Reflections by Kirk
14 September 2016
Summer is drawing to a close. It has been an unusually nice summer up here in the Bahia de Los Angeles area in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez. Air and water temperatures have been at least five degrees cooler than last year. Thunder and lightning storms, known down here as chubascos, have occurred with much less frequency than last year. We had a close brush with a hurricane. Newton passed about 80 miles away last week, but we had only moderately stronger winds than is normal and maybe one-quarter inch of rain. So far so good, but the hurricane season officially lasts for about another seven weeks. We are currently waiting to see what will happen with a new tropical disturbance that preliminary forecasts give a chance of coming in contact with the Baja Peninsula.
Prior to Newton, rainfall has been non-existent on the Baja Peninsula for about one year. We have heard reports that farmers and ranchers experienced very difficult times. Cattle have been dying for lack of water and there was not much on which to graze. Even goats, which are very durable animals, have had problems. Feed prices have been much too high for the poor ranchers to buy much of. We hope that the heavy rains in the southern portion of the Baja from hurricane Newton will help. On the other hand, coyotes and rabbits seem to be getting along very well. We often see coyotes roaming beaches and hear them yipping away at night. Walks just a short way away from the beach reveal lots of rabbit tracks through the desert although we do not see them often.
The lack of rainfall has had another consequence for us cruisers. Bees seem to be at nearly every anchorage in relatively high numbers. We know that, like livestock, they are also desperate for fresh water, and cruising boats are always a likely source. When we enter a new anchorage, one or a few scouts come almost immediately to check us out. We hear the same from all of the other cruisers up here. On Linger Longer, we have put bee attenuation procedures in place. Screens go up on all open windows and hatches, so the bees cannot get inside. The back of our boat has a swim step, a small platform just above the water. There is a locker built into the transom that holds our propane tanks as well as a faucet with a long hose and a wand on the end so that we can rinse off or shower on the swim step. This turns out to be the biggest problem for us in bee control. Propane is heavier than air and so any fumes settle to the bottom of the locker. We have vents in the bottom allowing any propane fumes to drift out, mix with the outside air and dilute enough to eliminate any hazard. Because this locker also has a faucet, there is almost always a bit of residual water in the locker. The dilemma is how to screen off the vent opening to prevent bees from getting in, but still allow propane fumes to vent. We played around with different materials and finally found one that seems to work and we taped it in place. The scout bees still come to check us out, but when they find that there is no way to get fresh water, they do not send out the “come and get it” signal to the rest of the hive. One time the tape came off the vent screen in the propane locker. Bees could get into the locker and the tiny bit of fresh water that was lying in the bottom from our faucet. By the time we woke up and went out into the cockpit one morning, scores of bees were swarming all over the place, effectively confining us to stay below deck until nighttime when they finally went away. We fixed that before the next AM and now check the tape regularly.
When we first came up here last year, we did not understand the bee problem, but learned pretty quickly. There were no screens up and we went off in the dinghy to explore. Upon our return we found that bees had taken over the boat. The faucets in the galley (kitchen) and in the head (bathroom) attracted swarms of bees. There are some of those spiraling mosquito coils on the boat; and since Kris knows where they are stowed, I volunteered her to go down below and light one. She did and the bees, for the most part went away. We do not have the little screens in our faucets and the first time we used water about ten bees flew out of it. Surprise! Even though we now have reasonably good precautions in place, we still get stung occasionally. Kris has an excellent remedy. There is a small bush in the Baja called Creosote Bush. She will snip several small branches, strip the leaves and put them in a bottle with plain old rubbing alcohol. About a week later, it is strained and we end up with a brown tincture. After a bee sting, we remove the stinger and rub some of this liquid over the sting site and residual effects of the sting just go away. We have been told that this indigenous remedy is an analgesic as well as an antiseptic. It works. We know that the bees are just trying to get water to stay alive and that bees are an important part of the whole cycle of life, but sometimes it still seems like we are in a war. When there were just a few scouts, we would sometimes go after them with an electronic flyswatter in the hopes that word would get back to the hive that our boat was a bad place to go searching for water. The flyswatter finally died, so sometimes we flap a cloth around to make them go away. This morning I came up with yet another way to kill a bee. I inadvertently squashed one in my armpit. This was a very effective way to kill a bee, but the resultant sting makes me think there must be a better strategy.
Another boat, that is up here with us had an unusual wildlife encounter. They were peacefully at anchor and the lady was in the cockpit cooking dinner on a camp stove. Sailboat cockpits are not always very large spaces and theirs is no exception. They also have a cockpit drain that is a three-inch pipe leading through the hull and drains just above the waterline. After slaving away over the stove for about half an hour, the lady went below for a bit and her husband came out into the cockpit. He noticed that there was a beautifully colored shape just behind a board leaning against a wall about eight inches from where the cook had been standing. The shape moved and he realized he was looking at a diamondback rattlesnake. From the way they tell the story, the hysteria was mostly contained and the screams were not even heard by a boat anchored nearby. Eventually, calm prevailed and a boathook was fetched from the foredeck. After several minutes of the man trying to lift the snake with the boathook and the snake trying just as hard not to be lifted, the snake ended up in the water. The diamondback knew a good thing and immediately swam back to the cockpit drain and re-entered the cockpit. Another boathook versus snake battle ensued with the snake once again deposited into the water. The man knew what was coming next and tried to keep the snake away from the cockpit drain. Only the snake was also learning and wrapped itself around the boathook in the hope of being lifted back onto the boat instead of having to slither its way back up the drain. The human brain prevailed, with the result that the snake was flung many yards away from the boat and gave up. It just curled up in the standard rattlesnake pose and floated around with its head just a few inches above the water. It stayed just like that until it drifted out of sight with the current. We all know that rattlesnakes are a part of the desert landscape, but we are told that encounters are rare as the snakes usually move away before we even know they are around. None of us ever even considered the idea that rattlesnakes would swim through water much less salt water. It is said that you should endeavor to learn at least one new thing every day. So now we can add rattlesnakes to sharks, jellyfish, crocodiles and other wonders of nature to the list of dangerous things in the waters of coastal Mexico.
While on the subject of unusual wildlife, there are two other bugs of interest. The first is what I call a “bat moth” although we have been told it is more properly called a “black witch moth.” These things are huge, with maybe an eight-inch wingspan and are very darkly colored. The first time I saw one on our boat, it was sitting on the edge of a closed drawer. I got a quick glance at it when I bent over to pick up something I dropped. My head was upside down and the legs of our salon table obscured my view a bit, so I did not believe what my eyes told me. The second glance convinced me that we did indeed have a bat inside the boat. The third, longer glance revealed soft wings and I was then a little less batty. I scooped him outside with a baseball cap. The next time we saw one was at night while enjoying “sundowners” with some friends in our cockpit. One of the ladies started making strange noises and flapping her arms. When we turned to look, all we could see was this giant thing flying out from between her legs. It may take some time before the story of this woman spawning a bat will be forgotten.
