Reflections on Water
05 February 2018 | Zihuatanejo
February 5, 2018
At first glance, the light glistens off the waves in the sea. If I look a little deeper, I might see a fish or a turtle swimming underneath. And if I look really deep... What might I find there? That is one of the pleasures of cruising; an almost forced opportunity to contemplate.
I used to lead a very, very busy life. As a television producer, I worked 50 to 60-hour weeks. With two children in the house, there were dance lessons to go to, choir practice, volleyball and basketball, Cub Scouts and Brownies, doctor appointments, recitals, homework and well, you know how it goes. And now, with modern technology bombarding the airwaves, the influx of news is constant. I found myself always running, running, running, always doing or planning. I loved that part of my life, but there was little time to sit still and just be.
My life is different now. Because of Jay, I have this incredible gift of living two lifestyles; one is our land-based home on Martha’s Vineyard, and the other is our west coast house, our boat, Cadenza, currently in Mexico. The real prize, though, is time. I have time to stop, look, listen. Time to look deeper.
I’m turning 60 this year. I’m okay with it, I guess. It’s just I am watching my body change and that is hard. My chin is sinking into my neck. Lines mark my face. Age spots are appearing on my hands. My skin is sagging. This is also the time of life where we watch our parents age too. A preview of what might be in store for us. Many of you know my mom suffered from Dementia. The long goodbye, I call it. We watched as her body functions started to cease, one by one. I have often wondered why. There must be some greater purpose for the aging process, but what? And then I read a really good novel, “Breakfast with Buddha."
“Breakfast with Buddha” is about a middle-aged man traveling home to North Dakota to settle his parents’ estate. His sister talks him into taking her friend, Volya Rinpoche, a spiritual guru. Life lessons are learned along the way. It is sweet, humorous and thought-provoking. At the end of the book there are questions for the author. Below is one of them.
Question: “In explaining your belief system, you once made the following statement: ‘In a mysterious fashion not completely understandable to us, everything moves the individual toward humility.’ Please elaborate.”
Author: “If you are young, beautiful, strong, and talented and live long enough, all of that will be taken away from you. If you are tremendously rich, you can’t carry your wealth across the threshold of death. Those are facts, not tenets of any religion. For all but the most conceited or desperately insecure, it seems that you get wiser as you age, and that wisdom and humility go hand in hand. I know it isn’t that simple, and I know some older people who are far from humble. But it seems to me that life is a kind of boot camp, designed to break you down and build you up in a different way – if you let it. So, you lose your ability to sprint a hundred yards, but maybe you gain something more important in the process.”
My prayer has been to age gracefully. For me that meant physically. Now I understand that aging gracefully has nothing to do with the physical and everything to do with the spiritual. This little insight has opened a new window into how I look at my future.”
Thank you, Gail, for sharing this book.
Running on Empty
29 January 2018 | Zihuatanejo
January 27, 2018
After twenty days of hard work (Jay's hard work), the boat was ready for the two hundred-mile trip to Zihuantanejo. Our friend, Don Lehman, had flown in from California to join us for this leg. Provisioning was done. Mild winds were predicted for the next few days. We all agreed, we would leave Thursday, the 25th of January.
Thursday morning, Jay was already out of bed when I heard a strange sound. "Is that rain?" I yelled up to him. "Yup." Minutes later, all three of us sat slumped in the cockpit.
"Rain? Really?" Jay looked at me. "In five seasons, how many times has it rained? Twice?"
"And the weather report this morning says this system could sit over top of us for days." I added.
Now we were feeling like a black cloud was hanging over us and not just literally. It wasn't the rain, necessarily. After all, we had sailed happily under rainy conditions in the Pacific Northwest. It was just so many things went wrong/broke on our way down to Barra we were beginning to wonder if this was some kind of omen; maybe we shouldn't make the trip, after all.
