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Nancy Morrison

Passages

This is not the South Pacific!

It’s Friday, April 3rd, 2020. I’m sitting inside the salon of Aldabra while a chilling wind is howling outside. It’s midday and we’re anchored in Bahia Asuncion, halfway up the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula.

All four of us (David, Pat, Dana and I), just treated ourselves to indoor showers, our first since Sunday night and our last until we arrive in San Diego, possibly on Thursday of next week.

We’re in this bay waiting out a weather system, which should last through Saturday. After that, we’ll probably need a day for the seas to settle a bit before proceeding north. But the weather forecast keeps changing, so we’ll see how it goes.

We’re hunkered down in this bay with Jane and Jerry on Shamaal and Rich and Sharon on Bumblebee. Fortunately the water is pretty flat in the bay so we’re comfortable in spite of the cold wind. We’ve all filled up our fuel tanks, thanks to the help from locals, so we’re ready to go when the time is right.

I’m sure you’re wondering why a boat headed for the South Pacific ended up here. But maybe that’s obvious. Everything has changed for people all over the world with the threat of the Coronavirus. In our case, an hour before casting off our dock lines to leave Nuevo Vallarta in Banderas Bay Mexico, the port captain notified us that we were no longer cleared to leave Mexico for French Polynesia. In fact, we learned shortly afterward that we couldn’t even be cleared to leave Mexico for Hawaii. Our options at the time were to stay put, sail around in Mexican waters or clear out of the country in Ensenada.

After all the preparation to sail to the South Pacific, and the anticipation, this was a huge shock. It was hard to react rationally. Plus, information was changing faster than we could process it. I don’t know how severe the global crisis brought on by the Coronavirus will be when I finally have enough Internet access to post this blog entry, but I’m sure millions of people are suffering more than we are. So this story may sound like the sniveling and whining of four people whose plans had to change. After all, we’re not suffering financially the way many people in Mexico and all over the world are suffering because their livelihoods have disappeared. And we’re not cooped up in self-isolation in an apartment somewhere. We’re healthy, out on the water, and pretty far away from exposure to the virus, at least for now.

It’s easy to look at our situation now and feel grateful. But I’m going to tell you our story because this blog is about sailing on Aldabra. As readers of this blog know, the story for the last several months has been about getting the boat ready and getting the crew and myself prepared. I thought everything was going pretty well. In fact, up until the moment we were denied departure, I was amazingly calm and unstressed. But that hadn’t always been the case in the last couple of months leading up to untying the dock lines.

The stress started when I applied for a long-stay visa for French Polynesia. I left Mexico by car and drove north to San Francisco, handing my passport and a stack of paperwork over to the agency that processes visas for France. It was December 23rd. I then drove back south to San Diego to enjoy the holidays with my family, which I very happily did.

In late January it was time to fly back to Mexico to continue preparing for the South Pacific voyage. But the French Consulate in Washington D.C. remained in possession of my passport. And the representing agency could not provide me with any information about when I would receive it. It had been five weeks. With a few days remaining before my flight to Mexico, I needed to sell my car and get a new passport. While selling the car first appeared to be a challenge, I figured that out and sold it in one morning. Then I turned my attention to online resources for getting a second passport in 24 hours.

After paying an online service, I discovered that I could not get a second passport without either having the first one in hand or declaring it lost or stolen. I didn’t want the original to be invalidated because if I ever did get it back from the French, it would have my long-stay visa in it. (The long-stay visa allows one to stay in French Polynesia for a year or more, as opposed to 90 days, which would require one to rush through the island groups.)

The online agency advised me to contact the U.S. State Department. Miraculously, that agency was able to get me an early morning appointment the next day at the passport office in San Diego (I hadn’t realized that one existed) to receive a second passport by the end of the day. (This was Friday morning and my flight was scheduled for Monday.)

Granting a second passport is not something our government does without consideration. At the office, I had to answer a lot of questions in writing. Why couldn’t I just stay in San Diego until I received my passport back? Why did I need to go to Mexico? Why did the French have my passport in the first place? How was I going to get the passport if I went in Mexico? I also had to run down the street to have new passport photos taken because the photo on the new passport could not match the photo on the original passport. By the end of the day, however, I had a second passport in hand, good only for four years instead of the usual ten years. I could use either passport for international travel as long as I didn’t present both at the same time.

That solved, I caught my flight back to Puerto Vallarta. But the passport was still a constant concern. I waited six more weeks and still no word on the status of the passport and visa. I contacted the agency for the visas and received conflicting answers about whether the passport could be tracked. I contacted the French Consulate and received a vague response. I even enlisted my congressman’s office to help me.

As my departure date approached, I began re-planning my voyage with the new assumption that I could be in French Polynesia for only 90 days. If I arrived in French Polynesia in mid-April, I would need to leave the country by mid-July. I needed to figure out where to go and to line up crew for that because the crew that planned to be with me would be remaining in French Polynesia.

After spending a full day on that exercise, I got a notification that my passport and visa were on the way to my mom’s house in San Diego. My brother-in-law Pat could bring it with him when he arrived in March. I was relieved and a bit elated.

Another bureaucratic wrinkle surfaced about the same time. My insurance agent, who had assured me that I would be covered in the South Pacific, notified me that his company would not be insuring me. He gave me the name of another company and I proceeded to work with that one. But time was running out and that new company was swamped with applicants because cancellations for vessels have become rampant since the hurricane disasters of recent years.

When the new insurance agent finally came back with a quote, the proviso was that I needed an out-of-water survey, a rigging inspection and a storm plan. At first, with the haul-out survey out of the question, I resolved to forego insurance. But after thinking about it overnight, I called back with a proposal. What if I had a very thorough in-water survey with proof of what was done during my last haul-out in the spring? That was potentially acceptable to the company, so I contacted a surveyor who could work with me right away.

We spent half a day going over the boat and I provided him with a document that listed every modification I had made to the boat. He did the survey quickly and I sent it to the insurance company. They accepted it so I just needed to pay them. (That was a day before departure. Instead of paying them the next day, I called to let them know that I wouldn’t need the coverage after all.) So the survey fire drill was not really needed, although it might be useful down the line.

In the last couple of weeks before departure I also made other “perishable” investments in time and money. I made one-year commitments to subscriptions such as backup South Pacific charts from Navionics for my iPad and Predictwind Offshore Professional. I paid the agents in Tahiti for assistance with clearing into the country and paid the Nuevo Vallarta port captain for clearing out of the country. I paid an agent to ship CO2 cartridges overland to Mexico because they couldn’t be brought in by air. I purchased an extensive supply of medications for the journey, all with expiration dates of one year or less. I also bought a huge supply of food provisions. I purchased airline tickets for one of my crew members to fly back to the U.S. in June. And I worked with other boats to plan processes for communicating while we were underway.

Another extensive time investment, which I would not consider to be perishable or a waste of time, was attending perhaps three dozen seminars on all kinds of topics related to the journey. Many experts generously gave their time to educate the South Pacific-bound fleet on medical and dental emergencies, weather, route strategies, storm and emergency tactics, safety, provisioning and other helpful tips.

The flurry of activity intensified my anticipation, my confidence in my preparation and my certainty that this trip was imminent. The progress of the Coronavirus was in the news, but my crew and I just thought we could get out on the water and escape. David arrived in Puerto Vallarta on March 12th. Dana arrived on March 14th. We were worried that Pat would be prevented from joining us, but he arrived without incident on a nearly empty flight on March 18th. We went to the store for final provisioning of fruits and vegetables and then joined some cruiser friends that evening for a very sweet farewell gathering. All we needed to do was get up in the morning and take off as soon as the port captain and the customs and immigration officials met us at the boat at 11:00.

In our first stage of grief after we found out that French Polynesia was closed to us, we resolved to go to Hawaii. After a couple of hours of planning and communicating with our families, I went to see about being cleared out of the country only to find out, of course, that it would not be possible.

Around the same time, we started hearing that the U.S. border might close. Pat grew concerned because he eventually needed to get back to work. He couldn’t stay in Mexico indefinitely. And David didn’t want to abandon his wife indefinitely. I didn’t want to stay in the marina any longer. I had been there only to prepare for the journey and I wasn’t emotionally prepared to sit on the boat indefinitely. I had a crew ready and willing to sail, just so long as they weren’t prevented from repatriating to the U.S.  So why not sail north to San Diego?  None of us had ever done the notorious Baja Bash. I had never wanted or planned to do it. But now it seemed like a good idea. We would be out on the water and we could deliver Pat and David back to the U.S. They weren’t ready to give up on a sailing trip.

We didn’t really think about the fact that I had taken all my Baja navigation information back to California, or that it would get colder as we went north, and we didn’t have warm clothes and sleeping bags. We just decided to go. And coincidently my friends on Shamaal were on their way north and invited us to join them.

So on Friday, March 20th, we cleared out of the port of Nuevo Vallarta and headed for Punta de Mita to wait for favorable weather to cross over to the lower tip of Baja. We stayed at anchor for a couple of days and set sail on Sunday morning. We sailed the first day under pretty decent conditions and then motor sailed for two more days under slightly more uncomfortable conditions in the form of big swells.

Shorts and bare feet so this had to have been early in the trip

At one point we had a bit of drama. I wanted to slow the boat down and turn into the wind to change the location of the jib cars. The jib sheets were causing a strain on a couple of stanchions. But I forgot that we had fishing lines in the water, Slowing the boat down allowed them to get caught around the prop, which had been turning while we were sailing. Weirdly enough, as the prop twisted the fishing lines, they started twisting my pant leg. The strain was so great that I had to take my pants off to get myself free. I then dove into the water to cut the fishing lines free and we were soon back underway.

Dana showing the jumble of fishing line that ended up connected to the prop

I’m embarrassed to say that the sail over demonstrated that Aldabra was not quite ready for the passage to French Polynesia. I had not put the boat through enough pre-passage testing. Right away I discovered that the screws inside the macerator pump for the forward head had corroded and the pump was leaking. Pat and I took the pump out and plugged the hoses and we just didn’t use that head.

The boom topping lift shackle had not been moused and the topping lift came off the boom. The transmission would not go into neutral after we put it into reverse while sailing. The shifter cable was being impeded by the wire for the compass light. We had to take the compass off to free the wire. One of the port shrouds was too loose and possibly the backstay was too loose.

We arrived in San Jose del Cabo at night on Tuesday, March 24th.  Finding the marina entrance at night was a bit unnerving but once inside we glided into the slip.

San Jose del Cabo is a small, friendly marina. The area was very quiet but there were a couple of restaurants and a laundry. We met some nice cruisers and enjoyed our brief stay. We mostly worked on boat projects and refueled. Plus we emailed several documents to an agent in Cabo who could clear us out of the country from there.

On Friday, vessels Shamaal and Bumblebee arrived from the Sea of Cortez. We all went through a bit of drama because rumors were coming from several sources saying that the port of Cabo San Lucas was closed and that the port of San Jose del Cabo was about to be closed. We didn’t want to be stuck in a port, so we were a bit concerned.

As it turned out, the port of San Jose del Cabo wasn’t closed. But even if it had been, we had inadvertantly failed to check in with the port captain so we didn’t need to check out. On the morning of Saturday, March 28th, we just left without a word.

When we arrived in Cabo, all three boats went to the fuel dock and got a bit of fuel. The agent met us there to provide our exit papers and take our immigration cards. And the security guard at the dock helped us get slips in the marina.

The crew of Aldabra in Cabo San Lucas

We stayed in Cabo for two nights, nervous again because they had officially closed the port. More rumors were flying online that all ports were closed in Mexico and cruising boats would have to stay wherever they were located. We had no intention of staying, so we planned to leave before daylight on Monday morning, before the port captain noticed us.

