06/20/2015, Marina Mazatlan, Mazatlan, Mexico
The Cruiser's Lounge is a place of refuge for sailors the world over. Tucked into the nooks of a million waterborne destinations, they harbor the boisterous seagoing conversations of nautical vagabonds, noticeboards silently pleading rides for shore-bound crew and crew for dock-stranded skippers. They are repositories of abandoned hardware looking to book passage on someone else's boat. Best of all, they are coves subject to an ever flowing tide of books, surging in to clutter their shores with four-by-six inch blocks of imagination made real, only to float out again with the next sailor that has hours to kill on the open sea.
As per custom, I headed towards Marina Mazatlan's lounge, a place of cool, air-conditioned respite from the thick, humid Mexican air, with a small pile of recently consumed fictional fare under my arm. My magnetic key card worked this time, an iffy occurrence at best, and let me into the afterthought of a space. A black naugahyde sectional sofa had commandeered the lower, left hand corner of the L-shaped room under the clattering A/C unit. Upon it's shoulder perched a disused potato salad container poised to catch the condensation dripping from five feet above its open mouth. The sofa had abandoned the right side of the L's downward stroke to a long countertop that was partitioned into a battery of five computer cubbies. Each had its own power outlet and ethernet plug to be commanded by visiting sailors from an equal number of discarded office chairs with arms akimbo and backs that sullenly threatened not to support their occupants.
My own back to the internet access portals, I faced a wall of books and placed three John LeCarre spy novels stuffed full with mystery and subterfuge on the open shelf at the bottom so that they would stand out as new additions for recently arriving readers. Running my index finger along the spines of my potential next victims, I idled past dozens of author's names standing bold beside titles that shouted romance and death and war, health and philosophy and politics.
But from over the sharp ridge of the upper shelf, barely visible even from my eye level at six foot two, peeked the desiccated brown corner of a forlorn paperback. Reaching it down, I thought for an instant I'd stumbled into a pharaoh's tomb and that this relic, dehydrated under the blaze of hundreds of supplicant readers' eyes, might crumble to dust if I handled it irreverently, leaving me with a literate mummy's curse. The covers were gone, front and back, and only the tattered middle strip of the spine remained to wrap the body and protect it from the ages. "Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury", it said.
Mr. Ray Douglas Bradbury, claims About the Author at the back of the book, was born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920. It doesn't say how long he lived there, only that he abandoned his mid-Western town roots in time to gain his high school diploma in Los Angeles eighteen years later and implying a struggle of some additional years to start a career that commenced quietly in 1931 with the publication of his first science fiction short story. Since then and as I have known him, Ray Bradbury became an icon of imagination that has taken me and countless others to the far reaches of space, time, and scientific innovation, so it was with such expectations that I put Dandelion Wine into my satchel with a couple of other selections to take back to my boat.
I have to say that it was with some disappointment that I closed the book after my first delicate exploration between those fragile pages. I'd been promised no space ships, time warps, aliens, or futuristic mechanical men. Instead, Bradbury had commenced with an introduction to a made-up town that he'd assembled out of his recollection of Waukegan and filled with his imaginings of all the Mid-Western towns dotted like stars across the vast grain belt of America. He'd populated his Green Town, Illinois with the aspects of a million Dougs and Toms and Charlies that had grown up in distant companionship to his own youthful summer in 1928. The book bore witness to a place which, like John Doe, gives an amalgamated face to the unknown stranger that we have all met.
Once over my initial dismay, I realized that, having folded the first dozen pages into my mind, I would go ahead and make my usual commitment to this author's effort, seeing if the words he'd paint upon my imagination would catch and carry me along. I was glad I did, for they were indeed filled with magical tools of science fiction that had been disguised in the likes of parched old Colonel Freeleigh who transported young Doug (and thus, me) back to times of great, thundering herds of buffalo that left the ancient western landscape shrouded in echoes and dust. Wizened captains stood on their front porch quarterdecks, commanding two-storied, clap-sided, shake-roofed schooners across prairie lands of wheat, dodging hidden shoals of macadamed streets and navigating around islands of elm and oak. Tattered old Madame Tarot offered fortunes and predicted futures from within her glass case in the penny arcade.