A less pleasant bug is known down here as a jejene, also known as no-see-ums up north. These are miserable creatures. They are too small for normal screens to keep them outside the boat and they really are almost too small to see. The bite can sometimes be felt and sometimes not, but the results are rotten. By the next day they itch like crazy and the “welt” seems to last and be continually annoying for weeks. This may be my absolute least favorite creature in the world. They are not everywhere, but if they turn up where we are at, we will be leaving sooner rather than lingering about. We do not go places where people say jejenes are around.
Kris and I recently had an excellent new-for-us experience. We have the very good fortune to know two of the most preeminent scuba divers in the Sea of Cortez. Decades of experience and a love of sharing their passion with others resulted in our first ever scuba diving adventure. We have been snorkeling, but for us snorkeling is floating along the surface of the water and looking through facemasks at the scenery below. And the scenery is quite extraordinary. Up here in the Baja when we look around from the security of the cockpit we see a desert. Granted the desert can, in its way, be quite beautiful especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sunlight is different and brings the many colors of the landscape to life. We have seen thousands of square miles of the ocean’s surface, often wondering what is going on below that we cannot see. Snorkeling has allowed us to see some of the underwater landscape, but the water clarity is not always good and we only see what is in the shallows. That can be awesome. Since these waters are tropical, we see lots of fish that I had only seen previously in fish tanks. We can see schools of fish that we sometimes have for dinner. We can watch the interaction of the fish with one another. Snorkeling has been and I am certain will continue to be a big part of our cruising experience, but scuba adds a whole new dimension. We can go down to depths that we cannot do with the snorkels. The sights are similar, but different. Seems to be bigger fish at greater depths. We can get close to the rocks and see all of the activity that goes on in the crevices and spaces between rocks. There is more variety of corals and plant life. Breathing underwater allows us to feel a bit like the fish we are swimming with. Face-to-fish encounters are not unusual. We look up and see fish swim above us, similar, but different than being at high places up in the northwest and seeing Eagles flying below. Our friends cut open some scallops and we were able to feed puffer fish. They ate right out of our hands. We hope to have more chances to experience scuba, especially with our friends. They have complete extra sets of tanks, regulators and enough of what is needed for us to dive with them and they really want other folks to experience their passion. Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am. It is now easy to see why so many people are addicted to entering the underwater world. I suppose it is unlikely that we will outfit ourselves to be in a position to go diving whenever we want to. I have no idea of the expense involved in acquiring the diving gear, the air compressor and a generator to run the compressor, but expect that it is significant. An even bigger problem for us would be the ability to stow all of that additional gear on the boat. But you never know for sure what the future holds. Scuba most assuredly adds a whole new and wonderful facet to the cruising experience in addition to also adding an element of safety. Scuba would allow us to inspect how well our anchor is set and see what hazards may occupy the bottom of the anchorage as well as the bottom of our boat. In any event, the experience was awesome.
We will be watching the weather very carefully and begin the trip back south where there is once again cell coverage and internet access. Not sure when we will actually be leaving Bahia de Los Angeles, but we are committed to be back in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta) in time to make a trip out of the country to renew our visas and then return to spend time with friends who are coming down from Seattle in early December. Schedules are maybe the biggest dangers to cruisers, so we will be heading that way trying to allow plenty of time for the unforeseen things that always seem to happen.
Life is Good.
S/V Linger Longer
Postscript - Since writing this, we have completed our second dive and are preparing for the third one today, 09/14/16.
Reflections by Kirk
06 August 2016
Photo: Roca Blanca at Isla Partida in the Midriff Islands, Sea of Cortez
Living on our boat is a bit different than life in our old house on Novelty Hill road in Redmond, Washington. For one, our current home is very mobile. When we want a change of scenery, we pick up the anchor or remove the dock lines and go to some other place. There are basically two types of places where we live - one is tied to a dock and the other at anchor. Even though it is all living in a boat, these two different types of places involve some different living circumstances. Tied to a dock, we get on and off the boat more. There is usually a town or village nearby where we go to shop, eat out, listen to live music, do laundry, typical land living kind of stuff. We tend to spend more money, not just on marina fees, but because there are so many places where you can go and spend money eating out, buying boat stuff, a new tee shirt or just sitting under a thatch roof with a bucket of iced beer. This may not be such a bad thing down here in sunny Mexico, as it is currently a very cost-effective place to live. There are normally many other boats in the marina; and in short order, you at least get familiar with the people on your own dock as everybody walks to and fro their boats. To socialize, we just walk to another boat or they walk to ours. The towns or villages are where we get to mix with the local population and experience a little more of Mexican culture. We get a chance to catch up on boat projects, which is much easier when you are in proximity to places that sell boat parts or hardware stores where you can figure out how to fabricate what you need (maybe). Marinas, in general, offer more security from the effects of nasty weather. These are all good things, except for the higher spending, but we almost always long to get away from the dock and back to life at anchor.
There are some hybrid spots where you can choose to be in a marina or anchor out. Down here, in Mexico, there are few places where we have that option. La Paz, La Cruz in Banderas Bay, and Barra Navidad are the only ones that readily come to mind. The three places mentioned tend to have a large number of boats in the anchorage. Most of the time in these places we choose to be in the marina. This is due mainly to the convenience of being able to walk to the places we want to go rather than hopping in the dingy, finding a safe place to tie it up and hauling all of the shopped for goods back to the boat in the dingy or trying to find our boat amongst a sea of anchor lights after a night of dinner and beverages. We are also more reluctant to swim from the boat in places where we are uncertain about the waste handling practices of the towns and villages as well as large numbers of other boaters. When we are safely tied to the dock during bigger wind events, it is not uncommon to hear VHF radio reports of boats that are freely wandering around the anchorage as the anchoring system has suffered some type of failure. We have been in a few anchorages where boats are "dragging anchor." This can be a bit disconcerting when the boat in question is unattended and heading in our direction.