Anyone who has visited Cabo knows the marina is usually wild with hustle and bustle. But because of the Coronavirus, it was a ghost town. We went to the beach and walked around the marina area and town. We found a mini supermarket with some decent vegetables. And we ate dinner in restaurants that were on the verge of closing. We felt for all the people who made their living from tourism and now had no income.

The pangas in Cabo San Lucas that usually take tourists out

The ghost town in the marina of Cabo San Lucas

More than once we talked to marina guards and supervisors about whether we would be stopped from leaving on Monday. We thought about making our exit on Sunday night. In the end we correctly surmised that the port closure had to do with commercial boat traffic. As cruisers on private vessels, we would be allowed to leave as long as we already had our papers and as long as we were headed to Ensenada or San Diego. We could not go to any other port in Mexico.

Because uncertainty prevailed everywhere, including with the port captains and marina employees, we made our exit on Monday morning at four o’clock. The trip around the point was manageable. We motor sailed upwind for two days in O.K. conditions.

Sunrise as we were leaving Cabo San Lucas
Heading up the coast of Baja

The third day started getting pretty gnarly with winds consistently in the upper teens and waves bigger, steeper and closer apart. And it was cold! As the wind was starting to intensify, Dana caught a fish that was big enough to keep and clean. She had caught three fish the day before but had release them. (These were the first fish she had ever caught.) Following instructions in a book, she cleaned and filleted the fish and then cleaned her utensils and the bloodied boat.

By early evening we still had some 65 miles to go to Turtle Bay. To get some relief, all three boats turned into Bahia Asuncion, which was only 18 miles away. I texted friends to make sure we would have wind protection there and they highly recommended the stop. They were right. We arrived at the anchorage at 7:30, just after sundown, and the waters were flat.

We were so relieved to cook dinner in calm, flat water. It was still cold and windy but we didn’t have to stand night watch in a cold, windy cockpit. What a contrast the day had been with our vision of sailing to the South Pacific. This was certainly not what my crew had signed up for.

Early the next morning the three boats had a radio meeting about weather, and then I called Shari Bondy, who runs a hotel and campground in the town. She sent Larry, the nephew of a local restaurant owner out to the boat. We handed over our fuel cans to him and Dana hopped in his boat to head to town. They refilled the fuel containers and went to a small tienda so Dana could get a bit of produce. When they got back, Larry also took our trash to shore.

It would have been so nice to explore the town of Asuncion and meet our hosts. But the quarantine was in effect and we were discouraged from going ashore.

Meanwhile, Pat and David and I did a bit of cleanup inside the boat. During this first leg of the Baja bash, everything had moved about the cabin and was in total disarray. I also made some phone calls in preparation for arrival in San Diego and did some weather and route planning for the leg that would take us to San Diego.

We also pondered the mystery of the water tank, another problem that would have been a challenge during the passage to the South Pacific. No matter how long we ran the watermaker, the tank would only fill halfway. We suspected that the tank had a crack in it and the water was leaking into the bilge. But there wasn’t really much we could do about it until we reached San Diego. It’s just one of many little annoyances that needs to be fixed. (Another one is that our red and green lights on the bow went out.)

The morning at the anchorage was warm and calm but the winds picked up and grew cold in the afternoon. Dana baked cookies while David and Pat read. We grilled chicken and the fish for dinner, which included mashed potatoes. Still in flat water, we enjoyed a comfortable evening.

Earlier this morning the crews from Shamaal and Bumblebee came over for a visit, which was very nice. Since taking our showers, we’ve wiled away the afternoon, reading and writing. One of our crew members is suffering pain associated with passing a kidney stone while the wind continues to announce itself.

Sunday, April 5th, 10:30 a.m.

We’re headed north to Turtle Bay for one overnight before making a bigger push north. We aimed to leave Bahia Asuncion at 4:00 a.m. but our engine wouldn’t start. Jerry on Shamaal suggested we jiggle the starter wires. We did that and it worked. We were off after a delay of about 45 minutes.

The other two boats are motor sailing and going faster. We’re just motoring. The winds are light and the angle to the wind is small so we lose a bit of an assist from the main but we don’t have to bear off to keep if full.

Yesterday was a pretty boring day in the anchorage. The wind was brisk and cold. The other two crews came over for a visit and a weather meeting. We played a couple of rounds of Hearts. And we read and puttered and checked the weather. At least today we’re knocking eight hours off our northbound journey.

Monday, April 6th, 5:00 a.m.

We pulled up anchor, raised our mainsail and left Turtle Bay along with Shamaal and Bumblebee. We motor sailed north in decent winds and biggish swells. The wind speeds and directions varied. It kept getting colder. And eventually we got rained on as we approached our destination. But the last leg of the bash was unremarkable.

After dinner on the last two nights it was so cold that we all wanted to be down below and out of the wind. So we played a couple of rounds of Hearts before night watches started. Between hands, while the dealer was shuffling the cards, I’d run out to check on the other boats and adjust the sails. For night watches, Dana took 10 o’clock to midnight. David took midnight to 2 a.m. Pat had 2 to 4. And I went from 4 to 6.

As the day started on Wednesday, April 8th, we were just south of San Diego. Light rains would visit us briefly but the day was beautiful. I got a text from friends in Nuevo Vallarta because they had heard that the port of San Diego was now closed. I called the vessel arrival authorities and was told to call them when we arrived at the police dock on Shelter Island. The agent I spoke with was annoyed that I was so ignorant of entry procedures but did not suggest that we would be denied entry.

 We arrived at the police dock on Shelter Island at around 9:30. There was some confusion about how to clear in. I didn’t have the ROAM app and had not used it to register to enter the country. I finally started using the app to register but hadn’t completed the process before some Customs and Border Patrol guys showed up to clear us in. Once they were there, all three boats were cleared in in about 15 minutes.

Shamaal and Bumblebee stayed at the police dock to prepare for continued northbound travel. But Aldabra left the dock and headed over to our new slip at Sunroad Resort Marina on Harbor Island.

We spent a couple of hours sorting out things on the boat and my friend Tom from Catatude brought us face masks. We then gathered up our trash and dirty laundry and headed for the parking lot. David’s wife Susan picked him up and my sister Wendy arrived to take Dana and Pat and I up to their house in Escondido. We did laundry and took showers, had dinner and slept very well.

Friday, April 10th

Dana and I spent yesterday cautiously doing some errands. We went to Target where Dana got some warmer clothes and I bought a couple of sleeping bags. We then went to visit my mother, where we picked up some groceries that my sister had bought us and I got some warm clothes. After dropping off the groceries at the boat, we went back to Escondido for the night. We’re waiting for the rain to stop a bit before Dana and I move back onto the boat to shelter in place while working on boat projects.

Inland Travel

Mexico Via Copper Canyon

The start of the boating season is a bit earlier for me this year, by more than two months. That’s good because there’s so much to do. But it’s so hot here on the boat in Nuevo Vallarta that it’s hard to get much done.

I left San Diego on Friday, October 4th in a small car crammed with boat parts and supplies. Because I was traveling alone (due to illness on the part of my expected traveling companion) I headed to Arizona rather than crossing the Mexican border from California. Once I crossed at Nogales, I headed south about 20 miles until I found the funky compound with the Banjercito office, immigration and a few other somewhat-incomprehensible services. With the required documents in hand, I was able to get a visa and a temporary import permit for the car. Fortunately, no one needed to inspect the car, because if I had been directed to open the trunk, all the little parts would have tumbled to the pavement.

With that hurdle out of the way, I could relax slightly as I drove the rest of the day’s distance to Hermosillo. The roads were pretty good and the inspection stops by the Federales were quick. Most highway toll booths were taken over by community members who asked for donations. They were protesting the fact of the highway not been free.

Once in Hermosillo, I found my way to the Holiday Inn Express (not sure what I would have done without GPS because Hermosillo is a big, confusing place), which had relatively secure parking right in front of the lobby door. A sign saying that the hotel was not responsible for car robberies reminded me of the risk I was taking by transporting all these parts I worked pretty hard to procure. But the next morning all was right with the car as I got an early start south.

The second day of travel was much the same as the first. More brief inspections, more citizen-run toll booths, lots of wide-open space. A couple of puzzling accidents on the northbound side of the highway. How long will it take to clean up a very large truckload of steaming manure out of the lanes? I arrived in Los Mochis in the late afternoon and checked into the Fiesta Inn, which is at the edge of a shopping mall. The for-pay parking is part of the mall and there was a guard stationed near where the hotel guests park. I was encouraged, but still nervous about my payload because I was going to be leaving the car there for a week. I spent Sunday doing some errands nearby the hotel and scouting bus stations. My friend Jules arrived that night and we found an outdoor spot to have some wine and catch up on our summers. (Jules and her husband Jeff had visited the Canadian Maritimes while I had studied all summer to get my ham license and my captain’s license and to learn more about diesel and outboard engines.)

On Monday morning Jules and I started walking with our duffles toward a nearby bus station, which wasn’t far, but it was hot and our duffles were heavy. Before we even got out of the parking lot, we hailed a taxi. As he was approaching the station, the driver saw that our bus was leaving so he followed it and flagged it down. We jumped on board and relaxed for the two-hour ride to El Fuerte, one of Mexico’s many Pueblos Magicos. The bus left us in the middle of this clean, smallish town where people had gathered to shop and have lunch. Had it not been so hot and unshaded, and had we not been hauling duffles, I would have liked to just sit in the middle of the activity and gawk. We walked the two blocks to our hotel, La Mansion Serrana. As we checked in, the proprietor arranged for us to take a tour later, when the sun wasn’t so hot. We then walked around the town, had lunch and explored the local museum.

At four o’clock, our guide Felipe and helper arrived in a beat-up SUV, towing a boat. They took us to the Fuerte River and launched the boat. We sat in the bow and Felipe paddled from the stern as we floated down the river watching birds. We stopped in a farming area and walked 300 meters up a path to about 50 petroglyphs. Felipe oriented us along the way to all the plants and birds and then described the petroglyphs, which had been uncovered after the river had flooded several years ago. Once delivered back to our hotel, we had dinner in town and turned in for the night.

On Tuesday, we got an early start to catch the El Chepe train into the heart of Copper Canyon. The early part of the ride wasn’t noteworthy, but as the day went on we were treated to spectacular views of the steep faces of the mountains as the train slowly wound its way into higher elevations. As the day went on, I realized that I wasn’t feeling all that great. So when we got to our hotel in Divisadero (along the Continental Divide) I crashed for the evening while Jules integrated with the handful of other guests.

El Chepe Train Winding Through Copper Canyon
Scenes from El Chepe
Looking at our Hotel Perched on a Cliff

The next day, we walked to the adventure park to look into our options for the day. We decided we didn’t want to ride the zip line. And several workers told us we couldn’t hike down into the canyon without a guide, and there were no guides. They also said that we couldn’t take the teleferico down and hike at the bottom because it was closing early for maintenance and we would be stranded. Tired of hearing no, we rode the teleferico down and began a hike back up, with no guide and a few directions from the teleferico operator. The hike was hot and exhausting and at times we didn’t have a trail. But we could see where we wanted to go because the teleferico cables stretched overhead. Our path took us through small settlements of Tarahumara (Raramuri) families and along a small river gorge. We had water but just a half of a Clif bar for food. When we finally found our way back to the adventure park, their restaurant looked very attractive for a late lunch/early dinner.

Looking Down at the Route of our Hike
Hard to Capture the Vast Expanse that Makes Up Copper Canyon
Another Attempt to Capture the View

When we returned to our rustic, mountain-style hotel, it had been taken over by a very large group of retired teachers from all over Mexico. They were having a grand time together and would be our traveling companions the next day on the train as it returned west. The next day we walked several miles through the adventure park and back to take a look at the Hotel Mirador and its views before catching our train.

On the train, we traveled two hours back to the town of Bahuichivo. There, we were picked up and driven to our hotel in the town of Cerocahui. The La Mision Hotel is very nice but a tad expensive because they monetize everything.  As the only guests that night, we had a private tour of a local girls school and the hotel vineyard, which included a wine tasting. Because it was the only option in town, dinner was also expensive but the food was good.

