12/03/2009, Agua Verde, BCS
It's a Where the Wild Things Are kind of evening here in Agua Verde, on the inside of the Baja Peninsula, about 90 miles north of La Paz. The full moon is rising behind small, soft gray clouds tinged with pink from the last of the sunset, and 4 tiny boats with multiple masts and numerous sails are curiously meandering through the bay, dream-like, surreal. The wind is so light, they're rowing with their sails up, passing by like colorful ghosts. The sky color intensifies -- the salmon and gray contrasting in large patches as the sailboats finally give up in the dying breeze, drop little anchors while they reef their sails, pull anchor, and row slowly back to the beach.
The little beach on the north side of this anchorage is something from a movie -- it's so picturesque, it simply can't be real. A tiny thatch-roofed building, which looks partially completed or temporarily abandoned, sits off to the right with a short fence all around and a small pickup truck parked under the carport. Colorful panga boats line the shore, parked at angles to each other, as if each panguero coordinated with the others to create a visual balance of perfect and imperfect, just for those Sea of Cortez picture-taking opportunities. I find it impossible to decide which photograph to use for this blog: the imaginary sailboats at sunset, sailing off to the land of the Wild Things against the rising moon; the beach with the palapa home and the panga boats; the beautiful Sierra de la Giganga range, rugged and green from the recent hurricane and rivaling Moorea in stark, craggy beauty.
The Sea of Cortez is starting to take it's magical effect on us. We're shedding our former selves, layer by layer, paying attention to the clock a little less, planning fewer things in each day, feeling a little more in the moment and not so concerned with the next. Last night, anchored in San Evaristo, I awoke at 3am, clambered into the cockpit and took in the beauty of the moonlight reflected on the still ocean, joined by the mast lights of the other sailboats sitting peacefully in their watery spaces, confined only by the radius of their anchor chains. Wow. Fantastic back porch, I thought. Fantastic view. People pay jillions of dollars to have an ocean view like this, and here we are. We can stay and enjoy it, or move on to the next place, and be surprised by a dream-like sailboat regatta in slow motion at sunset. Soon, according to the guide book, the local goats will make their way into the hills, the bells around their necks clanging as they climb.
Really, now. Is this us? Are we here? Is this real? How can I possibly write about this without sounding cliche, or seriously deluded? Allan says he still can't believe this is his life. Not just a 2-week vacation that will end soon.
Sometimes, I'll admit, I worry I'll get bored. How many incredible little harbors can we sail into, dropping our anchors into perfect sand, swimming in warm water with fish all around, eating home-made tortillas from the teeny towns, so teeny, the tortilleria is someone's home, the tienda is in a garage? How many books can I read, crosswords puzzles can I do, blogs can I write? But so far, boredom is not an issue, and seriously, it never will be, for us. The people we meet, let alone the staggering scenery, make each day interesting. Impromptu potluck beach parties or hikes to town, the invitation usually delivered in person by kayak or dingy. Boat cards exchanged over rails as we swap stories and plans. Everyone has a boat card out here, with the boat name, far more important than your actual given name, your HAM radio call sign or boat radio call sign, your pertinent emails and phone numbers, and often a photo of either the owners or the boat itself, usually the latter, although the former is extremely helpful when you're going through the stack you've collected in the last weeks, trying to remember which cool couple was which.
And everyone wants to know your "plan." Puddle Jump or Sea? 6-on-6-Off? Z-Town? Canal? As creative as you might think your plan is, someone else has done it. So many someone's that each "unique" plan has a name, or a general reference to it's nature. Crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas and beyond? The Puddle Jump. Staying north of Mazatlan in the Sea of Cortez? Doing The Sea. Going to Mazatlan and points south? Crossing Over or Gold Coast. Staying in Mexico for the sailing season, then going home for six months, then back again? 6-on-6-Off. Headed for Zijuatenejo? Z-Town. Now, if you're going through the canal, I don't know what they actually call it because so far I haven't heard a term for that one, unless it's ultimately to Cross the Pond (Atlantic crossing) which few people we meet are planning to do. Oddly, we've discovered that if we use the words "going through the canal" in a sentence, most people get blank looks on their faces, rather like if you told them you were in the Waste Management business; they really don't know where to go from there. It's just enough out of their frame of reference that they politely excuse themselves and move on. It will be interesting to see how that changes as we sail south, nearer said canal ...
