February 27, 2010

Tsunami or Stupidity?

Not to judge anyone or anything, but we have one of the MEXORC boats to thank for a really great afternoon of entertainment on a day when we were all saddened by the devastation in Chile.

Our part of the Tsunami arrived in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) right on schedule; about midday. We didn’t get the big waves the kids were worried about, instead we had a gradual decrease in water depth coupled with a series of low surges that would flood into the marina (and bay) at 5+  knots for 10 minutes and then reverse direction and rush out again at the same speed.
The kids get a tsumani lesson from Totem -- with a bonus
We watched our neighbour boat head out during one of the surges and nearly get swept onto the rocks by the current. After that, we assumed most boats would stay put--we were expecting the waves to pass in 2-3 hours. But one of the Mexorc boats decided to head out anyway—with the races set to start tomorrow we guess they wanted to practice.

We have particularly low water right now because the tsunami surge happened to coincide with low tide. And the marina entry has limited water at the best of times, so when the boat (which probably has a 12’ deep keel) headed out, no one was surprised that they got stuck.

What we were surprised by was the fact that after they were freed, and came back in, they decided to try again. This time they got REALLY stuck.

Watching from shore we were able to critique the many things the crew did wrong and the many ways they could do better. It was pretty scary watching some of the manoeuvres (tow lines have been known to snap and we were worried for the bow man) and the boom (which was filled with people in an effort to heel the boat over) would hurl from side to side when the boat switched positions. And note the MOB, no one aboard seemed to notice him, but we did. The current changing directions every ten minutes was the biggest problem, it caused the boat to spin around and heel over unexpectedly and tended to work against the tow boat and inopportune moments.

After an hour or so the boat was towed off the bottom by two boats in tandem. Excitement over--for now. Unfortunately no one is quite certain when we'll get our water back and several boats are waiting in the bay hoping to get into the marina.

February 26, 2010

Circling Back

Several years ago I was hanging out in a bar in Tortola when the bar tender suggested a bar game (no, not that game…) “If I choose any two people in this room,” he said, “I can guarantee you’ll know someone in common.”
So he chose me and another fellow, a guy who said he came from the Isle of Wight. I only know one person from the Isle of Wight, I said, Andy Copeland, a fellow cruiser and friend. Turns out the guy had dated Andy’s daughter. And not long ago he said spent a Thanksgiving with Andy and his family.
 The La Cruz anchorage
The sailing community, like any specialized community, is a small one. But the way it circles back on itself, over and over, never ceases to amaze me. We have an old marina neighbour who blogs as Boatbaby and through her we heard about Behan on a boat called Totem. There are kids on a boat called Totem that’s sailing in Mexico, I told Maia one day, as we made our way down the coast and she was moaning with loneliness. We may not meet them, exactly, but on their blog they mention lots of other kids are cruising in Mexico. So you will meet cruising kids when we get south, I told her, you won’t be alone forever.
 Maia and the girls from Totem and a friend from Stepping Stone
When we arrived in La Cruz, Totem was far south. But Behan sent me a note letting me know which boats had kids and Maia met several and was thrilled. Then one morning on the net we heard Totem had arrived in the bay, but had guests aboard. We didn’t want to disrupt their visit, so left searching them out for another day. But later that afternoon we saw someone we recognized roaming the dock—a sailor called Jim Jessie.
Last time we went cruising we were fortunate enough to meet Jim and Diana Jessie. Diana was a writer I admired and her generous help (over Sunday Gin Fizzes) got me started on my own writing path. I was excited to see them again and thank Diana, so I plotted with Evan about how to hunt them down and say hello.
 Cocktails on Totem with Jim and Diana Jessie
Then I popped into Behan’s blog, and I learned who Totem’s guests were: Jim and Diana Jessie.

The Charreada

We have a routine now. We wake sometime before 8:30 am and turn on the radio and wait for the net. In any cruising community, the radio net is the connecting force—it’s a combination coffee klatch/ newspaper/ neighbourhood gossip. It’s where we learn who has arrived, who’s leaving, what’s up with the weather, what services are available and what there is to do.

