The Sun and the Sea
24 May 2018 | Edgartown, Massachussetts
It was April. The weather was heating up. The humidity too. Most of our cruising friends had already left. Some had sailed south to El Salvador or the Panama Canal. Some did the Puddle Jump, crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas. Some sailed north to spend the summer in the Sea of Cortez. And others, like us, were putting their boats to bed in Mexico and heading home.
We always have mixed feelings about leaving. Our cruising life is exciting, challenging and fun. Sometimes it is terrifying. Always, it leaves us with a sense of accomplishment. The downside is being so far away from home and family. I was homesick and ready to close out the season. Jay, not so much. “Why do we want to go where it is so cold?” He asked me on more than one occasion.
“I like weather.” I replied. “Sunshine every single day is nice, but it gets boring. Besides, it won’t last for long.”
In the first four weeks of being home on Martha’s Vineyard, the sun came out only two days. Two days! It was rainy and cold. The sky was overcast constantly. I woke up one morning and looked out the window. The fog was a thick white sheet hovering over the green grass and wallowing between the trees. Dew dripped from the leaves. The newly-planted flowers were stifled by the chill. I wondered if somehow, we had been transported to England. The depression that takes over from lack of sunshine and vitamin D had long since gotten to Jay. Finally, I too, succumbed.
Mother’s Day weekend Talia arrived and with her, the sun. We enjoyed the afternoon at our favorite local hang, Coup de Ville, overlooking Oak Bluffs Harbor. Our moods were enhanced both by the sunshine and Talia’s beautiful smile. There are certain traditions we adhere to when we come back to the island and each time we say, “Now we are home.” Hanging out at Coup de Ville is one of them.
The rain and cold reared its ugly head again the next morning. Just in time for our 5K along South Beach. Oh well. It just made us move that much faster.
When Talia left on Sunday afternoon, she called us from the ferry as we were driving back to Edgartown. “Did you know your boat is in the water?” We immediately drove back to Vineyard Haven.
There she was, Skipjack, our 18’ Herreshoff America catboat we keep in Martha's Vineyard. She was sitting at a mooring, gently rocking and just waiting for us to pick her up and take her back home, to Katama Bay. Jay and I were elated. Until we checked the weather. Cold and rainy for the next week. “What happened to spring?” Jay wanted to know.
“I think this is spring.” I said, sadly. “An endless spring.”
One week later, we were on our way to pick up Skipjack. We were on the bus, traveling on the road between State Beach and Sengekontacket Pond. “The island looks so different.” I said. For weeks everything around us had been a dull gray. Now, with the air dry and crisp, everything was perfectly clear. The water, on both sides of the road, was a vibrant blue. The shoreline, covered with the barren gray trees, contrasted nicely with the pond’s reflection of the sky. That is just one thing that is so special about Martha’s Vineyard; the ever-changing light.
On board Skipjack, we dropped the mooring and headed out of Vineyard Haven Harbor. I would like to say we sailed her home but the sea was flat and there was no wind. What little wind that came up, was on the nose. Of course. It didn’t dampen our spirits, though. The sun was shining. We were back on the water, on our boat. “Now we are home.” We said as we smiled at each other.
09 March 2018 | Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
Punta de Mita anchorage.
It was late February and we were in Barra waiting for a weather window. It seemed like we had one norther after another after another. Finally, in three days' time, it looked like one might open up.
Meanwhile, Jay was checking the engine, checking the oil, checking the transmission, checking the coolant...wait! What? "There's no coolant in the reservoir." Jay told me. "It's empty."
"How can that be?" I asked. He checked the hoses. One of them had a leak. This was certainly a downer as there is no easy way to find boat parts in Barra.
We immediately called "our guy," Pancho. (Everyone needs a "guy" in every port. No! I know what you are thinking. Not like that. We need a guy who has local connections. A guy who can fix things and when he can't, he knows someone who can.) Pancho and his nephew went out on a search.