But for now, we're in The Sea, which is rather like sailing through the Grand Canyon, or past the Sangre de Christos in New Mexico, or through parts of Utah. All around, it's gorgeous. Red, brown, pink, and green stacked and layered strata, craggy mountain-tops, incredible vistas, and here we sit -- not on a dusty plain or down in a hot, stagnant valley, but on a beautiful ocean, with a perfect breeze, moving past the vistas like passengers on a Disneyland ride.
I used to wonder what was wrong with me, that I compared real life to Disneyland. "Wow, it's a Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-Sky!" I'd remark. Or, "This is better than the Submarine ride at Disneyland." How, I thought, could the flawed real world compare to the perfection of Walt Disney's inventive and meticulous mind? But now, I know better. Walt was a keen observer of the real thing, and knew just what he was doing.
12/01/2009, Isla San Francisco, BCS
I have a new name for this irregular, irrational, irreverent missive I seem impelled to create: Blurb. My dear friend Carol recently remarked that she had just finished my latest "blurb," and I, generally being a non-conformist, and somewhat uncomfortable with the clumsy word "blog," felt a connection to the word and with the concept. I am not a writer -- I'm a blurber. It's perfect. And so, I am officially renaming the email list of names to whom I send the link to this blog as "Blurb People."
This blurb begins as we leave La Paz for the second time since we arrived 3 weeks ago, this time to spend a week in "The Sea." Around here, they don't call it the "Sea of Cortez." They refer to it, as if it were a magical dreamland, as well as a dear friend, as The Sea. "They've gone off into The Sea," someone will wistfully remark, or, "They'll be in The Sea for the season." Previously, our experience in The Sea has been our brief 3-day jaunt across the short slice of inland ocean to Isla Santo Espiritu with my mom, Margy, where we swam with sea lions, and where, as you may recall, I was nipped by a curious sea lion. I have subsequently discovered that a blog is a very public thing, and it seems enough people here in The Sea have been reading this one and then chatting amongst themselves, ever-so-respectfully, and now that nip has made it into the local morning radio Net, in an informational sort of way. My my, what a world.
Today we head north, planning mostly to stay in anchorages and small harbors on the inland side of the Baja Peninsula. There are so many places to stop, so many islands, coves, dive outcroppings, that it's impossible to decide. We just plan to head north.
Along the way, The Sea is so calm it's like a lake. We hear a large exhale right beside the boat, and turn to see the arc of a small whale as it eases back into the water. It comes as such a surprise, expletives, (nice ones, Holy ones) flow from my mouth quickly, repeatedly. We leap from our repose and search the water for signs of more, or the same, or offspring. A few minutes later, it resurfaces, and now Allan is sliding into his wet suit, searching for his mask and snorkel, and readying himself for a swim with a whale. We slow. We wait. The air is silent, the wind calm, the sea glass. An exhale, directly behind us. A few minutes later, beside us. And then again behind. Allan finally jumps in, and I scan the water for the telltale shine on the surface for a whale. There he is, 20 feet away: I holler, and Allan turns and ducks beneath the surface. Soon, another breath, now beside us. Then, in front of us. It seems there are several, but they are not going to let Allan get close. Unquenched in his quest, he swims back to the boat and we head back out, glad, though, to even have the incredible chance to think about swimming with a whale.
We decide to stop the first night at Isla San Francisco, although the winds picked up in the last third of the sail, gusting from the wrong direction for the main anchorage, The Hook. So we round the corner and settle on the east side, in time for a fantastic sunset -- one of many in the next 18 months, no doubt. The next morning we laze. I make French Toast. We hang out. We take it slow. Allan reads, I string beads and do crossword puzzles. We let time fly. These are concepts unfamiliar to us, yet we are slowly getting the feel for it, both grateful and willing to rest for awhile.
In the early afternoon, we explore the beach, and take advantage of the opportunity to do some yoga poses on the deserted rocky shore, our backs gasping in relief. Around 2pm, we head to the next place, San Evaristo, on the Peninsula. Along the way, we pass the tiniest little island, more like a rock, with a little fishing village precariously perched on it's itty bitty little shore and climbing it's teeny slopes. Isla Coyote. Incredible.
