Manzanillo

We weighed anchor in Tenacatita at around 9pm and after 10 hours we got our first sight of Manzanillo. The power-plant bellowed smoke into the air, tinting the first rays of sunlight DSCF4555orangeish-brown and leaving a haze around the cargo ships within the harbor. It seemed strange to us that this town was described as “resort living combined with family tradition.” Stranger still was the string of beautiful (expensive) homes over looking this section of the bay.

 
DSCF4571We anchored outside Marina Las Hadas with the intent of using their dinghy dock and possibly their services. The Hotel and Marina was designed after a folk tale and from a distance has some very interesting architecture. After we kayaked in and set out in search of the harbor master it seemed as though the place had been abandoned. A row of marina side restaurants that never open, hundreds of rooms left vacant, a ghost town of a hotel except for one security guard who was looking rather bored.

 
After speaking with the security guard, the harbor master was called down and we began the paperwork so we could use their dinghy dock, showers etc. Once completed the total that was described to us as a “small fee” turned out to be $20usd/day. This might not sound so bad but for our little boat most marinas run us $20-25/day for a full service slip with water and power hookups. Although this seemed a bit excessive to tie up our kayak, we wanted to use a proper shower and go into town before weighing anchor the following day.

 
Immediately after we finished our paperwork we headed for the showers. The building tucked away from view looked ominous from the outside but inside was far worse. It was the kind of place that would only be home in a horror movie. A single flickering bulb revealed stained tiles, rat droppings, and that everything had gone green from neglect. The half-clogged shower-head only were able to produce icy cold water and the sink piping was missing completely. No bueno.

 
After a quick fast scrub and quick escape from the axe murderer’s bathroom, we were off to town to see what it had to offer. The drive into town showed other hotels in the same condition. 20130215_144224Manzanillo had a tourist boom after it was featured in a movie that I never heard of and already forgot the name of; apparently so has everyone else. The downtown area has an excellent waterfront park full of statues, gazebos and shade trees. Although not abandoned it was quiet, nowhere to be found were the chess players, school children or vendors described in our cruising guide. The roads surrounding the park were full of life; the cafes and restaurants nearest the park were filled busy and the side streets were filled with foot traffic and small shops pushing their wares.

 
We sniffed out a quick bite to eat at a small restaurant that only served one thing, tacos de something-I-didn’t-catch-the-name-of. They were delicious…pork may have been involved. Wish I could tell you more. I find if there is only one thing on the menu then there is a reason for it and you should eat it.

 

20130215_161928Full and satisfied we needed to get over to Comercial Mexicana to do some grocery shopping. I walked up to a car painted like a taxi but turned out to be just a guy in a yellow car. The driver kindly let us know the best place to pick up a cab and we thanked him. We did our shopping, headed back to the boat and cleared out the next morning.

 

It was a short stay in an odd place; a town where the tourist wave had crashed and rolled back. Commercial shipping will always keep the town alive but the outlook for the soft-handed men used to easy money does not look so certain.

Fun in the Tenacatita Sun

DCIM100GOPROThe next destination after La Cruz is the Gold Coast, a 115-mile strip of fair-weather sailing with plenty of beautiful stops and anchorages. Unfortunately, since we were somewhat behind our “schedule”, we decided to skip much of the Gold Coast and head straight to Bahía Tenacatita for some long-awaited snorkeling. The cruise took a little over 24 hours, with one of the most comfortable night sailing we’ve had, close-hauled with the following sea.

Once we anchored in Boca de Iguana, alongside some 20 other sailboats, we jumped right in the water to escape the heat. Gidget, always wanting to be near us, jumped right after.  She quickly remembered that she isn’t very fond of swimming; she started chasing after us, splashing about and scratching us trying to get a good  grip. The panic look in her face as she was swimming around was priceless. Jerrad had to get back on the boat to pull her out of the water. She watched us carefully for the rest of our swim but dared not join us again.

Two things we wanted to do here was snorkeling and kayaking through the tidal estuary that was referred to as the jungle river cruise in our guidebook (actually, I only wanted to go snorkeling but Jerrad convinced me to do the jungle river cruise as well). The trip, according to the map in the book, should take us right to Playa Escolleras where snorkeling was said to be pristine and palapa cantinas abound for some seafood lunch. Perfect, kill two birds with one stone.

Off we went in our kayak cruising along the channel. Bird watchers and enthusiasts should enjoy this trip since there are plenty of colorful birds around (which we have not even the slightest idea of what kinds they are. Jerrad  made upDCIM100GOPRO some fancy names like the “Tenacatita white bird” or the “famous black bird of Tenacatita”).  There were also iguanas and even crocodiles (which we didn’t see). As we glided on our kayak along the mangrove-lined river, the waters was clear and flat that the reflection was picture perfect, and the only noise you hear is that of the birds. It was a very tranquil experience and it seemed like it was going to be a very relaxing ride down to the beach, or so I thought.

As we kept going, the channel became more and more narrowed. The roots of the mangroves slowly encroached upon the channel, making it nearly impossible to paddle. The water turned mucky grey, and mosquitoes were buzzing all over us with ravenous hunger. The tranqDCIM100GOPROuil channel had indeed become a jungle river. We made a brief stop to lather ourselves with mosquito repellent and continued along with the motivation of a promising snorkeling and delicious lunch at the beach palapa. Like a couple of Olympic athletes determined to take the gold we pressed on. Alas, a clearing! We could hear the waves crashing on the beach; we had to be close now. At the T-shaped clearing we turned left and saw the finish line: a makeshift wooden dock.  This had to be the way to get to the beach.

We stepped off the kayak onto the dock only to see an abandoned rendezvous spot and all beach access fenced-off. Nobody was there. My spirit sunk to the deepest level of disappointment; we were hungry, hot and ready for the beach but the only thing to do is go back through the mosquito-laden jungle river with only a few crackers to hold us over. When we finally made it back to the beach we started from we decided to eat lunch at the campground cantina and console ourselves with a refreshing piña colada.

