Sunday, December 31, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 21

So today on Sea Rover we had a few exciting moments. Most importantly we crossed the equator. There is a ritual for sailors where by they transform from Polywogs to Shellbacks. It usually involves standing up in a court made up of Shellbacks, confessing your crimes against Neptune and facing the punishment doled out by the court. Luckily for all on Sea Rover there were no Shellbacks in the court so sentences were surprisingly light. We all faced our punishment, swam in Neptune's bounty to wash away our sins and then drank 100 year old Madera smuggled on board by Denis and Rosario despite my edict of a dry boat.
We also received an email from our Agent who suggested that if we could make port by 2pm tomorrow we would be able to check in despite originally being told that arriving on the 1st (a holiday) would make things difficult. Spirits soared and new energy came out of the crew and captain who are currently doing everything possible to keep the boat moving at best possible speed.
2017 will close out as a very memorable one with a guarantee of many more exciting moments in the coming months.
Happy New Year Everyone!
I wish you could all be here with me, but trust me... You dont want that. After 21 days we and the boat smell.
45 NM to go till the fun takes a break.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 18, 19 and 20

For those who are wondering why I can't sit down and write some witty description of what we are doing every day. Here is something you can try at home.
Step 1: Take your worst smelling hockey, cycling, skiing... any sport really... and get them good and wet. Then seal them up in a large plastic bag for later. Wait at least a week. 2 or 3 is better.
Step 2: Find a large 80-100 Gallon oil drum. Clean it out (only sort of, good old oil adds to the realistic effect) and then hump it to the top of a large hill along with the bag of fermented sports gear and a laptop. Crew added the additional requirement that the hill must be full of potholes and bumps.
Step 3: Pour the sports gear into the drum, turn the drum on its side and then climb in crouched with the laptop ready to write the latest post.
Step 4: Have someone push the drum down the hill.
Step 5: Try to write a blog post while staying inside the drum and not throwing up due to the putrid mess spraying all over you while keeping the laptop dry.
Step 6: Please report back your results in the comments section below.

The past 3 days have seen spirits soar and then crash a number of times. All emotional changes revolve around our predicted time of arrival. AKA the time when we can all get off this freaken boat and kiss land. For 4 days now we have been hard on the wind trying to make our arrival waypoint. The winds have been reasonably steady and for almost 3 of those days we didn't have to touch the sails.
We were in communication with our agent who will check us in to the islands and hopes were high that if we could arrive sometime on the 31st there was a chance we wouldn't be stuck on the boat until the 2nd. On a friends suggestion, I created a spreadsheet that calculated our arrival time based on distance left, boat speed and a few other factors. Big mistake and hence the emotional roller coaster.
The computer was turned on way more than our usual morning and evening weather downloads. It was now running constantly as we plugged in the appropriate data, sometimes fudging the numbers just a bit to make the end result look better. 4pm on the 31st was our target arrival and up until last night that was looking possible, if not probable. Then distaster struck and everything went to hell.
Last night as we were flying along at our usual breakneck pace when gradually over the span of about an hour our speed dropped significantly and our sailing direction veered off course. We tacked hoping the other side would be better. It wasnt. Since then we have tried sailing, motoring and motor sailing all with the same result. Our spreadsheet did not account for a 2.5 knot current against us now that we are less than 150 NM from our destination. Over the course of today our catch phrase has been "Can't get there from here..." At many times today despite best efforts we have actually gone backwards. Such is the life of an offshore sailor.
We have emailed our agent and postponed our arrival. Crew spirits were briefly raised by excellent "last eggs" lime and sugar crepes. Some heated discussion about stove balancing protocol and optimum sailing angles for Sea Rover also passed a few hours.
The drum beats on.
151.7 NM to go.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 16 and 17

Another two days have gone under the keel of Sea Rover. We currently have 435 NM to go to our destination in the Galapagos. It can't happen too soon.
About 36 hours ago we finally sailed out of the monsoon trough and through to the southerly trades. Since then we've seen very consistent wind from the South. Unfortunately this has meant sailing pretty hard on the wind but at least we have wind and we haven't had to tack.
It's also been fortunately on the Starboard tack which seems to leak much less and as an added bonus we have the right of way of most boats now. Hurray for small miracles.
Last night we spotted our first boat that didn't have AIS and was not a strong target on Radar. I expect as we get closer to the islands we will encounter more of these small fishing vessels and will have to keep a close eye out for them despite the crashing seas.
This morning we set a record with 6 boobies managing to land on our pulpit. Bird life is certainly increasing so we must be getting close to land.
433 NM to go

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Monday, December 25, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 15

Breaking news from the battlefield
It's a Christmas miracle!
Sea Rover and Captain, realizing how close they came to defeat in the last battle have tentatively signed an agreement of peace with Neptune. Intense negotiations over the past 24 hours produced a document, called the Galapagos Accord. It was partially brokered by Diesel who agreed to also agreed to a small consignment of their resources to help Sea Rover rebuild. The agreement which, among other concessions, gives Neptune full access to anything Sea Rover or Captain posses will act as a framework for peace and initial reports show both sides on board with the accord. It will be made official in the coming days with a small ceremony at 0 deg N, 90 deg W. Sea Rover, Captain, Crew and hopefully Diesel will all be in attendance.
This will be the last correspondence from this battlefield reporter.
The war is over! Merry Christmas everyone!