Our preference is to be in a beautiful anchorage with a minimum of other boats, that offers nice protection from wind and waves. Sometimes this can be a challenge. Anchorages that are both beautiful and offer good protection tend to be sought after, so the minimum boat thing does not happen that often during the "high" season. We now find ourselves in the hot summer "low" season in the northern portion of the Sea of Cortez. Wonderful options for anchoring in beautiful uncrowded places abound. It is not always a bowl of cherries but often more like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You sometimes do not know what you are going to get. The main problems are the big uncomfortable wind events that are difficult to forecast and always happen in the middle of the night. Not talking about hurricanes which tend to have reasonably reliable forecasts, but chubascos (thunderstorms), elephantes (big hot winds that roll down the mountains from the west) or cormuels (big southerly winds that happen mostly in the La Paz area). Thunderstorms are what I am the most concerned with. Growing up in New Jersey, I am quite familiar with these storms and used to love experiencing them from the safety of a porch. We would see the dark clouds approach, and then the thunder starts off in the distance. Count one thousand one, one thousand two, etcetera to determine how far away the lightning that generates the thunder is. About five seconds equals one mile. As the lightning got closer, the wind and rain would start; and then before you know it, the whole thing is right overhead with flashing and crashing and rain blowing sideways. It really was exciting. When a tree got hit, the boom was especially loud with a different pitch. If the hit tree were to fall across power lines, the excitement just intensified. I now feel differently about thunderstorms. Sailboats have these very tall aluminum sticks called masts. Our mast, aka lightning rod, goes right through the living room (salon). This is cause for concern. Lightning is a poorly understood phenomena, but we are certain that should it strike our mast not much good would result. Lightning strikes are the primary concern. Next are the violent winds that can accompany these storms. It is usually strong with stronger gusts. We have been through a number of these. The noise of wind in the rigging can be almost frightening, like a high-pitched squeal. The strong winds will move the boat around and gusts can send it leaning (heeling is the sailing term) from one side to the other. Strong winds can create a very uncomfortable chop in the water, making the boat bounce up and down and from side to side in addition to the wind effects. These are usually short lived; but as I said, usually happen in the middle of the night. It seems to take us a minimum of one and a half hours from the time we are so rudely awakened, until we put the head back on a pillow. We have only experienced chubascos with winds into the mid-thirties, but know of several people who have experienced winds above fifty knots. Hope to avoid such high winds, but the longer we stay in tropical climes the more chance that we too will experience unmitigated terror. Maybe a little terror now and then will give me a heightened appreciation for other, better things. The other thing that can make anchoring out more of an unpleasant exercise is when we get into a situation where the boat is pointed in one direction, but the waves come from 90 degrees to that direction. This means that the boat rolls from side to side. It can roll 20 degrees from vertical, one side, to 20 degrees from vertical on the other side in a matter of seconds. Pots, pans and dishes rattle, drawers can become unlatched and take flight. Things start sliding around on what used to be a flat horizontal surface. Watching a bowl of soup slide to the edge of the table and then fall over the side is not fun, but may still be worth a few laughs at a later date. These are extreme happenings and not the norm of our life at anchor. There is a much better side that keeps us coming back to the desire to be "on the hook." Most times the boat will have a very gentle rocking motion. It does not really have an impact on what we do other than going to bed at night. The gentle rocking makes me think of a baby in a cradle or with head on a mother's shoulder as she rocks back and forth while making soothing noises. We even get the soothing noises with small wavelets kind of singing as they strike the boat sides.
There is usually much more privacy while at anchor. It is unusual to have another boat within 100 yards of us and sometimes the nearest living soul is miles away. Having a beautiful and protected anchorage all to ourselves is just as good as it gets. We can play music as loud as we like. Wardrobe selections can be as weird as we like. We can go skinny-dipping. We can just sit and contemplate the state of the universe without any distractions other than those created by Momma Nature. There are a bunch of reasons that we like to be at anchor, but I will try to just highlight a few of the natural things that make big impressions on me. Things that can best be appreciated from a boat at anchor.
First thing, about which I have written previously, is the nighttime light show. For me it starts with bioluminescence. I do not know the science of this, but there seem to be gazillions of really tiny organisms that glow in the water after dark. I suspect that they also glow during the day, but we cannot see them. So looking down into the water, once your eyes have become adjusted to the dark, it looks as though you are looking at a three dimensional starscape, only the "stars" are kind of a fluorescent green and in constant motion. There are several variations to this magical phenomenon. Anything that moves, like fish, will create the glow. We have small solar powered LED lights spaced around the boat. They have a photo sensor and come on when it gets dark. These lights, although not terribly bright, attract crowds of small fish. As these fish swim around, each one leaves it's own little trail of glow, so we have a swirling mass of magic light. As is the way of the world, big fish eat small fish, so once in awhile, a big glowing streak will zoom through the swirling mass and all the little ones scatter. Very trippy. Sometimes a blob of glow just appears on the surface and then expands and spreads out almost like an oil slick. The oil slick blobs tend to happen only for a short time in the early darkness within maybe two to three hours of sunset. Porpoises, rays and sea lions also add to the show. Rays, who will be discussed in more detail a little later, sometimes fly out of the water. They tend to land with a big splash that makes a large and very bright glow. When porpoises are nearby, we have seen a plume of glow rise from the water when they come up to take a breath. Sea lions are cool just because they are so big and can make a huge trail of glow when they swim about. We have just recently seen a new facet to the magical glow. During two recent chubasco events, of course in the middle of the night, the water was alive with the glow. As the wind increased many thousands of small fish started swimming in large schools right at the surface. You may have noticed at some time or another that when a gust of wind blows over water the resultant ripples look like a section of darker water that moves along with the gust. Well, during the windy part of the recent chubascos, these schools of small fish made for a similar visual effect. Huge sections of water just glowed and moved about. This activity attracted the sea lions and diving birds. Yes, even birds were working in the wee hours. The diving birds made a bright splash glow. The sea lions were even better. We could track them by the glow. A large bright spot would appear maybe 20 or 30 yards from the schooling fish and then take off like a torpedo right into the middle of this mass of fish, making them disperse into every direction. A few times an especially bright lightning flash would also make the whole school scatter. The unusual bioluminescence show along with flashes of lightning from almost all directions made for a visual cornucopia not to be soon forgotten. I would estimate that, up here in the Sea of Cortez, we see lightning flashes five nights out of seven. Most of this lightning is 60 or more miles away up in the mainland mountains on the other side of the Sea. We have become more adept at judging how far away they are, how fast they may be moving, and whether or not they may expand out into the Sea and come all the way over to us on the west side. These flashes add to the plethora of nightly light show effects. The last part of the nocturnal nuance is the sky itself. When out at anchor we are usually unaffected by "light pollution" of city lights and the sky is filled with uncountable numbers of twittering specs of light. There is a man who frequently joins the morning radio net, who will give us a heads up for overhead passes of the International Space Station, predicted meteor showers, unusual alignment of planets and so forth. I end up much preferring new moon nights to full moon nights, as the moonlight does not wash out all of the spectacular nighttime lights. No matter where you look, up, down or straight out at the horizon something of visual appeal awaits.
