Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Seminar Worth Waiting For!

Alright, already!  Enough of these Safety at Sea, All About Rigging, How to Survive a Sinking seminars!  Let’s get down to the real basics of cruising or What To Have For Dinner!  And since our passage to the Marquesas will be about three weeks, the question is: What to Have For Dinner for the next Three Weeks!  And quite possibly because typical provisions in the south pacific are not necessarily what we call comfort food OR because we don’t want to empty out the stores of the supply boats that visit south pacific islands once a month, the question becomes: What to Have For Dinner between Banderas Bay and New Zealand (about seven months worth of meals)!  Provisioning Seminar?  Count me in!  FYI- I sat front and center!

There are as many approaches to provisioning for blue water passages as there are people that provision!  The seminar panel ranged from people who precook and freeze meals (that would be twenty meals!) for the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas to people who take bulk beans and rice and count on catching fish along the way!  They would be the people that don’t even have refrigeration. However, all panelists agreed that if you wrap limes in foil, they will last three times longer than if not wrapped.  Common wisdom here is that any item that you buy un-refrigerated can remain un-refrigerated after opening if you don’t contaminate it (like mayo, relish and other condiments).  Eggs that have not been refrigerated can be kept in the pantry and turned once a week (just make sure they are in breathable containers so they don’t mold).  Whatever you do, do not take any cardboard on board the boat because it holds cockroach eggs, dip all stocks of bananas in sea water before loading (to flush out any roaches) and check behind all labels on cans for cockroach eggs as you are loading them ONE AT A TIME on to the boat…..

As well as provisioning for the voyage, each boat also (according to maritime law) must have a waste management plan for dealing with food scraps and regular trash.  I trust you have heard about the floating island of plastic in the Pacific which is the size of the state of Texas.  Well we don’t want to contribute to making it the size of Texas and Alaska so  we get rid of as much packaging at the dock as possible.  This means decanting all products possible into reusable containers or ziplock bags.  We also want to make everything as small as possible since storage is… well…limited!  Once out at sea (in very deep water) compost may be thrown overboard after being cut up in very tiny pieces, glass may be thrown overboard after cutting off the bottom and cans may also go overboard with both ends open.  Plastic can never go overboard so it has to be washed and cut up very small so it can be stored until it can be properly disposed.  I can’t imagine that many south Pacific islands have good ways of dealing with plastic….. so we will see.  It’s kind of interesting to think about keeping your trash as clean as possible while living in this small space!

Anyway, this is the part of cruising and planning for a voyage that I love!  Making lists, organizing… checking things off of the list!  In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the wonderful markets and cuisine of Mexico from tacos on the street corner to wonderful stews in rich sauces and of course, a wonderful, never ending supply of pan dulce!

Buen Provecho
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Friday, January 28, 2011

Now this is Fun!

Photo by Wendy Beattie

The watermaker on Rutea makes delicious water from sea water and we have come to like it so much that we no longer fill our tanks with water from the municipality, even if it's known to be potable.  Since we only hold 240 gallons, about once a week we need to leave the dock for a day to replenish our tanks.  Experts say we could make water here at the dock but it looks so gross that we never would.  Besides, it keeps our skills sharpened to cast off the dock lines, hoist the sails and explore other parts of Banderas Bay.

Earlier this week we motor-sailed up to Punta de Mita and dropped the anchor close to the surf line.  Corie grabbed her board and jumped in for a 2-hour surfing session.  Once she was back on board, we took off downwind and practiced sailing with a spinnaker pole holding out the genoa.  Rutea's downwind poles are massive and we anticipate using them extensively on our trip to and through the South Pacific so we need to come up with methods to handle them safely on a pitching foredeck.

Wendaway on a broad reach

Mark and Wendy also came out on Wendaway to do much the same thing.  As it turns out, Banderas Bay is almost an ideal place to sail - the winds are very light in the morning and then build in the afternoon.  In the late afternoon they die again.  The bay has very little swell, is almost 15 miles across and has very little traffic on it.  This was day sailing at it's best!

One of the other things that has happened, which may or may not turn out to be a lot of fun, is that we have volunteered to be the coordinators for the 2011 Pacific Puddle Jump.  The person who had originally signed up has rigging issues on their boat and can't leave La Paz.  They were looking for someone in Banderas Bay to take over and me, being not very b-r-i-t-e, volunteered.  At first we thought it was going to be easy but after delving into it for a little bit we're realizing that there's going to be a ton of work to do.  The PPJ organization arranges for bond exemptions in French Polynesia and that hasn't been done yet and, more importantly, the t-shirts haven't been designed or ordered.  Plus a list of other tasks.  O, well, what the hell . . . 