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La Paz to Galapagos: Day 13 and 14

Delayed update from the front lines:
As expected over the past 48 hours an epic battle ensued between Sea Rover and Neptune. Sea Rover along with allies Captain and Crew fought valiantly and managed to keep Neptune at bay. Luckily advance notice from Captain's many spies allowed for optimum positioning and Neptune was unable to flank the front lines which would have ensured destruction. Sea Rover and Captain's recent friendship paid huge dividends and the alliance held fast despite a massive Jib wrapping and loss of mainsheet. Crew worked diligently to keep Sea Rover afloat by pumping continuously and carefully carried out their duties despite the rapid deterioration of the Captain throughout the battle. By the end when all seemed lost and the Captain was maniacally taunting Neptune by yelling "Bring it on!!" and "Is that all you got!!!", Neptune simply ran out of interest in the tiny nation and turned his attention to some distant unknown foe.
Bloodied and beaten, the allies retreated to safer waters and slowly started the process of rebuilding their great nation. Quietly hoping for a long reprieve in the fighting, knowing that Neptune came very close to forcing total capitulation.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos Day 11 and 12

Breaking news from the front lines.
In the current theater of war there are three super powers. Sea Rover, Captain and Neptune. Yesterday Sea Rover and Captain officially declared themselves as not just allies but in fact friends in the latest battle. The documents were signed with great fanfare in the presence of Crew. The inverter... A symbol of great wealth and power and a collaboration of both Sea Rover and Captain was brought online much to the enjoyment of crew who were finally able to power their multitude of electronic devices. Captain knows how easy it is to pacify the masses and this simple gesture has made them forget about the fact that its been 2 weeks with out showers, all the fresh fruits and vegetables are gone and the last meat was rationed off tonight. Little do they know that power is also about to be in scarce supply and the inverter wont help them then.
Diesel, a small upstart nation, used to be allied with Sea Rover but a secret back-room deal has turned him to Neptune and now things are looking bleak for the good guys. Neptune has done extremely well in the fight, quietly bidding his time and building massive resources while Sea Rover and Captain depleted theirs fighting each other. Neptune has in fact done nothing up till now but spies with the Captain have discovered a massive assault coming in the next couple of days. It is now a race against time for Sea Rover and the Captain to position themselves and take a stand as best they can. Losing Diesel to the other side will certainly hurt their chances. Even if they do survive to fight another day the required energy just to position themselves in the fight will be a huge handicap for a long time to come. They can only hope that by working together good will prevail over evil.
Crew has been blissfully unaware of the coming battle. Going about their business, making plans for tomorrow, enjoying watching amazing stars, dolphins playing in the bow with 1 foot dome explosions of light all around them. Fun things like that. The Captain has been quietly drilling them, making them into lean mean super solders for the coming battle. They will do well. They are ready, even if they don't know whats coming.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 10

Today was a day of extremes. Sea Rover has seen everything from flat calm to driving rain and 20 knots of wind. In fact when Sea Rover saw the driving rain and 20 knots of wind it had been sunny and calm two minutes before. All the drills that the captain has forced on the crew paid dividends during this particularly exciting squall as everyone sprung into action. The boat was turned down wind, genoa furled in, main reefed, hatches battened down, bodies and boat cleaned... It should be noted that some of the crew expressed interest in reefing early. As usual, the captain declined all such advice instead preferring the exhilarating action that leaving things till the last second affords. The captain has quietly noted that the crew only respects or follows his commands during moments of terror and as such, likes to take advantage of these occasions as often as possible. It seems surprising to the captain that these kinds of squalls have been faced so far north of the ITCZ (where they are expected). Perhaps this is strictly Neptune slowly training Sea Rover, Captain and crew for the main events further south.
The latest forecast is not looking good for the "run the engine until we can't anymore" approach... Maybe Sea Rover will see wind for a period of longer than 4 hours sometime in 3 days or so.
Everyone reading this blog should pray to their god for wind!

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Monday, December 18, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 8 and 9

Time is starting to lose all significance for those on Sea Rover. The days are filled with comfortable sailing if any, card games and small maintenance chores. Excitement still occurs when dolphins swim by or boobies try to land, surely that will soon start to get old though. Today the crew gave up trying to make forward progress and all abandoned the boat. Swimming in the giant blue nothingness is certainly an experience that everyone should try in their lifetime. Refreshed by the 31 degree water, laundry was tackled and then they waited. And Waited... And Waited... Wind did not appear. The captain did a quick calculation and it was decided that going forward Sea Rover would motor when required until she ran out of fuel. And then she wouldn't motor any more. Hopefully the boat will arrive in the Galapagos before the fuel supplies are gone.
Night time seems to be another story. Long moments of waiting in terror combined with constant watching of the instruments trying to decide if it's time to reef despite there only being 5 knots of wind. For the past three nights, Sea Rover has passed by some of the most incredible lightning storms seen by any of the crew. Never before has the captain been able to read by lightning. Its been that continuous. The radar has proved useful for avoiding most of the convection cells but last night they were forced to pass through one just before daylight. Luckily Sea Rover wasn't hit, but nobody on board is looking forward to the "real" and forecast convection in a few days as they pass through the ITCZ.
The captain is certainly hoping for a quiet evening (of not motoring) but that remains to be seen.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 7

Its now been a week for Sea Rover's journey. The crew have settled nicely into the routine. The past 24 hours have seen pleasant sailing conditions although last night Sea Rover was surrounded by a spectacular light show of stars, dark clouds and continuous lightening. Luckily, thunder was only heard in the early dawn and by then the energy from the squalls had mostly dissipated. The captain should be able to get some sleep now that the danger of lightening has passed.
Sea Rover is currently sailing with wind forward of the beam as close as is comfortable, cracking on at 6 knots. Hopefully the wind backs a bit throughout the day which would allow her to keep her optimum course. Yesterday she clocked her first 100NM day. All on board hopes this is only the start of a fast passage.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 6

