Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Heading North

Now that we've finished with all our guests on board it's become time to start heading north for the last part of our trip this year.  We have a haul out date of April 13th in Guaymas which is about 300 NM from La Paz.  On paper it doesn't seem very far but we'll be fighting the north winds all the way....  Or so we thought...
We left La Paz in light northerlies under sail and through out the first day the winds slowly clocked around to the south.  For the next two days we sailed long days taking advantage of the unexpected perfect "going north" weather, sailing past our planned stops happy that we didn't have to use fuel.
Caleta Nopolo at dawn

For those that haven't kept up with our blog, winds in our favour is a very big deal for us here in the Sea.  Since we've arrived we've been told that winds are generally from the north.  Which has consistently been the case until we decide we had to go south.  Our mast head wind indicator has only functioned as a pointer of where we are trying to go, meaning the wind has been against us for the vast majority of the past three months.  For once the wind was perfect and we were enjoying every minute of it.

New vs Old (ie, from the engine) impeller
On the third day the sea gods figured we'd had enough enjoyment and decided to smite us.  The day started off pleasant enough under light sailing conditions, but slowly the winds increased from the north and the seas built.  Happy that we were still able to sail we reefed and deployed the padding to keep our bums happy.  Then the clouds grew darker.  Then the lightning and thunder started.  Then the winds and seas picked up more.  Then we decided it was time to get off the water.  The closest indent that offered any protection was Puerto Los Gatos, a small bay surrounded by jagged rocks.  We sailed right into the bay proud that we had survived the day.  Unfortunately the sea gods weren't done with us yet.  As we turned the engine on and dropped the sails we realized there was no water cooling our engine.  After a Chinese fire-drill of trying to decide what to do (remember there's a thunderstorm overhead and wind and big seas), we drop the anchor where we sit and shut the engine down.  We didn't get into the bay enough to offer complete protection so we were stuck with fun house conditions until the engine was fixed.

Red rocks at Puerto Los Gatos
8 hours later in rolly, hot and humid conditions (those conditions always make me soooo happy and easy to be around), we had the engine back together after finding most of the pieces scattered in various parts of the complicated water cooling system from the rubber water pump impeller vanes.

This was the same issue we had on the west coast of Baja after another bumpy sail.  Somehow we are getting airlocks into our water cooling system that the pump cannot overcome.   We have some thoughts on changes to make in order to prevent it from happening again but for now we will just be vigilant in making sure water is always flowing out the back.

Road Runner...Beep Beep!
The next morning was a new day and the sea gods had finally focused their attention somewhere else.  We had a pleasant sail to Agua Verde and spent two days snorkeling and exploring the small remote community in search of their famous goat cheese.  Unfortunately it was a Sunday so most residents were at the church.  Given our recent history with the gods we decided not to press our luck and pull someone out of the service to sell us the cheese.  We did see many goats and surprisingly lush gardens for the desert.  Our first viewing of an actual "road runner" brought back great childhood memories.

View from crater on Isla Coronado
After two days of rest it was time to move on again.  We made good distance in reasonable conditions with a small sailboat race mixed in.  We aren't sure if the other sailboat knew they were racing or not but we beat them anyway and anchored at the south end of Isla Coronado.  This was an island we had visited almost 15 years ago by kayak which had us reminiscing... well actually doing our best to remember any details of the surprisingly foggy memories.  I guess we are getting old.

Having made great time north we have caught up to a few of our sailing friends, Kialoa, Grey Beard, Falcon Seven and a new boat Victoria.  We all got up early and hiked the 900 ft up the extinct volcano for fantastic views of the surrounding area.  After that strenuous activity most of us retreated below decks for naps, except for Bill and Phil, who aren't human and decided they would catch us all dinner by spearfishing.

We had a pleasant sunset on the beach catching up with our friends adventures, and on the walk back with Karina in the lead surprised a rattle snake catching the last rays of sun on the path.  For some reason we don't have any pictures, but there was a lot of screaming and rattling.  In the end the snake convinced us to find a different way to the boat and all was well.

