A Cross Ocean Experience

Seven thousand miles of outstanding cruising since November 2008 means it's time to do a little renovation and more planning for the future. Find out what ...

20 February 2013 | Fishtail, Montana, USA
15 March 2011 | Swallow Falls State Park, Garrett County, MD
07 January 2011 | Deep Creek, MD
01 January 2011 | Tacoma, WA
17 December 2010 | Sierra Madre, CA
12 December 2010 | Leucadia, CA
12 December 2010 | Leucadia, Ca
12 December 2010 | Ramona, CA
06 December 2010 | Ramona, CA
06 December 2010 | Ramona, CA
20 November 2010 | New Orleans, LA
13 November 2010 | Lexington, KY
09 November 2010 | Louiville, KY
05 November 2010 | Lexington. KY
01 November 2010 | Deltaville, VA
29 October 2010 | Deltaville, VA
22 October 2010 | Deltaville, VA
08 October 2010 | Deltaville, VA

Goodbye (for now) Nicaragua

13 July 2009 | Bahia Elena, Costa Rica
Saying goodbye to Nicaragua was not such an easy task. We had steeped ourselves in its revolution history and diligently searched for popular music that might represent the country's soul. What we discovered were the stirring nationalist songs from the revolution, รก la choral marches of Russian revolution era. We spent many hours on Nicaragua's local bus routes and grew quite familiar with El Corinto, its main port. We are still reading the extensive works of its important poets and authors and are also still marveling at the violent weather patterns that we experienced entering the rainy season there. Nicaragua is famous for its torrential down pours, whereas northern Costa Rica is known for its constant soft drizzle interspersed with sun.

Entering Costa Rican waters meant crossing one of the ten windiest places on earth - Bahia Salinas where Mandy let her hair loose once or twice and we dangled from the weather cloths (at one point our starboard portholes were underwater). We learned a Mandy lesson that day, that above 25 knots of wind we have to switch her working jib for her staysail for a more balanced ride. It was a hairy experience but good for our sailing repertoire aboard this little boat.

Having traversed that windy place we are now anchored in Bahia Elena; a large, almost enclosed bay with the flat water of a lake and gusty winds that spill through from the wind tunnel of Salinas. We are surrounded by El Parke National Santa Rosa that in 1991 was established to preserve its rare dry tropical forest and ecosystem. It is complete with liana vines, blossoming trees, chattering green parrots and white faced Capuchin monkeys - my vision of Costa Rica exactly. Twenty five per cent of Costa Rica has been protected, but not all is rain forest or even dry tropical forest. Before their eyes were opened to the need to preserve, Costa Rica denuded much its forest for cattle grazing to satisfy the bottomless pits of Burger King and McDonalds. These massive ranch industries gave birth to a significant cowboy culture in the north of the country, complete with round ups, rodeo, country music and big hats. As we sit in this remote anchorage, some of that deforested land stares sparsely back at us, an experiment in natural re-forestation. It looks as though the dry tropical forest is gradually re-asserting itself upwards towards the peaks of the mountains. In fifty years the thick vegetation and dense canopy should be well on its way back to its original luxuriant beauty.

Costa Rica has done a spectacular job of promoting its tropical forests and ecosystems to the travel industry. The truth is that twice the amount of Nicaragua is given over to spectacular national parks, with chains of volcanoes, more virgin forest land, a spell binding history, low travel costs and minimal tourism; it is a real alternative for the discerning traveler. This month (July) Nicaragua celebrates thirty years since the fall of the brutal Samosa dictatorship; it is a country who now promotes love, friendship and equality. Their struggle to get to where they are has been bloody and full of sacrifice. From what we have seen the people have forged a country to be proud of and one that deserves a second look.

Thank you Jo and Julia for the wonderful books

11 July 2009 | San Juan del Sur, Nic
Rivers run through me
mountains bore into my body
and the geography of this country
begins forming in me
turning me into lakes, chasms, ravines,
earth for sowing love
opening like a furrow
filling me with longing to live
to see it free, beautiful
full of smiles.

I want to explode with love ...