The sun is just setting somewhere behind the clouds and Sea Rover is finally sailing along at a nice pace. The crew did well to endure a very wet and squally night with lots of sail changes and side thumping waves. Luckily only a few rain squalls have occurred since morning so there has been some good chances to dry gear out. Sea Rover threw a warning shot over the bow of the captain and broke the lazyjacks during an especially exciting squall but has otherwise observed the truce and behaved nicely. Batteries are suffering due to the lack of sun but the Hydrovane has been performing well so the extra power use by the autopilot has helped stretch out the periods between required charging.
The crew has had the line dragging behind the boat since we left the sea but alas no surprise dinners have been caught. On one slow period yesterday two gorgeous dorrado swam past the boat thumbing their blunt noses at the lure. The captain knows the chance of catching anything is almost zero while he is on board. The crew are still optimistic having not experienced how strong the captains curse really is.
Tonight's exciting meal is left over Chickpea Chorizo with fresh cornbread. Crew and Captain alike are certainly not suffering in the provision department. All will need to be fed well to keep their strength up as yet another squally night is expected.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 5

This morning the crew were wondering if they were ever going to get "there". At this point, it didn't matter where "there" was, as long as it was somewhere other than "here". Sea Rover, realizing that she was surrounded by enemies on too many fronts decided to join forces with the crew in the battle to keep the boat moving and accepted a temporary cease fire against the captain. This allowed the captain to effect necessary repairs to the backstay and the crew to finally patch all the holes in the dinghy. Sea Rover even threw in a gift of fixing the radar herself. It remains to be seen as to how long the peace will last.
By noon, Sea Rover was overtaken by a significant rain system which she latched on to and rode for 6 hours, gleefully making much needed miles to our destination. The slight deck wash was an added bonus. The fun lasted until tonight when the expected light airs returned and it seems yet another battle will ensue for the remainder of the night.
The captain and crew are hopeful for a better tomorrow as forecasts show wind in the future. Only time will tell if the 2 day loosing streak of under 60NM per day will finally be broken.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 4

The crew were not misled when the captain warned of light airs and big seas for this passage. Today the captain was unfortunately proven correct much sooner than expected. Team Sea Rover has battled heavily today trying to keep the boat moving in varying breeze and swell. The last 12 hours have seen her move a painful 12 NM closer to the Galapagos. Frequent checks of the weather show no change and given there is no where to motor to, she wallows. Sometimes it would be nice to have no information on board and be blissfully ignorant about the passage of time and space.
In the separate battle between the captain and Sea Rover, Sea Rover has proven to be a master of warfare throwing a blown backstay jack, fried watermaker panel and a continuously leaking dinghy. The crew seem very motivated to keep the dinghy inflated. Its unclear if their confidence in the captain has waned and they see a need for a better option than the liferaft should the war be lost. The captain managed to bypass the watermaker control panel which should at least mean they wont die of thirst. Tomorrow's job will be to jury rig the backstay tensioner so the boat can sail again if the wind ever returns.
On a high note everyone sat at the cockpit dining table for a wonderful dinner of enchiladas with a super pod of dolphins frolicking all around the unmoving boat. It was noticed that a few of them tried to urge the hull forward with no success.
Tomorrow will hopefully bring fair wind and no giant following seas.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 3

Today will probably be our last sight of land for a number of week. A big day for Sea Rover... We are leaving Mexico. She tried hard to stay and maybe things will change but as of right now our next landfall will be Isla San Cristabal in the Galapagos.
The captain was up early running a few last wires while the crew worked on sewing a lee cloth, preparing food for passage and putting the finishing touches on Sea Rover for the big departure. We hoped for anchor up at 10am. By noon we were ready to go and started to pull the anchor up. Sea Rover made one last attempt to keep us in Mexico by killing half the instrument network. 2 hours our troubleshooting and we were ready to go. For the past 6 hours we've been making good time sailing downwind in reasonably boisterous seas. We will see how long our speed keeps up.
Tonight we have Chickpea Chorizo, a favorite of mine. All the crew are in good spirits to finally be underway.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 2

Today was a work day for the crew on Sea Rover. After a quick breakfast we tore the Hydrovane off the back and stripped it down into many pieces to get it working. An easy but time consuming fix. While the captain was working on that, crew patched the dinghy, ran some wires and prepared for start of the passage. The captain also dove the boat and then went up the rig to do a rig check and repair the lazy jacks. There was talk of using the bosuns chair to pull him out of the water and go right up the rig. We had hoped to also attach the swim ladder but no, the north winds had other ideas about doing work on the swim step. The day ended on a high note with a large cruiser get together on Distant Drummer. It was fun to see so many new faces arriving in to sea from far away places.
Tomorrow is the start of the real offshore work. We hope to arrive in Socorro in about 3 days.
For those keeping score... Gary won the day. Im sure Sea Rover will throw better curve balls at us tomorrow.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

