Friday, December 8, 2017

Penngrove: A Belated Wrap-up and Confession of a Near Miss

I'm writing this from The Ranch, two weeks after leaving Intermezzo in La Paz and flying home, a belated wrap-up of our short cruise in the Sea of Cortez. It has been a busy time here since I returned and my transition from sea- to land-life is always more difficult than in the opposite direction. When transitioning back to land, I often feel like I am falling through a swirl of intense thoughts and feelings, like a space capsule that heats up and glows as it re-enters the earth's atmosphere, a transition from a thin atmosphere to a thick one. I've been wanting to write this for over a week but other work was a higher priority and I had to cool myself down from re-entry. I'm glad to finally be able to do it.

My last post was from Isla San Francisco on November 20 just before we sailed to Caleta Partida, a beautiful cove nestled in a volcanic crater that divides Isla Espiritu Santos from Isla Partida, about 25 miles north of La Paz.  This cove is one of our favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez. It has a very calm anchorage in shallow bright turquoise water, a nice white sand beach, great hiking up to the rim of the crater and excellent snorkeling around the rocks at the entry to the cove. The anchorage is pretty large, so even with half a dozen or more boats, it is a peaceful and quiet place to stay.

The sail from Isla San Francisco to Caleta Partida was a nice downwind romp in 15-20 knots true wind flying just the Code 0, without doubt our favorite sail. Effortless and enjoyable sailing. After we dropped our anchor in the bright light-blue water, we launched the dinghy to do some snorkeling. The water was just warm enough to take a leisurely swim around the perimeter of the narrow rock reef that extends off the cove's northern point. We swam through brightly colored clouds of thousands of small fish swimming near the surface, looking down at larger reef fish and the occasional tuna below us. It was one of the best dives I've had in the Sea.

After pulling ourselves out of the water and back into the dinghy, we motored towards the beach to enjoy a beer (me) and explore (Renee).  When we were about a quarter mile off the beach, I realized that it was low tide and while the water was deep enough to float the dinghy, it was too shallow to run the outboard. So turned off the motor, hopped out and towed Renee into the beach, shuffling my feat through the sandy bottom to avoid a painful encounter with a sting ray. Towing the dinghy took no effort at all, but I played it up by moaning and groaning a bit so that when I opened my beer, it would seem to Renee like I earned it. She's used to my cartoon character dramatics and rolled her eyes and played along as usual. I enjoyed my beer.

It was a very still night at anchor, with a clear night sky and only a sliver of a moon. I made an amazing discovery that night. I had taken my contact lenses out to go to bed but wanted to take one last look at the starry sky. I didn't bother to put my glasses on before I went out onto the deck and gazed upwards. Wow! I am really nearsighted and without corrective lenses, points of light turn into fuzzy balls, just like dandelions look when they have gone to seed. I have enjoyed this visual effect before by taking off my glasses while driving at night or,more safely, as a passenger in a car. The taillights and the headlights of the traffic turn into a moving collage of colored dandelions, some of them undulating in size as my eyes and brain try to focus and make sense of the abstract. Well, gazing up at the stars without glasses presented a similar scene. The stars turned into dandelions, only they didn't undulate in size, I think because my brain accepted the stars as static objects as opposed to  moving cars. The result was that the main stars of the constellations appeared as much larger dandelions than the other stars.  I saw the night sky just like it looks in a star chart, the stars of the constellations augmented to help you find them, only my version also turned them into big, soft, fuzzy stars. I could pick out all the major constellations easily and saw others that I'm sure are named but less familiar. It was amazing. To those of you who may be suspicious, I want to be clear that no drugs were involved in this experiment. Though I had to accept my poor vision at an early age and usually consider it a handicap, it has given me gifts of dandelion abstract night art, the ability to see detail at a very close distance, like a macro lens on a camera and now, deciphering the patterns of dandelion stars in the night sky. It makes me smile thinking that if we were all nearsighted like I am, how different we would perceive and describe stars. Not the twinkling points of light, like a black canvas that has been pierced by a needle to reveal mysterious light beyond, but nice soft balls of light that have arranged themselves to hang over us, comforting us with beauty and inspiring dreams as to their meaning.

Okay, back to earth. Or sea, in this case.

The next morning, this would be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a long swim and lazy snorkel in the shallow waters of the anchorage. While there was less to see under the surface than the day before, we were entertained by a school of rainbow runners (called salmón locally), colorful, mackerel shaped fish about a foot long or so. We appeared to be their morning entertainment, as they swam lazy circles around us, seemingly curious about our ungainly land-bodies and inelegant way of swimming in the water.