There, too, was the gully that ran jagged through the Woodland Hills of my youth, called The Ravine by Bradbury in his own Green Town of 1928. I explored The Gully's root-laced shadows once again with my old friend, Claude Ingersoll, filling long, hot summer days with the forgetting of chores at home and of school books of winter and fall and spring. Ray's boys didn't dig forts, but we did. On the magic carpet of imagination, Claude and I were whisked back 50 years to risk the same early deaths that Doug and his brother, Tom did, crouched in the worm-scented dungeons we'd excavated, known by our parents or not, in our back yards. Claude's dad, Gene, was the magical Mr. Leo Auffmann who'd conjured up the ill-fated happiness machine, only to discover that it had long since been invented and made real in the intimate workings of his home and family. For Claude and I, though, it was go-carts and snake cages and cardboard boxes formed into sleds that slid in swooping, brown blurs down the dried grass of Tarantula Hill across the street.
Except Doug was much more attuned to his awakening that summer than I ever was. So were the other characters of Dandelion Wine, each one erecting monuments of insight into their lives that beckoned the lessons of the past to splay themselves out in illuminated displays for their younger and even their older cohabitants of Green Town. The ultimate lesson for me was that the rich, fullness of life passes most of us by, only to be looked back upon when its gifts are no longer within reach except by the tenuous journeys of mind.
That's where this book took me, back into the adventures of childhood, but with the wisdom of life's decades projected through the amazed and sometimes dismayed eyes of a twelve year old boy. It also helped to solidify a vision for my present journey, challenging me with an example of youthful wonder and naive daring that I might apply to my course through the Sea of Cortez and southward to French Polynesia, not worrying so much about the outcome that it dampens the adventure.
Live fully onward, Douglas Spauldings of the world, unmarked youth and scarred old man alike. Escape from the digital worlds offered free of scrapes and bruises. Get out from behind your desks burdened with bureaucracy and file folders. Breathe the air and wear out your tennis shoes. Sail the seas in youth, risking a penniless, but sea-wise old age, or turn back time and spend your dotage remaking your unlived, early years with new tales of exotic isles and pirate encounters. If you don't believe this is salve for the soul, then read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. You won't be disappointed.
06/15/2015, Marina Mazatlan, Mazatlan, Mexico
Yelapa's beach head is dominated, like virtually every Mexican coastal town I've ever seen that has a modicum of shoreside sand, with shady palapas erected out of bamboo or palm trunk pillars that support a lattice work of bamboo and assorted branches. These are thatched with ranked layers of palm fronds and fronted with ranks of Pacifico and Corona umbrellas. Dining furniture is unwaveringly comprised of flimsy white or green plastic patio chairs and tables, most often spread with red or green table cloths that are held vaguely down against the sea breeze by an array of salt, pepper, and picante sauce containers. Although the food is generally pretty good and the service typical Mexican cordial, it's the shade and the cold drinks that are the primary attraction.
After doing battle with the usual seaside parade of wizened indigenous women and parched old men (one claiming to be one of Edgar's uncles, ...that's another blog topic of its own) hawking all sorts of trinkets and gewgaws, we levered ourselves out of this warm, but shady setting and braved the glaring sand to walk down the beach toward town. On the way we paused to watch as several paragliders maneuvered their colorful canopies into an upwind approach over the lush, green tropical slopes to land on the narrow nape of beach between the estuary and the bay. Trudging onward under the distant gaze of blue herons, snowy-white cranes, and buzzards with their scaley, red heads, we crossed a narrow rill of water escaping vigorously through the shore into the ocean. On the other side we found hand-painted signage to point us toward the town and the waterfall.
The uneven, winding concrete steps tunneled upwards through a narrow, crevice-like passage that opened out past a dusky wooden door framed in red painted brick and onto a cement pathway that continued to climb in more gentle slopes and occasional steps up into town. Widening as it led us on, the path was bordered by lush hillside on the left and a jumble of rough buildings on the right. Helter-skelter as they were, the homes and businesses were mostly well maintained, often bragging the bright blues, yellows and greens I've come to expect of Mexican towns. Now and then the buildings were interspersed with a half-finished or abandoned structure, but the overall impression was of a town that was happy and at least modestly prosperous. Even the incomplete buildings seemed to speak of hope suspended, not abandoned.
On our first visit, Kevin and I wandered aimlessly through Yelapa, admiring the relaxed, Third World ambiance. After a stop for beers and a pee at a cool, verandaed restaurant/bar, we finally had to turn around to make our appointment with Edgar for the shuttle ride back to Mabrouka. The second time was aboard Andante, and Jared, Amanda, Nick and Heather, Kevin and I started in much the same way, with lunch and drinks in the shade of Domingo's Pacifico umbrellas, but somehow we ended up with more time and could indulge in the walk up to the waterfall just above town.
