03/28/2010, the pleasant village of La Cruz
It's that time of year. The "Puddle Jumpers", boats bound for the South Pacific are leaving La Cruz and other west coast ports for those magical islands. I am excited for the skippers and crews. It's great to be here with those preparing for what will undoubtedly be a memorable passage. I admit that I would like to be doing the same thing. I can envision the long downwind passage aboard Exit Strategy. The boat was designed with tradewind passages in mind. Amels came with a novel twin articulating spinnaker pole setup that allows the poles to project about 20 feet out to either side of the boat. We have been impressed with the performance of our twins coming down the coast and across the Sea of Cortez and anxiously await the opportunity to fly those sails across the Pacific. That will have to wait until next season at the earliest. Right now we are still trying to finalize our summer plan, which unfortunately is not going to be exploring French Polynesia and points west. Why not you ask?
Those that know us recall that we left to go cruising about a year ahead of our original schedule. Once we made the decision we sailed out the gate and turned left 6 weeks later. We created a project plan with a list of all we hoped to do and color coded the items in order or priority. Red items were things that we had to have done before we left the slip. In the following weeks we changed the color on several of those items. Reality is neither us nor the boat is ready for crossing the Pacific. If I was a singlehander, the decision to leave without basic safety gear like an EPIRB, SSB (single sideband radio) and a liferaft would only have ramifications for me. I could emulate Chichester and say if the boat sank from under me I would simply drown like a gentleman. I am not a singlehander though, and my sailing partner is a woman I love. We made the decision to sail to Mexico with a SPOT transmitter and survival suits in the event we suffered a hull breech. We are very confident in our Amel Maramu and if we were holed anywhere forward of the saloon area (nautical speak for the living and dining area) we could close our watertight door and have an excellent chance of staying afloat and even keeping the boat moving. Rescue resources along the coast exist and other boats are often within hailing range on the VFH. In many areas along the coast we could even use a cell phone. I have even been on the internet while 6 or 7 miles offshore. Crossing the Pacific demands a higher level of self sufficiency and either a satphone or SSB for long distance communication. Although I am confident the boat would do fine I feel it would be irresponsible to set off without those items. This is a personal decision applying only to us and our boat. Anyone else contemplating a similar crossing will reach their own conclusions, which may or may not be the same as mine. I know many people have done far more impressive crossings with less substantial boats and no safety gear. Again it is solely a personal decision.
Unrelated to the state of the boat is a family commitment in the fall. Jean will be adding another grandson to her collection, which now numbers two. Congrats to Meggin and Rob. So what are Jean and Dave doing this summer?
As I mentioned earlier we are still deciding. If we remain in Mexico we need to be somewhere with good internet since Island Planet Sails relies heavily on email communication. That eliminates the best spot to summer, the remote islands in the upper Sea of Cortes. We can stay here in Banderas Bay which is a good hurricane hole. Another option under serious consideration is going to San Diego and making money. Cruising boats run on a combination of sails, diesel, and money. Putting our noses to the proverbial grindstone could really help get the boat ready for crossing the Pacific and eventually reaching our milestone destination of Southeast Asia. When Jean and I wintered in Thailand and Malaysia a few years ago we vowed to our friends that we would be coming back by boat. We fully intend to return there aboard Exit Strategy.
Another advantage of being in the states is that Jean will have an easier time approaching funding partners for easykeeper.net, her web based livestock management application. Jean invested a great deal of her own money in developing this amazing SaaS (software as a service). When she was laid off she lost the funding source. The product that has been exceedingly well received by a group of beta testers and she only needs a relatively small amount of money to finish the first phase. The success of easykeeper.net will play a large role in allowing us to cruise and continue sharing the experience through our blog. So if you know anyone looking to back a very promising business with 25-100K available for investing let us know or pass our contact information to them.
It is time for me to sign off and do a few boat projects. The boat is a bit messy in Jean's absence. Please don't tell her. I will have it cleaned up before she gets back. On the agenda today is some toilet maintenance and sourcing some parts for Jean to bring back from the states.
