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Nancy Morrison

Inland Travel, Passages

Leaving Nuku Hiva

The tattoo festival ended with judging, awards, presentation of the winning tattoos and dancing by some of the notable tattooed people.

Judging and Presentation of Tattooee and Tattooer

After that, Marshall and I busied ourselves with chores (such as changing the oil, getting cooking gas) and then took some time to go over to Daniel’s Bay (Taioa). There, we hiked up to the waterfall and had lunch at Kua and Teiki’s along with other cruisers, including Sarah and Bob from Rhapsody. (Kua and Teiki serve meals at their house in the village. They grow or catch most of what they use. They are both outgoing and Teiki especially has a big personality. He’s very animated and can pose as a fierce warrior. We also got fruit from them.)

On Sunday afternoon, June 5, we went back over to Taiohae Bay. The next morning, we picked up a nice 4×4 rental car from Regina (our guide Mate’s mother) and took a slow, scenic trip to the airport to pick up Dana and Johno.

Touring around the island going toward the airport

Their plane was early and their flights had been easy. We then drove back to Taiohae where we could get them a bite to eat and let them swim. The next day, we took the rental car on somewhat the same tour that we took with Mate, Taipivai and then over to Hatiheu. At the ruins near Hatiheu, there was a brief dance performance for the benefit of the Aranui passengers, who had come in that morning. Then we went to the Chez Yvonne restaurant and ate the same traditional Marquesan meal that was served to the Aranui passengers. During lunch, several local musicians played and sang.

Brief Performance at the Ruins for the Aranui Passengers

After lunch we drove back to Taiohae and stopped at a couple of grocery stores to provision. It was perfect timing because the shelves had just been restocked with supplies from the Aranui.

Once provisioned, we left the next morning to go back to Daniel’s Bay. We were the only boat in the anchorage that day and all night. Marshall and Johno fixed the propane tank fitting with parts that Dana and Johno had brought with them. They also put in the new transducer for speed/depth/temp so we now have accurate depth.

Dana and Johno in Daniels Bau

The next day, Thursday, Marshall, Dana and Johno hiked to the waterfall while I did some chores on the boat. I met them in the village for lunch at Kua and Teiki’s.

Hiking in Daniel’s Bay

On Friday, Dana and I finished cleaning the boat bottom while Johno and Marshall fixed the disconnected wire that was preventing the motor kill switch from working. They first replaced the relay before discovering that it wasn’t the problem. It was a head-scratcher so they tried a number of ideas before sorting out the problem, a wiring one.

We all then went snorkeling. I swam by Rala (UK) to chat with Ian and Laura. And I stopped by Tohora (New Zealand) to meet that family, which had recently arrived from Hiva Oa.

The next day, after a quiet morning in Daniel’s Bay, we packed up our gear and headed back over to Taiohae to attend the evening gala and dance performance. It was kind of like a school recital. Evidently, there is a local dance school for women and girls that has been in operation for a couple of years and they now have five teachers. The performances were mostly by the students and teachers, with some guest appearances from other local dancers. We saw little girls, pre-teens, teens, young women and older women. All the dancing was special. The appreciative audience filled the hall, with lots of locals and expats, and kids happily running all over the room.

One of the younger dancers
Group Shot of the Dancers

Nuku Hiva

After arriving in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva on May 5, we checked into the country, got laundry done, worked on some boat projects and familiarized ourselves with the town. Kevin Ellis of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services helped us with the checkin and made that very smooth. While hanging out at his office, we met and chatted with other new arrivals.

Taiohae Bay
Taiohae Bay

My sister Wendy then arrived on Tuesday, May 10. That same day I got my paperwork done for my carte du sejour (temporary residency) and we bought some provisions (after the supply boat arrived).

Arranui Passenger and Supply Ship

We pulled up anchor the next day and went around to the west side of the island, where we found a nice private anchorage with somewhat decent snorkeling.

Aldabra at Anchor on the Dry West Side

We hung out there for a few days and then rounded to the north side of the island, to a larger anchorage (still by ourselves) in front of a gorgeous view of tall mountains and a lush valley. We went ashore to meet the folks living there. They allowed us to walk about their property and they gave us breadfruit, apple cinnamon fruit, oranges, lemons and pamplemousse. The next day I baked brownies and Marshall and Wendy delivered them to the family onshore. I baked bread. And we continued to putter around with small projects while not snorkeling or reading.