We pulled up anchor just before noon on and set sail on our last leg of the cruise to the marina in La Paz which will be Intermezzo's home for the upcoming months. There wasn't quite enough wind to move us fast enough under sail alone, but enough for the Code 0 to let the motor run at lower rpms and let us pretend we were sailing.

I have to confess to a near miss that occurred on our way to La Paz. While I'm embarrassed and ashamed of my poor seamanship,near misses are best turned into lessons learned to prevent future accidents and lessons are most valuable when shared with others.

We were approaching La Paz about three miles south of Punta Diablo, the point at the northeast of the Bahia de La Paz. There is a dramatic increase in vessel traffic as you enter the bay, compared to the mostly deserted waters in the rest of the Sea, including quite a few  large tankers, cargo ships, cruise ships and ferries. I scanned the waters ahead of me, spotting the big ships, figuring out if they were moving or at anchor, and relating what I saw with my eyes to the electronic Automatic Identification System (AIS) targets displayed on the chartplotter. All looked good for clear passage, except for a Mexican naval vessel that was in our path a few miles ahead.  Given the navy ship's location in a heavily navigated channel, I assumed it was moving and would be out of our way.

While we love our Code 0 sail, the foot of the sail is so low and the sail is so big that it completely blocks the view ahead from the helm station on the side of the boat that its flying.  The only way to sail safely is to frequently get down from the helm  and look through the front windows of the salon which are low enough to provide a clear view ahead under the sail. Renee and I sometimes cheat a little and agree that one of us will keep an eye out from inside the salon while the other is outside. If we have confirmed agreement on this arrangement, it's safe enough for passages in low traffic areas, but a bit dicey in more congested waters. As we approached La Paz, I was neither getting down from the helm frequently enough nor had I asked Renee to keep watch from inside to see what the Code 0 might be blocking from view.

I glanced at the chartplotter and was glad to "see" that the AIS target of the Mexican navy ship had moved out of our path as I expected, heading into a nearby harbor, but I didn't look under the Code 0 to confirm my conclusion from a second source of navigational data, i.e., my eyes.

We were motorsailing along at about six knots in calm seas on a beautiful day, the autopilot doing the steering. Renee was sitting at the helm, asking me a question about right-of-way while motorsailing and I was lecturing her my answer as I fiddled with mounting the remote mike for the VHF in preparation for entering the marina. Fifty yards sailing alongside to port was another sail boat, close enough to require my attention, especially since the crew of which was wearing a very skimpy and flattering black bikini.  After I got the mike mounted, I jumped up to sit next to Renee, still prattling on about navigation rules and regulations.

I noticed out of the corner of my eye, just to port of where the view was blocked by the Code 0 flying on the starboard side of the boat, a bright red float, about the size of a human head. I joked to Renee, "look a red head in the water". Thankfully the float was bright and oddly out of place enough to raise my curiosity to take a closer look under the sail. To my alarm and horror, the float was attached to the anchor chain of the Mexican Navy ship, its grey steel hull towering above us only a hundred yards ahead!

Two actions immediately came to mind. The first and most obvious was to quickly alter course to avoid colliding with the navy ship and causing an international incident, not to mention great damage to Intermezzo while only leaving white fiberglass marks on the navy ship. The second was how to look good doing it, like I intended to get so close before turning. The first I executed with no problem and averted a catastrophe. As to the second, well, I kept a calm expression on my face, giving a casual and confident wave to the crew watching from the deck of the navy ship. I don't think I pulled it off though, given their expressions which ranged from amusement to derision and gestures that I did not interpret as being laudatory.

The lessons learned are obvious. It is essential to keep a proper watch, especially in areas of heavy vessel traffic and large ships. Keeping a proper watch means looking frequently in all directions, including under your sails. Confirm navigational information from a multiple data sources, whenever possible and especially when the data is electronic. The AIS target that I took to be the navy ship was in fact that of a tanker that was right next to the navy ship when I first scanned the waters ahead.  The navy ship had never moved, anchored in a strange location; the tanker had headed to port.

I find it interesting how the officers and crew of the Mexican navy ship acted (or didn't act) in this situation, especially compared to what would have happened had I sailed directly towards an American navy ship and gotten so close.  I'm pretty sure that the Mexican sailors were wishing that I would hit their ship and make their day. Really, they didn't sound their horn or hail me, they just waited and watched. What an excellent opportunity to ridicule and lambast a rich gringo yatista, obviously a drunk amateur sailor who doesn't belong on the water! What an opportunity to legally scold, seize property and imprison an American, people who think they are better than us and want to build a wall to keep us out and think we are stupid enough to pay for it...assholes.  I don't want to think about how big a pain in the ass it would have been to extract myself from that situation, even as charming as I can be to foreign officials.