The Village of Cerocahui Covered in Morning Fog

The next day we were driven about an hour or so to the Mirador Cerro del Gallego. You look into the second-deepest canyon in the world and see the town of Urique, nestled right by a river. You can stand on a platform that juts out into the middle of nowhere and be awed and terrified at the same time. (Unfortunately, the lighting at that time of the day was bad for photography.)

Looking Down From the Mirador at Urique

As soon as we got back to the hotel, we set out to find the waterfall right outside of town. It wasn’t too hard to find and the trail leading up to the fall was beautiful. As we were walking back, we bumped into the owner of our next hotel. He was coming to pick us up, so timing was perfect. (Hotel La Mision was expecting 57 people that day so we couldn’t stay there another night.)

The Waterfall

Mario is one of three brothers who run a mountain-top eco-lodge outside of Cerocahui. His grandfather started Rancho San Isidro more than 60 years ago. Grandfather was Mestizo but he married a Tarahumara woman and their son married a Tarahumara woman. The Rancho sits next to their uncle’s ranch and is surrounded by shared Tarahumara forest. They have built a bunch of creative cabanas for guests. Our spacious adobe room sat alone overlooking a canyon and they built a fire in the pit for us that night. They offer all kinds of activities. We elected to go horse-back riding with Mario’s brother Tito but we also could have gone on long hikes all through the mountain trails. The family is very gracious and helpful and the food is great. After our ride, the brothers delivered us back to the train station and we rode six hours back to Los Mochis.

The Dining Room at Rancho San Isidro
Our Cabana at Rancho San Isidro
The View During Our Horseback Ride
Jules on Her Horse and Me on My Little Mule

I was very relieved to find the car unmolested when we arrived back at the hotel. We got to explore Copper Canyon and avoid the loss of material possessions. We set out early on Sunday morning for Nuevo Vallarta. The trip was uneventful except that some of the people who had taken over toll booths were rather menacing and would block our way if we didn’t give them the amount of pesos they wanted. We stopped at a mall in Mazatlan to have lunch, fuel up and go to an ATM. The last part of the trip, from San Blas to Nuevo Vallarta is slow and tedious, but scenic. We arrived at the marina at about 7 o’clock, in time to have dinner with Jeff at a local taco place.

Since arriving at the marina, I’ve mostly been trying to cope with the heat while muddling through some purging and reorganization of gear. It’s about 95 degrees in the boat during the day. I have fans going, but unlike most boaters here, I have no air conditioning. Right away, mechanic Gil and his son Gilberto started work on my motor. They’ve replaced the motor mounts and brackets, aligned the engine with the shaft, changed out all the hoses, installed a new throttle cable, inspected the fuel injection pump, cleaned the heat exchanger and injectors, changed the fuel filters and v-belt, replaced the coolant, and probably a few other things. So even though I’m not accomplishing much, they are.

Gear and Preparation, Places

In Transition (More Like a Christmas Letter than a Blog Post)

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last posted an update. Sometimes I don’t have Internet access, but that excuse hasn’t been valid for a while. My last post had me flying to San Diego in February for a brief visit. When I returned, I took Aldabra to Tenacatita, just north of Barra de Navidad. I hung out in the anchorage for more than a week, doing some walking and swimming and visiting. The log book also reminds me that I fixed a pump in the head and troubleshot issues with the watermaker and the solar panels. Got both working.

I returned to the Barra marina for the arrival of my friends Pete and Cookie Schaus of Boulder, Utah. Once they arrived, we spent a couple of days in the area and then pointed Aldabra back up to Tenacatita. We stayed there at anchor for a few days (swimming and beach walking) before heading north to Bahia Chamela, for just one night. It would have been nice to stay a bit longer, but we could see a brief weather window for a calm rounding of Cabo Corrientes, and then no other foreseeable opportunity.

Pete and Cookie enjoying life on the boat

Anchored off the little village, we enjoyed a shrimp dinner onboard and got a bit of sleep before pulling up anchor at 3 a.m. the next day. We motored all the way around the cape and arrived at Punta de Mita at 6:30 p.m. The next day we motored to the marina in Paradise Village, essentially ending the short 2019 cruising season for Aldabra. Pete and Cookie were troopers, making the best of living in a marina for the rest of their vacation. One highlight of that was taking a boat across the bay on their final evening to see the Rhythm of the Nights performance. It’s a combination of a boat ride to a remote cove, a dinner and a performance that is sort of like a Cirque du Soleil show. It was fun.

The reason why Aldabra’s cruising season ended so quickly was twofold. First, the boat needed to be hauled out again to get the bottom painted. Second, I had planned for a short season so I could focus on getting the boat and myself ready for Aldabra’s next big adventure, sailing to the South Pacific in early 2020.

As March came to a close, I began projects on Aldabra, interspersed with beach walks, swimming, dinners with friends and attending seminars. Jeff from El Gato helped me install a new tachometer (electricity still intimidates me) and a remote switch for my windlass so I can operate it from the cockpit if circumstances permit. Plus there were the usual chores.

Fellow Cruisers Celebrating Jules’ 60th Birthday

In early April, I traveled briefly to San Diego and Santa Cruz (taxes) and returned to the boat with my nieces Emily and Julia. We enjoyed a bit of vacationing. A trip to Sayulita and then to San Sebastian in a single long day. A beach day. A day sail. A dinghy ride up the river from the marina to see birds and iguanas. An evening at Rhythm of the Nights. And dinners out. They also helped me hoist the dinghy onto the foredeck for summer storage and then wash it.

After Emily and Julia left, I pickled the watermaker successfully. But in changing one if the filters, I broke a fitting that required me to shut off my fresh water system. I ordered the part from Amazon Mexico and arranged for it to be sent to Andy Barrow, who has a home nearby. I would be able to get the part a couple of weeks later.

On Easter Sunday, Al Garnier of Chez Nous helped me take Aldabra over to the Opequimar boatyard at Marina Vallarta. I spent the night at the dock and the next morning the crew hoisted Aldabra into the yard. I checked into a hotel across the street while they began work. It took more than a week for Alvaro’s crew to strip and sand the boat bottom down to the original gelcoat, revealing the original boot stripe that had been painted over by the previous owner to raise the waterline. (This becomes necessary on cruising boats that are weighed down with all kinds of equipment and spare parts. It’s one reason why we’ll never win any races.)

Aldabra stripped of paint. The lower boot stripe is in the gelcoat

The boat was tented from the deck down to the ground to contain the paint dust, so it was hard to monitor progress. And the yard was so dusty that I was reluctant to hang out and work up above. The only work I did was to prepare the deck for the replacement of one of the sissy bars that Alvaro had to remove and repair. Otherwise, I stayed clear except for passing by three times a day just to take a look.

Looking out my hotel room window

During my week and a half in the hotel, I enjoyed an air-conditioned room with a view of the cruise ships going in and out of Puerto Vallarta, convenient showers and the Internet. (I caught up on Netflix shows I had wanted to see.) During the days, after a leisurely breakfast, I walked from the marina in every direction. On one day I walked the malecon. On another I visited several downtown art galleries. Next I walked to the airport to research rental cars. And I walked to Costco. Buses are very convenient in Puerto Vallarta but I was walking for exercise because the hotel swimming pool wasn’t designed for swimming. I walked on the busiest roads because I don’t know the Puerto Vallarta neighborhoods well enough to use the side streets. So the walks were hot and noisy. But I got my steps in. I also hung out a bit with Jim and Liz from Gypsy Wind while their boat was in the yard getting its bottom painted.

Alvaro’s crew did great work and eventually Aldabra had a newly painted bottom, a subtle black instead of red. On the morning she splashed, I motored her back over to Paradise Village and Al was there to catch the lines. (When singlehanding, I’m always stressed about leaving and approaching docks, so it’s a huge relief to return to the slip without crashing into anything and have someone there to catch the lines.)

Aldabra with her new black bottom paint
In the sling ready to splash

Once Aldabra was back in the slip, it was time to get serious about working on the boat. I would have about six weeks to get projects done and prepare Aldabra for the summer hurricane season. That would mean working full time almost every day. I started by installing the new fitting that would revive my fresh water system. The subsequent days sort of went like this:

  • Inventoried bins of spare parts and supplies.
  • Defrosted refrigerator and freezer.
  • Laundry.
  • Removed all gear from forward compartment below anchor locker in anticipation of rigging inspection.
  • Jamie from Totem conducted a bow to stern rigging inspection. He found many things that needed my attention.
  • Jason from Ullman Sails came to take my mainsail and jib for repairs.
  • Began removing lines from boat and rinsing them in buckets.
  • Discovered Alvaro’s crew had not rebedded sissy bar properly and water was coming in. Removed the sissy bar, prepared the deck and rebedded.
  • Ran a new vent hose for the forward water tank.
  • Began removing blocks and accessories from the deck and rails to be stowed below deck for the summer.
  • Flew to San Diego for 4 days for my mom’s birthday. Bought a car.
  • Arturo repaired a broken stanchion for the railing.
  • Cano from E2 Yacht Services helped me rebed the stanchion.
  • Removed the six opening portlights. In each case, some of the screws were so corroded that I had to drill them out. Cleaned up the mounting surfaces and rebedded the portlights. The whole job took almost a week and I’m still not sure the portlights won’t leak just a bit in heavy rain.
  • Cano’s crew polished the stainless railings and the hull.
  • Defrosted the refrigerator and freezer again.
  • Went shopping for screws with Cano.
  • Laundry.
  • Replaced a bunch of drain hoses leading from the cockpit to the lazarette and then overboard.
  • Cano replaced the exhaust hose while I assisted with tools.
  • Eddie dismantled the boom and vang.
  • Eddie inspected and cleaned the standing rigging.
  • Changed the motor oil and the oil filter, topped off fuel tank.
  • Hosed down the deck to get rid of metal shavings from Eddie’s work.
  • Eddie and helper loosened shrouds and worked on removing port chain plate. They weren’t able to figure it out. The next day I finally removed it and cleaned and prepped the surfaces.
  • More inventory of parts bins.
  • Went to Zaragoza to buy wire, then installed new antenna feedline for SSB radio.
  • Eddie and helper put spacers on the chainplate pin and we rebedded the chainplate. They tightened the shrouds and retuned the rigging. They took the boom.
  • Tightened a bolt on the steering quadrant and cleaned up some surface rust.
  • Removed and cleaned up the handles on the foward hatch, determined that I needed to replace them.
  • Inspected engine bolts, tightened one, clean rust off of a couple.
  • Replaced hose clamp on fuel hose.
  • Cleaned stove.
  • Cleaned pantry.
  • Hooked up inner forestay to deck plate.
  • Cleaned aft head.
  • Re-organized gear.
  • Drained engine coolant and replaced it.
  • Jason brought the repair sails back to the boat.
  • Cano washed the outside of the boat and cleaned the bottom, took the cushion covers off to wash in a washing machine.
  • Made templates of four windows that need to be replaced.
  • Removed the windows from the spray dodger and stowed below deck.
  • Removed bimini extension and stowed.
  • Collapsed bimini, put it in its boot and lashed it to the railing.
  • Stowed all jerry cans below deck.
  • Jeff helped me clean battery terminals and crimp a connector to the end of the new SSB antenna feedline.
  • Jeff helped me fresh-water flush the dinghy motor.
  • Jeff hoisted me up the mast in the bosun’s chair so I could clean the backstay.
  • Finished reloading all the bins back into the lazarette.
  • Lashed the dinghy to the deck.
  • Ran extension cord into the boat to install dehumidifier.
  • Laundry.
  • Installed forward shade cover above deck.
  • Organized.
  • Cleaned galley.
  • Installed aft shade cover above deck.
  • Final preparations before leaving boat.

