Saturday, April 29, 2017

Puerto Don Juan: Windy and Brrrrr...Cold!

Here's a brief summary of the past week on board Intermezzo.

We left Punta Chivato on Monday morning and sailed to Santa Rosalia, about a six hour trip, half of which we enjoyed sailing with the Code 0 on a nice reach.

We had visited Santa Rosalia back in December of 2015, traveling there overland by car from Loreto. We enjoyed the architecture of the modest little houses and the hard working feel of this mining town, originally established by a French company. It was nice to reacquainting ourselves with the town, this time in warm, sunny weather compared to the blustery cold of our last visit.

We got Intermezzo a slip in the town marina and quickly made friends with our dock neighbors, Michael and Lisa on Footloose, Jan and Joanneke on Witte Raaf, and Doug and Lyneita on Ka'sala, all nice people from different backgrounds and with a wide range of sailing experiences. We enjoyed a lively cocktail and tapas party on board Footloose, a 47 foot Catana catamaran, on Tuesday night and then a big family-style dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant on Wednesday evening. It was a lot of fun to socialize with such friendly, interesting people.

After getting some laundry done, buying a bunch of freshly backed French bread (the best in Baja California) and refreshing our perishable stores, we set sail on Thursday afternoon for an overnight passage north.

It was a boisterous passage with winds blowing in the steady 20's, gusting to up to 30 knots from the southern quadrant. Around nine p.m., under a double-reefed main and partially furled jib, we were sailing at a steady 8 knots, hitting 10 knots as we surfed down swells. We haven't sailed that fast since going down the California coast. That part was fun.

Later, we bounced around in confused swells as we rounded two points and then got hit with strong headwinds and a strong foul current in the Canal Salsipuedes a narrow channel between the Baja peninsula and the long narrow Isla Lorenzo , requiring us to power forward with both engines running hard to maintain 3-4 knots of speed over ground.

The wind was blowing from the northwest and some of the wind forecasts were calling for continued strong winds from the northeast the following day. The anchorage in Bahia Santa Teresa that we planned on stopping at wouldn't provide much protection from such winds and their accompanying swell, so I decided, on the fly at 5:00 a.m. to shape a new course to Puerto Don Juan, another 50 nautical miles further north. Puerto Don Juan, located just south of Bahia de los Angeles ("L.A. Bay") is a famous natural "hurricane hole" that provides 360 degree protection from winds and waves.

We were anchored in Puerto Don Juan at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, a bit tired but glad to have made it almost all the way to our planned turnaround point in one go.

We are the only boat in this anchorage that is about a half mile long by a quarter mile wide, surrounded by steep colorful hills on all sides, with a little "window" between them that looks into L.A. Bay, a big sandy beach for landing the dingy and trails through the desert to the two nearby bays south of us. We had a good hike today to the closest bay, traversing rugged hills and little canyons to get there and hiking an easier route along a sandy wash on the return. The wind blew hard all day and I was glad that Intermezzo was snuggly anchored in this protected spot. It was a bit of a challenge launching the dinghy in the fierce wind chop; we got pretty wet and shipped quite a bit of water into the boat.

The water is cold! The water temperature reading on the boat instruments is 59 degrees F, about the same as San Francisco Bay! It's probably a little bit warmer than what the instruments are saying, but not by more than a couple of degrees. And the air temperature is markedly cooler, too. It's hard to gauge what it is with the wind blowing so hard, but I'd guess it isn't hitting 70 degrees F. During our night passage, I was wearing two fleeces, a jacket and long pants. And even tonight at anchor, inside, I'm wearing a fleece top. I remember reading in Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez that the sea life in this area is more like that in Northern California. I understand how that can be the case.

Tomorrow we're heading to the L.A. Bay Village to meet Renee's friends, Terrisa and Jason who will be camping there. We'll start heading back south on Wednesday, stopping in Santa Rosalia on the way to meet up with my son Luther, who will join us for the final leg of the trip back to Puerto Escondido.

Only 19 days left of our voyage! It is hard to believe that this adventure will be over soon. But, as great of an experience as it has been, I'm looking forward to re-engaging with people back home and beginning a new chapter of life. From this point forward, I'll be doing chores each day to begin getting Intermezzo ready for a long layup in Puerto Escondido . And I'll be doing a lot of reflecting over this journey with started almost 19 months ago in San Francisco. So much has happened, at sea and on land. My outlook on life and my self-view have changed a lot, too.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Punta Chivato: Enjoying the journey north

We continue to make good progress northwards in the Sea of Cortez, stopping at a number of nice anchorages along the way.

We spent Thursday, April 20 at Puerto Ballandra, enjoying a long kayak trip along the coast of Isla Carmen to a small islet, Isla Cholla. It was a beautiful sunny day and we kayaked upwind to the islet in breeze that kept you cool but wasn’t too hard to paddle against. We had an easy downwind ride back to the anchorage with enough energy left to explore a tiny estuary and do some hiking. We read that there is a program on Isla Carmen to increase the population of bighorn sheep. We saw a lot of sheep droppings on our hike, followed their tracks in the sand, and both thought we heard “baaa’s” coming from the brush in an arroyo, but we never saw any sheep. 