Neither Don, nor I, wanted to pressure Jay. He was worried we would be disappointed. We talked it through and decided that if we didn't leave we could still have a great time in and around Barra. I could visually see Jay's body language change. (These decisions of when to go, or not go - especially when other people and schedules are involved - are incredibly difficult. Don flew in for this. His wife, Bobbi was to meet us in Zihuantanejo and I was committed to writing an article about Sailfest for Cruising Outpost. Everyone was dressed up and ready to go. And then someone has to make the hard decision and it ultimately falls on the captain. A lot of pressure.) Our hesitation only lasted about an hour, though. The sun came out, Jay asked us if we were comfortable leaving. "Our first leg is only 25 miles, Jay. We can always come back. Take it one day at a time." Don agreed. "Okay then, let's go." We untied the lines and off we went.
Our first stop was Bahia Santiago. It is a large, beautiful anchorage that lies next to the even larger shipping port of Manzanillo. We settled in for a relaxing night with incredibly calm seas.
Friday morning came early. Our plan was to leave at 4am so that we could arrive at Isla Grande in daylight. It would take us approximately 36 hours (190 nm) and we would anchor around 4pm Saturday afternoon. I had set the alarm for 3:15, but being anxious, woke up at 2am.
It was pitch black as we left the bay. Jay and I took turns navigating by radar, while Don, and whoever was not on the helm, peaked over the dodger, using every set of eyes on deck. We passed an anchored freighter on one side and a set of rocks on the other. We slowly moved out while dodging another freighter as it came into port. Boy, are they big! Our new friends, Tod and Donna on Single D, were right behind us. It was comforting to know there would be another boat within radio contact on our trip down.
The sun came out at 7:30 and we had an easy motor-sail for several hours. The ocean has many moods and the wind knows just how to stir her up. I can honestly say, after our Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on the way down to Barra, I was thankful for little wind and flat seas. Around 1:30, the wind arrived and we had a nice sail with 17 knots. I was on the helm and with the sails trimmed just right, Cadenza took off like the thoroughbred she is. Things calmed down by evening. As the sun set, we saw the moon was already right above us. It was three-quarters full and illuminated the sea for several more hours. Around 1am, the moon set and the sky lit up with thousands of stars. The seas were calm. Just beautiful.
It seems no leg of any one trip can go without at least one mishap. Two miles out from Isla Grande, we began to prepare for anchoring. We dropped our sails. Jay turned off the auto pilot to find out we had no hand-steering. Hmm. Slight, quiet panic. He quickly discerned that it probably was lack of hydraulic fluid. Good news/bad news. A possibly easy fix, but to get to where we fill it, we had to partially disconnect our electronics on the binnacle. Don and I assisted Jay. Fifteen minutes later we were back up and running.
Sleep-deprived and a little shook up, we decided to skip Isla Grande and headed straight for Zihuatanejo. On the way there, a humpback whale appeared just off our beam. Right then, she jumped clear out of the water, did a full circle and splashed into the sea! Woo-Hoo! Welcome to Zihuat.
It is 5:30 and we are anchored safely in Zihuantanejo after 37 hours. We are surrounded by mountains. Tall buildings are perched along the hills. The bay is full of boats, both power and sail. The wind has died down and the sun still burns against my skin. No matter which way I turn I can't escape it. It is 91 in the cabin with 70% humidity. Sweat pours down my face. My hair is coated with salt and no amount of brushing helps. I haven't showered in three days. Needless to say, I'm a bit grumpy. Jay asks me what is wrong. "Look, we're here. It's beautiful. It's just what you wanted." He is baffled by my mood.
"I know, I know. It's just so hot." I am grateful. Truly, I am. I think I just need a shower and some sleep.
One Enchanted Evening
24 January 2018 | Barra de Navidad
Gail, a restaurant guest, and George roasting Marshmallows
January 22, 2018
It all began when our friends, Walt and Shelly from SV/Dune, said they were leaving the marina soon and we should go out for dinner. "Great." I said. "How about I make reservations at Barra Galeria de Arte and Restaurant? We have been wanting to take Gail there."
