and we were soon right at home. He opened this year right at the end of the regular season and sometimes his little business can go days without a single customer so having a crowd of 20 was much appreciated and I think Mauro was having as much fun as we were.

Then as dinner progressed we watched as the sky began to fill with clouds. Then a lovely cool breeze freshened. Soon we could see flashes of lightning far out to the east. We oohed and aahed for a bit with comments like “not to worry you can’t even hear the thunder until the lightning is within ten miles.” What we should have been doing was paying our bill, asking for the food to go and beating feet back to our line of dinks. Instead as we split up the bill and calculated the tip we heard the thunder and by the time we reached the beach and our dinghies the wind was roughly 20 knots and the people sitting at Guillermo’s patio watching the storm were asking us if we were actually going out into the abyss.

Well, Bill and I were first into the water and the first with our wheels back in the up position ready to rush into the night (dinghy wheels are mandatory for beach landings.) By the time we pulled alongside Island Bound we were seeing 30knot winds. I clambered aboard and started taking our sunshade down while Bill rushed to secure the dinghy on the davits. The wind and waves were building and it was crashing and flashing all around us. In the next couple of minutes we managed to get two sunshades down, three hatches closed, 16 port lights dogged down, three fishing poles stashed below decks, the cushions and pillows from the cockpit tucked away, our beach hats thrown below, swimsuits off the rail, GPS anchor alarm switched on, VHF radio on channel, floatie toys stuffed below, swim ladder out of the water and the engine turned on and idling all while surrounded by gusts over 50knots. The waves built by the minute and we were now occasional healing to 20degrees. And in the midst of all that scampering we heard a big bang that neither of us could identify.

On the boats closest to us we could see crew scurrying around trying to secure all their own deck litter. We could see sunshades finally given up on and left to flog in the wind and several dingies still in the water –the seas suddenly too rough to even attempt to bring them aboard. The next order of the day was to get a quick check in from all the boats we’d been ashore with to make sure everyone made it safely home because in the dark and the confusion it was impossible to tell. A quick radio check proved everyone aboard but Bob and Sherry on Ponderosa which was a bit scary for a few minutes but eventually we could see movement on deck and had to assume they were simply too busy to answer their radio. They were last to their boats because they had to first ferry Paul and Judy to their boat Grace before finally making it safely home to Ponderosa. The bad timing meant they were trying to unload to Grace in 50+mph winds and raging seas and by the time they arrived home they had 8” of sea water in their dinghy.

Once everyone was accounted for it was time to asses our holding. We were not dragging anchor which was great but on further investigation that loud bang we had heard was our chain hook or its line giving way. We routinely use a chain hook to attach a snubber to our anchor line. The steel hook is attached to the chain by stretchy line and tied off to cleats before letting out more chain to transfer the brunt of the load off the anchor windless and on to the line. Too many boaters have had their windless stripped by high winds when the load gets to great. The chain or rode strips the windlass wildcat allowing the windlass to spool out leaving you unanchored to your anchor. Bill was able to do a quick fix and we held fast and tight. (Note to self: never ignore the loud bangs.)

By the time everything was stowed, the chain hook problem was managed and we were certain our anchor was holding we were both sitting in the dark in the cockpit watching the storm. As soon as I slowed down I had time to evaluate my own condition. I’d knocked my right elbow pretty hard, torn my dress, my stomach was very queasy and I was covered in sweat. Hmmmm, too much dinner? Was the sausage bad? Oh heck no I’m seasick!

Yes, I still get seasick though it happens less and less often these days. Unfortunately I had spent so much time below getting everything stowed that by the time I was slick with sweat and ready to barf I was just realizing I had a problem. Thank goodness for Sturgeron the wonder medicine that even works after you’re sick. Just 15mg, a piece of candied ginger and 20 minutes and I could quit hugging the side of the cockpit long enough to keep my eyes on the horizon as it bobbed and swayed to let out a sigh of relief.

We both stayed in the cockpit for the next couple of hours watching and waiting; the engine idling and occasionally slipped into gear to take some of the load off our anchor when the biggest gusts hit. There was a lesser second act an hour or so into things but after the 50+ knots 30 knots seemed pretty tame. By 11:30 I was rocking to sleep in bed while Bill stayed in the cockpit manning the helm before eventually settling in to sleep there – just in case. Though most Chubascos blow themselves out pretty quickly this one lasted a more than three hours with a residual roll and blow that lasted well into the early morning.

The next morning’s Nets were filled with the adventures of the whole fleet but we are all none the worse for wear. For those of us who had just survived our first Chubasco we had all learned a lesson or two (never ooh and ah at an approaching front) and the only things on our minds were naps and a 400pm “we survived the great Chubasco of 2011” floatie party.


Our Days in The Bay of LA


The anchorages at Isla Coronados are definitely in my list of top spots here in the North Sea. They are safe and secure anchorages. Bahia de las Rocas and the little spot tucked in behind Isla Mitla’n offer shelter from most winds which is paramount during the wild weather summers of the North Sea. The area is beautiful in its starkness and the fishing is great. Most nights we could hear the whales feeding and breathing in the channel just outside the cove and most days we fished and usually had enough for dinner in less than an hour.