Friday we sailed to Caleta San Juanito, a very pretty cove back on the main Baja Peninsula coast.  A half dozen boats were anchored there and we were invited to a campfire on the beach. We enjoyed looking into the colorful flames listening to people’s boating stories, with a sky filled with stars above us and waves lapping gently on the rocky shore.

The next morning, the anchorage was calm enough that I was able to do a complete series of yoga on the boat. I am now able to balance if the boat swings slightly at anchor, but even tiny rocking from the smallest waves prevents me from doing standing poses.  It was really pleasant and invigorating, doing yoga in the clear, quiet morning air, the sun beating down and with beautiful scenery all around.
Later in the morning we loaded snorkeling gear onto the kayaks and paddled the perimeter of the cove, about a five mile trip, stopping along the way to snorkel along a rocky reef. We saw a lot of fish, including some big ones including gulf weakfish, sarges, groupers, parrotfish, triggerfish and king angelfish, along with lots of smaller fish and a few stingrays. I didn’t pack any food for the trip with me and by the end of four hour adventure I was feeling pretty famished, gobbling down a bunch of leftovers and washing them down with a cold beer when I got back to the boat.

Yesterday we had a short 10 nm sail from Caleta San Juanito to Bahia San Nicholas, stopping at Punta Pulpito along the way to explore a sea cave with the dinghy. When we got to Bahia San Nicholas, I took the dinghy to the beach and had a nice run along a dirt road through the desert into the nearby hills. 

We left Bahia San Nicholas early this morning to sail 46 nm north to Punta Chivato. The wind was cooperative at the beginning and end of our trip, allowing us to sail nicely along downwind under the Code 0 for several hours.  Renee tried hard to catch fish along the way, but only hooked one, a big one too, that unfortunately got away. We have not had good luck at all fishing on this trip.

When we arrived at Punta Chivato, we took the dinghy to a nearby beach that is covered with shells. While we were there we met a guy walking along the beach who, with a friend, was rowing a 22 foot wooden Dory down the Baja peninsula. They had started in San Felipe, almost 300 miles north and were heading to La Paz, another 200 miles south. They were living on ramen noodles, processed tuna, granola bars, the fish they caught and meals they could buy at beach restaurants, which are far and few along the way. At night they camped on shore, which required a sandy beach on which to haul up their wooden boat. Quite a few places they had planned to stop were too rocky and they had to row through the night to the next spot.  Very impressive, if somewhat unprepared, adventurers. I thought about how their experience in the Sea of Cortez is so much different than mine while taking a hot shower back on Intermezzo.

There is a strange little town here at Punt Chivato. There is a small airstrip with a nice private jet parked at the end of the runway. There are a couple of dozen very nice homes, one of which I figure must house the owners of the jet. There is a huge hotel resort that went out of business four years ago and sits as sprawling forlorn mass at the point.  We walked around a bit and, aside from the nice homes, the rest of the place is peppered with mostly dilapidated buildings. We ate dinner at a little place called “Julias”, the only restaurant in town, really just the kitchen of Julia’s house.  It was a simple inexpensive dinner and everyone was very friendly. We were told that the resort was owned by Italians and that in its heyday,  a dozen or more planes would bring the guests and be parked along the airstrip and the women would sunbathe topless around the pool.  I wonder what the whole story is?

Tomorrow we’re off to Santa Rosalia, town we enjoyed visiting by car back December 2015.

Anchorage at Puerto Ballandra

Kayaking along the coast of Isla Carmen

The tiny estuary at Puerto Ballandra

Hiking in Puerto Ballandra

Evening in Caleta San Juanico

Rock formations, Caleta San Juanico

Kayaking in Caleta San Juanico

Crabs along shore of Caleta San Juanico 
Kayaking in Caleta San Juanico

Shell beach at Punta Chivato

Julia's restaurant in Punta Chivato

One of the several dilapidated, abandoned buildings among the fancy homes in Punta Chivato 
Intermezzo anchored off Punta Chivato

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bahia Ballendra: Catching up

It's been over a week since my last blog post. We've had very limited connectivity, followed by some technical problems when we did have internet access. Plus I've been feeling a bit down in the dumps and haven't been motivated to write.

I know it sounds stupid to confide that I've been feeling down, perhaps even ungrateful, given that I'm "living the dream", not having to go to work, sailing in a beautiful area on a nice boat.  But these blessings don't make all of life's struggles and challenges magically go away nor make coping with the difficult ones any easier. I'll offer up that if you think that sailing away on a boat will solve all your problems and put you in a state of constant bliss, think again. But I will admit the scenery is good, there's no traffic to deal with, no job deadlines and a nice good buffer against distressing media jabber. So, I don't mean to sound like I'm whining but did want to share some reality to counter the picture of an idyllic life of constant happiness, fun and adventure that my blog postings might paint.

With these explanations out of the way, I'll use this post to catch up on our travels over the past nine days, more as a chronicle for my memoirs than as interesting news for readers.

April 10

We spent most of the day kayaking in Bahia Amortajada, a bay isolated from the sea by natural narrow rock-sand beaches and mangroves. We entered the bay through a very narrow, shallow passage and paddled in a lagoon along the edges of thick mangroves. The color water of the lagoon ranged from dark blue in where the water is deep to light aquamarine in the shallow, sandy bottomed areas, a very beautiful palette.  At about the midpoint of the lagoon, we turned into a narrow channel leading through the mangroves to the other side the bay. We saw lots of birds and, surprisingly, there were no mosquitos or other pesky swamp insects. When Steinbeck visited this bay, he noted that the mangroves lacked "the foul root smell, and the odor was fresh and sweet, like that of new-cut grass." I observed the same; the swampy, muddy smell right at nose level normally endured when kayaking in mangroves was pleasantly missing here. We enjoyed having this very pretty, pleasant little bay all to ourselves for an afternoon.

