Well, not exactly the jet stream,but couldn't resist the reference to Peter, Paul and Mary (and John Denver). March 28, 2012, leaving Mexico for the Marquesas, about a 2700 mile sail that should take about 3 weeks. We have a nice breeze to get us out of Banderas Bay and beyond, and a full moon. We've been upgrading PACIFIC HWY and working towards this departure since we bought the boat last April. We're so happy we had the opportunity to spend the summer in Morro Bay and the winter in Mexico. Mexico has it all - warm weather, friendly people, good food, good cruising, and a large cruising community. There may be more people from Vancouver spending the winter here than there are people in Vancouver. A friend suggested a T-shirt saying, "I spent the winter in Mexico and learned to speak Canadian."
04/10/2013, Latitude 00.00
Most of us are citizens of the world wide web - a planet with no borders. But in the physical world there truly is a line that splits the globe into two sections: the northern and southern hemispheres. Some say it is an imaginary line. But for mariners it is very real. Once the line is crossed we northerners lose site of the North Star, that pole star that has anchored our night sky and fixed our position on the planet. Instead we'll have the Southern Cross. In the Southern Hemisphere, weather systems circulate in the opposite direction making the 'dangerous' side of the storm opposite of what we have experienced up until now. Good stuff to know! Much fuss, therefore, is made about sailing across this important line. We mere mortals earn the coveted title of 'shellback' and it is customary to throw a party in honor of King Neptune.
The guest of honor, King Neptune does not always grant an appearance for these ceremonies, forgoing the company of most shower and laundry deprived cruisers. But he does make the occasional appearance and, if the offering is top shelf,"cutting that salty taste will bring me around."
As Pacific Hwy approaches the equator, we are sailing in the most perfect conditions: 10-15 knot breeze on the beam, almost flat sea conditions, and all on board happily embracing "the sailor's life for me!" Now pomp and ceremony are what we humanoids crave (in fact, I think a truly pagan ritual TV series would eclipse American Idol and all that other stuff). But with no virgins on board and only sail cloth for costumes, we opted to celebrate with a good splash of our best rum and a few grateful words to the King. We offer thanks to our loved ones (yes, Mother, there is a payout for daydreaming through algebra class) and pour a healthy dose of Mount Gay Eclipse Barbados Rum into the sea.
A tremendous vortex of seawater suddenly appears alongside our tiny speck of a boat in this watery expanse, turning our gaiety into pants peeing alarm. A specter encrusted with black pearls, flamingo tongues, and with garden eels peering out from trailing bull kelp erupts into the cockpit revealing a rather gruff looking merman. So seeing IS believing. What do you say when Mr. Neptune himself lands on your deck. Welcome aboard, SIR? His presence was comparable to a customs officer - you want to be as cordial and tactful as possible because this guy can take it all away. A humbling experience.
Past charter guests have nicknamed me "Capt. Probably" as that was my general response to their inquiries about sailing (i.e. you are 'probably' the best charter guests we've ever had. This is 'probably' the best week of sailing we've ever had.) King Neptune's appearance is probably the most awesome thing that has happened on this trip.
So I ask the Ocean Dude if I can make a toast to him with some more rum. "What else would I be doing here", was his rather taciturn response. "We watery folk are partial to that Mt. Gay and I see you got plenty in that bottle." As I poured a stiff one into his conch shell I asked if he visits all the boats that sail across the equator." Well, to be honest, I'm pretty sick of all those pirate theme parties and usually avoid them. I'd like to have a word with that actor, Johnny Depp - you know, the guy who calls himself Jack Sparrow. Now there's a dime store pirate if ever I saw one. Sterling Hayden, he was the real deal!"
I'm thinking, well that covers the arts. What should we talk about next? I want to thank him for the great ride we've had so far on our trip from Mexico and put in a word about our future sailing plans. But Neptune was beginning to look like a fish out of water and he mumbled something about a lot of other boats crossing the line today and his other obligations. I thanked him for the chat and said that I would always keep Mt. Gay rum on board for him and hoped we could meet again in perhaps another ocean. He said he would remember the rum, but mostly my charming wife. And he gave me one stern warning before departing, "Nice boat. Don't let me catch you putting her on yacht transport. Either you're a sailor or a tourist!" With that, he splashed away leaving a heavy trail of slime on the boat that I am still trying to clean up. And that was the end of our first equatorial crossing and our first sail into the Southern Hemisphere.
