Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flashback to Mazatlan....

Current Location: La Cruz, Mexico

Here we sit aboard our boat enjoying the delights of the season…and 80 degree weather! It took me a while to get into the Christmas spirit without the routine of our usual traditions and cool weather. However, as we pulled into La Cruz (also known as Huanacaxtle - 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta), we were able to put up our little Christmas tree and lights, which helped kick off our holiday celebrations.

As usual I am not current on my entries so here comes another time travel blog…taking you back a couple weeks to time spent in Mazatlan. Now imagine hearing the flashback song from Wayne’s World…dooooo-doooooo-doooooo-dooooo……

December 16-18:
Last I mentioned we were pulling into Mazatlan after crossing the Sea of Cortez. Our plan was to pull in for the night, shower, fill up with diesel and water, and then be on our merry way. Difficulties arose as we made our way into the Mazatlan harbor. Our transmission which had been previously giving us some trouble, decided to throw another little snit. Getting it into and out of gear became challenging and if it did finally slip into gear, there was a lack of thrust from the prop (are you impressed with my technical talk…Ben thinks it’s hot!). Simply put, it was a crap shoot to see if the boat would go where we wanted it to while under motor. Not a problem while on the open water, but definitely an issue when trying to maneuver into the tight entry of Mazatlan harbor. As usual, Ben was unflappable and went to his standard line of, “worst comes to worst, we’ll sail it in!”

We decided to stay at Marina El Cid, calling ahead so we could go directly to our slip. As we maneuvered past the breakwater and into the narrow entry of the harbor, we willed our transmission to cooperate. Ben did a drive by of our slip and as we slowly turned around to make our way back, we had no thrust from the prop…aka…we lost the ability to maneuver. Unfortunately, just as this occurred, we observed a large charter power boat barreling down the channel directly at us.

In Mexico I don’t think there is a 5 mph wake rule and if there is the locals interpret it as a 20 mph. I quickly hopped up on the stern and started signaling by waving my hands, trying to communicate that we were unable to turn. I’m not sure if I can fully express the helpless feeling this conjured up! Floating in the channel of the marina, with vessels entering, docks/boats on one side and rocky terrain on the other. I was ready to pounce and fend off wherever the collision would occur. Fortunately, just as I was strategizing how to do this, the prop engaged and we were able to avoid any incident.

As we maneuvered into our slip (where I actually jumped onto the boat next to us to fend off), we were greeted by Tom from Camelot. He helped us with our dock lines and gave us a quick rundown of Mazatlan, the most important tidbit was that happy hour had begun at the pool. After patting ourselves on the back for once again making it safely into port, we did what every responsible sailor would do……we ventured off to have a cheap beer and forget about our boat problems for a while.

After enjoying some libations.....the head scratching began.

This is where Ben pulls apart things and sits in the cockpit for hours on end, wondering where the problem lies. This is not a metaphorical thing, he literally scratches his head during this process (and other things I’m sure, but that’s life on a Floating Frat House). I won’t bore you with the mechanical details…guys, look for Ben’s post on the technical update later…but we planned to stay one night and head out for Puerto Vallarta. As with any sailing adventure, plans change (we are currently on Plan W) and we stayed for four days. One of the many lessons I have learned during this odyssey is to be flexible and when plans change it’s not the end of the world. It's usually quite the opposite, great things tend to happen!

Turns out Marina El Cid was the equivalent of Disneyland for our crew members, J.P. and Mickey. With pools complete with waterfalls, caves and swim up bars (well, the latter was for me), they were in hog heaven! Throw in the miniature golf course, shuffleboard, ping pong and the exotic iguanas by the pool, they had reached Nirvana! As Mickey so aptly put it, “I’m glad our engine is broken, we can stay here for a while!”

As for myself, I spent time in the spa getting a much needed pedicure and haircut. I think I actually heard the woman audibly gasp as I took out my ponytail holder! Ben passed the time tackling the puzzle of diesel engines and folding props. It was truly a place where there was a bit of heaven for all of us!!!

