Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Puerto Vallarta Christmas Story

Lots of family stuff going on, but I don't have much of general interest to blog about.

Just one short story from my Christmas in Puerto Vallarta.

On Christmas Eve I took a taxi from the marina to the old "El Centro" part of Puerto Vallarta, about a 15 minute ride. The taxi driver, Enrique, spoke English pretty well and we started chatting. He was genuinely troubled by learning that I would be spending the holidays alone. I told him I was fine, that being alone helps me appreciate more all the holidays I have spent with friends and family in the past and will spend in the future.  Then I asked him what he was doing for Christmas.

Enrique brightened up, smiled and said, "My girls are waiting for me to come home so we can start celebrating. You are my last trip and I think I can get home by 11. My wife has been cooking all day and I'm getting hungry just thinking about all the food."

I told him, "I usually do most of the cooking on the holidays for my family. It's hard work. You spend all day cooking, putting your best into making the food. Then people sit down, eat, and the meal seems to be much too quickly. I'm glad people enjoyed good food for the holiday, but sometimes I feel a bit empty and let down when its over, after all that work."

Enrique was quiet for a few seconds, thoughtful. "I never thought about that. My wife has cooked for every family holiday. I never considered how hard she worked, just enjoyed her delicious food. I have never thanked her."

I suggested, "Well, you can thank her tonight, right?"

He smiled brightly and replied enthusiastically, "I will do more than thank her. I will thank her in front of the whole family. It will be great. She will cry from surprise and happiness."

When we reached my destination and as I was opening the door to get out the taxi, Enrique shook my hand and said, "It was very important that you got in my taxi tonight. You helped me realize something important. I am so excited to get home to tell my wife 'Thank you'."

I told Enrique to tell his wife "Feliz Navidad" from me, one cook to another.  I watched him drive away with a big smile on his face.

It was a short, friendly conversation, but imagining Enrique's toast to his wife's cooking afterwards was the highlight of my Christmas here in Puerto Vallarta.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Update

Not much news from here in sunny, very warm Nuevo Vallarta.

Two minor highlights, though:

A few days ago I was starting my morning run, heading to the beach along the sidewalk of the resort. I was fiddling with my watch as I was jogging along. I was suddenly startled to see in my peripheral vision a full grown Bengal tiger loping alongside me, not three feet from my side. I instinctively jumped away laterally before I focused directly on the beautiful beast and realized it was behind the bars of its cage. I got a boost in heart rate, a shot of adrenaline and a chuckle out of it. It would have been fun to have jogged the rest of my run with a tiger by my side.

On my way back from my run along the beach a day later, I came across a young woman who had collapsed on the beach with her concerned father kneeling over her. My first responder training kicked in and I asked if they needed help and clearly they did.  I did an initial assessment, concluded that there wasn't anything immediately life-threatening going on and asked if they would like me to get a doctor, which they did. I trotted over to a security guard at a nearby resort and perfectly fluent Spanish came out of my mouth, asking him to get a doctor and to help me transport the woman from the beach into the shade. I was impressed listening to myself speak the language so naturally. The downside was that the response was in rapid fire Spanish and my sudden fluency seemed to only work in the speaking direction.  Turned out the young woman was okay, just dehydrated and overcome by the exertion in the heat and humidity. Her dad was grateful for my assistance and I felt good for the rest of the day.

This evening I'm having Christmas Eve dinner at the local yacht club and then heading to the old part of Puerto Vallarta to lurk amongst the locals celebrating their Christmas.  I miss my friends and family, but am going to make the most of my unique situation.

Best wishes for the holidays to all who are following this blog and, futile as the sentiments might sound right now, I sincerely and desperately hope for long, sustained...

Peace on Earth

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Buen Viaje, Renee

Renee has temporarily left Intermezzo to travel back to the US to be with her daughter, Christina, for the birth of her first child, the start of a new generation on her side of our family tree. It was sad to see her leave and Intermezzo feels a bit empty without her.  She seemed pretty sad to be leaving, but at the same time excited about what she was heading towards to experience and to see her family for the holidays.

So I'm singlehanding Intermezzo now, on watch 24/7...in a posh marina.

Renee and I spent our yesterday together exploring the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, which everyone refers to as just "La Cruz" for the obvious difficulty in pronouncing its full name properly. Lots of boats choose to anchor outside of La Cruz because it is smaller and has some quaint charm compared to Nuevo and Puerto Vallarta, and because it has a vibrant music scene.