We slice between rocky outcroppings, the gorgeous Sierra de la Giganta mountains on the Baja Peninsula looming in a sort of Lord of the Rings kind of way, the early stages, maybe The Hobbit part of the story. Up the coast, we slip into San Evaristo, and end up anchoring next to a couple we've never met, but feel we know: the couple who was supposed to bring our repaired AIS radio (which fritzed the day before we left for Mexico) to us from San Diego to La Paz. Turns out, someone else was leaving sooner, so it arrived on another boat, (thank you, Delos) but now here we are anchored next to Wytie and Sallie on Reality Check. We join them the next day for a short outing to town, to what might be called town, and a perfect walk over the hill and past the small cows with the big ears, to the salt ponds, which seems a bit flooded from the hurricane, and not so salty, but we imagine they'll dry out, and white, hand-scooped piles of sodium will emerge soon enough.
Back at the boat, our floating haven, we settle into our cabin, eat spinach fritatta, snuggle under blankets because it's a chilly 61 degrees outside, and watch "The Queen." It strikes us as such a strange juxtaposition of lifestyles: the formality and heavily steeped tradition of the English Monarchy, of cashmere, palaces, and formal gardens, next to the unfathomable freedom of our current life, our reduced-stuff life, our 400 not-so-square feet of floating home and all the blurb-inducing stories on Fly Aweigh.
11/26/2009, La Paz, BCS
Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving!
We don't have a lot to report, in fact, I was considering doing a "Day in the Life" sort of blog in which we describe the mundane hour-by-hour events on those normal days, lest everyone think this is a full-time hair-raising, whale-ditching, boat-towing, diving-in-turquoise-water type of experience. Instead, I can tell you that you're already familiar with what we're doing -- just pick your normal errand day -- laundry, groceries, hardware store, cleaning out the fridge, diving under the boat to discover the propellor zincs are the wrong size, you know what I mean -- and that's basically what we're doing while we're here in port. Luckily, there is really no language barrier, as English is very commonly spoken, and people are willing and even anxious to work with us in a mix of their broken English and our broken Spanish. Not to mention, there is fabulous cruiser support from many people, and coffee hour every morning at Club Cruceros in Marina de La Paz, where we can get guidance and tips on all sorts of things, no question too odd.
Our Thanksgiving was very nice, a cruiser Turkey Day hosted by the folks here at Marina Palmiera. 19 turkeys, cooked by the local bakery. Pot luck side dishes and desserts, gobs of them, all delicious. Big, yellow Pacifico Beer tents. White tablecloths. 250 people. Perfect weather, with a "Pineapple Express" bringing tropical clouds and balmy breezes, and ultimately a fantastic sunset.
I volunteered us to help, which translated into being the turkey and gravy servers. Frankly what I had in mind was setting up tables, hanging paper turkeys and arranging flowers, but such is my limited imagination. Being servers sort of precluded having and actual comfortable sit-down meal, since we were supposed to be relief crew, and had 20 minutes to eat. Since we were 10 minutes late arriving, and had to go through the line, then find a table, then wait in another line for a drink, it was a 43-second dinner. But that's what you do when you volunteer - you follow through with your commitment, and it was our fault we were late. So we scarfed tender, delicious turkey and tried to notice how marvelous each of the 17 side dishes piled on our plates tasted, and then took over the serving, which was fun -- Allan was the gravy guy, and let me say, I wish I liked gravy. I'd be in his line over and over; he looked so amiable and cute with that big ladle and friendly smile. I discovered that a lot more people, when asked "White or dark?" will answer, without hesitation, as if the alternative were poison, "White." So if you don't like dark meat, get in line early.
We hooked up with a couple we met last week who have had boats in both Channel Islands Marina, our home port, and Ventura Harbor up the street. We regrouped on our boat for that aforementioned fabulous sunset and a glass of port. Tomorrow we're having dinner on their boat so I can peruse John's expansive music collection, and also start my preliminary interviewing for a book idea I have, no peekies, not sure it will pan out.
All in all, a lovely day full of reasons to be thankful.