During our stay we spent several hours soaking in the enormous hot tub, meeting new people. J.P. recently informed us that he found it annoying when we stopped to talk to adults and spent a long time in conversations…it was boring. Ben suggested that he was always welcome to participate and it was a great opportunity to learn new things since we were meeting people from all walks of life.

J.P. accepted this new challenge during one of our marathon hot tub soaks. We happened to meet a vacationing older couple from Iowa whose children were grown. They asked us all about our sailing trip and we learned about life on their farm in the Midwest. J.P. was listening intently and inquired about what they grew. Their reply tickled him, “Soy.”

He excitedly turned to me and said, “That’s a good thing to grow since I am allergic to dairy!!”

Another five minutes passed and when the conversation didn’t turn to Star Wars or farting, he swam away to practice his snorkeling skills at the other end of the hot tub. But alas, Ben and I were happy to see that our seven year old was taking an interest in other people’s experiences and learning something new about life.

Next up: The decision to pull out of Mazatlan with a cranky transmission and our sail to La Cruz, Mexico (Puerto Vallarta).

Happy New Year!


Boys trip into town....somehow Ben convinced the concierge of the hotel to let them see the newly constructed penthouse suite. To quote J.P. "this is definitely a bachelor pad!"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!!

Star Wars books from Santa!

J.P. knitted a scarf for his teddy bear's, John's Christmas present. Auntie Colleen taught him how to knit while she visited!

Mickey's letter to Santa:

"Dear Mr. C,
If you want more milk, it's in the frige. Sorry abot the carits."

Cookies and milk for Santa in the cockpit.

Christmas carolers came to visit us!

Christmas carolers were treated to a visit from Santa in our V-berth hatch.

Sunset Christmas snow in sight! I'm dreamin' of an Orane Christmas.

My sister, Colleen came to visit for Christmas!! Yeah!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sea of Cortez - Part 2

Present time: In La Cruz, Mexico (20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta). Settling in and getting ready for Christmas in warm weather. My sister, Colleen will join us here to celebrate so we are all excited to have family here for the holidays, although we will miss the large family gathering at home. Now a flashback to last week…

Sail across Sea of Cortez – Part 2 (December 16 - 18)

I digress in mentioning that we were itching to get out of La Paz, although I really enjoyed it there. The weather had turned colder and I am happy to report that I was looking forward to getting out on the water again…..hmmmm I must be catching the sailing bug! The comfort of a marina is nice, but as a friend commented about her desire to get moving, “it’s kind of like living in an apartment”. In contrast, being out on the water is like living on a huge parcel of land, the amount of human interaction is decided by you and the vast, wide open space is refreshing and relaxing.

I also forgot to mention on the way out of La Paz, we stopped to search for the whale sharks that inhabit the bay there. They are docile, huge creatures and people swim with them with no incident. Their enormous mouths and imposing size are fascinating and intimidating at the same time. My pictures don’t do them justice and we were ecstatic as they bobbed in the water alongside our boat. Just another perk of having an RV on the sea and living on the ocean!

After anchoring in Los Muertos for a night, we set out across the Sea of Cortez for an overnight sail (36 hours). Captain Ben pulled out at 3:00 a.m. so we could reach Mazatlan during daylight hours. The remaining crew slept down below until about 8:00 a.m., when I relieved him of his duties so he could get some sleep. After doing several days/nights at sea, an overnight sail has become much easier for me and not such a big deal. There are times when I even enjoy it….like when there’s a full moon and spy a huge pod of dolphins headed my way!

The sail was uneventful barring a couple of technical difficulties. Our first few hours were calm with waters smooth enough to water ski on. Not the best conditions for a boat powered by wind, but we enjoyed a peaceful morning of motoring. Around this time, we caught our first fish of the trip using our new hand fishing line. Ben dragged in the Dorado carefully and called for me to grab some alcohol so he could subdue the fish before bringing him on board. I quickly offered up his bottle of Glenlivett which he declined and asked for something more along the lines of “rot-gut” booze. I hurriedly surveyed our liquor stash….Patron-no!....Port-no!....beloved and hard to find red wine in Mexico…no!