La Paz to Galapagos: Day 1

Sea Rover is finally getting to really stretch her legs. She doesn't seem too happy about it though. Day 1 started with a required stop in Bahia Falsa to fix a blown hose in the watermaker system. This fix was certainly required as we were fully out of water. After that quick fix we left La Paz in the dark and started our slow bash north to get around the point and turn south. Big seas and wind on the nose made progress slow and when we finally were able to get the sails up disaster struck as the lazy jacks got tangled in the reefing lines preventing us from shortening sail. At the same time the bilge alarm was constantly going off so we had carnage down below and on deck making the captain wonder if he shouldn't call uncle and give up on the dream to go to South America. A quick use of the barf bucket cleared his head and the boat settled down with only occasional blips from the bilge alarm due to gravity having enough power to actually move the float high without any water. By 4 am Sea Rover was happily making progress south and the off watch came on deck bleary eyed and apprehensive not knowing what else would be thrown at them. Their fears were unfounded as the remainder of that watch was uneventful if not sort of pleasant.
Daylight brought on calm enough conditions in light breezes to contemplate finishing the Hydrovane setup in order to get off dependence off the autopilot. Alas this was not to be as the top of the head unit is completely frozen due to it's lack of use by the previous owner. Yet another job to tackle in the wonderfull anchorage of Frailes, hopefully our last stop before heading offshore from Cabo.
Stay tuned till tomorrow for another episode of Sea Rover vs Gary where the hero battles unprecedented odds to leave Mexico.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

We wait....

Well, it's just been confirmed that I am the bad influence on the weather and not Karina.  We have been sitting in La Paz for the past week and now that Sea Rover is checked out of the country, provisioned and put back together (more or less) we now need to wait for the weather.
Its currently blowing 30 knots in La Paz harbour, which for those who know the area is bad.  Really Bad.  Luckily this norther event didn't happen at the beginning of the week when we had the extreme tides otherwise Sea Rover would probably be uninhabitable. 
Anyway, we hope to leave tomorrow morning on our big adventure.  Having said that, we hoped we could leave today too.  Keep an eye on the tracker, we'll be sure to activate it when we actually get out of here.
You can find where we are here:
Sea Rover InReach Tracker Page

Monday, November 27, 2017

It floats!

Hi everyone.
No time to post pictures but I figured it was important to update everyone on Sea Rover's status.
After a gruelling 2 month refit Sea Rover launched last Friday and is floating at the dock in Guaymas.   Karina flew down to make sure I got everything done and has just arrived back in Vancouver where she will work till she joins us in the Galapagos.
We hope to head to La Paz tomorrow where we will pick up the remainder of our crew at the end of the week.  We have an expected departure from Mexico planned for sometime next week.
Given we are leaving Mexico for a long series of offshore passages to Chile, we have made some changes in our communication gear.  Stay tuned for updates on how to track us.  You can always check out our "Where are We?" page for the latest on how to follow our progress in this year's adventure.
More posts are coming
Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why We Love the Sea of Cortez

While we are really glad we spent time on the mainland Mexican coast this year, we’ve been reminded these past two weeks of why we love the Sea of Cortez.

1.       Mobula Rays
Mobula rays are a type of manta ray that frequent the waters of the Sea of Cortez.  Typically they travel alone, and can often be seen leaping out of the water for reasons unknown.  Unfortunately there hasn’t been a lot of research done on these wonderful creatures and so many of their behaviours are a mystery.  While we’ve seen many rays in our 3 years in the Sea, this year was spectacular.  

It turns out that April is ‘mating month’ and so the rays have been congregating in huge groups.  The group circles under the water while several rays at a time leap out of the water and do a belly flop.  We speculate that this is part of the mating ritual – may the best belly flop win!  The rays then seem to pair off and there is a frenzy of activity on the surface as they ‘chase’ each other around.

My friend Tanya and I happened upon one of these groups while kayaking off of Isla Espiritu Santo a few weeks ago.  Being pre-occupied, the rays let us get quite close, while they traveled underwater in a tight circle.  I kayaked into the middle of the fray and was caught in the whirlpool caused by their circling.  They spun my boat in slow circles for at least 2 minutes.  It was a magical experience.  Unfortunately neither of us had brought our cameras with me that day...

Rays underwater - the video is much better...
As luck would have it, we’d been lucky enough to encounter a number of these ray groupings over the last few weeks.  It is just nice to sit and watch them, which Gary and I have been able to do in pretty much every anchorage we’ve gone into in the last 2 weeks.

2.       Grebes
Grebes are pretty common in the Sea of Cortez, but there seem to be more of them than usual.  They have provided endless entertainment as we’ve watched them all dive as a group, and come up as a group.  Some of the groups we’ve seen have been huge – up to several hundred birds. 

3.       Dolphins
Despite all the dolphin shows we’ve been privy to in the last 3 years, it is still a thrill when a pod stops by to play.  Spinner dolphins are especially fun to watch as they like to leap out of the water around the boat.

4.       Whales
We’ve been lucky in the whale department these last few weeks as well.  On a quiet motor a few days ago we encountered a curious Minke whale.  He surfaced just off the port side and so we stopped the boat and floated while he circled us 3 times.  On his last pass, he was less than a boat length away.  While only about 30 feet or so, he was still very impressive.  I’m glad he was only curious!
Minke Whale

We’ve also seen a number of humpback whales on our trip north.  We’ve seen them leaping and slapping the water with their fins.  All very cool.

5.       Turtles
This has been a great year for turtles.  We’ve never seen so many, both in the south and in the Sea!  Every anchorage has had at least 2  turtles swimming around.  I spent one day trying to get a good picture of one, but they are shy creatures.  Sorry, the picture here is the best I got.