While they were looking, Jay made a few phone calls himself. He called some businesses in Manzanillo (a forty-minute taxi ride), and he called some friends who then gave us some numbers and names of friends. No luck. Our one big hope was Jonco. He is one of the few guys we know in Barra that works on boat engines. He gave a lazy laugh. "There are no 1 1/8" exhaust hoses in Mexico. They don't exist." He told us. I looked at Jay. "Seriously? Now what?"
Here was the problem. Our weather window was closing in, but there was no way we were leaving without replacing the hose. Getting a hose from the United States to Mexico would be no easy task and could take weeks, even months. My kids were flying into PV on the 14th of March so we needed to be back. I know two weeks sounds like a long time, but considering the dilemma we were facing, the odds of that happening were looking pretty slim. We were quietly panicking.
Leave it to "our guy" Pancho. He couldn't find a 1 1/8" exhaust hose, but he did come up with a 1 1/8" heater hose. At first, Jay was hesitant to use it, but after talking with a few people who all agreed it should work, he installed it. He tested it. And tested it again. Believe it or not, it worked!
On March 1st, we headed north with the open weather window, albeit a small one. With that in mind, we decided to skip Tenacatita and motor sail straight to Chamela. We arrived to find another twelve boats in our same situation, all wanting to head north around Cabo Corrientes. (Corrientes means "currents" in Spanish. The wind and seas can get rather fierce there if you don't time it right.)
We spent the evening listening in on Channel 22 on the VHF as the cruisers kept checking with each other. Everyone wanted advice to the timing of rounding Corrientes. Some were leaving at four in the morning. Others, five. Some at six. One was leaving at 11 am. We decided on six am.
We slept outside in the cockpit and at 4:30 am, I woke up. I sat up and watched a boat's stern lights head out of the bay. I was wide awake. I decided to wake Jay and suggested we go ahead and leave. At 5:50 (the sun rises at 7:15ish), we weighed anchor and were on our way. By that time, there were already five boats in front of us.
We left with the attitude that we could either motor sail the 50 nm to Ipala and anchor for the night, leaving at four the next morning to go around Cabo Corrientes or, if Ipala was crowded, we would keep going. Fortunately, the winds were down and the sea was relatively calm.
About 4pm, just outside Ipala, we saw there were only two boats anchored there. Even though it is a small cove, we could have fit in easily. But the conditions were such that we decided to keep going. If all went well, we would arrive at Punta de Mita around midnight. All went well. However, it was quite confusing between all the different lights. There were lights on the Marietta's Islands to our left and city lights all around the bay, in front of us and to our right. To add to the confusion, fireworks were going off sporadically throughout the evening. And we couldn't discern anchor lights from the town lights until we were right up on them. Eventually, it all became clear and we dropped anchor in 35 feet of water under our spreader lights and a full moon. We tucked in for a good night's sleep.
Later in the afternoon the next day, Jay looked at me and said, "I'm glad you suggested we stay here for another night. It gives us time to decompress." Not long after that, a whale came up, leisurely swimming alongside our boat! Literally, about twenty feet off the port side. It was a great way to end a successful voyage; lounging around on the boat at anchor, reading, eating, napping, even whale-watching.
I'll be honest, though. I was nervous about this latest trip. Before leaving, we heard from our friends who had to abandon their boat on their way from Cartagena to Jamaica in twenty-foot seas after three days of storms that took out their sails and engine. Then we heard of two other experienced sailors who lost their lives just outside Ensenada when they hit a storm while on their way home to San Diego after seven years of cruising. They never found the boat. Just two bodies washed up along the shore. I was spooked. So, this trip was good for us. Despite some of our hardships, we spent two months cruising, traveled 726-miles, and we were fine. Cadenza was fine. We were back in the saddle.
