Sunday, December 25, 2011
It’s Christmas Day, the gale still blows, but it’s doing slightly more sighing than howling in the rigging now. Frigatebirds soared this morning, a hopeful sign—though now they’ve disappeared again, as the wind is back. A few pelicans were up riding the wind, too. We're covered in sand and grit, which happens when you anchor in a cove surrounded by desert.
Karen remembers watching the birds during Hurricane Hugo back in 1989, when she was in the British Virgin Islands anchored aboard the schooner Windsong, in Tortola’s Trellis Bay. The frigatebirds began having difficulty flying at around 25 knots of wind, and by 30 they had disappeared to wherever they took shelter. Gulls and terns were gone from the sky at wind speeds of 35 knots, Pelicans were still flying, but were having difficulty at 40 knots and disappeared altogether by 45. The only birds left flying above 45 knots were brown boobies, heavy-bodied divers (and cousins of the blue-footed species) who frolicked until the wind hit 60. Above that all birds were hunkered down somewhere. In that spectacular storm the winds in Trellis Bay reached 120-140 for a few hours, but 50 miles further west in Culebra, Puerto Rico (where Karen’s future friends Herb and Nancy Payson, and Cap’n Fatty Goodlander & family, were anchored) winds reached 200. With five big anchors out and the superb seamanship of Captain Colin Day, Windsong counted herself among 6 survivors of the 30 boats that had anchored in Trellis Bay. In Culebra, more than 200 boats were lost. While that was an unusual storm, sailors must take all weather very seriously, all the time, or pay the price. Sometimes there's a price to pay regardless of what you do.
Here's Luckness, a Pacific Seacraft 37, riding to her anchor in the gale at Ensenada de los Muertos, about 40 miles SE of La Paz as the cross flies. Craig told us it's like being on a perpetual rodeo bronco ride. That's dust you see in the distance. Luckness has come through just fine so far, as have all 4 boats anchored here.
So, while a gale of 35 knots in Mexico is not the way we’d planned to spend Christmas, it’s still okay. A few pelicans are flying and diving for fish in the lee of some sand dunes, and that’s entertainment enough in this enforced, guilt-free idleness. None of the 4 boats here has been able to do anything but ride the waves, but we’ve all chatted on the radio and will get together when weather allows.
Here's a photo taken from Luckness, of Sockdolager riding out the gale. Though we weren't very far from shore the waves and wind made getting off the boat impossible. And the grit mixed with salt, whew whatta mess.
Sometimes the Christmas spirit arrives when you decorate your tree with ornaments that recall memories… but we don’t have a tree this year. Sometimes the Christmas spirit arrives on the waft of a fragrant roast being cooked, or at the ring of the doorbell and the call of cheerful greetings. But we have neither roast nor doorbell.
We do, however, have the Christmas spirit. It arrived abruptly yesterday afternoon, in the form of a kitesurfer in trouble. We spotted him racing out from shore, an unbelievable feat of strength and skill in this wind. Karen took a photo, and the kitesurfer waved.
Wow, thought Karen, he's waving at us! I’ll shoot a movie of this and give it to him later! As the movie rolled, the kitesurfer raced past our stern going at least 30 mph. The next events happened very quickly.
“HELP!” he shouted.
“YOU NEED HELP?” we called back.
“YES! I can’t control this kite! Please let out your dinghy!” He swooped, managed to turn, and began racing back to shore, where we thought he might be able to get to a beach further down the coast. But the wind didn’t cooperate. He fell, then got up, and headed for Sockdolager, beyond which lay 200 miles of open sea.
Quickly we tied docklines together and lengthened the dinghy’s distance from the boat. Jim deployed our boarding ladder. The kitesurfer saw this and raced for the lifeline. He caught it, but the huge kite dragged him, the dinghy, AND our stern downwind, toward the open ocean. Grateful for our two well-set anchors, we knew it would be unlikely for Sockdolager to drag, but still, the 11-meter kite exerted tremendous force. It dropped into the water, and we managed to pull the kitesurfer closer as he hung onto the line. He disconnected the metal bar, with its half-dozen lines for controlling the kite, from his harness and handed it to Jim, shouting, “PLEASE! PULL IT IN!”
But a gust of wind caught the downed kite, and it rose out of the sea, pulling us downwind again. Jim barely managed to get one wrap of its cord on the primary winch, but it was slipping out of his grasp.
“Get a line on the end of this, I can’t hold it!” he said, and Karen tied a line and made it fast. The kite seemed steady, so we turned to the kitesurfer to get him aboard. Just as we did that, a strong gust swept the kite straight up, swooping wildly across our backstay, and down to sea again, on the other side of the boat. It threatened to pull off our solar panel and tangle in our rigging.