Although by the time you read this you will likely be long passed out, flat on the floor, groaning, cursing that second helping of stuffing (they don't call it stuffing for nothing) loosening your belts, and the team you were rooting for has undoubtedly lost due to some really bad call by the ump, or ref, or whatever -- still and all in our tardiness we wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope the upcoming season, which we are blissfully missing, is full of sleigh bells and Yule tide and all that stuff.
A & A
11/22/2009, Los Islotes, MX
How many people can say they've been bitten on the hiney by a sea lion? I can proudly say that I am in that elite club, with nothing to show for it, thank goodness, and the experience joins the arsenal of memorable stuff that has happened in my life.
We left La Paz Tuesday afternoon, after waiting a few days for the norther to blow through, and headed for Isla Santo Espiritu, a small and fabulously interesting island, from a geological and oceanographic standpoint, just north of La Paz. We were really ready to be back "on the hook" (anchored) again, ready for space around us, for quiet, for time to spend our days as we chose, and ready to get my mom, Margy "The Fish" Gates, into the water. The first night we tucked into an anchorage about halfway up the island, then headed for the Main Event of our trip to the island the next morning:
At the very northern tip of Isla Espiritu and it's sister island Isla Partida lay a couple of teeny tiny islands called Los Islotes (Spanish for teeny tiny islands) that are home to a sea lion rookery. Steep and rocky, with virtually nowhere to anchor, we were prepared to put Fly Aweigh in a day anchorage across the small channel and take our dingy across, which can be wet, uncomfortable, and tend to shorten the overall experience as everyone wants to get back to the boat. But we lucked out (I really don't believe in luck anymore) and discovered that there are a number of mooring balls, not mentioned in either of our cruising guides, for the small tour boats that bring people out to snorkel with the sea lions. We tied to one of the moorings and had a front-row seat about 50 feet from the shore of the most fabulous nature show in our lives. Absolute luxury, as opposed to a dingy ride, with lunch, shade, cushions, all our dive gear at hand, and hot showers right off the swim step. Anxious to play with the sea lions, Margy, Allan and I were in the water within minutes of mooring, and stayed in until our fingers were wrinkled and our bodies were cold soaked, even in the warm water.
We knew to be respectful of the herd, especially around young pups, lest the moms -- ever watchful, and the bulls, defending their territory -- feel threatened. I was engaged by a young pup playing with a rock, a game he had obviously perfected - dropping it at the surface and letting it fall, then catching it in his mouth -- sometimes upside down, sometimes doing a few acrobatic maneuvers before snagging it at the very last second before it hit bottom. He'd swim playfully past me, twirling around with the rock in his mouth, then rise to the surface and drop it again. He was clearly showing off, aware that I was watching. And then, in the corner of my eye, I caught the heavy shadow of one of the bulls coming toward me. They can reach upwards of 800 pounds, which, believe me, can serve up a nice side dish of intimidation. He was not rushing me, but was definitely headed directly toward me with purpose. As I was pondering my options, I felt a sharp nip on my right, um, butt, and for a second, I thought it was Allan trying to get my attention. Not his style, I thought, and indeed, as I flipped around with surprise, a smaller sea lion was swimming away. I retreated, laughing through my snorkel and feeling relief that I had my thick lycra dive skin on, although I don't think the the bite would have broken skin -- it was a nip, maybe a playful nip from one of the larger pups, or a warning nip from mom, setting boundaries and keeping this black and pink fish in line.
Allan had a nice swim with one of the mellower bulls, and caught him in a short movie on the underwater camera from just a few feet away. Margy had fun with some playful, rambunctious younger sea lions, circling her and staying very close, but also got the bull warning more than once. Mixed in with all this underwater activity were little floating and diving flocks of cormorants, who look pretty humorous from the underside of the water, paddling with their webbed feet and occasionally sticking their heads underwater to look around, and a massive school -- millions, I'd say -- of blue-silver fish with serious proximity issues - nothing gets within 12 inches of them as a flowing body unless it's by surprise. The poor cormorants zoom through the school like bullets trying to get a bite but it looks futile, the fish just clear a path. But the pelicans know how to use that element of surprise. We were entertained for over an hour by a large fleet of hungry pelicans, maintaining a very organized flight pattern and dive-bombing from 20 feet, plunging into the midst of the massive school, sometimes 4 or 5 at once or in quick succession making loud splashes within feet of the boat. The entire scene was incredible. We sat on the bow of the boat with cameras, trying not to miss a thing.