Well, we are up to our ears in projects before heading across the Pacific. Our departure should be sometime between March 15 and April 15, but most likely around March 21st. Bruce has taken on MORE projects than planned (for lack of finding qualified help with carpentry stuff) and is feeling a bit stressed. Tomorrow he takes the ham exam so has been cramming for that. The material covered by the exam is like a foreign language that no one uses anymore and very difficult to memorize. But you need the license to be able to speak on the radio and ham radio is how boats keep in touch with each other in the Pacific.
We did have a wonderful week of playing 'tourist' with Maren and Connor. They arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, we participated in an informal race on Wednesday afternoon, we explored PV on Thursday, sailed to Yelapa (an Indian village only accessible by boat) and hiked to a waterfall on Friday, the kids did a zip-line tour on Saturday, we went to a crafts and food fair on Sunday, visited the hippy-dippy surf/beach town of Sayulita on Monday morning, and they flew out on Monday afternoon. We ate dozens of tacos, pounds of shrimp, and mountains of guacamole. Plus there was time for reading, relaxing, and a game of cards. It was a great visit and I hope we can repeat it next year in Tonga or Fiji.
So now we are back to preparing for our trip. We can't wait to put away the tools and sandpaper and get back out on the water.
Here's a photo of our next homestead (just kidding!) in Yelapa and a photo at the waterfall:
Bruce and I brought Pacific Hwy to Paradise Village Marina, mainly because this is the only marina in the area that has potable water and we wanted to fill our water tanks before Maren and Connor arrive. We will keep the boat at the La Cruz Marina while the kids are here, but their water is not drinkable.
At the end of the day we took a walk down the beach at sunset. This is a long stretch of beach with one high-rise condo/resort after another for several miles but, walking along the wet sand at low tide and facing the sunset over the water, you can forget about the concrete jungle behind you.
One condo had donated part of it's beachfront to a turtle conservation group. This is a non-profit group run by volunteers with about 8 turtle experts who are paid by the government. These 'turtle men' patrol the beach on quads (ATVs) and watch for turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. After the momma turtle has returned to the water, the turtle man digs up the eggs and relocates the nest to the conservation site where he digs a nest of the same shape and dimensions and marks it with the date and type of turtle. All the nests are within a fenced area and covered with netting so the eggs are protected from predators. When the turtles hatch, they are collected and taken down to the waters edge at sunset and released. For a $2 donation, you can participate in the turtle release after listening to a presentation by the staff. We were told to first wash our hands with wet sand so that the baby turtle would imprint the smell of the beach and not our human scent, then we were each given a turtle and, on the count of three, we released a total of 50 turtles. This program was started in 2002 and 500 nests were relocated. This past year 9,127 nests were relocated so they feel that the program is working! These are Olive Ridley Turtles and Bruce's turtle was the smallest of the bunch! Here' a photo of three babies making their way into the surf.
We are used to seeing turtles in the Caribbean but had not seen any on the west coast until last month when we sailed south to Tenacatita. Everyday we would spot turtles, whales, and dolphin. On the overnight sail back to La Cruz, Bruce spotted what he thought was a turtle in distress. In the binoculars it appeared that a turtle was tangled in a fisherman's float and was flailing on the surface of the water. Bruce turned the boat around, ready to do his good deed for the day and free the turtle. When we got there, however, we realized that the turtle was not tangled in a float, but tango-ing with another turtle! The next morning, we sailed by another couple of turtles, inflagrante. They were oblivious to us - we sailed within a few feet and they made no move to dive under water or otherwise avoid a potential threat. Ah, turtle love!