The kitesurfer screamed, “MIDDLE LINE! PULL ON THE MIDDLE LINE, THAT WILL COLLAPSE IT!” He was so frantic with worry about the kite that this became a distraction to safety as he repeatedly called Don’t let go of it! from the water. Karen pulled the middle line, but it was very thin cord, the kind that under pressure like this could easily sever or saw through a finger. She knew she could not pull it hard enough to collapse the kite in this wind. Turning to Jim, whose finger was bleeding, she said, “One of us could easily lose a finger or a hand on this, and it’s going to tangle in our rigging unless we let it go.”
Jim was still trying to hold the kite, but the line parted and off it sailed. The wetsuit-clad kitesurfer swam back down the line toward the dinghy, shouting, “I want to use your dinghy to go after the kite!” The fact that this guy thought he could row an inflatable in 35 knots of wind to rescue a huge wild kite and get back again shows how crazy these moments felt.
“NO!” we both shouted, yanking him and the dinghy closer to the boat, “YOU WILL COME ABOARD NOW!”
The poor guy looked exhausted. Jim helped him climb aboard, and got him settled under the shelter of our spray dodger. He kept looking at his kite disappearing downwind, so we called Luckness on the radio and asked Craig to try and snag it as it floated by (it was now mostly in the water.) Craig radioed a few minutes later, “It’s gone.”
The young man (in his mid twenties, we guessed) was due at work—he bartends at the local beach restaurant—so we let him use our radio to call ashore. He reached his employer, but nobody was available to come out in a panga and pick him up. Nor would anyone in their right mind try to, either. Karen looked at the young man, “The most important thing,” she pointed directly at him, “is that you are safe.” He began to shiver and look pale and abashed. “Are you alright?” we asked, looking for signs of shock and handing him a glass of water.
“Yes,” he said, drinking the water. “I’m realizing only now what a close call that was, and how that kite is the least important thing in my life.” We all introduced ourselves, and Armando thanked us for rescuing him. His English was excellent because he’d recently spent 8 months studying it at a Canadian university.
The gale continued unabated, and we appraised the wind and wave conditions, Jim said, “It could be awhile before we can get you ashore.” Armando accepted this with much grace—we could use our phones to call his family if it looked like we could not get him ashore—and we began to talk pleasantly.
We spent the next 4 hours talking of custom and culture in the US and Mexico, and Armando told us about growing up on this peninsula of land, about stories his grandfather told of pirate treasure, and stories of his family, including his wife and baby.
“I was foolish to go out in this wind,” he said, “My sister warned me not to. But I had never tried kitesurfing on this beach before. Over there,” he pointed, “where I started, the wind was not so fierce because the mountain was blocking it.”
“Perhaps this isn’t the best beach to kitesurf, because if you make a mistake you’ll get blown out to sea,” we suggested.
“Not only that,” he added, “but I was kitesurfing alone. I’ll never do that again.”
Once he recovered his composure, Armando proved to be delightful company, and accepted it when we told him he might be staying for dinner, and possibly for the night if weather conditions didn’t improve. He did not ask to be taken ashore. “Tell us about how Mexican families celebrate Christmas,” Jim asked.
Armando began with a description of his grandmother, whom he obviously loves. He told of how she loves to cook, and that she roasts two turkeys and a whole pig for the 40-member family celebration. He described his uncles and aunts, his sister and two brothers, and then, with a soft smile, his wife and baby. As we talked, the sound of the wind faded and a little glow of happiness surrounded us. Armando occasionally interjected into his stories, “My family—especially my wife and baby—nothing is more important than that.” We all smiled.
As Armando looked around the boat he became fascinated, and asked us how things work. We talked about sailing, and then, seeing him shiver in spite of the towel and jacket we’d loaned him, invited him to come below and warm up. After admiring the boat’s cozy cabin and asking a few questions, Armando said, “I must go up, the motion down here is making me dizzy.” Being so used to the motion that it barely registers anymore, we were surprised. We didn’t want Armando to become seasick, but if he had to stay overnight he’d have to sleep below, not in the cockpit where he could become hypothermic. We both realized this new wrinkle at once. Jim asked, “What time of day tomorrow will your family be celebrating Christmas?”
“Oh, not tomorrow,” said Armando, “our celebration dinner is tonight.”
“TONIGHT?” We looked at each other. The wind had lessened just a little—not much, but a little. The day was drawing to a close as mountain shadows lengthened over the water. Whitecaps still advanced toward us, and the wind was still strong, but not quite as strong as before.
Guessing what Jim was thinking, Karen said quietly, “It’s entirely your decision,” and speaking the obvious about Jim being the one doing the dinghy driving was unnecessary. The lull continued.
Jim looked at the setting sun. “It won’t be safe to do this after dark,” he said. As a just-in-case, we put the outboard on the dinghy, and Jim and Armando donned lifejackets. The wind grew harsh again. We waited in silence. Then another lull arrived, down to perhaps 20 knots. “Let’s go,” said Jim.
Crashing through the waves, the dinghy looked like one of those surf lifeboats, as spray flew high in the air. But they made it to shore, and a grateful Armando went off to spend Christmas with his family. Jim made it back to the boat just fine, and the wind resumed howling into the night.