It’s where we learned that just a bus ride away from La Cruz the National Charreada championships were taking place. What we didn’t learn was what Charreada is, exactly.

The Miguel "Prieto" Ibarría rodeo ground was dusty and dilapidated but freshly painted and filled with excitement when we arrived. Unlike most of the activities we’ve done, where we see more sun burned gringo faces than locals, the championships were a local’s event. The clearest indication that we weren’t at a tourist show were the market stalls—there were none of the trinkets we had become so familiar with (and no one offering to braid Maia’s hair). Instead, there were cowboy boots and cowboy hats, and multi-thousand-dollar leather and silver saddles—none of which made sense for a boat.

We found seats in the shade section of the stadium and began watching. The Charro’s were dressed in traditional attire, their horses impeccably groomed. We watched awed as one Charro did fancy tricks riding in and out of his reata, or lasso loop. Then Maia burst into tears when the same loop ended up around a little horse—and she went down, hard.
Manganas a Pie- the wild mare is chased around the ring and roped by three mounted charros

The Charreada has a long history in Mexico. During the early 19th century the vaqueros (cowboys) were sent from the ranchos into common lands to round up the cattle and newborn calves. They gathered the stock and separated the herds for branding calves and yearlings. Being Mexico, the event soon became a party and on the appointed day, the vaqueros would dress in their best and show off their skills. The fiesta that followed could last as long as two weeks.
 Jineteo de Yegua--Bareback on a wild mare
Eventually rodeo grounds were built up in the busiest common lands, and though cattle ranching changed, the Charreada became an essential part of Mexican culture.
El Paso de la Muerte (The pass of death) a charro leaps from his own horse to the bare back of a wild horse
We didn’t know this when the nicely dressed men roped the little horse and made her fall down. We still didn’t know it as they set her free just to rope her again, making Maia cry harder. As the next event followed, and three new Charos chased another little mare around and around, the heavy sobs of my traumatized child made me think we should stick with gringo events.

Fortunately the bull riding followed and Maia cheered for the bull, especially when he managed to get his own back and sent a charro flying.

We find Mexicans are eager to help us understand their culture and within a few minutes Maia was given a chocolate bar to cheer her and we had our own rodeo family walking us through what was happening. There are nine scored events we were told. Some of them are similar to Canadian rodeo events (whenever we were asked where we were from, people would respond with a gleeful “The Calgary Stampede!”) but several events had been banned in the US (including the one that made Maia cry…) And the charros are no longer ranch hands but city guys, who take up the sport (where the horses are worth up to 60k) as a hobby.
Piales en Lienzo--a wild mare runs through the loop of a lasso and is caught by the back legs - that is smoke you see, the friction of rope on saddle causes it
This doesn’t mean the Charreada isn’t as important as ever—and as the day went on the stands filled and the fiesta atmosphere grew. Maia never did give up cheering for the animals—more pleased when they escaped roping, than awed by fancy rope work.
But she did stop crying.

February 20, 2010

Las Musicas!

  It was the sounds of Mexico I may have missed the most in the years we were away. Those boisterously urgent radio voices that give way to songs, which seem to drift aimlessly and indistinguishably one into the next. Unlike most spoken Spanish, I seem to understand words when they’re sung—but that may be because there are only a handful of themes in Mexican music and broken hearts only require so much vocabulary to describe them.

I thought I would crave Latin music when I left last time. So I bought a few CDs. The only time I played them was when Maia was a baby. For reasons known only to her she went through a stage where nothing but Ricky Martin, rocking out in Spanish, would make her smile. Good old Canadian singer songwriters made her howl, soothing new age music, like Enya, made her screech. So I played Ricky’s Spanish album, on endless repeat until she got over it. Then I thought about throwing it away.

Other than for that short time and the odd Mexican dinner, the music never seemed to fit. Perhaps it needs the heat and languid pace of Mexico to sound right.

