April 27, 2010

Don't Drink the Water

I have to write?  Couldn't this wait until Diane gets back?

It's common advice about visiting Mexico. Don't drink the water. In our case, it's the water in our tanks we're concerned about. Our water tanks are integral with the hull of the boat. With the bottom and sides of the tank there is no worries - the hull is all the fiberglass. But the top of the tank is plywood covered with fiberglass. 25 year old fiberglass. Which is now starting to rot (we see little chunks of wood fiber in our taps). So our latest boat project is replacing the rotting tank tops. Good thing we have a carbon filter on one tap to filter out the chunky bits.

We purchased a sheet of plywood in La Cruz, cut it to shape and gave it a quick coat of epoxy, prior to our passage to La Paz. That was a clever idea because it was a wet upwind ride for the plywood which lived on our foredeck for the trip. Now the 3 week old epoxy needs a sanding before we cover it with fiberglass tomorrow. (epoxy older than about 24 hours needs sanding to get the best bond before other layers are added).

Getting new eyeglasses and finding some fiberglass cloth was today's big errands. The glasses were easy, and were going to be ready in about 6 hours. For somebody used to the rather slow pace of Canadian eyewear that was a pleasant change. The fiberglass cloth took 3 tries before we found someplace with the right stuff.  But Maia and I did discover a place that sold 1 L smoothies that cooled us off after a lot of walking in the hot sun.

Far From Home

I'm not on the boat. I'm at work. At work in Antigua, racing in Sailing Week--for money. I'm not actually racing for money, I'm being paid to race a hot boat (Farr 65) with an amazing skipper (Brian Thompson!!) and write about racing in Antigua. I'm also being paid to stay in nice places and eat great food and stay up way too late at awesome parties drinking rum punch.
I really love my job...

But while I'm off filling the cruising kitty, it'll be up to Evan and Maia to write about life aboard. I think they're doing boat projects, which is only fair really. If I have to work so should they...

April 23, 2010

Unrequited Adventure

 If you read the guide books for this area the entries for aquatic adventures list snorkeling with whale sharks and sea lions as the big ticket items, every time. The guide books tell of whale shark encounters just outside of La Paz—here swimmers can dive with these gentle giants, marveling at their very existence. And a little further north you can snorkel at a sea lion rookery—where the young are as eager to frolic with you as puppies...
We planned to do both this week.
The thing about natural encounters is there are no pools or fences keeping the animals in a convenient location. And after four months of hanging out in roughly the same spot, the whale sharks chose the day before our planned visit to migrate. We may, if we're lucky, find them further north (they apparently hang out in a bay we'll frequent later in the summer). But we may not...
At least, I thought, we still had the sea lions to visit. But the problem with seeing animals in the wild is well, it can get too wild sometimes. And the rookery had strong winds and four foot waves running steeply around it, both days we planned to go—making it impossible. It reminded me, in a rather humbling way, that we are guests in their territory and they are not on display.
 With the two biggies crossed off our list, and I realized there would be no 'chance of a lifetime' experiences to photograph and brag about, it was time to get back to living in the moment. It's easy in this lifestyle to get addicted to the big experiences, sometimes at the expense of the smaller ones. I get this urge to do everything, to fill every moment with extreme wonder. But I've found when I do that I sometimes miss those other moments of magic—the quiet ones.
So when I realized my Bucket List wasn't going to get anything crossed off, I decided to slow down and savour. It may not sound blog-worthy but: We danced on deck under the moonlight, in a Coromuel wind and the boat danced too; I watched Maia master freediving less than a week after she learned to snorkel; we saw turtles, and whales, and sea lions, and dolphins as we sailed past red hued cliffs; I walked alone through the desert counting lizards as I went and found a cave where I startled some bats; we pumped up the water totter (a gift?! From Totem) and giggled ourselves silly as Maia and Allison played; we met a fisherman who we traded with for fish, which we ate with old-new friends in a in an old-new place.