We sat down to a dinner of Italian sausages and pasta, washed down with a bottle of fine Bordeaux that was presented to us by our friends John and Whitney in San Diego. “You know,” said Jim, “I’m feeling the Christmas spirit now.”
“Me too,” said Karen, “We don’t have a tree, presents, or even a roast for dinner, but this was a pretty good Christmas Eve anyway.”
Happy Christmas, everyone.
Friday, December 23, 2011
We're safely at anchor in a spacious bay called Ensenada de Los Muertos, about 40 miles southeast of La Paz as the crow flies, further by water. But boy is it ever blowing like stink! Winds are alternately singing and howling through the rigging, but at least they're not roaring or screaming. The forecasts range from 35 (gale) to 50 (storm) force winds, and it's supposed to last into Christmas Day. Jim used his hand held anemometer, and the readings he's getting seem a bit low. Neither of us has ever been pushed from standing to sitting (as we both just were) by a 23-knot wind. Best guess is 30-35 steady and 40 in the gusts so far, but the wind is still rising. Who knows what the wind speed is until the weather folks weigh in on the afternoon radio nets.
With the approach of this gale, we decided to stay with a sure thing (good holding, good protection from the winds, lots of room) in this bay, rather than continue on to La Paz, where we'd heard the marinas are full, the anchorage is much more crowded, and we might have been one of the last boats in before the storm, which means not as much choice of location. However, as soon as this gale is over we'll head over there. Also anchored in here are Luckness, Clover, and Three Sheets.
We're reasonably comfortable, and it's exciting to watch this spectacle of nature. Best of all, it's not cold and rainy. BTW, the name Ensenada de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead) is about all the huge old anchors laying buried on the bottom from its silver mine-export days. These old anchors are called "deadmen," but local developers didn't cotton to the colorful name and re-christened it "Bay of Dreams." Yawn. And no, we can't tie to one of those deadmen because they're all buried in sand.
You can see sand blowing off the dunes in this photo. The seas are 1 - 2 feet high with less than 1/3 mile of fetch to the shore. There's a lot of grit in the air, which we can feel and smell, and the boat's getting covered in it. In the photo you can see Sockdolager heeling to the wind but pulling nicely to her two anchors, which are keeping her fairly well aligned with the wind and not rocketing off sideways to it. This is one reason why we like two anchors with lots of scope out, in a Y configuration. The other reason is in the event another boat drags into you and you have to cut one anchor away to quickly free yourself, you have a backup. (This has happened to Karen.)
If the storm had been forecast to be hurricane-force winds, we might have done more - strip the sails and canvas off the boat, probably put two anchors in tandem on one rode, and deploy the other two anchors in the direction of highest anticipated winds. But wind directions in this gale are all steady from the north and northwest, and with two anchors well-set and chafe-proofed with old canvas hose from the Port Townsend fire department, we'll just thank our lucky stars we're not out at sea right now!
Saturday, December 17, 2011
We’re presently in the very lively town of Cabo San Lucas, at the southern end of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
But this is what a desert island anchorage looks like. It was taken in Bahia Santa Maria, near Magdalena Bay. We loved this quiet bay so much that we spent a week there. But I digress.
Before we left San Diego, we went to see the America’s Cup Match Races, from the deck of the museum aircraft carrier Midway. It was fun, but in a weird way. Karen wrote about it in a letter to Latitude 38 magazine, which may appear in the January issue.
We left San Diego harbor under sail – our friends Mark and Nina aboard Woofie took this photo with their iPhone. It was a calm, lovely (albeit chilly) overnight sail, 65 miles to Ensenada, Mexico.
Why old maritime traditions are so good: This is Karen raising the signal flag for the letter “Q.” The Q flag signifies that a ship has not yet officially cleared into a country, and is requesting “free pratique” or the privilege of navigating freely within that country. Once you’ve officially entered, you lower the Q flag and raise a small national flag of the country you are in. Called a courtesy ensign, it is flown from the starboard spreader, from dawn to dusk. Your own national ensign still flies at its normal place near the stern of the boat.
Amazingly, these old maritime traditions mean that wherever she goes in the world, a ship is actually a tiny piece of her country’s sovereign territory. This of course does not excuse the crews from obeying the laws of the country they happen to be in, but it’s cool to be part of such longstanding tradition, where in some instances, tiny yachts like ours are treated as equals of the largest ships.
It also means that at sea, you can call a large ship for, say, an update on the weather, and most of them will cheerfully give it to you. You should call any ships when you have safety concerns about whether they’ll get too close or whether they’ve seen you. One dark offshore night, Sockdolager was between two converging ships, the southbound Holland-America cruise liner Osterdam, 6 miles to the north, and an unknown northbound ship 6 miles to the south.