 This morning we awoke to splashes and were treated to dolphins fishing and playing around our boat.  We've got light winds right now but hope for another southerly to pick up this afternoon which will carry us further north to San Juanico where we plan to spend a few days doing a few boat jobs.
Waking up to dolphins off the stern

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Poor baby Charlotte

I'm sad to report that Charlotte went home to Vancouver Island with my parents on Sunday. Unfortunately she didn't take to the Cruising lifestyle as well as we'd hoped. As she is a beagle, she requires a LOT of stimulation, something which we couldn't seem to give her on a regular basis while on board.

At home she went for 3 walks a day, had agility training on weekends, and had a lovely bed in the window where she could watch the world go by when we weren't home. On the boat she couldn't see outside when she was in the main cabin, she couldn't make it up and down the companionway on her own, and only got to go to shore once or twice a day.

Plus, the trip down the coast was difficult. We often had big, lumpy seas and so she'd be forced to stay below decks the entire time. Either Gary or I was always down in the cabin with her, depending who was off-watch, but she hated it none-the-less. We were forced to do mostly 24-36 hour passages with her as well, and so that was hard. While she did learn to "go" on her artificial grass pee mat, it was a long, and probably painful process for her.

The result of all this was that we started to see some behavioral changes in her, namely, she blamed Gary for everything and a thus a battle of wills began. While we were mostly able to keep this under control (we are bigger than her, you know), it wasn't fair to her or us to continue things as they were.

We made the difficult decision to send her back to Canada. My parents graciously agreed to take her home and re-arranged their trip down to see us to do so.

So, Charlotte is now off the boat and roaming free in my parents' lovely big yard on Protection Island. I'm sure she is getting fed on time, getting her 'treats' in the evening, and is walking my Dad's legs off. I know she is happier, and that is the main thing, but it was still hard to see her go.

Gary and I will continue on and end this years Cruising as we began it, alone.

Thanks, Mum and Dad for looking after the wee beast.

Monday, March 16, 2015

2 Weeks with the Parents

We just finished 2 weeks with my parents on our boat which usually isn't big enough for Gary and I.  Surprisingly we survived with no blood lost and were still smiling at the end.  According to other cruisers this is some sort of record!

Here are some of the highlights from my parents visit the first 2 weeks of March:

Swimming with the whale sharks:
We hired a panga to take us out to the area where the whale sharks feed just outside of La Paz harbour.  There were 6 of us in total: my parents, Gary, me, and our BCA friends Jennifer and Campbell from Victoria who were staying on Good As Gold, plus Charlotte (they said we didn't have to pay for her as long as she didn't swim with the whale sharks!).  While the day was overcast, the seas were dead calm - perfect whale shark weather!

We jumped in right on this one's head
Whale shark swishing gracefully away...
The panga trips work like this: the panga driver (who is supposed to speak English, but doesn't) drives around with all the other pangas in the area where the whale sharks are supposed to be. When he spots one, he guns the engine and drives over to it as fast as possible, with the hopes that he gets there before any of the other pangas. If he gets there first, the driver then yells at you to quickly jump in the water. You then hurl yourself off the side of the boat wearing your mask and snorkel (and wetsuit) and swim as fast as you can in the direction he is pointing in the hopes that you get to see one of the majestic beasts. Sometimes you see one, sometimes you only see the tail swishing away. We soon learned it was futile to try to follow them in the water, as they move way too fast. You then swim back to the panga and repeat the process. We all had one really good whale sighting, and multiple not-so-good sightings. But the one sighting was amazing. What wonderful creatures.

My 72 year old mother made it into the water three times, which was really good for her as it wasn't an easy entry or exit from the water to the panga. Good for you Mum!

Mmmmm, tuna....
We used my hand-fishing line to fish for tuna. Despite using a lure that everyone else we know has had success with, we of course, caught nothing. We blame it on Gary.

Kind strangers to the rescue! As we were sitting in the cockpit in the anchorage on Isla San Francisco having cocktails and contemplating what to make for dinner (since fish was apparently not on the menu), a catamaran drove into the anchorage and offered us a fresh-caught skipjack tuna! Apparently they'd been eating tuna all week and couldn't stand another night of it. We kindly took it off their hands! Dad had the honour of butchering it, and we cooked it like a roast (which is what the people on the cat recommended). It worked out great.