Now, if I had sailed directly at an American navy vessel and succeeded in getting within a hundred yards of hitting it, you would be reading about these lessons learned written by someone else in my obituary. I'm pretty sure that American sailors would be wishing they could unleash their Phalanx "sea-whiz" close-in weapons system to turn Intermezzo, Renee and I into small pieces of harmless flotsam, perhaps launching a couple of guided anti-ship missiles for good measure and to justify ordering four more to the delight of a defense contractor. Nothing left to ridicule, scold, seize or imprison. A victory in the war on terrorism. Okay, maybe an American ship would have blasted its horn or siren, yelled at me and gave me a chance. Or sent out a launch or helicopter to intercept me and force me to alter course. But having worked with the military for 30 years, I know that would have been a great disappointed to the sailors at the triggers of the Phalanx, for once hearing the orders "Prepare to fire. This is not a drill".

After dodging the navy ship and getting back on course to La Paz, I banged my head with my hands for a little while for being so stupid, severely beat myself up mentally and then sunk into quiet embarrassment and shame, all of which was gracefully ignored by Renee, who honorably, but undeservingly, took on some responsibility for our inattentiveness. To be clear, I was in command, I was on watch, it was my responsibility...the buck stopped with me.

A few hours later, just outside the entry to the main La Paz harbor, Renee finally caught a fish that we would eat. She had been fishing diligently every day ever since leaving Puerto Escondido. She hooked a couple of trigger fish caught with a handline while at anchor in Agua Verde, but we typically don't like to eat the fish we find pretty and like to admire while snorkeling. She caught three skipjack tuna simultaneously as we sailed to Isla San Francisco, three big, fat fish that we, unfortunately, don't find very tasty and get tired of quickly. This time, she hooked a sierra (aka Spanish Mackerel) one of our favorite fish to eat. It's tasty, easy to prepare and cooks quickly.  We enjoyed eating it for dinner only a couple hours after she caught it. Delicious! Renee was so happy to have finally got her fish.

We got Intermezzo into her slip at Marina Palmira, a nice, clean, friendly marina about a mile and a half from downtown La Paz. We spent Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day cleaning up the boat and arranging for caretakers. We spent all of Friday on multi-leg air travel through Mexico City and L.A. back home, something I want to avoid next time. I have heard that one can fly from La Paz to Tijuana, walk across the border and catch the trolley to the San Diego airport, reportedly a quicker and less expensive route.

We arrived at The Ranch early Saturday morning and cooked and celebrated a belated family Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday.  Since then, Renee has resumed remodeling the cottage while we live in it and I have been spending my time complaining about the dust, launching a new business, resuming my yoga practice and brooding about life.

My plan is to spend the rest of the winter and early spring "commute cruising", splitting my time between land and sea, perhaps a two week on, two week off schedule, starting in mid-January.

I now have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with Intermezzo for the longer term. But I will save that to be the topic of another post.

Here are a bunch of photos taken during our journey from Puerto Escondido to La Paz:

Puerto Escondido anchorage at sunset

Natures beauty in the Sea of Cortez

View of anchorage at Isla San Francisco from atop its ridge

An osprey nest at the top of Isla San Francisco, nobody home.

Hiking the rugged terrain of Isla San Francisco
Hiking the non-rugged terrain of Isla San Francisco, its salt flat where we collected some nice salt.

Sunset at Marina Palmira in La Paz, just before dinner

Dinner, freshly caught sierra with onion-garlic-lemon-butter sauce, mashed potatoes and broccoli 

Intermezzo's current home

Monday, November 20, 2017

Isla San Francisco: Great Sailing, Rolling and Water Leaking

We enjoyed great downwind (yes, that's right, downwind) over the past couple of days. Yesterday the wind blew a steady 20 knots for most of the day which let the jib moves us along at a steady 6.5 knots of relaxed sailing. The wind dropped to 15 knots for a few hours, so we just rolled up the jib and unfurled the Code 0 to keep moving just as fast, just as easily. Our main sail sure has an easy time of it, resting in its stack pack while the foresails do all the work. The lines that hold up the stack pack are called "lazy jacks", an appropriate name for a lazy sail.

We spent the night before last (Saturday night) in Los Gatos, one of our favorite anchorages. The wind in the northern sea had whipped up a decent swell, making the anchorage very rolly all evening and all night. Even a catamaran can get uncomfortable rocking back and forth a foot or so every six seconds. It reminded us of the Thanksgiving we spent in this same anchorage in 2015, when we experienced the same rolling while we ate our roast chicken dinner.