Looking at Pua From the Boat
With the Brothers at Pua

Our next anchorage was Anaho Bay, said by many to be the most beautiful anchorage in all of French Polynesia. It was more crowded than our other bays. There were about 13 boats when we arrived and it went down to eight while we were there. The first day we went ashore and asked Juliette whether we could come to her place for dinner. She said yes, so we went back to shore for a 6:30 p.m. dinner. I had poisson cru that was delicious.

Going to Juliette’s for Dinner
Looking Down at Anaho During Our Hike
Hiking Between Anaho and Hatiheu
Lovely Anaho

The next day we got up early and hiked over a pass to Hatiheu Bay. It took a couple of hours there and back but we saw all kinds of plants and birds that we needed to identify. On the other side, we walked around the town and got some ice cream. The town is quiet and gorgeous.

The Church in Hatiheu
Another View of Anaho

We left Anaho a couple days later and went back to Taiohae to do a bit of paperwork and arrange a land tour for Monday. We got everything done in Taiohae quickly and set out the next morning for Controleur Bay. The first couple of nights we we anchored in front of Taipivai, where Herman Melville stayed as a young man. We walked around the town and a very nice many named Vena gave us a stock of bananas.

More Taipivai
Carrying the Bananas Back to the Boat

On our last day in the bay, we took the boat over to Hakapaa to find a trail to a waterfall, but we were unsuccessful. After hanging out for most of the day, we headed back to Taiohae in time to anchor before dark.

Sailing Around the Island

On Monday morning, we went to the gendarmerie to have Pat taken off the crew list for the boat. Then we went on an island tour with a great guide named Mate. We started by going up the mountain out of the bay and into the interior, which is rich and lush. The road led us back to Taipivai, where we visited an artisan center. From there we went back to Hatiheu where we toured the ruins of an old village and then had lunch in the town. I had poisson cru again because it’s so good! We also drove west up the northern coast to see Aakapa Bay. The tour ended at the Hooumi valley in Controleur Bay. It was a great way to see parts of the island we wouldn’t have seen by boat.

Ruins of a Community Gathering Place Near Hatiheu

Wendy and Pat flew out the next morning and the supply boat came in. So Marshall and I walked around and scoped out grocery stores to visit the next morning, once the shelves were restocked. When we did go back, we stocked up on things we’ll need once we leave Nuku Hiva.

We have a couple of weeks before our new crew, Dana and Johno arrive. So we’re doing boat projects, doing laundry, cooking, getting fuel and provisioning.

Getting diesel and gasoline at the fuel dock was a bit of an accomplishment. You take the dinghy in surging seas over to a wall and climb up a ladder with your fuel cans. In our case, we made two runs with six cans each (120 liters of diesel and 20 liters of gas). After you fill your fuel cans at the gas station, you lower each one into the dinghy with a rope. The price was right because we had a duty-free certificate. And Pierre at the gas station helped us haul the cans to the dinghy and even into the dinghy.

Our reward for the fuel run was to attend a festival that was a celebration of the first graduating class of the Patutiki tatoo school. In addition to demonstrations of tatooing and carving and painting on tapa cloth, they showed a great documentary about the significance of Marquesan tatooing and then there was dancing, and it was amazing. We attended the next night as well. Spellbinding. I’ll try to post a video eventually.


Reflections on Crossing the Pacific

During the years in which I’ve been talking about this passage, I’ve often said that I hope the passage is so boring that it’s completely devoid of any interesting stories. And be prepared to be bored, because that is pretty much the case.

Once we left the harbor in San Diego, we motored until the wind came up, which was about two and a half hours. I can’t remember what my exact thoughts were at the time, but I certainly wasn’t relaxed. On the way out, we faced big swells and chilly air. When the wind came up, it was 25 knots on the beam with big seas. We put two reefs in the mainsail and rolled in the jib a bit. That didn’t hold back our speed. We were off on a wild ride. The enormity of what we were embarking on, the cold and the big seas all kept me on edge. I found myself just coping, tending to each task that presented itself and waiting for the other shoe to drop. What was going to go wrong and how would we fix it?

I expected the first few days to be cold but conditions stayed that way for a good two weeks. Slowly, you get settled into the conditions and the routine of being at sea, functioning gets a bit easier, and the weather seems a bit more benevolent. The seas never really calmed down the whole trip, but as the weather got warmer, I started to relax a bit.