The anchorages at Bahia Amortjada do not afford much protection from the wind, which started blowing pretty hard in the afternoon, so we motored on to a more protected anchorage in the cove of the little fishing village of San Evaristo. Yes, the wind and seas were on our nose, again, and we bashed unpleasantly, again, for the couple of hours it took for us to get there.

The anchorage was fairly crowded with other boats taking refuge from the wind, so we had to pick our place to anchor carefully. On our first attempt, our big Rocna anchor failed to hold, a very, very rare occurrence for us. When I hauled it up to re-anchor, I discovered why. An old, wet, smelly beach towel had fouled the anchor. The anchor set easily on the second attempt once the towel was removed. We didn't keep the towel.

April 11-12

We sailed from San Evaristo about 30 nm north to Punta San Telmo. Punta San Telmo is close to Puerto Los Gatos, the spot where we spent Thanksgiving in 2015  (pictures here) and returned for an unplanned visit on December 15 2015. This time, the small Los Gatos anchorage was crowded with at least half a dozen other boats, so we decided to sail the extra mile and a half and explore San Telmo. It was a good move and we spent a couple of peaceful days there. We had the anchorage all to ourselves and the hiking and snorkeling was excellent. It's interesting hiking in the hills above the anchorage because even a hundred feet above sea level, there are lots of old, weatherworn sea shells on the ground from times long past when it was inundated by the sea. We enjoyed snorkeling among mostly healthy coral and lots of fish along the rock reef extending off the point that forms the anchorage. Some local fishermen stopped by in a panga and sold us some delicious scallops that they dove for to harvest from among the rocks. Super-fresh scallops the size of half-dollars and an inch-and-a-half thick for $1 each. Yum.

April 13

We sailed from Punta San Telmo to Bahia Agua Verde, with a lunch stop at Ensenda de la Ballena to explore a sea cave with the kayaks. 

April 14

We spent a full day exploring Bahia Agua Verde. We found a good spot on the beach to practice yoga, then went snorkeling in two locations. The first snorkeling spot was off a pyramid shaped rock close to the boat where we saw a lot of stingrays on the bottom and a huge, almost three foot long blow fish. The second spot was off a lonely tall skinny rock, Roca Solitaria, almost a mile out from the anchorage. It was windy out there and the water was rough and cold, but we enjoyed snorkeling on the lee side of the rock, swimming through little canyons among the rock reef on which we found lots of starfish, sea fans and other attached flora and fauna, plus some large reef fish.  After snorkeling, we took a walk around the little village with features a goat dairy and, thus, quite a few goats. The normally sleepy village was crowded with families and groups of friends celebrating Semana Santa by camping out on the coast.

April 15

We sailed from Agua Verde to Puerto Escondido, a nice smooth trip during which we even sailed for an hour or so, for a change.

April 16-18

We took a mooring in Puerto Escondido's very protected natural harbor and spent a couple of days mostly making arrangements for when our voyage ends in a month.  We made travel arrangements for my son Luther to join Intermezzo in May, sail with us for a week or so and then help get the boat ready for lay up and then all of us flying to New York to celebrate my daughter Hannah's graduation from NYU on May 22. The internet connection at the marina was slow and intermittent, which made for a very time consuming and frustrating experience.

The next month of sailing will be in quite remote areas of the northern Sea of Cortez, so we needed stock up on a lot of food. We rented a car for a few days to travel into Loreto to go shopping and enjoy a couple dinners at good restaurants. Puerto Escondido is about 15 miles south of Loreto and taxis are $34 each way, about the same price as renting a car which provides a lot more flexibility.

The marina manager and I measured the travel lift and haul out channel and determined both are, just, wide enough to accommodate Intermezzo's 19'-10" beam. It will be a very tight squeeze, but we plan on hauling out on May 18 and leaving Intermezzo on the hard until November when hurricane season is over.  What will happen then is completely up in the air at this point, as we end this two year voyage and start new chapters of our lives.

April 19

Today we got a very early start and sailed to Puerto Ballandra, a small well-protected harbor on the west coast of Isla Carmen. Strong northerly winds are forecast to blow until Saturday and this is a good place for us to hole up until they subside sufficiently for us to continue our journey north. Amazingly, the internet connection here, 12 miles off the coast, is far better than at the marina!

Brittle star found under a rock in Bahia Amortajada

Bahia Amortajada lagoon

Bahia Amortajada lagoon

Mangroves, Bahia Amortajada

Channel through mangroves, Bahia Amortajada

Anchored in Punta San Telmo

Sunset at anchor, Punta San Telmo

Rock formations, Punta San Telmo

Beach, Punta San Telmo

Rock formation, Punta San Telmo

Hiking in the desert hills, Punta San Telmo

Desert flower, Punta San Telmo

Intermezzo's new "amphibious" dinghy; the new wheels make hauling up on the beach much easier

Kayaking in Ensenada de la Ballena

Sea cave, Ensenada de la Ballena

Village at Bahia Agua Verde

Goats at Bahia Agua Verde

Semana Santa campers at Bahia Agua Verde

Roca Solitaria at sunset, Bahia Agua Verde

Monday, April 10, 2017

San Evaristo: Off the Grid, Coromuel Winds, Two-Legged Paradox

Intermezzo has moved into one of the more remote areas of the Sea of Cortez. If anyone is wondering why I haven't responded to email, that's why. I'm only reachable by satellite phone and email for the next week or so. It's also the reason there a no pictures to go with this blog. I'll catch up posting pictures when I next have a good internet connection.