Determined to Hell bent on going snorkeling, the following day we decided to kayak the 6-mile round trip. So we paddled, passing Punta Chubasco, between the rocky outcrop and across the bay, to Punta Hermanos where Playa Escolleras was. The area was indeed abandoned with buildings that were either torn down or empty. No palapas or cantinas to be found (we later learned that this was due to some land dispute). It might be a good thing, since less tourism would surely guarantee a healthier reef.

The coral reefs were only a few feet away from the beach. The water was clear and turquoise, and the snorDCIM100GOPROkeling was indeed pristine along this area. All kinds of fish swam around the colorful coral, as well as sea snakes and stingrays. It was beautiful. However, right next to all this vibrant beauty, there were areas of dead coral, serving as a stark reminder of what even a little careless human activity can do to an ecosystem.

Bahía Tenacatita along the Gold Coast was definitely worth the stop. The bay is calm, and we could easily paddle our kayak to the campground palapa where we could enjoy a nice lunch, relax in the shade, listen to the waves and stare off into the bay. Or if it suited us better, take a walk along the beach. The beach itself was never crowded, making it an ideal spot to play with Gidget. Horseback riding was also available from the tourist hotel nearby. And if you ever make it here go snorkeling at Playa Escolleras, take a load off and just enjoy the beauty.

I Left My Heart In La Cruz

We haven’t made many stops on our voyage so far, mostly due to circumstances such as waiting for a weather window, or waiting for an actual window… But of all the places we have been since setting out two months ago, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (or just La Cruz) was by far our favorite and it unexpectedly stole a little bit of my heart. I already longed to be back in La Cruz as we reached our next stop on our nearly nonexistent itinerary.

La Cruz is a small town on the northeast side of Bahía de Banderas and is about 21 km north of the popular tourist destination of Puerto Vallarta. The “main” street is a cobble-stoned road with a large park to one side. This is a great place for a siesta under a shade-tree. Although a bit dusty, this village is charming in its own way. La Cruz harbors the relatively new Marina Riviera Nayarit. This marina accommodates long-term US and Canadian expats as well as travelers just passing through. We stayed here for a total of 6 days, but for us La Cruz was love at first sight.

As we approached the marina, w20130208_172540e were greeted with coconut trees along the sandy shores. The lush mountains beyond extended from one end of the bay to the next.  The sky was clear, and the weather was warm. We weren’t the only ones to be put under this town’s spell; there were at least 40 sailboats anchored just right outside the marina enjoying the picturesque bay.

That day we arrived was a Sunday, which happened to be Mercado Huanacaxtle day. It was mostly an artisan’s market with arts and crafts vendors selling jewelries, paintings, blankets, woven bags, souvenirs and decoration. There was a handful of vendors serving food or fresh juice and a fish market as well. The market was full of ex-pats, hippies and locals, setting a good vibe from the get go.

But what really set La Cruz apart was to be the people, be it the locals or fellow sailors in the marina. Probably the best word to describe everyone we met in La Cruz would be friendly, and I’m talking genuine friendliness. The real deal. Not the annoying superficial gestures one find in larger tourist towns; everyone’s your best friend as long as they think you have a dollar in your pocket. Here nobody was in my face trying to sell some “Cuban” cigars or jewelries, or hiding behind a conversation so you rent their jetski. It was refreshing to be rid of all that and to just have an enjoyable conversation with no ulterior motives.

When we ventured out at night to hunt down some tasty food, we often found the locals hanging out in front of their homes chatting away. Some20130204_143549 pulled out TVs to the road side to watch telenovelas, an open invitation to neighbors and passersby. If only television was such a social affair in the states. Even Gidget made new friends with 3 boys at the beach who wanted to play fetch with her. We chatted with those kids for nearly an hour. It was a delightful albeit painstaking conversation as we failed to comprehend most of what was said. Thank goodness one of them spoke some English.

La Cruz has numerous local eateries that seem to operate out of their home. The makeshift restaurants were once a living room or kitchen. Sometimes they just put out a couple of plastic tables and chairs on the side of the road. Our daily diet here consists of tacos and quesadillas with our favorite spot being Tacos La Silla Roja:  they had the best quesadilla adobada and deliciously spicy salsa. I do mean properly spicy, not the kind of “spicy” you get in restaurants stateside. Of course there are always real restaurants too, but by now you probably guessed we did not make it to any of them except to the marina restaurant once for the sake of their free Wifi. We love our local taco vendors.

20130206_123536One thing you can do in La Cruz is to take a day trip to Puerto Vallarta, and it is a painless venture. We just walked up the main road for a few blocks until it meets the highway and catch the ATM bus to Puerto Vallarta. The bus we took from La Cruz was really just a minivan but they were all clearly labeled, so it wasn’t rocket science. The bus took us to the downtown area and on the way we saw a sign to Costco. We were tempted to stop there for a hotdog and soda (which costs $1.50 in the US, making it a good staple food for struggling college students or young, married couples saving money to go sail for 4+ months) but we didn’t. From Puerto Vallarta, one could take a taxi or local bus to Walmart to catch the ATM bus back to La Cruz.