Our starboard engine has been leaking salt water from somewhere. Every time I think I fixed it, Renee would crouch into the engine compartment to mop it out and wipe the engine down with oil. Then the leak would reappear, I would "fix" it, and Renee would mop and wipe again. I think I finally conquered the leak, after three rounds of fighting it. I don't know how Renee did all that mopping and wiping without complaining. Now we have a dry and very, very clean engine compartment and a thrice-oiled engine.

We spent last night at Isla San Francisco, after a nice long hike along the island's ridge and exploring its salt flat. We collected some nice salt from a small pond so that we can season our food with the local stuff.

Today we're heading to Caleta Partida, another favorite anchorage, our last stop before La Paz.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Agua Verde: We’re finally sailing!

We finally left Puerto Escondido yesterday afternoon after bending on the jib and Code 0. My son Luther will appreciate that we finally dropped the main pin for the Code 0 furled overboard after three years of being extremely careful with this unique piece of hardware for which we carry no replacement. I adapted a 10mm bolt and nylock nut to serve in its place until I obtain a new one and a spare.

What very little wind there was yesterday was on the nose, the recurring story of my sailing life, so we motored the 20 nm or so to Agua Verde. It was a beautiful day and it felt good to be moving through the water again.

Nighttime in the Agua Verde anchorage was delightful. Endless stars spread over a giant moonless night sky, with the occasional shooting one for entertainment. Bioluminescent plankton sparkling like thousands of shooting stars in the inky black still water. I laid out on the trampoline naked with all this beauty around me, a cool breeze blowing over me, on the verge of feeling chilled, refreshing me out of the dull warmth from the bottle of Merlot I drank with dinner. I could hear the tinkle of bells from goats roaming on shore and the frequent splashes of fish enjoying their nocturnal meals. I took it all in, fully and gratefully, feeling content, reminded of how much I enjoy this place and life on the water.

We have less than a week until our flight out of La Paz back home for the holidays. We'll be moving south with purpose, but I'm resolved to enjoy the journey and stops along the way as much as possible. Next stop is Los Gatos, one of our favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Baja Ha-Ha Wrap-Up

I wrote a blog post for each of the three legs of the Baja Ha-Ha, but I don’t feel I wrapped up my reporting for that journey properly. It was a really enjoyable trip. Nothing broke on the boat, nobody was injured and no harsh words were spoken, a winning trifecta that in my experience is rarely achieved when sailing. It was fun to sail a monohull again, a good experience to serve as crew vs. captain, and Gary and Eric were great company.

I asked each of them to recount the best part of the trip for them, their biggest mistake and to summarize it all in one word.

For Gary, the best part of the trip was the 10 hours spinnaker run on Leg 2 and how well the boat worked. “We could have used more wind, but the spinnaker runs were worth waiting for.” He enjoyed the camaraderie of the crew. He also has “great respect for Dinty Moore”, the brand of prepared meals we ate for dinner almost every night. Gary’s biggest mistake was flubbing the set up for the  second spinnaker hoist, which was quickly resolved but didn’t look good.

Eric enjoyed the wildlife most. He liked the huge pod of spinner dolphins that surrounded the boat one afternoon and the half dozen of dolphins that played in our bow wave for an hour one night. He really enjoyed the show put on by the pelicans, seals and dolphins one morning while we were anchored in Bahia Tortuga and some local fishermen were netting sardines; all the animals wanted a piece of that action and it was surprising there were any sardines left in the net. “National Geographic stuff,” Eric called it. Eric also took honors for highest boat speed, surfing at 10 knots one night on a glorious broad reach. He also played a serious game of beach volleyball, not doubt emboldened by the tequila shots served at half time.  None of us could think of a significant mistake that Eric made, although he did lose his flip flops coming back to the boat after the party at Bahia Santa Maria and dropped a piece of his electric razor overboard. 

I enjoyed just taking each moment as it came, whether sailing or on land, with no expectations. I just let events unfold as they did and navigated them the best I could at the time. I think I sailed the boat really well, dialed in my spinnaker trimming, piloted skillfully into anchorages and taught Gary a useful thing or two about his chartplotter.  The three of us worked well together as a team, with little drama and few words spoken. I also enjoyed the dolphins, as I always do.  My biggest mistake was leaving the autopilot set to track the wind at the end of my watch instead of keeping a constant heading. As the wind blowed in all direction as it died for the night, the autopilot started turning the boat in circles, much to Eric’s surprise and displeasure.