One of the other very intriguing natural events to witness from an anchored boat is the show that rays can produce. By rays, I mean the sea creatures that have a diamond kind of shape with "wings" and a long skinny "tail." Most would be familiar maybe with manta rays, but those guys are huge and that is not what we have seen. We believe that we are mostly seeing Mobula rays. As I mentioned earlier, rays jump out of the water. I have been told that this behavior is to loosen krill from there bodies that they then turn around and consume. I think it is also possible that they are just having fun. Often we will see a solitary ray having its own little jump fest. It will make a run of one to five or more jumps and then we may not see it again. Other times there will be prolonged sets of jumps. What is most spectacular is when a whole school of rays start jumping. Sometimes we get a hint of the upcoming show. Rays gliding near the surface show "wing" tips, two triangles out of the water, moving in tandem for each ray. At times we guess that we see a hundred or more of these "wing" tips, meaning that many rays are traveling in a school near the surface. One will jump out of the water, sometimes just two airborne flaps of the wings and then a perfect belly flop. The sound is almost like a firecracker. Sometimes they will spin one half or one full or one and a half flips before landing back in the water. After the first one jumps another will follow and the whole thing just accelerates until there is always at least one ray in the air. Sometimes five or more will be airborne at the same time. This can go on for maybe ten minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more. The resultant sound is like a whole giant string of firecrackers going off. Just recently we had a school on one side of the boat and another on the other side. It was like firecrackers in stereo.
Diving birds are another one of our favorite things to watch. By diving birds, I refer to birds that dive from a height, into the water. You can see this from shore as well as from a boat, but the boat allows us to visit offshore islands or big rocks that tend to attract a larger quantity as well as a larger variety of diving birds. As it is difficult for threatening predators to access these places, bird populations soar. Mexican nautical charts are filled with places called Roca Blanca. This translates to white rock. The white comes from countless generations of bird guano. Pelicans are probably the most familiar diving bird. These birds are ungainly as they sit in the water, a drab gray, with a head and beak combination that looks like a mistake. We found a pelican head and beak skull on a beach that measures seventeen inches long. When they fly everything changes. With large wings they can skim just above the water and not flap a wing, then head up and circle around searching for prey. They are really beautiful in flight. When several pelicans are flying together, we call it "the squadron." "Follow the leader" is fun to watch. If the lead bird changes direction, whether up, down, left or right, all of the following birds will make the same move in the same location as the lead bird. They also fly in a V-formation that reminds me of the Blue Angels performing in the skies over Lake Washington in Seattle. While single birds are hunting and circling about, flight will hesitate and then they plunge nearly vertical, head first into the water to catch a fish. If they are successful, a large pouch will drop down from the huge beak full of water and fish. They shake the head a little and then tilt back and swallow. There are times when the baitfish are so plentiful that the pelicans do not even bother to get some altitude and circle around. They get maybe a few feet above the water and make a near horizontal entry. They are fun to watch. My current favorite diving bird is the Boobie. Most of the Boobies we see are of the blue-footed variety. Their diving style is a bit different than pelicans. Boobies fly much higher up than pelicans, maybe as high as one hundred feet in the air. They also circle around looking for fish and have the same little hesitation before plunging headfirst like a bullet into the sea. The difference is the speed at which they hit the water and the cleanliness of the entry. If you have ever watched diving during the Summer Olympics, you hear the announcers commenting on the entry. The perfect entry has almost no splash and makes a "poosh" noise rather than a splash noise. Boobies are like that. They enter the water with little splash, but make a little more noise than the Olympians. They sometimes fish near the boat and we can see the trail of bubbles go quite deep, so I guess that they can target different fish than the pelicans. We also have the beak skeleton of a Boobie and it comes to a point so sharp that it could be used as an awl to poke holes in leather. In anchorages near shore we see maybe ten boobies at a time working the water. At offshore islands and near Roca Blancas we may see 100 boobies working alongside the pelicans. When there is a big school of baitfish, it can almost sound like machine gunfire as dozens of birds at once plunge into the sea: splash, splash, (pelicans), poosh, poosh, poosh, (boobies) and so on.
And then there are the flying fish. They exit the water, glide just above the wave tops for 100 feet or more and then back into the water. How and why do they take flight? Once I learn more, I may address this in the future.
Well, life is still peachy keen aboard the good ship "Linger Longer." Water is warm and clean. The fishing is plentiful. The camaraderie amongst the small number of boats spending the summer up here continues to grow.
Hope all is well where you are.
S/V Linger Longer
Reflections by Kirk
09 July 2016
Photo: Mom during her last month.
Sailors have many superstitions - don't carry bananas aboard, whistle for wind, have an all male crew and so on. We have never been terribly beholden to these superstitions so we left for a passage on a Friday, which is another superstition no-no. We will never leave on a Friday again. The passage was from La Cruz in Banderas Bay (home to Puerto Vallarta) to La Paz, over three hundred miles away, across the huge opening to the Sea of Cortez. This is a trip that takes us three days and two nights when everything is working in our favor. Things were not working in our favor on this trip. Wind and currents did not hurt us much, but neither did they help us. There were a few, new to us, mechanical issues. More inconvenience issues than something more serious, but still caused time spent to slow down and sort them out. With our navigational skills, we determined at least a day out from La Paz, that we could not make it there in daylight hours so we decided to spend a night in Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead) about 60 miles or so from La Paz. For us, entering a harbor after dark, especially one with lots of background lights obscuring the navigation lights, is only done as a last resort kind of thing. So there we were, with the anchor down in Bahia de los Muertos, having safely, albeit with some difficulties, made another crossing of the Sea of Cortez with only another ten or twelve hours of travel before we would tie up in one of the marinas of La Paz.
Let me go back in time three weeks. About every six months, since we have been in Mexico, we go north and cross the border as required in order to renew our Mexican visas. We have used this excuse to visit Seattle and San Diego so far. Our six months were up again and this time we decided to go back to the places of our growing up years, southern New Jersey for me and the Boston, Massachusetts area for Kris. It would be good to spend some time with our respective families. My Mom had recently moved from independent living in an apartment into a nursing home. Her health had taken a dramatic downturn over the course of the past four months. She was despondent over the death of her best friend, her sister, and her heart was growing weaker. She looked different from the last time I had seen her, confined to a wheelchair, hooked up to an oxygen bottle, legs swollen with water while the rest of her was almost down to skin and bones. It was tough seeing my Mom looking so frail, a vacant look sometimes occupying her eyes. But she still smiled and laughed and it was good. She still shared the customary shot of tequila with Kris. The doctor said that she was failing, but may possibly live another two years or so. Dad is still OK with the exception of advancing dementia. He is not so bad yet and is still quite the happy camper. For me, having lived away from "home" for the past forty years or so, visiting with family, Mom, Dad, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews is always a happy and cherished time. This was a little different though. I had always stayed at my Dad's house until he went into an assisted living facility and then I stayed at my Mom's. Well she was now in a nursing home, so now I stay with my brother or sister, alternating back and forth several times during our visit. This is a good thing. My sister has a lively household with LOTS of laughter and my brother lives at the Jersey shore, two blocks from the bay and three blocks from the ocean. I have always had a particularly fond spot for the Jersey shore and time at my brother's house is like a great pacifier for the soul. There are many things that are difficult or impossible to obtain in Mexico. When we first walked into my sister's house, part of the living room area looked like a mini warehouse with all of the stuff we had ordered and shipped to her house. A cross between Sanford and Son and the Beverly Hillbillies would best describe our traveling appearance from then on, until we were back to the boat.