A nice marina, quiet town, friendly people, laidback lifestyle, beautiful scenery and delicious food. What more do you need to fall in love with this puerto-vallarta-water-activities-info_clip_image005place? The answer is whales. Bahía de Banderas is a whales’ playground; we saw more humpback whales here than anywhere else thus far. A mama and baby whale passed right beside our boat, so close you could see her blowhole and the baby’s face clearly. I mumbled a prayer that they wouldn’t hit the boat as they flew by. We saw whales breaching (yes, breaching!) near the beach by the marina, out in the bay, and by Las Tres Marietas islands. We saw them playfully doing a flipper or tail slap; you know, things you see on a whale-watching advertisement that you never actually see if you pay to go on the trip. We saw them. It is impossible to describe such an encounter, not any photos or videos can capture the magnitude of the experience.  Just wanting to enjoy the experience, we never even bothered fumbling with our cameras (this photo is not ours but it depicted what we saw that day).  Whether you are religious, agnostic or downright atheist, there is an undeniable feeling of humbling awe and admiration of these magnificent creatures roaming the seas. Once again, we were reminded on just how truly incredible nature is, and what small place humans hold in the grand scheme of things.

When the time came to leave La Cruz, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves why this couldn’t be the place that we had to be stuck in for two weeks while waiting for our new window. We even played with the idea of staying in this lovely town. But our journey pressed on. So we made a promise that we would, one day, return to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Bahía de Banderas.

View more of Puerto Vallarta here

View more of La Cruz here

Relaxation at Last: Mazatlan to La Cruz

With our new window mounted we were more than ready to get out of the bingo and water aerobics community that is El Cid. Waiting on a new window and a raging norther kept us in Mazatlan for a grand total of 14 days. Anxious to make up some time we opted to skip Isla Isabella as well as San Blas and head straight for La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. With the winds subsiding and our route set, we cast off.

 
Once passed the dredge and the breakwater beyond, you could tell that there had been a wild wind not long ago. The sea was gray, the waves lumpy and the sky was hidden. The clouds and barometer said “Go back and play some bingo, you remember the sea of Cortez, right?”  Our weather window is solid, I thought to myself, and to hell with it if I’m wrong, we need to get out of Mazatlan.

 
The whole first day was uneventful and we did little but read and nap. The highlight of the day was a group of spotted dolphins leading us toward warmer waters. Nothing was broken, no Untitledone was injured and the lifejackets were only brought out to be used as pillows. The hardest part was making sure we both didn’t fall asleep as the wind-vane tirelessly kept us on course.

 
As night fell the clouds began to part and the stars came out. There was no moon this night and the city light had long since been swallowed up by the horizon. No words nor any photo you have seen will ever do justice to the unbelievable and overwhelming quantity of stars that burn in the heavens beyond our reach. They fill the night sky so densely that darkness has all but been pushed aside. This is the old night sky. The sky of our ancestors, where philosophy and religion were born. The sky that guided travelers and captured the minds of men since the beginning of time. The Milky Way, now unseen and forgotten, another casualty in the name of progress.

 
20130216_114603The next morning brought by far the warmest day we have had at sea to date. The jackets were stowed and the sun hats came out. The seas lay flat and the wind pushed us effortlessly but not forcefully. Throughout the day we spotted sea turtles sunning themselves on the water’s surface as we dangled our legs over the toe-rail. It felt as though we could have been a million miles from anything. In reality we were probably 20 miles or so from Islas Marias, an island used as a federal prison colony in Mexico. When I look back on it now it seems a strange contrast. There we were, enjoying the boundless freedoms the ocean has to offer while just over the horizon 30,000 men were imprisoned by it.

 
Sunlight gave way to starlight as our hull painted a bioluminescent line across the sea. The slightest disturbance set the waters aglow; stars in the sky and stars in the sea. Staring off, mesmerized by the dream-like quality of the night, I spotted a pod of dolphins racing towards us, leaving an iridescent trail 100 yards long. As they played in the wake of our bow, Josie and I went forward to have a better look. Laying on deck looking down in to the water you could see every detail highlighted and every movement exaggerated. It was like the dolphins were bathed in millions of jewels more beautiful than man has ever laid his hands on. It is a brief glimpse into another world; a temporary window to a show that goes on and on unseen, only able to be captured by memory. A gift to those who wander beyond horizons and into the darkness.

 
We passed Las Tres Marietas just as the dawn began to break and La Cruz was just beyond. There was a humpback just off in the distance as we neared the breakwater. We pulled in that DCIM100GOPROmorning just as the sleepy village starting to come to life. A farmers market was being set up on the far side of the marina under a hundred or so brightly colored umbrellas. We tied off and went into town.