Living off the land in the North Sea was simple and easy. In fact between the clams and the fishing the last time we bought meat or chicken was way back in April and our tiny freezer still held two chicken breasts and some carne asada. We feasted on steamed clams, stuffed clams and clams in red sauce, grilled fish, teriyaki fish, baked fish, fried fish, Yellow Tail sashimi and fish and chips. My favorites are the little Yellow Tails - nicknamed firecrackers because they put up such a good fight when you reel them in- with their wonderful fresh and mild flavor. They are delicious in tacos and make exceptional sashimi and ceviche.

A good many of our days spent there we were completely alone which is always nice but we also spent many evenings with friends new and old. As much as we love company there is something wonderful about having a beautiful anchorage all to ourselves. The quiet is all ours and there is no need to have soggy swimsuits hanging around. Plus in this kind of heat when you have the anchorage all to yourself you get the bonus of a nearly empty laundry bag which sure helps out on laundry bucket day.

After nearly two weeks at anchor we turned back to The Village at Bahia de los Angeles in time for the Net Controllers party. As the fleet gets smaller and smaller between March and June there is always a need for volunteer net controllers. So some quick mind came up with the idea for a Net Controllers Party. Only volunteers and their significant others may attend and since no one wants to miss out on a party it’s a win-win for everyone. I volunteered for Sunday night’s Southbound Net and it’s been a great way make new friends. There are three active Ham and marine single sideband Nets in Mexico: the Amigo, the Sonrisa and the Southbound Nets. They meet at different times every day and their primary purposes are to help people stay in contact, to pass on information, to give access to weather forecasts and to be an available avenue for priority emergency and medical traffic.

The controllers act as operators on what amounts to a big party line recognizing boats by their ships license call sign or their Ham radio call sign whichever the case and then facilitating the conversations. This way everyone who wants gets to check in and anything of importance gets out to those who might benefit.
Bill and I both passed our Ham license exams back in 2009 but there is a big difference between being a licensed Ham and actually being able to run your radio. The radios are more complicated to run than simple VHF, have a language all to their own that needs to learned and fall under specific FCC use rules and regulations. There is something about picking up a mike that leaves most people tongue tied, even me. Taking the net Control position has been a great way to become more proficient and was something I really wanted to be comfortable with before we leave to cross the Pacific in a few months.

I know I keep talking about how isolated we are here but it is such a culture shock. The world has become such a small place with the advent of the internet and the rise of cell phones. We have up till now found that we are rarely out of touch for more than a few days at a time even in Alaska, the wilds of BC and throughout most of Mexico. But Baja is different. When we left home we bought an “unlocked” Blackberry. The plan being that in each country we reach we will buy a new Sim card and then pay as we go for data and or phone service, that way anywhere there is cell coverage we simply “tether” our cell to our computer and walla’ internet. Between that and the Wi-Fi antennae on our boat we have had access virtually everywhere. Up till now. Here in Bahia de Los Angeles they have no cell coverage which leaves all of us sort of going through withdrawal. To add insults to injury there are a couple of places in town where you can get online but they are through “dial up” connections which are almost worse than no connection at all. The cruisers tend to hit the Village in droves quickly overwhelming their system till connectivity simply crashes. Worse yet is the fact that a brand new cell phone tower is already erected and complete it just isn't turned on yet!

Since all the cruisers use the internet for Face Book, Blogs and email suddenly many of us feel more removed than ever before from the stream of life. It certainly hit me when I got an email from home telling me my mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Though I am only about 1200 miles from Seattle it sure feels like a long way when you hear something like that. The feeling of frustration from lack of contact has been unfortunate and uncomfortable. With my inability to call or Skype I felt a long way from my family. The good news is that they caught it early and the cancer is highly treatable. The bad news is I can’t do a Google search for a cram course in breast cancer treatments and I’m not there as our family circles the wagons in support.

Most of us out here I think have already anticipated just this type of scenario. When you decide to leave family and friends for the traveling life in your 50’s and 60’s there are some inherent obstacles that come with the separation. It’s making a conscious decision to walk away from senior family members and young grandkids. Elderly parents get sick and need support or grandma especially begins to miss those cuddly little grandbabies and calls it quits. In fact those issues are the two most cited reasons that turn people back from this dream. My very first thought was to find a bus and get to an airport. Unfortunately today - Sept 1st through Oct 31st marks prime hurricane season making leaving the boat unattended a risky decision. We have to be here for the possibility of both running from and getting ready for a massive blow.

So, here I sit writing blog posts and stacking them up to post at a later date and feeling very thankful we have our Single Side Band radio with its Pactor modem so that at least we have email capabilities. A few years ago sending email from the middle of nowhere was unheard of now cruisers have several choices for staying connected and with them I know mom is in good hands and is surrounded by people who love and care for her. I can follow along and stay in touch and wait patiently for a winter visit. Right now it just feels like I am a long way from home.


