03/21/2012, Esconida Grande on Espiritu Santo
We spent Solstice in this lovely bay on the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo. Although there was a fairly large camp of tourists who were kayaking, snorkeling, and diving, they stayed to themselves and we stayed to ourselves. Large pangas would periodically ferry a load out to a nearby reef for diving and snorkeling, or a group would pass us in kayaks. I wonder how much a few-day's stay was? It seemed a nice setup.
We arrived in early afternoon after a short morning of motor-sailing, and dropped the hook in 19 feet of water: deep!
And, the wind was still howling. Here's the process. In the Four Corners section of the American Southwest, cold temperatures cause massive volumes of cold air to descend toward the ground. There's a slope all the way to the Sea of Cortez, and that's where the air goes, causing strong, cool wind that can last for many days. We experienced gusts of 28 kts, with steady wind in the high teens. We got great anchor sets, but the boat would fishtail around all night.
During lunch, I ate something that disagreed with me so I was vomiting all afternoon and was less that useful. Still, we managed to get the dinghy over the side, get the solar panels producing, and dropped the Sea Cow onto the dinghy so that Debbie and Philippe could get to shore.
They hiked to the top of the nearest ridge where they came upon a large metal cross dedicated to an American family that had experienced some deadly bad luck, losing a son to a climbing accident, a few more to auto accidents, and most of the rest in a plane wreck. Terrible! They saw black jack rabbits, and oddly, some large shells toward the top of the mountain. Did they get carried by birds? People? What? We saw Blue Herons, some hawks, and lots of gulls and pelicans. My favorite, the Frigate Bird, appeared now and again, soaring high above the sea.
Nature does NOT make any species perfectly adapted! It can't! Disney movies were wrong and it required a bit of re-learning to get over that piece of propaganda. The best that evolution can do is make a species "good enough" since the selection pressure wanes at that point. Frigates appear to me to belie that statement by seeming to be the minimalist bird, having nothing but the barest essentials for its niche. They're pelagic, so have less need for large swimming feet. They have bodies and wings that seem designed to be the perfect glider. I am always impressed with their design and cannot imagine anything to add or delete.
I motored D and P over to a secluded and tiny sandy cove, and they went hiking and snorkeling for several hours. Conni stayed in the cockpit, drinking cocktails and reading in the sun. Happy Conni! I stayed below decks, sleeping and groaning.
We had given D and P the handheld VHF so they called for pickup which was accomplished with few problems, and we enjoyed a fresh shrimp dinner, although I was more subdued than usual. Distressingly, they found that pleasant! D and P had never even spoken in a VHF but Debbie called us with good radio etiquette and used "over" when she was done. Not bad!
It was a lovely place to stay, and the wind finally dropped and allowed an undisturbed night of sleep. Conni and I, of course, are a bit on edge when the boat's not completely safe and tend to worry through the night. We had a great set on the hook, so Wings didn't budge. Never the less, it gets us on edge to have her in even possible danger. I am reminded of one of those little "encouragement" posters that used to appear in schools in the nineties. This one read, "Ships in a harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are made for." Yes, true, but I still like my boat to be safe.
We left late on Thursday morning and headed for Isla San Francisco.
03/20/2012, Ensenada de Raza
Up at 7:30, we were consuming strong coffee by 8:30 with everyone awake. After a frantic but ultimately successful boat search for the two dock lock keys (US$50 deposits each!), Conni traipsed to the marina office to clear us out. We dropped by the fuel dock and filed empty diesel tanks with that good old cheap Pemex fuel for a lot less than we usually spend. We know that Mexico is using its petroleum reserves at an alarming rate, but it's nice to pay so little for diesel.
With all our instruments feeding us data, we headed down the narrow channel to the open Sea of Cortez, with the shallows coloring the waters all around us. Jeez, going around would be easy!
We had had issues with the new Raymarine sounder that we installed in Alameda last year, but while the boat was still on the hard, we removed the paddlewheel assembly from the "triducer" (speed, depth, water temperature) and found that the data connection band on the triducer was corroded, and some emery cloth cleaned it quickly. So far, that simple fix has worked. It's nice to know the boat speed through the water, but the instrumentation uses boat speed and direction through the water to calculate the true wind speed and direction, a very useful set of data. We didn't really need another depth sounder since we have our Interphase forward-looking sounder, but redundancy on this vital instrument is worthwhile. It's nice to have the full complement of instruments working so well.