Mark and Wendy leave today for points south and even though they plan on returning before we leave, we'll miss having them next to us.  On the other hand, we're meeting lots of other cruisers and have made many new friends, though those at home will always be fondly remembered.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Marina Vacuum

We've now been in marinas for two weeks (or has it been three?) and we don't know where the time goes.  First we were in Paradise Village Marina and we have since moved to Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, about 40 kilometers from Puerto Vallarta (it's even in a different state - PV is in the state of Jalisco while La Cruz is in Nayarit).  

Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

The exciting part for us is that we're tied up right next to Wendaway, the boat that's owned by my brother, Mark, and his wife, Wendy.  It was truly an unforgettable moment when we saw their beautiful boat slide down the fairway towards where we were waiting to grab their dock lines.  It's not just the family ties that makes our relationship so close - they're both remarkable people with whom we have so many shared interests.  Spending time with them is one of our most valued activities.

Something happens to time when we're in a marina.  Not only does it go faster but it changes.  Sure, there's the physical difference of being in the Central time zone - two hours earlier than Pacific time - and that takes some getting used to in of itself.  When we're at home, we usually wake up about 10 minutes after sunrise.  Here, 10 minutes after sunrise is almost 8am meaning we've lost a major part of the day already.  Granted, the sun doesn't set until almost 7pm but typically cocktails start at 5pm regardless of how late it was when you woke up.

There are other, more subtle changes to time as well, though.  Being in close proximity to others who have so many shared, similar experiences to your own, there is a unique bond that exists.  This enables you to stroll down the dock and begin a conversation with almost anyone, even complete strangers.  Friendships often develop this way and before you know it, you might be making plans with someone for some local expedition even though you had only met minutes before.  The minutes evaporate quickly and become history as the Marina Vacuum consumes your time.

This is not to say that we nothing to show for it, though it is precious little.  We did get to see a spectacular production of the Ballet Folklorico that was produced by Amalia Hernandez at the Teatro Vallarta, a beautiful venue.  It was truly an exquisite production by professional dancers doing mostly traditional dances, however, there were several that were unique in style and portrayal of Mexican life.  In particular, there was one dance of women with rifles, their usually smiling faces stern and their marching across the stage forceful - profound, moving and beautiful all at the same time.

We've made new friends and learned new games.  We're fixing things on the boat and Corie is getting some surfing in.  We might eat and drink too much but at least Ruthie and Corie have been diligent with their yoga.  I spend too much time on the computer, trying to find parts and figure out how to get them into Mexico.  On rare occasions, I update the blog.  If I can find the time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The First Pacific Puddle Jump Seminar

We're currently tied up at the Paradise Village Marina which is part of the Paradise Village Resort. If you didn't know for a fact that you were in Mexico, you could easily be fooled for a Vegas-style resort with a beautiful beach. The main hotel building is in the shape of a three-pointed star and the Aztec motif is tastefully done, if a little ostentatious. There are many other buildings including a gymnasium-sized spa and a shopping center that's complete with boutiques, restaurants, a grocery store and, of course, a Starbucks.

One of the smaller buildings is the home to the Vallarta Yacht Club. Sitting right on the estuary, it has no slips of it's own but does have dining room, bar, large outdoor patio, swimming pool and a huge hot tub. They are the sponsors of the Pacific Puddle Jump and this afternoon they hosted the first seminar in a series. The speaker today was Eugenie Russell, a young woman who is employed by J World Sailing, which offers classes and charters up and down the west coast of the US and Mexico. Eugenie is a licensed captain and has extensive experience all over the world sailing. Her claim to fame is that she was the skipper of a boat that sank 2 years ago that had four students aboard. They were sailing aboard a J120, a 40-foot sloop-rigged boat that's primarily designed for racing. Eugenie and her 4 students were taking part in the Baja HaHa, a sailboat rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas when, about 200 miles south of San Diego, they hit a whale and their boat sank.

Even though Eugenie is not a professional speaker, her story of the events that took place were riveting. The US Coast Guard largely credits her with saving the lives of the 4 students (one was a 60-year old grandmother). She credits the successful rescue to the fact that they were well prepared for an emergency and remained calm throughout the accident and rescue. She is a small woman but the consummate professional, even so, there were times when I felt that the recollection of the events made her emotional, though she never openly displayed any such reaction.

Essentially, her advice is to be as well equipped as is practical but to test all equipment thoroughly before going off shore. She also said that unless something is physically attached to you (via carabiner), you'll most likely lose it. The two most essential pieces of equipment she said were the EPIRB and the liferaft, although in her story, the handheld VHF radio played a big part as well.

Her talk left many of the 60 or so people shaking their heads but I doubt anyone will change their plans because of what they heard. It was a freak accident and those can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone, on the high seas or elsewhere. Frankly, I felt confident after her talk because it supports the efforts that I've made to prepare Rutea. We will make a few changes but we could easily leave tomorrow and know that we'd be well prepared for most serious situations.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another Major Destination Reached!