The Tail of our Tailless Sailor Dog

DSCF1560Some readers have been asking about our four-legged crewmember so here is her story and like any good story it starts on Craigslist. While browsing the pet section we came across an advertisement for an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Jerrad always wanted one of these dogs so we thought what the hell and started the 2hr drive out to Lancaster.
Typical of Craigslist, the previous owners were vague on her history as well as to why they could no longer keep her. What we managed to get was that she was six months old and we would be her third home. This for most would be a red flag, but it didn’t matter. We fell in love with her as she was jumping up and down in the front yard trying to catch the small snowflakes falling from the sky. We were sold.
Gidget proved to be a challenge. She was fierce and unfriendly towards strangers and dogs. The introduction between her and Daisy, our semi-rescued German Shepherd, took two whole weeks. Even though they are now best friends, she is still uneasy around other dogs. Gidget’s rule of human friendship is not very complicated: let me come to you and smell you first, and if everything’s cool, I’ll be your friend. I’ll even be your best friend and love you forever if you have cheese for me.   Basically just adopting Cesar Millan’s “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” rule she can successfully be fast friends with anyone.  We are always apprehensive if someone new walks straight up to Gidget, using their “dog/baby” voice, with eyes fixated and their hand going straight for her head.
Even though she is reserved around strangers, she is a complete goofball with her human friends. She makes us laugh everyday with her silliness. The way she drools as she is waiting forGidgetjump food or a frisbee to be thrown. The way she loves to “sing along” when you play the harmonica. The way she “makes the bed” by pushing the blankets and sheets around with her nose until they are in a huge pile. The way her almost nonexistent tail rapidly flicks back and forth, earning her the nickname “wigglebutt”. And the way she likes to talk to you in a language of strange high-pitched moans and yelps.
Her appetite can only be described as ferocious, with a particular interest of eating things on the “what-foods-you-should-not-give-to-your-dog” list. She has, so far, gobbled up almost a pound of grapes, at least 6 pieces of molding bread and a packet of chocolate chip cookies as well as countless pieces of rubber toys, socks and Ziploc bags. We keep things out of reach but she is a clever dog and full of surprises. She once decided to jump off the deck of our hauled-out boat, 8 feet above ground. I thought I was going to have a heart attack; I was convinced she must have had hurt herself, but when I looked down there she was with a big grin on her face.
If there is one thing she loves more than food, it is the beach. She absolutely loves running and playing fetch in the sand. Although, swimming is a whole different matter. Once, while we were kayaking in Cabo, she jumped out into the water following Jerrad. She instantly realized her mistake. All we saw next was Gidget swimming to shore as fast as she could, with all her might to get to the beach where she can firmly press her paws into the sand she loves. She didn’t even turn her head to see where we were during her beeline to shore. Now, getting her back into the water and onto the kayak was a whole other ordeal.
20121215_074714Some have asked about sailing with a dog. Gidget proves to be very adaptable to all her new surroundings and environment. She enjoys sailing, particularly when there are sea lions around. No, she has never gotten seasick, not even during our rocky ride crossing the Sea of Cortez.  Bathroom business has been a bit more problematic for this sailor dog in training. At first we had a piece of sod on a tray as her designated bathroom spot. This was not good enough for her; she went on a bathroom strike and managed to hold it for as long as 2.5 days until we docked. Even after her strike ended, she stubbornly decided that she would only do her business on board on an only-when-absolutely-necessary basis (which means she still only goes every 1-2 days).  The piece of sod, although sound in principle, turned out to be muddy and slightly disgusting, so we disposed of it.  What we have now is an old rag on the same tray we kept the sod. Other than that, we did not encounter any other problem sailing with her.
Gidget has caught many eyes and much attention on this journey, but the one encounter I will never forget happened the first day we were in Mazatlán. As I was taking her from the dock to a nearby lawn, I heard two guys on a dinghy shouting; I kept walking thinking that there was no way they were talking to me but they then stopped us.  “Is that a female heeler?” one asked with a thick Australian accent. After noticing how beautiful she was, they proceeded to point out that they had, on their boat,“a male heeler looking to have a good time”.  I politely declined on Gidget’s behalf. No gentlemen, she is a classy lady and will not partake in such activities.
As challenging as it is to have a heeler like Gidget, we have never once regretted our decision to adopt her or to bring her with us on this sailing voyage. She is alert and watchful, making her great for security and protection on board. She enjoys being on the boat, with the wind on her face and the scent of the marine life abound. And who knows, maybe over the course of the journey she will enjoy swimming as well.

Our Extended Stay In Mazatlán

The shores of Mazatlán were visible the second morning of our voyage crossing the Sea of Cortez. As we move closer, the threat of rain 774991_10200403612394042_544597724_oand strong winds had abandoned us. You could see the coconut-lined beaches scattered with hotels and tall condos. We have never been fans of a tall structure encroaching some pristine shores and I couldn’t help but wonder when and how long it will take before the beaches of Mazatlán would be dominated by these cement monsters, barely any open space to spare, barely any room to breathe. One can only hope that it will not become another Cabo San Lucas.

 
After two trying days at sea causing minor damage to Vento Dea, we knew our stop here will yet again be an extended one, this time with lots of work to be done. My husband, perhaps sensing that I was overwhelmed with what had transpired over the last 48 hours, made a point to promise some time to relax and rejuvenate in Mazatlán. After all, our marina is part of a resort hotel and supposedly all hotel amenities were available to marina guests, which unfortunately didn’t include breakfast.

 
Upon arrival we met some friendly neighbors on our dock, who kindly gave pointers on whom to talk to regarding a new window. We then finished up our business with the harbormaster, got our keys and wi-fi passwords, showered and took Gidget for a walk. The moment her paws hit land and she smelled the fresh scent of grass, her face relaxed and  a big grin appeared from side to side. The poor girl finally did her business after two long and rough days at sea. She seemed to be taking this very well, I mean she has yet to refuse to go back onto the boat after everything that we have been through.

 
Soon darkness fell and dinner followed by sleep were the only two things in our mind. So starved and so tired we stopped at the first decent looking place, this was a mistake. It was by far the worst meal we have had so far. On our walk back from dinner, we entertained ourselves with the idea of abandoning the boat for the night and book ourselves a hotel room. The thought of a nice room with a big, comfortable and (most importantly) dry bed along with cable television was very tempting. For whatever reason, we chose instead to sleep in our boat, with a sleeping bag on the damp cushions.

 
Vento Dea was slowly put back in shape again. 20130128_145723We took out and dried all the wet cushions and bed covers and washed the wet blankets. We opened every compartment and cleaned it, bleached the inside of the boat, re-organized the items thrown about during the crossing and hosed the boat down with fresh water. We cleaned, scraped and prepped the window frame before installing the new glass piece. Yet, forget we did not of that promise we had made to ourselves and relaxed we did.

 

 

Located in the state of Sinaloa, across from the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula,  Mazatlán is another popular tourist destination.  Unlike Cabo San Lucas however, one can still easily find the charming authenticity of this city outside the hotel resorts.  Public transportation is abundant in the forms of buses, taxis and pulmonias (golf carts turned into taxi cabs). Our cruising guide informed us that the pulmonia is a cheap and fast alternative to a taxi; however, a 3-km ride and 60 pesos (~5US$) later, we decided that the authors’ standard of cheap is considerably more expensive than ours. From that point we opted to take the bus. From the marina, we took the Sabalo-Centro or “green bus” to the main attraction points in town.  This route takes you along the Av. Camarón Sabalo and the Golden Zone, where most of the hotels are located, then along the Malecón all the way to the old Mazatlán or Centro Histórico. These buses, the one most of the tourists will take, are newer, equipped with AC and cost 10 pesos (about 80 cents).