April 21, 2010

Night Moves

I'm watching the boat that's anchored beside us pitch and buck as though it's trying to get upwind in a stiff breeze and steep sea. Which means, barring a few design differences, that we look nauseatingly similar. The thing is, the seas have settled down considerably, so much so, that until I saw our neighbour's boat, I thought it was nearly calm. Which of course makes me wonder what we looked like when the wind was blowing its strongest and the waves matched the breeze in force...
The Inuit may have the market covered for their number of different names for snow, but down here, there's probably an equal number of different names for wind; there's the Coromuel, Chubasco, Elefante, Norther, Tehuantepecer and Papagallos not to mention afternoon sea breezes which funnel through specific passes, pineapple expresses, lows, and named storms...
Last night we had a Coromuel (actually we've had one every night, last night's was just a doozy...). We were told a charming story about this local breeze, which starts blowing in from the southwest around dinner time then (on a strong night) builds to it's peak around 3am, only to ease off as the land heats back up in the morning sun. The story is of a local pirate: a guy called Cromwell. He discovered this breeze was predictable, but only blew near La Paz. So when the breeze hit he'd sail out into the Sea of Cortez, rob a Spanish vessel or two, then catch the daytime Northerlies back to his hiding spot where he could count his plunder. Cromwell is difficult to say in Spanish, we were told. So the wind that carried this nefarious pirate on his pillaging sprees became known as Coromuels.
Whether or not the story is true doesn't change the fact that in spring and summer, when there is a northwest wind blowing on the west coast of the Baja peninsula and warm conditions on the inside, the Coromuels kick in. And because the daytime winds blow from the north, or south, finding an anchorage that protects against everything is pretty difficult.
This is how an activity we once dubbed as the Baja Moonlit Naked Olympics; where we pull down awnings, put away dishes, secure the dingy and stop wine bottles from rattling around, became part of our lives. And like every big sporting event, you end up kind of wrecked the next day, and grumpy. Sort of like a bad attitude pirate who went plunging through nasty seas in search of treasure and came up empty...
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April 20, 2010

A Fish Story

Maia caught her first fish this morning. She's been a part of catching other fish, but this was the first time she cast with her new pink rod, wound in the light-up reel and ended up with a fish on deck. The problem, once she pulled the little striped bass aboard and looked into its little pleading eyes, was she had no desire to kill and eat her fish—so she released it back into the water. Then went back to casting, without a lure.
We do like fresh fish though. And despite trolling with a meat hook during the past two days of travel we've come up empty. There is something not right about being fishless in place like this—where the clear blue water advertises schools of fish that are being caught by everything from pelicans to sea lions (just not us).
 We're in an anchorage called Caleta Partida, about 20 miles from La Paz. The protected bay was created when an ancient volcanic explosion divided the one island into two. Before the afternoon winds came up we decided to take the dingy through the shallow channel between the islands to the rugged and exposed outside to visit some sea caves. On our way there we noticed the fish camp had someone in it, someone who (given the enthusiasm of his wave) seemed friendly .

While catching our own fish holds a certain type of appeal, Evan and I both take after Maia when it comes to buckling down and doing the deed required to turn cute swimming fish into filets. So when we have the chance to buy pre-killed, pre-cleaned and pre-fileted fish we'll mumble something about supporting the local economy, or having a cultural experience and get our fish the wimpy way...
 After our sightseeing trip, where we debated the colour of the cliffs (which range from ocher, to lilac to salmon (or pink, purple and yellowy-orange) we went ashore and introduced ourselves to Arnoldada or Arnafa or something Arnie-sh (despite getting him to repeat his name several times we still weren't sure...) The fisherman offered us a roosterfish, but didn't want money for it, he wanted to trade and said he needed sunglasses. We have loads of sunglasses aboard. We find them, we buy them, they get forgotten by guests... So Ev headed back to the boat to get a few pairs for him to choose between and while Don and Maia built sandcastles, Alison and I chatted with Arnie.