We spent a few days in La Paz picking up some provisions, a few items from the marine chandlery and, finally, mounting the wheels on the dinghy. The wheels will make it much easier to haul the dink up on the beach, a back breaking effort without them. We also enjoyed a couple of nice meals out.

Reviewing Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez, it seemed the crew of the Western Flyers did the similar things, plus some collecting of marine specimens along El Magote, the narrow land barrier that forms La Paz's harbor.

On Saturday we left La Paz and headed to Isla Espiritu Santo, anchoring in Ensenada de la Raza. We chose this anchorage as it would provide shelter from the forecasted northerly winds. However, the winds blew from the south, throwing up a decent swell and making for a bumpy night's sleep. The weather forecasts have been totally off for the past two weeks; I've pretty much given up on them.

This time of year, winds called coromuels often start blowing in the evening and continue through the night. We're getting familiar with these winds flow in from the Pacific Ocean and across the low lying land of the Baja peninsula, blowing from the southwest. So, the prevailing wind during the day is from the northwest, the direction we are sailing in, and the coromuels blow in the evening from the southwest, while we are at anchor. Figures.

I enjoyed snorkeling on Sunday morning along the steep rocky shore of Isla Galeo, a tiny island just outside our anchorage. The water was clear, there were a lot of fish and I was glad to see some healthy, live coral.

Steinbeck and company made Isla Espirtu Santos one of their collection stations, gathering specimens from tidal pools at the south of the island.

Steinbeck'a narrative for each chapter of his log typically follows a three part pattern. He describes the setting of the collection station, what they observed while collecting and lists in some detail all the creatures they extract and preserve from the tidal zone for scientific study. He narrates an installment of his travelogue of their adventure in the Sea. And he covers a philosophical topic.

At Isla Espiritu Santos, Steinbeck discusses a duality of good and bad qualities in humans and the resulting ethical paradox. Man loves the good- tolerance, kindness, generosity, etc.- and considers the bad- cruelty, greed, self-interest, etc. - undesirable. Yet he envies and admires the person with bad qualities who succeeds economically and socially. He would rather be successful than good. He compares this to the animal kingdom where "good" translates to a lower chance of survival and "bad" with a stronger chance.

"Man might then be described fairly and adequately as a two-legged paradox. He has never become accustomed to the tragic miracle of consciousness. Perhaps...his species is not set, has not jelled, but is still in a state of becoming, bound by his physical memories to a past of struggle and survival, limited in his futures by the unseasoned of thought and consciousness."

We spent Sunday night at Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida, the island immediately north of Espiritu Santo, separated by just a narrow gap. It was an uneventful night, safely tucked in out of the way of coromuels.

Today we visited Bahia Amortajada, another of the Wester Flyer's collection stations and kayaked in the shallow bay and mangrove channel. I'll describe what we saw there in my next post.

We're spending the night in a calm harbor of San Evaristo, a tiny village in the shadow of Sierra de la Giganta, the tall mountain range that rises right out of the Sea along the east coast of the Baja peninsula. There are quite a few other boats here. The next few anchorages we will visit, while remote with respect to permanent residents and infrastructure, are popular among cruisers due to their natural beauty and the abundance of marine life. Their appreciation of such an environment seems to keep the anchorages quiet and peaceful, the people on the boats friendly but who mostly keep to themselves.

Friday, April 7, 2017

La Cruz: Remembering Howard Vincent Weingart, 1960-2017

Howie Weingart, an old friend of mine died on Tuesday.  My memories of him belong in this sailing blog because he was my first sailing partner, many years ago on the Great South Bay on the south shore of Long Island, New York.

I first met Howie when I was 11 years old. He stopped his bike at the driveway to my house on Pine Neck Avenue in East Patchogue. I think he was on his newspaper delivery route. We talked for a few minutes and then he punched me in my solar plexus. I don't remember why, but I do remember doubling over, pretending to laugh as I tried to catch my breath. I remember Howie laughing too, but more importantly, I remember the look in his eye that told me he regretted punching me. We became best friends after that punch.

Howie was a little older than me, stockier and stronger and just seemed more socially at ease in our adolescent world than I was. I think his having two older sisters gave him that advantage compared to me, the oldest child in my family. He had an idea of where our lives where heading as we became teenagers and I really hadn't a clue, a child of British parents trying to figure out life in America. Parents who would soon separate, leaving me feeling confused, alone and very much in need of a good friend.

The bond between Howie and I really solidified when my Dad bought me a ten foot aluminum flat-bottomed "John Boat" from Sears. At first, all we had were oars to propel this little boat. We usually rowed from we kept the boat at Dad's friend Sinha's beachfront house on DeWitt Avenue along the shore to and then up the Swan River and back, a good six miles round trip, I figure. A few times when we felt more adventurous, we rowed as far as we could out into the bay towards Fire island. The waves would get a bit big for our little boat in the middle of the bay. I remember one time a clammer standing in his boat looking at us, two eleven year old kids rowing a ten foot boat two miles from shore and yelling, "What are the hell are you kids doing out here?" That made us feel very proud of ourselves.  