 
Centro Histórico is the city’s historic district adorned with beautiful and colorful architecture, including the grand Catedral Basílica de PicsArt_1358900430689la Inmaculada Concepción, the Ángela Peralta Theater, several museums as well as monuments.  Located in this district also is Plaza Machado, a town square surrounded by sidewalk cafes. One could see the French and Spanish influence on the buildings lining up the square.  Supposedly this plaza is a busy square with arts and crafts vendors as well as street musicians entertaining the wine-and-dine crowd; however, we were out of luck since it was dead quite on both of our visits.

 

 
Another stop in this route is the Mercado Pino Suarez, or the central market, located just a couple blocks from the Cathedral. PicsArt_1358900124768This is where the hustle and bustle happens (except when you go there on Sunday, in which case it is closed). The locals and tourists come to haggle for fresh meats and produce, snacks and souvenirs. Above the market you can find good, local food for an extraordinarily cheap price. When you eat here, you can also sit on the balcony outside, above the crowded streets and people-watch. While in the Mercado, we bought ourselves 5 beautiful and colorful Mexican blankets to decorate our cabin. We also got ourselves a delicious lunch and Coke for only 85 pesos (~7 US$), or the price of an appetizer in a main-street restaurant. We also walked along some of the Malecón, a 21-km-long  beachwalk , where one can find beachside restaraunts, fishermen, cliff divers, numerous sidewalk cafes, art displays and jewelry vendors. One can easily spent hours sightseeing and walking along this waterfront avenue.

 

 

When we are too lazy to take the bus or walk anywhere, we took a short water taxi ride to the hotel’s private beach and play fetch with Gidget. Or we lounge poolside while reading a book accompanied by the many iguanas roaming around the area waiting for the hotel guests to feed them. If we had too much relaxation we went back to work on the boat. While it could get windy in the late afternoon or evening, for the most part our days here were warm and sunny. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was to no longer be in 5 layers of clothing.

 
After a week’s stay, Jerrad finally obtained the polycarbonate piece needed to replace our window. The plan was to cut and install it then leave the next day. Of course, it was never our luck so far to have things go according to plan. The piece broke into two while Jerrad was cutting it to fit the frame. To top it off, it happened on Saturday afternoon. Off he went to the supply store again, and they agreed to provide him with a ready piece of polycarbonate by the following Monday afternoon. That, as it turned out, also did not go as planned and it wouldn’t be available till Tuesday. As I sat in our beloved Vento Dea on Monday evening, still missing a window, the wind has picked up to a good 20-25 kts and the forecast warned of gale-force winds for the next few days. After what we went through in the Sea of Cortez, choosing to sail in these conditions was undeniably in the farthest stretch of our minds.

 
As our extended stay continued, I was torn with opposite feelings about Mazatlán. On one hand, it is not a bad place to be stuck, Mazatlán had its little charms that I will cherish. Not just the obvious town attractions described above, but all the other little things that happened in this place.
Here I saw Cesar Millan entering into our hotel as we were walking out of the lobby. It was quite unfortunate that I did not have my glasses on so I wasn’t certain at the time and missed the Kodak moment of Gidget with the Dog Whisperer himself (a water-taxi driver the next day confirmed that it was him staying in the resort).
Here we spoke with the Vietnamese owner of an out of place Pho and Boba restaurant who told us of his escape to Thailand some thirty years ago. Along with 30 other people, he spent 2 terrifying days at the sea on an a boat only 8 meters long. I was humbled listening to his story; my fear of death seemed so ridiculous by comparison.
Here we walked too many miles on 3 separate days in search of a supposedly very good coffeeshop that, accPicsArt_1358900587262ording to Google maps, was merely a few kilometers away. We never found it. Instead, one day after walking for what seemed to be hours in the hot sun, Jerrad and I sat down in another coffeeshop ordering the sweetest breakfast items on the menu alongside the sweetest blended drinks available. They looked good when we first sat down, they definitely didn’t feel good after we devoured them.
Here I could relax by the poolside reading my book in the warm sun, or go in the hot tub at night; life is as laidback as it could be.

 
But on the other hand, I was getting anxious to leave. Whether I felt the need to move on because I wanted to stick to the “plan” as scheduled or  because if you stay in a resort hotel long enough it begins to feel like a retirement home, I could not tell. Maybe I just felt guilty of not having a job this whole time and for the next months to come. Or maybe I just wanted a change of scenery. While I loved Mazatlán and enjoyed this place much more than Cabo, I still couldn’t escape that restlesness and weariness. It was time to move on to the next destination and, eventually, to our final destination.

More photos here

Crossing the Sea of Cortez

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

-Edgar Allen Poe

Feeling a bit restless and a bit poorer we were ready to move on. Pinned down by a nasty system in the Sea of Cortez our logistical stop in Cabo had become an extended stay. So we decided to jump on the tail end of  the system hoping to move quickly and make good time. Everything looked good, PassageWeather was telling us 20knts of wind and it looked like the low that had passed through lost most of its punch. We figured we would have some unsettled seas for the first day as things began to calm down but no worse than we had seen during the trip down the Baja peninsula.
After breakfast and closing out the bill on our overpriced slip we began making our way out of the harbor. The bay was in a state of madness the likes of which I have never seen; the IMAG0926catalyst, two cruise ships. The tenders, coutless sportfishing vessels, faux pirate ships, “extreme whale watching” boats(seriously, it’s a thing) and seemingly every panga in cabo jockeyed for position like scooters do in Southeast Asia. And there we were, right in the middle of it, doing 3.5 knots with our little single cylinder Yanmar thumping away. We spotted a couple of whales as we pulled away from the chaos and moved towards open water.