Winds continued to rise all morning, and finally we had 30 kts on the bow, while we made 3 kts through the water. When we finally changed our heading enough to make use of the wind, we unfurled the jib but did not deploy the main. We had forgotten to tie in the main reef lines! Dummies! There was too much wind to tie them in while raising it, so we made our way by engine and jib.
About half way to Isla Espiritu Santo, I dropped the fishing line into the water and in short order we had hooked a fish. It didn't just jump into the boat, either! The open-faced reel got a giant tangle that had to be untangled while keeping the fish on the line, but we did manage. What a fight! It took about twenty minutes to bring it alongside and it put up a great fight the entire time. It was not a large fish but fought as much as a large Silver Salmon. We bonked it on the head, slit a gill or two, and let it trail in the water to bleed out. We did manage not to cover the boat sides with fish blood this time. None of us has an idea of the species of this fish, but we're all convinced that it's a tuna: thick pieces of dark red meat seem to be tuna to us. [The fish was later identified as a Black Skipjack. "It is normally an incidental catch on live sardinas, rapidly trolled feathers or hootchies, or off the bottom with chrome yo-yo iron. For their size they put up a horrific fight. They are viewed by locals as a bait fish returned immediately to the deep or cut into chunks." We ate it!]
I quickly took the fish to the galley and filleted it, so in twenty minutes it went from swimming to the reefer. Thanks, fish.
The terrain along the west coast of the island is beautiful but stark and unique. Be sure to check the site for photos. It appears to be pyroclastic covered by sedimentary or, perhaps meta-sedimentary. Interesting and like nothing we've ever seen.
After arriving in Ensenada de Raza, we dropped our anchor in the "good holding sand" as described in the guide. Lucky for us, since the wind has continued unabated. We'll still have to take a look now and again, but at least we feel that we'll hold in place. In these enormous gusts, Wings will "fishtail" back and forth as the bow catches the wind and gets pushed downwind. That puts the high-windage sides into the flow, and the boat finally straightens bow-on into the wind. In the 30 kt gusts, we even rattle a few feet of chain through the windlass. Since we're in only 15 feet of water, we can put down 180 feet of chain and gain a 12:1 scope. Jeez, that should be sufficient! For those Alaskan boaters reading this, that's 1-5 feet of water! We're getting used to it, but slowly.
Tonight, after a round a cocktails, we'll try fish tacos.
03/18/2012, Marina Palmira
We attended a St. Patty's Day celebration last night. It was sponsored by the local "Club Cruceros de La Paz" cruisers' club. Although we didn't realize it, there is a community of 200 or so expatriate Americans and Canadians who live aboard their boats here and create their own little town, complete with monthly holidays and activities. People are perfectly happy to live out their lives here in the La Paz sun. I suppose that it could be worse. A US Social Security check goes a long way here and a good many people have established Mexican citizenship so that they can own property or start businesses. One sees quite a few older American men with "nieces", as they are known: young Mexican women who take care of their needs, as it were.
The St. Patty's meal was classic corned beef and cabbage, and plenty of everything. It was held in a local restaurant so we could buy cerveza and green Margaritas. St. Patty's in Mexico is an odd event, to be sure. What must the Pazeños think of it? It's probably no more ridiculous than our Thanksgiving: El Dia del Gracias.
What we noticed was that we were the kids. Imagine! Most were well into their 70s and many were in their 80s and still living aboard their boats. Many of the boats were in marinas, and paying much less than an apartment, I guess, but still they had to take showers off their boats. Most men were pot-bellied and white-haired, most women were in better shape, with a few in very good shape. Pride of appearance reared its head, I think. What an odd reversal of ages, that this community was so old, but I guess that having the time and money to enjoy things like cruising is not normally possible. I wonder if there will be other generations that have the gift of retirement" in which they have disposable income and the life expectancy to use it for many years. As we were strolling in La Paz the other night, we saw an old man sweeping the sidewalks. He looked like he was in his late 80s, but perhaps he was younger. The lifetime of sun had done its work on his skin, so it was difficult to tell. At any rate, Mexico has no social security system so this guy would work until he died, and for most people in the world it's the same. You work until you die. This model of living in a golden age of retirement is new, since World War 2, and never before, and in all likelihood it'll never be again. Only the very rich have had the opportunity that many Americans have now. If you don't know any better, you expect no more. No wonder that people think that Americans are rich! In most countries, only the rich can live as these retirees live.