We decided to take the bus from the marina to La Cruz, about 12 miles by road northwest. We weren't exactly sure where to catch the right bus but figured if we walked to the nearest bus stop that would be a good start. On the way, we stopped at the laundaria to buy some tokens to do our wash when we returned and, surprise, in walks Marc and Marci, our good friends from Glen Ellen, with their laundry! They have a condo near to the marina and we were looking forward to visiting but didn't figure on running into them on the street by chance. They know the area well, including the bus routes and had rented a car for the weekend to run some errands and take a day trip to a favorite beach restaurant. So Marc gave us a lift to the main road to catch the bus to La Cruz and we were on our way.

La Cruz is nice little town with a smallish marina, excellent fish market, quite a few nice little restaurants and, indeed, a vibrant local music scene founded mainly upon a contingent of 60-something hippies, real, ex- and wannabe. I wanted to find the somewhat famous Philo's Studio Bar. I had learned about Philo and his legendary La Cruz music venue in an obituary that appeared in Latitude 38 when he unexpectedly passed away in October.

We found Philo's place and it turned out that his memorial tribute was taking place, an afternoon and night of music performed by musicians that had played there for many years, a few years or had recently arrived on the scene. We were greeted warmly by his lovely partner, Maria, who genuinely thanked us for coming, like we were friends of the family. Philo was clearly a friend to and loved by many. It was quite an honor to be there to experience and the music was great, with some very moving songs played in tribute. While almost everyone in the audience and on stage is eligible for Social Security (we felt young), it was great to see some really talented young 20, 30 and 40 year old musicians willing and able to keep the local La Cruz music scene going into the future. 

After saying goodbye to Renee this morning, I joined Marc and Marci for a relaxing day in the La Cruz/Punta de Mita area. We visited the Sunday's farmer's market in La Cruz, which features fresh organic produce and local artisanal foods, had a nice lunch and relaxed at a beach restaurant in Punta de Mita, watched the sunset over cocktails and finished the day off with dinner at "Tacos on the Street", a really nice, popular restaurant that has grown from its namesake origins, but not too much. A really nice day spent with really good friends.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Puerto Vallarta

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta actually, this afternoon after spending last night in Chacala, a nice little beach anchorage.

The sail to Chacala from San Blas was lovely, a nice cooling breeze propelled us steadily along under blue sky all day. We arrived in Chacala in time for an evening swim, the main point of stopping there. 

Immediately after swimming I was beset by an attack of the coggle woggles. I leave the figuring out what that term means to your imagination. I was sick all night, all day today and going to bed still not well.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better. 

So Renee captained the boat the whole way here, while I moaned, groaned and writhed on the settee in the salon.

We're in a marina associated with a large resort. When planning the trip, it seemed like it would be a nice break from "roughing it" at anchor on the boat. As it turns out, we haven't roughed it at all and I actually like being anchored out more than being in a marina, which is sort of like sleeping in a parking lot for boats. Still, this will be convenient for visitors and as a base for getting some work done on the boat while Renee is away. She leaves in just a couple of days. It will be strange not having her around after being in such close, constant proximity for over two months.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

San Blas

We've been enjoying our time exploring the small town of San Blas.

We arrived on Monday morning and initially decided to anchor in the estuary across from the marina. We anchored in a pretty spot, but it didn't take us too long to figure out that we were anchored in the middle of a panga thoroughfare, with boats frequently buzzing by us at high speed. We didn't like the idea of being in that spot at night and the risk of a panga crashing into us while while we were asleep, so we moved the boat into the marina.

On Monday and Tuesday we roamed around the town. San Blas is yet another pleasant small Mexican town with a character all its own. It is clear that efforts have been and are being made to rejuvenate the city for the benefit of its residents and to increase tourism. Unfortunately the city suffers from a reputation of having terrible mosquitos and jejenes (local term for no-see-ums, pronounced "hey-hey-neys") a reputation that we understand to be well-earned. Fortunately we were informed that we arrived during a lull in population and ferocity. Bug repellent is still needed, but once applied, the bugs have not been a problem at all. In fact, Tuesday evening we sat out in the open cockpit of Finte enjoying a potluck dinner with our hosts, Jeff and Mary, Larry and Mel from Hemisphere Dancer and John and Donna from Carmanah.

I would describe San Blas as an honest town, with no pretenses. It has a modest town square, a small, rather plan church and lots of little shops and restaurants, mostly local-serving. There are a few nice rustic-boutique hotels that look like nice places to stay. The buildings and streets around the square are in good repair but conditions deteriorate rapidly beyond the center of town. However, even amongst derelict buildings, piles of rubble and open sewers, the cobble stone streets are kept well swept and the litter under control by residents. As we have observed in other towns, the people are very friendly and seem to like and take pride in their town.

