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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

En route to Caleta San Juanico: Misery, New Crew Member, More Misery, Some Pleasure

Yep. It definitely continues to be harder to keep up with blog postings. This time, I can't claim being "off the grid" as a significant reason, even though we currently only have a satellite connection. I think it is definitely attributable to the fact that the end of The Voyage is drawing nearer every day. Lots of thoughts and feelings welling up, many very personal, others lacking enough clarity to write about publicly.

Our passage from Bahia San Francisquito to Santa Rosalia last Friday night was miserable. The wind ripped from the west all night, blowing off the land at 20 to 30 knots and driving steep, short period four-foot seas onto our starboard beam. These combined with a three-foot swell from the southwest to create a violent washing machine that tossed us around mercilessly for most of the 18 hour passage. We should have been able to sail on a beam reach under the jib in these winds, but the seas were so confused that the sail alone didn't have power enough to drive us through them. Raising the main at night in such conditions with only the two of us was not a good option, so we ran an engine to keep us moving. There were times during that night that I thought I'd had enough sailing and was done with it for the rest of my life.

We spent Saturday recuperating from a long sleepless night and kept tabs on my son Luther's progress via air from Vancouver. He successfully joined Intermezzo on Sunday evening after three flights, an overnight layover at LAX and a long, delayed bus ride from Loreto to Santa Rosalia. It was great to see him and to welcome him aboard.

Monday morning we went grocery shopping to replenish perishables and let Luther pick out some of his favorite foods from what was available at the large Leys grocery store in Santa Rosalia. We departed from the marina in the afternoon and headed south to Punta Chivato to anchor overnight.

All of the wind forecasts indicated that we would have a nice sail from Santa Rosalia to Punta Chivato, with winds coming from a westerly direction. But I've learned to not trust these forecasts as they seem to hardly every be accurate for the Sea of Cortez. Indeed, we did start off sailing nicely with a westerly wind and I thought, maybe the forecasts will be right this time. But, I'm not kidding, not thirty minutes after having this thought, the wind shifted 120 degrees to blow from the southeast! Almost on the nose again! Un-fucking-believable! This time, I exclaimed out loud that I'd had enough sailing for the rest of my life! We motored the rest of the way to Punta Chivato.

The anchorage at Punta Chivato provides good protection for winds coming from the north and west. When we anchored, the winds were still blowing from the southeast driving a rolly swell into the anchorage, but it was unlikely that the winds would keep coming from that direction all night, so I figured conditions would get better. Wrong. It was a horrible night at anchor, a pattern of violent rocking, followed by a peaceful period, just long enough to let you fall asleep, followed by another bout of violent rocking to wake you up. I exclaimed to myself several times during my half-awake, half-asleep kinetic nightmare hat I'd had enough sailing for the rest of my life.

Finally, yesterday, we had a delightful downwind sail from Punta Chivato to Playa el Burro in Bahia Concepcion. Intermezzo glided along smoothly on calm seas at 7 knots under the Code 0. I said to myself, "I love sailing and can't imagine not doing it for the rest of my life."

We anchored the boat in el Burro's little cove and then Luther and I took the dinghy to go snorkeling around some rocks off one of the larger islets in the bay. For me, the snorkeling was just okay, but for Luther, I could tell he was really enjoying doing something he hasn't done for a long time. He's lived the past six years as a young urbanite in - New York, Beijing, Berkeley, Xiamen and now Vancouver. As a boy, he loved the outdoors - forests, mountains, the beach, the sea - and was an avid swimmer and snorkeler whenever he had the chance. I could sense that he was rediscovering his enjoyment of being back in natural surroundings. And I really enjoyed being in the water with him, which simultaneously brought back memories of swimming as a father of young boy and recognition that I was now swimming with an independent young man. Nothing compresses time more than children growing up.

A cold front as been passing through and around where we have been sailing, so it has been remarkably cool out, in the 60's with a cold breeze blowing most of the time. Poor Luther figured he'd be basking in the desert sun after months of Vancouver's cold, damp and rain. Instead, he's had to borrow one of my jackets to wear, even in the daytime. The weather is shifting though and I expect it will be warm again soon. My experience of sweltering in the tropics for months is now but a distant memory.