We got the solar panels wired today! They're not permanently installed, and we won't do that for a while since we haven't decided on a plan for it, but they do work as advertised. One panel can completely power the refrigerator, and it's the largest energy consumer by a long way. The other panel will be able to take care of all the other uses, so I think that we could stay at anchor permanently and not use any fuel for the engine. It's such an enormous relief to realize that!
Make no mistake, we have two 5-ft glass boxes to care for, so they're by no means without a hassle factor. Presently, we we have them stayed in the dinghy that's on the foredeck. I made sure to put the dinghy open-side up, and just set the two panels inside, put the sun cover on it, and strapped it to the deck. They're protected while we sail/travel, but are out of the below decks.
With Debbie and Philippe, my sister and her husband, arriving today, we were under the gun to complete the outfitting of the boat, and we finished as they arrived. Great timing! These two are a fun-loving, easy-going people and are easy company. We'll go shopping tomorrow, using their rental car to hit a few large but distant stores, then take off for our week-long trip. We think that we'll stay at Bahia Balandra, the location of our 2011 Christmas card.
We've met quite a few people since we've been here, and the Alaska mystique has served us well. Everyone wants to know about the snow and darkness in winter. Philippe says that their Nashville, TN newspaper carried a story about how difficult this winter was, so if these cruisers keep up with news, they're certain to be curious.
03/15/2012, Marina Palmira
I think that it was a mistake to assassinate Caesar in 44 BCE. The group should have waited for several more years, I think. Sigh.
When I was a kid, we used to carry around a toy puzzle called a sliding tile puzzle. It consisted of a flat plastic frame with eight numbered tiles set in a space of 3X3 or 9 locations, leaving one space for maneuvering. The object was to arrange the tiles in some ascending or descending order, but accomplishing that required moving every tile around, sometimes considerably out of sequence.
All this is a long way of describing life on a boat. EVERY SINGLE TASK IS LIKE THAT DAMN GAME! Want to use an item? Every item in the area must be unpacked in order to reach the item you wanted. We had the two solar panels on the portside saloon settee so that it would be out of the way of traffic. Where were my tools? Behind the panels, of course. I had to climb onto the settee and straddle the panels, then lean over to access the bin in which all of my tools lay. My friends, when those boxes of tools came out, they stayed out, much to the frustration of my dearly beloved. As a qualified owner of the "bugger gene", I live in squalor with a bit more comfort than does a non-owner.
We were supposed to move from Marina Palmira to Marina de La Paz today, but when Conni called, they innocently asked, "Did you leave a deposit?" No, assholes! No one asked! So, we got bathed and hurried all day so that we can stay here. Ah, well, estamos en Mexico!
Rather than immediately set back to work with the reprieve in moving, we came below to sulk in the shade. I drank a beer. After a suitably long time, we wandered to deck and put on the main sail and "lazy bag". Wings looks like a boat again! I had cleared the deck in preparation for the move, so we're really rather done for a while.
We've now made arrangement to stay in the marina for a few more days. Nice place, lovely, free showers and internet. Why not?
03/14/2012, Marina Palmira
Tasks accomplished today:
All our instruments set into place and tested: Chart plotter, GPS, radar, wind, depth (both forward looking and down), VHF radio. So far, everything works. You never know.
We tested the outboard carburetor rebuild and it seems successful. I mounted the engine on the dinghy and took a 15-minute spin around the marina and it ran well. I'd like to fiddle with the carb settings a bit, but I think that it's OK. I bought a gallon of Mexican gasoline and it's good gas, or the outboard thinks so.
Jib sheet strung and jib attached. We remove the expensive halyards to save them from dirt and sun, so they have to be re-strung before attaching sails. The jib's up but not the main. We do have the "Lazy Bag" or mainsail lazy jack attached to the boom.
EPIRB (emergency locator beacon, water-activated) attached.
LifeSling, a rescue system for crew overboard, attached.
We organized the crap on deck by folding summer sunshade tarps and such. It looks more and more like a sailboat ready to go someplace.
We'll leave this lovely marina tomorrow and motor down to Marina de La Paz. Marina de La Paz is a bit more expensive, but is right in the heart of downtown La Paz so shopping does not require a taxi or shuttle. http://www.marinadelapaz.com/
We also spoke to "Reggie the carpenter", as he is known to everyone. He's the guy who will re-caulk our teak decks next fall. He's the best around, but like many "artists", a bit of a pill. Conni doesn't like him, but concedes that he's the best. We have a contract with Reggie for him to re-caulk our decks and give them another 40 years of life. Overweight, few teeth, a bit sloppy in dress, about 55 or so, he's the epitome of the expatriate who's gone native. He's his own man and I kind of like him. I think that it's a bit of a gender issue, too.