The Sounds of Mexico
27 February 2018 | Barra de Navidad
When I was a little girl, my friend, Lisa, and I would take listening walks. We would walk around the block and write down everything we heard and then compare to see who heard the most sounds. That person would win the game. What is particularly interesting about this (other than I have never met another person who played this game) is that when I became a TV producer, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the sound mix. On Star Trek: DS9, we had three mixers; one for dialogue and Foley, one for music, and one for sound effects. Their job was to create the best sound for their individual parts. My job was to listen to the mix as a whole. My comments were something like this: raise the dialogue, add more walla, we need a bigger explosion. So, it was no surprise, that as we were walking through town one day, Jay said, "You should do a blog about the sounds of Mexico. Too bad you can't record it and put it on the blog." Actually, there must be a way, but I am not technically savvy. I am a writer, so with my words and your imagination, maybe you will hear the sounds of Mexico.
To begin with, I must mention the birds. Every morning and every evening their songs fill the air. They are not the sweet, musical tweets of New England birds in spring. Many of these birds' vocals are harsh. They caw and whistle and cluck in succession. However, the white egret is silent as she moves gracefully along the dock. Her eyes peer down intently at the water waiting to catch her next meal.
There are many sounds emanating in and around the ocean too. The waves hitting the shoreline, of course. Small fish jumping, running away from some other bigger fish. The dolphins' breath as they swim alongside our bow. Rays doing belly-flops as they dance across the sea. And if we are lucky, a whale might breach, jumping clear out of the water, making a big, thunderous thud as he hits the water.
While we are on our boat, we leave the VHF radio on. That is how we cruisers communicate. In Barra, at 0830, six days a week we hear, "This is your French baker. I am entering the marina." He says this with an authentic French accent. He is here to deliver fresh baked goods to our boats by panga. Ding ding. Ding ding. This is the bell he rings as he passes our dock.
Pangas are everywhere. They are the main mode of transportation along the coast. They are used for tours and for fishing. It is common to hear their motors charging by at all hours of the day and night. Many times, we hear music blasting from their boats. Once, in Zihuatanejo, a panga driver passed our boat and we could hear an opera playing from his radio. He stood tall, (Panga drivers often stand while driving.) with his hand on the tiller and sang along at the top of his lungs. He had a beautiful, deep voice. A baritone, maybe?
The many sounds make us laugh as we walk through the streets of Barra. Fresh water is delivered in five-gallon jugs by truck. The hatchback drives along very slowly. There is a loudspeaker on the hood. Out of it a man's voice bellows in Spanish. I don't know exactly what he is saying, but I'm sure he is advertising his water. It echoes through the town. Propane is delivered this way too.
Mexicans love their music. And so it goes that you will hear it coming from homes, businesses and cars as you walk by. The other day, we were on our way to the Port Captain. We turned a corner and heard loud music. We looked up to see three young girls dancing and singing on the second-floor balcony. When they saw us, they giggled and ran inside. And one Monday night, when we were leaving our favorite restaurant, we ran into a block party. Thirty, or so, people were gathered around in a circle, sitting on chairs in the middle of the street. There was a band playing and some people dancing in the center of the circle. Gail and I just naturally started moving to the music. They saw us and called us over. At first, we were shy. But, as they kept insisting we thought, oh, what the heck. We ran over, entered the circle and danced with them for a few minutes. There were no words spoken, only laughter as two cultures joined together in song.
Motorcycles are another staple in Mexico. They are an inexpensive way to get around. They putter through town. It is not unusual to see a mother with her two children; one on her lap and one behind her, holding on. They wear no helmets. I worry for them.
That same day we walked to the Port Captain we saw two horses clomping down the road. Clickety-click, clickety-click. No one was with them, other than a dog following. A rooster crowed. And they don't just crow in the mornings, either! They banter back and forth day and night.
On the way back through town, we passed the elementary school. We could hear the children's laughter and shouts as they ran around the playground. A child's joy always makes me smile.
Next, we passed the Catholic Church. Three masses a day are celebrated here. It was noon and the parishioners were singing hymns they know by heart. Many years ago, a hurricane hit Barra hard, causing part of the church's roof to collapse, breaking the arms of Jesus. Legend has it that this coincided with the wind stopping. The broken crucifix still hangs in the church, a constant reminder of their faith.