It's a cool stroll that climbs up a gentle slope along a paved path past a sparse procession of buildings in various dubious states of either construction or decay, ...it's hard to tell which. The chilly pool sat like a jewel enveloped in refreshing mists that drifted off the flowing cliff face, making the grey rock walls of the grotto glisten in the half-light. The small grotto was draped in dark green and brown curtains of looping vines, broad-leafed trees, tall palms, and quivering ferns and a patch of sunlight hovered overhead to highlight the modest white beard of water that tumbled down from the mountain.
I guess our mid-March visit was not coincidental with the tourist season, because we were virtually the only visitors. Even so, a knick-knack concession had it's tourist wares spread in hopeful display just down the trail and the small, pool-side bar offered ice-cold beers for refreshment as we sat on the flimsy white plastic lawn chairs to take our pleasure in the cool half-light of the rocky patio overlooking the water.
Yelapa certainly exhibits a more tropically exotic feeling than most of the places I've visited in Mexico so far, but it is perhaps indicative of the welcoming nature of what I expect to encounter all down the mainland Mexican coast. I would like to have stayed to enjoy the town for at least a couple of days, but the dubious anchorage is discouraging of that. Chacala boasts a lesser example of Yelapa's welcoming atmosphere. It's just a casual day or two's motor-sail to the north, but with a much more welcoming anchorage. In any case, Yelapa should not be missed.
Partly, I think, it's the moderately sized bay with its parenthesis of palapa-rimmed beach that makes up the idyllic scene that Yelapa typifies for me, but what gives it life is the content human activity. The fishermen are constantly charging through in their pangas, driving up on the sand to discharge the catch of the day to confederates on the beach, then hauling their boats out to trailer them home or heading back to sea for more fish. Then there's the trickle of vendors trying to make their subsistence livings with hats piled on their heads, blankets slung over their shoulders, or trays overflowing with charms and bracelets to sell to their tourist benefactors.
These shore-side towns, universally modest, but filled with colorful, bustling, noisy life and buildings painted to match, do much to recommend visiting Mexico, whether by boat or any other means.
06/15/2015, Marina Mazatlan, Mazatlan, Mexico
It may seem like I'm abandoning my newly minted guideline of fabricating these blog posts on a strictly topical basis, but Yelapa epitomizes a special cruising topic beyond its eminence as a cruising destination, at least for me at this point in my experience.
Even before I'd actually visited there, rumor had risen in conversation that it had been a favorite haunt of such iconic music celebrities as Steven Stills and Frank Zappa. Someone like me, uninitiated in the smokey, ethereal atmospheres of rock'n'roll stardom, can certainly imagine these notorious figures lounging lankily beneath an out-of-the-way palapa with a beer in one hand and a slender grey twirl of smoke climbing up from the brown twist of a joint in the other. At least half an hour surfing the web has failed to confirm this, although I did find one travel article whose writer vouched personal sightings of both Peter Coyote and Hilary Swank while touting Yelapa's place of idyllic prominence as among the best of primitive resort destinations.
If it lends any credence to Yelapa's status as a hideaway for the stars, I've actually graced it streets twice myself! The first time was aboard Mabrouka with the company of Kevin Rhone, and the next was on Kevin's motor yacht, Andante, with friends Amanda and Jared from Friday, my one-time crew member, Heather Sloat, and Nick Hollis who'd soon be setting sail for French Polynesia aboard our friends' boat, Apropos. Assuming this meager couple of visits were sufficient to typify the general experience, I will extrapolate to describe the thousands of Yelapa landfalls that occur by private yacht every year.
Approaching from across Banderas Bay, Yelapa's bay, though good sized, doesn't really stand out against the background mountains until you're already less than a mile out. Sidling up by tourist panga along the craggy tropical coast from Puerto Vallarta, it must come as a surprise when you round it's rocky eastern point.
Our first definite sign of Yelapa's existence was the sight of a panga bashing it's foamy way towards us through the sharp swells we'd been riding in with the northerly breeze from La Cruz. The boat's driver might be the front-line representative of any of the town's several beach-side palapa restaurants that knit the fabric of their livelihoods out of the pesos of visiting tourists, and the usual pitch offers the duty-free use of a mooring buoy and a ride ashore in exchange for exclusive restaurant patronage.