On the second night out, I decided to listen to music during my night watch. But toward the end of the new Jon Batiste album, which I was listening to for the first time, the rudder arm pin for the autopilot sheared off. I had to wake Pat and Marshall from well-deserved sleep to fix it while I hand steered. Fortunately, this had happened once before in 2016 and Pat was familiar with the issue. Plus, I had multiple spares of the pin. So, with Marshall’s help, Pat fixed it rather quickly. That was the last time I did anything on my night watch other than listen to the noises of the boat the wind and the sea.

We did a lot of sail changes on the passage. Sometimes we would be on some sort of a reach with a reefed main and jib. Other times we would lower the main and sail downwind on two jibs or even one. A few times we raised the spinnaker for a bit, but often the wind speed and angle weren’t right for the chute. During one of these sail changes, the engine over heated. It turned out that we got a vapor lock after long days of following seas, and the raw-water strainer was empty when the engine was started. That episode required changing the impeller and then flushing the impeller bits out of the hose that leads to the heat exchanger. A fried impeller was not new on Aldabra, so again, Pat and Marshall were able to make the repairs with ease.

We had a lot of prepared meals that had been frozen, so often meal prep was just about heating something up. We were really grateful for that because the big seas made it hard to use the galley. Each of us got thrown around pretty dramatically once or twice. Marshall was the only one who made some meals from scratch, and those were delicious breakfasts.

So, what was it like? One day is kind of like the next. The days go by very fast and the night watches seem long. At first we saw a lot of gray sky and gray ocean swells. We saw very little wildlife, some occasional birds and flying fish. Later we had some blue skies and blue seas when the sun came out. It was a full moon when we left so we didn’t start seeing stars until later. But it was fun to do some identification under Pat’s astronomer coaching.

I had expected that there would be a lot of time to read and study topics such as weather and destinations in the South Pacific. But there was very little down time. We each had two four-hour watches, one during the day and one at night. Then there was time to sleep and eat. I did weather downloads a couple of times a day and did some planning based on that. I also read a couple of Herman Melville books related to French Polynesia. Pat read, studied French and kept a journal. Marshall read, listened to podcasts, kept notes and participated in radio nets on the single-sideband radio. Both of them found things to fix.

We just took one day at a time, and the days got better as the climate got warmer. It was never scary or disagreeable. But as we approached Nuku Hiva, we all talked about how amazed we were that things had gone so well. None of us wanted to mention it earlier, because you never know what can happen, but close to the end of the trip, it felt easier to express relief about all the things that didn’t go wrong.

Our passage was so lucky that we didn’t even have windless days in the ITCZ. Most of the other boats making the passage talked about being becalmed for a few days or facing horrible squalls. We hardly noticed that we’d even been in the ITCZ.

There are so many things you prepare for on a passage like this. Broken boom, broken mast, hole in the hull or some other cause of taking on water, injury, sickness, non-functioning engine or non-functioning watermaker, ripped sails. You dread such things as non-functioning electronics, communications, refrigeration, stove, heads, solar panels. But all that stuff worked for us, and we were simply amazed.

So, what did fail besides the rudder-arm pin and the impeller? Here’s the list:

One of the depth sounders quit working, it may just need to be cleaned.

The spigot that diverts watermaker water from the galley sink (for testing) to the tank got bent pretty badly.

A latch on the Engels portable freezer broke.

The spinnaker pole became detached from the fitting that kept it on its track.

The spinnaker halyard got very chafed while being used to hoist the second jib.

A hinge on one of the toilet seats broke.

The CPT autopilot (backup) doesn’t stay in place for long periods of time so the belt gets loose.

The shower sump got clogged.

The boom preventer broke (as designed) and jumped overboard.

The electrical monitoring system got a bit confused at times.

The wind generator circuit breaker tripped and we didn’t discover it until after we anchored.

The kill solenoid on the engine stopped working, so we have to open up the engine compartment to kill the engine.

The hasp latches used to lock the lazarette broke.

The jib furling line frayed.

The companionway hatch started leaking in rain storms when the boat was heeling.

The steering cable groans.

Nothing major failed, and so many important elements worked consistently. We feel very lucky. Especially now that we are here in Nuku Hiva and three boats have come in with broken booms and one boat is still on the way after being dismasted.

Early On, Gray Skies and Gray Seas

Pat All Dressed in Foulweather Gear

A Nice Evening Sail

Crossing the Equator
Marshall Offering Rum to Neptune at the Equator

Celebrating Crossing the Equator
Crossing the Equator
Beautiful Sky



Departing From San Diego

Aldabra left San Diego at 09:30 on Thursday, April 14. Onboard with me were Marshall Peabody and Pat Crosthwaite. We had intended to leave the day before, but the weather wasn’t quite right. And on Thursday we had intended to leave really early, but the night before we discovered a needed repair. So, on Thursday morning, we were at San Diego Marine Exchange when they opened and bought some plumbing parts. Marshall and Pat installed the parts, and we were off.