Dolphins in the bow wave:
While we've experienced this many times on our trip down the coast, it is still a thrill to have a dolphin come and play in the bow wave of the boat. This time was no exception. A singe pantropical spotted dolphin (a new species for us) came to play for about 10 minutes and gave us quite a show. Both my parents stood right up at the bow and watched the dolphin dart back and forth, while occasionally leaping out of the water. We only took video of this, so sorry, no pictures.

Time in the islands:
Caleta Partida
We spent 11 days sailing in the islands around La Paz. There wasn't a lot of wind, but we did manage to sail a fair amount.

Isla San Francisco
We visited Bahia San Gabriel where we snorkeled and looked at the frigate birds; Ensenada del Candelero where we endured a rain storm, Caleta Partida (twice) where we enjoyed multiple dolphin shows, swims and some nice walks on the beach; Ensenada Grande (north and south lobes) where we endured some cloudy weather, but snorkeled and admired the rock formations; Isla San Francisco, where we walked on the beach, hiked up the ridge, looked for agate, and admired the crazy vegetation.

My Dad wanted to try out our stand up paddleboard.  Unfortunately he chose a day when there was a bit of wind. Luckily the water wasn't that cold...

He did it!


We had some very hot days, and so swims were a requirement.

Swimming with the sea lions:
Sea lion hamming it up for the camera (he's upside down)
We stopped at Isla Islotes so my parents could swim with the sea lions. At first Dad was keen to do it while my Mum was definitely skeptical. After brow-beating them both into the water, Dad wasn't so keen on the whole experience, while Mum thought it was fantastic. She and Gary cavorted with the sea lions for a long time. They tried to enter one of the big sea caves on the island, but were stopped by a very unhappy male sea lion who bared his teeth at Gary and chased them out. Good times.

Relaxing as Costa Baja Marina and Resort:
We spent 2 days at the end of the trip relaxing at the Costa Baja Marina and Resort. It was hideously expensive to stay at the marina, but well worth it as we got full access to their lovely Beach Club. The club includes an infinity pool, hot tub, pool side bar etc, and we took full advantage of it. We smuggled Charlotte into one of the beach palapas, where she slept happily in the cool breeze (until the after school kids arrived - then it was time to go!). In addition to a lovely pool and beach, Charlotte had all the grass she could hope for! It was fantastic.

Thanks Mum and Dad!

Our first infinity pool

Steve Jobs' boat m/v Venus (now owned by his wife and lawyer)

We rented a car to drive Mum, Dad and Charlotte to the airport in Cabo San Lucas for their flight home. It is well known in the Cruising community that Gringos are prime targets for the Mexican police, who are ultimately looking for a bribe. It turns out that we were no exception. We hadn't even made it out of town before we'd been pulled over for running a red light (complete bullshit - the light was green). We pretended we spoke no Spanish (pretty much true). After we told the officer we were on our way down to the airport he told us (in Spanglish) that if he gave us a ticket we'd have to follow him to the police station to sort out the charge, and this would take us several hours, so we'd probably miss out flight. We assured him we had the time to do this (we didn't, of course) and asked for the ticket so we could go to the station. He then conferred with his colleague, and then gave us a warning and let us go. From speaking to other Cruisers on the dock, this is pretty common. It seems if you insist on taking the ticket they give up and let you go. Interesting experience.

The storm:
We managed to unload my parents and the dog at the airport just before the heavens opened and it absolutely poured! Gary and I parked the car and made it into the terminal just before the torrential rain started. The rain was so loud on the terminal roof that we couldn't hear each other speak. The sidewalk outside the terminal flooded in about 2 minutes, and so travelers were taking off their shoes and socks so they could wade across the rapidly forming lake. It was crazy. I can't imagine what this place was like during the hurricane last September. At least this storm only lasted 20 minutes. Luckily the storm didn't affect their flight home, or our drive back to La Paz.

It's Mexico - part one

Dina herding cats: 14 people + dog in a 15 person van

Back in the fall, our friend Dina on Good As Gold invited us on a whale watching expedition in Magdelena Bay on the west coast of Baja scheduled for the end of February. Dina and Malcolm had done the trip last year and had a fabulous time.