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Gadget Gods Were Smiling


Today Bill saved us five thousand dollars! One of our last moment purchases before we left Seattle 17months ago was a used dive compressor. We love to dive and the thought of being able to fill tanks along the way ourselves seemed like a great idea and would be a fantastic luxury. We had no idea where we were going to put it but the bid went in and we “won.” The seller shipped it our way while Bill ordered a rebuild kit and downloaded an owner’s manual. Two days later we picked it up at our mail drop and hauled it’s 30”x15”x17” bulk back to the boat.

Once aboard there was no obvious place to store it. We already had the parts and pieces of dozens of other pending projects crammed into every remaining inch of locker space and by this time we even had piles of lumber and still more project supplies tied down on the cabin top and deck. The only place left for the compressor was the back deck. We stuffed it into a big open ended blue plastic bag our new main sail had been shipped in, tied to the back rail and off we went.

Jump ahead to a long hot summer in the sea: the dive compressor is still tied to the back rail. It’s now been sitting barely sheltered from the elements for thousands of miles - Seattle to Alaska and back, a six hundred mile off shore from Neah Bay to San Francisco, through two and a half months dilly dallying along the coast of California and then almost eleven months here in Mexico –through rain and salt spray, heeled over in the wind, through Coromuels, Chubascos and months of dissolving UV rays from above.

I am tired of worrying about it, tired of stepping around it and frustrated with trying to clean up the thousands of tiny blue bits and pieces of shedding plastic bag. By now I have fine-tuned a fantasy of silently shoving it over the side and exclaiming in dismay that we’ve been robbed. I know I can’t fix it myself and am completely convinced that it will never be resurrected. Bill on the other hand I think just wishes it would disappear or better yet rebuild itself and spontaneously begin filling tanks.

I’m sure the procrastinators out there will be able to relate to the problem: days have passed, opportunities slipped by and the job just keeps getting pushed aside and pushed aside. There are only two cures. 1. Time itself steps in and renders the whole thing a moot point: the kid is now five and doesn’t need the pretty knitted baby blanket anymore or the house burns down and that dryer vent simply no longer needs to be reattached. Or 2. A deadline looms and you are forced to bite the bullet and get the job done.

So, here we are the summer season is winding down. It is finally cool enough to begin thinking about boat projects again and our thoughts have turned to our upcoming passage to the South Pacific. We are making lists and reading cruising guides. We are thinking about what we need to buy before we leave and are talking with friends who have been there before us. The conversation keeps coming back to the world class diving we are all anticipating and to conversations about dive compressors.

For most divers having your tanks filled is sort of an incidental. You go out on a dive boat where the crew fills your empty tanks or you drop off your empties at a shop and pick them up filled like you pick up your dry cleaning. But for cruisers like us the truth is that if you don’t have your own compressor you simply don’t dive. It is always more important to have a filled tank on hand in case of an emergency than it is to drift that wall or do that amazing reef dive. You can’t afford to find yourself with three miles of fishing net wound round your rudder with nothing but empty tanks aboard waiting for the next dive shop you find.

It finally came down to #2! Time was running out and the discussions had come round again to renting a car with some other boaters and driving to San Diego for the sole purpose of buying a couple of $5000.00 dive compressor. It would be the epitome of procrastination to make the drive and spend the money without at least trying to get the used compressor running. Amazingly once the oil reserve was filled and the gas tank topped off she started after only a couple of pulls. Walla’ a working dive compressor and money in our pockets. A few tweaks, a new charcoal filter and a notation on our “to buy” parts list for some replacement oil filters and we were rocking and rolling.

Bill lavishly emptied a tank cleaning the bottom and replacing our prop zinc before hooking the tank up to the compressor and in just 20minutes we had a full tank. Oh one more thing, if you own your own dive compressor you are guaranteed to make friends in every anchorage. Hmmm, some cruisers make money filling other diver’s tanks, me, maybe I can make a trade for some shiny stainless or a scrubbed hull????


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bahia de los Angeles


Fuel, fresh fruits and veggies and the chance of a meal off the boat mean that what is left of the fleet will spend the next 8 weeks bouncing back and forth between the small village at Bahia de los Angeles and a dozen or so nearby anchorages. The Bay of LA Village is essentially the only place that offers services of any kind to the small fleet of cruisers spending the season on the northern Sea. Our only other options for food, fuel, boat parts and services or medical care are well south, 124nm down the Baja peninsula in Santa Rosalia or 150nm south east in San Carlos/Guaymas.
The town is small, friendly and pretty rustic. In face they have only had electricity for about five years. There is a medical clinic but no hospital, no cell phone coverage, internet only via satellite at one of two internet cafe’s, two small stores and a couple of “supermercados” the Mexican equivalent of a Circle K or a 7-11. They don’t have a fuel dock but you can haul gas or diesel in jerry cans from the Pemex station about a mile out of town. There is no marina and no docks or dockside water available. As you walk through the village there are numerous restaurants and taco stands though we only saw 6 or seven that were actually open for business.
Sundays are family day in Mexico as it is typically the one day off during the week. But when a group of us walked into town about 7:00pm for dinner (the time that Mexican families are just starting to think about dinner) by 9:00pm when we were walking back to the beach to return to our boats for the night the town had virtually shut down around us for the night. No bars, no ice cream joints and no open stores.