What was truly amazing, though, was how we rowed together. We would sit side-by-side on the middle thwart, each manning an oar. We would decide where we were going and then row. We never spoke about who should pull on their oar more or less to keep the boat heading on course. It just came naturally, we just did it, somehow both sensing the heading of the boat and each making small adjustments to our stroke while we talked about school, parents, life, girls and enjoyed our independence out on the water.

Later, a friend of Dad's donated to us an ancient British Seagull three horsepower outboard.  It claimed to be three horsepower but I figure it never put out much more than half that.  It was a cantankerous little beast of an engine, with a starting cord you had to wind onto the flyweel rather than a recoiling starting cord like every other outboard engine. To keep the number of pulls and winding of cord to a sane limit, Howie and I worked out an engine starting checklist, just like pilots use on planes.

"Fuel tank cap vent open."
"Fuel shutoff valve open."
"Carb primer pressed three times."
"Choke closed."
"Throttle open."
"Wind cord."
"Wind cord."
"Wind Cord."
"Shut up."
"Shut the Fuck up."
"Piece of shit!"
"Wind cord…"

After each taking turns for several dozen pulls of the cord and much swearing, the engine would finally start and we would putter off, lucky to make five knots speed but it sure beat rowing and eleven year old boys love noisy engines. We would motor up Swan Creek, stopping for a short while at a pretty little cove where the water was clear enough to see the bottom and then go as far up the creek as the Sweezey Street bridge, where freshwater flowed into the creek from Swan Lake and brown trout swam in the shallow water. Howie's favorite activity when piloting the John Boat was to chase swans. They could paddle almost as fast as our motorized boat, proudly trying to stay ahead of us and then angrily take to flight as we slowly gained on them. Howie would put on a crazy expression, pretending that the British Seagull was zooming us along towards the swans at great speed and we would both laugh at how ridiculous we were, but mostly laughing because we were having so much fun, even if we were only doing five knots. On a good day.

Not long after Dad bought me the John Boat, he acquired an O'day Javelin sailboat. Dad and I learned to sail that boat together, Dad mostly employing the "school of hard knocks" method and me the "this is what I was born to do" method. Dad had moved to a house on Dewitt just behind Sing's and one morning Dad, Howie and I went out sailing, reaching back and forth along shore, but not venturing too far from my Dad's place as he had invited friends over for the afternoon. As the time of their arrival drew near, Dad suggested that we drop him off so he could get ready for his guests while Howie and I continued sailing. We duly dropped Dad off in the shallow water in front of Sinha's and got the Javelin sailing again. Dad expected us to continue sailing back and forth nearby along the shore. Howie and I looked at each other, smiled, turned the boat south and headed all the way across the bay to Davis Park on Fire Island. My Dad remembers looking at two boys and the Javelin getting smaller and smaller as we sailed away and thinking, "Oh well, what can I do?" Howie and I appreciated his parenting style.

This marked the first of many voyages to Fire Island by Howie and I over the years. Our roles and duties on the Javelin worked themselves out naturally, just like our rowing together on the John Boat. Howie would hoist sails, trim the jib, handle the centerboard. I would steer and trim the mainsail. It often took nearly two hours to cross the bay to Fire Island, tacking against the prevailing southwesterly winds that blew directly from our destination (the continuing sad story of my sailing life). To amuse ourselves, we would look for the bleach bottle buoys clammers used to mark their clamming spots and when one of us saw one, would yell out "Bogie! Bogie! Bogie!" and then it's bearing, "Bogie at two o'clock!". We would alter course, trim the sails and pass so close to the buoy that Howie could grab it, and haul it up to see what the clammer used to anchor it, never anything very exciting, but bogie chasing helped pass the time and honed our sailing skills.   Howie and I sailed all our summers together until we graduated from high school. We sailed naturally and seamlessly, enjoyed ourselves tremendously and did a lot of growing up on the water together. It was a real life Ratty and Mole friendship and, for a while, there was truly simply nothing better in life than messing around in boats.

Howie liked my Dad a lot, referring to him (out of Dad's presence) as "that crazy Englishman".  I'm not sure why Howie thought my Dad was crazy, but I never challenged him on his opinion. An opinion which I believe was formed one Saturday when Dad picked up his mail from the East Patchogue post office. The three of us were in Dad's green Triumph TR4A sports car, Dad driving, me in the passenger seat and Howie stuffed on a back ledge that , with imagination, could be considered as some sort of backseat. The traffic on Montauk Highway was very heavy that morning and we sat for a long time waiting for a gap to allow us to pull out of the post office driveway. In those days, Dad wasn't the most patient man in the world and I could tell he was getting frustrated and building up a head of steam from waiting so long to pull out on the highway. All of a sudden, Dad blew up, exclaimed loudly in his British accent, "Fuck this Shit!", popped the clutch and burned rubber onto the highway, slipping the Triumph not-so-crisply into a small space between two cars. Howie found that incident very amusing and for years when things weren't going well for us would often exclaim, with a big grin, in his best British accent, every consonant and vowel precisely articulated, "Fuck this Shit!" He liked it so much, I imagine Howie employing this expression throughout his life on the appropriate occasions.