The town is located between an estuary and mangrove swamp with which means, in pleasant addition to the bugs, there are many, many birds. It is really nice listening to them as you wake up in the morning. The natural areas seem to be in good shape and the value of conserving them seems to be widely recognized and has some importance.

Today we ventured into the jungle, taking a cruise on a panga through the mangrove jungle to a cocodrilario, a crocodile reserve. Along the way we saw, in addition to several crocodiles, iguanas, turtles, birds, butterflies, a big termite nest in a tree and varied, lush vegetation all around. About a dozen American Crocodiles are kept captive for breeding and their young released into the protected sanctuary to help this endangered species recover from loss of habitat and poaching.  They are large, impressive looking beasts that appear to spend most of their time lying around snoozing. I imagine when they get hungry, they don't have to take much of a break from their slumber to snatch something out of the river. There is a very nice fresh water spring that you can swim in at the cocodrilario, separated from the crocodiles by only a chainlink fence.  If it was hotter out, we would have given it a go, but the weather has been so nice and cool that we decided not to go to the bother of changing into and out of swimsuits and I drank a nice cool beer instead, while Renee watched.

Tomorrow we resume our journey to Puerto Vallarta. We're going to Chacala tomorow morning, our last small anchorage for swimming and snorkeling before we get to the big city marina for the holidays.

Here are some pictures from our exploration of San Blas:
Sunrise as we approached San Blas

More sunrise beauty

...and an early morning pelican.
Approaching Puerto San Blas on the Estero el Pozo
Pangas along the estero

An old fishing boat and pelican roost in the San Blas harbor

Streets of San Blas

Nativity scene in the main plaza

San Blas' main church

One of several boutique hotels

Another San Blas street scene, further out from the center of town
Vegetation overgrowing steps in an old San Blas building
A building in La Contaduria fort atop the tallest hill in San Blas

Roof structure against a very blue sky

A panorama of San Blas taken from the fort

Downtown San Blas, Estero el Pozo and the Pacific Ocean beyond, taken from the La Contaduria
One of many smoked fish restaurants on the road leading out of town. The smoke keeps the jejenes away.

Our big smoked fish lunch. Delicious, but between the smoke in the restaurant and the char on the fish, we probably inhaled and ingested a year's worth of carcinogens!
Boat trip through the mangroves to the cocodrilario

An iguana along the way

The mangroves open up to reveal the mountains beyond.

A 12 foot long American Crocodile, in the wild

Another big'un relaxing and airing out its teeth at the cocodrilario

Monday, December 14, 2015

We've Sailed 2,000 Miles!

We just celebrated sailing our 2,000th mile with a shot of rum and lime at 9:30 in the morning. Breakfast of champions!

2,000 miles isn't that far compared to circumnavigations, ocean crossings or even just sailing to Hawaii. But it's a humble milestone for us. It's also testimony to Renee's patience and tolerance for a borderline madman that I didn't "fall off" the boat somewhere along those miles and have yet to be flogged.

We are approaching the port of San Blas. Conditions look good for crossing the bar into the harbor. Through the binoculars I can see the mosquitos and jejenes massing to greet us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Our Way to San Blas

We left Mazatlan this morning and are sailing south to San Blas. It is a beautiful sunny day, a bit cool, with good wind with following seas in the 4-6 ft range. It should take us about 24 hours to get to San Blas. The trick is for us to stay on the edge of the higher winds that offshore for as long as we can, without getting ourselves so far off the coast for when they are ultimately forecast to die down.

Renee's doing the 10:00-14:00, 18:00-21:00, 00:00-03:00 watches.
I'm taking 14:00-18:00, 21:00-00:00 and 03:00-06:00 watches.

We don't expect any drama along the way, maybe some fishing boats to avoid at night, but who knows? There are only a couple of navigational hazards towards the end of the trip, a big rock (lighted) and a shoal that extends from the mouth of a river about 3 miles offshore.

When we get to San Blas we'll decide whether to head into the port or continuing down the coast a few miles to anchor in a small bay. Getting into San Blas requires crossing a bar with shifting shoals, but I believe we can get a panga to guide us in. Renee seems partial to anchoring near the historic town. I'm more inclined to the more remote anchorage, but it might be rolly if the swells are coming from the west as presently forecast. Both locations are infamous for jejenes (no-see-ums). We'll decide after we evaluate sea conditions, but I always give the benefit of the doubt to my crew, especially when there are annoying insects. That way I can always say, "If only we had stayed in the anchorage..." if the bugs are bad in town. Anyway, thank goodness for DEET.

