There are many strange and mysterious things that live in the sea. There are also many things, unseen things, that go bump in the night, so to speak. This story is about both.
We first heard about Hull Snackers from a cruiser we met on Catalina Island. "You will hear them," he said "when you are just about to go to sleep you will hear them scratching and gnawing at your hull, like rodents from the deep." We laughed. It sounded so improbable at the time.
Our first experience with Snackers was in San Diego only a week later. There is something about shallow lagoons fitted with docks that seem to attract Snackers. Maybe it's the boats themselves within the lagoons that are the enticement but I don't think so. As I recall it was late and we were very tired from a long passage that started that day at 4:00 a.m. We were lying in our bed, just about to go to sleep. It was very quiet at first. Then we heard a high-pitched popping sound followed by a series of scratching noises. Then there were a few sharp crackles followed by more scratches and pops. It was hard to tell where the sounds were coming from. I jumped out of bed and moved to the saloon area. More of the same. The scratchy noises were coming from nowhere and from everywhere. It took a while but we slowly came to the realization that the noises were coming through the hull - from the outside. Something was out there trying to get in. Or maybe something was having a midnight snack on the bottom of the boat. Yes indeed folks, we were experiencing our first attack of Snackers!
We were not alone in that regard. Our friend, Mark on s/v Merkava, also in San Diego Harbor, thought he had mice on board. He heard the scratching sounds late one night and tore the boat apart for hours looking for the furry invaders. Of course his search was fruitless and after several nights he gave up. When we told him about our similar experience and our conclusion they were sea creatures nibbling on the outside of the hull he was very relieved. No mice - just Hull Snackers!
Every cruiser has a theory on what they are. One fellow told us they were baby squid eating algae off the bottom of the boat. Their little beaks make the scratchy sound. Another said they were brine shrimp and the noise was their tiny claws picking tidbits off the hull. Personally, I think they are very aggressive barnacles looking for a home. They throw themselves against the hull, hoping to latch on. They are repelled by the very foul anti-fouling paint, back off and the try again. This goes on all night because barnacles have very small brains. Who knows?
The sounds that Snackers produce varies from one harbor to another. In Mazatlan, at Marina El Cid, they were especially active. Imagine a big bowl of Rice Crispies. Now fill the bowl with milk and put your ear very, very close. Hear the snap, crackle, pop? Now record the sound and play it back at about 2 or 3 times faster than normal speed. And loop it so it plays all night! This might give you the idea. They were so noisy it sounded like the boat had a static electrical charge. One night, determined to see what they looked like, I got out of bed and went on the dock with scoop fitted with a fine mesh screen, purchased specifically to try to capture Snackers. Alas, despite numerous passes along the hull my special scoop came up empty. They are elusive!
So the exact nature of Nocturnal Hull Snackers remains a mystery. Maybe one night, when the water gets a little warmer, I'll put on my scuba gear, hide below the boat with an underwater flashlight and lay in wait for some pesky Snackers to come to dine or do whatever they are doing. If I solve the mystery you'll read about here first on the Sarah Jean II blog!
This is Pedro the one-winged brown pelican who lives on the fish dock at Marina El Cid. From this photo who would ever guess he has a disability?
Some things just make you smile!
Pelicans must fly to eat. Hovering high over the water they spot a school of fish, fold their wings and dive like a falling dart. Their success rate is astounding. To fly is to eat! For this reason one-winged pelicans, especially big fat ones, are a rare site indeed!
When we arrived at Marina El Sid, as Beth approached the marina office she had to stand in line behind an agitated one-winged pelican who was banging on the door, demanding attention, apparently in search of his breakfast. Much like snoopy banging his supper bowl on Charlie Brown's door, Pedro had clearly figured out where the food came from. We learned later that the marina had adopted the pelican and hand fed him every day.