I am keeping a weather eye on the horizon for our friends on Third Day and their marauding pirate kitten, Cortes. I anticipate they will be here shortly.
03/24/2010, La Cruz, Nayarit, Mexico
We've all watched countless boats get outfitted for the big adventure. Thousands are invested in custom stainless steel arches, davits, and canvas. After all who wants to head south without covers for everything, awnings, and all those goodies?
If you're doing all that stop. There are plenty of talented canvas workers and stainless steel fabricators in Mexico. What you need to do though is bring your own materials. You can purchase rolls of Sunbrella and stainless tubing (316 preferably) and bring it with you. In the late fall and winter months you really don't need awnings. Bring everything with you and build it down here. You will have the advantage of being able to to talk to some long time cruisers and get advice on who to use and how have your canvas built. As a general rule any awning needs to be quickly removable. Bring as much of the needed hardware for your canvas as you can. One person I spoke with recently got charged around $85USD for some shock cord used on the edge of a foredeck awning.
Need help sourcing materials? Drop me a line or visit our website and use the quote request form. I can steer you to a supplier or it may be something we can arrange. For those of you in the SF Bay area we bought our stainless tubing from Alco Metals in Hayward. We bought enough stainless for mast pulplits and a swim platform along with the aluminum we used to mount the solar panels. Total was around $243. We probably saved 70% compared to buying stainless here. Unfortunately we are a bit short on cash so we have not been able to get those items fabricated. We brought 31 yards of Sunbrella with us. We are doing our own sewing so we've been going through some of that. The next big sewing project will be awnings. It cools off enough at night we haven't really needed them yet here in Banderas Bay.
Today's picture is one of my favorites from our time on Espiritu Santo. It was taken at Bonanza Beach on the east side.
03/22/2010, La Cruz
This morning Jean and I awoke to brilliant blue sunshine streaming in our stateroom hatch, the sounds of seabirds, and the ever present surf washing the nearby beach. It was another perfect morning aboard our ketch Exit Strategy. However, we both knew that the next 21 mornings could not start in the same fashion. Today was a travel day for Jean, who will be in California for the next three weeks. We will miss slowly waking up together in this magical environment.
Since departing Alameda on October 19th, Jean and I have been together practically 24/7. We are like many cruising couples, sharing a floating island and truly being together. In our old lives Jean took the ferry to San Francisco for a long workday at an internet startup and I walked a short distance to the Island Planet Sails sales office minutes from our dock. The best hours of the day were given up to work and business. Cruising changes the dynamics of a relationship. Most couples are not used to being together around the clock. I have said in the past that cruising makes or breaks a relationship. That may be generalizing to an extent but a relationship will change when a couple goes cruising. Like the tides relationships have their highs and lows. Like a sailboat, sadly, some relationships founder on a low tide. Others relationships thrive, deftly, or perhaps just luckily maneuvering around the hazards lurking under the surface.
After seeing Jean off at the airport I took the bus back to La Cruz. Walking from the bus stop to the marina my spirits were buoyed by some of the typical things around the village. As I walked down a side street, a rooster crowed loudly. I had to look for several seconds before spotting him proudly striding a decaying brick wall. Another block down a naked and giggling toddler ran in circles. Nearby a woman lay smiling in a hammock. At the plaza couples sat together on benches and kids played on the grass. Some older citizens sat, gazing, perhaps remembering when they were one of the kids playing at the plaza or a young lover with their "amor de la vida" at their side.
My thoughts wandered, thinking about Jean and the upcoming weeks. Although we miss each other the time apart will be well used. And before we know it we will be enjoying another magical morning, waking to brilliant blue sunshine streaming in our stateroom hatch, the sounds of seabirds, and the ever present surf washing the nearby beach.
This is the first of a series of blog posts sharing thoughts and observations regarding preparation for cruising Mexico.
Coming south next season? Here's some things to consider.