Following our visit in New Jersey, we flew up to Massachusetts. I have always liked Kris' family and it had been way too long since we had seen them. This was also a great visit filled with food and wine and laughter. Kris even paid a surprise visit to a 103 year-old friend with whom she had worked well over forty years ago. Soon it was time to get back on a plane to Puerto Vallarta to get ready for our trip across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz.
Back to Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead). I'm not sure why Kris even tried to get a cell signal in such an out of the way place, but in the morning she did and there was one bar. The phone rang almost right away. Kris answered and handed me the phone for my brother to tell me that Mom had passed away a few hours ago. I'm certain there are many who understand the grief, but for me, this is the first immediate family member that I have lost. It hurts. There is no way that I will ever leave on a passage again on a Friday. We made it to La Paz and were on a plane back to southern New Jersey a day later. Thank you, whomever the spirit is that looks over me, for family and friends. My siblings and I tempered our grief with reminiscences. All of the things that needed to happen in a hurry for the funeral helped to distract us, but those sudden moments of emotional overload could not be avoided. One of the nice things about a funeral is the gathering of so many people not seen in a very long time. I know that I had always loved my Mom, but was surprised and gratified to find that so many other people loved her as well. In the Irish tradition, a wake, a gathering of those close to the deceased with abundant food and beverages to celebrate the passing to a better place, followed the funeral. This is a time for the sharing of good stories about Mom as well as catching up on lives from which I have been removed for a long time. The next day, I went to the place that always offers solace for my soul - my brothers place at the Jersey shore. New Jersey really has some great beaches and Long Beach Island (LBI) has some of the best of the best. The weather was sunny and warm with a nice breeze. A long walk on the beach, the sand so soft, and the rollers beating the shore from the Atlantic Ocean is maybe the best thing that I could have done. There is still grief to deal with, but long walks on that beach over the course of the next three weeks, were better therapy than any doctor could ever offer me. I made some peace with myself and it felt good.
Although I have been back home many times over the years, it seems to have been a long while since spending so much time there in the spring, which is quite nice in southern New Jersey. Four things dominate the landscape - rich farmland, deciduous forests, the "Pine Barrens," and the Jersey shore. It takes just over an hour to make the drive from my sister's to my brother's house and the trip takes me through all of these landscapes. Windows down, music blasting along two-lane roads, witnessing the visual cornucopia helped to not only take my mind away from our loss, but also rekindled the knowledge that I grew up in a really good place. Gastronomic distractions also helped. Like most places, south Jersey has some foods that are unique to the area. I gorged on cheese steaks, Tastycakes, Pork Roll, Scrapple, righteous thin crust pizzas, deli meats and cheese, and good Italian food. The opportunity to sample some of the many microbrew beers also helped add dimension to my waistline.
Kris had preceded me back to the boat in La Paz. My duties to Mom's estate had been carried about as far as I could get them, so it was time to go back to Kris and begin the next phase of our adventure. Nothing terribly new. We intend to do a repeat of the trip up into the northern Sea of Cortez, hopefully north of places where hurricanes are likely to occur. There are many anchorages still to visit that we missed last summer. The vast majority of cruisers down here are reluctant to spend summer aboard their boats due to the high temperatures. Most put the boats away for a few months and go north, some stay at marinas where the AC power is available at the docks to run air conditioners and a small minority chooses to do as we will do. The heat is problematic, but the opportunity to stay in remote anchorages, the abundant variety sea life, excellent fishing, clear warm water, and sharing the special camaraderie with other crazies like us, is just too tempting. Besides, we really don't have anywhere else to go.
S/V Linger Longer
Reflections by Kirk - 3/19/16
19 March 2016
Photo: Impromptu collaboration of Manan Gupta, Maneli Jamal and Catherine Capozzi - Zihuatanejo Guitar Festival
We are now into the second year of our exploration of western Mexico. During the first year which started in the fall of 2014, we traveled down the west coast of the Baja Peninsula, rounded Cabo San Lucas and went north into the Sea of Cortez to La Paz. We crossed over to the mainland and cruised between Manzanillo and Mazatlan, then back to La Paz and then went into the northern Sea for the summer and most of the fall stopping in La Paz again for the winter holidays. For us, this was really a good plan as the air temps, and particularly the water temps, are warmer on the mainland during the winter and then the Sea of Cortez begins to warm up in the spring. Water temps in the Sea during winter are a bit cold for us to play in the water being in the high sixties to low seventies (we are getting a bit spoiled). During that year, we visited dozens of different places from the big cities, to small towns to even smaller fishing villages, to remote anchorages. In general I would have to say that we like the small towns and remote anchorages the best. Fondness for Mexico and things Mexican continues to grow. Acceptance of the fact that we are in a place with a different language, different customs, different food and such is pretty much necessary to enjoy the place to the fullest. We run into people that are ready to find fault with Mexico, basically because it is different than the United States or Canada. People with this type of mindset should just stay home.
Now, about three months into the second "tour," we are revisiting many of the same places as the first time around. La Cruz in the north part of Banderas Bay still remains a favorite, small town with lots of "flavor" and access to the big city life of Puerto Vallarta. The bay of Tenacatita and the small town of Barra de Navidad are within a few miles of one another and this makes for a place that we went back and forth between for well over a month last year. This is also one of our favorites. This year we also explored the town of Melaque in the same area. As nearly all of the towns and villages in Mexico, Melaque has a patron saint, which will be the cause of at least a one-day festival. Melaque's patron saint happens to be Saint Patrick and there is indeed quite a festival, but we will come back to good old St. Paddy in a bit.