We don’t need to be this far north quite yet in the season (the main hurricane months are typically September and October) but we didn't want to miss the August Full Moon Party so we arrived in plenty of time to take our place in the anchorage at Las Monas. We came specifically for the party but also wanted to take the time to do a bit of recon at the hurricane hole in Puerto Don Juan.
The Full Moon party was great. Just 15 boats but we pulled off a great potluck, had a chance to see the whale sharks again, got in some decent fishing (we caught two Sierra, a trigger fish, a small tuna and two groupers) listened to nightly coyote serenade and watched the space station fly overhead. But the highlight of the Full Moon party was definitely the afternoon of “Floatie toys” in the lagoon.

It was quite a sight to see: twenty five grown-ups with colorful toys in tow in the corner of the bay where the lagoon fills on the high tide. We all parked our dinks, climbed into or onto our air mattresses, pool noodles, floating chairs and blow up Barco loungers and floated the incoming tide into a small lagoon. Once inside we floated around with our drinks chatting and trying to stay cool. It still amazes me that we are still making new friends when all the boats here in the Sea have been on essentially the same path for 9 months! We floated along over the clean sandy bottom in the bath water warm sea then when the tide began running out we caught the current and floated back into the bay before getting out, walking across the sand isthmus and back into the lagoon for another ride. By 3:30 we were all pretty pruned so we headed back to our boats for a bit of siesta before the evening potluck. Come night fall we started a bonfire, (don’t ask me why someone felt we needed the bonfire when the temperature was hovering at 95degrees) turned over a couple of dinghy’s to use as potluck tables and settled in to eat and talk and eat some more. We had a clear view of the space station flyover and we were all full and happy by the time the full moon rose over the mountains behind us. A great party!

Early the next morning we were off for our first visit to the Village. Guellermo’s Trailer Park and Restaurant was the site for the sad detail of parting out a fellow cruisers boat. I think most of us simply can’t pass up the possibility of a good deal but also suspect many wanted a chance to see S/V Ansuer (one of the five grounded boats this season alone) up close.
Bill and I felt a sort of small connection to the boat and its owner Fred because Bill had intercepted the original Mayday when Ansuer ran aground a month or so ago. It was just odd timing to have taken the call at all. Bill had gotten up before the Ham Net was set to run but had turned on the radio as he settled into the cabin with his cup of tea. Fred an 80 year old single hander had ended up on the beach in his Shannon 38 just north of San Francisquito. He knew the Net was scheduled to start soon and hoped to reach someone for some help. He stated that he had committed the worst possible single hander mistake by falling asleep while underway. He had arrived in the Bay of L.A. in the middle of the night and had tried to catch a few minutes of sleep while waiting for the sun to come up so he could get into the unfamiliar anchorage. Unfortunately he fell asleep and woke to find himself hard aground. It was heartbreaking to listen to the call and to try and help.
The first mistake of course was having fallen asleep. The second came when once on the beach he couldn’t use his dinghy to take an anchor to deep water to try and winch himself off the shore. He had been in a Chubasco a week before (a sudden high wind that occurs in Mexico) that had flipped his dink causing him to lose his outboard and one of his oars. Without engine or oars he had no chance of kedging off the shore. Third was the bad luck of being alone and unable to contact the Navy. Just as was our experience when we took the Pan-Pan call from Safety Cat we were many miles (80 nm and 13 hours away) from being able to offer any assistance ourselves and were unable to reach any other help quickly.

When S/V Ansuer called his Mayday we in turn called the Navy via VHF but were unable to reach anyone. Next we called the US Coast Guard –again no luck. Then the Mexican Navy on our cell and then finally in desperation we called Hiram a local we had met who called the Navy on his cell phone and still it was hours until anyone made it to S/V Ansuer. The last we had heard the Navy had finally reached Fred and air lifted him to a mainland hospital in Hermosilla but left the boat on the beach.

Fred wasn’t really injured but between spending hours struggling to try and solve his own problem then spending a couple of hours on the beach alone in the blazing sun he was simply wiped out and dehydrated by the time the Navy arrived. He probably would have fared fine on his own but I suspect the Navy was uncomfortable with the 80 year olds prospects and they could hardly just leave him on the beach.
In the end he then was forced to hire a Mexican salvager who got the boat off the beach (the boat had never been underwater) but then as they were lifting it by crane to the barge the straps broke and the boat plunged down into the bay: saltwater throughout, end of story. It is rare and extremely difficult to resurrect a boat once it has been truly sunk.