I’m proud to report I couldn’t find any rot-gut booze aboard (storage space is valuable…can’t waste it on that junk) so I handed him a bottle of Sky vodka (high end rot-gut?). The three foot tuna was subdued enough to pull him on board where Ben quickly went about gutting the fish. This was met with mixed reviews by the crew members. “Vegetarian”, J.P., went down below, proclaiming it “sad” that the fish died. “Scientist” Mickey observed with a curious eye as the Dorado’s bright green and blue hue started to turn black as he gasped his last breath. “Always Hungry” Molly just daydreamed about the sushi and barbecued Ahi as Captain Ben carved up tuna steaks for lunch. In the spirit of the Native American studies we are covering in home schooling, we also offered up thanks and respect for the fish for providing us with food (although I have to admit, I was a little sad for the guy).

We happened to be “buddy boating” with two other friends over to Mazatlan. This is not unlike caravanning on a road trip in cars. We all left the Los Muertos anchorage at the same time (3:00 a.m.), so we sailed across the Sea of Cortez together. As is the tradition, we radioed them on our VHF to inform them of our catch and promptly offered to share our bounty. About an hour later as the wind kicked up, we approached our single handing friend, Rob on ‘Wings of the Dawn’ and tossed over some fresh tuna. Swab Mickey was sent up to the bow of our boat to throw over the bag, and as we approached Rob put out his boat hook. With the increasing winds and building seas, Ben produced some quality maneuvering and we were able to poke the bag onto the hook. Rob later reported via radio, that the tuna was an excellent dinner and fueled him for the long sail ahead.

Soon the waters became choppy with the wind coming out of the east and we were beating into it. The swell patterns were coming from east, north and south (perhaps we angered the fish gods who are allies with the ocean gods). When swells are coming out of different directions like this, it makes for an uncomfortable and bouncy ride for our little boat. The boys are troopers during these long sails and have learned how to pass the time and entertain themselves quite well. One game that we play together while underway has been “how well do you know your family?” (We have modified it from a book I have onboard, ‘How Well Do You Know Your Husband?’).
Questions like:

*Has he ever shot a bow and arrow?
* If you gave him money to buy something at the store, would he give you the change?
* What would is his idea of a fun evening?

Much like the silly tradition of reading Chinese fortune cookies and finishing it with “between the sheets”, I’m concerned to report that our answers for Ben ended with…..”while drinking beer”. Not so bad when you consider the last two questions, but quite disconcerting while answering the “bow and arrow” inquiry.

As we passed the time with conversation, games, and Nintendo DS, a few hours later the wind died again. However, the swells continued, so we began to motor sail. Ben was feeling tired from getting up at 3:00 a.m., so I took the first watch around 8:00pm. As I puttered along checking our course and gauges, the engine suddenly revved down in RPMs (perhaps the fish gods also are friends with the diesel engine gods). It didn’t take long for Ben to quickly hop out of bed to inquire, “Did you do that?” Honestly, this guy never moved that fast when we had newborns screaming for a midnight feeding.

Unfortunately, the answer was “no” so Ben started checking the fuel filters and other engine functions for any sign of trouble. Everything seemed on the up and up so he returned to his bunk to get some shut eye, proclaiming it to be an anomaly. A half an hour later, the same problem occurred. So here we were, smack dab in the middle of the Sea of Cortez, a hundred miles offshore confronted with engine trouble.

During these stressful times, I often look for information as a coping mechanism, so Ben obliged me and sat in the cockpit giving me a quick rundown on what the problem could be. Air bubble in the fuel line, sediment in the diesel, filters clogged…they were all options and not good ones from my perspective. Ben’s philosophy was quite different. We have a sailboat and it’s meant to sail, not motor, so that’s what we would do. It may take us longer to get there, but we had a good weather window and all was well in his book. I have been with him many times as he sailed a boat into the slip “just for fun”, so I knew he was capable of maneuvering us anywhere without an engine.