The sounds of life are universal and yet, at the same time, unique to individual cultures. These are some of the sounds of Mexico.
Living in the Slow Lane
19 February 2018 | Barra de Navidad
A young girl helps her mother at work.
February 16, 2018
Approximate location: Punta San Telmo
It is three-thirty in the morning. I am munching on Cheese Puffs and staring at the radar screen. There is a flashing light four miles to starboard and a tanker twelve miles to port. We are on our way from Zihuatanejo to Bahia Santiago and I am on watch. Our friends, Tony and Diane from s/v Dolce, are sleeping below. Jay lies next to me in the cockpit, resting. The wind is light. The seas are calm. The sky is filled with thousands of stars but no moon. There is nothing much to do but relax and enjoy the balmy night air. I think back to our days in Zihuatanejo.
February 13, 2018
One hundred gallons of water had been delivered and syphoned into our tanks. The laundry had also been delivered and put away. We scrubbed the boat inside and out (including 50 feet of smelly-fishy anchor chain) in preparation for our guests who will be crewing with us. We recharged the battery and put the charger away. Put out the jack lines. You know - boat chores. Our last chore for the day was to go to Telcel in town. But first, prep the dinghy.
Poor Patches. She is on her last legs. She is taking on water. She isn't holding air. One tire has a big bubble in it and the hose to the gas tank split yesterday. Jay fixed that. Still, every single time we use the dinghy, it is bail and pump. Bail and pump.
We arrived at the beach and, as usual, the dinghy valets were waiting for us. They are a welcome sight. For a few pesos they help us in and out and watch our dinghies twenty-four hours a day. They are a friendly bunch and will help with anything if we ask. After visiting with them for a few minutes, we found our way to the Malecon. It was 85 degrees with 70% humidity. We were both exhausted. Sailfest had kept us busy and living at anchor takes work. Jay suggested we stop at the coffee shop and I readily agreed.
All coffee connoisseurs love this place. The owner not only grinds and brews each cup fresh, but he roasts the beans to your liking. It is a tiny shop with a few tables out on the street. Jay orders a mocha for him and an iced green tea for me. Weary, I sat down outside and observed this little corner of the world.
Zihuatanejo is different than we expected. Well, it is and it isn't. We expected a small, sleepy beach town. And along the shore that is what we found. What we didn't expect was how big the city is and how it stretches out in all directions from town Centro.
Centro is unique too, in its design. The Malecon runs along the beach as always, but it is shaded with palm trees. Shops and restaurants line the walk along with the local fish coop on one side. It is absolutely charming. We didn't ever come upon the usual town square with the church on one side of the street and the civic center on the other with a park in the middle. What we did find were diagonal streets interlaced between the horizontal and vertical ones. Only foot traffic was allowed on the diagonal streets and the restaurants set up their tables and chairs outside. Evenings, these streets come alive with customers enjoying their meals under the stars.
I had a view of the beach from where I sat at the coffee shop, but it was the town streets that attracted my attention. Few cars passed this way. Across the street, a gringo sat outside his shop, sipping a beer. Paintings and photographs hung on the outer walls, as well as dresses. It seems he sells a little bit of everything. This is typical. Merchants sell whatever they get their hands on.
Another gringo, a tall, slender man with long hair and a beard, walked up to the shopkeeper. He wore swimming trunks, a tee-shirt and flip flops. He held a dog in his arms. The two conversed in English. From what I could overhear, they had just met. They chatted. They chuckled. "Don't be a stranger." The shopkeeper yelled as the tall man walked away.
A few minutes later, a young woman walked by. She was moving faster than most. Her blonde hair was pulled into a loose bun. She was barefoot and eating the last of a sandwich. Her eye caught a young Mexican man. Her friend, perhaps? She called him over. They spoke in fluent Spanish. After a few minutes, they bid each other goodbye and left in different directions.