Ever since I watched the movie The Shawshank Redemtion, I have wanted to visit Zihuatanejo. In the movie, Tim Robbins tells Morgan Freeman to go to Zihuatanejo when his prison time is finished. I just loved the way the town's name rolls off the tongue and knew that someday I needed to be there. This was going to be the time and we planned to be there for the annual International Guitar Festival, about which we had heard many very good reports. We left Barra de Navidad for a short 20-mile trip to Ensenada Carrizal. This is the only anchorage that we have visited on mainland Mexico's west coast that has a shoreline devoid of any buildings or lights at night. The snorkeling is also very good with reef areas on both sides of the bay and very good water clarity. Panga type tour boats visit the small bay daily, bringing people from nearby Manzanillo to go snorkeling. We suspect that they must drop some food to attract the fish, because schools of King Angelfish appear as soon as we anchor the dingy and follow us around as we snorkel the reefs. There are scores of other colorful fish around, but these six to twelve inch fish are the only ones that follow our every move. The trip from Ensenada Carrizal to the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo area is about two hundred miles. So we leave at first light and hope that we can make good enough time to arrive before it gets dark the following day. We really try to avoid getting somewhere after dark, especially a place that we have not been before. Luck prevailed, wind and currents were in our favor and we arrived at Isla Grande (aka Isla Ixtapa) late in the afternoon. This small island is a very busy place during the day. It is maybe only one-quarter mile from the island to the mainland, where there is a road and loads of parking. There is a regular water taxi service that runs folks to and fro the island all day long. The soft sand beach is lined with palapa restaurants, serving good food and frosty beverages. There is something special about sitting under an umbrella with your feet in the sand, looking out at the ocean with a bucket of iced beer and a bowl of fresh ceviche. The water was warm and clear, so frolicking in the ocean is good.
One day we decided to take the dingy over to the mainland beach, as there is a crocodile sanctuary nearby. This entails a "surf" landing. We found a nice calm section of the beach in which to land the dingy without event. The sanctuary was very good with a raised platform from which one can observe several huge crocodiles. Getting back through surf is always more of a challenge than landing and we had an easy launch before things went a little haywire. This beach is one where powerful speedboats attach a long line to a parachute and give people an aerial tour. Unaware were we that one of these boats had a floating line directly in our path of travel and we ended up getting tangled in it. During the drama of working ourselves free of this rope we drifted over to an area where the waves were bigger and we started getting closer to the breaking waves. Heart rates started to accelerate as we worked feverishly to get ourselves free of the rope. Just as we got free the biggest wave yet approached. I could tell that it would break over us and flip the dingy with outboard and a few things we had purchased on the beach. Not good. Kris was handling the outboard and gunned it just in time. The wave was started to break and the dingy went nearly vertical before safely crashing back into the water on the backside of the wave. The adrenaline was really pumping and we made a slow trip back to the boat. We spent a couple of nights there and then went into Marina Ixtapa.
Ixtapa is an interesting place. I forget the exact dates, but forty or so years ago the Mexican government came up with a plan to boost tourism. A public/private consortium was established to build the resort areas of Ixtapa and Cancun simultaneously. Cancun turned out to be a roaring success and Ixtapa not quite as much. There are many high-rise hotels and more are under construction, but we did not see as many people on the streets as the abundance of rooms would suggest. We discovered that the hotels are "all inclusive," so I guess that guests are too busy taking advantage of the "free" food and beverage in the hotels to get out and about. Either that or the guest rate is really low. The marina is interesting in that signs abound warning you not to go in the water and to watch your small children and dogs as crocodiles frequent the water in the marina. We did not see any. Ixtapa has a very long and beautiful beach. While in Ixtapa, we took the bus over to Zihua in order to reconnoiter. Our plan was to scope the venues where the Guitar Festival would be held. We had studied the schedule online and found that there would be two shows every evening for a week. One show would be from six to eight in a restaurant or bar and the other from eight to eleven would be in the brand new Cultural Center. Reservations would be required at the early shows due to limited seating and we wanted to get an idea of what the venues were like. What we found excited us. The early shows promised to be very intimate experiences, although the price lists for dinners were amongst the highest we have seen in Mexico. Even with that, we figured that diner, drinks and a show would probably cost less than one hundred dollars for the two of us and decided to make reservations for most of them. This was going to be a special time for us. The Cultural Center venue was an open-air place where we would be no more than one hundred fifty feet from the stage, also pretty darned intimate compared to most of the concerts we have ever attended. Things are close enough that we could catch both shows every night. So we returned to the Marina very stoked.
We traveled the five miles from the marina to Zihua Bay and got settled down on the anchor. A giant storm up in the Gulf of Alaska sent big swells all the way down the coast and into the bay. We experienced five to eight foot swells, but they were spaced far enough apart that the result was just a bobbing up and down without a lot of uncomfortable motion to the boat. Still, it was impressive to see the hull of a boat only 200 feet away disappear when the swell passed between us. We had a few days to wander around before the start of the festival and discovered what is now my favorite place in Mexico. Really glad I watched that movie. The central downtown area is quite nice. It is kept extraordinarily clean. The streets and sidewalks are all made of reddish pavers or stamped concrete. In all of the places previously visited by us, the sidewalk, if there was one, would be up to the adjacent landowner to build and maintain. This results in an incredible mish-mash of design, materials, construction and maintenance. In Zihua the sidewalks were uniform and beautiful. Nearly all had some type of cover over them to provide welcome shade or cover during the rainy season. The downtown or Centro area is a combination of shops and restaurants that cater to the local population as well as places that very tastefully cater to the tourist trade. There are several pedestrian-only streets, although people on motorbikes and scooters tend to ignore the signs. But that was OK. We poked into bunches of shops offering a plethora of beautiful artisan wares, tequila shops, food shops and the like. The central market is a trip. It is all under one roof with seemingly hundreds of different stalls connected by a labyrinth of pathways. Very easy to get a bit disoriented. Stalls with fresh produce, fresh fish, piles of plucked chickens, fresh meat, household goods, clothing, bulk bins, baked goods, food courts and pinball machines were attended by friendly and helpful people. Never did figure out what the pinball machine thing is all about, but they were scattered about the Centro as well. We went back to the market several times just because it is so interesting and we were likely to find most foodstuffs that we needed. However, this is Mexico and there is always the necessity to go to multiple places before you can get everything. During our wanderings we would often get tired of walking and develop a thirst. We ended up having some great times just sitting around over a beer or two and meeting interesting people, both from the cruising community as well as gringos who live here either seasonally or year around. Options of where to eat or drink abound and the variety of options is large from high end to taco stands. There is a very good "feel" to this area and we have discussed the possibility of spending maybe a few months here next year.