This list probably doesn’t include all the boat projects, there were lots of other little ones that consumed time. And I’d like to point out that this is all being done in fairly hot weather. Let’s face it, life on a sailboat is mostly frustratingly hard work. Equipment in a marine environment is just always breaking. And every project takes way longer than expected. But it wasn’t all work. I did get in several beach walks and dinners with friends as they returned to the area to put their boats away for the season.

In mid-June I took my usual flight back to Tijuana and crossed the border to San Diego. The next morning I drove to Tom and Helen’s house to pick up my life raft. (They had kindly brought it up from Mexico in their truck.) Then I drove to Marina Del Rey to spend the evening with David and Susan Rose. (David plans to join me on the crossing to the Marquesas.) I joined in their regular Wednesday night trivia night, which was a lot more fun than I had expected even though I may have known only one answer. The next day I drove up to Santa Cruz and stayed with my friends Walter and Glenn and their kids Will and Kate. They have a separate apartment that proved very comfortable for me. The day after I arrived, I drove to Alameda to deliver my life raft to be repacked and recertified, which has to be done every three years. Sal, the owner of the business, inflated the raft and walked through all the parts with me. When you examine your own life raft, your main thought is hoping you never have to see inside of it in the conditions it’s designed for. I then left it there and went to see my friend Terry Chan. We chatted and ate all afternoon and I drove back to Santa Cruz that evening.

Life raft inflated on the shop floor

The next day, my friend Haller and I hiked about seven miles in Nisene Marks Park. It was gorgeous. The fog engulfed the forest and made it feel magical as we walked on soft paths of redwood detritus under lush green branches and ferns.

I was in Santa Cruz to report to jury duty, which I did by calling in each evening. As it turns out, I was excused each day. Since I never knew whether I would be free each day, I couldn’t make plans with friends. But I did join my friends Jim and Linda to visit the harbor, and we got a chance to visit with my friend Pete on Mazu. I also spent time with one of my boating mentors, Matthew, who gave me splicing lessons for dyneema rope. I also ran into Anne from Redwood Coast II at West Marine but she was working, so I’ll have to wait for my next visit to catch up with her. Finally I retrieved my life raft and headed south.

I returned to San Diego in time for my niece Teela’s baby shower. She and her husband were visiting for the weekend, along with lots of family members, including my grandniece (14 months) and grandnephew (10 months). Very fun.

Once back in San Diego, I’ve settled into a bit of a routine. I’ve been hiking almost each day up Cowles Mountain and then spending most of the rest of the day studying for my ham radio license exams. I’m going to take both the technician test and the general test on the same day, in about a week. I took one day off from studying to take a first aid and CPR class with my niece. I’ve been able to spend time with my mother and my sisters’ families, and visit with Tom and Helen from Catatude and Jan and Alan from Kemo Sabe.

Next on the agenda is a quick trip back to Puerto Vallarta in a couple of days to take some measurements and photos that were lost when my phone died without being backed up. I’ll fly in, stay the night, work on the boat the next day and then fly back that night.

As soon as I complete my ham test, I’ll begin a week-long course on diesel engines, followed by a two-week course to prepare for a captain’s license, followed by a week-long course on outboard engines.

When I’m not in classes, I’ll be studying charts and weather patterns to plan for the trip to the South Pacific.

People, Places

January/February 2019

When I last posted, I had just put Aldabra away for the summer hurricane season of 2018. For the rest of the year, I spent time in California, visiting family and friends, which included a trip to Lake Tahoe with good friends and the wedding in Santa Monica of a young woman I have watched grow up.

Rebecca, Haller and Terry hiking around Emerald Bay in Tahoe

I also spent six weeks in the highlands of Mexico, with friends Jeff and Jules. I met up with them in the lovely city of Queretaro, and we then drove to Guanajuato to attend language school for a month. We stayed in a nice house with a large garden and attended private Esquela Mexicana. I essentially had one-on-one instruction, working on conversation and the subjunctive verb tenses that I find so hard to master. Guanajuato is a bit touristy but it has some good museums, parades and food. We took beautiful hikes in the city and in the surrounding hills. We also took a scenic mountain bike ride from a higher-elevation town back into Guanajuato.

Guanajuato on a cloudy day
Hiking above Guanajuato
Guanajuato children marching in Independence Day parade
Guanajuato children marching

After leaving Guanajuato, we drove north to Zacatecas for a few days and enjoyed walking around town and visiting the museums. It is definitely a city worth visiting. Finally, we drove north to Durango, which wasn’t as compelling as the other three cities, but featured beautiful landscapes outside the city.

Looking down on Zacatecas
Exploring ruins outside of Zacatecas
Hiking through the ruins outside of Zacatecas
Hiking outside of Durango where so many westerns were filmed
More of the landscape outside of Durango

I flew back to California from Durango and stayed until the end of the year. It was nice to meet and spend Christmas with the two new additions to our family, niece Rachel’s (and husband Caleb’s) daughter Peyton and niece Halley’s (and husband Michael’s) son Oliver. And of course I enjoyed hanging out with other members of my family as well as cruising friends Tom and Helen from Catatude.

On January 1st I flew back to Puerto Vallarta to prepare Aldabra for the 2019 sailing season. I slogged through all the usual chores to take the boat out of “mothball.” (Fortunately it wasn’t too hot.) It takes me almost two weeks to decommission Aldabra and about the same amount of time to reverse it. I also attended some seminars at the Vallarta Yacht Club, caught up with a few old friends and met a few new people. I managed to get some walks in a first but as time started running out, the boat chores got priority.

On January 11th, my sister Wendy and brother-on-law Pat flew in from San Diego. I was supposed to have the boat ready for a southbound trip, but we were delayed by a week. We had to haul the boat out of the water at the Opequimar boatyard for work to be done on the shaft. It turns out that the shaft was fine but the coupling needed to be remachined. (The shaft practically fell out of the coupling when I put the transmission in reverse as we approached the Opequimar dock.) Alvaro Bello did fine work and we were back in the water in three days. While the boat was out of the water, I discovered that the bottom paint that was put on in June (which should last 3 years) is already coming off, so I’ll have to haul out again soon. During the haulout, Pat and I worked on projects on the boat during the day. We stayed in a nice hotel across the street and ate at restaurants in Marina Vallarta. It wasn’t a bad place to be stranded for a few days.

After the haulout, we took the boat back to the Paradise Village Marina long enough to check out with the port captain, do final provisioning and pause for a weather window. We took off on Saturday morning and motor-sailed out of Banderas Bay, rounding Cabo Corrientes before dark. Once out of the bay we had a pretty big swell but we had a nice northwesterly wind that let us sail most of the way to Tenacatita, gybing away from the coast and back a few times to compensate for the swell.

We arrived in the late morning on Sunday and anchored. After visiting briefly with John and Donna from Carmanah and Jeff and Jules from El Gato, it was nap time after an all-night sail. Later, it was time to expose Wendy and Pat to classic Tenacatita experiences, such as landing the dinghy on the beach (that went well thanks to calm surf), a beach walk and kayaking. (They opted out of bocce ball but I’m sure we would have played if we’d been there longer.)

The next day we took the dinghy up the river for a jungle cruise and then tried to take the dinghy out of the river, up a road and across another road over to the beach to relaunch into the ocean. The idea was to then take the dinghy over to the Aquarium so they could snorkel. The problem was that hauling the dinghy over to the beach was really hard. Plus, the waves were huge so we had to haul it a long way to find waves small enough to launch. And then once we got to the Aquarium, it was clearly too rough for them to snorkel. So that was a bust. We then motored the dinghy in nasty swells all the way around the point (taking at least an hour) to return to the anchorage, where they finally did find a spot to snorkel.

The first night in Tenacatita, we had dinner with Jeff and Jules on their boat, El Gato. The second night was another classic experience, movie night, again on El Gato. Nine of us watched This is Spinal Tap while eating popcorn and drinking rum and tequila. The problem was that we all had so much catching up to do, there was only a bit of movie watching.

On Wednesday, we sailed to Barra de Navidad, which is 10 miles south. We pulled into our slip in the marina and prepared to take advantage of the Barra experience before Wendy and Pat had to fly out on Saturday morning. They got to experience street tacos at Tacos de Miriam.com, dinner at Simona’s, the hotel pool with the water slide, and the Thursday Barra market. We also took the bus over the Melaque for lunch and a bit of textiles shopping.

After Wendy and Pat left, I spent a couple of days washing the boat and doing chores before leaving in a car on Monday with Jeff and Jules and their dog Chance, bound for Zihuatanejo. After an 8-hour, curvy drive, we arrived at Casa Roja and were joined a few minutes later by our landlords, Tim and Donna Melvile.

Casa Roja is a lovely tri-level house overlooking the Zihuatanejo bay. It was strange to be in Zihua without our boats, but it was nice to be staying in such comfortable surroundings. (When you live on a boat, a real bathroom and a real shower is a novelty.) Tim and Donna just bought the house several months ago. They were on the floor above us and some of their relatives were in the unit below us. The two-week stay there was delightful.

You can see Casa Roja perched on the hill overlooking the bay

But we weren’t in Zihuatanejo to play. Donna and Tim are the driving force behind the cruiser component of Sailfest, an annual charity event to raise money for the local school children. Sailfest technically is a one-week event, but Donna and Tim and other volunteers get started a couple weeks early and extend their effort beyond the official event. They, along with other cruisers and volunteers, book tourists on sailing cruises. The tourists pay and the cruises are on private sailboats that are anchored in the bay.

Many of the boats show up year after year to host these tourists on the cruises, donating their time, their boats, their diesel fuel and their crew to the cause. Other boats show up unsuspectingly after a long passage from the north or south. Sleep deprived, they arrive in the bay, anchor and start trying to familiarize themselves with the town and the local services. But as soon as they anchored, we would be on the radio, recruiting them to participate in the cruises. Fortunately, most of them were willing to give it a go, and usually enjoyed the experience.

Some of the boats in Zihuatanejo bay that took out tourists

Some of the cruises were three-hour sails that ended with the sunset. Others were music cruises, featuring some of the best musicians in town. The boats would sail for a bit and then anchor so that the musicians could play until sunset. These were amazing performances. Sailfest also featured a rally (race) on one day and a parade on another. The parade had more than 300 people paying to go on boats. Sailfest raised more than a million pesos this year.

Zihuatanejo musicians playing until sunset on a music cruise

My purpose in going to Zihuatanejo was to help Donna at the sales desk, and that’s what I did most days. Occasionally I would crew on boats doing cruises. And I did play pickleball on one morning. But the stay in Zihuatanejo was pretty much a singular focus on Sailfest, with some good dinners in the evenings.

Shortly after we returned to Barra de Navidad, my mom and my sister Ann came to visit. They stayed in a nice room in the hotel and I joined them every morning for the breakfast buffet. We walked on the paths behind the resort and along the harbor channel. We went to Melaque to buy textiles. We relaxed by the pool. We road the water taxi back and forth across the lagoon. And we had dinners in Barra. After five days, we all three flew to Tijuana and crossed back over the border to San Diego.

Ann and my mom during a walk above Barra
Surfer catching a ride outside of Barra

I was returning to San Diego to go to dental and medical appointments, to buy a few things for the boat and to get ready for tax preparation. I also took advantage of the cool weather to take walks around the lake and hike Cowles Mountain. The final day, most of my family members gathered for a scrumptious brunch at my mom’s house.

Passages, People, Places

Spring and Early Summer 2018, Mostly Sea of Cortez

I Just arrived in San Diego after putting Aldabra away for the hurricane season in Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, Banderas Bay, Mexico. It took more than a week to prepare the boat. I had to strip the exterior of things that could get damaged or cause damage during a big blow. Down below, I went bow to stern, clearing out gear, cleaning compartments and then restowing the gear. I also pickled the watermaker and changed the engine oil, flushed the dinghy motor with fresh water, and lashed the dinghy upside down on the deck. The task list also included defrosting the refrigerator and freezer and giving away most of the food still onboard. The final steps were to close all the hatches and cover them from the inside with aluminum foil, and install the dehumidifier (thanks to Jeff from El Gato). After that, the boat was like a sauna, so I packed up my luggage and headed for the airport. (I was looking forward to some relief from the heat and humidity.)