I'm writing this on Wednesday morning, May 10 as we sail towards Caleta Sa Juanico, one of our favorite anchorages on our way north. The wind looks like it might be blowing strong enough and from the right direction for us to sail soon. I hope so. Although I'm not counting on it. I'm a bipolar sailor.

Friday, May 5, 2017

En Route to Santa Rosalia: Fishing Coyotes, Birds, Whales, Bees and Beach Yoga Challenges

We just weighed anchor and departed Bahia San Francisquito for our overnight passage back to Santa Rosalia.

I apologize for all the typos in my last blog; I forgot to proofread before I pressed "send" and there is no way for me to edit a post via satellite after I've sent it.

So, first, back to Puerto Don Juan. I forgot to mention something interesting that happened while we were digging up clams there on Sunday. We had noticed a couple of coyotes on the beach that morning and figured when we approached with the dinghy they would run away. They didn't. One continued to scrounge around the beach looking for scraps to eat. The other coyote joined us in the shallow water, not 100 yards away, to try his luck at fishing. She would stand in the shallows and wait for a fish to swim by and then pounce on it and try to catch it in her mouth. When that didn't work, she decided to sit on the rocks just above the water and wait out of sight of the fish. The coyote never caught anything, but tried hard and it was nice having animal company nearby and fun to watch.

Then, back at Punta El Pescador on Tuesday, Renee had another close animal encounter when she beached her kayak to explore the little islet in the anchorage. It was nesting season for seagulls and they weren't at all happy with Renee stomping around among their young. They swooped at her very aggressively and chased her off the island, a scene right out of Alfred Hitchcock's movie.

On the way to Bahia San Francisquito yesterday, we saw two whales, one of which passed directly under the boat as it swam to wherever it was going. I'm not sure what type of whale it was; it had a small dorsal fin on it's back half, which would make it either a Fin Whale or a Bryde's Whale. The two look pretty similar in the pictures I have, but I'll go with it being a Bryde's because it was smaller and our whale guide says the Bryde's is a "common visitor" and the Fin is an "occasional visitor", although I've heard people say Fins are commonly seen here. I admit to having limited talent in identifying wild plants and animals, but I'm trying to improve.

We took the dinghy to the beach late yesterday afternoon. Renee explored while I did beach yoga. Beach yoga can be interesting. The firmness of the sand affects how well you balance, sometimes making it easier, often making it harder. If there is any slope to the beach, I've learned that facing uphill works best. One pose that I do involves standing with your legs spread wide apart and then bending forward and down from your waist, grabbing your ankles and then trying to pull your head to touch the ground between your legs. The first time I did this on the beach I was amazed that my head actually touched the ground; I'd never been able to do that before. Then I noticed that my feet had sunk at least six inches down into the sand. A great yoga cheat to remember.

At this beach the sand was pretty firm and level, but I encountered two challenges. One were bees (more about them to follow), for which my sweat was apparently the bee equivalent of sipping a chilled Pinot Grigio on the beach. I kept track of where the bees were but managed to ignore them buzzing and landing on me for the most point. Chalk one up to yoga focus. The other challenge was more gruesome. I did my yoga routine facing the beautiful water of the bay, often focusing on a rock at the water's edge to help with my balance. An interesting red "rock" in front of me caught my interest until I realized it was actually a headless, disemboweled duck. Quite disgusting and not good yoga karma. I shifted five yards down the beach to get away from it. Two poses later, it had drifted in front of me again. I spent the entire standing series of poses moving up and down the beach to get away from the duck corpse. I am not going to try and interpret any cosmic meaning to this even
t; it could only be horrible.

Getting back to the bees: We've been invaded by bees on four different occasions while at anchor. Right after we drop anchor, one or two bees appear and scout out the boat. They inevitably find small sources of fresh water, despite our attempts to cover containers and wipe up drops and spills. They must fly back to their hive and announce their discovery, as within fifteen minutes there are literally hundreds of bees all over the boat, some finding water, others crawling around thinking that they have. They force us into the cabin and buzz around for hours. It's like living next to a bee hive. They disappear when the sun goes down and then return again at dawn to drink up the dew on the boat. They are Latin American bees so they also go away in the mid afternoon to take a siesta.