So what about the music? It was awesome. There were a total of only eleven artists representing five countries on three continents, so we had the opportunity to see all of them on more than one occasion, in more than one setting. All of the artists played the guitar with no accompanying instruments. Some added voice or other sounds produced by mouth, but this is truly a guitar fest. All have some type of international acclaim, although none had names with which I was familiar. The venues and the settings of the venues were extraordinary. One was a small stage set on a beach with the ocean and the sunset as a background. Tables with white tablecloths were arranged under the palms on the beach surrounding the stage. Another was in a rooftop restaurant high on a hill overlooking the ocean. Another was in a smallish lobby, the walls of which were covered with beautiful paintings. Another was in a covered patio, just yards from the water and one was the elegant open-air courtyard of a fine restaurant. And then there was the Cultural Center, which was open air, but mostly covered with two humongous white tarps very artistically rigged up. It had all of the nice lighting effects and a prodigious sound system. Tables and booths in the back offered food, beverage, festival mementos and the artists CDs. The artists all stayed in the same hotel, hung around and jammed through much of the days. This resulted in my favorite part of the festival. As the week advanced, the artist scheduled for that night would invite one of the other artists to join him or her on the stage. These mostly unrehearsed collaborations resulted in some outstanding music. We were always so close to them that we could see fingers moving on the frets and facial expressions. It was awesome to be able to see these talented artists connecting with one another through their guitars up close and personal. These positive connections were transferred to the audience and the whole scene was alive with good vibrations. In the end, five hours of music a night and the after show happenings eight nights in a row took its toll and we were worn out. The Guitar Fest ended on Saturday, March 12. We had to spend the next day to restock some provisions and then go back to Isla Grande where the water was clean enough to jump in and scrub the bottom of the boat. Zihau Bay was not terribly clean; and that, combined with the warm water, fostered growth of all kinds of interesting things on the bottom and propeller. Little fish were very happy with all of the stuff that we scraped off the bottom and had quite a nice feeding.
Lingering a little bit longer, as is our normal travel mode, would not work if we were to have a chance of getting back to Barra de Navidad and nearby Melaque in time for the Saint Patrick's Day celebration. In the early afternoon of March 17, we pulled into the marina at Barra de Navidad, did all of the check-in stuff, showered and caught the bus for the ten-minute ride to Melaque. Turns out they had already been celebrating for the previous four days and nights with this night to be the grand finale. These people know how to celebrate. The main area was the town square, a full square block with the church across the street on one side. A large carnival was just about three blocks away and had all of the carnival stuff, rides, games designed to have you part with your money, popcorn and cotton candy. Kris and I did two turns in the most fun bumper cars ever. When we finally made it over to the square, night had fallen and that is when things generally come alive. The square was jammed with people. Mariachi bands were strolling around and a few of the typical Mexican street bands consisting of a couple of drums, a tuba, trumpet saxophone and clarinet were set up and making merry music with people dancing all around. The streets around the square were all blocked off and food venders filled the space preparing wondrous things both spicy and sweet. On the street directly in front of the church were two large metal towers with lots of firework-filled contraptions attached to them. I have always loved fireworks, so Kris and I hung around the Church front waiting for things to get started. There were maybe 20 to 30 feet separating us from the towers of fireworks. This may have been a mistake. Shortly after 11:00 a man in a yellow shirt walked up to one of the towers and lit a fuse. On one side of a tower fireworks ignited and wheels of spinning fireworks started throwing bits of burning stuff of many colors about the tower. As they started to fizzle out, the man in the yellow shirt shook the tower causing several of these incendiary devices to bounce about the pavement with several zooming off and spinning around through the crowd. The crowd roared with delight. Many of the older folks, us included, moved away a bit, but young men and boys jumped into the "danger zone" and danced amid the bouncing, spinning fireworks. There were probably eight or ten different sets of this type of fireworks display with the same sequence of events each time. The only difference was that the fireworks dislodged from the towers ended up going in any and all directions both horizontally and vertically with some bouncing off of the now closed doors of the church.
When it appeared that the fireworks were over, the distinctive whumph of firework launches came from the roof of the church and giant aerial displays appeared in the sky over the church and the square. Kris and I were directly underneath of this and the fallout started to drop on and around us. There was really no escape from the fallout unless we moved a block away and that was nearly impossible as the crowds were dense, so we stayed put and watched fireworks from a much closer vantage point than I have ever been. The giant aerial displays went on for about 15 minutes, now about one half hour since the whole show began. After a giant cluster with a bunch of really big booms, the aerial display ended. What a great show. The square was still full of people and music continued, so we wandered back into the crowd just to soak up some of the festive atmosphere. With no warning that we could discern, the crowd in one corner of the square started moving in mass and then spinning, bouncing fireworks started happening over in that corner. We saw this happening in different places all around the square once every few minutes. Suddenly, the crowd started moving in our direction and a vista opened up to where we could see this new and totally crazy source of fireworks. A man with a large contraption about his head and shoulders, sort of like the head of a bull with horns, was shooting fireworks out of his "horns" into the crowd. Again most of the crowd moved away very quickly, but young men and boys jumped smack dab into the middle of these fireworks and danced about. Totally nuts. Maybe this is a right of passage thing, we still do not know. This all ended sometime after midnight and Kris and I were able to catch a cab back to the marina returning sometime after 1:00 AM after one wild and crazy day and night.
The last month has been filled with new and wonderful experiences for us. We will soon begin lollygagging or way back north to Banderas Bay, where we will catch a plane from the airport in Puerto Vallarta for a trip back East to visit both of our families. It is almost embarrassing to admit how great this lifestyle is for us. It is not without some trials and tribulations, but the good vastly outweighs the bad. Life is good and appears to be getting better.
La Vida Es Buena
(More photos added to gallery at right)
19 December 2015
Reflections by Kirk - November 26, 2015
18 December 2015
(Photo: Only boat at Ensenada Alcatraz north of Bahia de Los Angeles)
So many may wonder what it is like to live on a boat during a hot humid summer in a remote part of the Sea of Cortez (or Gulf of California as it was called when I was younger). It was hot and humid enough that sweating was a constant of life. Sweat has its good and bad sides. Sweating was essential in helping us cool our bodies. That is good. Sweating also meant that our bodies were always wet with stuff that makes armpits stinky and can leave rashes on various parts of the body. We frequently had pink spots on our arms and legs. It would take very little to make hands get those soaked-in-water wrinkles. The palms of our hands always looked like they were rotting away, but I think that was just callouses getting soft. When getting ready for bed at night, we had to hang all of our clothing as some part or all of every piece would still be wet with sweat. It may sound difficult, but it is something that we just learned to deal with. There was not much of an option.
An air conditioner was not a consideration for us as the electrical demands of an AC unit are more than we could provide. So we had fans, little seven-inch fans in every place that we spent much time. Air moving over a wet or damp body can really provide cooling relief. We only figured out how to rig up one fan in the V berth, where we would both normally sleep. If we aimed it down the middle, neither one of us got enough air, so I ended up sleeping on a long bench seat in the salon so Kris could get full force of the V-berth fan and I could direct salon fans to myself. Weird not to be sleeping together for so many weeks, but it was the only way for us both to sleep comfortably. It worked.