I’m very grateful to Gary for inviting me to crew on Mustique and glad to have another Ha-Ha under my belt.

After this experience I’m thinking that I will look for more opportunities to crew on other peoples’ boats. It would broaden my sailing experience and I like the idea of sailing in different locations around the world on different boats.

Eric and Gary. The trip started of cold in northern Baja.

Sunset on the sail to Bahia Tortugas.

Bahia Tortugas Beach Party 2015...
...and in 2017.

Bahia Tortugas

The captain and crew of Mustique at Bahia Santa Maria with the Ha-Ha fleet in the background.

Eric and Gary on one of our spinnaker runs in much warmer weather than at the start.

After 11 days at sea...
...and all cleaned up.

Puerto Escondido: Pump Replaced, We're (almost) Ready to Go!

A big shout out to Pacwest Marine Industrial in San Diego for getting my replacement raw water pump to Loreto in just over 24 hours from when I called them.  They carried it to  Tijuana to ship it via BajaPack, an express delivery service that uses buses to deliver packages throughout the Baja peninsula. It only cost $60, including the carrying over the border. I picked up my pump from the bus terminal in Loreto this afternoon, had the pump installed in 15 minutes and now both engines are running properly.

That wasn't too bad, after all.

After replacing the pump, we bent on the main sail. It took the rest of the afternoon as we had to install the stack pack, slide in all the battens and rig the reefing lines and then make sure everything was right. It was getting dark and we were hungry, so we decided to call it a day and hoist the jib and Code 0 tomorrow morning. Once all the sails are on we'll be ready to leave.

Go figure, though, now none of the lights in the port hull work. We must of jostled something getting the battens out.  As I always say, if it's not one thing it's another. I'll fix it soon.

Our destination tomorrow is Agua Verde, a nice anchorage that we visited on our northbound cruise this spring.  The weather forecast is for light winds, but who knows, maybe we'll get lucky.

The new and the old pump. Can you tell the difference?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Puerto Escondido: Picture Upload

My recent blog posts have been without pictures due to limited bandwidth, but now I have decent connectivity so I'm uploading a few here from Puerto Escondido.

Good to be back on board Intermezzo, even if the decks were filthy.

The Boat Goats were glad to see me, too.

A cantaloupe we found in the produce locker after six months in the blazing hot Baja desert.

Launching Intermezzo, slowly, carefully, with only inches to spare on each side.

Bougainvillea loving the desert sun.

The Baja desert, greener than when we left it in May.

View from the stern of the boat at anchor in Puerto Escondido, wanting for my pump to arrive.

Puerto Escondido: Bad Pumps...Again

We launched Intermezzo yesterday morning after six months in dry storage at Marina Puerto Escondido, near the Baja town of Loreto. Everything went great until we started up the engines and the normal sound of gurgling water mixing with the exhaust was missing. Looking over the side confirmed no water coming out with the exhaust of either engine. Not good. We drove Intermezzo a short distance to a nearby dock, tied up and opened the engine hatches to figure out what was wrong.

I started with the port engine. I disconnected all the hoses and systematically check for blockages, finding none. The raw seawater pump impeller looked fine, but I replaced it anyway. It made no difference. Somewhat baffled, but with no other option, I replaced the raw water pump with a spare I had on board. That did the trick, the engine running normally with plenty of water shooting out from the exhaust port.  I was sweaty, dirty and my back was aching after four hours crouching in the engine compartment, but at least I got one engine running.

I crossed my fingers when I started working on the starboard engine. Although it exhibited exactly the same symptoms, I hoped that the cause would be a blocked hose or bad impeller, as I only carried one spare raw water pump.  I sweat, got dirty and ached some more pulling off, blowing into and replacing hoses and the impeller, only to determine that the pump was bad, just like the other engine. Bummer. Now I have to find a new pump.

Finding marine engine parts in Mexico is not easy. We experienced this problem last March when we launched the boat after dry storage in Puerto Chiapas and discovered a leaking fresh water cooling pump. I ended up having to fly back to San Francisco to pick up a new one and bring it back. Hopefully, it will be easier this time and I can either find one in La Paz and drive down to get it or have a marine supply company in San Diego put it on a bus in Tijuana to bring it to me.  It will take some phone calls today, but I’m sure I’ll get something figured out.  Fortunately, replacing the raw water pump is about a half hour job compared to the fresh water pump which takes a few hours.  I’m hoping that we’ll get underway before the end of the week.