My Spanish sucks. Arnie said his Spanish is pretty good, but his English in non existent. So while I don't do tenses and when I get stuck I throw in random French words, the conversation was in Spanish. Which meant it went something like this:
A: Something, something over there, something cave, something pictures.
Me: There is a cave over there with pictures? Can we walk there, can we enter the cave? (at least this is what I think I said)
A: Yes. Something, something, something walk, near something, over something something cliff. Beautiful pictures. First cave no, second cave yes.
Me: So if we go in the second cave, which is over there near a cliff, we'll see cave pictures? Or we should take pictures?
I also learned that the next two days may, or may not be windy or may be very windy, or only windy at night. And that it's easier to catch fish at either a high tide or when your battery is charged—not sure. And he has seven children, between two families the youngest is a new born (this I'm certain of). And his goes to the fish camp five weeks on and three weeks off and his family joins him during holidays. And he likes it when the yachtes visit him, but most just wave and keep going.
As far as the cave goes—that adventure is still to come. We had fish that needed to get back to the boat and be made into delicious tacos.
On the way back to the boat I saw yet another pelican catch yet another fish, and this time rather than feeling jealous I felt smug. My fish not only had been deboned it had come with a story—a good story, even if I didn't understand all the words.
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April 16, 2010

Stocking Up

The last time we spent a year in Mexico, we grew used to shopping in dusty tiendas where stock was limited and finding anything beyond the basics was unlikely. There were a few big supermarkets around, but they carried pretty much the same stuff as the tiendas. They just spread it out a bit more widely on the shelves. Occasionally we would find something fabulous; some chocolate chips, a jar of marmalade or a bottle of decent wine, but mostly we liked the challenge of eating like a local and trying to figure out what the heck to do with chayote and those big corn kernel things.
The bow is filled with goceries
These days we have Walmart and Costco as well as the big Mexican grocery stores like CCC and Mega. Each of them carries the standard Mexican brands, but they also carry a random supply of Canadian and US products, which sell out within days of their arrival. This makes shopping kind of like a treasure hunt, and means every time a friend goes shopping you get a report back, “I found rice noodles and coconut milk!!”
Eating like a local is great—we make our own tortillas and eat plenty of beans and rice (I’m still not sure what to do with those giant kernels…), but there are days when a coconut curry over rice noodles is a welcome meal.
 We won't see produce like this during the summer
Our plan is to head into north into the Sea of Cortez in a few weeks. Once we leave La Paz, we’re pretty much back to the dusty tiendas for the next five months. So today we went and stocked up (actually we stocked up for guests who arrive tomorrow, but we did buy all the rice noodles in the store.)
 Somehow, no matter where we go, there are more choices in laundry soap than anything else
Knowing that our choices will be limited to the basics in the months to come made every purchase a bit more exciting today. And somehow appreciating every loaf of pumpernickel bread and brick of aged cheddar just feels right.

April 15, 2010

Cruising Kids

They lagged way behind us as we walked, but it didn’t matter, we slowed down and waited. There was something about the way they kept interrupting each other, grabbing each other’s hands, tucking their heads close together, giggling at words we couldn’t hear, which made us decide there was no reason to rush them.
  For over three months Maia and Sirena have been emailing each other, “Where are you now?!” Hoping they would find themselves in same harbour--the way they had in Coos Bay, Morro Bay and Newport Beach. Finally the email came, “I’m in La Paz. When are you arriving?”
 “Being a cruising kid means you get to be completely yourself,” Sirena told Maia, not long after they met. It was a day when Maia was lamenting the loss of her school friends and Sirena was explaining that by travelling on a sailboat she had a chance live without peer pressure.
Maia didn’t understand what Sirena meant. But I listened as the wise girl (who by the age of 11, felt she was well versed in the challenges of peer pressure) explained that by spending time on her own, or with a few kids who were equally self-sufficient, Maia would have lots of time to learn who she was, and what made her happy.
 The kids we meet out cruising seem to be more purely themselves than any we’ve ever encountered. The differences aren’t overt; we see it in the little things: The way they form well thought out opinions; their ability to handle stress and change; the enthusiastic way they embrace the unknown; their confidence that what they say has value.
These days, every time I think we’ve hit a situation that may push Maia past her limit, she simply rises up and meets the challenge—almost effortlessly. When I see her becoming purely Maia, I remember Sirena telling her how lucky she is that doesn’t have to shape herself to fit into a group. That she just gets to be.
 And now these two get to be together for a while.