We did a Securite call: “Securite, securite, securite, this is the sailing vessel Sockdolager. Our position is (latitude and longitude) 6 miles south of the Osterdam and 6 miles north of a ship whose name is not showing on our AIS. We want to make sure you both see us.”
The cruise ship came back immediately. A man with a Dutch accent identified his ship as the Osterdam and said, “Thank you, Sockdolager, we were wondering what you were over there. We will alter course to pass 2 miles to the east.”
This was a good thing, because 1) the running lights of this huge cruise ship were obscured by her bright deck lights, making it impossible to tell which way she was going, and 2) although the other ship didn’t respond, she made a turn to the west, and the problem was neatly solved.
On another midnight-to four watch, Karen called the passing cruise ship Sapphire Princess for a weather report and to inquire about their intentions. Their British crew was very accommodating. Here’s what a ship passing in the night looks like.
The Sapphire Princess was all lit up, about a mile to starboard. Because we’d talked, we had no discomfort with them passing this close. If we hadn’t talked we probably would have altered course to get further away from them.
One night offshore at oh-dark thirty, Karen called a northbound ship headed toward us whose intentions were not clear. This was because their running lights were obscured; not uncommon on brightly lit ships. The ship’s name registered on the AIS, which makes calling them easier because you can use their name.
Karen: Oberon, Oberon, this is the sailing vessel Sockdolager three miles to the north off your bow, at latitude 29 degrees, 36 minutes, longitude 116 degrees 9 minutes.
Australian accent: Vessel calling, this is Oberon.
Karen: Yes Oberon, I’m calling to make certain you see us on your radar. We’re a small sailboat under sail, course 192 degrees.
Oberon: Roger, we see you, how would you like us to proceed?
Karen was stunned. How would we like them to proceed? Never in her sailing days had big ship ever asked her this question, yet it is the most correct thing a ship could do when navigating around a vessel under sail. A lot of things went through her mind: they must think we have radar but we don’t; they may assume we know which way they’re headed, but we can’t tell because their running lights are obscured. They want me to tell them what to do… hmmm, think fast.
Karen, nonplussed: Um, it’d be great if you could miss us. (OH NO! Did I just say that??)
Oberon (after a pause): Ah, right. We’ll pass two miles to your west.
If the skipper of the Oberon ever reads this post, please accept my apology for a flippant-sounding reply. If you read our post from late July, about the fishermen off the Oregon coast, perhaps it might help explain.
Ahhh, Mexico. Yes, the sunsets here are spectacular. Although the locals, who are without exception delightfully friendly, have been wearing jackets and saying “Hace FRIO!” (It’s COLD!) we are still barefoot and appreciating the weather, which has given us a mostly pleasant mixed bag. The water is 70+ degrees, skies are mostly clear, and the fishing (and catching) improved enough to have cocktails and treats for eight one fine evening AND a dinner party for six aboard Sockdolager on another night, in Santa Maria Bay. Anchorages have been mostly spacious and uncrowded so far, we’ve enjoyed hikes, snorkeling, and the company of other cruisers.
The flip side of the equal treatment thing with big ships is that checking into Mexico involves a LOT of paperwork for boats. This is Karen near the head of the line at the Capitania del Puerto’s double window in Ensenada.
Gringo Lingo Bingo: Within an hour of arrival at our first Mexican port of Ensenada, Rogelio, the affable harbormaster at Baja Naval Marina, paid us a visit at the dock. Rogelio is the guy who helped to write the excellent language guide Spanish for Cruisers, which we highly recommend. We liked Baja Naval, though the wave surge at the docks can be uncomfortable. Boats are not allowed to anchor in Ensenada harbor for more than 2 hours; you have to go into a marina after that.
Rogelio explained in excellent English what we needed to do to clear into the country, and checked to see if our paperwork was ready. Karen, who’d spent several days organizing paperwork in San Diego, was pleased when he approved. She decided to test a Spanish phrase on him that she’d worked out with an iPod translator app to supplement her copy of Spanish for Cruisers. His brow wrinkled. “Um,” he said, “maybe you should say it this way,” and gave her a better version. Turns out the first version was “I am happy to be in your country of beautiful brothers!” The second was more correct. She tried the new improved phrase later on the Immigration official, and he laughed out loud.
Translator apps on the internet have been good for a laugh, too. Our friends Yasuo and Michiko in Japan use one to translate our blog posts into Japanese, and heaven only knows what they’re getting, because Yasuo sent us a note, also filtered through the Japanese-English translator that said, (and we quote) “I read and study your rudeness of the plog, because I wish to repeat it.” Right on, Yasuo!
We cleared in to Mexico on Thanksgiving Day. 5 ½ hours of shuffling papers and walking around town for fees and copies made us tired. Here, Karen keeps a smile on at the Banjercito cashier window, where a famously grouchy lady (unseen) sat. Rather than answer a question, she ordered us to read a complex instruction sheet taped to a side window. Everyone else treated us kindly. Some were outstandingly friendly and helpful. And in Ensenada, all the offices you need to visit are housed in one building (but their in situ bank and copy machines were out of order.) Would we clear in here again? Yes, but with one caveat, to be explained.