But now we’re back in Jalisco, the birthplace of Mariachi, a music style that’s often mocked but that I learned to love around the same time I really started really liking tequila. Evan’s pretty sure there was some overlap between the two events, that while I was painstakingly researching whether I preferred the smoothness of a reposado over the edge of anejo there was an unrelenting guitarrón and vihuela strumming seductively in the background—hypnotizing me into thinking musicians dressed in embroidered charro outfits and sombreros were the hippest thing in music.
I like to think I just got in touch with my inner Latina.

The good news is we’re in a place where we hear music everywhere, everyone sings. For a few dollars we can buy a song or two while we sip our margaritas on the beach and I can close my eyes and sob to Cielito Lindo. Then, when we bus home, the buskers come out and stroll the aisle. Where the buskers let off, the radio leaks in from buildings and cars, filling the air with a throbbing tempo.

The bad news is we hear music everywhere, everyone sings. Especially on the bus. There is a particularly enthusiastic father-son duo who we’ve seen (and heard) more than we’d like. The boy's uniquely high-pitched-nails-on-black-board version of Cielito Lindo is enough to make me close my eyes and sob. But they only ever play the same two songs, ask for a tip and move on. And luckily, so far they haven't played my other favourite: ¡Ay Jalisco, No Te Rajes!

I think about not tipping the father and son when they board our bus and play. I see other people mulling the same thought as the windows rattle painfully with the boy's heartfelt Ay, ay, ay, ay’s
But then the song continues, to a nearly bearable:

Canta y no llores,
Porque cantando se alegran,
Cielito lindo, los corazones.

sing and don't cry,
heavenly one, for singing
gladdens the heart.

I imagine the boy’s shrill voice will break someday.
And so I tip him, hoping to keep his gladdened heart intact.

Ah, those Mariachis...

February 14, 2010

Leading the Way

The thing I recall the most when I first found out I was pregnant with Maia (aside from the endless morning sickness) was how often I was told to make sure I took the time to enjoy her, that kids grow so quickly.

What I wasn’t told was that kids grow in abrupt spurts. That you’ll be going along for months on end, with more or less the same little person hanging out at your side doing more or less the same weird stuff, when one afternoon you’ll look down and there will be someone a bit different standing there (in shoes that are suddenly, quite obviously, too small).

 I’m not sure if it’s because my parents are here, and I’m paying more attention, but I’ve recently noticed we’re no longer travelling with the same little kid we set off with. Sure she’s got some of the same qualities and quirks (and she still hates doing the kitty litter), but her personality is becoming much more defined and her skills are becoming much more apparent.
 I think because I’ve been living a trip fraught with stress and struggle that I assumed Maia’s been living the same one. But at some point in the last few months she stopped asking to go home, started referring to herself as a cruising kid and started having a really good time.

I just hadn’t noticed.
 Maybe it took having her grandparents come visit for Maia to realize just how much she’s learned and for her get excited by it (I’d prefer to think this, rather than the alternative, which is I’m just not that observant…). But as we watch her bargain in Spanish on behalf of her grandmother (Maia seems to have inherited the shopping gene), or strike up a conversation with a new kid she meets, or run headlong into the ocean in search of the perfect wave—I realize something, she’s not following along behind Evan and I into the life we chose for her anymore.
 She’s leading the way.

February 11, 2010

Blog Guilt

 I'm feeling blog guilt.
I follow a few blogs and when I check in after a few days and see nothing new, I wonder what's up. What's up with us is my parents are visiting and we're spending our days being tourists: riding buses, eating in restaurants, shopping in tiendas... I've barely even had the camera out. And with deadlines looming, most of my writing has been the money earning type.
But today we're boat bound. We're battening down the hatches and waiting for another wild weather system to blow through. I haven't got any great stories to share, but I do have a TED talk. We knew about TED, vaguely, before we left. But since we started travelling TED talks have been a constant on the Ipod (along with our favourite CBC podcasts...)
Podcasts make all the difference on night watches. My three hour shifts are less lonely (and I'll admit, less anxiety provoking) when I have something fascinating to listen to (and distract me from spooky night time sailing noises). Whenever we're in port, and have a decent wifi connection, we head to itunes and start clicking. I usually download a few hundred podcasts at a time.
I'm not a big forwarder or sharing type--but if you love the ocean, this TED talk  by Sylvia Earle is a must (if you don't have 18-minutes now, save it for later). She was one of last year's winners of the TED prize, an award that gives the recipient $100,000 and the opportunity to make a wish to change the world. What would you wish for if you could change the world?
Earle's wish is to expand a global network of marine protected areas. The stats she gives are shocking: we've killed half the coral reefs and eaten most of the big fish. But her message is hopeful--and her presentation is gorgeous--although on night watch we turn off the pictures to save our vision (so we can see other ships, and I can get all anxious about them running us down).