We started to notice a significant change in the sea state about five miles east of the bay. The seas were confused with steep waves out of both the north and north east making for an uncomfortable motion. 15 knots of wind from the north pushed us along and began to topple the peaks of the waves. Despite the bad motion it looked like we should make good time.

Five hours and 25 miles later the sun was getting close to the horizon and the situation had been progressively deteriorating as each mile passed. We  had 35 knots of wind and the waves were now breaking. Uncertain of what to expect, I decided to pull in a third reef before night fall. We hove-to and I went forward to begin taking in sail. Just as I reached the mast a massive plume of mist shot up into the air as a humpback whale surfaced not more than 10 ft away. It was an incredible and humbling experience but it put me on edge that evening. The thought of hitting a 20 ton whale in the dark of night 100 miles from shore amidst breaking seas and strong winds would keep creeping into my conscious mind till day break. Once the whale went on his way it was time to get that reef in and press on.

wavesThe winds continued to increase and a few hours after nightfall I was glad I put that 3rd reef in. It was good and rough now, foam covered the seas, spray filled the air and crashing waves came from three directions. Waves frequently found their way into the cockpit; even in my Grundens  I was soaked through and through. We were close-hauled, pointing 45 degrees higher than what our heading should have been and we were still moving south. Josie was sick and vomiting by this time and I decided it would be best to let her sleep til dawn and hold fast through the night.

There was a thick cloud cover and it was impossible to see beyond the boat. I was getting a good soaking every 5 seconds or so while sitting in the cockpit trying to avoid the larger waves. With my harness on, I would peer vainly into the darkness looking for approaching waves, whales or other vessels only to get a face full of water for my efforts. This went on the whole night as as I sung Plastic Jesus and took solace in the fact that it seemed as though we have reached a sort of plateau. I knew rest was just on the other side of dawn and there was enough work to be had to keep me occupied that night.

With sore arms, raw fingers and a fuzzy mind the grey of morning slowly set upon us. The winds had subsided if only in the slightest. I was exhausted and starved, I roused Josie and she came on deck to take her watch. As she settled in I went below to dry out, find something to snack on and get some rest. I smiled to myself as I thought about the warmth of the blanket and the momentary escape sleep would bring. I sat down and began taking my jacket off when we were hit by a large wave. My arms bound in my half removed pull-over I was sent flying across the cabin face first into the leeward window. It all happened in a blink, no time to react, no time to brace one’s self. I was no worse for wear but my shoulder had pulled the depth sounder out of the bulk head, bolts and all. Worse yet my face broke the 1/4inch polycarbonate window in two places and pushed it out half an inch.

By this point the boat was a mess and everything was wet. This was my breaking point, I went temporarily out of my mind as I searched for duct tape, a towel, a screwdriver and a hammer. Back on with the boots, the harness and the foul weather gear. Crawling on hands and knees I wedged myself between the kayak and the shrouds. I tried to unscrew and reset the window but it would not go back in. So after the screwdriver went flying into the ocean, never to be seen again, I took to the infuriating task of wiping down the window between waves and trying to put wet tape over a wet surface. After going through five or six pieces I shouted “Stop being fucking wet!” but the ocean would not abide, instead it dipped the rail in an act of defiance; filling my boots with water. When I finally did manage to get the window covered well enough to keep most of the water out, I was too riled up to have any hope of sleep. So I sat with my wife, whose finger had been smashed by the companionway cover, for a short while to calm down and get my mind right.

I eventually did get to sleep and when I awoke the wind had dropped to 20 knots although the seas were still heaving. I was at a loss trying to figure out what was to come in the next 24 hours, the signals were mixed; we had a red sunset and IMAG0954-1-1-1sunrise, both mares’ tails and mackerel skies, the barometer went from 30.00 to 30.05 and then back to 30.00 again. With nothing to go on but my gut and remembered weather maps we proceeded cautiously.

Throughout the day the seas began to settle and the winds continued to become more fair, a good thing too because we had been pushed south and needed to make up some ground. The weather finally gave up her secret and on the horizon rain squalls could be seen making their way towards us. But as long as we had the wind on our side we made good use of it, always keeping a weary eye on the sky.

Fortune was with us the rest of the day and the rain stayed well clear of our small sailboat. As the second day became the second night lightning began to appear in the distance, first in the west, then the south and finally the northwest. We spent the night in the cockpit, knowing full well our favorable winds could change in the blink of an eye. We could be engulfed in a squall and be set on beam’s end and be sent scrambling on deck to pull in sail. This was to be another restless night, watching the fire in the skies, hoping the seas would be kind but awaiting her fury.

We were looked upon favorably that night and even though mother nature growled she did not bite. 30NM from Mazatlan the sun began its daily journey across the sky, lifting the darkness from the sea. The light of the new day revealed that the rain was in fast pursuit just off our stern. A warm front like this usually moves between 180 and 240 miles a day so we pressed on as quickly as we could hoping to make landfall before it caught up with us.

20130123_102310-1-1As we came within a few miles of the harbor we called the marina for our slip assignment. We were informed they were dredging and we would be unable to enter for another two hours. This was alright because the following clouds had moved to the south and we were now becalmed. We hove-to 3 miles off shore, made lunch and relaxed until we could enter the breakwater.
It may not have been our longest, nor the winds any stronger than the norther we experienced in Baja but it was the most exhausting, wettest and least comfortable trip the Vento Dea has been on. When you are out there, in the middle of it, your self-importance is washed away and you can see clearly how finite and easily quantifiable our lives are. Without our fellow human beings our lives hold no meaning. These eternal winds and waves will rage on long after we have all gone from the earth and the whole of human history will pass without notice.