Barra Galeria de Arte and Restaurant is just what it says; both an art gallery and a restaurant. One must make reservations because it is very popular. In fact, an evening spent there is more like an event rather than an ordinary dinner out.
I initially made the reservation for five people. Then it swelled to seven, then eight, and then back to seven. On the afternoon of our dinner, I passed Nancy from SV/Aldabra who asked if she could join us. "Sure. We actually have a reservation for eight now, but only seven people. You'll be number eight."
"I'm not certain, but I think Dolce might join us, and maybe Catatude. Do you think that would be alright?" She asked.
"Sure." I said, not really sure at all. "They can probably accommodate us."
This is how it goes with cruisers in Barra. We start our day with boat chores and when it gets too hot, we find our way to the pool. One person talks to the next who talks to the next and soon we have a party of twelve. It's a very friendly community.
Around 5:30, we called the water taxi and headed over to Barra proper. It is about a five-minute ride in a panga. The lagoon is surrounded by mountains with palms trees lining the shore. Palapas stand behind them. The sun was low in the sky and the wind through my hair felt refreshing after the heat of the day. It was a delightful way to start the evening.
We all gathered on the rooftop of the Alondra Hotel. It has become a daily ritual where the cruisers congregate to watch the sunset. The bar serves drinks, but no food and is sparsely decorated, if at all. The décor is the view. The sunsets over the Pacific Ocean are stunning and everyone gathers around to wait for the green flash. (No luck for me, so far.) I find the evenings even more beautiful. As the sun goes down, the lights come up and the streets begin to come alive with people venturing out into the cool night air.
We left Hotel Alondra, walked two blocks and turned left on the avenue called Mazatlán. It is much like any other street in Barra. The road is narrow and lined with concrete pavers. On either side are low-lying, multi-colored buildings with small tiendas selling everything from fishing gear to clothing to toys to groceries. Their wares are neatly displayed and flow over onto the sidewalks so potential customers are sure not to miss them. Laundry hangs from second-floor balconies. Dogs roam the street while roosters pick at the trash. Music rings loud from cars as they pass by. What makes this street different, though, is the restaurant. In daylight, you might pass it, but at night, you can't miss it. Painted a bright orange with potted plants on the porch ledge, it is what lies beyond the open doors that pulls you in.
After a short walk through a hallway, the entrance reveals a beautifully landscaped palm garden. It is the center focus of the restaurant. To one side, they have created a small beach setting, complete with a bonfire and four beach chairs. Tables are scattered about under the stars. Candlelight flickers from every corner. In the center of the garden is a large bird cage where cockatiels and finches sing along with the soft music piped in on the speakers. In the very back sits a lounge area with a wooden tequila-tasting bar. A very old Tamarindo tree reaches high into the sky.
On either side of the entrance hallway are two small rooms. The one to the right is called "Rosa" and is set-up for customers. The walls are covered with local artists' paintings. The other is the "Galeria." It is filled with photography by the owner, Robert. He has all kinds of photos, but it is his portraits that I find most captivating. Robert has an eye for the human soul and reveals it in his art.
The restaurant/gallery is owned by Robert and Rosy. I believe he is Canadian (not really sure about that) and she is Mexican. The photography is his. She is the chef. The building has been in Rosy's family for generations. In fact, Rosy was born in the Galeria room. This is her home and there is no other place she would rather be. Some of her recipes have been handed down from her grandmother. To that, Rosy has added her own artistry. Only two meals are offered per evening. One is always a variation of a chile relleno and the other is usually a meat dish. The food is exquisite and we have never been disappointed.