So, the cruisers flocked to the once lovely sailing vessel Ansuer but she was sad to see. They had stripped virtually everything off of her including cutting her mast off (at the deck????) removed her keel, ripped out all of her bronze ports and stripped all the rigging and sails. When we saw her she was laying on her side on the barge. The hope was to raise at least $7,000 to pay off the salvage costs but the dollar count at the end of the first day was only $800 U.S.
This last year there have been five boats gone aground, three were single handers and one boat was totaled from a whale hit south of La Cruz. All of which makes me grateful for our decisions and choices in outfitting our own boat. Clearly Bill and I sleep soundly and safely with all of our modern safety equipment: life raft, EPirb,(GPS controlled satellite positioning emergency beacon) alarmed depth sounder, an anchor watch mode on our GPS, the alarm functions on our AIS (collision avoidance system) and two people to swap watches. After seeing Ansuer on the barge my heart hurt for her. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of seeing our baby awash on the beach. Or watching as people slowly tore her apart bit by bit for parts and pieces.

There wasn’t anything for sale that we really needed for Island Bound but since we hadn’t been at a store for 12 days we did need to stock up on fresh food so off to the stores we went. We had laid in supplies in Santa Rosalia and Mulege’ but as always in this heat our fresh stuff was long gone. I am glad that the village is used to us invading them because when the fleet descends as we did after the Full Moon Party we can pretty much wipe out a small tiendas’ supply of fruits and vegetables. They seem to plan for us though and were glad to see us and our business. We ran into cruisers at every corner stocking up essentials, hauling gasoline, buying beer and wine and filling up the local restaurants.

As is the usual we set out in the heat on foot to try and find our way to the stores with the best selection and most reasonable prices. The first day in a town is always part shopping trip part exploration. Basically you wander through a town with some vague ideas of where you hope to find fruit and vegetables, meat and of course…..ICE CREAM! We set off for “the yellow store” and the fruteria near the Pemex.

For the fruit store we were told that it was just past the Y in the road but on reaching the Y we didn't see anything that looked like a grocery. By the time we could see the Pemex we knew we were not on the right path so stopped to talk with a local. He assured us there was no place near that sold fruit and that we would need to retrace our steps to a place called “Dos Pinas” but we were pretty sure we were actually close. We retraced our steps and tried again and walked into a store that had piles of clothes and shoes outside. Walla` the fruit store. Turns out that behind the t-shirts and dresses was a pretty nice tienda who’s weekly fresh produce delivery had come just the day before. The selection was pretty good and we walked out with seven big bags of groceries (mostly fruit, vegetables and eggs) for about $55 US. I felt lucky to have hit it so close to delivery day and it’s good to know the right day for future trips “to town ” so we can plan our future stops and not end up back in town when the fresh stuff is all gone.

Tomorrow we will sail to Puerto Don Juan to check out the hurricane hole. We won’t stay long we just want to have some familiarity with the anchorage so if any significant weather comes our chart plotter will already have a “bread crumb” trail to follow allowing us to enter even in the dark or under poor conditions with confidence. Simply having a clear picture in our minds of the anchorage will lower the stress level a bit if we have to start monitoring any storm activity. Our motto when the winds come up: reef early, seek shelter and remember “Land is not your friend!”


Buddy The Pelican


We just sailed in to the anchorage at La Mona after spending three nights at Animas Slot. The Slot is a tiny little cove tucked in behind a large islet that leaves just enough room for one or two boats to tuck in snug between the rocky rugged shores. The day we arrived there was a single small boat in the cove but the next morning it motored away and left us alone in the quite secluded spot.

We spent a couple of days fishing and had pretty good luck. We caught three Yellow Tails, a Grunt and a small tuna. Using our poles with light tackle both days meant a few lost lures, plenty of fish that never made it into the boat and lots of action. Our first day out I saw a three foot Marlin or some type of sail fish and on the second outing a beautiful blue green Dorado came screaming off the rocky point after a small Yellow Tail I had hooked.

On our way up from San Francisquito we once again had tried our luck at some big fish but our luck seemed to have run out. Sadly the only thing we managed to hook was a pelican. Friends have been telling us stories of catching booby birds and the difficulties they have encountered trying to get them set free again and we have had several of the dumb fowl waste their time trying to snag one of our drag line lures but they had always managed to either figure out it wasn’t a good meal or simply continue to miss until they gave up, but the luck ran out for this pelican.
We do most of our big game fishing with a hand line rather than a rod and reel. For us the fishing isn't really sport (though it is still fun and exciting) we simply catch and haul in on our quest for food. Because we don't use a rod and reel we don't have a telltale ziiingggg when a fish is on and often don't realize right away we have caught something. That was the situation when we caught the pelican. By the time we realized we had him he was already dead. We were under full sail cruising at about 6 knots so when he hooked himself on the lure. I am sure he simply couldn’t keep up and quickly drowned as we drug him along behind us.