Now, Dina is a very good planner. Dina's plan was as follows:

- drive over to Mag Bay in the morning (3 hour drive)
Charlotte takes it all in stride
- check into the hotel
- eat lunch at the hotel restaurant
- go whale watching in the afternoon
- return to hotel at dusk for drinks and appis on the villa patios
- eat dinner at the hotel
- get up early, have breakfast at the hotel
- go whale watching again
- eat lunch
- get in the car and drive back to La Paz

Dina did a really good job of 'selling' this trip to all her friends, and as a result, 16 of us made the trek out to Mag Bay:  Dina and Malcolm on Good As Gold and their guests Jennifer and Campbell (visiting from Victoria), Zophia (Dina's daughter) and her friend Kaylee, Rob and Deb on Avant and their friends Julie and Rick visiting from Vancouver, Scott and Tanya on Kialoa, Margie and Chuck on Dream Catcher, as well as Gary and me.  Dina rented a 15 person van and so we stuffed 14 of us (plus 1 beagle) into it and made the drive. The van worked out surprisingly well.  Despite all the bodies and luggage, we were actually all pretty comfortable for the 3 hour trip.

As with all road trips, there was a coffee/pit stop along the way, so we were a bit late arriving in Mag Bay. This apparently didn't matter, as the hotel didn't seem to be prepared for our arrival, despite Dina letting them know several times when we would be arriving and what we wanted to do when we got there.  No problem, we'd have a quick lunch, then check in after we got back from whale watching.  It's Mexico.

For whatever reason the restaurant wasn't prepared for us to eat, but they swung into action. It soon became clear that the manager of the hotel, Don Carlos, was acting as general host, waiter, cook and clean up staff. So, lunch was not quick, but by 2:30 pm we were ready to head to the boats. It's Mexico.

We piled back in the van and drove down to the docks, where we met our panga drivers.  After some fussing, it was decided that 9 people would go in the big panga and 7 would go in the small panga. This meant that one couple had split up - naturally Gary volunteered. This left me alone in the panga with Charlotte... yup, Charlotte got to go whale watching too!

Whale Watching:
Once in the pangas, we roared off into Mag Bay at 20 knots of speed. We drove, and we drove, and we drove. And then we drove some more. The afternoon winds were howling (15-20 knots) and the seas were short and steep. The ride to the whale sight was wet, but not too uncomfortable, as the wind and waves were going with us. Charlotte insisted on sitting on my lap the whole way there.  Although no one voiced it out loud, we were all thinking about how uncomfortable the ride back was going to be when we'd be going against both the wind and waves...

Grey whale mum: best pic I could get in the choppy seas
After about an hour of travel we reached the whale area and saw our first whales. Mag Bay is one of the sites on the west coast of Baja where grey whales come to give birth. They hang around Mag Bay from December to March with the babies, then start back up the coast to their feeding grounds in northern BC and Alaska. If conditions are calm, the mothers and babies tend to hang around the surface of the water so you can get quite close to them in the pangas. Sometimes they even let you touch them. If conditions are not calm, the whales and babes tend swim and don't stay still. Unfortunately conditions were not calm that afternoon so we didn't have an super close encounters. But, we did see over a dozen mums and babies, so it was pretty amazing. Charlotte slept on the floor on top of a life jacket the whole time.

Baby grey whale

Gary's panga: a 5 hour tour... a 5 hour tour....
The Panga Ride Back:
At about 5:40, our guide decided we'd better start heading back to the dock. As expected, the trip back was not as pleasant as the trip out. Tanya and I sat in the front row of the panga (with a very unhappy beagle draped between us) and we took a pounding. The waves were big and steep enough that we spent more time out of the water than traveling on it. After about 45 minutes, our driver noticed that all the women in the front row were in obvious pain, so he made everyone switch places in the boat. Men up front to take the pounding, women to the back. What a difference that made to the old back! Sorry guys...

It took over 1.5 hours to get back and we didn't arrive at the dock until 7:15pm. Did I mention it gets dark just after 6pm in Mexico?