Meanwhile, the sea lions serenaded us with their honking and barking and the occasional loud scrapple between huge males onshore, and the younger sea lions leaped and played in the water. Small pangas with life-jacketed snorkelers came and went, and it was comical to see the underwater combination of sea lions, so graceful and flowing, dancing around the bobbing, flapping, clumsy swimmers in their neon fins. We finally ceded too the fading day and motored a few miles south to anchor in a beautiful harbor with 3 other boats. Looks like some good kayaking awaits us in the morning.
Thursday -- If it weren't for the gnats, it would be paradise. Margy is on the fore deck in the morning light, working on a drawing of the hills that surround this lovely small bay on Isla Espiritu Santo, and I'm enmeshed in the 5 million-page novel I'm reading, which I hope to finish before I die, largely because it's the first in a trilogy and I'd hate to miss the ending. After half an hour, we've both been driven inside to escape the tedious critters. Margy ponders the efficacy of wearing garlic around her neck to ward them off. I just want to make sure they didn't high dive into my freshly-brewed, Hershey's-laden Mexican coffee. Eventually, Margy yields, returns to the cockpit, and sets up her paints. I settle at the computer inside, grateful that this boat has lovely views out the big side windows, so I don't feel like I'm really missing anything. Later, we remember the bridal veil fabric I'd brought for more or less this very purpose, and made veils to drape over our hats and keep the bugs off our faces, which is the very most annoying thing ever.
As we thought, there is some beautiful kayaking here, along red cliffs towering over green water that looks totally unreal, not even Walt Disney's Technicolor has this one -- intense kelly green spiced with turquoise. We saw some stunning green and magenta crabs, and I rescued a full 3.2mm wet suit from the rocks. Not wanting to come home empty-handed, Margy found a nearly new West Marine child's life jacket. The lessons of not securing things properly on deck is one we learn over and over in the boating world. On shore, we collected shells and admired puffer fish skeletons. Meanwhile, Allan, ever the Worker Bee, tinkered and fixed some of the things that needed fixing.
Friday we thought we'd investigate a sea mount 8 miles offshore, a haven for hammerhead sharks and huge rays, and apparently quite the mecca for filming these critters. The book had no information on how to anchor in the vicinity, and we had 3 different GPS points from 3 sources - the cruising book, our chart plotter, and our paper charts. So off we headed into the wild blue ocean in the general direction of the Marisla Sea Mount on a rather choppy sea until finally, right about where the book said it would be, the depth gauge went quite suddenly from too deep to measure to about 65 feet, then down to 42, back to 80 and then off to virtual infinity. Ah, the mount. Marked by nothing. No moorings, nothing poking up out of the ocean, no way to stabilize the boat to get swimmers into the water, the stern bobbing up and down with the messy sea, and a 2 knot current drifting the boat, and potential swimmers, downstream. We peered hopefully over the side, inviting a manta or a shark to poke his head above the water and let us know it was all worth the effort, but in the end we wisely scrapped the idea and went back to the teeny tiny islands to swim once more with the sea lions. The mount is something we would love to do with dive equipment and an experienced support team, an intriguing option for later on.
The sea lions were very happy to see us again and the bulls left us alone. We enjoyed a quick swim, had some lunch, swatted gnats and finally headed back to La Paz.
Margy flies home today, Saturday, and we're sad to see her go. We've had a wonderful time, and I'm grateful I have such a fun mom. She doesn't say no to anything, that I can think of. She loves adventure and experiencing new things, and she's quite an inspiration. She treated us to a fabulous and too-expensive-for-Mexico seafood dinner last night, so today I'll treat her to a French toast and mango compote breakfast before her circuitous flight to LAX, via Guadalajara.
Allan and I will spend the week here at Marina Palmiera in slip #434, at least through Thanksgiving. We need to do some repairs and get a few more things done on the boat, then we head off to the next adventure, which we're pondering. North or South? Sea or Gold Coast? Vanilla or Chocolate? Real or Memorex?
