Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rules of the Road...

Arriving in La Cruz, Mexico just in time for Christmas!

Ben and his homemade hookah!

Current location: La Cruz, Mexico

The holidays have passed and even though the pace here is much slower, we are recovering from the activities and festivities. More on that later….here’s another flashback to our adventure from Mazatlan to La Cruz….dooo-doooo-doooo-doooo….

December 18-20th - At the marina in Mazatlan, we spent the next several days attempting to resolve our mechanical issues. After having our prop cleaned with the removal of numerous barnacles, we hoped this would restore our ability to steer the boat under motor. Unfortunately, our wishful thinking didn’t work and Ben narrowed it down to a transmission problem. In other words, this probably wouldn’t be a cheap and easy fix. As the saying goes, “Cruising is simply fixing boats in exotic locations.”

My sister was flying in for a visit to Puerto Vallarta and there were several boat yards and marine stores there, so we decided to sail on to our next destination. Not a problem when you have a boat that is intended to be powered by wind. That’s the beauty of a sailboat…redundancy. When we are underway, we like to sail as much as possible and you can often hear Ben saying, “It’s a sailboat, not a power boat, so let’s sail it.”

This does not mean there aren’t moments of mutiny from crew members while bobbing along the ocean in the hot Mexican sun. If given the option Ben would sail along happily doing 2 knots, flying the spinnaker and attempting to squeeze everything out of a light breeze. It’s usually a tossup between Mickey and me to see who starts to whine first. To avoid further discourse, we implemented the “3 knot rule”, which states:

If we have been sailing under 3 knots for an extended amount of time, the captain is tortured with whines, complaints and threats of throwing his beer overboard, if he doesn’t turn on the sticking engine!!

Other rules of the road while underway:

1. Pee overboard downwind.

2. Sleeping assignments are open (you can sleep wherever you want….for example, if the boat heels over while snoozing and forces you to fall on the floor, you are under no obligation to crawl back in your bunk).

3. If a whale or other spectacular wildlife is spotted by the person on watch, you are required to run up on deck to “ooooh and aaaah”.

4. Navigator Molly’s charting of location should be checked occasionally to ensure she is using the correct coordinates and/or charts.

5. When boarded by the Mexican Navy, smile, nod and check the “excelente” boxes on their customer service survey. It is also preferable for the female on board to be wearing a low cut shirt (even if she is ignorant of the exposing nature of her shirt, apparently the Captain is under no obligation to inform her of this).

As with the Founding Fathers of our nation who wrote the Declaration of Independence, these rules were established as a result of actual events that we would rather not experience again.

The incident that led to Rule #5 is actually a good story. While in La Paz we decided to sail up to an island named Isla Partida which was reported to have great snorkeling and a peaceful anchorage. We enjoyed a couple days of swimming in clear blue waters and exploring the shallow reefs. Apparently this picturesque location provided my husband with creative inspiration. After enjoying the sunset one evening, he turned to me with a glint in his eye and said, “I wonder how you make a hookah?”

As I mentioned on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, this is where I start checking to see if his life insurance premium is up to date. Knowing that his intention for the hookah was not for its “traditional” use, I was certain it involved something seen on an episode of ‘Jackass’. Sure enough, I awoke the next morning to Ben duct taping the garden hose to our manual air pump. He was intently giving Mickey instructions to step on the pump to push air through the hose. As he lowered himself into the water, outfitted in a wetsuit and snorkel gear, he shoved the end of the hose into his mouth. This would enable him to breathe while diving on the boat to change the zincs on our prop. The attempt failed since Ben couldn’t time the breathing correctly and get enough air. However, I am certain it will not thwart further attempts at homemade breathing apparatuses. -Audible sigh-

But I digress….on our sail from Isla Partida back to La Paz, I sat in the cockpit reading chart books with Ben at the helm. I heard him say quietly, “well, prepare to be boarded.” I took it as a joke and continued enjoying our lovely sail a couple miles offshore. A few minutes later, I noticed the sound of an engine and turned around to spy a ponga (a small metal motor boat) approaching at fast speed.

Five men were onboard, two of which had automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. Getting boarded by the Navy is a common thing in Mexico. They monitor the waters and basically want to confirm that people are documented travelers within their borders (and ensure the boat doesn’t have a couple extra kilos of cargo on board….if you know what I mean). When dealing with the government here, I’ve learned to be polite, cooperative and nod a lot. It doesn’t hurt that we have two small children which results in people warming up to us quickly. Family is important here and they value it immensely, another thing I love about Mexico.

Four of the five men approaching were stoic and imposing. In addition, one was missing an eye…I’m dead serious! The fifth was at the bow smiling and waving as the captain pulled alongside our boat and he quickly hopped aboard with clipboard in hand. The ponga sped away and drove behind us, as the government official sat down in our cockpit and asked for our documentation. I scurried down below, jumping over our two children who were so engrossed with their Star Wars movie, they were oblivious that we had been boarded. Retrieving our folder with all the necessary papers, I handed them over to the very friendly and polite official who spoke no English. He proceeded to ask how many people were on board and I answered ‘4’, pointing out our two children down below. At that moment, Mickey and J.P. look up and he greeted them with a wave and a smile. My angelic, polite children (ha!) grinned and waved back, then turned their attention back to watching the movie.

So here’s my question:

When you are sailing a couple miles offshore and you look up to see a foreign man in army fatigues sitting in your cockpit, wouldn’t it make you wonder how he got there and who he is??

Apparently our normally inquisitive children lacked a sense of wonder that day and were unfazed by this exciting event (must be their crappy teacher’s fault).

When the official was satisfied we were not drug traffickers or pirates, he filled out his form and flipped over the page. He proceeded to ask us in Spanish to fill out the survey to rate his performance while conducting the boarding. Of course, this was all in Spanish, but we managed to decipher the meaning of questions like:

“Rate the performance of this official.”

“Would you say he was helpful and polite?”

We rated him “excelente” in all areas and the interview was over. He signaled to his vessel and his crew quickly and expertly drove alongside our boat again. Hopping aboard and giving us one more friendly wave, they all disappeared down the coast. I turned to Ben and said, “Well he was a nice guy. He was so friendly!”

To which Ben replied, “Yeah! I think it helped that he could see down your shirt.”
And so life goes on the Floating Frat House….

I’m happy to report that we have not been boarded since and had an uneventful sail to La Cruz (near Puerto Vallarta). Our transmission cooperated long enough for us to maneuver into our slip at Marina de La Cruz which did not exist when Ben visited here 15 years ago. This made it a challenge to find since it does not appear in our outdated chart books. When I bring up the issue of our older publications, Ben simply replies, “Land doesn’t move…It’s not a problem.”

I guess he’s got a point, but it still makes me think I’m sailing with Captain Ron (a movie from the 80’s starring Kurt Russell….a silly sailing comedy, but good fun!). Just to be clear…we have current navigational charts, but our books that provide detailed descriptions of anchorages are outdated.

We spent a night in the marina and pulled out to the anchorage for a few days. A great time was had by all as we cruised through the 40 or so boats, saying hello to friends we had not seen in a while. The boys were ready to jump out of the dinghy and swim over to our friends on Endeavor they were so excited! It’s one of the things I love about pulling into a new place, there are usually friends to be reunited with and many hours are spent catching up on everyone’s most recent adventures.

Our excitement and enthusiasm for the holidays grew as the arrival day of my sister inched closer and preparations for Christmas were in full swing.

Next up….Christmas in a foreign country, visit from Auntie Co Co…..and the answer to the burning question: Does Santa Claus deliver presents to children on boats?

Cheers! Molly

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