February 3, 2010

Waiting for Round Two

I've gotten so many emails I'll try to answer everything, but forgive us if this is choppy, we're pretty exhausted. So far the skies around us are filled with thunder heads, but yesterday at this time it looked like it was clearing, so we don't know if they mean anything yet. All day the marina was frentic, people putting their boats back together, looking for stuff that was lost. We learned two boats went aground, one a family with two kids went up near the rocks (which stopped my heart a bit) but both came off safely. This despite the fact that more than half the boats in the anchorage dragged --some great distances.

Maia and I went into town and found it just coming back to life with power at 5pm. Trees were down and streets are flooded but roofs seemed to be where they should be.

What we learned:
The lessons are always the same; always be ready for anything. We neglected this a bit. Having just come in from a four-day passage we left a few things loose (and are still finding oranges, books and toys in odd locations...). We skipped the dishes, didn't bother zipping the mainsail cover and opted not to hoist the dinghy after using it. Our biggest error though was with the engines. When we came back from dinner on shore we noticed the poly line on the prop. We had a go at removing it but decided because it was small and light (turned out to be a tuna line) and had obviously been there when we motored in, that it could wait for morning to be cut off. On top of this we were out of fuel for our auxilary outboard motor.

We did do a lot of things right. We have clear decks--always. We learned the danger of flying jerry jugs and loose spinnaker poles on our last boat. We also have excellent ground tackle. Our primary is a huge aluminum A120 Spade but it only weighs 33 lbs and we always set it with as much scope as possible and in full reverse, for several minutes. It already proved itself in 50 knots. But 88 and 6' waves is quite something else.   We also checked the ground tackle when a lull came (or maybe at only 30 knots) and found the bow roller damaged and the rope rode chafing a bit.  We hadn't set a sacrificial snubber or a bridle and interestingly it was the snubbers that broke on many of the boats that dragged (several lost all their ground tackle). We were also happy to be on a cat. The monohulls were rolling in the most sickening way as the wind clocked around and in the marina the boats were knocked over so far many have damage high on their hulls and toe rails from where they hit the docks.

We also monitor weather carefully and when Evan saw the bottom drop out on our barometer (it dropped 7 mba over 2 hours) he started checking a few weather books and when a big swell started arriving he decided to pull the dinghy up.

The wind hit with a literal roar at near full force and was sustained in the high range for 30-40 minutes then dropped off to 30 or 40 knots for another hour, then hit us again with a lighter one after an hour's break. I think most boats popped anchor in the first ten minutes.

At the peak of the storm the massive noise of the wind drowned out the thunder--even though bolts were lighting up the sky all around us. We had the radio on full volume and heard frantic disembodied voices that wavered in and out. Occasionally a voice would yell that a boat was dragging onto them, then that would fade to another frantic call, now and again someone would yell a wind speed. I still recall hearing "77! 82!" and "Close your thru-hulls!".  Evan says the spray over the cabintop was very salty had a dive mask to keep his contacts from being blown out of his eyes.

Living on a boat is much like living pay cheque to pay cheque, all it takes is skimping in one area of maintenance then having a bit of bad luck and suddenly your home's at risk. Except in our case foreclosure comes with added danger. Honestly, the moment where I put Maia's life jacket on while she was in her bed then waited to lose the boat was among the worst in my life.