6.       Expect the Unexpected
This morning the cry of gulls brought Gary and I up to the cockpit, where we watched a couple of gulls force a vulture into the water.  Vultures are not sea birds.  They aren’t very good swimmers and can’t take off from the water.  So basically the poor guy was screwed.  The gulls continued to dive bomb the poor thing while he bobbed in the water.  He eventually doggy-paddled his was over to our boat and seemed desperate to get out.  Gary got a bucket and I got into the dinghy.  The vulture came right over to me and latched onto the side of the bucket.  I then semi-scooped him out of the water while he clung to the side with his wings spread wide for balance.  The gulls looked on in disgust.

Now what?  I was sitting in the dinghy with a huge vulture on the other side of a bucket from me.  I gently put the bucket in the bottom of the dinghy.  While he made a move from the bucket to the dinghy seat, I made a hasty retreat.  He then sat on the dinghy seat looking pathetic for the next few hours while his feathers dried.  The gulls were incredibly persistent and continued to dive bomb him at regular intervals.  If we heard them coming, either Gary or I would go and stand on deck, which would deter the gulls from a full attack.  I don’t think we made any gull friends today.

After about 3 hours he did a test flight and landed on the solar panel.  After a quick thank you, he took off for shore, with about 5 gulls in hot pursuit.  The gulls forced him back into the water just as he got to shore, but he managed to crawl up onto the rocks.  The last we saw he was cowering beside a rock while the gulls continued to harass him. 

The lesson here:  don’t piss off a gull.  They know how to hold grudges.

7.       Interesting Sites
We toured 2 separate abandoned salt mines over the last two weeks.  We enjoyed poking through the old buildings and looking at the abandoned equipment.  Both mines closed in the 1980’s and it was amazing just how poorly the buildings have fared.  A good reminder that everything returns to dust at the end of the day...

8.       Breath Taking Scenery
It’s the Sea of Cortez... Need I say more? 

Our time here is almost up.  Tomorrow we will cross the Sea of Cortez back to Guyamas, where we will work furiously for the next week to put the boat to bed for another year.  

Overall it has been a great season.  We travelled to some wonderful new areas, swam in warm waters, made new friends, experienced a ton of wildlife and traveled some major distances (roughly 3300 nm).  Unfortunately we didn’t end up sailing as much as we’d have liked, but the gentler weather we experienced instead has been a nice change.  We’ll definitely miss Mexico next year when we leave to explore countries further south.
Buddy Boats:  Kialoa, Sea Rover II and Seadra

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our First Sewing Project - 18 Months in the Making

After our first year of Cruising, Gary decided we would buy a sewing machine and start making “useful things” for the boat.  The first project he had in mind was replacing our ageing stack pack (the bag that holds the main sail on the boom and protects it from UV).  I thought this was kind of ambitious for people who’d never touched a sewing machine before, but agreed we should give it a try.
So much material... so little space

First things first.  We needed a sewing machine.  And not just any machine, but one that would sew sail cloth and multiple layers of heavy duty canvas material.  As you can imagine, there aren’t very many machines that fit the bill.  While most Cruisers spend the big bucks and buy a Sailrite machine, Gary didn’t want to spend the mucho dinero required to purchase one (they almost never come up for sale second hand, and if they do, they are sold instantly).  Instead, he began scouring all the sewing shops in Vancouver for the right machine.  It turns out that shopping for a sewing machine as a man has its challenges.  In every store we went into the sales staff would immediately try to talk to me, not him!  I’d stare at them blankly and then Gary would start talking the sewing machine lingo, saying things like “does it have a pressure foot?” and the sales staff’s eyes would widen in shock...  It was an entertaining time.   

After much searching, he settled on a 1940’s vintage German-made Pfaff 130.  She is a beauty – black and sleek, but obviously likes her beer and bratwursts, as she is a hefty one.  I can barely lift her.  Even though she was built in the 40’s she came with an electric foot pedal.  We thought this was great until Gary used it for the first time and it started to smoke in our living room... So, his first task in his new career as a ‘sewing machine repair man’ was to re-wire the foot pedal. 
Making fasteners

Gary then spent the summer searching the internet and buying all the materials we’d need to build our stack pack.  Even though we didn’t buy a Sailrite machine, we spent many dineros buying all the bits and pieces from them that would be required to complete the project.  There were zippers, fasteners, the material itself, the instruction manual, basting tape, pins, needles for the machine, velcro, webbing, the list went on and on.  We bundled everything into boxes and drove it down to the boat in Mexico.

November 2015:  The project began.  We used one of the big empty rooms at the Marina Fonatur in Guaymas to spread the material and cut out the pattern following the directions in the Sailrite “how to make a stack pack” manual.  We measured, basted, and cut.  Then we started to sew.  And sew she did!  In fact, she sewed so fast that you couldn’t feed the material into the machine fast enough!  Since we were dealing with 18 foot long pieces of material (and doing the sewing in the salon area of our boat), this was a problem.  It didn’t matter what Gary tried, the speed was either dead slow (hand cranking the wheel) or lightening fast.  It turns out Gary is like my mother and you don’t want to be near him when he has a sewing machine in front of him. Needless to say, I started to question whether we should have just had a canvas maker make the stack pack for us...Nevertheless, he persevered and managed to get about half way through the project by the end of the season. 

Summer 2016:  Over the winter Gary had investigated ways to make the machine run slower (ie, in control!).  A friend of ours had a similar problem and had added an extra gear to the machine.  We got the name of the guy who did the work and Gary contacted him when we got back to BC.  The guy was based in Duncan, so Gary put the sewing machine in a rolly suitcase and wheeled it onto the ferry and over to the island.  He borrowed my parents car and delivered it to the shop.  The guy added the extra gear, and it worked like a charm.