I talked to my daughter Hannah this morning. She's excited about visiting Intermezzo in Puerto Vallarta after New Years with her apartment-mates from NYU and going snorkeling. I am really looking forward to her visit!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Raining in Mazatlan

It's raining in Mazatlan!  I haven't seen hard, steady rain for a long time due to the drought in California. It's refreshing!

Yesterday we visited the old part of town. We walked around, stopped by the cathedral, wandered around the muncipal mercado and then had a great early dinner at Topolo, a very nice restaurant near the very pleasant Plaza Machado.

I am really enjoying Mexico. From what I have observed so far on this trip, it seems to me to be enjoying the beginnings of a cultural renaissance. The Mexico I am enjoying is so different than the corrupt drug war Mexico featured in the media. It is very safe and the people are warm and friendly. The country all seems noticeably cleaner, more sophisticated and economically better off than when I've visited in the past. There is still a long way to go to reduce poverty, clean up the environment and improve education, but I keep seeing things that make me believe the country and its people are on a definite upswing. A recent article on Mexico in The Economist seems to back up my view. I think the emergence of a middle class and the influence of Mexicans who have returned after living abroad are the main driving forces.  I call it a cultural renaissance because what I see is not just economic progress and modernization in the image of the US, but rather a distinctly Mexican version that's a mix of American, European and Latin American influences.

Well, enough with the social commentary. Back to sailing.

We originally intended to depart Mazatlan this morning for Ensenada de Matanchén, near the port of San Blas. The weather forecast called for rain the whole trip and building winds during the night as the effects of an offshore cold front skirted our path. We figured out that if we delayed our departure until tomorrow we could miss the rain and catch the higher winds at the beginning of the trip during the day and let them peter out for when we would be approaching a new, open anchorage the next morning.  So here we are, sitting in the boat in the rain, writing holiday cards, emails and blogging. I have also taken a couple of naps as I think I have contracted some form of sleeping sickness on this trip, an illness that seems to be aggravated when I drink a beer at lunch.

Here are some photos from recent past days:
Renee and her tuna catch of the day.
Renee devouring her catch of the day.
Street vendors outside the cathedral in old town Mazatlan 
Inside the Mercado Municipal, old town Mazatlan

Christmas decorations in Plaza Machado

A vey blue building in old town Mazatlan

A street in the old town approaching a trendy new restaurant

The interior of the trendy new restaurant in old town Mazatlan
Garden dining at the Topolo restaurant  where we had a great dinner and good wine in old town Mazatlan. (Image copied from their website)

Old school bicycle repair shop, fittingly located in old town. (Photo note: This was taken on my iPhone, on the fly in low light which resulted in a nice watercolor effect.)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sailing to Mazatlan 6, 10 December 11:55

We arrived at Mazatlan around 07:30 this morning and Intermezzo is now tied up in a slip at Marina El Cid, a nice, small, modest resort property.

What struck me most as we drew nearer to the mainland coast was the smell of the land, rich, moist, fertile. Such a difference from the arid Baja desert. What a dramatic change in climate and landscape in just 48 hours of sailing. It is warm and humid here, with verdant green vegetation and an abundance of fresh water.

We're officially in the tropics, now south of the Tropic of Capricorn, which to be astronomically correct should be currently called the Tropic of Taurus. (Sorry Lola, Daphne and other goats, but you had it for a long time prior to this earth axis wobble; the latitude belongs to the bulls now).

This was a really nice passage. The weather was good, we sailed the boat well, we caught and ate fresh fish, we got along well with each other and nothing broke.  A good start to Leg 4.

We'll stay in Mazatlan two or three days before setting of south towards Puerto Vallarta. Renee is currently doing a reconnaisance of the town center, I will be scoping out the resort pools, beaches and their associated bars.  After I take catch a few zzzz's since I had the last watch and did a couple hours extra to let Renee sleep in. If you can call going to bed at 3 a.m. and waking up at 7:30 am sleeping in.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sailing to Mazatlan 5, 10 December 00:07

Still sailing nicely under the Code 0 sail. Had to run the engine to put a little juice back into the batteries.

We're closing on coast of mainland Mexico. It's been a great passage so far and looks like we'll arrive very close to when we estimated.

Nothing else noteworthy to report.

Time to get a little shut eye before my next watch at 03:00.