This is how it goes here. The pace is slow. People take time to stop and visit. There is no rushing about. It is a much different lifestyle than the one I led when I had a career in Los Angeles and was raising two children. Here, the children walk home from school. We see them at their parents' work. If old enough, they help. If too young, they sit outside and play on the sidewalk. There are no nannies. Just family. They might not be rich in pesos, but I'm thinking they are rich in other ways. Different lifestyles for different folks. I'm kind of liking this one; living in the slow lane.
Reflections on Water
05 February 2018 | Zihuatanejo
February 5, 2018
At first glance, the light glistens off the waves in the sea. If I look a little deeper, I might see a fish or a turtle swimming underneath. And if I look really deep... What might I find there? That is one of the pleasures of cruising; an almost forced opportunity to contemplate.
I used to lead a very, very busy life. As a television producer, I worked 50 to 60-hour weeks. With two children in the house, there were dance lessons to go to, choir practice, volleyball and basketball, Cub Scouts and Brownies, doctor appointments, recitals, homework and well, you know how it goes. And now, with modern technology bombarding the airwaves, the influx of news is constant. I found myself always running, running, running, always doing or planning. I loved that part of my life, but there was little time to sit still and just be.
My life is different now. Because of Jay, I have this incredible gift of living two lifestyles; one is our land-based home on Martha’s Vineyard, and the other is our west coast house, our boat, Cadenza, currently in Mexico. The real prize, though, is time. I have time to stop, look, listen. Time to look deeper.
I’m turning 60 this year. I’m okay with it, I guess. It’s just I am watching my body change and that is hard. My chin is sinking into my neck. Lines mark my face. Age spots are appearing on my hands. My skin is sagging. This is also the time of life where we watch our parents age too. A preview of what might be in store for us. Many of you know my mom suffered from Dementia. The long goodbye, I call it. We watched as her body functions started to cease, one by one. I have often wondered why. There must be some greater purpose for the aging process, but what? And then I read a really good novel, “Breakfast with Buddha."
“Breakfast with Buddha” is about a middle-aged man traveling home to North Dakota to settle his parents’ estate. His sister talks him into taking her friend, Volya Rinpoche, a spiritual guru. Life lessons are learned along the way. It is sweet, humorous and thought-provoking. At the end of the book there are questions for the author. Below is one of them.
Question: “In explaining your belief system, you once made the following statement: ‘In a mysterious fashion not completely understandable to us, everything moves the individual toward humility.’ Please elaborate.”
Author: “If you are young, beautiful, strong, and talented and live long enough, all of that will be taken away from you. If you are tremendously rich, you can’t carry your wealth across the threshold of death. Those are facts, not tenets of any religion. For all but the most conceited or desperately insecure, it seems that you get wiser as you age, and that wisdom and humility go hand in hand. I know it isn’t that simple, and I know some older people who are far from humble. But it seems to me that life is a kind of boot camp, designed to break you down and build you up in a different way – if you let it. So, you lose your ability to sprint a hundred yards, but maybe you gain something more important in the process.”
My prayer has been to age gracefully. For me that meant physically. Now I understand that aging gracefully has nothing to do with the physical and everything to do with the spiritual. This little insight has opened a new window into how I look at my future.”
Thank you, Gail, for sharing this book.
Running on Empty
29 January 2018 | Zihuatanejo
January 27, 2018
After twenty days of hard work (Jay's hard work), the boat was ready for the two hundred-mile trip to Zihuantanejo. Our friend, Don Lehman, had flown in from California to join us for this leg. Provisioning was done. Mild winds were predicted for the next few days. We all agreed, we would leave Thursday, the 25th of January.
Thursday morning, Jay was already out of bed when I heard a strange sound. "Is that rain?" I yelled up to him. "Yup." Minutes later, all three of us sat slumped in the cockpit.
"Rain? Really?" Jay looked at me. "In five seasons, how many times has it rained? Twice?"
"And the weather report this morning says this system could sit over top of us for days." I added.