Ben blew out the fuel line just in case there was gunk clogging it (this is the extent of my engine vocabulary), but he was disappointed when it didn’t produce a dislodged clog. I guess it was meant to be, because just then the wind picked up so we hoisted the sails and off we went. Going seven knots without the annoying thumping in the engine was wonderful. Ben went down below to catch up on sleep and I remained on deck for the next few hours, which were uneventful except for the beautiful moon and the neighborhood dolphins again stopping for a visit.

At 11:00 p.m., Ben took over and I went down below for a snooze. Being the gracious Captain he is, I was afforded a whole five hours of sleep while he stood watch. If you’ve ever had a newborn baby as a roommate and awoke every two to three hours to feed it, you know how much of a treat it is to sleep for an extended amount of time. Most of my life, I have been a restless sleeper, usually awakening every couple of hours, lying awake…worrying about something….and then after solving the world’s problems, falling back to sleep. I’m amazed at how living on a boat has changed and improved my sleep patterns. When my head hits the pillow, I am out. In addition I can sleep through a heeled over or rocking boat, and a diesel engine banging away in my ear.

As it is with sailing overnight distances, the memories of engine trouble dissipated as we neared our destination. An hour outside of Mazatlan, we spotted whales spouting off our starboard side and went to investigate. We were able to watch as a mama whale and her baby cruised through the waters, spouting and diving deep. As we turned back towards Mazatlan, we were treated with flying Manta Rays so far out of the water, I first mistook them for birds. Next up was a gi-normous sea turtle floating on the surface. I was amazed at how close he allowed us to get, when we noticed his was foot was caught and tangled on a plastic bag. Our attempts to free him were thwarted, when he dove deep and never resurfaced again (those hundred old beings can be so stubborn sometimes!).

After acknowledging our wildlife-sighting karma, we headed into Mazatlan (maybe the fish gods don’t communicate with the ray, whale and turtle gods!). Mickey was given the task of reviewing the charts and leading us past the breakwater to our destination. He did an outstanding job, using binoculars, charts and intuition to get us to our marina slip safely around 3:00 p.m. Crew and Captain were rewarded with a lovely resort with two pools, restaurants and Happy Hour!!! But more on that later…..

Cheers and Merry Christmas to all!!

P.S. If you would like an on-line Christmas card w/ photos from our trip, forward your e-mail and we’ll send you one!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Move Again!

As I write this, we are 25 miles offshore in the Sea of Cortez, nearing the end of a 190 mile trip from Baja to the mainland of Mexico. Hopefully the weather is a bit warmer since La Paz had turned chilly (70 degrees). I love the old saying, “We have cheated death once again!!”, which is often heard amongst the fleet after a long overnight or several day/week passage.

First, we left La Paz and sailed 50 miles south to an anchorage called Los Muertos (The Dead)….yes, this concerned me a bit too, but I was comforted by reading in one of our chart books:

“the word ‘muertos’ refers to buried anchors used in the early 1900’s by barges that loaded ore from the stone wharf in the east end of the bay.”


I have taken on the role of “researcher” as we pull into different anchorages, in addition to “navigator” which requires charting our course (“What the heck does Ben do?” you may ask….let it be noted that he is currently snoring and drooling down below). I’ve always had a love of maps and travel books so I enjoy these roles and they suit me well. This is despite the fact many of my family and friends are gasping with concern as they read this, due to my talent of getting lost and my sense of direction handicap. I inherited this from my mother with whom I spent hours wandering the streets of unfamiliar places in our old station wagon. The familiar exchange of, “Hey, mom are we lost again?” and her reply of, “Yep, but we’ll get there eventually!” still makes me smile. Not only was her attitude towards her directional ineptness comforting, but it usually let to some unplanned adventure or new sight to see.