My New Facebook Profile Photo?

This post is actually out of order as I should have written about our trip from Mazatlan to Bahia Matachen (hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror); our jungle cruise into the forest where huge crocodiles lie; our luxurious evening of cocktails aboard the motor yacht Mystic or the trip down to Bahia Banderas when we saw so many whales and turtles that most of us wouldn't even look up when someone said, "Big humpback breaching just off the port bow!".

Perhaps I'll make a future post of those things that happened in the past.

However, now we're in Bahia Banderas and this represents a major milestone in our cruise.  It  is here that the events take place for the Pacific Puddle Jump, the loosely organized series of seminars and parties for those heading to the South Pacific.  The first seminar is on Saturday - about abandoning ship in the event of an emergency.  Even though we're barely in Bahia Banderas, there's a palpable level of excitement we can feel over the radio for the fleet that's getting ready to depart.

Right now, we're anchored just off of Punta de Mita, on the northwest corner of this 17-mile deep bay.  It's famous for it's surfing and the off-the-charts luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel, which occupies the majority of the point.  Charming restaurants line the beach and tourists from all over the world work very hard at doing nothing other than absorbing the warm rays of the sun.

But all is not idyllic in this otherwise-seeming paradise.  We've had several equipment failures and I'm scrambling to find replacement parts and get them here.  It's a relief that I had wisely invested in a substantial spare parts inventory but now I'm replacing those spare parts with so much useless junk.

Ok, my turn in the shower, if Corie hasn't used up all the water.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Things that go bump in the night

There are really only a handful of very calm anchorages on the west coast of North America. It's easy to understand why, with 6,000 miles of fetch but it means that most of the anchorages will provide some, if not a lot, of motion. We try not to be too fussy and can generally tolerate a fair amount of rolling, subscribing to the cliche, 'let the boat rock you to sleep'. However, at night at anchorage, it's often not the motion that can keep one from sleeping but rather the sounds that the boat makes once the radios, iPods, guitars, etc are quiet.

A common scenario is you've just gotten in your bunk, looking forward to a good night's sleep. Then, you hear it: brrrrrrrrrrr - tock. Your eyes open and you listen for the sound again. Sure enough, as Rutea rolls back the other way: brrrrrrrrrrr - tock. It's not a loud or even unpleasant sound but now you can't focus on anything else. What the hell could that be? My mind goes through a check list of things stowed: spare parts, canned goods, rigging equipment, tools . . . brrrrrrrrrrr - tock. I concentrate on it. Actually, it sounds like a golf ball rolling across a piece of wood and then hitting a bulkhead. Except, that neither Ruthie nor I have ever picked up a golf club and I know there are no golf balls aboard. brrrrrrrrrrr - tock. I could get up and try to find the source of the annoyance but quite likely one of two things would happen: The sound would stop as soon as I left my bunk or I'd have to tear the boat apart and never would find the golf ball sound-alike.

We keep a large inventory of small terry cloth towels (we call them deck towels as we mostly use them for keeping the stainless polished, the gel coat free from water spots and the windshield clean enough to see through), however, they can also be handy for cushioning things so they don't rattle. Or roll. Or go brrrrrrrrrr - tock in the night.

We're just about to put to sea, this time leaving a very nice anchorage just south of Mazatlan for the anchorage just south of San Blas called Matachen Bay. Last night the mystery sound was coming from the spare alternator that is stowed on the shelf in my hanging locker. Only took a couple of minutes to find.
At 1/8/2011 5:31 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 23°10.96'N 106°24.56'W

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Expect it to be different . . .

Photo taken by Corie en route to Frailes

We collect weather information from a variety of sources before we head out.  One of our favorite is from a man by the name of Tom, who generously gives his time to analyze and then broadcast his forecasts on the Chubasco and other maritime ham radio nets.   His call sign is  AA6TP.  Before we left San Jose del Cabo, I specifically asked Tom what kind of conditions we should expect for the 25-mile sail to Bahia de los Frailes.  Whereas Tom did say that waiting a day would be better, he said that the winds would be 10 to 20 knots out of the northwest.  It was bright and sunny as we got underway, the seas calm and I didn't even get too upset when the compass controller on our autopilot failed.  However, as we rounded Punta Gordo the winds began to build and soon they were steady at 30 to 35 knots.  Walls of water would come smashing at Rutea's bow and though she's tough and weighs over 40,000 pounds, the power of the waves held her forward speed to a crawl.  Her bow would point skyward as she climbed over yet another mountain of water and then suddenly point almost straight down as the wave left us as quickly as it had come.  With a reefed main flying, we short tacked up the coast as even a few miles off the shore the waves were significantly bigger.  What is usually a 4-hour hop stretched into an 8-hour roller coaster ride.  None of us felt well though nobody, well, er, um, 'fed the fish'.  The interior stayed remarkably dry though spray had soaked the outside of the boat thoroughly.  As we finally reached the anchorage, the anchor chain had been tossed around so badly in it's locker that it was a giant knot.  The wind continued to howl but by midnight had died completely.  The photo above was taken early in the trip because shortly after that, according to Corie, it got 'gnarly'.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rite of Passage