Maren and Connor are flying into Puerto Vallarta on Feb. 5th. We can't wait to see them! It will be our first reunion of all four of us in over two years. We don't know when or where we'll be able to get together next so we are really excited about this opportunity to meet in Mexico. It should be fun as there are lots of opportunities for sailing, surfing, Stand Up Paddle (SUP), dining out, music, and maybe even a beer can race. After the kids leave, we'll stay in Banderas Bay until we "puddle jump" to French Polynesia in March. This gives us about three weeks to explore the Mexican coastline before the kids arrive and we plan to continue south, primarily in search of places where we can swim and snorkel.
We are always amazed by the amount of sea life in this area. We see whales and dolphins on a daily basis. The fish we see when snorkeling look like first cousins of the fish we see in the Caribbean - same shapes, different colors. Puffer fish are everywhere and instead of hiding like their shy, Carib cousins, they are out in the open and prefer sandy bottoms to rocks or reef. One variety is bright banana-yellow, another is midnight blue with tiny iridescent white spots. There are trigger fish and angel fish, again with different markings than we've seen before. There is a gray, drab looking trigger fish that is used for ceviche. His more colorful Caribbean cousin was also delicious, known locally as "Ole Wife", but fished out years ago. It's nice to see the fish here thriving.
But, in all honesty, nothing compares to the Virgin Islands in terms of water color and clarity. That's because the Virgin Islands are so small and dry that there is little run-off to cloud the water or turn it green with algae. Our charter guests were surprised to see so much cacti in the islands, expecting the tropical lushness associated with islands like Hawaii. But small land masses do not create large clouds. Rainfall in the VI averages about 20 inches a year. Hard on the flora and fauna but perfect for maintaining crystal clear water. Here in Mexico there are lots of rivers and estuaries emptying into the ocean. The water is not clear but it is nutrient-rich supporting large populations of fish. We are looking forward to French Polynesia and snorkeling their legendary waters that (hopefully) will surpass anything we've seen before.
Snorkeling aside, we've enjoyed the bays that we've visited and are surprised by the number of long sand beaches that break up an otherwise rocky coast. Most coastal towns have a long, sand beach lined with thatch 'palapas' selling food and drinks to the beach-going crowd. There is usually a small fleet of 'pangas'(open skiffs) that fish the local waters and their entourage of pelicans. Often there is live music ashore and the instrument that carries farthest over the water is the tuba! It seems that Mexican music was heavily influenced by German immigrants and what we often hear sounds like a fusion of Mariachi and Polka!
Our favorite anchorage so far is Tenacatita. This is large anchorage with an undeveloped beach and access to a mangrove lined estuary that you can explore by dinghy. At the estuary entrance is a small campground frequented by vacationing Mexicans and a palapa serving drinks and their signature dish, rolle de mar - a shrimp wrapped in fish wrapped in bacon, cooked and served in an almond creme sauce.
But what makes Tenacatita really special is the community of cruisers who base there and especially the self-appointed 'mayor'. The Mayor, Robert, and his wife, Ms. Virginia, are classic tie-dyed-in-the-wool California hippies who, in the early '70's, were founding members of the commune, The Farm. The commune began with about 250 like minded hippies in a caravan of about 60 buses traveling cross country in search of a home and settling south of Nashville, TN. The commune was dedicated to subsistence living in harmony with nature and in its hay-day grew to a population of around 3,000. Robert and Virginia returned to California in the early '90's with their six children (the commune did not believe in birth control!). After their youngest left for college, they decided to become sea gypsies, spending winters in Mexico and summers back in California. Virginia has written a book about their lifestyle, "Harmony on the High Seas, When Your Mate Becomes Your Matey".
Robert is tall and lanky with a snowy pony tail and a twinkle in his eye. Virginia is petite with a braid that hangs to her waist. They are both warm, thoughtful, and generous with their knowledge and their time. Each Friday they host the 'Mayor's Raft-Up' as a meet and greet for cruisers passing through the area. Robert anchors his dinghy off a small, secluded beach known as "Good Dog Beach" and we tie alongside forming a circle of dinghies. Everyone brings their own happy hour libations and an appetizer to share with the group. Robert welcomes everyone, introduces himself, and throws out a theme. This weeks theme was "following your bliss". Everyone in turn introduces themselves, tying into the theme, while platters of food are passed around.