Gluttony and Excess in Cabo San Lucas

DCIM100GOPROIt was Friday and nearly sunrise when we approached Cabo San Lucas. As we inched along, the first morning light began to illuminate rows of condos and hotel resorts lining the entire coast. By 0730, while we were waiting for marina to open, the morning festivities had begun. Hoards of sport-fishing boats raced out of the bay while paddle-boarders and jet skiers played near the beach. Water taxis were dragging along the water looking for passengers. Kanye West and Jay-Z were blasting from the beach side bar as breakfast time rolled around.

 

20130111_115708As soon as we docked and stepped into the marina, we were greeted with the sight, smell and sound of a busy tourist destination: a Vegas style luxury mall, restaurants and bars along the walking paths. Obnoxious, drunken American (why are they always Americans?) tourists walking about with shopping bags in one hand and a Pacifico in the other. No sir, you may have gone to Cabo but you’ve never been to Mexico. This is a cultural vacuum, a palace of money built for touristas. If you are not looking to shop, wine and dine at overpriced restaurants or a college student looking to spend your spring break in a state of perpetual intoxication, get out while you still have a pocket full of pesos.

 

In an instant gone were the days where all we heard were the splash of the waves or the howling wind. The days when we were isolated from the rest of the world, anchored in our little corner of a quiet bay where a hot shower had become a luxury. The days where the only forms of entertainment to be had were reading, writing or playing the guitar. The days where we ate humble, portioned meals and snacked on Ritz crackers. No, this was a whole different kind of world. This was a town of gluttony; this was Cabo San Lucas.

 
So gluttons we were. Over the course of the five days we were there, we indulged ourselves in all things culinary. After our much anticipated hot shower, we found ourselves in front of a big plate of delicious local fare and a nice, ice-cold bottle of Coca Cola. IMAG0920-1That first sip, after 13 days of not having any, could only be described as heavenly. We had fancy dinners, a proper date night celebrating our 30-day milestone, the most expensive Haagen Dazs ice cream, and slightly cheaper gelato (far better than Haagen Dazs). We found good and authentic, local restaurants such as Los Tres Gallos and Maria Jiménez just outside the marina off of the main street. If you ever make it to Cabo, we highly recommend these two places. Whatever pounds we lost from eating smaller meals and not drinking Coke at all for almost two weeks while sailing were gained back in Cabo.

 

Of course we also found time to do other things such as kayaking around the DCIM100GOPRObay in an attempt to see whales (which we didn’t), hang out at the beach and visit the infamous El Arco, a 200-foot granite rock formation shaped by the ocean currents.  We also took the bus (which cost 10 pesos, or about 70 cents, one way) to Walmart to do grocery shopping and did other mundane things such as laundry, cleaning up the boat and cooking rendang (Indonesian beef curry) to stock up while we sail.

 
After five days of waiting for weather and playing touristas, with our pesos dwindling, the time has come for us to continue forward in our journey. The day we left, IMAG0926two cruiseships were anchored and the traffic along the bay was the busiest we’ve seen all week. While we loved the food we found there, we were anxiously ready to escape this overpriced tourist trap and move on to Mazatlan.

 

View more photos here

Winter Winds of Baja

Our trip down Baja California was plagued with rain squalls, gale force winds, winter northers and a less-than-pleasant sea state. I can honestly say I never thought I would look forward to Cabo but by the time Baja was through with us, any place that had sunshine and hot showers was where I wanted to be.

We spent the better part of an hour deciding how to leave the slip in Ensenada. It was early in the afternoon with a slight swell making its way into the marina causing the poorly restrained docks to shift and jerk. The boat, affected in kind, was impossible for one person to restrain but with wind directly abeam someone had to man the tiller. Fortunately, one of the employees of Baja Naval was walking by and able to give us a hand.

IMAG0843After that the first 30 hours were easy going, 15-20knts out of the NW but things took a turn the next evening. In the evening hours you could see dark rain clouds all around us but we had been fortunate enough to still be dry. There was a full double rainbow and despite the unsettled weather all around we were comfortable. Once the sun went down and before the moon came up the clouds rolled overhead and you could not see beyond the edge of the boat. The wind picked up and we reefed down.

Then the rain started in that sort of tropical-bucket-of-water-over-your-head kinda way, simultaneously the wind went berserk. The wind blew so hard rain became painful as it hit any exposed skin and the boat became unmanageable. We were already double reefed and I knew I would have to go forward to bring the main down and run only on the storm jib (or bare poles if this kept up). This requires going from a down wind run to turn back up into the wind and waves, a disconcerting prospect but one intrinsic to the work needing to be done. Once we came about Josie, with much hesitation and confusion, took the tiller and I headed for the mast. Between the rain and the waves on deck I felt like I was standing under a waterfall.

This kind of work on a pitch-black night is not for the the weak willed or faint of heart, this is the point where it is real. Here your choices are easy but doing what you know needs doing can be daunting, knowing that if you lose your footing on a night like this you wont be getting back on the boat. This is where even the heathens and nonbelievers start to pray.

The rain moved on as quickly as it came. We were left with heaving seas and 30knts of wind for the next 8 hours until the next rain squall hit, just as bad as the first but the moon was out and I saw it coming and we were not caught by surprise. It was about this time I cursed the weather forecast “variable 5-10knts my ass”. When dawn came we found squid that had be washed on deck by the breaking seas of the night before. From there the wind abated and left us running fast and without incident. We did experience a bit of the “cape effect” as we rounded Isla Natividad and Punta Eugenia, forcing the wind more easterly and adding a few knots but nothing terrible. As we approached Bahía Tortuga a massive pod of dolphins was playing in the growing wind waves and giving a pleasant end to a tiring journey.

There was little to do and less to write about in Bahía Tortuga; the town was built to support a major commercial cannery that closed long ago. We had no cell DCIM100GOPROservice (MoviStar) and we were late in the season so the only internet cafe was closed. We kayaked in to get groceries and walked around for about an hour in the dusty little town. The major point I am making is we had no weather information here and we left based on a combination of morning wind, barometric pressure and gut feelings.