Maybe we had penance to do. I’m not sure but after our first fishing trip at the cove we seemed to have acquired Buddy. He showed up with the feathered crowd that always materializes when Bill starts cleaning fish. The gulls come in and start to squawk which calls to the pelicans and soon there is a whole cheering section floating around fighting over the bits and pieces he throws off the cleaning table In the past we have had gulls that become very persistent. As soon as we clean a single fish in an anchorage the gulls consider us their local grocer. Then on some occasions a gull or two decided it’s just time for dinner regardless of whether or not we’ve been fishing. They fly in it seems whenever it crossed their minds and land near the boat then begin to squawk. They often stay at it for quite a while until they either get distracted or give up. We can be below and suddenly there is a single gull outside just causing a ruckus. I suppose it must think if it makes enough noise we will relent and toss out something worth eating. But Buddy was different.

Buddy came around with the first fish Bill cleaned and he simply never left. I could soon pick him out of a crowd but mostly he was simply there. He spent all his daylight hours paddling quietly around our boat waiting for any activity. Every time we came on deck there he was always hopeful. When I jumped in the water he would move closer still but just out of reach. If I climbed into the dinghy he would come right up and flap his pelican beak towards anything that moved. If you moved your arm up he would watch you closely and then reach towards your hand. He stood out, young and sort of soft and fluffy and a shade or two darker than all the other pelicans around. He would look you right in the eye as his webbed feet fluttered along. He wound around and around the dinghy and made no attempt to get out of the way when we started the outboard. When we went came in from our second day fishing he was front and center looking for a hand out. Then while we were busy trying to tie up the dink and unload our fishing gear he took a grab for one of the lures attached to our poles so from then off we had to shoo him off and snatch the rods out of his reach.

While the newest batch of fish was being cleaned Buddy stayed close. I threw him the first big piece, head, innards and tail all still attached. He scooped it up in his beak and paddled away trying to protect his find. He paddled around in a tight circle, the huge fish piece in his mouth. One small piece of the innards wrapped around his beak so he couldn’t swallow and so was forced to defend his prize from the other birds. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at him he looked so ridiculous with his neck all scrunched down into his body. Eventually he was able to fling his prize about and get it unwrapped and down his gullet. Whew!

Later I discovered that poor Buddy was not at all discriminating. Well I should have known that I suppose from the fishing lure or from the snorkel and fins he thought might be worth a taste but then I made the mistake of tossing over a tin can. Tin cans go over the side regularly. You fill them with saltwater and drop the over the side. They sink to the bottom and then disappear quickly unlike plastic and even paper. I casually tossed a tropical fruit can over the side only to cringe as Buddy scooped it up and tried to swallow it whole. Luckily he has some taste and determined it wasn’t really to his liking and spit it back out but I learned to be a bit more discerning.
After three days we motored out of the anchorage, careful to get far enough away from buddy before we spooled out our fishing gear. I hope the next boat in carries more fishermen and I will remind myself to let our friends know to look out for Buddy when they make it to Anamas Slot.

“The Pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can.”


Uh uh, no playing with the humans you kids,


While anchored at Animas slot we got in some good fishing along the rocky points. We were calling it a day with four fish on our stringer when Bill pointed out dolphins in the distance. As we putted along in the dink they came nearer and I wondered at their size: “wow those are big dolphins.” As they came closer we could see into all the activity and realized that we were looking at dolphins, sea lions and a whole pod of pilot whales. As we paused to stare they all came nearer and the pilot whales began breaching right next to the dink, behavior we had never seen before.

As the crowd got closer Bill started the engine and moved off to the side of the froth of activity. Part of the crowd though swarmed around us. Suddenly we were moving along on plane with dolphins and small pilot whales surged around us. We flowed along in tandem for several minutes with me (of course) whooping and hollering in enthusiastic support while the air filled with whale sounds and the clicking and buzzing of the dolphins. As quickly as it had begun the older larger whales swooped in and seemed to say “uh-uh not today guys. No more playing with humans.” The youngsters and the dolphins were effectively herded off and away from us by the biggest of the pilot whales and out towards open water, Bill let off the gas and we slowed down in the waves and watched them disappear again into the blue. Amazing wildlife! Kat

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Party (Boarded by the Mexican Navy)


After a single day 80 mile run north we are now in Bahia San Francisquito along with a small handful of other boats. After the heat and exhaustingly high humidity of Santa Rosalita everyone is thrilled to be comfortable again. The humidity level here is remarkably low in comparison to S.R. and there is a lovely breeze and the water is an amazing 12 degrees cooler. I had no idea I would appreciate 103 degrees in any form but this feels like heaven after the endless hours of sticky sweaty heat in town. The evening we arrived I was in the water three times before I even put dinner on the table.
I remember being told last winter that once we hit the summer months in Baja we would live by the humidity level but the warning just didn’t sink in. After all Baja is a desert, scant rainfall, cacti, lizards and coyotes. Aren’t deserts supposed to be dry? Not so during a Baja summer. Every night since we arrived in S.R. every surface in the boat has been damp. The cockpit seats stayed sticky, the exterior teak looked dark as if I had just hosed down the boat and every night when we would climb in to bed the sheets were moist and tacky and felt dirty and damp no matter how clean. (Cruisers hint: if you shake a bit of baby powder across the sheets before bed the sheets feel remarkably cool and dry beneath you.)
Shortly after we arrived in Bahia San Francisquito two other boats pulled in, both friends from our old docks at Seattle’s Shilshole Marina: Cindy and Adam on Bravo (a Kelly Peterson sister ship) and Sherry and Bob on Ponderosa so once we had all caught up on our rest the only logical thing to do was to have a party!