Take heart in the fact that we use our GPS units as main sources of navigation, but I plot our course on charts as a back up in case of technology failure. We also have a sextant on board (an old tool used to navigate by the stars), but Captain and crew don’t know how to use it, therefore, it has been relegated to the Lego pile and is currently used as a Star Wars fighter ship.

We have fallen into the routine of me reading aloud the anchorage description from our chart books, as we approach our destination. It usually reads something like this (from Charlie’s Charts):

“a number of scattered rocks lie off the point of land forming the eastern boundary of the cove. They should be given a wide berth when entering or leaving the bay…..Anchorage is at the head of the bay, away from the wharf and store, in 4 to 6 fathoms.”

At the helm, Captain Ben pretends to listen intently, occasionally nodding in ascent at the wealth of information I spew, then pulls in and does whatever the hell he wants. Fortunately, this contrast in approaches suits us well. Ben driven by instinct and experience while I compensate for my “greenhorn” status by absorbing any information I can. In the beginning we would banter back and forth while dropping the anchor and it would go something like this:

Molly: “But the chart book says over there is the best and more well protected anchorage.”

Ben: “Uh-huh, but the wind is coming out of the north. Not a normal pattern and this location with the current swell pattern….blah-blah-blah….wah-wah-wah…”

About this time, my eyes glaze over as I start to hear Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice, and as a result I reluctantly concede my position. It pains me to write this, but Ben is usually (ok…so far….always) right.

As we pulled into Los Muertos our routine played out once again and we dropped anchor. This entails Ben on the bow, manning the anchor with me at the back of the boat driving. We have improved upon this process by placing a younger crew member in the middle to relay communication between the two of us. With the wind howling at the bow and the engine booming in the rear, it’s often difficult to hear each other. Just as we finished, another boat pulled in with a middle aged couple on board and they began their own anchoring process. I need to mention that Ben and I have historically taken guilty pleasure in watching other couples do this. The disintegration of calm communication to wildly screaming at each other, tickles us to no end, mostly because we’ve been there, done that (hence the added communication crew member to our anchoring team).

With our voyeuristic needs satisfied, we lowered the dinghy in the water and made our way to shore. The village consisted solely of a restaurant and a small store, however, a friend told us that Warren Buffet had built an exclusive hotel here, which was located at the other end of the beach. In true Doolittle Hillbilly form, we landed our dinghy on the hotel’s private beach and proceeded on land to find the restaurant/bar. Following the sounds of “Football Americano”, we soon found a lovely wide open building overlooking a pool and the beach. Because Mickey tends to get homesick, we like to find a place on Sundays where he can watch a Forty-Niner or Patriots game. This was no Applebees!

An enormous operating train set was located upstairs where the kids could crawl through caves underneath. An infinity pool with water slide, play ground and an opportunity to play free old school video games like PacMan and Defender, the boys were in heaven! We spent the afternoon eating and frolicking with the rich and famous (not really, the place was empty), then returned to our little RV on the sea.

The next morning at 3:00 a.m. we set out for the 190 sail to Mazatlan…..I will post details soon in Part 2 of this blog entry….

Los Muertos anchorage. Full moon rising.

Anchored out at Los Muertos, watching the sunset, drinking a cerveza.

Mickey passing the time while underway. Absolutely no wind here and water smooth as glass.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Poem of My Own...

Busy, busy here in La Paz and awaiting the northerly winds to die down so we can sail over to Mazatlan. With homeschooling and boat duties, I can't seem to find time to catch up on detailed blog entries of our adventures. So here's a quickie entry I found in my journal today, a silly little free form poem I jotted down after my first overnight passage (see previous entries).

Nervous dreading
Lumpy swells
Not one lick of sleep
Seasickness vomiting cheeseburger
Moon rising on water
Sea is abandoned, no one in sight
Porpoises frolicking, I wish I could say the same
Sunrise here and all is well

May you find beauty even during those crappy days!