I had arrived in Paradise Village on July 2 with crew Stephen Hardt after crossing the Sea of Cortez from La Paz. We left at 4:00 p.m. on Friday June 29 (I forgot that we supposed to leave on a Friday) and sailed or motor-sailed for three nights and two days. We had 1-2 meter swells the whole way across and a variety of wind conditions. During the last third of the trip, the wind came from behind but it was too light to fly the spinnaker, which we’d set up on deck in anticipation. We saw some wildlife (turtles and dolphins) but most notable were the 15 brown boobies that hitched a ride on the bow pulpit for an entire night and made quite a mess.

Brown Boobies Hitchhiking. They were joined later by more of their friends.

It was a good spring in the Sea of Cortez. It started with a week-long visit with my sister Wendy, her husband Pat and my niece Lizzie. We traveled north to Isla San Francisco and then backtracked to Isla Partida and Isla Espíritu Santo, then to Puerto Balandra and back to La Paz. It was early in the season, plus it was an unusually chilly season, so the water was cold, the anchorages were very windy, and we had only one really good sailing day.  We enjoyed Ensenada de la Raza on Espíritu Santo. We explored by dinghy and kayak and watched the turtles and the grebes in their daily routine. I hope they had a good time but the conditions were not optimal.

Wendy, Pat and Lizzie on the Back (East) Side of Isla San Francisco

Once back in La Paz, I spent time playing with good friends who had arrived in La Paz on their boats (Tom and Helen on Catatude, Jeff and Jules on El Gato and John and Donna on Carmanah). And I got some modifications done to Aldabra. (The arch and davits installed last summer needed to be made stronger.) And of course no time spent in a marina is without chores, such as cleaning, changing the engine oil, defrosting the refrigerator and freezer, shopping for provisions, and regularly checking the weather. Then on Tuesday, April 10, I headed north, back into the Sea of Cortez, this time single-handing the boat in the company of buddy boats. We knew a strong northerly wind was coming so we traveled rather quickly, first to Isla San Francisco and then to Agua Verde, where we rode out the northerly quite comfortably. (I had thought it would be good to get to Puerto Escondido for the northerly, but my friends on Carmanah suggested that Agua Verde was the place to be. I later learned that the folks in Puerto Escondido had a miserable time of it. In Agua Verde, we hardly noticed anything as we hiked and played bocce ball on the beach.)

Our Little Fleet of Boats Waiting Out the Norther in Agua Verde

Leaving Agua Verde began a two-month buddy-boating excursion in which Aldabra and El Gato were inseparable. We stopped in Puerto Escondido where I was joined by crew Katie for 10 days. We then went north to Isla Coronados, San Juanico, and Bahía Concepción. We saw whale sharks swimming around Playa Coyote and did some kayaking and hiking. Katie departed from Bahía Concepción and caught a car ride back to Loreto to catch her flight, while Aldabra and El Gato continued north to Punta Chivato and then Santa Rosalía.

El Gato Was Never Too Far Away from Aldabra

Hiking on Isla Coronados and Looking Back at the Anchorage on the South Side of the Island

Katie at the Helm on the Way North

Hiking in San Juanico and Looking Over at the Anchorage

Hiking with Jules and Jeff in Bahía Concepción. Looking Down at Playa Coyote and Playa El Burro

Hiking in Bahía Concepción

By the time we got to Santa Rosalía, I had become comfortable with anchoring by myself and I successfully picked up a mooring ball in Puerto Escondido. But I was quite nervous about going into a marina, especially one I hadn’t entered before. Plus it was quite windy. So Jeff and Jules took El Gato in first and got situated. I then followed, talking to Jeff on the radio. They had plenty of dock hands waiting so entry into the slip was smooth. The marina at Santa Rosalía is small and friendly and the town has some charm. We spent a few days getting our boats back in order, doing laundry, eating out and reprovisioning.

Sitting on the Boat and Watching the Ferry Arrive in Santa Rosalía

Santa Rosalía is an Old Mining Town with a French Influence

Then we were off again, north. We stopped in Bahía San Francisquito and then Ensenada el Alacrán. There is an eco lodge there and we visited with the guests and did some hiking. We were there for two or three days with a lot of wind. We finally broke free and continued on, up into Bahía de Los Angeles.

El Gato and Aldabra in Bahía San Francisquito

While Waiting Out the Wind, We Hiked Over to Punta el Pescador. This Cove Was on the Way

 

El Gato and Aldabra in Ensenada el Alacrán in Front of the Eco Lodge

Bahía de Los Angeles had been the goal. We’d heard so much about its beauty. And it was beautiful. But we were there during a pretty significant red tide, and the water was cold and the anchorages windy. We were chasing some magical experience that wasn’t happening. We did anchor at a couple of the islands and walked around the volcano on Isla Coronado (aka Smith). It took us four and a half hours to go around, bouldering for more than half of it. We were very glad to get back to where we’d left the dinghy.

Aldabra, El Gato and Pincoya Anchored at Isla La Ventana. The Village of Bahía de Los Angeles Is Off in the Distance

The View from a Hike on Isla La Ventana

From there, we headed north again to Puerto Refúgio, at the northern tip of Isla Angel de la Guarda. The trip north started out calmly enough, although I reefed the main in anticipation of wind, a first for me since arriving in Mexico. We were sailing pleasantly on a reach until about halfway up, when the winds and the seas built quickly. Both of our boats had too much sail area up. El Gato had an issue with their headsail, which limited their maneuverability and I found it hard to round up into the wind to drop my main. The wind was coming from behind and I wanted to sail with just my jib. The first step to dropping the main was to furl the jib, and while doing so, I lost control of both jib sheets. (I know, where were those figure 8 knots?) The problem was both boats were getting too close to each other, so I had to act. I turned on the motor to get myself into the wind, and the jib sheets wrapped around the prop.

After quickly turning off the motor, I went forward and cut the jib sheets free, dropped the main, and then rigged up new jib sheets to continue the journey with just the jib, sailing at 6 to 7 knots in 25+ knots of wind. Meanwhile, El Gato fixed their issue and sailed on ahead. They anchored on the west side of the island and launched their dinghy. Jeff then lashed his dinghy to my boat as I approached in case I needed help anchoring. We each took a turn at diving in the 60-degree water to free the lines from the prop. The jib sheets had fused with the rubber of the cutless bearing and pushed it about a half inch forward of the strut. But we got enough of the lines free so that I could motor east the rest of the distance around to where we would anchor for the night.

I soon realized that the force of the jib sheets on the shaft had caused problems with the stuffing gland, which had just been repacked in March. I was taking on more water than I should. Jeff was kind enough to repack it and we continued to make adjustments over the next couple of days. It was still leaking too much water but I was able to use the motor. And in the coming days I gained confidence that I wasn’t causing additional damage.

Puerto Refúgio, although it had cold water, was beautiful. We had good hikes on the main island and visited a nearby island with a sea lion colony. We were in the company of Gene and Gloria on Pincoya, and enjoyed a couple of nice evenings with them. We had one night there with really intense winds, the most I’ve experienced in Mexico. I thought my wind generator was going to explode but I thought it might be too dangerous to try to tie it down. It was a long, noisy night. None of us, El Gato, Aldabra nor Pincoya got a true reading of the wind speed that night, but it was remarkable.

The sail back south to Bahía de Los Angeles was quite nice. I was afraid that I might not be able to use my motor, so I left early and tacked back and forth. The wind angle eventually became favorable so I was able to stay on course on a single tack. And when the wind eventually died, I was able to motor back to the anchorage in front of the village. After a day or so, we headed back south, stopping at Punta el Pescador and then Bahía San Francisquito, where we met Adam and Jessica on Volare. We hiked all the way around the bay and then later paddled around.

Hiking Around Bahía San Francisquito

We continued on to Santa Rosalía, Punto Chivato, Bahía Concepción (three different anchorages), San Juanico and Loreto. In Loreto, we anchored off the town and attended the Chocolate Clam Festival with our friends Tony and Diane from Dolce, and new friends Linda and Ken from Linda Marie and Chris and Annette from Wishlist.

Then it was time to head south. We tried to stop at Nopalo because we never had, but it was too windy so we headed straight to Bahía Candeleros. Jeff and Jules and I took a long hike there and went swimming. The next stop was an overnight at Agua Verde, where we explored the east anchorage in the dinghy and had fish tacos at the palapa on the beach. We then continued on to Puerto Los Gatos for a night, where we took a nice hike up the hill on the north end of the anchorage.

Hiking Above Puerto Los Gatos

On Friday, June 8, we went south to Bahía Amortajada on the southern end of Isla San José. We took a dinghy ride into the estuary and celebrated Jeff’s birthday with a carrot cake. It was a calm night, but the next morning brought a significant south swell and we went in search of a new anchorage. We ended up on the northern end of Isla San Francisco, which was the best protection we were going to get from the south swell and southerly winds. We took a hike up to a saddle where we could see the other two anchorages on Isla San Francisco, with very few boats, which is quite unusual. The southwestern anchorage is usually packed.

Aldabra and El Gato at the Northern Anchorage on Isla San Francisco

Looking Down on the Other Anchorages of Isla San Francisco. Almost Empty

The next morning we headed south to Puerto Balandra, on the Baja Peninsula near La Paz. It would be our last anchorage before heading back to La Paz and civilization, and it would signal the end of our journey together. While in Balandra, Jules and I took a significant hike in the surrounding hills and the three of us went in the dinghy to a restaurant about a half hour a way. It was on Tecolote Beach, so crowded with tourists it was hard to find a place to land the dinghy. It was a crazy scene but the food was good.

From Balandra we stopped at Marina CostaBaja for fuel, where I was able to dock on my own without incident. And then it was back to La Paz, where we settled into Marina Cortez, just in time to be sheltered during Hurricane Bud, which by the time it arrived was just a bit of wind and a light rain.

On Monday, June 18, Jeff helped me take Aldabra over to the Palmar boat yard, where she was hauled out for four days. I stayed in an air conditioned room at Posada Luna Sol while the work was done. She had her cutless bearing replaced, new bottom paint, and the stuffing box was repacked.

Aldabra in the Hoist in La Paz

During that time, I also said a temporary farewell to El Gato. They were headed back across the Sea to Nuevo Vallarta. We had shared every evening meal together since leaving Agua Verde in mid-April. We’d taken dozens of stunning (and hot) hikes together. And they were my support when the conditions were challenging. We’d also watched an episode of Orange is the New Black each night. We still had two episodes left of Season 3, but they would have to wait until we were all back together in Nuevo Vallarta.

Aldabra went back in the water on the morning of Friday, June 22, with help from Doug from Spartan. I got situated in Marina de La Paz and then later walked downtown to the bus station to meet my old friends David and Susan Rose. We set off the next morning to spend some time in the anchorages of Espíritu Santo but had to quickly turn back to the marina with an overheating engine. Instead, we spent the day replacing a shredded impeller and cleaning out a hose that might have harbored impeller debris. (Before I hauled the boat out, I should have closed the raw-water intake to the engine. What I believe happened is that the impeller dried out while the boat was on the hard.)

Confident that the engine was running smoothly, we set back out the next morning and enjoyed Sunday night at Caleta Partida and Monday night in Puerto Balandra before heading back to La Paz for their last night. At Caleta Partida we took the dinghy through the cut (my first time doing this) and explored south. In La Paz, I made them hoist me up the mast so I could check out my wind instruments that weren’t working. It was a quick but nice visit before they had to return home to finish preparing for their daughter’s wedding in August.