Let me bring you up to speed on what happened between the end of the Baja Ha-Ha in Cabo San Lucas and now. I arrived in Cabo on Mustique on Thursday morning (November 9) and enjoyed meeting the rest of Gary’s family and partying with other Ha-Ha’ers until Saturday morning, packing and cleaning the boat up in between. On Saturday morning I enjoyed breakfast with Rich Lee, an old friend from Sonoma, and his family and then hopped on a bus to Loreto.  Nine hours later I arrived in Loreto and checked into the Santa Fe Hotel, a decent enough place across the street from the small, dusty bus terminal.

Sunday morning I picked up a rental car at the airport and drove to Puerto Escondido to check on Intermezzo and start preparing for launch. The boat was very, very dirty on the outside, but perfectly clean and just like we left it six months ago on the inside. The dry desert air seems to be much better for boat storage than the moist tropical climates of Chiapas and Costa Rica where we previously stored Intermezzo and had to deal with varying degrees of mold and mildew inside. In the afternoon, I drove back to the airport to pick up Renee, who arrived intact but with her luggage missing. The delay caused by the broken pumps will allow said luggage to be delivered before we leave, a silver lining, I guess. After grabbing a bite to eat, we went to the local supermaket and filled up two small grocery carts with provisions and brought them back to the boat.

We spend Monday getting the boat ready for launching, servicing the propellers and saildrives, changing zincs and washing, washing and washing again the boat until it was finally clean.  And that brings us to where this post started on Tuesday morning.

Now it’s Wednesday morning and we’re sitting peacefully at anchor in the natural harbor of Puerto Escondido, the sky perfectly clear, the water perfectly blue and the day beginning to heat up under a brilliant sun. The desert is much greener than we left it last May, the foliage clearly benefiting from the summer rains.  In fact, from a distance in the low angle light of the morning, the hills remind me of the drier regions of the Hawaiian islands.  The climate is nice here this time of year- it gets pretty hot in the afternoon but is pleasant and even cool in the morning, evenings and at night.

Today I’m going to find our pump.  Maybe even get in a car and drive to La Paz to get it, I hope.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Baja Ha-Ha, Leg 3

After spending all of Tuesday trapped on the boat with no means of getting to shore, the beach party on Wednesday was a most welcome festivity. We enjoyed beer, a Mexican fresh fish dinner and live music. All this takes place in the middle of nowhere, the small fishing village preparing for days for this annual party and the band traveling for 12 hours over dirt road and two inland water crossings to get there. 

I made friends with the woman tending the Margarita bar and she loaned me a nice shot glass from which I could sip tequila and appear urbane and sophisticated amongst the mostly motley Ha-Ha crew.

The power of karma made itself evident towards the end the party. Beers were sold two for $5, so I bought a couple and went walking around looking for Eric to hand the second one. I couldn't find him, but spotted a guy with a full plate of food and no beer with which to wash it down. I handed him my spare beer, telling him "Enjoy!" for which I was rewarded with a big grin and a look like a gift had dropped down upon him from heaven. Meanwhile, Eric had run out of money and was still thirsty so he walked up to the head of the beer line and asked a guy if he could spot him a beer, which garnered him a cold one, handed over with an enthusiastic smile. Karma!

We departed Bahia Santa Maria yesterday at 6 a.m. in very light winds. The wind model said we would have 10 knots at 2 p.m. and it was right for a change. Gary hopped up on the foredeck and after a minor hoisting snafu, we had the big red symmetric kite up and pulling us along at a steady 6-7 knots. I got the trim dialed in just right which let the autopilot steer the boat until we doused at last light of the day.

The wind dropped at night so we were back to motoring.  It was a beautiful night with a half moon and endless stars. There must have been a meteor shower, as we saw shooting stars frequently through the whole night.  I looked at our wake and thought to myself that the little sparkles of bioluminescence briefly triggered by our passage through the water were like shooting stars in the water. It was quite beautiful and peaceful, despite the steady throb of our diesel engine.

It's been great being at sea again. I do a lot of thinking, meditating (not thinking) and, though oxymoronic, life on the water makes me feel grounded in the present and reality. 

We're approaching Cabo San Lucas and will arrive at the marina around noon, marking the end of Leg 3 and the Baja Ha-Ha. I'll cap off the trip with a concluding post and then start reporting on my land journey back to Intermezzo in Loreto and getting the boat back into the water to sail again...with an espresso machine. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Baja Ha-Ha, Leg 2

The second leg of the Ha-Ha was great sailing, with steady winds blowing 10-18 knots from behind. We departed Bahia Tortugas early Saturday morning and hoisted the spinnaker right away, flying it for ten hours straight until sunset. The boat flew along at a steady 8 knots, surfing near ten. 