Winter 2017:  It look us a while to get back to the project this year.  We spent a day in Guaymas in November cutting out the final pieces we needed, but now we were down to the hard part.  Joining the 2 pieces together (of course we didn’t end up following the pattern), fitting it to the sail, and adding all the bits and pieces required to attach it to the boom.  The priority of the project increased in January when the old stack pack finally blew apart in spectacular fashion.  So in early March we decided the job had to get finished.
Adding the fiddly bits

We pulled out the machine and tried the sew the first seam, only to discover that the machine had completely seized up over the season and wouldn’t move!  Gary reprised his role as ‘sewing machine repair man’ and spent a day taking it apart, oiling everything and then putting it back together.  Miraculously, it worked!

We then got sidetracked with things like sailing north, but finally managed to get back to the project this week.  It took us a day to join the critical front and back pieces together (I was quite proud of us at the end of that), and then it took us a day to mock up how it would fit on the boom.  We took final measurements, and spent 9 hours on Friday doing all the fiddly bits.  Gary doesn’t do well with fiddly things, so I ended up helping on the machine (usually he doesn’t let me touch his baby).  By 6pm it was done.

Doesn't this look like fun?
Now the install.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to trying to do anything on deck, but we both just wanted to get it done.  The south wind was howling in the anchorage and it took 2 of us to stop the stack pack from being blown overboard.  Gary then broke 2 drill bits and 4 screws trying to install 2 fasteners on the end of the boom...  While we battled with the cover, Sea Rover waltzed all over the La Paz anchorage as the tide changed and the wind started to fight against the current.  Finally, well after the sun had said goodnight, the install was complete. 

It looks pretty good if I do say so myself, especially for 2 newbies who really didn’t know what they were doing.  There are still a few tweaks to make, but we’ll live with it for the rest of the season and make some changes next year. 

The finished product
For the first time ever we are a fully colour coordinated boat, as our bimini, genoa UV strip and stack pack are all grey to match our decks.  I made the mistake of pointing out that all the fenders that hang off the back of the boat are still blue...and I think that planted the seed in Gary’s mind as to our next sewing project – grey fender covers!   Aaagggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Zen (Not) of Passage-Making North

Old 1700 Church in San Blas
We spent the last week travelling 400 nm or so north from La Cruz on the mainland to La Paz on the Baja Peninsula.  While the passage seemed to take forever, it was about as good a passage as we could hope for when travelling north against the wind.  

We broke the passage into 3 sections: 

Leg One: A long day sail up to the town of San Blas, 60 nm north of La Cruz

We arrived at the river mouth at about 9pm and so had to negotiate the river bar and very shallow depths in the dark.  Our plan was to follow our old track on the chart plotter from when were where last there in December/January.  Unfortunately it appears that in the last 2 months the Navy had moved one of the channel buoys… you guessed it, to directly onto the path of our old track!  This caused a few moments of hysterics while I yelled at Gary to turn hard to starboard and he resolutely continued on the ‘track’.  The mounting panic in my voice obviously had an effect as he did finally turn to starboard… and we cleared the buoy by about 2 feet.   

Blue-footed Booby
In San Blas we spent a day touring the old fort and learning about the history of the town.  Apparently at one time it was the biggest port for the Spanish navy in Mexico.  Hard to believe when you see it now…  We then had dinner with 10 other Cruising boats all staying at the marina.  We met a lot of new and interesting people.

Leg Two:  A long day sail out to Isla Isabel, 40 nm NW of San Blas 

We spent the morning motoring in calm seas while dodging long lines.  The winds then blew between 7 and 13 knots all afternoon from the exact direction we were trying to go, but we had a beautiful sail almost all the way there.  We had to turn on the motor for the last 2 miles as the island seemed to have a force field around it.  No matter what tack we were on, we kept getting headed away from the island… Thank god for Myrtle (our trusty diesel engine).  Upon arrival, Gary jumped in the water to survey the bottom for a sandy spot to anchor (the bottom tends to be mostly anchor-eating rock piles and so some reconnaissance was required).  We had the hook down and set just as the sun went down. 

Baby Boobies at Isla Isabel
The next day I went to shore to check out the birds and lizards (Gary had a cold and needed to rest).  When we were here in December the frigate birds and boobies were all sitting on nests.  Now all the eggs had hatched and there were hundreds of fluffy white baby birds.  What is so amazing about Isla Isabel is that you can get within feet of the birds without them being afraid.  It was wonderful. 

In the afternoon I coaxed Gary into the water for what will probably be our last warm water snorkel of the year.  The visibility was incredible and we were rewarded by swimming with literally hundreds of fish and one turtle. 
Twin Boobies

The only downside to the island was the seas and swell.  Isla Isabel has 2 very exposed anchorages and so is susceptible to the whims of the ocean.  Conditions were extremely calm during our time there, but a slight SW swell made it uncomfortable, to say the least.  We kept joking that is was like we were already on passage!  Still worth the stop though.
Baby Frigate bird

Leg Three:  Isla Isabel to La Paz, 310 nm

As going north in strong winds is very difficult because of the short, choppy seas that you have to beat into, we agreed to do the passage in calm conditions.  This weather window was as calm as it ever gets.  There had been no systems in the Sea of Cortez for over a week, and there was no big ocean swell coming into the area.  Most of the boats travelling north chose this week to do the crossing.  We knew it was going to be a light air passage, but we agreed to sail whenever we could make over 3 knots per hour, and to motor the rest of the time. 