Shade was absolutely essential. Surface temperatures of things like skin can be as much as 20 degrees cooler in the shade. We have a dodger and bimini permanently attached to the boat. The dodger has a canvas type ceiling and clear windows below that cover the area above and around the companionway (entrance to the inside parts of the boat) supported by a stainless steel tubing frame. This extends a ways over the forward part of the cockpit area. Over the aft portion of the cockpit we have another stainless steel framework that is also covered with canvas called a bimini. There is also another piece of canvas that we can zip between the dodger and bimini so that we have a complete canvas ceiling over the entire cockpit that is firmly attached and keeps the canvas nice and taut. We spend a lot of time there. Up north in the Pacific Northwest, this was essential for us to have an outside "porch" during frequent rainy times and equally essential down here to hang out in the shade. We have several other pieces of shade cloth such that we can cover the entire boat and even have netting hanging down the sides to a provide nearly a one hundred percent shade envelope. This shade material is rather loosely attached and can be a problem in high winds. We always have the cockpit covered and erect other portions of the shade system depending on how long we plan to stay in one place, how strong the winds are forecast to be, or whether or not there may be clouds to help protect from the sun. Other than the cockpit canvas all the rest must come down and be stowed every night due to the possibility of very strong thunderstorm induced winds.
Our water tanks are below water level and the water in them was always about the same as the seawater temperature, somewhere in the upper eighties. We missed the tap water from our Redmond, Washington house in which water temps never rose above sixty degrees. We kept a few bottles of water in the fridge and always had cans (yes, cans) of beer staying cold as well. Cold beverages were treated like gold. Speaking of the fridge, it worked much harder than we anticipated and was by far the largest drain on our batteries, maybe as much as ninety percent. This will cause us to consider having a new refrigeration system installed this winter, at least a serious tune up.
We would wear as little clothing as possible while still maintaining some sense of decency when required. Cotton seemed to work best. We both tried some of the new "wonder" synthetic fabrics, but cotton still worked best. As a matter of fact, my old thread bare T-shirts that Kris has been after me to discard, were the best of all. It would seem that laundry should have been at a minimum, but no. With all of the sweat, things would get salt stained and smelly and not much could be worn more than once.
Physical activities would generally be planned for morning hours before ten o'clock or so. If I could work on something in the shade of the cockpit, it might be an afternoon project. Trips into the village or walks on the beach were best in the AM, but often ended up being PM missions and that was usually OK. In following local custom, I would frequently take an afternoon siesta. We would try to plan meals that did not involve use of the stovetop as it released so much heat into the boat. Use of the oven was a real mistake. Salads, ceviche and barbecued foods (we have a propane barbecue mounted on the stern rail) would be the choice as much as possible. When anchored near the village we would also eat ashore sometimes. Seldom would we eat three meals a day. It was just too hot to eat much. I know that may sound silly, but that is what happened with us.
Communication with the "outside" world was interesting. The only method really reliable was email through our SSB radio system. As a refresher to previous Reflections, this is a long distance radio setup that bounces radio waves off of the atmosphere and back down to earth. This system is only usable during certain times during any 24-hour period due to different properties of the atmosphere, that we need to bounce radio waves off of, during different parts of the day. There were a few landlines in the small village that we could have used, but they charged by the minute. Occasionally, a WIFI signal would be available at Guillermo's Restaurant in the village, but it was really slow and only good enough to maybe download emails from our regular computer email accounts. Many times it was too slow to get replies back out. So we missed the end of baseball season, the first third of football season and all of the entertainment of presidential election politics. Turns out that the Seahawks played poorly and the Mariners even worse, so we did not miss much there. It does sound as though the Republicans did provide good entertainment, but little of substance. During the rest of the presidential election process, we will be in and out of areas with Internet access and we will miss most of it, much to my dismay. It seems that we may be coming up on one of the more interesting races in a while. We did have one difficult, interesting and ultimately satisfying experience that involved long distance communications. Our dingy, which would be the equivalent of the family station wagon, developed a terminal problem. It is built around a high-pressure inflatable floor, which developed an irreparable leak. Life without a dinghy means that we have no good way to go from boat to shore, i.e. no grocery shopping. We had been fighting this problem for a few weeks, when a man in a kayak visited us while anchored in front of the village. He had a friend who had a friend who might be able to help us. The next day he came back with a name and an email address. The shortened version of this episode is that we were able to order a replacement floor, have it shipped to a man in San Diego, who would deliver it to another man who would be driving down to the BLA area. Not being able to use a telephone and relying on the SSB email system made for a lengthy, but ultimately successful, resolution to our problem. Living in such a remote place had its challenges, but that is part of what made it so interesting and fun.
Shopping, as always, in Mexico is an adventure. There were actually several small stores and a few larger ones where we could buy groceries and beverages. The large stores, with maybe as much floor space as a large 7-11, had a reasonably nice selection of products as long as one does not insist on eating like an American. All of the meat and poultry products were frozen and the once-a-week truck with fresh produce came in on Friday nights, so the big store was busy on Saturdays. There we could get some meat, fresh produce, canned goods, snack food, breakfast cereal, eggs, etc. All of what we wanted was never all in one place. So we dingy to shore and get whatever we can from the big store then take it all back to the boat. It was just too much to carry around one load of stuff, in all of the heat, while trekking to the other stores for the rest of what we needed. Sometimes we would dinghy right back in for another round of shopping or sometimes just do it manana. It worked out just fine and we did eat an awful lot of fresh fish.
There are a number of nice anchorages within a days sail of the village, so we never ventured more than a day away from there. One of the anchorages is known as one of the best "hurricane holes" in the Sea of Cortez. That is why we stayed in the same general area from late July to mid October. We set a personal record of 95 consecutive days without being tied to a dock. The experience taken as a whole was wonderful, but we are ready to spend some time in the big city of La Paz again for at least a week or two and are currently on our way back in that direction. Staying true to the name of the boat, we expect that it will take us around six weeks to travel the 400 miles getting there. We could have been there a little faster, but one of the unexpected things that can happen did happen. We had just left Santa Rosalia, the first place with cell coverage and decent Internet service for us in months. About one day away from Santa Rosalia we received an urgent email. The net result was that we had to have an important document notarized. This is a much larger dilemma than one would suppose it to be. There are very few notaries in Mexico who can witness and stamp a document acceptable in the United States. So we had to turn around and go back to Santa Rosalia, which has a bus station and hop on a bus to San Diego. This is a 17-hour ordeal that ends up depositing us at the US/Mexico border in Tijuana, where we have a bit of a walk to get through Customs and Immigration. The good news is that right at the US side of the border is a light rail system that can take us directly into downtown San Diego. We ended up spending a few days in San Diego before doing a repeat of the bus trip back to our boat. Who could ever even guess that an exercise such as that could possibly be required just to have someone witness a signature? But it is what it is.