Despite the bees being a buzzy nuisance, I've grown sort of fond of them. They live in an awfully dry desert. They must be thirsty all the time. I imagine when a bright white boat arrives, smelling of fresh water it just shouts our "Party time!" to the bees. They crowd onto the boat, making it look like a bee's college Spring Break cruise, with crowds of them lounging around the pool, or what they see as being like a pool, having a great time. The ones that do find freshwater seem to get drunk on it, too, eventually struggling not to drown themselves in whatever puddle or container from which they imbibe. Just like college students.

So, as we continue to head south you may be asking "What's next?" Well, first we rendezvous with my son Luther who will be flying into Loreto from Vancouver and taking the three hour bus ride north from there to Santa Rosalia to meet us. We'll spend the next week sailing south to Puerto Escondido, introducing Luther to the Sea of Cortez and various anchorages along the way. Then, when we arrive in Puerto Escondido, we'll spend the next week preparing the boat for dry storage and haul out on Wednesday, May 17, the official end of The Voyage. On the 19th we all head to New York City to attend my daughter Hannah's graduation from NYU on the 22nd.

Then I head back to California to....???

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bahia San Francisquito: Clams, Friends, Mirages

It's been more difficult for me to keep up on my blog posts lately. For one, we're "off the grid" and only able to communicate via satellite, which requires a few more steps write and post to the blog. For the most part, we've also been in very isolated anchorages and I've felt quite disconnected from the rest of the world in my little "boat bubble". But the biggest factor I think is that the end of the voyage is looming large and contemplating an uncertain future with many possibilities is eclipsing interest in my simple, lazy day-to-day life on the sea. Naturally, I feel some apprehension about not knowing what will come next, but mostly I'm excited about my next voyage, on land and among people this time, and what I might learn and discover from it. Yet, I try mightily to stay in the present and not let my thoughts of the future distract me too far away from what is, now. Nonetheless, the content and timeliness of this blog suffers.

The highlights since I posted last Saturday were clams and friends (stated in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance).

On Sunday morning, back in Puerto Don Juan, Renee wanted to head back to shore at low tide to collect some large sand dollars she had seen when we went ashore to go hiking. I decided to sit in the dinghy while she did her collecting and just enjoy the scenery. I couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of clam shells on the bottom of the shallow water. I was an accomplished clam "treader" in my youth on the Great South Bay of Long Island and decided to see if there were any live clams in the sand, so hopped out of the dinghy and started wiggling my feet through the sand feeling for anything clam-like.

I hit pay dirt! Within a few seconds I had my first clam and a couple of seconds later, another one. They were nice, fat, white clams with striated shells. The next clam I dug up was what the call here a "chocolate" clam, a large, smooth, shiny tan-brown species. I called Renee over and asked her if she wanted to get some clams for dinner. Her killer-fisherman instincts kicked in and she leered, greedily, answering, "Of course!" She learned to tread for clams quickly with the prospect of free fresh seafood just twelve inches below the surface. In a little over an hour we had dug up six dozen lovely clams, about a dozen chocolates, their rest white ones.

We put the clams in a bucket of fresh saltwater to let any sand rinse out of them and then headed to Bahia de los Angeles, referred to by gringos as "L.A. Bay", to meet Renee's friends Teresa and Jason. Jason's family has a long history of visiting L.A. Bay dating back to the late 1950's and he and Teresa know the place well. They had driven down from where they live north of the city of L.A. with their two dogs for a mini vacation and to visit Intermezzo. The last time they were on the boat was on October 18, 2015 at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. We were 11 days into the beginning of our voyage. Now they were visiting us again, with only 14 days left to go. A lot has happened between then and now!

We spent Sunday afternoon roaming around the little L.A. Bay Village and then headed back to where Intermezzo was anchored just off the shore to enjoy a clam feast. I steamed the clams just enough to get them to pop open and then sautéed them quickly in a sauce of their own juice, butter, lemon and garlic. I wished for some white wine to add to the sauce but, alas, that had been consumed some time ago. i served the clams and sauce over spaghetti and they tasted great. Both varieties of clams had a delicate meaty flavor, with the chocolates being a tad sweeter tasting. The clams ranged in size from large cherrystones to small chowders, in Long Island clamspeak, and I worried that they might be a bit tough, but they weren't at all. Even the biggest chocolates, around four inches long, were nice and tender.