With only one wing he can't fly. But he can swim and can certainly hop onto the dock and wander about looking for food. His main hangout is the fishing dock where he is fed each day. He stands by the fish cutting table, whirling and twirling and squacking in excitement, waking to be fed. He opens wide and gobbles down his treat while the fishing guys pat him on the head like a faithful dog. He has come along the dock to visit us many times. He is really quite pretty with a brown fuzzy mohawk on the back of his neck and a bright red pouch under his bill.
We were happy to see this pelican with disabilities not only thriving but evidently be an important part of the marina community. He certainly made us smile!
You better watch where your step when wandering the grounds of Marina El Cid in Mazatlan. I was taking some pics of a little green lizard by the entrance channel. When I turned around I just about stepped on this big guy! He was about 3 feet long and he stood his ground while I move cautiously around him!
We've enjoyed exploring Old Mazatlan with its colorful buildings, funky art studios and great restaurants.
We have arrived safely at Marina El Cid in Mazatlan. We got here at dawn with the sun rising over the little islands just off the coast. The overnight sail was just perfect - no moon, just millions of stars. We had a steady north wind of about 20 kts all night making for smooth and fast sailing. We sailed most of the night with a double reefed main and a scrap of headsail that give us a nice comfortable speed for dawn arrival.
There was no traffic out there - only one ferry went by en route to La Paz. About 4:00 a.m. we were buzzed by a pod of dolphins doing their green torpedo streak in the water thing. The first couple of dolphin breaths were startling in the dark. Along the way we managed to get a little sleep followed by an afternooon nap at the dock.
Marina El Cid is a combo marina and condo resort with lots of pools, restaurants and bars so we will get to mingle with land people for a change. We've heard all about 2 for 1 margaritas at happy hour so we'll need to check that out!. We plan to stay here for a week visiting the area and starting to do some boat chores in prep for our big jump across the Pacific. We changed our mind on going to Copper Canyon - preferring to chill a little and getting some projects done.
The people here are very friendly. So far we have met many Canadians and discovered several friends from Vancouver are here at the same dock. Our friends, Dick and Ann from Full & By are just few slips over but are home in Vancouver for a visit. We look forward to seeing them next week when they return. Tomorrow we will go on a walking art tour of the Old City with new friends Dave and Maryann from "Star Dancer", an Outbound 44. We met them on the radio this morning, got chatting about boats and now we are heading off on an excursion together. Funny how that works with fellow cruisers. They have been in the area for about 4 years so should be a great source for local info.
Beth is washing the boat right now in prep for a visit from Sarah and Daryl, our recent passage buddy boat friends from "El Tiburon". I better go give her a hand!
01/04/2011, Southern Crossing
The sea slowly ignites into an orange band across the eastern horizon as dawn approaches. It is now about 2 hours since leaving Los Muertos on the Baja Cape.
It's about 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. The boat is rolling back and forth. She creaks now and then as the hull twists against the bulkheads as we ride up and down the swells. There is a mild norther blowing at about 20 knots. Lots of white caps and bumpy swells. Otherwise the sailing is awesome. Nothing nicer than big wind on the beam all day long!
I'm down below having an off watch rest. Beth is up top on duty. It's hard to rest when the radio keeps squacking every few minutes with boat traffic coming and going to Mazatlan. We are monitoring channel 16 to keep in touch with our buddy boat. We left the Baja east cape this morning at 4:00 a.m. in the company of another boat called El Tiburon (The Shark), a Tayana 47. We know them from the Ha Ha. They asked if we wanted to buddy boat with them across to Mazatlan. They wanted to head out early so off we went in the dark. In retrospect it was too early because we now have to slow down so we don't arrive at the mainland before the sun comes up. That being said, our departure in the dark was stunning. The stars were sparkling brilliantly from horizon to horizon. To the west Orion was setting, reminding us that dawn was approaching. Directly overhead an upside down Big Dipper, familiar to us since childhood, reminded us we were under the same sky as family and friends in Vancouver - not so far from home after all. As we sailed eastward we watched the night sky slowly lighten and the stars snuff out one by one until a brilliant band of orange ignited across the horizon heralding the start of what would be an exceptional day at sea!