Now we were feeling like a black cloud was hanging over us and not just literally. It wasn't the rain, necessarily. After all, we had sailed happily under rainy conditions in the Pacific Northwest. It was just so many things went wrong/broke on our way down to Barra we were beginning to wonder if this was some kind of omen; maybe we shouldn't make the trip, after all.
Neither Don, nor I, wanted to pressure Jay. He was worried we would be disappointed. We talked it through and decided that if we didn't leave we could still have a great time in and around Barra. I could visually see Jay's body language change. (These decisions of when to go, or not go - especially when other people and schedules are involved - are incredibly difficult. Don flew in for this. His wife, Bobbi was to meet us in Zihuantanejo and I was committed to writing an article about Sailfest for Cruising Outpost. Everyone was dressed up and ready to go. And then someone has to make the hard decision and it ultimately falls on the captain. A lot of pressure.) Our hesitation only lasted about an hour, though. The sun came out, Jay asked us if we were comfortable leaving. "Our first leg is only 25 miles, Jay. We can always come back. Take it one day at a time." Don agreed. "Okay then, let's go." We untied the lines and off we went.
Our first stop was Bahia Santiago. It is a large, beautiful anchorage that lies next to the even larger shipping port of Manzanillo. We settled in for a relaxing night with incredibly calm seas.
Friday morning came early. Our plan was to leave at 4am so that we could arrive at Isla Grande in daylight. It would take us approximately 36 hours (190 nm) and we would anchor around 4pm Saturday afternoon. I had set the alarm for 3:15, but being anxious, woke up at 2am.
It was pitch black as we left the bay. Jay and I took turns navigating by radar, while Don, and whoever was not on the helm, peaked over the dodger, using every set of eyes on deck. We passed an anchored freighter on one side and a set of rocks on the other. We slowly moved out while dodging another freighter as it came into port. Boy, are they big! Our new friends, Tod and Donna on Single D, were right behind us. It was comforting to know there would be another boat within radio contact on our trip down.
The sun came out at 7:30 and we had an easy motor-sail for several hours. The ocean has many moods and the wind knows just how to stir her up. I can honestly say, after our Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on the way down to Barra, I was thankful for little wind and flat seas. Around 1:30, the wind arrived and we had a nice sail with 17 knots. I was on the helm and with the sails trimmed just right, Cadenza took off like the thoroughbred she is. Things calmed down by evening. As the sun set, we saw the moon was already right above us. It was three-quarters full and illuminated the sea for several more hours. Around 1am, the moon set and the sky lit up with thousands of stars. The seas were calm. Just beautiful.
It seems no leg of any one trip can go without at least one mishap. Two miles out from Isla Grande, we began to prepare for anchoring. We dropped our sails. Jay turned off the auto pilot to find out we had no hand-steering. Hmm. Slight, quiet panic. He quickly discerned that it probably was lack of hydraulic fluid. Good news/bad news. A possibly easy fix, but to get to where we fill it, we had to partially disconnect our electronics on the binnacle. Don and I assisted Jay. Fifteen minutes later we were back up and running.
Sleep-deprived and a little shook up, we decided to skip Isla Grande and headed straight for Zihuatanejo. On the way there, a humpback whale appeared just off our beam. Right then, she jumped clear out of the water, did a full circle and splashed into the sea! Woo-Hoo! Welcome to Zihuat.
It is 5:30 and we are anchored safely in Zihuantanejo after 37 hours. We are surrounded by mountains. Tall buildings are perched along the hills. The bay is full of boats, both power and sail. The wind has died down and the sun still burns against my skin. No matter which way I turn I can't escape it. It is 91 in the cabin with 70% humidity. Sweat pours down my face. My hair is coated with salt and no amount of brushing helps. I haven't showered in three days. Needless to say, I'm a bit grumpy. Jay asks me what is wrong. "Look, we're here. It's beautiful. It's just what you wanted." He is baffled by my mood.
"I know, I know. It's just so hot." I am grateful. Truly, I am. I think I just need a shower and some sleep.