While sailing under the spinnaker was great, more amazing was that our skipper Gary, a young 80 years old, worked the foredeck for the hoist and douse of the chute, tricky jobs in big running seas usually handed to the youngest most fit crew member. He was agile, steady and confident, giving me great hope that I still have some years left in me as a sailor. 

We sailed Saturday night in boisterous seas under main and jib, loping along all night. In the morning, Gary was back up on the deck to hoist the asymmetric kite which we ran under on a broad reach most of the day until we had to jibe to make our mark at the entrance of Bahia Santa Maria. 

We entered the anchorage here last night around 7:30 in pitch black under a starry sky, a big full moon to rise a half hour later. It was tricky weaving our way through the 20 boats (out of 140) that beat us here in the darkness and our anchor didn't set on the first drop, but we nailed it the second time and were snug on the hook at 8:15.  

We ate a quick dinner, somehow managing to down two bottles of Pinot Noir before retiring to much needed sleep. 

Today's a lazy day of rest in the sun. We don't have a dinghy so there's no way to get off the boat unless I can charm someone into giving us a lift. Then we have to figure out how to get back..

Baja Ha-Ha, First Leg

Mustique (not Mystique, apologies for getting the boat name wrong for my first blog post...embarrassing) departed San Diego with roughly 140 other boats of the Ha-Ha fleet on Monday morning. It was calm, hardly any wind and has stayed that way ever since. It's now Wednesday evening and we have been motoring the whole time. Ugh. 

The weather has been a mix of overcast and sunny with some sprinkling of rain, warm in the daytime, chilly at night. The passage has been uneventful save for getting a big batch of kelp wrapped around the keel, prop and rudder on Monday night. The three of us had it cleared off pretty quickly with no drama. Gary, Eric and I are getting along well and make for a comfortable, competent, laid back team. Our watch schedule has allowed us to get some pretty good chunks of sleep during the night; I enjoyed six hours last night, unheard of luxury on Intermezzo. Mustique clearly wishes she was sailing but is motoring along steadily without complaining. 

Tonight we arrive in Bahia de Tortugas around midnight. We've studied the charts, prepared the rode and are all set to drop anchor among the other boats of the fleet as soon as we arrive. We have a big egg breakfast planned for the morning and then we'll enjoy the day's activities on land. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Approaching Bahia de Tortugas

Mustique (not Mystique, apologies for getting the boat name wrong for my first blog post...embarrassing) departed San Diego with roughly 140 other boats of the Ha-Ha fleet on Monday morning. It was calm, hardly any wind and has stayed that way ever since. It's now Wednesday evening and we have been motoring the whole time. Ugh.

The weather has been a mix of overcast and sunny with some sprinkling of rain, warm in the daytime, chilly at night. The passage has been uneventful save for getting a big batch of kelp wrapped around the keel, prop and rudder on Monday night. The three of us had it cleared off pretty quickly with no drama. Gary, Eric and I are getting along well and make for a comfortable, competent, laid back team. Our watch schedule has allowed us to get some pretty good chunks of sleep during the night; I enjoyed six hours last night, unheard of luxury on Intermezzo. Mustique clearly wishes she was sailing but is motoring along steadily without complaining.

Tonight we arrive in Bahia de Tortugas around midnight. We've studied the charts, prepared the rode and are all set to drop anchor among the other boats of the fleet as soon as we arrive. We have a big egg breakfast planned for the morning and then we'll enjoy the day's activities on land.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sailing Again!

I'm heading back to Mexico to get Intermezzo back into the water and start sailing again!

We left Intermezzo on the hard in Puerto Escondido (near Loreto) in May and have had a busy summer and fall getting back our "land legs" and launching several new projects in business, politics and home remodeling. Now it's time to add sailing back into the mix, not full time like it has been, but still to be a significant part of life.

I'm writing this from the comfortable lounge of the San Diego Yacht Club, where I've joined "Mystique", Gary Schmitz's Beneteau First 37.6, to sail down to Cabo in the Baja Ha-Ha.  We depart San Diego on Monday morning and, if all goes as planned, should arrive in Cabo San Lucas on November 9th, after stops in Bahia Tortugas and Bahia Santa Maria along the way. It will be fun to retrace the route we sailed on Intermezzo as participants in the 2015 Ha-Ha. It will also be fun to sail on a monohull again after many years of enjoying the comfort and stability of a catamaran, though often lamenting on upwind sailing performance.