Oddly, or perhaps not, those yachters directly around us here in the marina don't seem crazy about us. Conni noticed it first and I concur. Perhaps it's our music. I mean, who doesn't like Prince singing, "You Sexy Motherfucker"? Search me. Sure makes the work go faster.
An older couple, older than us that is, left for the South Pacific this morning. THEY LEFT FOR THE SOUTH PACIFIC! They calmly backed out their boat, said a few words to people helping with lines, and headed out. They won't see land again for thirty days and have food for 45 days. Man, there would have been a urine trail behind Wings were we about to do the same. Yes, we'll do it, I think, but holy smokes! That's a LONG WAY! When you get there, you have done a remarkable thing.
I think that we'll have Internet access at Marina de La Paz, so I hope to update there.
03/13/2012, Marina Palmira
Whew! What a day.
Here we are from Alaska and we've been freezing at night. Jeez, I guess we've accommodated already. It's been in the low 60s and last night we added a blanket and slept very well. Holy smokes!
After morning rituals were complete, I started on rebuilding the outboard carburetor. I have been reading John Steinbeck's "Sea of Cortez", and in it, they also have a recalcitrant outboard that they named (to avoid law suites, they say) a Hanson Sea Cow. They ascribe to it a malevolent intent and demonic intelligence: it only runs when running is to an irrelevantly close destination. Otherwise, it seems to enjoy riding on the dinghy's transom and letting its propeller spin in the wake provided by the angry rowers. I empathize! Finally, I had analyzed the problem as a lacquered carburetor, caused by my not doing an adequate job of winterizing it. Leaving fuel in a carburetor is a sure way to provide hours of frustration, and I had done the job to myself. I don't accept karma as a life principle, but this had all the earmarks.
At any rate, while in Anchorage, I found and ordered the carburetor rebuild parts, a shop manual (a photocopy of one, anyway), and some spark plugs. I don't think that i mentioned that the outboard is a Sears Gamefisher 5.0 HP from the 1980s. Finding parts is, well, challenging. At any rate, I started this morning by removing and disassembling the carb, a reassuringly simple device. After a few hours of work, including half an hour of soaking in a carb cleaner solution that I purchased here in La Paz, I started reassembly. By the way, requesting a carburetor cleaner is not as easy as it sounds: I needed a cleaner into which one dips the entire carb, rather than the more common spray-on kind.
The first trial failed with gas pouring out of the carb onto the deck. After some thought, some deep reading of the manual, and some tinkering, trial 2 was successful. Really, it should be a great engine that will last for many years, I just have to give it a chance to run.
The bimini cover is on. The Sea Cow (what else can we call it now, even though it runs well?). We're starting to put our gear away since below decks is getting cleaned, thanks to Conni. The solar panels still dominate the saloon, but that's my next task: create the wiring system for them and get them working for us.
Plastic bottles of oil still litter the boat's interior. Tools are in storage boxes, but since the panels are on the port seat, I can't put them away. Conni has handled the jumble extremely well. For those of you who have been reading a while, remember that I spent a week in Petersburg ahead of Conni since I had to replace all the diesel hose and she just couldn't bring herself to live in an open diesel tank with tool everywhere.
Tomorrow, we'll try to mount sails and get the deck cleared. My job is the panels, of course. Our first set of guests arrive next Sunday.
Conni called that she wanted a cigar and asked what I thought. Well, yeah! She started a good Cubano and we slowly smoked it while dinner finished. The night was dark and our two current planets, Jupiter and Venus, were out and lightening the sky. Orion's belt and Orion, were also bright. Orion is overhead, here, rather than on the horizon. Normally, in AK, we see Orion when we're away from town in winter. It's odd when we can see him (Orion, of course) while wearing shorts.
We enjoyed dinner and our conversation moved from this and that to our plans for the next few legs. It seems that we're headed for the South Pacific! I'm so excited! Conni's completely on board. This leg in the Sea of Cortez, next leg the same but ending in Puerto Vallarta. That means in spring, 2013, we cross the Pacific. Wow! Momentous.