Checking Out the Wind Instrument at the Top of the Mast

Checking Out the Wind Instrument

Once David and Susan left, I had a little more than a day to get ready to cross the Sea of Cortez. Crew Steve would be flying down the next day. He very kindly drove all over Santa Cruz collecting the parts I needed. A new wind instrument, a new wind vane and a new chart plotter. When he arrived, we installed the chart plotter and La Paz electrician Will Imanse came over and climbed the mast to install the wind instrument and vane. We had some configuration issues up until minutes before leaving, but we departed just ten minutes later than planned.

Passages

To Zihuatanejo and Back to La Paz

Yikes. Looks like it’s been a long time since I posted a blog entry. I finally have the magic combination of decent Internet access and a bit of quiet time. Since my last post in January, I’ve been to Zihuatanejo and then journeyed back north to La Paz, by way of Ensenada Carrizal near Manzanillo, Barre de Navidad, Tenacatita, Bahia Chamela, Nuevo Vallarta in Banderas Bay and then across the southern Sea of Cortez. It’s been busy and fun-filled.

With Tony and Diane as crew, we left Barra de Navidad on Tuesday, January 16 at about 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Ensenada Carrizal near Manzanillo at a little after 3 p.m. Big swells made it a rather uncomfortable night. Our friends Tom and Helen from Catatude were there. We all snorkeled along the north wall of the bay in the morning and then pulled up anchor and headed over to nearby Santiago Bay. There, we encountered even more friends, Jeff and Jules from El Gato, Steve and Shauna from Windrose, Walt and Shelly from Dune. The next day we all gathered on the beach for a late lunch at the Oasis restaurant after Jeff and Jules and I hiked up a steep hill to see an abandoned house that looked out over both the Pacific and the bay.

We stayed in Santiago Bay until 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 20, leaving our friends behind to head south to Zihuatanejo. We spent two nights at sea and were able to sail in brisk conditions for a few hours, although mostly we motor-sailed or motored. On Monday morning, January 22, we arrived at Isla Grande near Ixtapa and determined that the swells were too big for a comfortable anchorage, so we kept going to Zihuatanejo, and arrived around 9:30 a.m. We checked in with Tim and Donna Melville, the chief organizers of the cruisers for Sailfest and even joined them for Mexican music that night.

The next five and a half weeks in Zihuatanejo were a whirlwind. Lots of old and new friends arrived in the bay. We worked the booking desk to sign people up for cruises. We took people out on the boats, some sunset cruises, one race, one parade and one trip to Isla Grande. All of the cruises contributed to Sailfest raising more than 2 million pesos for the indigenous students of Zihuatanejo.

Aldabra dropping her spinnaker at the finish line of the race.

The assistant port captain was on Aldabra for the parade. All the boats came by to salute him

The assistant port captain loved driving the boat during the parade

We also found time to socialize a lot with our fellow cruisers, played pickleball, kayaked around the bay, took trips to Isla Grande and ate great food. It was very busy, hot and a bit exhausting. Four of us also rented a car for a girls’ trip and drove inland into the mountains to see the Monarch butterflies. It was so fun to get a break from the Zihuatanejo heat and spend a night in the colonial high-elevation village of Anganguero before going up even higher to see the butterflies. The air was crisp and cold and we had to wear jackets! And the butterflies were magical. We then drove to the city of Morelia and spent the night before taking a great walking tour (led by Jules) of this lovely city. Then we headed back to our boats in Zihuatanejo.

Jules and I admiring the view halfway up from the town of Anganguero to the butterfly reserve

Helen and I rode horseback to get to the butterflies. Jules and Sherri walked up the hill

Sheri and Helen marveling at the butterflies

Walking the last distance to the butterflies

The butterflies hang out in clumps until the sun warms them. Then they fly.

After most of the Sailfest activities were over, Tony and Diane sailed north with Jay and Terri on Cadenza. I stayed in the area on the boat by myself and singlehanded over to Isla Grande for a few days with other boats. El Gato and Catatude headed north from there and Mark and Stephanie on Wainui and Bryan and Sherri on Epic and I headed back to Zihuatanejo. It was my first time singlehanding and I was successful in anchoring and weighing anchor by myself. I also put the motor on the dinghy by myself, also a first.

A few days later, my crew Kip joined the boat. She had sailed from Banderas Bay to La Paz with me last year and was taking on an even longer journey this year. We headed over to Isla Grande for a couple of days and then left with Wainui, Epic and Striker at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, February 28. Epic and Striker stopped along the way so we had minimal contact with them, but Wainui and Aldabra arrived, after one overnight, at Ensenda Carrizal at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 1st. The next day we left early and headed north to Barra de Navidad, arriving at 10:30 a.m. We stayed in the marina, docking right next to our old friends on Windrose.

We stayed a couple of days in Barra. Long enough to get some chores done. The boat hadn’t been washed in more than 6 weeks and it was in desperate need. In addition to refueling and doing laundry, I needed to repack the stuffing gland that connects the transmission and the shaft, and Tim on Shoofly helped me with that. In the evenings we gathered with Windrose, Appleseeds, Shoofly and Wainui for dinners in Barra.

It was sad to leave, but Aldabra headed north to Tenacatita on Monday, March 5 on our own. We spent one afternoon and evening there, visiting with friends on the beach: Catatude, Eileen May, Dolce, Doggone, Georgia and many more. The next day, shortly before 6 a.m. we headed north again to Bahia Chamela. Shortly after arriving at noon, we were joined by Catatude, Appleseeds, Dolce and others. Sean and Katie and Leo from Mele Kai stopped by and said that our friends Carlos and Debbie, who have a house on the beach, were there. So we gathered our cruiser friends and went to shore for dinner, stopping by to see Debbie and Carlos first.

The next day, I went to shore for a longer visit and some of the cruisers came later for bocce ball. The local ex-pats joined in. After napping a bit that evening, we pulled up anchor at 2 a.m. on Thursday, March 8 and headed north to round Cabo Corrientes, with Catatude. We rounded about noon in perfectly calm conditions and reached the La Cruz anchorage in Banderas Bay shortly before 5 p.m., tired. The next morning we headed over to the Paradise Village marina in Nuevo Vallarta and reunited with El Gato, Cool Change and Windrose. We took advantage of being in a marina to wash the boat, do laundry and run some errands. We also joined friends for dinners. On Sunday, we went over to the La Cruz market and the La Cruz marina to see old friends.

Jules took this while we were having dinner in Nuevo Vallarta

I’d been studying the weather intently for several days as weather windows changed. I finally concluded that Monday, March 12 was our one realistic window to cross the Sea of Cortez, a distance of 320 if we were able to head straight there, which in a sailboat is rare. We left shortly after 10 a.m. and mostly motor-sailed across the Sea, heading directly for Ensenada de Los Muertos. We arrived after about 53 hours, which was fast, although it meant very little pure sailing and the consumption of a lot of fuel. Conditions were not too bad, and got better on the last day. As we went along, our ETA would vary a lot, so we were pleased that we arrived in Muertos on Wednesday at 5 p.m., with plenty of time to anchor before dark.

We left before 8 a.m. the next day to head up through the Cerralvo and San Lorenzo channels toward La Paz. We anchored at Puerto Balandra for the night in a spot on the west side. It was lovely, and Kip had a chance to kayak around the lagoon.

The next day, Friday, we left before 9 a.m., stopped at Costa Baja for fuel and were docked at Marina de La Paz, on the outside of the dock next to Carlos Slim’s yacht Ostar by 11 a.m. (We saw him walk by later with his entourage as they boarded.)

Kip took me out to dinner on Friday night at my favorite La Paz restaurant Mesquite Grille. She left on Saturday morning to visit San Jose Del Cabo for a few days. With the help of another cruiser, I then moved the boat into an inside slip for the week before my sister, brother-in-law and niece arrive.

For the last few days, I’ve been doing typical chores, along with some my favorite workers. My chores have been to clean and reorganize the boat, do maintenance on some of the lines, get the laundry done, remake the beds, shop for groceries, make granola, go to the ATM, defrost the refrigerator, re-mark the anchor chain, fill the water tank, order spare parts online, and a host of other little things. Meanwhile, the guys here have inspected the rigging, tightened the steering cable, done some gelcoat repair and cleaned the boat bottom. I was planning to have some repairs made to my arch and davits but Sergio can’t get parts in time, so that will have to wait until I return from my week-long trip to some islands north of here with my family. We’re approaching Semana Santa and businesses aren’t all working normal schedules.

So that’s it. You’re caught up. So much time has passed that I’ve given you just the overview. I’ve left out little details and minor issues and catastrophes. The details omitted have been about the many wonderful moments with the Mexico cruising community. Each encounter fills my heart. And I haven’t mentioned the close encounters at sea with whales, turtles and dolphins, and the sunrises and sunsets. They never cease to be awesome.

And the catastrophes have mostly been about water. Too much water coming out of the stuffing gland was my reason for repacking it. Then, for several days afterward, I would have to stop the boat while underway to adjust the gland so enough water would be dripping out. At least once, a hose came off of the water heater and more than 50 gallons of water was pumped into the bilge. And another time, the water tanks were pumped dry because a faucet was left on. These frustrations are easily remedied by running the water maker to fill up the tanks. We also lost a few things overboard but were able to retrieve them.

So all in all, things have been going well and the boat is performing well. I say this with reluctance because other boats have had lots of issues, so my turn could be just a day or a week away. But I’m hoping for the best.

Finally, you’re probably wondering why so few pictures. For the most part, I’ve kept the big camera stowed away and I’ve hardly used the iPhone. At times I’ve been too busy running the boat, leaving it it to others to take the pictures. I’ll have to try harder.

I look forward to the arrival on Friday night of Wendy, Pat and Lizzie. We’ll spend about a week visiting Espiritu Santo, Isla San Francisco and maybe a spot on the Baja peninsula. And we’ll do some sailing because the first couple of days will be quite windy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People, Places

Nuevo Vallarta to Barra de Navidad

Aldabra left the Paradise Marina in Nueva Vallarta on the afternoon of December 4 with crew members Vic and Sonja. We had a mishap getting out of the slip. Another boat had been squeezed into our slip with only about a foot between the two boats. A 3-knot current was running. I should have asked the marina for assistance getting out. Instead we snagged parts of our boat on the other boat, doing some damage to both boats. Another of many learning experiences.

Once out of the marina, we were able to sail west across Banderas Bay in light winds. We rounded the infamous Cabo Corrientes that night without any drama, sailing at first and later under motor power when the wind died. We arrived in Bahia Chamela on Tuesday morning to an almost-empty bay, sharing it with our friends on El Gato. We stayed in Chamela just a few days, taking time to kayak over to the rocks at Punta Pérula, to walk along the beach and along the main road in town, and to have dinner at the Scuba Jazz Cafe with our friends from El Gato and Dolce. Our dinghy landings and takeoffs were wet but upright.

From Chamela we went on south to Tenacatita, arriving on Friday afternoon, just in time for the Friday evening raft-up with other cruisers, hosted by Rob and Virginia on Harmony. The cruisers raft their dinghies together and share stories and food. It was nice to get acquainted with the other participants.

While in Tenacatita, El Gato and Aldabra took our dinghies up the river to the beach near The Aquarium, a good snorkeling spot and anchorage in fair weather. Our motors scared many of the birds, so I think (now that I have done this river trip 3 times in a dinghy) I won’t take this this trip again unless in a kayak. We had lunch and went for a swim before heading back down the river. Like Chamela, Tenacatita offers good swimming right off the boat. We also took some time to work on the water system, which is full of irritating mysteries, and to re-secure the cross-bar for the dinghy davits, which was losing the nuts off the bolts. Vic climbed up to use the solar panels as a working platform to complete that precarious job. While in Tenacatita, we had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Steve and Shaunna on Wind Rose and George and Sue on Julia Max, the latter two are making their way south to go through the Panama Canal this next year.