I'm familiar with Gary's boat as I raced on a sistership "Bufflehead" with Stuart Scott back in 2003-4. The First 37.6 is a solid, fast, nice sailing boat. Mystique is well-seasoned and lacks many of Intermezzo's bells and whistles (like an espresso machine!), but will get us down to Cabo safe and sound. We'll be sailing three-up; Gary, Gary's son Eric, and me.  I'm hoping that will result in a bit more sleep compared to the double-handed sailing I'm used to with Renee. It will be the first time I've sailed with an all-male crew since...I don't know, I can't remember it's been so long!

Once I get to Cabo, I'll catch a bus for Loreto and begin the laborious process of getting Intermezzo ready to sail again.  Renee will join me on November 11 and I hope we can splash the boat a couple days later, finish preparations while at anchor and start sailing south to La Paz by the 14th.  We'll sail until Thanksgiving and then leave Intermezzo at Marina Palmira until after Christmas when we'll start part-time "commuter-cruising" until the summer. What we'll do with Intermezzo after that will be determined from our experience and how the rest of life progresses.

Mystique, my ride to Cabo San Lucas

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Puerto Escondido: Tight Squeeze Haulout

We successfully hauled Intermezzo out of the water and onto dry storage today for the upcoming hurricane season.  Normally, that wouldn't be saying much. This time, however, hauling out was quite a tight squeeze.

Intermezzo has a maximum beam (width) of 19 feet 10 inches. The Travelift at Marina Puerto Escondido can accommodate a beam of up to 20 feet. That means two whole official inches of wiggle room. There was actually a little bit more.

However, the slipway for the Travelift is only 21 real feet wide, requiring me to back Intermezzo between two big, hard concrete sidewalls with seven inches of space on each a crosswind. We stationed two people on each side of the boat to serve as intelligent, movable fenders and had another couple of people landside holding tag lines from the bow and stern. We backed in without incident, but I'll admit the process had my undivided attention the whole time.

Then it was just a matter of carefully positioning the Travelift slings and slowly, slowly, slowly lifting Intermezzo up and out of the slipway.  Javier, the Travelift operator, and I both let out a sigh of relief when the boat was finally hauled clear and safely lowered onto the ground in the dry storage yard. I joked that, "They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I say there are no atheist Travelift operators or boat owner watching them."

Intermezzo will sit on land here until November and I figure out what happens next.

Tomorrow we do the last of the cleaning up and final packing and then we head to La Paz by bus on Friday. Saturday we fly to NYC.

It's really ending.

Intermezzo's human fenders at work in tight quarters 
Careful extraction from the slipway

A sail-less Intermezzo, all canvas removed for hurricane season

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Isla Danzante: End of The Voyage

Well, this is it. The last day of The Voyage.

Tomorrow we bring Intermezzo into Puerto Escondido and begin preparing for hauling out on Wednesday. We’re spending the night anchored in a tiny cove on the west coast of Isla Danzante, just four miles offshore from Puerto Escondido. A nice secluded spot to spend our last night at anchor.

I don’t have much to say about our trip over the past few days since leaving Playa el Burro in Bahia Concepcion. The highlight for me was snorkeling around some pinnacle rocks at the south end of Caleta San Juanico on Thursday. The water was very clear, there were lots of fish and the rocks under the water were as beautiful as they were towering above it.  There was a tiny dead end cove with shallow water, bright in the sun, with lots of marine life to look at. In contrast, at the outer edge of the pinnacle, the water was deep, a dark, dark blue, looking infinitely deep,  with the occasional dark shadowy shape of a big fish.

I’ve been mostly quietly savoring the last few days, reflecting on the immensity of the sea and the surrounding land, thinking about how more compact normal life is on land.  I’ve become used to the huge hemisphere of distant horizon all around me and sky all above me, with little in between. So different than the confining limits of a house, an office, a car, a city street, even a field or a forest, where physical boundaries are still close and easily discernible. It’s funny that I will be  flying from here to Manhattan, New York City of all places! I’ll be dropping into an epitome of confining limits and physical boundaries.

I’ve also been reflecting on The Voyage since it began on October 5, 2015.  So many memories. Proficiencies gained in some areas. Recognition of a long way to go in others. The shifts, struggles, adjustments, evolution of relationships.  How I’ve changed, as have my outlook and priorities.  Lots to think about while I’m tackling the long list of tasks required to get Intermezzo ready for haulout.

Here’s a bunch of photos covering blog posts since the last time I posted pictures on April 24:

Sunrise on passage from Santa Rosalia to Puerto Don Juan

Anchored in Puerto Don Juan 
The coyote that fished with us while we treaded for clams

The clams from Puerto Don Juan, before... 

...and after!

Moonrise on the passage back to Santa Rosalia

Last anchorage of The Voyage, tiny cove on Isla Danzante 
Isla Danzante