While we were in the Customs and Immigration vortex, Jim wondered what all the Spanish-only signs said, so he tried out a brand-new app on his iPod, called Word Lens. You hold up your iPod’s camera to a sign or some text in Spanish, and via optical character recognition technology it translates Spanish instantly to English. Cool, no? But, suffering from the same dyslexia as Yasuo’s translator, it gave us choice nuggets from the instruction sheets in Spanish, such as “Fetcha your turnip friend,” “Nude tutor,” and “Poet knocking knees.” Of course, the instructions in Spanish didn’t actually say these things, and we figure the nerdy creators of these apps must all be in on one big, pot-fueled community joke.
The hilarity, however, got Miss Grump behind the Banjercito cashier window to smile and begin surfing the net on her iPhone openly, rather than under her desk, as she’d previously been doing. (By the way, according to this app, Banjercito translates, and I swear I am not making this up, as “bathtub belch.”) She asked us if there was an English-to-Spanish version of the app, and we said yes. But knowing what we do now, we’d add: Heaven help all visitors to America who use this app. It was good to see this major gatekeeper smile, but not so good later on at sea to discover she and/or her assistant had neglected to return our Zarpe (permission to leave the port and travel throughout the country), which was the most important paper we’d been issued all day. Cruising friends grew round-eyed and said “Uh-oh,” when we told them the Zarpe hadn’t been returned to us.
The stoplight at Customs, where you push the button and pray for green.
Worried that having no Zarpe could be trouble, Karen wrote a short speech in Spanish, to be given to authorities at the next Port of Entry. She practiced it for a couple of hours. It goes something like this:
“Sir: My Spanish is poor, so please excuse while I explain. Here are our tourist cards, crew list, boat documents, temporary import permit, passports, liability insurance, fishing licenses, serial numbers of engines, receipts for fees paid, and multiple photocopies of each. We went to Immigration, then to the Banjercito cashier’s window to pay a fee, then back to the boat to get the receipt of payment for the marina, then to Immigration for a stamp, then to the Captain of the Port. We went five blocks to the Bank and paid a fee, came back to the Captain of the Port for a stamp of our papers, collected the Zarpe and went back to Immigration as instructed. Then one more trip to the Banjercito cashier’s window to pay for the Import Permit, but they needed another photocopy of our Tourist Card. They sent Jim four blocks to an architectural supply store copier to get one. The Banjercito kept all the papers while Jim ran this errand, and Karen waited. He returned, we paid the fee, got the pile of papers back, and finally moved on to Customs, who approved our paperwork and asked us to press a button on a lighted stop sign. We got the green light. It wasn’t until we were 50 miles out at sea that we discovered our Zarpe had not been returned to us. Lord have mercy on our souls.”
This speech was laboriously put together from three books and a Spanish dictionary. We figure running all that through the translator app might not be wise, as Karen could end up telling the next Port Captain something like: “Zarpe, Schmarpe, Miney, Mo.” All in all, though, we were treated courteously, and except for standing in various confusing lines for long hours, had a reasonable experience clearing in at Ensenada. Except, of course, for Banjercito neglecting to return our Zarpe. We will keep you posted on what happens. But if we ask for a file baked into a cake, you’ll know what that means.
Almost a Green Flash: This is the kind of sunset that’ll give you a green flash. Karen has taken hundreds of photos trying to capture one for her friend Nicholas, who doesn’t believe they exist. But we’ve seen them and they do take place… on your retina. Next time you’re somewhere with a big flat horizon and a clear sky (we think this may only happen at sea), wait until the split second before the sun pops below the horizon; you can then stare briefly at it, using your fingers as a shade. At the very nanosecond the sun disappears, you might see a green flash. If anyone wants, Jim could photoshop a green flash, just to show you what it looks like.
This is the kind of sunset that looks almost biblical in its majesty, but it won’t give you a green flash. Too many clouds.
Ensenada to Turtle Bay: It took us five days to sail the 250 miles from Ensenada to Turtle Bay, and they were pure magic. Except, that is, for the frustrating parts when we spun in windless circles for hours, waiting for wind on a painted ocean that was surreally calm. But when our light-air sails pulled us slowly along and the wake chuckled gently, we were mesmerized. Eventually, when calms caused us to pull down the sails and drift, we enjoyed that, too.
We came to understand that when it’s calm and you still choose to sail—which is to say, you’ve chosen to stay out there—rather than turn on the motor to get somewhere else, your reward is that you can hear amazingly well. Ships’ engine and propeller noise comes clearly through the hull from several miles away, which gives you plenty of time to go up on deck to look. The subtlest changes in wind and sea announce themselves. We sailed slowly on a moonless midnight through a tide rip ten miles long, that snorted and chuckled until it abruptly stopped at the edge of the disturbed water. Then the smooth silence felt almost loud.