11/14/2009, La Paz, MX
After all the fun and excitement of the previous two weeks -- the diversions, the weather, the towing adventure, the crew changes, the passport issues, the expensive craziness of Cabo, and the end of the Baja Ha Ha -- we finally found some peace and quiet and a little down time in Bahia Los Frailes, around the corner to the east from Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos. We spent the first day sleeping in and then taking naps. We made a vain attempt at going scuba diving, and to our credit, we did get as far as unearthing all the gear from the belly of this whale and trying out our new air compressor to refill the scuba tanks, but the closest we got was a nice, easy snorkeling trip before we returned for another nap.
The next day was a bit more energetic: we managed to actually don said dive gear and head for the same spot of ocean we'd snorkeled in the day before. This time we were able to go a bit deeper, averaging 35 feet, in an ocean teeming with life. Thousands of metallic silver Jacks, looking like gray silk-suited businessmen, seriously endeavoring to do whatever it is Jacks do with such synchronized purpose, massive schools of small, shiny bait fish, harems of Parrot fish, tiny neon blue fish, the occasional Spotted Ray, and large Grouper slowly patrolling beneath us made the dive quite engaging.
A bit later, the restorative powers of the previous days naps still taking effect, Allan threw all his windsurfing gear in the water and zorched around the bay. Greg, our Coastie friend, said "Here's a guy who sailed 1,000 miles just to get on a smaller boat with a smaller sail" or something to that effect. The irony of it all, it's really lost on me at this point. But it was fun to see him doing what he loves almost more than anything, and in 83 degree water, no less. Paradise.
Next day was an 8-hour motor up to Bahia de los Muertos, where we met up for dinner with one of my compadres from United Airlines, Rick, who lives in La Paz and commutes to work in Los Angeles. He joined us with his son, and friend Robert, and we caught up on news of things at UAL (not missing much, it seems) and on our journey so far. It was strange and comforting at the same time to be making a connection with my on-hold professional life while in this wild, make-up-free remote realm. Like putting two sides of myself together, not sure they fit. But it was great to see Rick, and we made plans to hook up in La Paz when we arrived...
... which was a few days later after a lovely sail up the coast along huge sand dunes and through the windy straight between Las Ventanas on the Baja peninsula and beautiful Isla Cerralvo. We have a little halo, I think, because things seem to work out for us at the last minute, in this case by getting a slip in one of the marinas even without a reservation in the high season. We settled into the berth and then headed off for a sweaty walk along the malecón to the bus station where we picked up my mom, Margy, fresh in from her adventure in San Carlos on Iron Maiden.
Today Rick picked us up and gave us a tour of the city, followed by a trip out to a beautiful splotch of land a mile inland that he and his son are developing, a real treat. They are doing all the right things with this land, and it will be a solid, well-built residential community with enviable views of a rich landscape -- tall, stately Cordon cactus and pea-green Palo Verde bushes yield to a sweeping view of La Paz bay and the city. Reminded us of parts of Santa Fe, NM only with an ocean nearby.
We topped of the day with a yummy dinner in town, and here we are, Allan enhancing his knowledge on how to get the proper weather charts on line, Margy perusing the Panama Guide, and me, well, here I am, blogging. It's been a quiet few days. We'll hole up here for a few more while a "norther" blows through, then head for Islas Espiritu Santos until Friday. Margy heads home Saturday to rescue Harry the Cat from boredom and resume her life in Oxnard. As for us, we plan to get the hang of La Paz and environs for a month or so, subject to the usual revisions as life throws us those inevitable curious curves.
11/07/2009, Cabo San Lucas, MX
Who ever thought our sweet, lithe sailboat, at a relatively trim 26,000 pounds, could tow an 88-ton steel behemoth ship 42 miles, 28 of it in open ocean? Not us. Not a lot of people. And really not us. But there it is, in the picture above, the Iron Maiden on a tether, looking almost humble and much smaller than it does in real life, dutifully following behind us as we head for Puerto San Carlos in Bahia Santa Magdalena. It's a long story for a blog and I am challenged to decide what to include and what to delete and still portray the thrill of it all. Sorry, but in my verbose way, I will limit the deletions.
Iron Maiden, the Beast in question, the one bearing my mother on an adventure of her own, the one that has been following along with us and the Ha Ha fleet, offering her vast array of parts and maintenance services to broken ships in the fleet, became disabled herself just outside Bahia Santa Maria, our 3rd stop on this trip. She called for assistance on the common frequency monitored by the Ha Ha fleet, and one of the sailboats, Sagittaire, responded. We tuned to the radio as Sagittaire rounded the corner about midnight with Iron Maiden in tow, and listened to the coordination between the two boats as they came in to anchor.