April 14, 2010


I'm sure we'll eventually tire of the aquamarine water, blue skies, sandy beaches and deserts--but for now we're drinking it all in.
Our goal is to snorkel and hike everyday when we're out in the islands (and fit in work, school and boat chores around those;) We've started off well, yesterday we hiked up a hill and through a desert valley to a local beach where we had fish tacos.
 Maia has been fascinated by the desert since her class studied it last year and while we walked she taught us about the life cycle of the Saguaro Cactus. The walk home took us along the beach and gave us the chance to pick out our afternoon snorkel spot. We're still adjusting to the temperature change though--the water is only about 21C, and the 30C days and 20C nights feel almost chilly after PV temps.

April 13, 2010

Puerto Balandra

Fourteen years ago when we arrived on our boat in Mexico we had no idea what to expect from the Sea of Cortez--all we had heard was that it was a desert that got damn hot in the summer. What we didn't know is we'd fall in love with the place: the isolation, the rugged beauty and the sea life. We'd also meet some of our best friends and create some wonderful enduring memories.

We also didn't know that Maia has been listening to the stories about the Sea through the years--building her own image of what this fabled place would be, waiting for her own chance to create her own memories. Yesterday she snorkelled for the first time (up until then she hadn't really got the hang of it and tended to swallow a lot of water.) Then when we got home to the boat she paged through our old books, identifying for her first time damsel fish and trumpet fish, triggerfish and wrasse.

This morning when she woke, she rushed outside. "I can't believe I'm finally here!" she said.

April 12, 2010

Sea Crossing

We headed out of Mazatlan's old harbour first thing Saturday morning. Our first goal was to find fuel. The weather report for our crossing was typical; either no wind, or light and in our face wind—so we wanted full tanks. Finding fuel in Mexico has become easier in the past 14-years. There are actual fuel docks now. Not all of them are staffed (and the one we were directed to in the old harbour didn't even seem to have fuel...) but heading into the marina zone to fuel up was still a much simpler option than arranging to jerry jug fuel by cab.

By noon we were underway. With just a low southerly swell running it was calm enough for Maia and I to make cookies—and take advantage of the cooling breeze that comes with motoring. At one point we noticed a couple of seabirds standing on the flat sea. As we motored closer we discovered they were hitch hiking on the backs of two turtles. Then the dolphins came—leaping and diving all around. As we ate dinner, watching the sun set into the calm sea, we thought that motor boat people might have something on us sailors.
We've noticed that the waves arrive well before the wind in the Sea of Cortez. And as the night grew black we began to pitch and shudder with unseen wave slaps. But by midnight our sails were up. We left a luminescent wake as we sped along, hard on the wind.
 Our second day out always seems to pass in a fog. When the seas grow quieter one of us cooks a meal—these are always approximate in timing, we eat when the conditions and our hunger agree. Unless it's calm our meals tend to be heavy on the starch—lots of potatoes, rice and pasta.
While Ev and I both like being out, Maia seems to thrive on being at sea. She spends hours on the bow or in the nets, telling herself stories. She wanders around in a dreamy state, occasionally telling us how much she loves the ocean. She planned a ceremony (much like the one her friends will have when they cross the equator) to celebrate when we hit the halfway across point in our crossing--then she thanked Neptune for giving us permission to explore the oceans and have adventures.