Sounds like whales breathing (and different species make different sounds) or dolphins or fish splashing, or some leviathan sounding your hull with its echolocation abilities, are as audible as your partner snoozing on the off-watch. The gentle creaking or rattling of something in the boat whose source you’ll never find goes away when the sea’s calm. It’s quiet out there—until it gets wetly noisy again.
Port Townsend sails rule! Our light-air drifter pulls like a mule! We use a 13-foot spinnaker pole to hold it out so it’s ready to catch the smallest puffs.
We were so loath to start the engine that one day we made only 4 miles. Who cared? Not us. Getting somewhere was not the point. Being somewhere was. When we finally started the engine several days later, it was because of uncertainty in the weather forecast. Our intent was to pass by Turtle Bay, but from 20 miles out we talked to Marta aboard Reunion, anchored in Turtle Bay’s spacious harbor, and decided to get to shelter. The sound of the engine after all that quiet broke the spell, injected a sense of hurry into our psyches, and brought the distractions of land back into our minds, but it was okay. We know what it feels like to be under that spell, and we’ll find it again.
For the first time ever, Karen baked yeast bread at sea! We feasted fabulously. But Jim takes the cake. The photo above is titled “How a Geek Makes Coffee.” Step 1: Fill the kettle and turn on the stove. Step 2: Use your MicroPro Laser Thermometer to measure the water temperature; just aim and read the LED scale. For good coffee it shouldn’t be higher than 170 degrees Fahrenheit. This saves gas, too. Are gadget geeks cool, or what?
Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria: We stayed in Turtle Bay two nights, then left for Magdalena Bay. Not long after we left Turtle Bay a huge norther hit—this was the big storm that gave 80-100 knots to parts of Southern California. Friends reported 40 knots of wind and boats covered in blown sand in Turtle Bay, a few days after we left, but we managed to get far enough south so that it didn’t reach us. This was great 2 ½-day passage of about 250 miles, with just enough but not too much wind. Instead of going into Mag Bay, we stopped in the big bay north of its entrance, called Bahia Santa Maria. We liked it so much that we stayed a week.
Jim bagged the peak at Bahia Santa Maria. He’s the squiggle standing next to the little bump atop the peak. See him waving?
Here’s his view into the Pacific from his peak. He took a hand held radio with him and called Karen from the top. Everyone in the anchorage noticed a large flock of buzzards circling the peak, but Jim got back okay.
You can just barely see the community of 5 anchored boats in Bahia Santa Maria.
Eight people aboard a Dana 24 for a cocktail party is no problemo! They were Dennis and Marta from Reunion (32’ Kendall cutter, Whidbey Island), Marcus and Masha from Gallivanter (40’ Bristol sloop, Seattle), and Mike and Marie from Déjà Là (35’ Alberg-Ericson sloop, Victoria).
Here’s Jim making a big impression in his Indiana Jones hat and surfer dude shorts. The ensemble is playfully completed by a cheerfully contrasting fleece. This is Cruising Chic.
Here are Dan and Kathy from Lungta, a 68-foot ferro-cement ketch that they’re sailing all by themselves. Lungta means “wind horse” or prayer flags in Tibetan. Rob and Kai from Velella Velella (our neighbors in Port Townsend on a 38’ Ingrid ketch) also joined us for a hilarious evening.
This was dinner, a nice corvina. Tastes delicious, like white sea bass.
Isn’t it a beautiful fish?
Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas: But with winter chasing us it was time to leave. Here are Velella Velella and Déjà Là leaving for Cabo, 180 miles to the south. Sockdolager was just a couple hours behind them. Although we three ships sailed the same sea, we had different weather, which shows you how local it can get. Déjà Là was only 17 miles ahead of us (they heard us give our position on a Ham net) yet they were hit with 30 knots of wind rather suddenly.
The weather was unsettled as a low passed overhead. For us, the front passed over with just a sigh, and the wind built slowly up to about 25. Velella Velella, who was within VHF radio range, had lighter winds.
Although we could fly more sail to go faster in these conditions, with night coming on, the winds behind us at 20-25 knots and seas building, we roll less (and sleep better on the off-watch) if we reef our sails. Here you can see the genoa jib partially rolled up with its outer end (clew) held in place at the end of a 13-foot spinnaker pole. We’re still flying along at 4 ½-5 ½ knots, which is pretty good for a heavy boat with a 21-foot waterline.
The degree of roll is apparent in this photo looking astern. Seas NEVER look as big in photos as they really are, but you don’t roll like this unless you’re being tossed around a bit. The mainsail (not in the photo) is double-reefed and pulled out on the opposite side (starboard) and held in place with a rope called a preventer, that keeps the boom from swinging around. With the sails rigged wing-and-wing like this, we can fly all night under these steady winds, with little worry of having to do a major sail change in darkness.
Lee cloths hold us in our bunks when we’re off-watch catching some sleep.