Sailing to Mazatlan 4, 9 December 15:15

We enjoyed a big delicious lunch of tuna sashimi over rice. Fish doesn't get any fresher than this, unless you count the sashimi Renee and I snacked on while we were preparing the tuna right after catching it. I substituted a chayote squash sliced really thin for the traditional daikon radish that usually accompanies sashimi. It is crunchy and has hints of similar flavors. I was unfamiliar with chayote (I think I have spelling right) squashes until this trip. I have discovered that they keep very well and are versatile. I've substituted them in place of "regular" squashes and cucumbers, roasted them, stir-fried them, had them raw. Highly recommended.

We are sailing on a dark blue sea under a light blue sky with hazy clouds to the south, clear to the north. The wind is blowing a little over 10 knots and we're steadily moving at a bit more than half that speed with moderate swells to our stern. It's nice and warm out and we're both taking catnaps to prepare for another night.

We haven't turned the engine on all day...yay! We might be forced to though, but not due to lack of wind. As the winter solstice approaches, the sun isn't high in the sky for long, which limits how much power the solar panels can generate. We're conserving power by only running one chartplotter, timed radar transmissions at night, turning up the freezer temperature and not charging gadgets. Despite these measures, at 15:00 the batteries are only 85% charged, which probably won't be enough to last the night and not draw them down below my 70% limit. I try to stick to that limit because it prolongs the life of our (expensive) battery bank tremendously. The wind is supposed to die down after midnight, so we'll wait as long as we can.

About 150 nm done, 85 to go. We're right on schedule.

Sailing to Mazatlan 3, 9 December 09:33

Renee caught another fish!

When I started my watch at 06:00, Renee asked if she could put out a fishing line. I told her okay, as long as she would deal with the fish if we caught one. A couple of hours later, I saw the line pull taught so I checked it out and could feel that there was a good sized fish on the end.

We hauled it in (we're using hand line set ups with "yo-yo" reels) and we had a nice 10-12 lb tuna on board. Renee anesthetized it by pouring vodka down its gullet and gills ("Oso Negro" brand, in case you are wondering), I dispatched it with our "security" bat, then I bled it, gutted it, gilled it, filleted it and skinned it. Renee packaged up the filets and did clean up, a pretty even split of tasks. Somehow in the excitement, I forgot the "as long as you deal with the fish" arrangement from earlier on.

We're sailing nicely on the Code 0, another 24 hours and 113 miles to go. I downloaded the latest weather model files and it looks like we'll have comfortable winds in the 10-15 knot range until tomorrow morning, when the wind is forecast to peter out as we draw near to the coast. If that holds true, this will be our highest sailing:motoring passage of the trip so far. Good for global warming, our ears and my wallet. Diesel is costing $4 to $5 per gallon here.

Renee comes back on watch at 10:00 after little sleep because of her blood lust for killing fish. I'm going to take a nap and then enjoy sashimi for lunch and make some ceviche for dinner.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sailing to Mazatlan 3, 9 December 03:08

Well, my watch started early with a bit of excitement. Renee called me up to the deck around 23:30 as she was concerned about a large ferry ship, the La Paz Star, closing on us from astern. They were only 4 nm behind us, traveling at 12 knots heading directly for us. We were making about 6 knots, so that meant only 40 minutes until they would run us over if nothing changed. Renee had tried to hail them on the VHF, but could not make contact. We were running hard under only the Code 0 in moderate swells which put some limit on the course we could sail.

I attempted to hail La Paz Star on the VHF with no luck. I initiated a DSC (Digital Select Call) to them but got no answer. I finally made a DSC "All Ships" safety call, which sets off an alert on every ships' VHF within range. That got the ferry's attention!

After a bit of confusion on the part of the ferry with respect to the course they wanted to steer, we agreed that they would alter course and pass us to their starboard. That required quite a turn for them and I'm not sure why they did that. Maybe they are supposed to stay within some prescribed track or something, I don't know. In any case, they seemed a bit annoyed with us and told us not to call them anymore! That was fine with me, once I knew they weren't asleep at the helm, knew where we were and passed us safely.

The rest of my watch was uneventful. The wind picked up quite a bit, so we rolled up the Code 0 and unfurled the jib. We're making a steady 5+ knots under just the jib, which is good enough and makes for easy sailing. Still pretty rolly, with 3+ foot swells closely spaced at about 6 seconds.

90 miles sailed, 145 left to go.

Time to sleep until I'm back on at 06:00.