When we enter, we are immediately enchanted by the setting. Robert comes over and welcomes us. He shows us to our table. Suddenly our eight becomes nine as our yoga instructor, Sandra, joins us. Meanwhile, Mark wanders back to the lounge and finds a lone sailor sitting with his dog. He invites Dave and Bernie to join us. Now we are ten.
After the drinks are served, we are offered a complimentary appetizer. Tonight, it is two fried tomatoes with a cilantro sauce. I ordered the chile relleno with chicken. Jay ordered the barbecued ribs. The platters come with fresh steamed vegetables and rice. Dessert is chocolate cake. I decline and Jay accepts. I surrendered and took a bite. And then another. And another. We are then served a complimentary shot of tequila. Robert joins us and makes a toast. He has been a constant presence to the customers throughout the evening, chatting and making sure all our needs have been met. The very last surprise is marshmallows on sticks. We are invited to sit around the beach fire and roast them. A fitting ending for a perfect evening.
I have wondered what it is, exactly, that pulls us in to the restaurant. Could it be the soft glow and flickering of fire? Or, maybe it is more than that. Maybe it is the spiritual energy of Rosy's ancestors that lures us in.
The Sludge Report
13 January 2018 | Barra de Navidad
January 12, 2018
On the trip down from Punta de Mita to Barra we had other problems too. Our engine kept coughing and then would quit. A little concerning. Jay attributed it to the big waves and our rocking and rolling kicking up the sludge. He said it was probably getting caught up in the lines, cutting off the fuel. He went below, gave her some oil and switched from the port tank to starboard. All was good for a while.
Then, five miles out of the entrance to Barra de Navidad, the engine started coughing again. Jay rushed down below, put on the fuel pump, gave her some more oil, checked the bleed screw and tightened some hose clamps. She came back and we made it into the marina with no more issues.
Once the boat was settled down, we could see that the fuel filter was filthy. We decided it would be prudent to polish the fuel tanks. And was it ever!
Jay opened the port tank and not only did he find it full of black sludge, (They filled up a lasagna pan with it.) it was completely empty of diesel! How could this be? It's true, we don't have fuel gages, but we are very careful to log our engine hours and keep track that way. It was so disconcerting, it kept Jay awake all night.
The next morning, after Jay, the mechanic and two other guys polished the port tank, they opened the starboard tank which was entirely full. Now we were really confused. It turns out, the lever that switches from the port fuel tank to the starboard fuel tank was filled with sludge too, so when we thought we were switching over to starboard, we weren't. The guys took all 65 gallons from the starboard tank, ran it through a filter and put it in the port tank. Then polished the starboard tank. They also cleaned the filters and lever.
Today we went over to the fuel dock and filled the starboard side with another 65 gallons. Cadenza purred her way back to the marina.
What can I say? It's a boat!
Angel on the Spreaders
08 January 2018 | Barra de Navidad
It had been a tough day. Not dangerous, just tiring.
We left Paradise Village Marina the day before and anchored in Punta de Mita. All was well until the morning when the windlass wouldn’t pull the anchor up. It was sticking. After about thirty minutes, Jay was finally able to raise it and we were on our way.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun was just rising and the seas were relatively calm. After breakfast, Jay went below to work on the windlass. Moaning Myrtle (Our name for the autopilot thanks to our friend, Alison.) was driving the boat. Gail, who was visiting from New England, and I were chatting, looking for whales and enjoying the beauty. Our plan was to take a day trip to Ipala and spend the night there. Then on to Chamela for a couple of days, followed by a stop at Tenacatita and ultimately to Barra de Navidad where there is a marina. What is the saying? “I make plans and God changes them.”
Around 1300, I noticed white caps behind us and knew that the wind was beginning to pick up. It wasn’t long before the wind was a steady 25-30 knots and the seas rose to 10 to 12 feet. I took it off auto pilot because it was too much for her to handle. We were flying south. Sometimes we would sail down a wave at eight knots. Meanwhile, Jay was still below trying to fix the windlass.