We left Tenacatita on December 11 and motored to Barra de Navidad, with one slight detour just to check out the anchorage at Cuastecomate. Once in the marina in Barra, we pulled into a slip on the same dock as El Gato, which offers the farthest-possible walk from the boat to the bathrooms. But all the people on the dock are very nice, so we have made it our home for the month of our stay.

Dancers Celebrating the Virgen de Guadalupe

Worshiping the Virgen

On December 12, Jules from El Gato and crew Sonja and I went to the celebration for the Virgen de Guadalupe in a nearby town called Cihuatlán. Dance groups from the surrounding area danced parade-style through the main street to the beat of drums. The bright and imaginative costumes drew from all aspects of the culture. And interspersed with the dance groups were roving “bad men,” representing things evil to counter all the goodness represented by the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Vic and Sonja each departed the next day, so I began my daily mixture of getting chores done, hanging with friends by the pool or getting dinner in the town of Barra. Many boats began to arrive in anticipation of the cruisers Christmas dinner. So it has been fun to see old friends, such as Myla, Catatude, Carmanha, Jolly Dogs and Liahona, and to meet lots of new people. There were more than 80 people at the dinner, organized by Jake on the boat Jake and the people on other boats who have done this dinner once or twice before. The organizers provide the ham and turkeys and the participants each bring a dish to share and a white-elephant gift. The food was great and the gift exchange featured a wide range of gifts and lots of laughter.

Cruisers Christmas Dinner

Cruisers Christmas Dinner

Jake is the Main Organizer of the Dinner

The day before Christmas, the guys who organize all the boat work in the marina hosted a Posada celebration for the cruisers. They served a traditional goat meal and brought in a couple of piñatas. I received a prize for being the first person to arrive at the fiesta, which was fun because I got to meet the families of the organizers.

Posada Organizer Arturo and his Daughter

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Jeff and Jules on El Gato a lot. We’ve taken a couple of trips to Melaque to the markets, paddled in the lagoon and had pool-time and meals together. Jules and I have also been taking yoga on the beach in the mornings. And Jeff has helped me with boat projects, such as sorting out the mysteries of the fresh water system, making the dinghy more secure when it’s on the davits underway, servicing my diesel motor and filling the fuel cans. I also joined them on their boat for a day trip over to Cuastecomate for some snorkeling. They helped me look after Daisy, a sweet dog that lives with Tom and Helen on Catatude. They went to the U.S. to be with their family for the holidays, so I spent the nights with Daisy on Catatude and went  back and forth between my boat and Daisy’s boat during the day. Daisy is a bit of an escape artist so she kept me on my toes.

Yoga on the Beach

Lots of old friends and new friends have been here in Barra during the first couple of weeks of January. It has been great to see Stephanie and Mark on Wainui and to hang out with Tony and Diane on Dolve and Duey and Nan on Flight.

I have a sore tooth so I rented a car last week to drive to Puerto Vallarta to see an endodontist. Turns out nothing can be done at this point so I’ll have to tough it out for a while. The trip between PV and Barra is a long one but I did some grocery shopping while I was there. After I returned, Jules and I took advantage of the rental car and drove southwest to the towns of Coloma and Colmilla. Coloma is a Puebla Magica and very charming. We met this wonderful chef by the name of Piter, who has a restaurant called Paraiso on Avenida Ignacio Allende. I highly recommend a visit. He was the chef for the Las Hadas resort for many years and is also a professor of culinary arts. While in the area, we got as close as we could for a view of the local volcanos and walked to a wonderful little museum near Coloma with a collection of pre-columbian art.

I’ll be leaving Barra de Navidad next Tuesday, January 16 with Tony and Diane from Dolce as crew. They will leave their boat in the marina here while we sail to Zihuatanejo by way of Bahia Carrizal and Bahia Santiago. I hear the organization of SailFest is already underway, so I look forward to getting to Zihuatanejo to help out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gear and Preparation, Passages, People, Places

Year Two Has Begun

Flying the new spinnaker

Transiting back and forth between California and La Paz from late August to early November, I prepared for another year of cruising. The professionals in La Paz, Sergio, Will, Hector, Luis, Fabian and Arturo finished up their boat projects, and friends Chris and John came down from California to help. I now have more solar power, wind generation, WiFi in port and satellite Internet for weather offshore. In California I picked up needed parts and had dental work done. I also got a little bit of time to visit with friends and family, although it would have been nice to have more time.

I returned to La Paz on November 2 to make final preparations for the season. After each work day it was nice to hang out with Bobbi and Stephen from Sam Bassett or visit with old friends such as Bret and Marne on Liahona and Steve and Sherri on Pablo. Jane and Jerry McNaboe (from Aeolian) joined me on November 15 and we left La Paz two days later. After stopping at Costa Baja for fuel, we motor sailed straight to Isla Isabel. Winds were light so the two-day trip had only about four hours of sailing without the motor. But those four hours were a nice spinnaker run. We learned a lot of lessons about how to deploy the new asymmetrical spinnaker.

Aldabra at Isla Isabel

Isabel was calm and uncrowded. We hiked on the island through a forest of nesting frigates, over to the other side where the blue-footed boobies hang out. Afterward, we snorkeled near our boat on the east side of the island, where I got stung by something with long tentacles. It was painful at first but then was fine, except it looked like I had a tattoo.

Blue-footed boobies

Blue-footed boobie

More blue-footed boobies

We left very early on the morning of November 20 and arrived before dark at Punta de Mita, the northern point at the opening of Banderas Bay. We stayed the night there and then headed the two or so hours into the marina at Paradise Village. Although there had been very little wind and a lot of motoring, it had been a nice passage with warm winds, calm seas, stars and dolphins. And Jerry and Jane made it very easy and relaxed.

The next day was Thanksgiving, so we joined Jeff and Jules from El Gato and Dennis and Jerri from Ultegra at Arroyos Verdes, just above Bucerias. It was a nice dinner and a nice evening. Before Jane and Jerry moved off the boat on Sunday, to join their family at a nearby resort, they helped me with a lot of chores, although we did get a little bit of beach time. While they vacationed with their family, we did get a chance to take the whole group out for a very nice day sail, and I later joined them at their resort for a day of relaxation.

The docks in Paradise Village are filled with old friends as well as new arrivals, so it has been fun to catch up with everyone. I even ventured over to the Sunday market in La Cruz and got to see other old friends.

Today is Monday, December 4, and I have two new crew arriving. We plan to head out of Banderas Bay this afternoon and round Cabo Corrientes late tonight. The wish is for wind and minimal swell, although the forecast doesn’t include much wind. The goal is to get to Chamela tomorrow morning.

In closing this first blog post of the season, let me just say that I think about what’s going on in my home country every day. I’m grateful to my news sources when I have access to the Internet. With each new bit of news I feel sicker. It’s hard to reconcile this life of permanent vacation with the travesty that goes on every day.

 

 

Gear and Preparation, Nice to Haves, Places

Back in La Paz After Language School in Taxco

I got back to La Paz on August 17 after a little road trip followed by six weeks of language school in lovely Taxco, which I’ll tell you about shortly. But first, an update on Aldabra. While I was away, Sergio Galindo and his team were working on two important modifications to the boat. One is an arch on the stern, which holds additional solar panels, a mast for a wind generator and davits for the dinghy. They also repositioned where the outboard motor mounts when it’s not on the dinghy, created new mounts for antennas and made a new space for the BBQ so it doesn’t set the canvas on fire when in use. In addition, they built a new setup on the bow for my anchor and for the tack of my new asymmetrical spinnaker, which I will pick up in Santa Cruz in the next couple of weeks.

The dinghy davits will enable me to raise and lower the dinghy by myself when necessary. The additional solar panels and wind generator should allow me to charge the batteries while at anchor for long periods of time without running the motor. The bow setup will make it easier to raise and lower the anchor. And the asymmetrical spinnaker can be used without putting up the spinnaker pole. So all of these improvements will make life aboard much easier.

I arrived back in La Paz as the workers were installing the new arch

Looking aft toward the new arch

Since I got back to La Paz, I’ve also done a bit of work myself, even in this extreme heat. I installed an accumulator tank for my fresh water system to take some cycle time off the water pump. I was hoping it might solve a problem I have with a small amount of fresh water leakage, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. I still need to solve that mystery. I replaced the joker valve on one of the heads, which was really a good idea. I should have done it a long time ago. I cleaned part of the exterior of the boat in the aftermath of the arch construction. I serviced 3 of the 5 winches. And I pulled some antenna wire halfway through the boat (extracting it from bundles of wire) so I can rerun it from the arch. All of these were hot, sweaty jobs that took longer than one would imagine they should. In the middle of these jobs I would walk or take taxis to search for parts.

Chava, of La Paz Yacht Service just finished revarnishing my saloon table and my companionway steps. He’s going to do a bit of fiberglass repair for me once the wiring for the new solar panels is finished. Hector is about to get started on dinghy chaps for me. And Luis Cosio and his team will continue to look after the boat.

With all this work under control, I’m renting a car in a few days to drive up to California. I’ll take some things that I don’t want on the boat anymore. And in California, I’ll pick up several items that I can’t get in La Paz. Once I return in about a month, the wiring for the solar and wind generation can be installed. I’m looking forward to the three-day drive to the border (maybe that’s crazy) and to seeing friends and family in San Diego, LA and Santa Cruz.

So now I’ll backtrack a bit. After leaving La Paz at the end of June, I flew to Puerto Vallarta. I stayed in an air-conditioned room in Paradise Village for two nights. It felt like a bit of luxury after working so hard to get the boat secure for hurricane season. With zero responsibilities (temporarily), I joined Jeff and Jules from El Gato (and their dogs Chance and Roxie) for a little road trip. We drove to Guadalajara the first day and spent the night in an nice inn. There was a festival going on that night near the church, so we wandered through after dinner. The next day we drove to Cuernavaca by way of Mexico City. It was somewhat eventful in that we couldn’t get through Mexico City in the rental car because we didn’t have the necessary electronic pass to get us on the road south. After multiple attempts, all ending up in the wrong place, we backtracked and ended up on a scary mountain road at night, arriving rather late to our very nice little inn, as the only guests. The next day Jules and I walked twelve miles through town, not always in the best neighborhoods. And on our second night, the three of us took advantage of the hotel’s game room, with lots of three-way competitions playing things I’ve never played before, such as air hockey and roller ball.

From there it was a fast trip to Taxco, a must-visit colonial city. I think we were all charmed. Taxco is a densely populated hill town surrounded by forest. The cobblestone streets are steep, narrow and windy. It’s mostly known for silver mining and later the design and production of silver jewelry. You may have read about William Spratling from the U.S. who started the silver jewelry industry there in the 1930s. It took on a life of its own after that and enjoyed quite a run, although the silver business is a bit in decline now. There are a zillion vendors of silver jewelry now but some of it is unoriginal and much of it is cheap. It hasn’t helped that Taxco is in the state of Guerrero, which receives a lot of attention for drug violence. You hardly see any gringo visitors on the streets. Most of the tourists are from Mexico. (We never felt a threat to our safety.)

Five of us (two couples from two different cruising boats and me) rented a house in Taxco. The owner (Don Andres) is part of the silver trade. He had a history with Spratling and his shop represents some good designers. But his business isn’t what it once was. In any event, we enjoyed living in his house and were well looked after by a couple (Jaime and Carmen) who lived on the premises. (Toward the end of our stay, we met the daughter of a friend of Spratling. Her father had purchased Spratling’s house in Taxco and his ranch outside of Taxco. The purchase included many of the Spratling jewelry designs so she has kept up the tradition of producing many of his designs and maintaining his legacy. We went with Violente Ulrich to the ranch and enjoyed a tour and many interesting stories about those days gone by.)

Wandering through the grounds of the Spratling rancho outside of Taxco

Silver worker at the Spratling rancho, finishing up a Spratling-designed piece

The house we rented was in a typical residential barrio, about a 15 minute walk from school. We got acquainted with the various people in the barrio and felt quite at home.