Sagittaire had the fortunate advantage of a crew of 4 that included Tiffany and Greg Norte, who are both former Coast Guard, and knew what they were doing. The exchange on the radio between Tiffany, at the helm of Sagittaire with Iron Maiden in tow, and her husband Greg, aboard Iron Maiden and coordinating things from that end, was impressive and inspiring. At the time we didn't know their background, but it was obvious they were not casual mariners. Their professionalism and knowledge were apparent, despite the fact that they sounded, um, sorry Greg and Tiff -- about 17 years old on the radio. Turns out Tiffany has her 100 ton Captain's license and teaches sailing, in addition to being a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy with a total of 9 years as a Coastie. Greg is also an Academy grad with 9 years of service.
We listened with rapt attention and looked through binoculars as they brought Iron Maiden in to the anchoring spot we had scoped out for them an hour or so earlier in our dingy, in the dark of night, searching for a spot that was big enough for Iron Maiden to anchor and drift after being released by her tow boat. Since she had no engine to maneuver, and no hydraulics to pull her massive anchor back up should there be an error in the anchoring process, she had one shot at a successful anchor job. Ultimately it all went fine, and everyone went to bed at about 2am.
The next morning we dingied over to Iron Maiden to check in an offer assistance. After a meeting with the owners of Sagittaire, Mike and Diane, as well as Greg and Tiff, Bill and Laurie and Margy on Iron Maiden, Sam and Michelle and Allan and myself from Fly Aweigh, we struck a plan that included a complex crew swap and the goal to tow IM to Puerto San Carlos in Bahia Santa Magdalena, where Bill would have better resources to fix the transmission. Sam and Michelle were moved to Sagittaire, who planned to continue on schedule the next morning with the Ha Ha fleet to Cabo San Lucas. Tiffany moved onto Fly Aweigh, and Greg took up temporary residence on Iron Maiden. I did a quick laundry aboard Fly Aweigh, drying the sheets and towels on the rails and from the jib sheets and the davit bar in the brisk afternoon breeze with some help form Sam, we went ashore for a short visit to the Ha Ha beach party, ate a quick meal, did the crew swap, and took naps. At 11:30pm we had a late-night briefing aboard Fly Aweigh, preparing to start the "evolution" as Greg and Tiffany call it, the Coast Guard name for the entire process of hooking up to Iron Maiden. The brief was prepared and conducted by Greg and Tiff, who lent their vast knowledge and CG structure to the evolution, teaching us much. We do all this in the aviation world -- the process of prep and planning and briefing and discussing consequences and contingencies is not new, but as applied to the nautical realm we have much to learn.
Parts and tow ropes were combined from the 3 boats to create bridles for both boats and over 250 feet of rope between us. Hand-held VHF radios that could roam from stern to helm to bow, as well as the cockpit mounted radios served as fabulous communication throughout the whole process. Most of all, Fly Aweigh really shined as The Little Boat That Could, showing no unusual strain on the engine (75hp Yanmar Turbo Diesel for those who care) and absolutely no problems throughout the 10 hour deal.
Along the way we had some issues to address, like the tides in Magdalena Bay, which can create quite a current. Using that current to help us up the channel was of course our goal, rather than fighting it, or at it's height, losing ground to it, which could be seriously problematic. The tide table we had was not completely accurate, but we lucked out with a slight tidal edge adding a knot or two to our northbound progress. Also, Mag Bay is strange; it's huge but has a rather narrow navigable channel that runs 12 miles up the middle to a point, then zigs almost 130 degrees back to the south for a short leg, then back up. You have to pay attention to the channel markers to avoid running aground. If anyone is interested, look at a Google map of Magdalena Bay for the layout and it's relation to Bahia Santa Maria, where we were anchored when we started the tow: from our spot in Santa Maria, anyone with a good arm could throw a rock to the east over a short strip of sand dunes and it would plop down where we ultimately anchored in San Carlos, 10 hours later. A long leg south, a long leg back up to the north into the bay, a few zigs and zags, all to end up a few miles due east of where we started out. If the fleet had still been in Santa Maria, we might have been able to see their masts sticking up over the dunes.