After ferrying Teresa and Jason back to shore, I hit the sack feeling very full of clams and and fell into a food coma sleep, like from eating too much turkey at Thanksgiving.

The next day we moved Intermezzo to anchor in front of the beach house Jason and Teresa were camping at. The house belongs to one of Jason's cousins and was shuttered. It takes a lot to open up and shut the house down for visitors, so they just camped on a porch which provided shade, shelter from the wind and kept them out of the sand.

We took a short drive, bumpy drive in Jason's souped-up desert truck into town to visit the nice little community museum there. it is really well done, with a nice collection of artifacts including a large collection of shells, a complete whale skeleton, Indian spears, harpoons, pots and tools, old ranching items like lassos and riding jackets, and mining artifacts. Outside is a small desert botanical garden, a couple more whale skeletons and the remains of an overhead tramway used to transport silver ore down from a mine near the top of a nearby mountain. The museum is really nicely curated and laid out, a very impressive effort by its local, all-volunteer staff.

After a light taco lunch at a nearby stand, we returned to the beachhouse-camp and went for a walk to Gecko Beach at the southwest end of L.A. Bay. We enjoyed walking by all the gringo houses built along the beach, some nicely designed and constructed, others haphazard works-in-progress, others decaying dreams that ended or never came true.

L.A. Bay is ten hour drive from the U.S. border, far enough for it to be a Mexican town, close enough for it to attract a community of part-time American residents. It has a frontier-town feel to it. Not like a border town, where the difference between Mexican and American is lit brightly. Rather a frontier where differences exist, but are recognized comfortably and lightheartedly by both sides, with few laws and rules and more trust and friendship to govern conduct.

The next morning (Tuesday), Teresa and Jason swam out from the beach to Intermezzo to say goodbye. We made sure they made it back to shore and then weighed anchor and sailed to Punta el Pescador, about 11 nautical miles south. We were turning around and heading back south on the final leg of our voyage.

Punta el Pescador is a nice little anchorage with a small island inhabited by many birds. We kayaked around the island then landed the kayaks on the main shore to walk along the beach. There is an interesting little resort in an unknown stage of development on the beach, with a half dozen guesthouses, two of which looked complete and habitable, the other four still under construction. The houses are quite attractive with palm thatched roofs, native stone walls and columns of vine-wrapped tree trunks. it looked like another example of a tenuous business proposition that ran out of money. We've seen quite a few of these along the Mexican coast, particularly in the Sea of Cortez.

Yesterday we continued another 9 nm south to Punta Islotes. Another pretty anchorage that we had all to ourselves. In fact, we have been the only boat in all of the anchorages we visited since leaving Santa Rosalia. And until today, when we saw one small sailboat, we havn't seen a single cruising boat on the water, either. We've literally had hundreds of square miles of sea and land to ourselves, save for for the occasional fishermen in their pangas.

Today we had a longer passage, about 40 mm further south to Bahia San Francisquito. This is the bay we skipped when we were heading north because so much wind was blowing from the north. Weather conditions were much different today. Virtually no wind at all and what wind did blow came from the south. (Figures...we were heading that direction!)

On the way hear, we saw mirages, shimmering, wavering air distorting the appearance of the land and sea. One mirage made an island look like it was floating a dozen feet above the water. Another turned an island into a squashed hour-glass with an inverted image of itself sitting on top of its real self. Another mirage looked like a strip of sea was floating above itself, like a streaming liquid cloud.

Steinbeck writes about these mirages in The Log from the Sea of Cortez:

"...the mirage we had heard about began to distort the is sufficiently interesting on the Peninsula to produce a heady, crazy feeling in the observer. As you pass a headland, it suddenly splits of and becomes an island and then the water seems to stretch inward an pinch it to a mushroom-shaped cliff, and finally to liberate it from the earth entirely so that it hangs in the air over the water."

Now I know what he was writing about. Amazing.

Tomorrow we leave here in the afternoon for our last overnight passage. I'll continue this and post again before we leave.