When my turn came I told one of my favorite stories - how I had learned to sail in New York Harbor in 1977 and sailed to Antigua in 1978. I camped on the beach at Cinnamon Bay, St. John and fantasized about meeting a handsome charter boat captain and living on a boat in the Virgin Islands. Six years later Bruce sailed into New York Harbor on a schooner and my dream came true - I "followed my bliss".
In addition to the weekly Mayor's Raft-Up, there are daily activities which the Mayor announces every morning on VHF radio. At 1:00 anyone can join Ms. Virginia's swim to the beach - really a swim and chat - accompanied by Robert in their dinghy who guarantees our safety from any pangas that might cross our path. On the beach we have game of boccie ball. While playing boccie, a volleyball net is set up for a not-too-competitive/anyone-from-8-to-80-can-play game. This is followed by yoga under the palms led by a young mother whose children play on the beach while dogs nap under the beached dinghies and everyone else enjoys a cold beer and maybe Mexican Train dominoes at the palapa. By 5:00, when the no--see-ums start to come out, everyone heads for their respective boats.
When we left Tenacatita we said our farewell on the morning radio net, thanking everyone for making 'Camp Tenacatita' so much fun and giving credence to the adage, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
Arrived in Punta de Mita on Christmas eve. A St. John boat, Midnight Blue, was anchored there and we looked forward to meeting them. On Christmas morning they toured the anchorage by dinghy wearing Santa hats and delivering Christmas greetings and homemade cookies. We introduced ourselves, quickly realized we had many friends in common, and they invited us to a Christmas dinner (lobster!) with other cruisers. We are so grateful for the easy friendship of cruisers who help to make up for friends and families we've left behind in order to pursue this lifestyle.
Next stop, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Huanacaxtle is a local tree and the story goes that a woman was buried beneath the tree and a cross was carved into the trunk. People would say "meet me at the tree with the cross (in Spanish: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle) and hence the name of the town. It is a very charming town, about 6 blocks by 6 blocks. Cobble stone streets and lots of beauganvilla. This is a favorite gringo hangout so there are many businesses and restaurants catering to the ex-pat crowd.
Street tacos are an institution on this coast. A vendor sets up a cart or stall and makes one kind of taco (fish or carne asada). Like the hot dog carts in the states, you get your basic taco and add fixin's - fresh salsas, guacamole, chili sauces, etc. At $1-$2 per taco, it's a real bargain. In La Cruz, this concept was taken to the next level - a large open air restaurant called Tacos on the Street. They serve only one item - carne asada done on the grill - and you order how many tacos, tostadas or quesadillas you want. If you want beer, they leave a bucket of beers on ice at your table and you help yourself. A waitress passes through with a tray of incredibly good flan and you take one if you are so inclined. Every item is about $1-$2 and delicious. They are only open 4 nights a week and are packed. A simple concept that works.
There's lots of live music in La Cruz, as well as one of the best craft and farmers markets I've ever been to, and a fresh fish and seafood market that is open 7 days a week. Then there are the usual cruiser activities - beer can races on Wed. night, Mexican train dominoes, swim club, volleyball, spanish classes, yoga.... it's easy to settle in and never leave. I refer to the lifestyle as summer camp for adults!
But we don't like to stay in marinas and we want to maximize our sailing time in Mexico since we are planning to head out to the Marquesas in March. We are back 'on the road' and cruising south. As we leave Banderas Bay (and Puerta Vallarta) behind, we are also leaving behind high rise condos and air pollution.
After a mellow overnight sail, we are currently in a beautiful quiet anchorage, the air is so fresh, and there are no shore side lights to compete with the stars. Feels so good! We constantly see whales spouting, usually one large plume of water with a smaller plume alongside - a cow and calf swimming in tandem. The weather has been on the cool side at night but the daytime sun is hot and we hope to explore the outlying islands tomorrow and get in some much needed snorkeling. Too much good food and cheap beer and not enough excersise!
Happy New Year - may we all have love, peace,and joy in our lives. Bruce and I are filled with gratitude and send our love to all our friends and family. You are in our thoughts daily and we miss you and look forward to crossing paths again soon!