Rig - Please don't leave the states without a thorough rig inspection and tune. Some friends of ours who were scheduled to be leaving right around now for the South Pacific just had their mast pulled on account of a rigger discovering some serious defects. They are hoping they will still make it out this season but once you pull the stick you never know. Having the rig in tune will help the boat sail better and reduce shock loading and other potential damage.
Sails - Remember what I wrote about importing difficulties in yesterday's blog post? Don't be one of the cruisers who head south with all the latest gadgetry and old sails. You will be amazed at how quickly those sails which have worked okay for daysailing and weekending will deteriorate after weeks or months of continuous use. Although Island Planet Sails and other lofts are more than happy to help get your new sails shipped down to Mexico you will pay additional for shipping and handling even without the duties. Most lofts in Mexico mainly do repairs and new sail choices are limited. Make sure your working sails are in good order before leaving. Once you get to Mexico there will be a fair amount of light air sailing. You will need at least one decent cruising spinnaker or other reaching/downwind sail unless you enjoy the sound of your diesel, exhaust fumes, and more heat in the boat from the engine. I will have a post up dedicated solely to sail inspection, repair, and replacement in the near future.
Electrical - Many cruisers including us have had electrical issues. We saw a spate of failed external voltage regulators this season. Even conscientious and well prepared cruisers have had some surprises. Some friends here in La Cruz purchased new batteries before leaving the states and those batteries are failing prematurely. Bring plenty of wire, a variety of connectors, good multimeter, fuses, etc. Your solar panels will probably not perform as well as you think. Keep in mind that the winter days don't have that many hours of daylight compared to what you experienced in the summer elsewhere. The boat will be swinging at anchor and some panels may be in shade, especially on a ketch with panels on the sides outboard of the mizzen boom. A wind generator may be annoying to hear and ineffective in the calmer anchorages but those who have them seem to appreciate the extra amps. One thing we wish we had bought is one of those Honda "suitcase" style portable 2kw generators. In addition to being a great backup power source, especially on those cloudy days, in the event of a major charging system failure you won't have to find a marina to plug into shorepower. Another item on our wishlist is netbook computers. Our Dell and Lenovo notebook PC's are terrible power hogs. If we want to spend any significant amount of time on the PC it usually means running the engine to charge batteries. The new netbooks are inexpensive and much easier to haul around.
Scuba gear or "hookah" compressor - You will accumulate growth on the bottom a lot more frequently in the tropics. You will definitely want to knock off any hard growth on the prop. Divers are ridiculously expensive in places like Banderas Bay. Your hookah will quickly pay for itself and free you from having to take a chance on divers who may or may not know what they are doing. We avoided one anchorage at Isla Isabella because we were concerned about fouling our anchor. Although Jean and I are both certified divers we lack scuba gear. We will have a hookah soon. Freeing up one fouled anchor that otherwise would have been abandoned will save over a thousand dollars and not force you into a marina for lack of a good primary anchor. Anchors and chain are not cheap in Mexico. If you can afford scuba gear (high on our wish list) then you will enjoy some phenomenal diving. At a minimum we think a hookah is required equipment.
Watermaker - A nice to have but not a must have in our opinion. Hauling bottled water to the anchorage is manageable. We are keeping a close eye on a company that is getting ready to introduce the first reasonably priced watermaker for marine use. It will use the same type of components as the units already on the market but use a much more efficient business model. Hmmm a more efficient business model. Sounds like the reason our company is able to support our cruising and keep customers happy.
03/20/2010, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
A few days ago I went to the masthead and replaced our VHF antenna. We had been suffering from poor reception since San Blas. We had a tough time hearing our friends the Borens who were anchored in the estuary while we were in Mantanchen Bay. Ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away failed to prove itself as a viable strategy. By sheer good fortune our friends Tom and Mary Ellen were in California when we did some troubleshooting and isolated our radio problem to the antenna. Tom agreed to visit West Marine in Santa Cruz where I had a replacement antenna waiting at will-call.