My midnight watch, on the second night, started in complete calm. The seas were flat, only our main was up, offering the lightest push to help the motor. Halfway through my first CBC DNTO podcast we started to pitch, the wind was still calm, but the seas became steeper and steeper. Unlike a monohull, which has just one surface that gets hit by a wave, multihulls have all sorts of places that can be slapped, shoved, smacked and slammed. In confused seas the ride tends to become jerky, and when going into the wind we hobby horse on the steepest peaks. More than the motion, it's the noise that tends to wear on me, it's like being in a drum; the drum of a rhythmically challenged three-year-old.
I woke Evan as the seas became steeper. There was both a reef and a boat of some sort not far ahead. We didn't have wind yet, but the size of the swell made us certain something strong, perhaps a Coromuel, was coming. We reefed the main and tried to sort out what the boat, which now lay directly in our path, was doing. The radar showed it stop, then start, then switch course, and then stop; all the while we drew closer together. We were on a collision course. We made a large and obvious course change and the mystery vessel followed. Was this a fishing boat trying to protect its nets? A vessel in need of assistance? A patrol boat? Something more sinister?
We called in Spanish, and then in English on the VHF radio. On our third call we got a response, “Ceilydh, this is the sailing vessel Lady Bug.” It turned out that they were trying to sort out what we were doing as well, and in both our efforts to avoid a collision (while dealing with sails and seas) we kept turning into each other's path. We'll go around your stern, we said. Soon their lights disappeared into the night as they continued north and we turned back into the west wind, which was now blowing to match the seas. As dawn slowly came, turning the Baja hills red, then golden, we took turns napping and continued to make our way upwind.
Charlie is not a half-bad boat cat, although he does get scared.
Soon we'll anchor. But first we need to find just the right cove.

April 10, 2010

Not Completely Benign

We just heard back from my lovely PV skin cancer doctor. It turns out my instincts were correct. The mole I had removed was cancerous, but the margins were clear--which means no further treatment.

Not to nag--but if I had put off seeing the doctor for six months or a year (which is so easy to do), this would be a different post. I would be going home for cancer treatment. So get your skin checked. Annually.


It wasn't on our agenda for this part of the trip, but it's hard not to enjoy Mazatlan. Considering we were all tired, and pretty grumpy we kept things simple: A visit to the market for provisions and a trip to the fabric store for more craft supplies for Maia (she can keep herself occupied for hours with making tiny beaded lizzards and then building them elaborate homes.)
Maia and Evan picking out sweets at the dulceria

The mercado was much the way we remembered. Unlike the one in Peurto Vallarta, which has been completely given over to tourists wares and is pretty dead as a result. As much as the big cities have their Walmarts, Costcos and Megas--Mexico is still a market culture. We love the fact you can buy anything and everything at a market.
 We've heard from other boats that the sea has settled back down again, maybe too much even, there's not much wind at all. We're off to find fuel and then turn the boat north again. I'll get to those fabled desert islands yet...

April 9, 2010

Well, we bailed

Our goal was to head straight to the anchorages outside of La Paz. The next pictures I planned to post were of us frolicking in azure waters and climbing rugged desert peaks.
Instead we’re sitting in Mazatlan’s rather smelly (thanks to the sewage treatment plant) and busy old harbour--in 100% humidity (the interior walls are wet) grouching at each other.
  We're not keen on night entries, but the wide breakwaters and easy anchorage made Mazatlan a good choice.

We knew the upwind ride to La Paz would be a bash. But when motor sailing at reduced RPMs (for fuel savings) was only netting us 2-3 knots toward our destination yesterday afternoon, we knew something had to give. The 300 remaining miles would take a LONG time at < 3 nautical miles an hour.

We decided to give up motor sailing in a direct line, cracked off to a close reach, turned off the motor and started hitting the high sevens in boat speed. That felt much better, we are a sailboat after all. The problem is La Paz was still directly upwind and with the steep nasty seas our VMG (velocity made good) still had us arriving sometime next week.

This is around the time when I started to wonder if I’d gone soft: If two months in a marina (punctuated by two pleasant day sails) had turned me into a sailor who couldn’t hack a few confused seas. I want to sail around the world for goodness sakes, and here I was finding being tossed made me want to go to bed and wake up after it was over.

While I was busy beating myself up for my wimpyness, I happened to hear two boats hailing each other on the VHF. They complained about what a miserable time they were having. “These seas suck,” was the exact quote. They did suck, which is when we realized that one of our tacks would take us straight into Mazatlan. And Mazatlan started to seem like a really nice place to be.
  The old harbour anchorage puts us between ferry docks and sport fishermen moorings

So we made a night entry, dropped the hook in blessedly flat seas and then woke this morning with mixed feelings. In many ways we made the right choice, the seas and wind built through the night and continued to clock around, probably making the seas an even bigger mess.
But we’re not where we want to be and I feel like we quit.