Sailing to Mazatlan 2, 8 December 21:14

Just got off watch. Sailing nicely downwind on just the Code 0 in 15+ knots wind with a following short period swell. Renee made a nice spaghetti dinner. There's nobody out here but us and the occasional big ship in the far distance. The stars are amazing and the moon should rise soon. It's warm; Renee is still wearing shorts with a light fleece shirt.

We've logged 55 nm; 180 left to go.

Time to grab a little sleep before my 00:00 to 03:00 watch, which always comes too quickly after I've fallen asleep.

Sailing to Mazatlan 1

We're on our way to Mazatlan. We left La Paz at 10:00 am after an expensive night's stay in Marina Costa Baja. We had heard it was a less expensive marina, but that's for month long stays, not overnight, which I figured out after we had checked in and done all the paperwork. Oh well. We had a nice dinner of a small roasted skipjack tuna that Renee caught on the way from Ensenada Grande.

The morning's sail north through the Bahia de La Paz was a nice close reach in 10-15 knots with little swell. Then we turned east to go through the Canal de San Lorenzo and the wind was on the nose at 20 knots with very steep chop which we powered through under motor. When we turned southeast to pass through Canal Cerralvo, the wind died and the chop subsided but about every 10th wave is big enough to roll the boat, slam the boom from side to side, just to be annoying.

We're making slow progress at under 4 knots, but we're determined to sail as much of this passage as reasonably possible. At this rate, it will take us almost three days to reach Mazatlan, but that ETA will hopefully improve with periods of increased wind.

So, I made a really big mistake. I forgot to replenish the beer supply before we left La Paz! OMG! I have only three beers for the whole trip! I don't know if I'll make it.

Hmmmm...I have barley, yeast and sugar. Maybe I can make a boat brew?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ending Leg 3, Beginning Leg 4

To recap:

Leg 1 was sailing down the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego.

Leg 2 was the Baja Ha-Ha, from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.

Today, we officially ended Leg 3, sailing the Sea of Cortez.

Tomorrow, we officially start Leg 4, the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

We set sail from La Paz tomorrow morning (with full fuel tanks) for Mazatlan (no bar to cross) with a good weather forecast. It will be a two-day passage, downwind, thank goodness.

Here are some pictures from the past several days:

The mission at San Ignacio

The town square in the oasis town of San Ignacio

Rocks and turquoise water at Ensenada Grande...never get tired of them

The beach and trailhead at the end of Ensenada Grande

The rugged east coast of Isla Partida, looking north

The rugged east coast of Isla Partida, looking south.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ensenada Grande

Well, I can't say how our crossing of the Sea of Cortez would have turned out. The crossing itself probably would have been fine, but if the wind on the other side was like it was here, I doubt we would have been able to get across the bar into Altata. It was probably overly conservative to have changed course, but we're glad we did as we have been enjoying Ensenada Grande. We also realized that our next ports of call, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, are urban areas with all the "amenities". We really like the natural beauty and relative solitude of Baja and the Sea of Cortez and are glad we didn't cut our time here any shorter.

E. Grande is a larger anchorage with three lobes. We're in the longest and deepest lobe, tucked in near the shallow water at its end. The wind has been howling (again!) and the boat swinging on its anchor, which compromises our satellite reception. The few boats that were anchored here last night have left and we have the place to ourselves. So, near total isolation.

We took a hike up an arroyo to top of the east side of the island. This time we had bug repellent but, it figures, there were no bugs at all! It was a relatively easy hike up to the top where we had a picnic lunch on the edge of a cliff looking over a rugged coastline and whitecapped sea. The snorkeling around here is good, too, although the wind has stirred things up a bit and decreased visibility since yesterday.

Tomorrow (Monday) we head for La Paz to fuel up and then Tuesday we'll head across to Mazatlan in what looks to be good sailing weather.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Change In Plans...Again

Well, we started out across the Sea of Cortez, but there is no wind and none is expected until well after midnight. Normally we would motor until we had enough wind to sail. However, our fuel tanks are only about 3/8 full. That's plenty to get us to Altaca, but if we can't get across the bar, which is a real possibility, we have to continue another 120+ miles to Mazatlan in what looks to be highly variable winds. I'm not comfortable with burning through a good portion of our fuel tonight and then being short if we can't get into Altaca to fill up. So we're heading back to La Paz to fuel up and then will leave from there direct to Mazatlan on the next good weather window. On the way we'll stop and explore a couple of the bays we passed by on Isla Espiritu Santo as we were running away from Hurricane Sandra.