Rounding Cabo Falso after a two and a half day sail from the serene, lovely Bahia Santa Maria, we were flying along at 6 ½ knots (surfing to 7 or 8) under a double-reefed main and genoa, in lots of wind and lively seas. Although it was fairly warm, the wind-filled jacket is for ducking spray. The scent of wood smoke greeted our noses in the early morning—must be a lot of cooking fires.
Only ten miles to the harbor at Cabo San Lucas, yay! But then Karen could hardly believe her eyes… a big, really big, dark shape emerged from the water about a mile away, looking like a submarine surfacing after blowing all its tanks. It was followed by a gigantic splash. What on earth? Then it was clear: this was a humpback whale literally throwing itself out of the water, straight up into the air! What a splash! Wow! Then it did it again! And again! Seven times—seven times! We watched rivers of whitewater run off the whale’s body, defining the pleats under its jaw and spinning off in swirls from its flippers. It leaped and splashed with merry abandon, and then gave us at least five cheerful waves with its long flipper. Now that is what we call a welcoming committee.
This whale was obviously having, well, a whale of a time. And so were we. Imagine the calories it must take to launch a 20-ton, 40-foot body out of the water like that. It’s said that blue whales use 3 million calories a day, and though they’re larger, they’re not known for breaching as much as humpbacks are. We never seem to get good whale photos, though. It’s because the whales never say, “Yo! I’m gonna jump now, you can focus here.” So in lieu of the whale we didn’t photograph, here’s a sea lion devouring a tuna carcass in the slip right next to our boat at Marina del Cabo.
News Flash: Cabo is no longer serene. Thirty years ago this was a sleepy fishing village. Now it’s billed as a “World Class Sport Fishing Resort,” which mean$ it take$ mucho buck$ to fi$h and play here with ten gazillion other Playboy$ of the We$tern World, not to mention all the young men who drive the mine's-bigger-than-yours
Cabo San Lucas harbor at sunset. Several cruising friends were anchored there.
A couple of sailors (Kyra and Rick aboard Nyon) who are ahead of us commented on an earlier post that they were experiencing “the insanity of Cabo.” Before arriving we thought, hmmm, what could that mean? It’s probably a busy harbor, but c’mon… insane? You be the judge. We anchored next to two giant cruise ships carrying 5000 passengers each. Imagine 10,000 passengers all needing something to do on their day in port. (And sometimes there are three cruise ships.)
This ship (one of several large tour boats) passed close enough for its guests to take decent photographs of our galley.
Now imagine, all at once, running through the harbor at top speed, half a dozen parasail boats towing chunky sunburned tourists way up in parachutes, plus forty or fifty water taxis, twenty glass-bottom boats, three giant catamaran tour boats, a dozen rental hobie cats, and a hundred fifty jet skis. Oh, and two large dredges working the mouth of the marina entrance. That doesn’t include several thousand revelers on the beach listening to nonstop decibel-crushing disco music with DJs yelling “Everyone! Dooooo a shot!” The music roars every night until around 3:00 am. I don’t know about you, but it felt like sanity was at a premium.
After we were charged $18 to merely drop anchor in the harbor, and after we commiserated with our friends Rob and Kai on Velella Velella about the jet skis roaring through the anchored boat area at blinding speeds and a hobie cat nearly T-boning us, they remarked, “Of course we all know each and every operator is a sober, competent adult.”
The photo above shows the second pass of one of those sober, competent adults. We decided to see if we could afford to tie up at the dock in the inner harbor. If those dudes want to play the game of Natural Selection, it isn’t going to be with our boat. So we went into the marina. Ahhh, peace. It’s a relative thing, but this is good. Only ten radios blasting staccato trumpet salsa and disco tunes overlain with John Denver and Bing Crosby hits at top volume in here. We can dig that, in a clockwork orange-y sort of way. Last night we heard thumpa, thumpa, thumpety thumpa, THANK GOD I'M A COUNTRY BOY, I'mmmmm dreaming, of a THUMPA THUMPA Whiiiiiite Christmas... Seriously folks, PsyOps has nothing to compare with the Cabo Inner Harbor.
Marina rates are about the same as we paid at Sausalito, and the facilities and service are excellent, though here it's all powerboat all the time. (We're so different on our little pocket cruiser that people break into grins when they see us.) Marina rates are based on some formula that includes the square footage a boat occupies, rather than just length, so the bigger the boat slip needed, the higher the cost escalates. Friends Tom and Jean aboard Eagle, a 36-foot cutter, were quoted $176 US for one night, which is insane, but for some reason we’re only paying $40 for our 24-footer. If we want to stay longer, we could get a monthly rate, but we’re pretty doggone sure we’ll get our fill of Cabo very soon, and head for La Paz for Christmas. There’s a kind of Las Vegas feel in Cabo, but if you can get into the energy flow (and out of jet-ski range) it’s loads of fun. For example, we submit Exhibit A (or, perhaps, Exhibit D):
You know, you’d think the good folks who make these shirts would make them in sizes where it really does matter, but noooo… Karen couldn’t find one to fit, dang it.