April 8, 2010

Cafe Por Favor

I woke from my morning sleep with a pounding headache, not from seasickness (although I woke with that too) but from caffeine withdrawal. I can't drink coffee (or alcohol, or eat many sweets) on passages. Sailing makes me go cold turkey with most of my vices. If it's not salty and crunchy, or sour and juicy, it can wait for harbour.
I'm shamelessly addicted to coffee though. Not to mediocre supermarket brands: No, my coffee is grown in the shade, without pesticides and is picked by loving hands. Then its dried under the warming rays of an affectionate sun, before being roasted to an inviting mahogany tone, mere hours before I buy it.
I love everything about coffee; from the rich flavour, to the pleasant buzz. I am a coffee snob who, in fits of caffeine withdrawal, dreamed about coffee this morning (although the cause of this may well have been the 7 pounds of San Sebastian coffee that is wafting aroma from the locker directly under my pillow.).
The first time we arrived in Mexico, I was elated. One of my favourite coffees comes from high in Mexico's mountains, and here I was – in Coffee Land. Our first morning ashore I sat down in a little restaurant and prepared to order breakfast. Priorities in order, I first requested "café, por favor."
"Café Americano, Mexicano, con leche, or typico?" The waitress inquired. Without enough Spanish to ask about the differences, I decided to plunge right into the Mexican culture with "typico". Eagerly I waited, imagining the rich aroma. Out came a tray with a steaming cup and beside it - a jar of instant coffee. Distraught, I ate my breakfast and ignored the "coffee". Then I went back to our sailboat and used up a few more of the precious beans I had brought from home. I drank down the elixir like the victim of a drought.
I headed out to the market to replace my dwindling bean stock and was directed to an aisle filled with jars – all filled with suspicious powder. There was not a bean in that store, nor the next. In the third store I found a dusty bag of unroasted beans. I promptly took them home and burned them in a frying pan, ground them, and then pathetically added boiling water.
At the next restaurant I tried a different option, "Café mexicano, por favor." I requested. Out came a steaming cup of water, milk on the side and instant coffee. "Café americano?" This got me hot, premixed instant and warm milk on the side. I was getting desperate, only café con leche was left. This sounded promising, it even looked promising, with its rich tones and heady aroma. But after my first sip the stale, bitter tang of instant coffee overpowered the subtle flavourings of cinnamon and chocolate.
It was time for extreme measures. Having coffee mailed from home was one option, but I knew there had to be another way. Coffee GROWS in Mexico, so it must be possible to buy it.
So we went in search of a coffee plantation.
When we first entered the village, we were sure we had made an error. The smell was so awful and so over powering I decided that there must be a Spanish word for "garbage dump" that sounds just like the word for "coffee plantation". What else could that smell possibly be? As we walked down the road, the source of the smell became evident. Spread out across several large, raised drying platforms were coffee beans. Ranging from carpets of brilliant red to the palest cream. The coffee beans were being raked, sorted and bagged by men whose lower faces were covered by bandanas.
"Yuck! How did people ever decide to drink this stuff?" Evan complained. I decided the best way to clear the smell was to head to the nearest restaurant and sample the local bean in its less smelly form.
We sat down on rickety chairs that were set randomly around on a dirt floor. I ordered café. The old woman shuffled over to the stove, poured hot water from the kettle, then took a jar of instant from the shelf. I was stunned and couldn't restrain myself as I jumped up, yelling "No, no! Eso! Eso!" Gesturing frantically towards the stinky part of town. The woman calmly nodded and told me I wanted the "Good export coffee."
She took down a pot and filled it with milk. As it heated, she hand ground some fresh beans then began to throw small handfuls into the steaming liquid. Next, she grated cinnamon chocolate into the mixture. Just as it started to foam she lifted it from the heat and poured it through a strainer into a chipped jelly jar. Solemnly she placed it before me and watched my face as I inhaled the complex aroma and filled my mouth with the flavourful brew. I detected rich oak, with undertones of nut and chocolate, hints of cardamom and a finish of warm cinnamon. Thoroughly satisfied, I drank two more cups and purchased several bags of the freshly roasted beans.
It's beans like these those, that I currently smell through my headache and my nauseated fog. I'm tempted to grind them and drink them, just to feel better, but that would take too much effort. And the coffee would turn my stomach. So I'll wait until we're in. Tomorrow I'll long for it a little less, and the day after that will be even better. I almost wish I had a little jar of instant though--just to make a quick chilled coffee...
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Under Way