What mixed feelings of anticipation, freedom, exhilaration and caution. On one hand, everything seemed fine, so I could just absorb each moment and go about the business of sailing and navigation. But on the other hand, I kept wondering what was to go wrong and what we would do about it.

A few thoughts about preparation. The effect on me of the Covid pandemic was that I felt in limbo (like many other people) for a long time, and wasn’t motivated to get a good start on readying the boat, especially if another Covid surge were to dash any hopes of actually taking off. So I never really did a full bow-to-stern inspection, as I should have. For example, both joker valves in the heads should have been replaced. Instead, we had to address one the night before departure and one underway.

Similar story for a lot of other smaller issues on the boat. Fortunately, Marshall arrived more than a week in advance of departure and stayed on the boat. He is very observant and identified all kinds of little issues that he could and did address. There were also things that I had put off until Marshall arrived because I needed a second pair of hands. Marshall also addressed those with ease. He got a new bolt made for the gooseneck, installed an independent hour meter for the engine, changed the fuel filters, installed a portable 12-volt freezer, figured out the reefing system and helped me put fabric guard on the canvas.

Up the Mast to Inspect and Clean Shrouds

I’m not saying I was totally slacking off on preparation. Although It’s hard to prepare for a Pacific crossing by oneself, I worked at it most days after I completed all the paperwork to enter French Polynesia. (After all that effort, I was committed.) I fixed little things, reorganized or purged what was on the boat, added some new things, did an inventory, and cooked (or recruited family members to cook) meals that could be frozen.

In the final couple of days before departure, Marshall and I ran around San Diego getting fuel, final provisions and parts. So it was somewhat of a relief to get underway, putting all those shore-side chores behind us so we could begin a whole new set of chores.

Getting Ready to Leave
All Loaded Up

Tribute to Jim Foley

Jim on his 80th Birthday

You’ll recall from the early days of this blog that Jim Foley was the person most instrumental in preparing Aldabra and me to go cruising. He coached me on the purchase of the boat, he did most of the work in refitting her, and he taught me how to work on her. He was an invaluable resource. And now I have to say goodbye. Jim died on April 5, 2021 just shy of his 81st birthday, after a stoic battle with cancer. He leaves his wife Linda, four children, many grandchildren, his sister and many nieces and nephews. Jim also leaves a California surfing and sailing community that benefitted so much from his friendship and ingenuity.

You can read others’ insights about how Jim was the Northern California pioneer of surfing’s shortboard, and about the various sailboats that Jim designed and built for racing and then later cruising. He also went through a long phase of passion for windsurfing. There probably wasn’t any aspect of being a waterman that Jim didn’t embody, including swimming, scuba and lifesaving. But design and invention didn’t stop at water-related activities, he also designed and built parts of his homes, refit cars and designed at least one famous logo (O’Neil). But I knew Jim as a long-time friend and mentor.

My story with Jim goes back to my college days in the mid-1970s. I was part of the UC Santa Cruz woman’s sailing team and Jim’s first wife joined us in regattas. The two of them took these young college students under their wing, inviting us to BBQs at their house in Ben Lomond and including us in Santa Cruz Yacht Club events. That was during the time that Jim was racing his iconic Third Reef, and I think we sailed on it. I know we spent the night on it once in Moss Landing after a regatta.

Years later, Jim married my close friend Linda, who was the person who initially brought me onto the university sailing team. Jim and Linda finished building their cruising boat, Dana, and set off around the world for six years. By then, I was pretty immersed in my career in Silicon Valley, spending very little time on the water, but I joined them as crew when I could.

In Tonga, Jim tried to teach me how to do water starts on his windsurfer. I ended up with bloody knees and gave up. I think it was in Tonga that they had me getting up at midnight to go diving for lobster. I was no help. I think I was just befuddled as they darted around to locate and nab their prey. The three of us had a spectacular time sailing throughout all three of Tonga’s island groups. I’m pretty sure those were my first night watches by myself. And that was my first experience with navigation, which was with one of those original brick-size hand-held GPS devices, a paper chart, parallel rulers and a divider. Weather information was by way of an isobar chart received by fax over the ham radio. Communication with fellow cruisers was with VHF and communication with people in the U.S. was by way of ham radio, letters sent using snailmail or by going to an island-based telephone center to make a long-distance call or send a fax. They had made friends with several other cruisers and that was my introduction to the supportive, congenial bonds that cruisers develop.