It's nice not being on a tight schedule and being able to "go with the flow". Maybe I'm a bit chicken-hearted, but Renee and I came to the same decision after quite some consideration. Bottom line, we wouldn't have left for an almost 300 mile passage with less tanks less than half full. So we're not.

Sailing Across the Sea of Cortez, Ordeals and Adventures

We're leaving tonight to sail across the Sea of Cortez from the Baja peninsula to the mainland of Mexico. We're starting off from an anchorage and heading for a port that are both different from what we originally planned.

We returned to Puerto Escondido Wednesday night from our road trip to Santa Rosalia and San Ignacio. I wrote a bit previously about the mining town of Santa Rosalia. Our side trip to San Ignacio, 40 miles further north and inland was a spur of the moment idea. It was worth the time and effort as it is a very small, very pretty little town in the middle of an oasis with a large fresh water lake. The 18th century mission is simple but elegant and very well preserved, with a miniature desert botanical garden in its courtyard.

We spent yesterday morning returning the rental car, buying tortillas, postcards and stamps and having coffee (me) and doing laundry (Renee...thank you). We left the harbor around noon headed towards Agua Verde, an anchorage that we had wanted to visit on the way north but bypassed due to weather. It was a nice leisurely downwind sail in light winds, which we enjoyed a little longer than we should have as the sun fell below the hills before we reached the anchorage. We turned on the motors to get anchored before dark but were thwarted by a small dorado that decided to take Renee's hook trolling behind us. We were happy for the fresh fish, but by the time we made it into the small anchorage it was dark and filled with other boats. We probably could have anchored there if we could have assessed conditions in daylight, but it was impossible to do so in the dark. That was a bummer, because we didn't have a Plan B on the shelf, ready to go.

We motored slowly out of the anchorage through bouncy swells as I looked at the charts and tried to figure out our options. The most obvious option was to head to the next anchorage south and I started plotting a course to get us there. I entered GPS waypoints to get us through a pass between a point of land and an offshore reef. Then I entered GPS waypoints to get us around another reef and into the anchorage. Then I thought, "Not bloody likely." (Actually, I thought in American English, but I like the sound of the British expression better.) No way was I going to navigate Intermezzo around reefs and "rocks awash" in darkness with only GPS coordinates.

I could think of only three other alternatives. We could head back to Puerto Escondio and start over tomorrow. That would be safe but would mean motoring upwind through steep chop for several hours. We could head offshore and heave-to (park the boat under sail) for the night. Renee didn't like that option, bobbing around, feeling seasick and going nowhere. Or we could start sailing across the Sea to the mainland a day earlier than planned. I didn't like that because neither the boat nor we were properly prepared for an overnight offshore crossing. However, as a sailor, I like having sea room and I would rather be out in the middle of the sea with very little to crash into than close to shore with lots of hard stuff all around.

I was reluctantly moving in the direction of sailing across the Sea to Topolabampo, slowly motoring offshore, shaping a course, estimating arrival time and identifying the minimum we needed to do to be properly set up. I really, really didn't like the idea of doing this and was more than a bit worried. Okay, I'll admit it, I was just crossing into being scared. I looked at the chartplotter again, to make sure there wasn't a fatal flaw in my plotted route and noticed the purple line that indicates Intermezzo's track, the path she's previously sailed along.

Ahah! Another alternative! We could follow the track line back to the Los Gatos anchorage. We had "bread crumbs" that would lead us back in the dark to the exact spot where we had safely anchored on Thanksgiving and it would only take us a couple of hours to get there. What a relief. I altered course accordingly in much better spirits.

Along the way, another boat, Indigo, contacted us on the VHF to chat. We told them our story and they offered to lead us into the anchorage they knew very well and were heading to for the night. We were grateful for the offer and another option to consider. As we approached Los Gatos, we told Indigo we were going to nose in and see if there was room and, lo and behold, a boat anchored in Los Gatos overheard our conversation. They told us it was only them and one other boat and that they would turn on extra lights to help us orient ourselves. We ended up anchoring with no difficulty within about 50 feet of where we were on Thanksgiving. It was a rolly night in northeast swell, but we were safe and could spend the next day getting properly ready for our crossing.

Finding ourselves about 20 miles further south than planned and looking at the weather forecasts, we've decided to sail across to the port of Altata, which is between Topolabampo to the north and Mazatlan to the south. It sounds like an interesting place, with a new marina, traditional sailing shrimp boats and "famous" for its seafood restaurants on its malacon. The only tricky part is getting into the port, which requires crossing a shallow bar with breakers each side and constantly shifting shoals. If you know the South Shore of Long Island, it looks like Moriches Inlet. Purportedly, we can call the marina on the VHF and they will send out a panga to guide us through this treacherous passage. If that doesn't work, this time we do have a Plan B on the shelf, ready to go. We'll just continue sailing south to Mazatlan.