Howie and I had romantic interests in two sisters, Jennifer and Joann, respectively. My romance with Joann was very short-lived (the days easily counted on two hands) but disproportionally impactful for my sensitive 12 year old heart. Howie's relationship with Jennifer was longer and more serious and it was Jennifer was who informed me of Howie's death. She and I share fond memories of him and our early teenage years in our little East Patchogue neighborhood of quiet narrow rural streets, modest little houses, woods, creeks, and swamps.

Our early teen friendship was enjoyed on land as well as on the water. On weekend nights, in all four seasons, Howie and I would walk a fair distance to visit friends in West Patchogue, on the other side of town. After usually paying a visit to Jennifer and Joann, we would walk up Chapel Avenue to the Long Island Railroad tracks and turn left, walking along the railroad and across its trestle over Swan Creek where we would drop down a bank and into the parking lot of Friendy's Ice Cream. We would go into Friendly's and order a ridiculous amount of food. Cheeseburgers, french fries, milkshakes called "Fribbles" and these huge sundaes called "Jim Dandies". I figure we consumed four to five thousand calories each in one intense hour's gorging. Our teenage appetites temporarily satiated, we would resume walking on the railroad tracks until we got close to the center of town, where we would head over to walk the rest of the way along Main Street, walking past mostly closed shops on a dark, quiet sidewalk. When we got to West Patchogue, we would typcially call in on Pete Link and his gang. We felt a bit like foreigners, visiting another country where we were treated politely enough, but also a bit standoffish, reminded that we were from East, not West, Patchogue.   We would keep a close eye on the time and head back home at a double-quick pace, as we both had eleven o'clock curfews, Howie's strictly enforced, mine not so much, but generally respected. Howie and I froze, sweat, got bitten by mosquitos, soaked by rain, snowed on, nearly run over by trains and chased by villains on these walks. Howie would carry a transistor They were great.

Howie had an interesting trait. He was a pretty beefy kid and pretty strong physically. And he liked opportunities to show off his strength. At several points in our early teen years, only one of us had a bicycle. Howie would get great enjoyment from pedaling me all around town as I sat on the handlebars of the bike. I didn't complain. This trait would come in handy for me a few years later, which I will explain shortly.

As Howie and I advanced through high school, our lives started to diverge. Howie wrestled with the emotional impacts of the ugly disintegration of his parent's marriage and struggled to graduate so that he could join the military. I started identifying and socializing with the college-bound, keeping my grades and class rank up, preparing for the SATs and participating in extracurricular activities. Not clean cut or a total sell out, by any means, but clearly on a different track than Howie.

The biggest factor in our divergence however was when I fell in love for the first time. I truly loved this beautiful girl, who was everything to me.  And then, one terrible night when I got too angry over nothing, it was all over. I was devasted, broken-hearted, ashamed of myself. I didn't know what to do, so I went to over Howie's house, the best friend who I had mostly ignored for the better part of the past year. But Howie was there for me, tried to put things in perspective, tried to tell me that there would be others, that things would be okay. It still hurt, but Howie helped. He was that sort of friend.

After my painful breakup, I hung out more often with Howie again. By this time, I was old enough to drive and, through another of Dad's benevolent friends, had acquired my very first car. It was a British import, sold in America as the Plymouth Cricket. It was clearly designed and assembled by relatives and descendants of those who had created the British Seagull outboard. To put it nicely, it was not a very reliable vehicle. It had an electrical system that would decide on its own whether the car would start, run or stop. Perhaps it was a very early version of the self-driving cars now under serious development by Google and other companies? On more than one occasion, Howie and I would be heading off in the evening to a party and the Cricket would simply stop running and not start again. I resigned myself to leaving the evil little car on the side of the road and walking the rest of the way to the party. Not Howie. He looked at me, grinned, and in his exaggerated and not very good British accent said, "Fuck this Shit" and got out of the car. He walked to the back of the Cricket, put his hands on the trunk, leaned forward and started pushing us along the shoulder of the road. I felt a little strange, sitting in a car, listening to the radio while being pushed at a steady two knots by my friend for miles. But I didn't complain. And when we arrived at the party, Howie was delighted to talk all night about his show of strength and endurance. He would proudly exclaim, his trademark grin lighting up his face, "I pushed Cox and his piece of shit English car all the way from here from Bay Avenue." It was then that I realized that this trait of Howie's was one that the Marine Corps could exploit and I became a bit worried for him.

Howie and I graduated from high school. He headed off to join the Marine Corps. I headed off to the University of Pennsylvania. Our lives were really diverging now.

One day, sometime in the middle of my first semester at Penn, the phone rang and it was Howie at the other end. He had just finished basic training and had a couple weeks of leave before heading off to his first assignment. Howie asked if he could come visit me for a little while. I told him that would be great, genuinely looking forward to seeing him. I realized later that, with his family life in pieces, he didn't really have anywhere else he could go or wanted to. Howie arrived shortly after the phone call and camped out in my dorm room for almost two weeks. He seemed traumatized by his experience in basic training and didn't want to go out with me or any of my friends. He was just content to hang out in my room, listening to music and eating the food I smuggled to him from the dining hall. I tried to put things in perspective for him, reminded him he had only enlisted for three years, that things would be okay. I like to think I helped Howie. I wanted to be that sort of friend.