My next visit was a magical trip from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands. I arrived with two large duffels full of parts and goodies that they had requested via fax. Jim commandeered a pickup truck to get the goods from the airport to the dinghy, which almost sank under the load. That trip started out with some urgency as we tried (successfully) to outsail a cyclone. Once we were outside the reach of the storm, we found ourselves ghosting by an active volcano in flat, glassy water that seemed to extend forever. I got spoiled sailing on Dana, because the boat moved in in just a whisper of wind. Built using a Santa Cruz 40 mold, she was light and designed to go fast.

We stopped at a few islands in Vanuatu and the Solomons before arriving at Guadalcanal, which would be my departure point. I think Jim and Linda had decided it was easier to trade for lobster, so they were no longer hunting for that crustacean. But they had become experts at catching and cooking coconut crabs, which we did on one remote island. (These crabs with their pinchers can get pretty scary when they get loose on the boat.) We also hiked into the heart of one of the islands to a native village that seemed untouched by the outside world. On the way back, we rode air-filled floats down the streams that flowed back to the ocean. It was an example of how Jim always looked for a way to turn any occasion into frolicking fun.

The next time I was to meet up with Jim and Linda was in Seychelles. We had been in communication by fax and had a rough plan to meet up around May of whatever year that was. (I don’t have my journals with me.) But weeks went by without any word from them. Not really understanding what their circumstances were (like being in the remote Chagos during a year when ham radio propagation was poor and they had no other means of communication), I just decided to fly to Seychelles and see what would happen. I had taken the time off of work and didn’t want to squander it. After arriving on Mahe and checking into a small inn, I took a bus to the harbor to ask around. As I was standing there, a boat that looked very much like Danaarrived in the harbor. Like a thoughtless landlubber, I asked someone in a skiff to take me out to where Dana was anchoring.

So imagine it from their perspective. They are sleep deprived and not feeling all that well after a two-week passage. They are in the middle of anchoring, the most stressful interaction that any cruising couple goes through. And on their passage, they had completed, with great thought, the list they expected to fax to me of all the things they wanted me to bring. On the passage they had been dreaming about those things. And here I am before them, which means a)I will not be bringing anything on their list and b)they are way too tired to interact. I have never seen a more disappointed look on Jim’s face.

Jim and Linda generously forgave me and I moved onto the boat the next day. We took some time to tour around Mahe, visiting local artists. We attended a big independence celebration. And we reprovisioned the boat. After spending some time on other islands in the group, Praslin and La Digue, I think, we headed west, buddy boating with two or three other boats.

The passage was rough at first. Seas were coming from two different directions. And the winds were intense, probably blowing 30-40 knots over two or three days. Waves were crashing into the cockpit from above and filling it with water, or broadsiding the boat. We were tossed around so much that we gave up on regular watches and pinned ourselves into our berths down below to avoid being thrown all over or hit with projectiles. At one point a wave blew the main into tatters and we had to abandon our nests to change it out. For a respite, we took refuge at a small atoll. We didn’t have permission to land, but all the boats anchored for a spell to fix damage and rest from the wind and seas. From there we sailed to Aldabra, to visit the giant tortoises and to dive in the lagoon, which is the largest of any coral atoll in the world.

At that time, in the mid-1990s, Aldabra was inhabited by a small staff of people at a research station. We arranged with them to take us all in a couple of skiffs to the mouth of the lagoon. We were dropped off just as the water was gushing into the lagoon. Through a series of mishaps, we were mostly separated from one another, but we all held onto our masks and road the current into the center of the lagoon along with all kinds of sea creatures. Each of us surfaced when we ran out of air and the boats found and retrieved us. One guy was lost for a couple of hours but we eventually found him alive. We spent those two hours wondering what we would do in the worst-case scenario. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

From Aldabra, we set off west again, not knowing exactly where the winds and seas would take us. But we ended up at the island of Mayotte, off the east coast of Africa. I flew from there back to Seychelles and onto France, before flying back to the U.S.

Jim and Linda continued around the southern tip of Africa after they explored the continent by land. They then crossed the Atlantic and explored the Caribbean and eastern side of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico before trucking Dana overland to Oakland. The next time I met up with them on the boat, I took a ferry from Tiberon and spend a couple days with them on Angel Island before they sailed Dana back to their home port of Santa Cruz.

