Sunday, March 11, 2012
Adios, Mexico! Hello, Pacific!
to call this planet "Earth,"
when it is quite clearly...
-Arthur C. Clarke, 2001
Ready for sea: The dinghy is rolled up in the blue bag on the foredeck. The yellow cover is for the two 5-gallon water bags. We left La Paz a few days ago and sailed 145 miles to the southern tip of Baja, our jumping-off point.
Time to open the next chapter of this Excellent Adventure. We’re in San Jose del Cabo, just inside a breakwater on which the surf booms from the vast Pacific. We plan to jump offshore on Tuesday March 13, when the wind’s forecast to be a nice 18 knots. Karen asked Jim if leaving on the 13th when it’s not a Friday is an issue for him, and he replied that it’s bad luck to be superstitious.
Sockdolager and Luckness say goodbye at San Jose del Cabo. Luckness is sailing for Hawaii on Tuesday.
We’ll try to do a better job about posting during this part of the voyage. You wouldn’t believe it anyway if I told you why it’s been so long since the last post. Nobody in winter-land is going to believe that even in mañana-land, cruisers actually do (gasp) real work! Oh what the heck, here goes:
1. Jim scrubbed the boat’s bottom to make it slick;
2. Jim made several trips up the mast to inspect rigging, and we re-reeved the internal genoa halyard because he discovered a bit of chafe at the mast tang bolt. We also chafe-proofed everything.
3. Gathering, filling and stowing various water containers to augment our 40-gallon tank to about 58 gallons total took awhile, because any time we take on water we hook up a double filter between the hose and the tank--because the water in most places outside the US requires filtering to be potable.
4. We inspected, emptied and re-stowed items in the cockpit and other lockers, re-arranged things for weight balance, and transferred some items around according to what’s most needed offshore.
Now c’mon folks, if this doesn’t elicit your sympathy, what’ll it take? Nothing shows you care about maintenance like Boat Yoga.
5. Karen tried to finish various canvas projects. She didn't completely succeed. Things that will have to be finished at sea: The table sleeve for easy dining while the boat rolls, the water-catching mast funnel.
6. We spent time getting our weather navigation acts (including celestial) in order with chart swaps and inventory, course planning, studying, and consulting with other cruisers who are also about to sail this route.
7. Karen made at least 8 major shopping expeditions for food, plus did a bunch of meal planning. Transforming the V-berth into a pantry wasn't exactly a cakewalk, either.
8. Both of us caught miserable colds, which slowed us down a bit. Okay okay, I'm trolling here.
In the event that any of the above begins to bear the slightest resemblance to a whine, please accept this categorical refutation: It beats all hell out of an office.
Sorry, Downwind Marine, but Jim changed his T-shirt. Sorry, Hasse, but he customized yours.
The first three or four days offshore will involve getting used to the motion and the routine of watch-on, watch-off, 4 hours each in good weather and three hours if it’s rough.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it is:
Don’t worry. This is what we WANT to do! (Concerned Aunties and 48 North Readers who caused the Editor to write us a where-the-hell-are-you email, this means YOU!)
Sorry, everyone, but sometimes this is what “work” looks like.
Wanna listen in? Anyone with a single sideband or Ham radio can tune into frequency 8 Alpha at 6PM Pacific Time, (frequencies 8 and 6A being backups) as this is the Pacific Puddle Jump net, organized and run by the boats themselves. We’ll be giving each other our positions and weather info as we cross. Many of us will also be checking in on the Pacific Seafarer’s Net, the schedule for which you can find here.
We rented a room for one night at the local resort, and we took 4 showers each. Because we could. Don't worry, we didn't sleep in the shower.
Okay, back to the food thing. Remember the newly coined phrase “culinary porn”? It’s hard to believe the amount of food we have stuffed aboard this little boat. Meals could be positively Bacchanalian once we get used to the motion and Karen masters the art of chasing food around the cabin. In fact, she could actually be considered a Professional Shopper, in the tinier-than-miniscule event she ever wanted to be. The manager of the La Paz Mega grocery store now greets her with a handshake and a “Welcome back, my GOOD friend!” whenever she enters the store. He checks on her progress, and intervenes grandly when the security guard asks her to check her backpack. Two other cruisers who happened to find Francisco (the manager) and mention that they, too, are friends of Karen’s, were given the royal red carpet treatment.