This is my 5th voyage down the outside of "The Baja".  Every single one of them has been different!  Relatively speaking, this cruise down was a 'piece of cake'!  Glossy seas gave the opportunity to see lots of birds, whales and dolphins.  Minimal swell provided the advantage of being able to anchor in more open roadsteds and explore places we had not yet seen.

Yet, the one thing every thing every trip down the Baja holds in common is Transition- yes, with a capital T!  I guess it could also be Initiation to the cruising life.... with a capital I!

First there is the obvious transition of life from a house to life on a boat.  From a home that never moves to one in constant motion!  There is the scaling down of spacial requirements.  Being that there are three of us on this trip, we each have about 16 linear feet of space per person or maybe 28 square feet per person to call our own!  the first thing to learn is to take up less space when you stretch, spread out your project or get emotional!

Of course there is also remembering how to use the boat itself!  How to connect on the radios (a very important emergency tool), how to program the GPS, operate the radar, make water, check the engine oil and gauges, start the genset (generator) to charge the batteries, raise and lower the windlass to set the anchor- you get the picture!  Everything (for me) just requires a little more muscle- climbing up and down the ladder in the companion-way, pulling in the sails, steering in rolly seas.....

As one sails south down the "outside" it is like sailing in the desert!  We leave the beautiful oasis of irrigated so-cal and enter a landscape of stark beauty- treeless mountains, windswept beaches and eroded cliffs and plateaus covered only by scrub brush and occasional cactus.  Life on land is not obvious as it takes cover during the day from the scorching sun, mostly to emerge in the evening and night under a bone chilling marine layer.  I know that it is there... I see the coyote tracks....

Reading the water becomes critical.  Change in water color indicates change in depth.  Ripples show where there is wind, churning may show a fish boil, a plume of spray in the air:  a pod of whales or a blow hole in the rocks.  A dark spot on the surface of the water may be a shark sunning itself.  As important as are our eyes, our other senses begin to be more importantly counted on- the  smell a village occurs before it is seen,  listening for the differences in the wind- the sound of wind howling in the rigging  tells its velocity-, feeling the difference in sea motion indicates if you are on or off course.

This Transition time is important in the life of a cruiser.  It's like a gestation period where you leave life as you know it and are born into a realm where mother nature rules supreme and you jockey position with the wind and the waves.....  Every day is different and every day is new!  On this passage down the Baja I remember I am on my own for entertainment, fullfillment, a lift in spirits or courage for what the next weather system or anchorage may bring.

So after 850 miles (at 6 knots per hour) I pretty much have my sea legs!  I've remembered what I have signed up for!  I am again Initiated!  I have completed a rite of passage and have earned my Right to Passage!


Adios, San Jose del Cabo

We're getting ready to leave San Jose del Cabo, the remarkably delightful town that's so different from Cabo San Lucas just 20 miles away.  We hope that SJdC can keep it's charm and small size, however, there's pressure for it to become similar to it's neighbor to the west.  In fact, almost in the center of town they're building a WalMart - across from one of our favorite thatch-roofed restaurants.

Even though it's been cold (by southern Baja California standards - morning temperatures in the mid 50s) we've enjoyed our stay.  Corie got some surfing in, we celebrated New Year's Eve with new friends and it marked a significant milestone in our trip.  Perhaps the biggest news we received while here is that our daughter, Caity, has gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Danny.  Their wedding won't be for a while but we're very happy for both of them.  I've got so many marriage lectures to share with them!

From here, we're planning on going just around the corner to Bahia de los Frailes, a small anchorage that's well protected from the 20-knot northwest winds that are forecast.  We'll spend the night there and then head for Mazatlan, which, according to our chartplotter, is exactly 163 miles to the east.  Hopefully, it will be warmer there.  The people we met on Freya, a 53' Irwin ketch, are going to 'buddy boat' with us.  On board is a family with a 22 year old young woman, her 18 year old brother, their father and a friend of the family.  We have a lot in common and we're enjoying each others company.  Corie has finally met someone her age instead of all these old people we keep running in to.

We're hopeful that 2011 will be a good year for all with peace, good health, happiness, fun adventures and much wealth, however you define it.  Please drop us a note sometime as it's a high part of our day to hear from you.  So long for now.