There are no docks or piers available along the shore for mooring anything like Mabrouka and the restaurant buoys, marked as they are by two or three weather-worn plastic jugs tethered like bland carnival balloons just outside the surf line, are enough to raise a nervous bubble of bile in even the most trusting of sailors. However, relying on one's own ground tackle to hold in the notoriously uncertain anchorage doesn't provide much more confidence, so it is common enough to take up this patronage-for-moorage deal as being as good as anything. It's certainly convenient.
So we accepted Edgar's (or Eduardo's or Ernesto's?) offer and followed into the bay as he stood posed in his unusually pristine panga like George Washington crossing the Delaware. Lunch, it seemed, would be at Domingo's whose tongue-in-cheek signage boasted going concerns in London, Paris, Rome and, yes, Yelapa. Ten or fifteen minutes later we found him drifting by his buoy waiting to hand us the tag line with which, with no small amount of trepidation and an attendant helping of either foolishness or bravery, we hauled the mooring pendant up out of the mysteriously dark water and tied it off to Mabrouka's bow.
Edgar expertly maneuvered his hard, fiberglass hull, with all its sharp edges heaving and surging and yawing threateningly, to Mabrouka's side in the substantial swell for Kevin and I, in two separate approaches, to leap aboard. Then we got the E-ticket ride ashore as this ebullient stranger, into whose hands we'd given our lives, first warned us to brace our feet against the forward seats, then, timing the swells for a few staccato heartbeats, twisted the throttle to it's full fifty horsepower and drove the twenty-five foot panga in through the three foot breakers at least two boat lengths high and dry up the sandy slope.
With post-traumatic bravery, Kevin and I exchanged some expletive expressions of relief and jumped jauntily over the gunwale onto the dry hot sand. Edgar had advised us that Domingo's was a family-run business, with an uncle at the helm and brothers and cousins working the kitchens and tables. I don't know whether the family entourage included the two or three men that, within the thirty seconds it took us to amble from boat to plastic lawn chairs in the shade of Corona-emblazoned beach umbrellas, offered to sell us pot, but I wouldn't have been surprised. Fine, upstanding cruiser-tourists that we are, we declined to support the local economy in this way, but soon took up Edgar's cousin's offer of passion fruit and mango margaritas as we scanned the menu's selection of seafood sampler plates and shrimp quesadillas.
I've used up a lot of reader patience in getting this far and there's still so much to relate, so I'll go on past our delicious meal accompanied by more, less exotically flavored margaritas and move toward exploring Yelapa itself.
06/15/2015, Mazatlan Marina, Mazatlan Mexico
This may the the third or fourth time I've made excuses for not keeping up this blog. This time I think any attempt I might make to resurrect sequential details of my cruising life of the past four months would turn out to be hopelessly inadequate, so I won't even try. Instead, my plan is to assemble this recovery from delinquency topically, not sequentially, so don't be surprised if the timeline jumps back and forth and characters appear and disappear in haphazard fashion.
For those of you insistent upon a sequence on which to hang my travels, you should explore the standard map function in the blog which connects the location dots in order of travel. I further encourage you to install the Google Earth Plugin available for Windows and Mac OS X platforms by which you can access satellite images of the many pretty bays that have hosted my anchor. Clicking on the icons in either map version will take you to associated blog entries when they exist.
It's appropriate here to re-explore the purported reasons for my delinquency at keeping up with blog posts. Well, appropriate or not, I feel guilty about it and can't keep myself from fabricating excuses for those of you who might feel slighted by my abandonment. The fact is that it's an amalgam of distraction, laziness, and inconvenience that keeps me from the keyboard.
Inconvenience is my most legitimate beg-off. After all, the ports I usually find myself drifting in, both literally and figuratively, only occasionally boast WiFi signals, and then typically weak ones at best, even in marinas. Even so, I should not be forgiven because I've never been powerless to power up one of my electronic brains and engage my organic one to record a day's events and inspirations for later remittance to the ether. Guilty on first count due to negligence.
Distraction may be my most forgivable sin, though that probably won't console my inconsolable throng of readers. Surely I can spare an occasional hour or two from gazing with glassy, ease-lidded eyes over aquamarine waters at amber sunsets and rocky bays rimmed in rose-red sandstone that is studded with cactus under the aerial reconnaissance of boobies, frigates, and osprey. Guilty: second count.