We left Isla Isabel and immediately put up the sails as there was a bit of wind.  Unfortunately the wind was directly on the nose… But, we sailed anyway and slowly tacked our way up towards Mazatlan.  I think Gary was hoping to sail the entire way to La Paz, but after 13 hours of sailing that day and only moving 25 nm in the correct direction towards La Paz (out of 310 nm), it soon became clear that it was going to take us a lifetime to actually sail there. 

I’m all about progress on a passage.  Yes, I try to be Zen about it - after all, we take our house with us when we sail and so have everything that we need to live.  But I just can’t get past not making way towards our destination.  So I guess I need to work on the Zen-thing… 

Pod of Pantropical Dolphins on Passage
Anyway, we turned on the motor and gave Myrtle a workout.  Conditions were bouncy in the evening, caused by seas left over by the afternoon winds, and then mellowed out to mill-pond-calm by morning.  Day 2 was much the same as day 1, but we only sailed for 7 hours in the afternoon (which got us another 10nm closer to La Paz).  Day 3 had no wind at all.  The sea was flat, flat, flat.  It was so flat that we actually transferred fuel from our jerry cans to the diesel tank while underway.  We were so bored that I actually agreed to play a game...

We had originally planned on stopping at an anchorage called Muertos, about 60 nm south of La Paz, but as we were going to get there after dark and we now had enough diesel in the tank to make it, we decided to keep going overnight all the way to La Paz.  We actually had a great sail up Cerralvo Channel and added another 20nm of sailing towards our destination.  We arrived in La Paz by 8am. 

Overall the passage took 72 hours.  48 hours of them were under power (contributing to 240nm towards our destination) and 24 were under sail (contributing to 55nm towards our destination).  We basically used an entire tank of fuel to get us from La Cruz to La Paz.  Unheard of for us.  Gary is horrified over what this does to our sailing/motoring numbers this year, but I’m just happy we got here in 3 days versus 10.  Three days was definitely long enough.

We are now in La Paz, anchored in our usual spot off of the main marina.  We must be back in the Sea as the water temperature is down to 21oC, we’ve had to put on sweaters during the day, and it is blowing like hell (yup, a Norther). 

We will be in La Paz for 10 days or so finishing up some boat projects (like the stack pack for the mainsail we started sewing last year).  We will leave La Paz April 1st and sail with some friends from Vancouver who have rented a catamaran for a week.  We will then continue north up towards Guaymas and put the boat to bed by the end of April.  Hopefully we’ll start to see some southerly winds by the time we have to head north.  Fingers crossed.  Myrtle could use a break.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Perfect Combination...

...Warm Weather, Warm Seas and Gentle Winds

Part One:

After a cold and windy season in the Sea of Cortez last year we decided to travel south in search of warmer weather and warmer seas.  I’m happy to announce that we have been successful in our quest and have spent the last 3 months on the Mexican mainland coast between San Blas and Manzanillo. 

We arrived in the area mid-December, and after a quick trip to La Cruz (near Puerto Vallarta) to visit friends, headed up to the town of San Blas.  We spent a week working on the boat and exploring this lovely little Mexican town.  While we were there I convinced Gary to do an inland river to tour to see the crocodiles that populate the area.  The tour did not disappoint!  We saw several baby crocs as well as a couple of the big boys.  The tour turned around at a crocodile reserve where you could get up close and personal with your favourite croc with nothing but a chain link fence between you and the beast.  You could even pet them if you wished…

We left the boat at the marina in San Blas and flew home to Vancouver for a cold, snowy Christmas.  Gary returned in early January, while I suffered through the horrendous weather in the Pacific NW for another month.  I was certainly happy to return to the boat at the end of January!

Barra de Navidad from the Hotel/Marina
Gary single-handed the boat down to PV, then tortured his cousin Karen with several tough passages 150nm south to Barra de Navidad.  Flight schedules (me arriving, Karen leaving) meant they had to sail south through several days of strong southerly winds.  Normally this is just an uncomfortable point of sail (my least favourite), but unfortunately the hatch in the salon got left open one of the days… and the bilge pump switch got jammed in the “off” position… and so there was a bit of a water disaster below decks.   Luckily they discovered the issue fairly quickly and so there was no major damage to any of the systems (thank god for lithium batteries), but there were a lot of things to rinse out and dry (ie, the salon cushion, all our log books, all our guidebooks, the lithium batteries etc).  Luckily the sunshine is hot and dry in this climate, so we had the boat back to normal in a couple of weeks.

Hotel Attached to the Marina in Barra
I met up with Gary in a town called Barra de Navidad.  It is a wonderful place just north of Manzanillo.  It is the only completely protected anchorage on the mainland Mexican coast.  In addition, it has a fabulous marina attached to a world class hotel.  As the two halves of the town are located on either side of the lagoon, there is a flotilla of water taxis that service the area.  While they are there primarily to take the locals from one part of town to another, they will also take the Cruisers into town or back to the boat for a very reasonable fee (about $1 per trip).  Very convenient!  We split our time between the calm lagoon anchorage and the marina, where we enjoyed the pool facilities to their max.  It was expensive, but worth it!  

One of the best things about Barra is the French Baker who sells his goodies from his panga 5 days a week.  He visits both the marina and the anchorage, which was both a good and bad thing, as we ate way too many chocolate croissants while we were there!  
Chocolate Croissants, Anyone?

My friend Libby joined us for a week in early February.   We enjoyed the marina for a few days and then sailed up to a bay called Tenacatita, about 15nm north of Barra.  We put Libby to work doing some boat jobs (thanks for the anchor chain splice and winch cleaning Libby!) but also spent a few days snorkeling and enjoying the beach.  We survived several surf landings and didn’t manage to break her this year (except for a slightly damaged toe).  At some point she'll forgive Gary for the long walk into Colimilla when we could have taken a water taxi...