People-watching is great sport here. We walked all along the malecon (harborfront pedestrian walk) and enjoyed the mix of locals and visitors. Especially good were some of the genuinely creative routines used by Mexican vendors on the steady stream of passersby. This reminded Karen of an Alaskan sport called combat fishing, as these vendors lined up elbow to elbow and obviously enjoyed setting their hooks. We’ve already become accustomed to restaurants placing enthusiastic waiters outside who wave menus at you, begin to herd you into their establishment and say stuff like, “You MUST be hungry, we have the BEST food, and I have a great table for you!” We always smile and say no, gracias, or thank you, maybe later.
At 10:30 in the morning one guy said, “It’s happy hour!” To which we replied “Yes, and we ARE happy!” (This got a laugh.) Another waiter smiled, “You will LOVE our fish tacos!” and when Jim replied, “But we’re SO FULL!” the waiter laughed and thwacked him lightly with the menu. A salsa band played a Neil Diamond song in one restaurant, “Let it Snow” wafted through palm trees from the next, and as I write this, the theme song from Love Boat is competing with “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees and a man singing “New York New York” in Spanish rather well. Vegas, Baby! (In a clockwork orange-y sort of way.) It’s amazing how one can sleep through a truly earsplitting but happy cacophony of music blasting you into the next morning. You get about 3 hours of quiet before the panga and sportfish boat drivers show up and turn on their radios. But we’re not complaining.
Here are sculptural directions to the local brewpub. Cabo has it all. Question is, do we want it?
Earlier in the day as we walked the malecon, a jewelry vendor called out to Jim, who was wearing his spiffy straw cowboy hat, “Hey! Aren’t you Indiana Jones?” This guy we liked, but we still didn’t buy anything. Another dude, a real charmer, walked up to two cruise ship women just behind us and tried to sell them boxes of Cuban cigars. They politely said no thank you, and he replied, but Senoras, they’d make such good gifts for your husbands! The women tried to demur, but then he walked between them grinning like a gigolo, and said, “I cook, I clean, and I don’t need Viagra!” This busted us all up. A couple in front of us seemed a bit dazed (we think they were from the Carnival cruise ship) when a man walked out of a jewelry store directly up to the couple, turned to the wife and said, “I’ve been waiting for you. Come on in.” She complied and followed. Her husband called after her, “Do you want to go in there?” and she said over her shoulder, “I THINK so!”
We selected a restaurant for lunch, and a strolling musician came over to our table. “What shall I play for you, something nice and romantic?” he asked. “How about La Cucaracha?” replied Jim, but upon seeing Karen’s expression, the musician wisely offered Besame Mucho. Oh yes, said Karen, who then sang harmony with him. Not knowing how much to tip, Jim pulled out ten pesos, but the guy muttered “Poco!” so Jim gave him another five. Who knew?
Craig McPheeters of Luckness (from Seattle) caught up with us after a nonstop solo sail from Ensenada to Cabo. He sleeps for only 20 minutes at a time when he's underway. The guy’s indefatigable.
Rob and Kai of Velella Velella stopped by for a late visit, with their 4 jerrycans of fuel.
Port Townsend friends, be sure to ask Rob and Kai to tell you about the Great Diesel Caper.
Carpe Zarpe: In Cabo, the next official Port of Entry, we sought the advice of a ship’s agent on the Zarpe matter. He said that there should be no problem because it’s obvious from the Import Permit and other papers that we’re legally in the country. Plus we declared our presence to the Port Captain already by supplying our ship’s papers to the marina manager, who is authorized to accept such declarations. And the marina manager didn’t ask for the Zarpe. But we will take care of this in La Paz, where we intend to stay for awhile and won’t be driven loony by extended nights of earsplitting Salsa-Bing-BeeGees-Let-it-Snow music.
Inkslingin’: Karen’s article “Unshrinking the Planet” was published in the December issue of 48 North magazine. Her comedy article “Rode Show!” will be published in the January issue of Good Old Boat.
Speaking of ink… When a squid gets stuck to your deck, has it been suckered?
Speaking of landing on deck… when flying fish fly, are they a school or a flock? One landed on deck, but Karen’s pretty sure Jim stepped on it in the night while doing a sail change because it was too grisly to photograph and show you in the blog.
And speaking of pelicans whose beaks can hold more than their bellycans, kids, don’t try this at home. We took a sequence of shots of this young pelican, 3 feet from our boat, trying to swallow a 2 ½ foot-long tuna carcass discarded by a fisherman. It succeeded after about fifteen minutes, but both of us were in a state of astounded indigestion when it finally did. It was so extraordinary that we’re going to add a new side page, an ongoing record of our favorite critter shots.
Finally, inquiring minds want to know: do sleeping whales snore?