The house we stayed in in Taxco

View from the back of the house

Looking up from the house toward the Christo statue

Here’s the Christo statue from up top

School was at the local branch of UNAM (CEPE), Mexico’s national university. The administration, the faculty and the staff were so welcoming and helpful. To give you an idea, when one of our group got sick enough to require hospital care, the faculty members considered it a given that they would reorganize teaching assignments for the morning so that the head of the Spanish program could accompany our sick comrade to the hospital. It didn’t actually come to that, but that is how kind and attentive the faculty is.

Two teachers and two students at our cooking event

Spanish teacher Lydia and dance teacher Olviedo Layo

Our group of 5 students

The school is in an historic complex that once was a monastery. The buildings are beautiful and the grounds include a garden of cactus and herbs use for healing and cooking. Summer is a quiet time, especially because drug violence has scared many North Americans away. So we had very small classes. One of our group, Jeff,  had six weeks of private beginning Spanish lessons with a wonderful instructor, Alecia. Two others, Jules and Rick were the only two students in Itzel’s basic Spanish class. And Cindy and I were joined by two young Canadian students (Dea and Myles) in our intermediate class, instructed by Jorge, the lead of the Spanish program. The four of us also had a literature class instructed by Iztel. The only other student, Renee from Canada, was in an advanced class. Other courses took place while we were there. A family from Washington state had their own private classes. And a group from Cal State Long Beach had some courses as a group. (And a summer camp of young children brightened up the campus for a few weeks.) But our instruction was very targeted and intense. The instructors laughed because they hadn’t before met 5 students of our age (between 50 an 65) who acted like their performance would determine the rest of their lives. Unlike the young Canadian students, we weren’t taking these classes for college credit. But we were all driven and obsessed and the teachers appreciated it. Jorge liked that he could bring up all kinds of topics in conversation (historical, cultural, artistic, political) and Cindy and I could engage with him. We took latin dance classes with Olviedo Layo, who is also the theater director. While we were there he directed a play written by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, who was born in Taxco in the 16th century.

Other cultural events occurred while we were in Taxco, including international film and guitar festivals. At the school we also participated in a cross-cultural event with young English students from Mexico as well as a cooking event. (We made apple pie.) We were so lucky to have this summer opportunity. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in language or culture.

Looking down on Taxco from the top of a hill

Another view of Taxco

Another view of Taxco

And another

And another

Looking down at the church in the zocalo

On any given evening you might see a celebration in the streets

Marching celebration

When we first stared our 6-week program, Jeff and Jules and I would take weekends for urban hikes around the city, and we covered a lot of ground. But a couple of things happened to curb our wanderings. First, our coursework was really intense, and each of us had enough studying to keep occupied all weekend. Second, our group members started to get sick. I had a couple of weeks of gastro discomfort. Jules got Zika, which made her a quite weak for more than a week. And Rick and Cindy got really sick with bacterial infections that send them to the hospital. Luckily, you can get great medical care in Taxco.

In closing, I have to mention the Volkswagen bugs, as we call them in the U.S.  In Taxco, they are called vochos. I wrote a little blog post about them in Spanish for the UNAM CEPE website. I have very fond childhood memories of Volkswagens: Bugs, buses, squarebacks, rabbits, etc. So I couldn’t believe when I got to Taxco that 90 percent of the cars there are vochos, Volkswagen bugs. I thought maybe all the bugs that had disappeared from U.S. streets had found a home in Taxco. But no, these bugs are originally from Taxco. There is a Volkswagen factory not too far away. Most of the taxis in Taxco are white VWs. And there are many private bugs of various colors, along with a few buses and other models. The vochos have so much gumption up the steep hills and so much personality. You can’t help but be charmed by them. Especially if you remember the first bug your father brought home for a family of 6 in 1966. Yes, we all fit in that little car.

One of many Taxco taxis on a typical street near the center of town

Another white vocho taxi coming up the hill toward the zocalo

The narrow streets require a lot of negotiation between vochos

No problem getting around tight corners with a bit of finesse. The take the front passenger seat out of the taxi for easy entry and exit. An typical ride in town is 25 pesos.

Places

Final Excursion on Aldabra Before Summer Break

Crew Steve, from California, joined me on Aldabra on June 8. He flew into Loreto and took a taxi to Puerto Escondido. We took off almost immediately and sailed fourteen miles north to Loreto. After anchoring right off the town marina, we went to the El Pescador market to provision and then returned to Aldabra to stow the groceries before heading back into town for dinner. On the way into town we stopped by to see John and Julie on Myla, who were anchored nearby.

The next morning, we pulled up the anchor and motored in glassy waters with no wind to Agua Verde, and anchored off the main beach. We took the dinghy over to the east cove for some snorkeling and then had tasty carne asada tacos as the cooperativa restaurant near the east cove. We talked with an old fisherman about how the local fishery is being depleted by outside fishermen who use spear guns to take huge hauls in a very short time. We also talked with two enthusiastic young guys from Austin on a road trip who decided to stay in Agua Verde for s few more days and cancel the rest of their planned itinerary. It was just that nice there.

The next day, the west cove emptied out and we quickly moved Aldabra over there. It was an ideal spot and we used it as a base to go snorkeling around Roca Solitaria and take a walk on land.

Aldabra alone in west anchorage of Agua Verde

The far rock is Roca Solitaria

The beach next to the west anchorage

Steve enjoying the view at Agua Verde

That evening, Rick and Cindy on Cool Change surprised us and anchored in our private cove. They had food already prepared, so they declined our invitation to go ashore for dinner. We had dinner with Will and Grant from Austin, at Maria’s, the other restaurant on the beach. And then went to visit Rick and Cindy. I hadn’t seen them since I left La Paz in April, so it was delightful to catch up with them.

As lovely as Agua Verde was, we needed to push on southward. So the next day we motored to Puerto Los Gatos. The winds were light at first and then on the nose, so we never used the sails. Rick and Cindy had left earlier and we caught up with them right before the entrance to Los Gatos. By that time the seas had picked up a bit so they followed us in. They had planned to go much farther that day but the seas were working against them.

We had most of the day to spend in Puerto Los Gatos. I swam out to snorkel on the point and Steve took the dinghy to shore for his own expedition, which involved scrambling up the hill for an amazing view. That night Rick and Cindy came over to Aldabra for an enchilada dinner and hot chocolate chip cookies for dessert. It was a lovely evening, which provided no hint that it would be a lumpy night with swells coming in from the east that had miles of open sea to build. None of us slept well.

The next morning, neither boat wasted any time in pulling up anchor and heading south. We were headed through the San Jose Channel to Isla San Francisco. I was a bit afraid that we would have challenging conditions, but the seas were rather flat and the wind, although on the nose, was relatively light. Cindy and Rick ended up joining us at Isla San Francisco as well. They spent the remainder of the day getting ready to launch into their passage to Mazatlan. Steve went in the dinghy to explore around the point. And I just tinkered around on the boat. Right before dinner, Steve returned to report that he had been out in the channel with several small groups of minke whales that were feeding. I jumped in the dinghy and we picked up Rick and Cindy for a look. It was magical to turn off the motor and sit in the still waters and watch and listen to the whales as they surfaced and submerged.

That night in the Isla San Francisco anchorage was only slightly better than in Puerto Los Gatos. We didn’t have the big seas but we had a lot of wind. Had it not been for the whales, Steve might have been regretting his decision to join me on the trip. The next day, after Rick and Cindy left on their passage, we took the dinghy to the beach and hiked on the island. We covered a lot more ground than I had before and it was beautiful. That night, the whales were feeding out in the channel. But they also started coming into the anchorage. We figured out why. The anchorage was full of billions of little krill that were lighting the water up like stars. They were being pursued by the whales, as well as weird little worms and small white crabs. The evening provided quite a show, which more than made up for the fact that the winds made another uncomfortable night.

This is my attempt the photograph the kri

The next day was expected to be the only real sailing day we would have. So we sailed from Isla San Francisco to Isla Espiritu Santo, choosing Caleta Partida as our anchorage because I was expecting a strong southwesterly than night. And Caleta Partida could block some of the seas. The strategy worked and we had a pretty comfortable night. The next day, we motored along Espiritu Santo, ducking into anchorages just to explore. We dropped the anchor for lunch at Ensenada Ballena, and then continued south. Expecting another strong southwesterly, and not wanting to return to La Paz just yet, we anchored at Ensenda Balandra on the Baja pennisula, hoping to protect ourselves a bit from the wind and seas. The strategy kind of worked. We were able to explore the bay by dinghy and have a BBQ dinner before the winds kicked up. But they howled all night and well into the next day. The seas weren’t too lumpy. But it was another boisterous night.

Because the winds were still howling, we waited until late morning to pick up anchor and motor into La Paz. The channel was pretty quiet and we had an uneventful docking in Marina de la Paz. We walked into town that evening so Steve could see La Paz. It was dead at first but after we had dinner and started back, the people started coming out along the malecon.

That was the end of Steve’s vacation. The next day, although very hot, he had to help me start getting the boat ready for hurricane season. We took the jib down and folded it. Steve hauled water to the boat and filled up the water tank. And we pickled the watermaker, which would have been easier if a critical valve had worked. As it was, we had to bypass the valve to get the water properly circulating for the pickling, which is necessary when you leave the boat for an extended period of time. We had one final dinner at a nearby restaurant and then Steve headed home the next morning.

That’s when I had to get serious about decommissioning the boat for the summer. I worked solidly for the next six days on a long list of projects. It seems a shame to work so hard for so many years and months to get the boat ready to go, only to undue that work to leave the boat for part of the summer. I had to take most of the solar panels down, which gave me blisters on my hands. I had to soak and coil all the lines, removing the ones that I could. I removed lots of deck hardware that might disappear while the boat is unattended. I emptied most of the jerry jugs of diesel into the tank so the tank would have less of a chance of getting moisture in it. I gave away my gasoline supply so it wouldn’t be on board. I deflated the dinghy, covered it and lashed it to the deck. I lashed the mainsail on the boom so it wouldn’t provide windage in a hurricane. I cleaned out the stern lockers and had a local worker clean the outside of the boat. Then I covered the boat with sun shades, which will be taken down if a hurricane does show up. I also covered lots of antennas and other plastic parts with aluminum foil.

Next I had to tackle the interior. I defrosted the refrigerator and freezer and turned them off. I gave away any food that people would want and threw away the rest. That was heart breaking because I had collected all kinds of food items for cooking, much of it in San Diego, and I won’t be able to replace them. I hadn’t been expecting to do such a purge but more experienced cruiser friends clued me into the possibility of attracting critters. And while I was doing my purge, I did indeed find some critters, so I became convinced that nothing could remain on the boat.

I also cleaned the rest of the boat interior and got all the laundry done. Aldabra should have looked ship shape by then, But my next step was to take everything that I usually store outside or in the lazarettes and put those things inside: the solar panels, the jerry jugs, the bins of parts and supplies. So the boat interior looks like a junk yard.  This was necessary for a possible storm, but also because I’m having work done to the boat while I’m away, and they need access to the lazarettes.

Aldabra put away in Marina de La Paz for summer

My last week in La Paz was not all work. John and Julie from Myla came in a day after I did and were a couple of boats away on the dock. In addition to giving me lots of advice on securing the boat, they invited me for several cocktail hours and dinners. We had great fun as practically the only two inhabited cruising boats in the marina.

So that’s a wrap for Aldabra for a bit. I left her under the care of a boat manager and flew to Puerto Vallarta on June 24. Tomorrow, June 26, I’m joining Jeff and Jules from El Gato for a road trip to Guadalajara, Cuernavaca and then on to Taxco. I’ll be living in a house in Taxco for six weeks with Jeff and Jules and Rick and Cindy, while we all attend Spanish immersion classes at the university.