(Giaconda Belli)

I love my sister dearly but have to admit that in my anticipation of her recent visit to us in San Juan del Sur, the stack of books she brought with her was almost as eagerly awaited as the time we would spend together
In the crush of specifics that our final few months of preparation for this trip became, charts, cruising guides, travel guides and fix it manuals were all accounted for, but Fuentes, Paz, Neruda, Dario and the myriad of other voices of Spanish America were hopelessly omitted.
Much as we love to sail, the true motivation for this journey was to explore and discover for ourselves. In the crisp New England words of Joshua Solcum " If the Spray discovered no new continents on her voyage it may be that there were no new continents to be discovered; she did not seek new worlds or sail to powwow about the dangers of the seas. The sea has been much maligned. To find one's way to lands already discovered is a good thing ...."*
To this end books provide incremental keys to enter by stages deeper into newly visited places. Most simply the charts and cruising guides allow us to choose, find and enter safe harbors. For the most part they are dry and emotionless though detailed and essential as well as being ubiquitous amongst all cruisers and therefore somewhat herd forming. Their view is by design near sighted, pushing back from the coves, bays and estuaries only a mile or so. A broader view is gained with the addition of travel guides such as Lonely Planet or Rough guides, which though corporately branded reflect directly the personality of the individual writers and rise or fall accordingly. The "Lonely Planet Guide to Puerto Vallarta and the West coast of Mexico" was beach-centric, culturally deserted and stylistically dull whilst the "Lonely Planet Guide to El Salvador and Nicaragua", our copy of which is now more thumbed than Bush's Bible, is slyly humorous, insightful and replete with historical and folkloric anecdotes.
With just these, an enquiring eye and time to linger it is possible to get an idea of the people amongst whom we find ourselves. In Mexico this was particularly true since we arrived pre-informed by prior Mexican acquaintances and travel and the luminous openness of the people and towns makes a little understanding easy to come by. El Salvador and Nicaragua are different. In the hotter, wetter, jungle shaded villages the people are quieter, more reserved, less open to strangers. Whether it is the geography, the different ethnic mix, for Nicaragua is more melting pot than even the U.S., or the cataclysmic effect of fighting out from underneath 45 years of brutal dictatorship only to then have to fight the might of Reagan's Central American ambitions to hold on to their country is impossible to know, but Nicaragua is less easy to see into than Mexico and thus the lack of books holding the voices of local writers was constricting.
Cruisers, with little space for bookshelves, conduct brisk business in book trade. At every major town we visit, after the market and the laundry, the next service sort is the book exchange. But the choice is limited and well picked over. But now armed with our new haul of Ruben Dario "Selected Writings", Giaconda Belli "The Country under my Skin", and Carlos Fuentes "Diana" along with erudite outside observations in Joan Didion's "Salvador" and Salman Rushdie's "Jaguar Smile" we hope to be able add a little to what we have already observed. And with Columbia and South America not so far away now we can look forward to Marquez, Borges and Neruda. It's as exciting as pointing Mandy's bowsprit over the horizon to new lands.

* he finishes "... and the Spray made the discovery that even the worst sea is not so terrible to a well appointed ship" I omitted that to be re-inserted when our journey is safely completed!

Those who choose to roam – meditations on travel

11 July 2009 | San Juan del Sur, Nic
GUEST BLOGGER - Joanna Cross
Flying is more a method of transportation than a travel experience. Interminable hours of queuing and then more queuing, the obligatory four hour delay at Heathrow resulting in a missed connection, more queuing, a delightful stopover in a Houston airport hotel as a guest of Continental Airways, further queuing just for the pleasure of taking off ones shoes and belts and being barked at by officious individuals with guns, and of course lots of sitting looking at lots of other people sitting. One might as well be in a lift (elevator) for all the sensory stimulation available. Oh the joys of modern day air travel or as Rose Macauley once put it "The great and recurrent question about abroad is, is it worth getting there?" But we got there, flying into Liberia in Costa Rica on our way to a rendezvous with Captain Cross and his Able Woman (or Captain Cross and her Cabin Boy?). Compare with an overland border crossing such as Costa Rica to Nicaragua by bus - random queues, heat and dust, no signs, officials in masks, taxi touts, money changers, arbitrary forms to complete and, to us at least, a total absence of any order or logic. But suddenly one isn't merely getting there but 'travelling' and the sights and sounds and, indeed, the challenges all add to the experience. And then there's travelling from country to country over water. No queuing, no waiting, no monotonous hanging around - just the sea and maybe a bit of weather, a raise of a flag and the occasional visit by a port official keen to try out your cotton buds (ask Virginia). But then I think one would say they are roaming, which is different again.