We decided Barra would be our turn-around point for the year.   We spent about a week back in Tenacatita after Libby left enjoying the daily routine of surf landing the dinghy to get to shore, walking the beach, playing bocce and hanging out at the palapa restaurant on the beach with all the other Cruisers.  

Then a big up-welling from the ocean brought in a nasty algae bloom and dropped the water temperature by 4oC.  Clearly it was time to start heading north back to the Sea of Cortez.

Part Two:  The Slow Trip North Begins

Blow Hole in Paraiso
We left Tenacatita during a period of unsettled weather.   Strong southerly winds, huge seas and thunderstorms were forecast.  While everyone headed south back to Barra for protection from the ‘storm’, we of course went north.   Luckily the ‘storm’ didn’t end up traveling as far south as originally predicted and so we were able to spend 2 nights in a ‘calm weather only’ anchorage called Paraiso.  

Gary and Karen had stopped in this anchorage on one of their awful sails south the month before, and had spent a very uncomfortable night in this very tight spot with 2 other boats.  They also had our famous ‘no water through the engine’ issue on the way into the bay and so had to sail-to-anchor as the conditions were too rough to attempt to fix the issue in the open ocean.  Now, this anchorage is small.  When we entered the bay under very calm conditions I was worried we wouldn’t have enough room to turn the boat around without running into the rock reefs on either side of the bay.  Needless to say I felt pretty sick looking at Gary and Karen's sail track from the previous month on our chart plotter...  It is a testament to Gary’s good sailing skills that they and Sear Rover made it into the anchorage unscathed!

Sea Foam in Paraiso
Despite the presence of a small hotel on the beach, the anchorage has a very remote feeling to it.  It is fairly open to the swell and so the waves tend to crash on the rocks surrounding the bay and on the beach.  As we were the only boat in the bay we were able to set a stern anchor to keep us pointed into the swell at all times.  As a result, we spent 2 pretty comfortable days exploring the area.  We kayaked and snorkeled, enjoyed a wonderful sunset and watched the bioluminescence in the water, as well as a lightening storm off in the distance. 
We felt like we were the only people on the coast (which we pretty much were as everyone else was in Barra or in Puerto Vallarta).  It was quite magical.
Unsettled Weather in Paraiso

Dinner on the Beach in Perula
From Paraiso we moved on to a bay called Chamela, the last anchorage before you have to round Cabo Corrientes.  Being a Cape, Corrientes tends to have big winds and uncomfortable seas associated with it.  We liked Chamela so much we ended up spending a week there.  We made daily trips into the town of Perula for ice cream, despite the dinghy surf landing it required.   We almost flipped the dinghy upside down on several occasions, but luckily only managed to either fill the dinghy with water or get very, very wet.  All in all it was pretty fun.

Hungry Hermits
As conditions were calm we spent one day anchored in a set of islands in the bay with the crews of Kialoa (Tanya) and Seadra (Ed).  Kayaking around the island with Tanya, dinner on the beach, watching thousands of hermit crabs pick apart a tortilla chip, and seeing an octopus while snorkeling were the highlights.  What an amazing place. 

All too soon it was time to head north back up to Puerto Vallarta.  For once we managed to pick the right weather window and had a good upwind sail almost all the way to Cabo Corrientes.  We even heard whales calling through the hull!  The conditions couldn’t have been more calm going around the notorious Cape at midnight.  It was like glass.  The wind then picked up enough to enable us to sail up Banderas Bay.  We arrived and anchored in La Cruz at dawn.

We’ve been based in La Cruz for the last 2 weeks.  My sister rented a condo in nearby Bucerias and invited my parents down for the week so we hung out with them and did boat jobs (never ending).  As La Cruz is a pretty rolly anchorage, especially in the afternoon, we’ve been treating ourselves to a week in the marina.  It made it much easier to get the family on board.  We are now just waiting for some repair work on our genoa to be completed (hopefully on tomorrow??), and we will start the long trek north back up to La Paz and then Guaymas.  Only 750 nm to go!  

Impressions of Mainland Mexico:

Despite being lovely and warm, with predictable afternoon winds and calm nights, the mainland Mexican coast is a challenging place to Cruise.  Unlike the Sea of Cortez, there are very few truly protected anchorages.  Most anchorages are fully open to the Pacific Ocean.  This makes for some absolutely stunning beaches, but means the anchorages are rolly and going to shore requires a surf landing in the dinghy.  At anchor, the boat never stops moving.  While this motion doesn’t bother me, it drives Gary bananas.   After a horrendous January battling contrary winds and rolly seas, Gary was pretty much done with this coast.  Luckily a few weeks of calm seas in Barra de Navidad, plus improvements to our “flopper stoppers” (which do just that – stop the boat from flopping from side-to-side at anchor) have helped to change his perspective and he has grown to like it here as much as I do.  The weather helps too.

We used to think that all the sailors that came to this coast for the winter were ‘wussy’ and that we were the tough ones by staying in the Sea of Cortez all season.  While the Sea of Cortez certainly has its challenges, travelling 900nm south and then 900nm north again 3 months later isn’t that easy either, as we are now discovering.   

Overall, we are both glad we made the effort to come to this coast.  It has been a really rewarding trip.  We will certainly miss the warm water, sunshine and easy lifestyle next year when we leave Mexico for waters further afield...