But we set ourselves up. Things don't go wrong on a boat because of one error. In Sereia's blog she tells an harrowing story that explains how problems can cascade until you run out of options. In our case we knocked out a couple of our options early on (we did have the staysail ready) and were fortunate that the storm came in the direction it did and that our engine held while we motored to avoid the dragging fishing boats (who were also at full throttle trying to avoid us).

Woke to clear skies. Had a minor squall in the night--but just your normal thunder storm. Mostly slept through it. We learned today that what hit us was a Weather Bomb not something that is known to happen in this area, at all...
A report at Latitude 38 (had a few things off: there were still 26 boats in the morning and more than 1/2 were gone, so I'd estimate more than 60 at anchor to start. We haven't talked to more than one other boat that didn't drag. The read outs on wind speed ranged from 70-110 knots. We went with the midrange one.)

The aftermath

Made it into the marina after Ev cleared the prop. We were greeted by dozens of people to take our lines - everyone had a story. One boat that had been anchored near us told us he wondered where we had gone - then realized he dragged more than a 1/4 mile. Another ended up with parted dock lines and became wedged under the pier. There is no power or water in town. Every boat we've met has some damage. We seem to have gotten off easy compared to stripped windlesses, shredded sails, broken wind generators and damage from dragging into each other. The local weather forcaster has been here 11 years and has never seen weather like this.

We're starting to clean up and beginning to get our heads around going through a 100 mile an hour storm. We're preparing for part two. The jet stream has dropped lower and sped up, we were told, which means the chance of further tropical disturbance is high.

The good news is the marina has at least a half dozen kids in it. Maia is off to find them.

February 2, 2010

Well, Holy Crap!!

Thunder, lightening, driving rain, 88knots (101 mile per hour winds) and six foot breaking seas. That's what we just had in the La Cruz anchorage. No water spouts though--so that's good.
We're wired but ok. Our anchor held and as luck would have it we were windward of the fleet (except two 70 foot steel fishing boats that missed dragging onto us by a few meters while Evan steered out of the way...) The anchorage is unrecognizable right now. We don't know where many of the boats are. From what we've heard on the radio it sounds like a few are in the shoals. A few made it into the marina, a few motored out into open water. Very few had anchors that held.
Our options became limited with the discovery that we have a length of blue poly line wrapped around our prop. It's still far too dangerous to free it and if we start motoring to somewhere else we could loose our engine. We have chafe in one section of our anchor rode caused by when our bow roller self-destructed so at first light, or as soon as the seas have eased to make it safe, we (being Evan) will go into the water to free it. Storm anchor is on deck ready to heave over.
El Nino, you're killing me, baby...
The jet stream is way down here. I'm shaky on the details but these storms are utterly unpredictable right now and can come back up with no warning.
May be a very long night...
This may be why rum was invented.
7:30 am
We had a low sleep night. Perfect after a five-day passage. The anchorage is eerie. Before the storm we had boats all around us. Now the nearest is as though it's in a different anchorage and where there were 50 or more yesterday, today there is 25. They're spread across the bay in clusters. Discovering things like shreaded sails, lost dinghies, damaged decks. The radio keeps chirping with calls from the beach--people finding things; dinghies, surf boards, gas cans, oars and wanting to get them back to their owners before the stuff is lost to the tides.

February 1, 2010


Finally have decent wind--12 knots just forward of the beam. Unfortunately the breeze came with sloppy washing machine waves of no specific direction. Charlie the cat and I have proved you can get seasick after being out for 3 days...

Yesterday we managed to bake zucchini bread and cook two nice meals (including awesome fish tacos). When we can, we cook from scratch at sea. Having a nice sit down meal together tends to punctuate the day in a really good way. Cooking and dishes are more effort, but it's worth it. Today our meals will come from tins--unless the seas smooth out between now and lunch, which is possible.

The wind came up around 10pm last night. For the first 4-5 hours the seas were flat. We watched through two watches as an impressive lightening storm grew ahead of us in the distance. I think it's the waves from that, combined with the waves from the wind we have that are churning up the waves.

We're making a steady 6 knots though and will be in some time tonight. The sun is shining and the air is so warm we've retired our blankets. Despite the slop, it feels good to be at sea.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com