Anyway, we finally arrived in San Juan del Sur. The instructions for meeting up were simple - come to the bay front and either get a water taxi and ask to be taken to the small green boat (pequena velero verde) or try to find somone with a VHF radio (possibly in Big Wave Daves) and call us on Channel 16 or stand on the beach and wave like crazy. Unfortunately, I misremembered the Spanish phrase and now realise that I was actually asking the perplexed water taxi guy if he could please take us to the small green cowboy (pequeno vaquero verde). Understandably, he couldn't so we stood on the beach and waved like crazy. In the event, we literally bumped into Richard and Virginia as we turned a corner on the street. They look good too - fit and tanned and relaxed and happy. Roaming suits them.

We all travelled together to Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua - recently nominated for the new 7th natural wonder of the world and one of the largest islands within a fresh-water lake. Ometepe rises out of the lake in the form of two volcanoes: Concepcion - active, severe and streaked with lava flows and Maderas - extinct, gentler and swathed in cloudforest. The volcanoes are linked by an isthmus of lava-flow. The journey we took - suspensionless bus, overloaded boat, taxi over cratered roads - is everyday stuff for your average Nicaraguan. We stayed on a cooperative coffee farm on the northern slopes of the Maderas volcano where you can hire a hammock for a couple of dollars. We hired a little wooden cabana and sat on the verandah watching the fireflies dance in the darkness and listening to distant howler monkeys. Their idea of service will not win them any awards (milk - maybe later, towels, maybe tomorrow) but do you know? I think I almost preferred it that way. And then we returned to San Juan - Richard & Virginia to their boat and the seas before them and us to England, home.

Water ... again

02 July 2009 | San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
I know that I have covered this subject previously while we were in Zihatanejo, MX being amply supplied by Hilda and her entourage, but water has now taken on a whole new aspect for us with the onset of the rainy season in Central America.

Here I am in the cockpit half heartedly doing some laundry with the results of just a couple of hours of torrential rain. Our 'whole boat' awning has a huge runoff which we direct into pipes and then into our tanks or buckets. Every bucket you see is brimming, our water tanks are topped off and we have not had to buy water for over a month.

It feels very good getting all the water we need from the sky, drying our clothes and growing sprouts in the sun, and eating our own freshly caught fish regularly. Surely this is how life was meant to be. What a perfect arrangement we fell into on this amazing blue planet of ours.

Though technology brings us supposed improvements, I repeatedly question at what cost? On the other hand though, I doubt at this point we would be willing to part with our solar panels, radar, computer and VHF radio. And how in the world did we all manage before Google and Skype?

A few days in Leon

28 June 2009 | Leon, Nicaragua
A little more than two weeks here in the estuary above Corinto has enabled us to do some boat jobs, most notably three coats of varnish on the mast, and visit a couple of Nicaraguan cities.
Three days in Leon, a graceful colonial city full of cloistered adobes whose heavy doors open to reveal cool interior gardens, allowed us to view paintings at the Ortiz-Gurdian House in a setting unlike any other gallery we have visited. Our hotel, a restored colonial adobe, was owned by a cousin of the Ortiz-Gurdian family, and had the same cool and relaxed feel.
The museums and murals of Leon highlight how painful and recent the revolution and contra war aftermath were. Here is a photo review with the story as we understand it.

More pictures of Leon in the Gallery of side trips

Cool shady gardens of Leon

28 June 2009 | Leon
One of the many shaded gardens in the courtyards of Leon
Vessel Name: Mandy
Vessel Make/Model: Bristol Channel Cutter 28 - http://www.capegeorgecutters.com/BCC28/index.html
Hailing Port: San Diego, CA USA
Crew: Richard & Virginia Cross
Having spent 30 years in the racehorse business we felt it was time for a different kind of adventure. Both originally from England we have sailed for fun for over 30 years. We have owned MANDY for five of those and are planning to head south for Mexico etc. in November 2008 - ready or not. [...]

There Goes Mandy!

Who: Richard & Virginia Cross
Port: San Diego, CA USA