We're leaving Los Gatos at sunset tonight and we should arrive at the inlet to Altata early Sunday morning. Making the entrance into Altata seems like a pain in the neck, but there is a saying of which I am fond: "The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Massive Photo Upload

We're on a mini road trip to Santa Rosalia, having rented a car and left Intermezzo by herself anchored in Puerto Escondido.  It was a nice 120 mile drive through desert scenery, stopping in the town of Mulege for lunch. Mulege wasn't that interesting. Santa Rosalia is.

Santa Rosalia's heyday was when it was a French mining town in the late 19th, early 20th century. The old mining and smelting infrastructure is still around, rusting and decaying. There is still an active mining going on here and the mining town character has been preserved.  The town is rough around the edges, but seems like an thriving community; we passed by a cultural center where people were taking music lessons, a community gym with volleyball being played and the little stores around town are all stocked up and decorated for the Christmas season. 

We're staying in the Frances Hotel, an historic place that purportedly was the dormitory for the girls who worked in the brothel during, back in the day. It's a comfortable old place and will be the first time we've slept on land since leaving Petaluma.

I'm taking advantage of a decent broadband connection here in our hotel in Santa Rosalia to upload a ton of photos taken over the past couple of weeks.

Here they are. Enjoy!

Isla Espiritu Santo

The varied and striking geology of the island is apparent from a distance 
Motoring due to light winds gave us the opportunity to take a detour through some small islands of the coast of the main island.

More island geology. "Grand Canyon By the Sea"

The island is indented with many coves, most with a beach and some greenery at their innermost portion.

Caleta Partida

A chartplotter view of Caleta Partida as we entered, showing several of the many other anchorages indenting the coasts of I. Espiritu Santo and I. Partida.
A stunning sunset welcomed us to Caleta Partida on our first evening
We took the dinghy to the cove next door to find the trail up to the top of the ridge, the rim of the crater of a long extinct volcano.

Renee getting ready for the hike, before the mosquitos started biting. We didn't stand still long after that.

The trail head at the mouth of an arroyo. 
Flowers decorating a cactus.

One of several good-sized lizards we saw on the trail. This one is about a foot long.

Renee looking at something and a tree bending over to examine Renee more closely. 
A panorama of Caleta Partida from the ridge of Isla Espiritu Santo. To the north is Isla Partida; the gap between the two islands is to the right. If you look closely, you can see Intermezzo and the half dozen boats with whom we shared the anchorage.

Intermezzo looking very tiny anchored in Caleta Partida.

Hiking at the top of the ridge. Hard to believe it, but there were more hungry mosquitos up here than in the arroyo below.

Ensenada Embudo

This is the tiny cove at the north end of Isla Partida where we anchored Intermezzo to swim with sea lions at two tiny outlying islands. Only room for one boat and a private beach for a picnic and expand the extent of tanned skin.

Bahia Los Gatos

We took dozens of pictures of the rock formations at Bahia Los Gatos because we found them so beautiful and interesting. It was hard to select the ones to post, so I uploaded a bunch.

The Baja coast on the way to Bahia Los Gatos.

Intermezzo anchored in Bahia Los Gatos.

One of the many pictures of the rock formations at each end of the bay. We hiked up to the top of this one.

Another of many rock formation pictures; I won't caption them all.

Bahia Los Gatos from the crest of the rocks we hiked up.

A panorama that provides a perspective of the landscape beyond the bay.

Hiking the narrow crest of the rocks.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

Renee and the turtle shell I found on the beach.

Our modest Thanksgiving dinner anchored by ourselves at Bahia Los Gatos. "Pollo de Celebrar", garlic roast potatoes, mushrooms in escabeche, mixed vegetables and (vintage) cranberry sauce, all washed down with a delicious 2008 Rafanelli zin. 

Santa Rosalia

Santa Rosalia was and still is a mining town.

Ruins of the smelter on the waterfront.

Hotel Frances, where we slept on land for the first time since leaving Petaluma on October 5.

This church was designed by Gustav Eiffel. It is a prefabricated structure, once exhibited at the Chicago Worlds Fair and shipped to Santa Rosalia from Belgium.

A typical street in the Santa Rosalia town center.