I'm watching the sunrise as we motor north through lumpy seas. The wind has been too light to easily sail upwind in and our weather window for getting to La Paz is only supposed to last until the weekend--so we're motor assisted sailing.
With the sun being up I can see how calm conditions are, but in the dark, when I'm not sure what the seas look like and can't pinpoint the source of noises the seas and wind seem to grow. I'm grateful when my three-hour night watch ends and I can snuggle into bed. Although on our first night out, sleep only comes fitfully.
We were welcomed back on the water by another turtle, and then four more. I had been told that sea turtles have made a great comeback. That all those hatching programs, where tourists gather eggs then set the little turtles free, have had a great effect. Last time we were more likely to see a carcass than a live turtle. And the few we did see (probably 4-5 on the entire coast) I greeted with a whispered prayer for their survival.

We surprised a humpback yesterday (and it surprised us!). It surfaced just off our bows, coming directly at us. It made a quick dive to clear us. I was mesmerized (and a bit terrified and paralyzed) or I would have run to the depth sounder to watch it pass underneath us. A little later we watched a mama and baby making progress, in the same direction as us.
It can be heart-wrenchingly beautiful out here--made more so by knowing how fragile it all is. I've never stopped feeling awed and privileged and never stopped whispering prayers.
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April 7, 2010

Setting Out

 Evan working on the new floorboards that will be used when we replace our watertanks

When we pulled into La Cruz we had no intention of going into the marina. Storm damage to our bow roller changed that plan though. Once we were in the marina we planned for our visit to be a short one (marina’s tend to be hard on the cruising budget—and even at a relatively affordable 50 cents per foot per night, the fee would have put a significant dent in our budget if we hadn’t been earning.) But with work rolling in, plans changed, and somehow two months slipped by, which is both the blessing and curse of this lifestyle.

The joy of cruising is you get to set your own schedule; stay longer when things are working out and move along if they aren’t. The problem is with getting stuck. You need to keep your eye on a long term plan if you want to get anywhere. There are seasons that force you along (the migration out of this area in advance of hurricane season is well underway), but every comfortable harbour we’ve ever visited has a few cruisers that have never left. Most of them plan to, either this season, or next…

 Maia doing the vacuuming
But WE are leaving today. Yesterday we made good use of the ample water that we didn’t need to make ourselves and washed down every surface. We sent our laundry off one final time and admired the nicely folded clothes that came back (I tried to get Evan and Maia to etch the folded-look into their minds so that they might try the technique someday…)
 Despite regularly cleaning the boat-the dirt here is astonishing

So the boat is spic and span. A bunch of things are crossed off the to-do list. The cat has a sea sickness remedy to try. The cupboards are full. Evan has a new crown on his tooth. We both have more work to finish but we can do it in our next harbour.
 Our lovely laundry. After this, it's back to the hand wringer.

From here we’re making our way north to La Paz. This can tend to be a bit of a lumpy bash at times, so today and tonight we’ll make our way up the coast, then wait for a weather window to sail the 200+ miles across the Sea of Cortez. It’ll be nice to stretch out our legs again, in a sailing sense.