At the moment we are about half way to Mazatlan and have about 95 miles to go. We should get there about 7:00 a.m. if we can keep our speed down to about 7 knots. Today Sarah Jean just doesn't want to slow down. She's just itching to get to the mainland.
There's not much to do on such passages except eat, sleep, read and take turns on watch. So far there has not been much to watch except the water and waves. We've seen no ships all day. I'm reading the book "Perfect Storm". Beth found it the laundry room at our last marina. I've read it before but there it was sitting on the nav table so I picked it up and got hooked again. I'm not sure why I'm reading a book about storms, rogue waves, how boats capsize and sink and the process of drowning as we sail across open ocean. I guess it makes me glad to be a sailor in Mexico and not a fisherman on the Grand Banks! It is quite riveting and I'm sure I'll finish it tonight. But then what will I do? Maybe some sleep would be a good idea. Beth and I have decided to do long watches tonight so the other person has a good long rest. We'll see how that goes. Hopefully the wind and seas will settle down a little as we get closer to land.
01/02/2011, Sea of Cortez
The Christmas gang, Norm, Beth, Kyle, Amanda & Brian, take a break from frisbee on the beach at Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espiritu Santo.
The Sea of Cortez is over 500 nautical miles long, stretching almost as far north as San Diego. There is so much to see that some cruisers we met in the "Sea" stay here for many seasons and still have not seen it all. Norm & I have been exploring the Sea for the past 6 weeks and we have loved it. We love the remoteness, the isolated fishing villages, the quiet anchorages, and the warmth of the local Mexican people. We met a lot of other Canadians cruising in the Sea, perhaps because it reminds us all of the quiet anchorages of the Pacific Northwest. Some of our favourite places were Isla San Francisco, Agua Verde and Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen.
It was our first Christmas away from home cruising so we felt fortunate to have our kids visit us aboard "Sarah Jean II". They sailed with us for 2 weeks over Christmas from Loreto to La Paz - our daughter, Amanda, our son, Brian and Amanda's boyfriend, Kyle. They were fantastic crew - helping with sail trim, grinding the winches, doing the multitude of dishes and even cooking! We took them back to our favourite anchorages and enjoyed this special time with them - hiking, snorkelling, kayaking. They have just flown back home to Vancouver but they would probably say their favourite place was Los Islotes, tiny islands near La Paz, where you can swim with the sea lions. Brian made a very cool video of this experience with his underwater camera. You'll probably be able to check it out soon on You Tube.
Isla San Francisco was our choice for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Friends Heidi & Steve aboard "Namara" organized a Christmas Eve appetizer party on the beautiful crescent shaped beach in the late afternoon. Cruisers from many different boats congregated for some Christmas cheer and socializing which was very fun. Christmas Day dinner (local lobster) aboard "Sarah Jean II" included Heidi & Steve from Alert Bay, BC and Steve Miller from "Silas Crosby", Courtenay, BC. Christmas music played on the stereo and our Christmas lights sparkled in the cockpit. Our guests provided lively conversation ranging from how to recognize a boobie bird to favourite anchorages in the South Pacific. Even though we were away from our home in Canada I felt so very comfortable aboard our new home on "Sarah Jean".
We plan to cross over to Mazatland on mainland Mexico in the next couple of days. This will be an overnight sail of about 190 miles from Los Muertos. From there we will cruise south to Puerto Vallarta and as far south as we have time for. We have a trip planned back to Vancouver in mid Feb. to visit family & friends. In mid to late March we will be doing the "Puddlejump", crossing the Pacific Ocean from Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas! The lure of the South Pacific is strong for us!
There are so many more adventures we have to look forward to in 2011. Every day we feel so very fortunate to be able to cruise to like this on our own boat - to meet interesting new people, watch the pelicans dive for their food, gaze at the stars at night. We are enjoying every minute!
We wish you all a very Happy New Year and for a happy and healthy 2011.
Photos of our Christmas adventures are now posted in the Gallery.