Sundowners in the cockpit are a time honored tradition with boaters that come with a few bits of protocol. First off everyone brings a snack though they can range from the simplest to decedent and extravagant. It’s not meant to be dinner though it often turns into that. Second, everyone brings their own beverage and ice is not provided unless the host offers(many boats don’t carry ice and those that do usually have it in short supply and pay for it dearly with high electrical use.)Third, unless specifically invited for dinner protocol calls for the end of the party to inherently come when the sun is setting and the anchorage is getting dark. That way everyone makes it safely back to their boats in time for cruisers’ notoriously early bed time -up with the sun, down with the sun, though that timeline is changing as the days of oil lamps and scant electrical supplies morph into modern boats with seemingly limitless electricity, flat screen TV’s and exhaustive movie libraries.
So, there we are in Bravos’ cockpit chatting about how wonderful it feels to be cool again and gobbling up goodies until we notice the Navy boat coming our way. An Armada de Mexico boat has been at anchor across the bay since the previous evening when we all arrived but we have seen little if any activity there until of course the party starts. They come across the bay in their warship complete with Uzi carrying crew. As they approach we figure we better switch on the radio (which we are not required to have on while at anchor) since it looks like they are going to try and board us. The Capitan calls and the conversations lead to a request for Adam to bring his papers via Bravos dinghy to their ship which he cheerfully does.

After a few minutes Adam returns and we resume the party while wondering exactly why they would only want papers on one of the three boats in the anchorage. A few minutes later they return this time in their dinghy while the warship hovers nearby intermittently throwing a large wake into the anchorage. When they return at first it seems like they have mistakenly come back. Why would they come to Bravo again? But, as it looks like they are intent on boarding fenders are quickly hung to protect Bravos paint and soon there are three armed officers aboard and they explain that Bravos’ paperwork is not in order in fact one of the papers they looked at earlier was “muy malo” ( very bad.)

With a bit of a group effort it is explained that the TIP Bravo supplied –Temporary Import Permit- was a photo copy. Which in itself is not a problem, but it is a color copy and should be in black and white only. A color copy is equal to a forgery and is muy malo and very illegal. OK. So while two armed men stand on deck and two armed men stand in their tender holding on to the side of Bravo as the war ship circles and throws a big wake the officer who speaks the best English goes through the list of papers again and ask to go below to check fire extinguishers, GPS and flares.
While the inspection is taking place a VHF call comes in from friends on Buena Vista (another Peterson sister ship) saying they are coming into the bay. We all sort of looked at each other and stated that as soon as Buena Vista rounded the corner the Armada would be off in pursuit but for now they were out of sight. In a few minutes the inspection is done and they are climbing into their tender and turning to the two other Captains present and indicating that it is now Island Bounds and Ponderosas turns.

End of party time to pack up and call it a night. Sherry and Bobs dinghy is tied closest so they climb in first and as they head towards Ponderosa the Armada de Mexico follows and Bill and I putt back to Island Bound to leisurely round up all the necessary paperwork and articles they are likely to want to inspect.

Contrary to nearly everyone we know Island Bound has never been boarded in the years we have owned her. With our numerous trips in and out of Canada, the Coast Guards heavy presence in the Pacific Northwest and even our entrance into Mexico no one has ever even done a safety inspection. We have heard lots of tales but somehow we slipped through unnoticed. We of course have all the documents we ever expect to need along with all the required safety and communications gear so a boarding is simply a formality yet can often cause an elevated stress reaction and response with many folks. The troops were busy on Ponderosa so we had plenty of time to gather everything together and even straighten up a bit. For us the inspection was simple and easy and in fact rather abbreviated. By the time the Armada reached us the enlisted men were yawning and obviously hot and bored while they carried on conversations about their weekend and tequila. The spokesman was polite and friendly and seemed to be doing nothing other than an obligatory inspection. They did no search and unlike the other boats they took no pictures (Bill thinks they had run out of film or memory in the camera.) They transferred some information off of our boats Documentation and out of our passports then thanked us and said goodbye.

Unfortunately while they held court with all of us our friends on Buena Vista sailed into the anchorage and were quickly relegated to inspection number four. I felt bad for Buena Vista because I knew how tired we had been when we arrived and how much all I wanted to do was slip into the cool water. They barely had their anchor in the mud before they needed to scramble to protect their paint job and start digging out their paperwork amidst the inevitable disarray after a long hot crossing.

P.S. By this morning there were now five boats in the main anchorage (three of which were nearly carbon copy Petersons) when yet another police presence appeared. They once again bee lined to Bravo (we joked and said that Bravo was easier to pronounce but Buena Vista sort of disintegrated that theory) nearly reamed his hull before he was able to hang some fenders and boarded once again. Same script different jurisdiction and then off they went to the inner harbor never bothering to approach any of the other boats. Then again it’s early yet, maybe they are waiting to see if we throw another party?