Howie and I didn't have much contact through the rest of my college and his stint in the Marine Corps. After I graduated, I visited him a couple of times at his home in Twentynine Palms, California. I enjoyed those visits, but his life there seemed unsettled and a bit sketchy. A few years later, when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, I figured it would be fun to ride my motorcycle across the Mojave Desert to visit my old friend. But Howie had disappeared. This was way before the days of the internet, Facebook and search engines and it wasn't as easy to find people as it is now. I decided to make the trip any way. As I rode up to his house, I could see that something bad had happened. The front door had been sloppily repaired after being broken down, some windows were broken and there was a VA foreclosure notice posted on the front of the house. I spent a day looking around Twentynine Palms and Palm Desert looking for Howie, but didn't find him and I never saw him again.

As the years went by I would occasionally make attempts to find Howie, my job getting easier as the internet and its resources developed. About 20 years ago, I managed to get in contact with Howie's father. His father didn't know where Howie was, believed he had gotten into some trouble. His father was clearly concerned and wanted to know where his son was, asking me to get back to him if I found Howie.

About 12 years ago, I finally got in touch with Howie over the phone. He was living in a small town in the California desert. He seemed to be doing okay, he owned his own bucket lift truck and was working as a contractor for the telephone company.  We chatted for a little while, each of us realizing in the course of the conversation how differently we had lived our lives and where we had landed so far. I said I would like to visit him and Howie said it would be great to see me. But I believe that time and circumstances told us that our friendship was best preserved in the beautiful memories from our youth. And that was the last time I spoke to my dear friend Howie.

I hope that Howie's adult life turned out okay. I don't know the circumstances of his death, I can only hope that he didn't suffer for long or painfully.  I hope that he was aware of the people who loved him when he died. I'm sure Howie's life was significant in many ways, positive and negative, big and small, to many people. He mattered and made a difference to me. He lives on in my memories, as a loyal best friend when I most needed one, of our youthful adventures, jokes and laughter, and as a unique and natural sailing partner. I'll never forget him.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Caleta Lobos: Tired of Bashing, Ships in the Night

The passage from Topolobampo to Caleta Lobos (near La Paz) started out pleasant enough. A bright, sunny day with light wind (on the nose, of course) and calm seas. Intermezzo motored along at five to six knots on one engine running relatively quietly at about 60% power.  The weather forecast and wind models predicted much of the same for most of the passage, with some stronger 10 knot winds coming from the WNW towards the end of the trip.

The weather forecasts were wrong.

Around 11 pm, when we were a little more than halfway across the Sea, the wind quickly freshened to blow at 20 knots from the Southwest, precisely the direction we were heading! And the seas built to a horrible steep chop. Both engines running hard to push through wind and wave. Bows slamming, jarring and noisy. Water washing over the deck, sometimes blowing over the cabin top to soak the helmsman.  Bashing again. Ugh. So tired of this.

At 2 am, Renee woke me. She had been diligently monitoring traffic during her watch and was concerned about two ships  heading in our direction, both on a collision course with us and with each other. The cargo ship Gdyna was bearing down on us off our starboard beam around 12 miles away and making about 10 knots speed. The tanker Culaso was 15 miles ahead of us, closing in on at about 12 knots. With the Gdyna to starboard, Intermezzo was the stand-on vessel, meaning we had the responsibility to alter course to avoid collision. In the head-on situation with the Culaso, both vessels are obliged to alter course to starboard, to pass each other to our port sides, which requiring Intermezzo to turn towards the Gdyna. The AIS (Automatic Identification System) data on Gdyna showed a destination port of of Lazaro Cardenas, a long way down the coast to the southwest, meaning that she would likely be turning to port to get on her rhumb line. Meanwhile, the wind is howling, Intermezzo is bashing into the waves, spray is flying. And I just woke up and am tired.

I studied the chart plotter and radar for a few minutes and decided the best thing to do would be to contact the Gdyna on the radio and request that she alter course to port to pass behind us and give Intermezzo room to alter course 10-20 degrees to starboard to allow us to pass the Culaso with safe distance between us. I grabbed the mike for the radio to hail the Gdyna and was stumped for a moment: How do you pronounce a name that has only one vowel…at the end?  I decided to call her the “gideena” which was thankfully understood and responded to quickly by the officer on deck when I called and explained our predicament.

The Polish-accented voice from the Gdyna seemed a bit surprised to discover us in his path.  He also did not seem to be aware of the Culaso’s presence and trajectory until I pointed her out to him.  Granted, we were all still an hour or so away from the big potential mash up, which is probably a bit soon for most professional mariners to be concerned. Still, it makes me wonder. The officer on deck of the Gdyna had me standby for a minute or so while he figured out what was happening and then replied with an assuring, “Go ahead, alter your course. I will take your stern.”  Both he and I tried hailing the Culaso, but neither of us got a response. That makes me wonder, too.

So, in a slow motion nautical ballet, Intermezzo bashed and bounced on the waves and altered course to starboard, the Gdyna turned slowly to port to pass 700 meters behind Intermezzo, Intermezzo and Culaso passed by each other a mile apart, while Gdyna had continued her turn to port and increased speed to cross a mile or so ahead of Culaso. These distances might sound pretty generous, but I can tell you that a 700 foot long ship still looks pretty big and dangerous a mile away from a little catamaran at night in heavy weather. And the ships don’t exactly turn on a dime and still look like they are coming right at you for a long time, even after they have assured you on the radio that they won’t run you over.