One of the biggest challenges while cruising is getting spare parts. Some countries are tougher than others. Since our vessel has a TIP (temporary import permit) we are theoretically allowed to have parts and equipment "necessary for navigation" imported without being charged any duty. Unfortunately not all customs officials are aware of the rules and you hear people relate tales of being charged exorbitant fees to import parts. In spite of what some of the cruising guides say Puerto Vallarta is not the greatest place to have work done or buy gear for the boat. The only major chandlery in town is Zaragoza and David Zaragoza picked up where the pirates of yore left off by charging extremely high prices and failing to stock a lot of things that should be on the shelf. A newer chandlery, Vallarta Chandlery, recently opened and we have high hopes that this store will prove a worthy competitor for Zaragoza. The owner, Jorge, spent many years in the US working on boats and has a great feel for the market. The physical location is somewhat small but it appears there may be some room for expansion. Any readers in Banderas Bay will find the store across from the Vallarta YC in Paradise Village. The chandlery frequently monitors VHF 22. With our new antenna we can even hear him!
Coming next is a series of blog posts sharing what we see going wrong with our boat and other vessels. We have been quite fortunate since we left Marina Village in Alameda. The only expenditures for repairs in Mexico have been re-welding our gooseneck in La Paz ($60) and the new VHF antenna ($40). $100 is not bad considering the amount of sailing we have done since 10/19/08.
03/15/2010, La Cruz
This weekend I learned one of the reasons that yachting is not growing as quickly in Mexico as it could. As I mentioned in a previous post the second annual Latin American Boat Show is under way here in La Cruz. So on Saturday morning I decided to go check out some motor yachts. No I'm not veering off to the "dark side." This boat show only has one sailboat that I will discuss in a moment. To my surprise I found out that at this boat show the boats are for the most part.... OFF LIMITS! That's right. You can't tour the bloody boats. Hellloooo Mr. Yacht Broker!!!! The reason people attend boat shows is to see the boats. The story I got is that the owners of these yachts were on board and did not want to be interrupted while entertaining their friends. It might be possible to come back after 5:30pm and visit a boat. I met some nice people from Canada who really regretted spending 150 pesos on a ticket that only allowed them to visit the vendor booths, many of which were for goods and services not related to boats.
I realize that very few people are qualified buyers for an 85' Azimut, or even for the 68 footer. Visiting a large yacht can be inspirational for some people. And perhaps while that big yacht may remain a dream, they may be inspired to buy a smaller vessel or charter a large one for a special event. When I was a young lad I remember getting on a Hawkfarm 28 at a boat show. I was enthralled with that Wylie design although I really had no idea of what I was looking at. I never bought a Hawkfarm but I have owned 12 or 13 other sailboats ranging in size from 10 to 48 feet. By not letting people on the boats the brokers are unwittingly promoting a snobbish and exclusionary air around boating. Boat shows left an indelible impression on me as a youngster. I can still recall walking in the main entrance, seeing the Oscar Meyer boat, and hearing "Up, Up, and Away" being played over and over again. If Mexican businesses want to grow yachting and boating they need to take a queue from their neighbors to the north and Europe and let people step foot on the boats.
The sole sailboat at the show is a beauty and was open for visitors. She is a 2001 Catana 472 named Moon and the Stars. She looks to be in great shape and is ready for all sorts of adventures. Jean liked her quite a bit as well; describing the boat as the nicest cat she has been on so far. Moon and the Stars is listed by Yachtfinders/Windseakers in San Diego. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Ron Gullan, the listing broker, who aside from being a knowledgeable and experienced sailor, is a genuinely nice guy. Ron also had the best giveaway at the entire boat show - cookies! Thanks for that packet of Oreos Ron! Moon and the Stars is berthed here in La Cruz so if anyone is in the market for a vessel of that caliber I would be happy to poke my camera in the nooks and crannies and do a bit of a pre-inspection before you fly down.