We pulled anchor on a fair wind and made good time towards the mouth of the bay. We then turned south and headed for Bahía Santa Maria. A few miles south we saw hundreds of young crab swimming on the surface and a group of 20-30 sea lions playfully swimming and barking; this made Gidget call back excitedly because she loves marine animals. The rest of the day was uneventful and mostly quiet. We had growing winds the following day but nothing too noteworthy, but the last night the barometer dropped like a rock and a Winter norther began to blow. Again down with the main, with only a small scrap of jib we were running for shelter and taking a few waves over the stern. We were fortunate to be only about 20 miles north of Bahía Santa Maria. Unfortunately it was 2am when we arrived; it was pitch black and the anchorage unfamiliar. If this anchorage was not so wide open and straight forward, it would have been a difficult choice between heaving to offshore till sunrise and risking a tricky anchorage. With the anchor watch set we turned in for the night.

20130108_075213When we got up the next day the once empty Bahía Santa Maria was full of fishing vessels and pleasure yachts taking shelter from the powerful winter winds. We were there for over 48hrs waiting for the system to pass. It was too windy to risk leaving the boat and too cold to want to. We passed the time reading, watching Pirates of the Caribbean and learning Spanish.

When the winds finally abated we made preparation to set sail and pulled anchor at 6am and headed for Cabo. At the mouth of the bay we were greeted by a hump back whale not more than 30 yards from our boat and another three spouts could be seen on the horizon. Soon after that there was flurry of life; we were followed by another group of whales, more on the horizon, dozens of sea lions jump simultaneously, a massive pod of dolphins on the hunt and of course the birds that accompany such activity. This was easily one of the best days we had thus far.
The majority of the trip to Cabo was about as relaxed and uneventful as we could hope. The next weather system did catch up with us a few hours north of Cabo Falso. Even with only a few square feet of jib up it pushed us along at such a rateDCIM100GOPRO that we got to Cabo San Lucas 3hrs before the marina opened. So we just drifted in the bay enjoying the sunrise and watching the countless number of sport-fishing boats doing their best to pull giants from the sea in the name of ego and profit. I could already see the hustlers and pushers combing the beaches for the suckers and the gluttons as boats full of burned-faced tourist clad in life vests crisscrossed the bay. I could already tell this was going to be a stop that I would have mixed feelings about, but at this point all I cared about was a hot shower.

 

30 Days Ago…

…we departed Oxnard, California for our 4200 NM (nautical miles) sailing voyage to the US Virgin Islands and I started what is known as the craziest adventure of my life thus far. Of those 30 days, only 10.5 days were spent actually sailing and the remaining days we were either docked or anchored somewhere. During the 30 days, we have made stops at Oceanside, San Diego, Ensenada, Bahía Tortuga (Turtle Bay), Bahía Santa Maria and Cabo San Lucas. We have celebrated Christmas in an abandoned boatyard in Ensenada and almost forgotten about New Year’s Eve altogether since we were sailing for 3 days to Turtle Bay. In the 10.5 days (just over 250hours) we have sailed, about 921 NM (or 1060 miles) were traveled. During this entire time, I can proudly report that (besides days of amazingly bad hair and a couple of bruises here and there) I am still alive and surviving my adventure quite well, considering that I have zero experience in sailing and was never gone on a sailboat longer than 1.5 days.

So why do I do it? There are a couple of reasons why. The first one is the fact that I had two options: option A is to move to the US Virgin Islands by plane, find an apartment and find a job there and work while waiting for Jerrad to sail for 4 months. Option B is to go sail with him and have fun for 4 months while we are still young and blessed with an opportunity to do so. I did choose option A, but realized that working and waiting for him to finish a 4 month adventure vacation sounded terrible, apparently terrible enough that I chose the other option. The option that I once thought was an out-of-this-world-crazy-and-there-is-no-way-I-would-do- it option, yet here I am doing it. While it has not been easy, and some days I was quite scared and almost regretted my decision, I can honestly say it has been kind of  fun and definitely worth it. I said kind of because sailing down the Baja peninsula so far has been cold and windy; I am ready for the upcoming smooth sailing, warm waters and sunshine of the tropics.

20130106_060521

The other reason has to do with personal challenge. Obviously for someone who is not an experienced sailor or even remotely familiar with the sailing world, a four-month sailing trip is a daunting personal challenge. It is also a challenge because our living situation is now considerably smaller and less comfortable that what we were used to. It is a challenge because we are stuck together in a cramped space with pretty much no privacy or personal space everyday for the next few months. I’d consider this a near-solid attempt to test one’s marriage… besides having children, of course. It’s a challenge because we have to take turns sleeping at night and those night watches can be pretty darn cold (and scary for me). It’s a challenge because we do not have 24/7 access to the internet anymore, and we can no longer watch our favorite shows on Hulu or Netflix, and we cannot satisfy our craving for our favorite burger or Thai food or a coffee drink with a simple few minutes’ drive. Life suddenly has become less convenient.

Nevertheless, while a little less convenient, life has become much more fun and interesting now. Never once before I could afford hours spent enjoying a good book. I can take as many naps as I want. I saw the most amazing meteor shower on my first night sailing. The night sky is now illuminated with millions of stars that used to be faded under the glowing city lights. I can see the bioluminescence at night created by living organisms in the ocean: magical, white, glowing sparkles appearing where there is disturbance on the water. I have eaten delicious fish tacos at Ensenada and will eat much more delicious, authentic food to come. I will visit so many new places in the upcoming months and learn about new cultures and people. And by the end of this trip, I will have a memory to last me a lifetime, an adventure I will never forget, a world beyond the horizon I have traveled to and a sense of accomplishment: I took on a challenge, stepped out of my comfort zone and I did it.

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
-Hunter S. Thompson