The wind and waves continued to be horrible as we approached the Lorenzo Channel, a narrow pass between the south end of Isla Espiritu Santos and Punta Arranca Cabello, the tip of a large point of land jutting into the sea north of La Paz.  It was 5 a.m. and I didn’t want to navigate between the shoals of the narrow channel in such conditions in the dark, so I decided to turn north and sail parallel to the east shore of Espirtu Santos which provided some relief from the wind and waves.  I partially unfurled the jib, shut off the engines and settled into slow, reasonably comfortable sailing until the sun came up around seven.  Then I started up the engines, got back on course and completed our bash hto Caleta Lobo, anchoring here about two hours later, tired and salty from all the spray, more than ready for a shower and a nap.

The turquoise water and little white sand beach of Caleta Lobos

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Topolobampo: A Night of Bashing, Exploring Town, Beginning Where Steinbeck Ended

Well, I guess King Neptune didn’t want me to get too soft and lazy from fine sailing conditions, so he punished me last night with 12 hours of strong headwinds and steep, square waves.  It was a very uncomfortable bash the rest of the way to Topolobampo.

The swells coming from directly ahead had a period of about six seconds. I reckon that Intemezzo’s natural rotational pitching period to also be about six seconds, resulting in a harmonic motion where the boat’s pitching movements increase in amplitude until the harmonic cycle is interrupted somehow.  I estimate that Intermezzo’s bows pitched upwards  and then fell downwards as much as five to six feet.

In non-mathematical terms, what this means is three to four times every couple of minutes the boat’s bows would be launched up out of the water and then slam down with a mighty loud crash that made the whole boat shudder. Sometimes these loud, violent events would coincide a wave crest impacting the underside of the bridgedeck (the part of a catamaran that spans and connects the two hulls) with another mighty boom. It’s not dangerous, just really noisy, uncomfortable and tiring.  We had a couple hours of really loud slamming, six hours of moderately loud slamming, and four hours of “quiet” slamming. Not pleasant at all.

By the time we reached the sea buoy marking the entrance to the channel into the Bahia de Topolobampo, the wind and waves had quieted down. We made our way into the bay with a bright sun shining between the mountains on shore and sparkling on the water. The bay is very pretty, bordered by mangroves along the shore and surrounded by arid, cactus studded mountains, with fingers of little estuaries poking from the main bay deep into the mountains, like little fjords.  There is a large commercial port, a oil marine terminal and an oil-fired power plant located here which are the only detractions from the bay’s natural beauty.

We got Intermezzo settled and sorted out at a slip in Marina Palmira and then caught up on sleep after our night of pounding seas.

Topolobampo is a pleasant enough little town with a nice waterfront malecon for strolling, a few small restaurants and lots of street food featuring mariscos (seafood), ceviche (vinegar-cured fish), cocos helados (iced coconut) and other fresh local food.  There is a very fancy bar-restaurant, Stanley’s Bar and Grill, at the top of a tall hill offers fine views of town and bay from which we enjoyed sunset cocktails and a nice dinner afterwards.

The next bay north from Topolobampo is Agiabampo, which was last tidal pool marine life collection stop of Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez expedition. He describes a mangrove-lined bay similar to Topolobampo where they found the first extensive growth of eel grass, but not the great variety of animal life, yet admitting as their expeditions was drawing near to its end , “…undoubtedly there were many things we did not see. Perhaps our eyes were tired with too much looking.”

There is a melancholy, introspective tone to Steinbeck’s narrative in this next-to-last chapter of the book. He inquires, “Why do we dread to think of our species as a species? Can it be that we are afraid of what we might find? That human self-love would suffer too much and that the image of God might prove to be a mask? This could only be partly true, for if we could cease to wear the image of a kindly, bearded, interstellar dictator, we might find ourselves to be true images of his kingdom, our eyes the nebulae, and universes in our cells.”  The book is a intricate weaving of travelogue, scientific observation and philosophy that becomes a familiar yet mentally winding pattern.

The weather is pleasantly cool, sunny and breezy, and I note that Intermezzo’s depth transducer is reporting a water temperature of around 70 degrees F, much lower than the mid-80’s that I’ve grown accustomed to swimming in Central America and southern Mexico. Time to dust off my wet suit.

We’ve see what there is to see in Topolobampo, so we’ll push off tomorrow morning and head west to cross the Sea and anchor in Caleta Lobos, close to La Paz, which we enjoyed a lot when we visited in November 2015. It will take us about 24 hours and will be the last long, overnight passage we’ll make for a while.

Coincidentally, the helmsmen of Steinbeck’s  Western Flyer drifted off their compass course after they departed Agiabampo to sail across the Sea and unintentionally ended up in the morning at Isla Espirutu Santo which is just to the north of Caleta Lobos.  We’ll be steering by GPS with the autopilot, so we’ll end up where we want to be, though.

Sunrise approaching Topolobampo

Entering Bahia Topolobampo

Birds on a buoy

Bahia Topolobampo in the morning 
The Topolobampo malecon

Bahia Topolobampo in the evening

Topolobampo sunset

Topolobampo debutante