That began their next adventure. They brought twins Trevor and Dana into the world and had a lot of fun raising them. I was with them on a boating trip in British Columbia when the twins were about eighteen months old. We had five adults to keep an eye on two toddlers, which is what it takes when you’re walking along docks. On their boat, which was a MacGregor 26, Jim had installed car seats to keep them safe in the cockpit. When they weren’t trucking the MacGregor around the country or to Mexico, they might be paddling or sailing the canoe that Jim built, or helping coach the kids’ sailing classes or exposing them to some other water or sports activity. Jim took delight in any of the twins’ science or art projects, and Linda was a wellspring of interesting educational or creative projects or outings. They were both fulltime, hands-on parents that passed on their curiosity and boundless energy to their children.

I had always planned to buy a cruising boat when I retired and in 2008 Jim had a slip in the Santa Cruz harbor if I could put a boat in it. So he helped me buy and fix up Aldabra. We were partners in the boat until I took off down the coast to Mexico to begin my cruising adventure. Those roughly eight years of working with Jim on the boat were just plain fun, and I learned a lot. He did projects on the boat during the week while I was working. And I would join in during the weekends when I wasn’t traveling. He did several projects without me (replacing the entire fresh water system, replacing the engine), but would save parts of each project so I could learn. He guided me on what tools I needed, how to maintain each system on the boat, and how to prepare for long passages to remote places.

Jim was always anticipating what could go wrong and helping me prepare for each catastrophe. He would say, “It’s not if things go wrong, it’s about what you do when they go wrong.” Jim was a master at both anticipation and inventing a fix for anything that broke. That was a mindset that I had to learn. I just wanted to put all new parts on the boat and expect that everything would survive, but of course that wasn’t going to be the case. As Jim had explained multiple times, and I of course discovered first hand, owning and journeying on a boat is an endless process of maintenance, repairs and improvements. But the joy you get from making new friends, sharing with old friends, traveling to remote countries and sailing along in a good breeze with the engine off makes it all worthwhile.

I had always hoped that Jim and Linda and the kids would join me at points during my cruising adventure. Jim was aboard when we set off from Santa Cruz to Southern California. And Dana was part of the crew that sailed from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego on a trip that was supposed to be to the Marquesas. And I hold out hope that Linda, Trevor and Dana will still be joining me once the COVID restrictions are lifted. But Jim’s last time on the boat was several weeks ago when he and Linda visited in San Diego and I showed him the modifications I had done in Mexico and San Diego.

Jim on Aldabra as we brought the boat down the coast of California

He was his usual enthusiastic, supportive self. In all the years I’ve known Jim, he was always supportive. I’m sure he worried about all the things I didn’t know and all the challenges I was likely to encounter. He probably worried about his daughter sailing to the South Pacific with me. But He never voiced any doubts. He just made lists of everything he could impart. I’m so grateful to have had such a friend. I miss him and it pains me that his family has lost him.  

Jim and Linda on the beach in Carmel
The Foley family at Trevor’s and Dana’s high school graduation

Tribute to Dr. David Rose

If you’ve followed Aldabra’s journey through this blog, you’ll have read about Dr. David Rose. He and his wife Susan crewed on Aldabra for the Baja Ha Ha in 2016. They also visited while I was in the Sea of Cortez. And David was headed to French Polynesia with us when we had to detour to San Diego. Susan was going to meet us in the Marquesas.

Because of the quarantine, I hadn’t seen David since we arrived in San Diego in April. We spoke on the phone in July and closed the conversation with an expectation that he would come down to the boat at some point in the near future.

But that wasn’t to be. David passed away unexpectedly in early August. David was a very close friend and has been my sailing partner for years. Every time I make certain improvements to the boat, I think about whether David would approve, even now.

Having David on the boat was alway reassuring to me. We had very complementary styles, underscored by trust and mutual respect. We developed strategies collaboratively and never argued. He loved to sail and he loved to tinker, with electronics and with anything he noticed that could be improved. David was very smart and very thoughtful. I always paid attention when he challenged my approach to something. And he was always a great partner when it came time for a repair. He was also great company for everyone on board, with his quiet humor and easy-going nature.

David’s and my sailing partnership began in 1997. He had a small day sailor in the Santa Cruz harbor and he furthered his interest in sailing with an ASA course that prepared him to charter bigger boats. Shortly after he completed his course, he proposed that I join his family on a charter to the BVIs, and invited one of my nieces (Halley) along. She was between his two oldest kids in age.

We chartered a monohull and had a wonderful time. I think Halley was only about eleven years old at the time, and it was hard for her to be away from home. But Susan took Halley under her wing while David and I were probably quite occupied with the business of sailing the boat.