We were running dead downwind. With the waves pushing us around, it was a constant challenge to keep Cadenza in the pocket so we wouldn’t jibe. I did fairly well, but I did jibe once. At exactly the wrong moment. Jay was about to put the windlass back together and had the bolt in hand when the jerking of the boat forced him to drop it in the anchor locker. Gone. Now what?
We couldn’t go into Ipala even if the windlass was working because of weather conditions. It is a fair-weather anchorage. And with the windlass not working properly, we didn’t want to take the chance we would have to pull it up with the hand lever. Certainly not with one hundred and fifty feet of chain out and a 65-lb. anchor. The decision was made to skip the anchorages and go all night. We would arrive in Barra in the morning.
The wind calmed down around 2200 and the waves soon followed. The moon rose. It was a bright orange as it came up from behind the mountains. Absolutely beautiful. And almost full! The rest of the night was exactly what you dream of for a night sail. Calm wind and smooth seas.
Some time in the middle of the night, I was at the helm and looking up at the mainsail. I noticed something on the port side. I leaned over to see what it was. “Oh my God! What is that? Do you see that?” I asked Jay and Gail. It was a big white bird like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s wingspan was probably four feet and they were fluffy. It stayed there by the spreaders just flapping its wings. “It’s a bird! No, an angel! Maybe it’s my father. Or Mom. Or maybe Jack.”
“Are you hallucinating?” Jay wanted to know.
Both Jay and Gail saw it. It stayed for about a minute. As it flew away from the boat, I followed it with my eyes and it disappeared. Literally!
The next morning, I asked Gail, “What do you think it was?” She sat quiet for a moment.
“I don’t know.” She said. “But it was special.”
That it was.
The Old Woman
27 December 2017 | Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
December 23, 2017
I see her every morning. The old woman sits in the hotel lobby, in the same chair, with a cup of coffee. I am curious about her.
The old woman is a large woman, plump with round calves that peek out of her knickers. I am guessing she is tall, although I have never seen her stand. Her face is strangely shaped, long, almost rectangular, and she wears her white hair cropped short with tight curls. Her dark eye glasses are in stark contrast to her fair complexion. She doesn't look like your typical Mexican, but when she speaks Spanish it sounds like her native tongue. Her English is spoken with an accent. She rarely smiles, only stares off into the distance, watching, until someone comes and sits by her side.
The first week we arrived, a woman - a younger, prettier version of her self - came to visit. Every morning she would join the old woman for coffee and they would converse in Spanish. Her daughter maybe? This woman is blond and fair too, but clearly looks Canadian, not Mexican. Rumor has it the owners of the hotel are half Mexican and half Canadian. This would explain her appearance. I wonder if the old woman is the owner or, more likely, the owner's mother.
One week later, the younger version of her self no longer comes to visit the old woman. Now it is the hotel workers that come to visit her. It is the el jefes (chiefs/bosses) that sit by her side and keep her company. Now I think it is even more likely she is the owner's mother. The el jefes have come to pay their respect.
Yesterday, an American couple went over to say hello and I overheard part of their conversation. The old woman has five grandchildren. The youngest boy just turned eighteen. It seems she is like any other grandmother. She worries about them. One or two are particularly worrisome as I heard the American lady laugh and say, "Cut them out of your will!" I cringed at the insensitivity of her comment.
I wonder where the old woman goes when she leaves the lobby. Does she have a suite on the top floor overlooking Banderas Bay? Does she spend her afternoons watching Mexican soap operas and intermittently napping? Who joins the old woman for supper? I am curious about her.
Jay suggests I go talk with her. Strike up a conversation. Maybe even interview her. I am not so sure. I enjoy a mystery. Mysteries make life interesting.
UPDATE: I have since learned the old woman is the wife, not the mother. And yes, they live on the top floor overlooking Banderas Bay. They are originally from northern Italy but emigrated to Canada long ago. Hmm... I wonder what brought them to Mexico?