I have discovered that I like the early morning watch, the one that gets to see the sun come up with a hot cup of tea or coffee and ideally, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (thank you Jon!) For this adventure I was blessed to have that opportunity, watching a magnificent vista as we entered Mag Bay and sharing it with Laurie, who was on watch on Iron Maiden. Laurie and I felt all grown-up with the pros asleep and just the two of us in control of the tow, including several turns, which had to be conducted gradually and with careful coordination. Now I want my 100-ton Captain's license...
4 hours later we pulled Iron Maiden to a good spot on a flat sand bar and released the tow, she drifted to a stop and dropped her anchor, we anchored on her stern and we all gathered in the stifling heat on Iron Maiden to slap each other on the back, eat Clif bars, swap photos, and bask in the glow of our success. It seems the transmission problem is something the eminently resourceful Captain Bill will be able to solve in a few weeks with the help of some locals who will run him around Baja for parts. My mom will stay with them in San Carlos and probably take a bus from San Carlos and meet us in La Paz in a week or so.
Meanwhile, we feel all glowy about the whole experience. Having Greg and Tiffany aboard (Greg joined us for the last leg to Cabo - as I write we should arrive in about 5 hours) has been amazing. They have given us confidence in ourselves and our boat that we might never have gained without this experience. They've taught us more about running a crew. And listening on the radio the night before to Sagittaire, a boat with comparable size and engine capability to Fly Aweigh, as she successfully towed Iron Maiden into Bahia Santa Maria, gave us the chutzpah to offer our services the next morning. Sam and Michelle were gracious and supportive as we booted them off for 2 days, and are no doubt better for the experience. All in all it's been an incredible few days, on top of an incredible few days.
In other news, we picked up another bird a few days ago, a young seagull who shyly hid as far forward on the bow as birdly possible, taking a rest for much of the day, refusing the fish and water offerings from it's human hosts, and finally flying off and into the sea near sunset.
We're loving the boat, despite ongoing failures of small and medium things, and are learning it's systems and rhythms. We're defining our own rhythms as well, although it's a rough process when the days are mixed with time off in port and time at sea on 3-hour watches. We must be getting near Cabo, because we're almost out of food. The fruit and veggies are gone, the eggs are gone, the frozen stuff is greatly reduced. The canned goods are down, the crackers are stale and the ice is melted. But were still not in the wild yet - Cabo has a Costco, and La Paz has a Sam's Club. All we're missing is Trader Joe's. Alas.
As I post this blog it is Saturday, and we have arrived in Cabo San Lucas and done a bit of exploring. I was completely set to dislike this little tourist mecca, but it's got an alarming charm to it, and we're all surprised to find we rather like it. It's too expensive, as promised, and very crowded, hot, and touristy. It looks like someone from the Las Vegas Wynn team got together with someone from Disney and they conjured up a romantic getaway for couples with too much money, or who wish to behave like they have too much money for a weekend. It's crawling with fishing boats, due in part to a huge tuna tournament through this weekend, and you can't walk along the malecón, the waters edge near the marina, without being accosted by every white-shirted waiter trying to lure you into his restaurant, which by the way all serve 2-for-1 ice cold beer. But the surrounding hills and rocks are spectacular, and there's something sort of silly-fun about the compact busy-ness of it all.
So we're enjoying ourselves, and it helps that we can leave it all behind and go back to our boat and look at the chaos from our own peaceful realm on the water. We chose not to take one of the expensive slips (more than a hotel room per night) and are anchored with many other Ha Ha fleet boats outside the marina along the beach. Last night the activity on the beach was true comedy - bands and entertainment spilling out from every luxury beach hotel, fire breathing and juggling shows on the beach, bad 70's disco, techno rock, all doing cacophonous battle with one another. Blissfully, it all ended at precisely 10 o'clock and peace floated across the water.
Today is Sam and Michelle's last day, so we're doing all those last day things - swapping photos, making sure everyone has their documents in order, figuring out how to get to the airport, and a dingy ride out to the tip of the cape where the beautiful natural and famous Cabo arch and gorgeous tall rock formations beckon. A quick swim and then we send them back to reality, whatever that is.