That began a tradition of chartering a sailboat in some part of the world every other year. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t able to participate, but David and Susan and their kids (Jessica, Ben and Samantha) always got their charter trip in. I loved the preparatory meetings for the trips, the trips themselves, and the post-trip recap gatherings. And through those experiences, I grew close to the Rose family and was honored to participate in many of their family celebrations.

For the trip after the BVIs, David wanted to charter a catamaran. Neither of us had any experience with one, so we signed up for a two-day class at Club Nautique in Alameda. We would be learning on a PDQ, which was identical to a boat we planned to charter in the Bahamas.

We did learn about the differences between a monohull and a catamaran, so the class prepared us well for the charter. But the class also bonded us in a life-and-death experience. Due to a freak accident, our instructor was strangled by a jib sheet and lost consciousness. He wasn’t breathing, and it was up to David to bring him back to life. As a surgeon, he certainly knew how to perform CPR in theory, but he didn’t have any experience in a setting outside the OR and without competent staff to assist. But he did save the instructor’s life. The whole emergency of keeping the guy alive, making our way back to the dock and working with the Coast Guard was a bit traumatic and very memorable. But it was not the last of Dr. Rose providing emergency medical assistance during a sailing trip.

Our uneventful catamaran charter in the Bahamas was followed four years later by a trip to Tonga. (The Rose family had chartered in Greece in the interim, but I had not been able to go.) In Tonga, we chartered two boats so we could include more of our friends. I brought my niece, Lizzie, along with two other families. There was also a third boat with our friend Pete and his family. It was strange not being on the same boat as the Rose family. But every day, David, Pete and I had skippers’ meetings to plan our navigation for that day. And in the evenings the crews of all three boats gathered on one of the boats to party after dinner. Playing the card game Hearts figured prominently in the evenings’ activities. And true to form, David responded when a local citizen put out a call on the radio for medical assistance. David met with him and provided consultation.

Two years later, we chartered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, again on two separate boats. We had some of the same friends, and this time I brought my sister Ann and her daughters, Emily and Hannah. Our friends Vicki and Bruce and their son Griffin were now experienced crew, having been on the Tonga trip. And our friend Mark was also a repeat participant. The trip had lots of drama, including the effects of an approaching hurricane (that never really messed with us very much). And once again, there were medical emergencies that David needed to address. Beyond that, however, he became a casualty himself, with a couple of broken ribs. Fortunately, his daughter Jessica, who went on to become a doctor, was able to help David out.

The next trip was to Croatia. This time we chartered one boat, a 50-ft monohull. The trip included the Rose family, their good friend Karen and my nieces Rachel and Julia. It was fun to have everyone together on the same boat, but it was a very different kind of trip. Rather than sailing among remote tropical islands, we were in civilization. It involved dressing up to go to restaurants and even a visit to an exclusive night club. Uncharacteristically, we had no medical emergencies that I can recall.

Next, we chartered in Belize. This time David and I each captained a catamaran and out friend Mark captained a monohull. My boat included Vicki and Bruce and Griffin along with Marty and Katie and Gabe, who had been on the Tonga trip.

Two years later, the Roses chartered in New Zealand and I was not able to go. So our next trip together was a return to the BVIs. We had three boats. The Rose party was on one boat. My boat included my mother, my friends Pete and Cookie and my friends Jim and Linda and their twins, Dana and Trevor. The third boat included Mark’s brother and family and mother. We all joined together for a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant on shore. The only medical emergency I remember from that trip was Pete’s excruciatingly painful toothache, which David successfully treated with antibiotics.

Our final charter trip together was in 2015 out of Raiatea in the Society Islands. We were on one catamaran together, with my sister Wendy and her husband Pat, David and Susan, Karen and Jessica. We sailed around Raiatea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora. We bought pearls at a pearl farm and had a great time snorkeling, especially through one pass between two islands that swept us rapidly through narrow channels with coral heads everywhere. After we dropped off the boat, we stayed a few days in Tahiti, visiting the market in Papeete and touring the island in a rental car.

I found out a bit after we returned that David had contracted Dengue fever while we were there and suffered multiple complications from it. It was very much on our minds as we planned the trip to the Marquesas, because it was imperative for him to avoid getting it again.

David, Susan, Wendy and Pat were all on the Baja Ha Ha trip the next year, on Aldabra, where David once again came to the rescue, this time for a sailor who had dislocated his shoulder.