Oops, which way were we going?

Our crossing to San Carlos was simple and easy. We’ve done enough now to be comfortable and relaxed in just about any situation. The only thing different about this crossing was that it was totally unanticipated. When the decision was made it was early afternoon and it was going to be a 70nm crossing. If we left right away we would arrive in the middle of the night so we decided to relax though the afternoon, have lunch, take a nap and then leave in the early evening in order to time our arrival for daylight. Now well underwayBill woke me at eleven pm for my watch and I quickly grabbed my gear and headed up on deck. As he passed me the watch he filled me in on our heading and I checked the chart plotter to get my bearings then Bill handed me our remote and headed below for some sleep.

One of our purchases before we started this journey was a new autopilot with a remote control. It is a handy little device about the size of a garage door opener. From any place on the boat with remote in hand you can you can switch back and forth from standby to auto and change course one degree at a time or with the push of a button alter your course in ten degree increments. It’s really a wonderful tool and has only two downfalls. 1.) The original designs accommodation for attaching a lanyard was a niche in the back with a tiny span of plastic about the width of a toothpick. Within a month or two with no abuse whatsoever that thin plastic piece broke leaving us with a remote that has the potential to not stay with the human doing the controls and 2.) The batteries wear out very quickly(and often do at the most inopportune times.)

The battery problem is simple enough to handle we just keep a stash of rechargeable batteries close by. Being unable to keep it attached to your person with a lanyard has been harder to solve. The thing wasn’t cheap so it’s policy not to put it in a pocket or take it out of the cockpit where it could potentially go over the side. [Electronics such as cell phones, IPods and remote controls evidently have evolved with a special sensor allowing said electronics to literally jump out of a humans grasp anytime they are within a few inches of a boats lifeline.] So though we have been in search of a fix for the defective lanyard since Neah Bay when in use the remote is always in someone’s hand or laying in the cockpit close by whoever is on watch.

This particular night crossing was moonless and dark and there was a light marine layer of fog which limited the view of the stars. I had looked at our course and checked for any potential dangers. There was nothing but open sea ahead: no islands, no rocks, no reefs or navigation lights, absolutely nothing between Island Bound and our destination in Guaymas an estimated eight hours to the east.
Course checked I settle into my watch and plump and push my cockpit cushion and chair just so, have my bottle of water and a snack at hand, place the remote control out of the way yet near my chair and plug myself into my IPod for some toe tapping country music (for night watch I try not to sing along, I really do.) Personally I choose not to read during my watch because the light ruins my night vision and for safety sake I try and keep my IPod volume low enough to still hear the sounds around me. Then all that is left for me to do until I wake Bill in four hours is follow the course and check the sea around me every few minutes looking for any signs of traffic, whales or bad weather.

I don’t know how other people manage their night watches but for me any real ability to see out into the night is limited. With a full moon you can see ahead of you but lacking that you are essentially driving along blind. For all intents and purposes your ability to see a whale or an object like a container floating in the water is virtually nonexistent. You MUST though keep a look out into the nothingness ahead of you for whatever you can see and especially for the navigation lights of other traffic.
So, there I am sailing along peering every few minutes off into the hazy murk not seeing any other traffic at all. If it had been a clear night I would have oriented myself to the stars above and ahead in order to give context to my course. This night everything was just dark and slightly foggy. Then about three hours into my watch I pick up the remote to check my course and realize that the batteries died and the autopilot was back on standby.
For you non sailors out there what that really means is no one was steering the boat!! I sprang up and searched around me then flung myself towards the chart plotter to see what our heading was and how far off I might be. Initially I had no idea how long the autopilot has been off but one look at the plotter made my heart race and jump into my throat.
On examination the plotter showed a rather circuitous route but because we were zoomed in for a close view it was hard to tell how far off we were from our original course. Once I zoomed out and had a good look at our course I was horrified. We weren’t on a collision course with anything thank God but I had managed to do two complete circles to the tune of about two hours of travel time. The two circles looked like a little girls ringlet or maybe a double pigs tail: a straight part, an almost perfect circle, a small straight leg, another near perfect circle and then straightening out again. Worse yet it was right there in black and white on our chart plotter.
The moral of this story is that regardless of how comfortable you are with passages and how sure you are that there are no obstacles near your route it is still important to look at the course every few minutes to be sure that you are in fact still headed in the right direction. Simple complacency could have brought disaster. I never imagined that scenario playing out: plugged into my IPod, no land or light references on our course, dead batteries, and no stars for orientation while I was checking the sea around me and somehow not even thinking to look at the plotter. It definitely makes me grateful that the damage was only to me pride. I know l will make other mistakes, big, little, new and old. Life is a learning process and the learning curve for me in this cruising life has been steep. But I can pretty much assure you that that particular mistake will not happen again on my watch. The rest of my watch passed slowly. Bill got a free extra hour of sleep.