April 5, 2010

Into the Mountains

With our new friends off crossing an ocean, and our family about to head into the Sea of Cortez for the next 6 months, we wanted to leave La Cruz with more of a grasp of the area than simply where to find good street tacos (and we wanted to get away from the jet skis that arrived with Semana Santa, when what seems like ½ the country comes to the beach to play.) So we headed inland to San Sebastian del Oeste – an old colonial town about 65 km from Puerto Vallarta that only recently got a paved road (before that it was impassable whenever it rained and was mostly serviced by a small airstrip).
San Sebastian is not a tourist destination in any real sense. Visitors only trickle in when they learn about the magical little mountain town by word of mouth. The 800 or so people who live here support their families by raising livestock, mining, operating the limited tourist services and running coffee and agave plantations (the local agave is fermented to craft a tequila-like drink called raicilla—and while raicilla used to be known as a potent moonshine, it’s been rebranded as a trendy boutique beverage that is said to be the oldest alcohol spirit known to man).
The town is stuck firmly in another era—the silver and gold rush.
Veins of silver were discovered in the mountains by the conquistadors in 1605. By 1785 San Sebastian was one of the main silver and gold mining centres in New Spain--with 30 mines and a dozen haciendas (each had 60-80 employees and 250+ slaves running them). By the time the Mexican revolution hit in 1910 the area was home to 30,000 people.
 The Mexican Revolution brought an end to the hacienda system and the mines closed in 1921 and leaving the town to fade away. Today the town seems half empty. But the narrow cobble streets, great wooden doorways and hidden orchards invite exploration.
 One of our stops was Hacienda Jalisco, a gorgeous old mining company centre that has the same run-down feel of the old antebellum mansions of the south. Like those southern plantations, the hacienda system relied on slave labour. A fact that came heart-wrenchingly clear to us when the caretaker explained the hacienda no longer had electricity because it took dozens of burros and several workers simply to keep the generators running.
As we toured through the property we were shown the entry to a 2.5 km tunnel that was built during the revolution; when banditos were such a problem that tunnels were constructed between the mines, the haciendas and the garrison in San Sebastion.
Despite the faded paint and lack of modern amenities, Hacienda Jalisco has a glamour to it--which is probably why it had a second heyday during the filming of the Night of the Iguana when John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stayed in the spacious upstairs rooms.
All of San Sebastian has the feeling of faded glory to it. And when we walked down the 250-year old cobble streets; discovering secret pathways, stone bridges and soaring archways that seemed to have been forgotten with time, I had a sense of what our waiter had said over our leisurely breakfast (complete with strong local coffee). I had asked if the new road made it better in town, bringing in more tourists. He said it was a mixed thing--there are more tourists now. With the easy drive people can come to the town for a day trip think that they’ve seen it and leave. But San Sebastian really needs you to slow down to understand it and if you rush, you miss what it has to show you.

April 2, 2010

To the Land of Beyond

Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dream at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye yoke of galls,
And ye of the trails overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,
Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!

Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you the Land of Beyond.

Thank God! there is always the Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A proud in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!

Robert Service

I had to steal this from our friends Mike and Hyo on OI. It's just such a fitting poem for this post—the one where we wish safe passage, fair winds and following seas to all our dear friends who are out there on the ocean, making their way to the South Pacific.

The cool thing is they will all be blogging from sea--so if you've ever wanted to know what it's like to cross an ocean in a small boat, follow these guys!
 Mike and Hyo on IO--out of Victoria. We first met them in Coos Bay. They are headed to the South Pacific on a Baba 30.

S/V Mulan is a 39' Gran Soliel out of Vancouver with Susan, Andrew, Jack , Sam and Max (and crew). Maia and Sam are in the same homeschool group out of Vancouver.
S/V Capaz  a 48' Bob Perry Designed Pilothouse Ketchwith Brad, Pj, Bryce and Austin (and Tim their crew) aboard.

S/V Totem is a  Stevens 47 with Jamie, Behan, Nile, Mairen and Siobhan (and crew Ty) aboard. Behan and I started emailing a while back (she's been following our blog since the chain saw days--you need to scroll back to the very beginning for that...)

We can hardly wait until this is us! It will be next year. Between now and then we have the Sea of Cortez and Central America to explore and, as yet, unmet friends to make...