As I anticipate the possibility that Aldabra may get to leave for French Polynesia in 2021, it’s hard to imagine the voyage without David. I hope Susan will still want to join us in the Marquesas. And I hope that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll get the chartering gang back for another catamaran trip in David’s honor.

David somewhere in the Society Islands

Gear and Preparation

Aldabra in San Diego

Aldabra has not left her slip since we arrived in April. For the first several weeks after we arrived, Dana and I stayed on the boat and worked on projects. Pat would join us on some weekends because working on the boat was a good break from his real job.

We put in a new macerator pump for the forward holding tank and reattached the hoses. (My first unsupervised electrical project.) We removed the forward water tank and checked for leaks. Finding none, we put it back in. We also replaced the fill line for the forward water tank. The original hose was the kind that was reinforced with metal wire and it had rusted, so particles of rust were getting into the tank. It was really hard to get the old hose out but we felt a huge sense of accomplishment to have a new, clean one in place. And of course, we changed the engine oil and oil filter. We also did regular cleaning and maintenance on both Aldabra and the dinghy.

During those first few weeks, San Diego was a ghost town. We could go to a few stores for supplies. We could walk the path along Harbor Island and eventually walk along the beach. But most places that I wanted to show Dana were closed. Balboa Park, Presidio Park, Cowles Mountain.

Toward the end of May, Dana moved back up to Santa Cruz, and I headed back to Mexico by plane with my friends Tom Wurfl and Mark Coleman. We delivered Wind Rose, owned by our friend Steve Roberts, from Puerto Vallarta to Ventura. Based on what I wrote about the bash on Aldabra in March/April, it would seem as though another bash would be crazy. But the second one was quite pleasant. It helped that I was better equipped with warm clothes and that the weather was warmer. It also helped that we didn’t have the drama of uncertainties that we had in March.

The trip was quite straightforward, taking under two weeks. We picked our weather windows and kept moving, stopping briefly in Mazatlan for (I think) one night and in San Jose del Cabo for 30 minutes for fuel. We then stopped in Bahia Asuncion for fuel and to wait out some stronger wind before going to Ensenada. We arrived in Ensenada in the early morning and were checked out and underway again by early afternoon. (Rather than waiting for the exit papers, we asked the marina guy to email them to us once he got them. If we had been stopped by the Mexican Navy, they would have turned us back to the marina, but fortunately we were never stopped and we did get the emailed papers in short order.)

We had a couple of things break on the northbound trip. Tom and Mark did temporary fixes and when we got to San Diego, the parts were waiting and they executed the repairs in less than 45 minutes, repairs that would have taken me all day. (Replacing the fresh water pump and a fitting for the dripless shaft seal.)

After spending the night in San Diego at Tom and Helen’s house (a nice meal, a shower and a full night’s sleep), we headed up to Ventura and were met by Steve the next morning in his marina. My first professional boat delivery. I hope there will be more.

Once I returned to San Diego, I moved off the boat and into my mother’s house. My very generous brother-in-law has loaned me his car so I can return to the boat several days a week to continue with projects. Pat helped me reinstall a sensor for the forward water tank and wire in a new red and green bow light for night navigation. He also helped me remove the two bow rollers and rebed them. Aldabra had taken some water in at the bow, and I’m hoping we have corrected the problem. I still need to test it with large volumes of water.

The current project is a big one. Tom removed the counter tops in the galley, which was not an easy job. I then used his oscillating multi-tool with a scraper blade to remove the silicone. One the surfaces were cleaned up, I painted the wall behind the galley. Next, Tom drilled holes in the surface and we began pouring foam insulation into the space between the boat hull and the refrigerator, stove and freezer. I’m hoping the insulation will help the refrigerator maintain its temperature better in warmer climates. We’re not done yet, but the results have been encouraging. The only “oops” was when the foam found its way unexpectedly into a couple of compartments that didn’t need any foam. I had to cut those foam surprises out. (From the time you combine both Part A and Part B into a bucket, you have 30 seconds to stir them up and another 30 seconds to a minute to get the foam poured into the hole before it starts expanded. The temperature needs to be 74 degrees and low humidity. We’ve been able to achieve the right temperature in the early morning but it hasn’t been possible to have a low humidity day recently.)

Today, the counter top guys came to make a template. The next step is for them to manufacture the new counters, with a big, single sink. I can’t wait.

I’m also waiting for all the salon cushions to be reupholstered. I’m actually glad that they’re off the boat while the galley project is underway, but I do have to pester the guy doing these.


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.