We are immortalized on the wall of the hotel restaurant
BURP: Bluewater Cruising Unplanned Rendevous Party
As we got closer to the harbour we noticed our panga driver was holding his cell phone up in the air. We all thought this was kind of odd, until we realized he was using the flashlight App on his phone as the running lights for the boat!! Yup, we did most of the trip back in the pitched dark in a boat with zero safety equipment, driving at 30 knots (the seas mellowed out as we got closer to the harbour), with an iPhone as our navigation lights. It's Mexico.
Mar y Arena (Sea and Sand) "resort"

Grey whale unskinned...
We got back to the hotel just before 8 pm and attempted to check in. Now, the hotel has had all afternoon to get everything ready for us, so you'd think this would go smoothly. Well, it's Mexico, so it was like herding cats. Poor Dina. In the end, Don Carlos grabbed his whole key set and took everyone in tow to show us to our rooms. And interesting approach.

The Room:
Due to a mis-communication, Gary, Charlotte and I were given a room in the middle of all the other guests staying at the hotel. This was very bad, as we'd intended to leave Charlotte in the hotel room while we were eating dinner. For those of you who don't know Charlotte, she is a howler when left alone. She is fine at home, but on the boat or when we are traveling she does NOT like to be left alone. And she lets you know. Our intention was to be as far away from everyone as possible, within our group of rooms. That way there would be no one around to hear her when she howled as all our group would be at dinner. We were hoping this would be far enough away from any other guests so she wouldn't be a bother. Well, that plan didn't work. Our room was right beside some Americans (and no where near the rest of our group). Needless to say, we didn't made any friends that night. When Gary went out to get Charlotte after being asked by the hotel staff to stop her from howling (they told us to just bring her in the restaurant), Gary met a very angry Texan yelling at his travel agent over the phone. Oops.

Once again Don Carlos was acting as host, waiter, cook and clean up staff. As a result, he could only handle dealing with one couple at a time. For example, Scott, Tanya, Gary and I arrived at the table at the same time. Don Carlos took Gary and my order, then left to get drinks etc. Once the drinks had been taken care of and our dinners were underway, he came back and asked Scott and Tanya what they wanted. This was about 15 minutes later. It's Mexico. Dinner itself was excellent, although we realized that Gary is allergic to shrimp as he puffed up like a balloon in the middle of the night. Who knew?

After Dinner:
Shortly after the last dish had been served, the power in the resort went out. After lighting up the room with several iPhones, Don Carlos admitted to Dina that he'd completely lost track of who had ordered what at both lunch and dinner. He was hoping we'd be honest and let him know what we'd ordered when we settled the bill at the end of the trip.

Morning Whale Trip:
As the panga drivers had told us that early morning is the best time to see the whales as the seas are typically calm, we arranged with Don Carlos to eat breakfast early so we could be on the water by 9am. When Dina first talked to him about this at the beginning of dinner he said, of course, no problem. At 11pm however, when we were getting ready to go back to our rooms, he finally told Dina there was no point in us getting up early, as all their pangas had been rented out by a group of whale worshippers (I'm not making this up).  They were supposed to cavort with the whales at sunrise, but should be back by 9am. Judging by our 5 hour tour that afternoon we figured it would be lucky if we saw them by noon the next day. Poor Dina then needed to wake up the early-to-bed people in our group (for once not us) to let them know they could sleep in. We decided to wait and see how things went in the morning.

Not surprisingly, we never saw the whale worshippers, and we left at 10:45. But, none of us minded too much as the sea conditions never really calmed down that night. I don't think any of us were relishing the idea of getting back in a panga for another 5 hour bucking broncho ride. My back was certainly relieved.

So, the trip didn't go as planned, but we certainly had an adventure. Hat's off to Dina for organizing, then re-organizing, then re-organizing the trip again. It was a fun time. The lesson here is that "it's Mexico". Having a plan when doing anything in Mexico is fine, but it really has to be a loose plan. What you expect to happen will probably happen, but it will be on it's own time schedule. You can't get upset by it, you just have to go with the flow.

As the old sailor's saying goes, "all plans are made in the sand at low tide". Understanding and living by this is the only way to live happily in Mexico.