Laziness? Well, laziness is the eponym of the cruising life, so if any cruiser is to maintain his or her links with the outside world, what excuse can laziness be? After all, we cruisers live a life of envy for the typical office-bound land lubber, so a jury of those peers would surely not forgive reticence of this sort. Guilty again.
So, convicted on three counts I vow (snicker, snicker) eventually to serve my sentence and execute my penance after whatever fashion I can contrive that doesn't require too many lies and fabrications to fill the blanks of my memory.
04/13/2015, Off Club Nautico, Mazatlan Commercial Harbor, Mazatlan, MX
It is an unusually pensive evening, brought on by having just paid my taxes. Necessities in maintaining Mabrouka and preparing her for cross-Pacific sailing have incurred heavier withdrawals from my retirement than I'd anticipated, while stupid blunders and laziness in paying attention to monetary details have made it cost more than it should have. Resentment at having to make support payments to a government I've all but divorced and a stronger dose of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum than usual have made the darkening sky feel like a shroud upon the evening.
Having clicked on TurboTax's final "Proceed" button to send a preposterous sum off to the IRS, interest and fees included, I moved out to lounge in Mabrouka's spacious cockpit with my liquid consolation to witness the day's demise and the evening's gloating encroachment on the bay. I'm once again anchored off seedy (but free) Club Nautico in Mazatlan's commercial harbor with the rocky, scrub-dappled mounds of the enclosing islands and jagged grey breakwaters turning to black shadows against the indigo sunset. There is a derelict sailboat nearby that reflects my mood, its stoic hull riding gracefully at anchor while its mast flaunts tattered sails in the evening sky.
It's funny how I haven't written of my sailing adventures in so long, yet I'm inspired to divulge the melancholy brought about by this American rite of sacrificing one's hard-earned dollars to good ol' Uncle Sam. My mood is unfair to the fulfilling months I've spent sailing among the humpback whales, reveling so many evenings away with my cruising friends, and enjoying a life upon the sea that is bounteous in so many ways, ...camaraderie, beauty, relaxation, joy, adventure.
Look away, now, ye with faint senses of propriety. The evening breeze was balmy, if not cool, compared to the hothouse climate that hung below in Mabrouka like molasses all the Mexican winter day long. With a sudden urge to be rid of limits, I cast off what little clothing I wore and lounged, naked, on the cushions of Mabrouka's cockpit. There was no eroticism to it, no lasciviousness, just a desire to clutch for every shred of freedom that my life in that minute would allow. If I'd truly felt liberated, I would have stood up and taken a casual evening stroll around my decks, but there were one or two recent arrivals that had dropped their anchors within easy sight of such bold exposure, so I refrained from exposition, however innocent, and stayed recumbent within the relative privacy of the cockpit, enjoying the gentle breeze on my skin and the last taste of rum on my tongue.
02/15/2015, Marina Mazatlan, Mazatlan, Mexico
I don't know why the sky insisted on grumbling and weeping over Marina Mazatlan when it was poor me that had to shelter below to the snare drum sound of rain drops pelting the canvas dodger. I'd planned to take Friday morning for the half-hour walk to Walmart to provision the boat for a Monday departure, but I found the lightning, thunder, and heavy rain to be discouraging of such chores. Rumor had it that this would be the agenda for the weekend as well.
I was getting antsy to move on, though, and had been inching toward another attempt at departure southward to Puerto Vallarta. There was little to keep me here except the friends I'd made on the dock and being cooped up in a marina is not my idea of the cruising life. At the same time, I'd built up stationary momentum and it might have taken a motivational tape to get me started. Rain wasn't helping in that regard.
The decks were done and I was completely satisfied with them. Besides being just a really nice guy, Beto and his crew were diligent workers and knocked out the job in four weeks rather than the predicted six. In the meantime I'd completed quite a bit of canvas work, making new covers to match the burgundy ones that I'd had delivered with the new sails. I replaced everything that was too bedraggled to survive much longer, but there remain a few blue odds and ends as leftovers that will last until I rebuild momentum for more stitchery. Anti-bug measures were in place, too, with a concoction of stainless steel rings to spring in and hold mosquito screen in the portholes and canvas constructions to discourage them from entering through hatches and the main companionway.
With the autopilot back in commission (stand by for more disheartening news on that front), there was nothing to hold me back from departure other than a provisioning run, saying goodbye to so many new friends, and paying my marina bill. If it would only stop raining, I'd get on with it.