The umpteenth load of food for Karen and her new friend, Vicki of Southern Cross.
We’re trying a grand experiment which, if it works, will result in some fine dining. According to Michael Greenwald in The Cruising Chef Cookbook, you can preserve meat without refrigeration by marinating it. He said he served up a roast beef he’d prepared like this after it had spent 60 days in the bilge, and nobody died. We have a fridge but no freezer, so Karen figured keeping the marinating meat cool in the bottom of the fridge would be a plus. She taxied to the local farmer's market/carniceria looking for tender beef, which is darned hard to find in Mexico. Our vegan friends might want to skip the next paragraph, which is rather graphic.
A nicely wrapped fresh 5-lb whole filet mignon (larger than a Super Bowl football) appeared, so Karen bought TWO of them. Ten pounds of filet mignon for less than 40 bucks US—what’s not to like? Gleefully, she carted them home. After cutting them into 18 steaks and trimming off all excess, 16 steaks were briefly seared in a very hot dry frying pan, searing all sides to destroy bacteria. Then each steak was held up with sterile tongs until it cooled enough to drop into a quart-sized Ziploc bag, which was then filled with canola oil, enough to completely cover the meat. She dropped a garlic clove and a pinch of rosemary into each bag, and using a straw, sucked all the air out and sealed it. Air is what causes spoilage, so the theory goes. A second quart sized Ziploc bag was slipped over each packet as insurance against leakage, and the air was sucked out and that bag sealed, too. Finally, a gallon-sized Ziploc was used to contain two steaks each for easy retrieval. She carefully lined all the bags up in the bottom of the fridge where they won't get smushed. All that oil would be icky if it leaked out, and more than 3 liters were used. The last 2 steaks we ate that night, and they were gooood. We’ve saved a bottle of Bordeaux wine, and if we cross the Equator in good weather it might be a splendiferous, carnivorous, lip-smackin’ delight on the ole Sockdolager. We had one of the steaks after a week in the fridge, and we didn’t die.
Okay, it’s now safe for our vegan friends to rejoin us. We understand that food, especially meat, is exorbitant in French Polynesia, like 10 times US prices, so it's worth experimenting. One account said that a head of cabbage cost ten dollars. Yeesh. But French cheese, bread and wine are supposedly reasonable there, so who cares! We’ll truly miss the amazing food we found here in Mexico.
We’ll miss the wacky wildlife, too. Here are 4 manta rays jumping straight up out of the water. They do this all day and all night, flipping and somersaulting with such abandon that even a grouch would crack a smile. These mantas ranged from 3 to 6 feet in wing span, but we're told that they can get to over twenty feet wide. Makes you think twice about dinghy trips if one of those suckahs is around, eh?
Here’s a boat our Port Townsend friends will recognize: Zulu, veteran of the Wooden Boat Festival and the South Seas, bound south again.
Time for songs: One of the finest things is meeting other like-minded people who are going to sail the same piece of ocean and are as frenetic as we are in preparations. But there have been some mighty fine evenings of relaxation, good meals, laughter and even singing, too. Patrick and Kirsten from a lovely Cabo Rico 38 named Silhouette made us a delicious mango curry one evening, and we’ve gone out on the town with other friends on occasion, too. Silhouette is making a stop in the Galapagos before heading to the Marquesas.
Here are the crews from 4 “Puddle Jumpers” or boats that are crossing the Pacific this year, enjoying a rousing chantey chorus aboard Sockdolager.
Crews include: Mark and Vicki from Southern Cross; Chris and Rani from Ladybug; and Patrick and Kirsten from Silhouette.
Excellent, Dahling: The crew of Wild Rose, a gorgeous wooden Cheoy Lee Robb 35, invited us to dinner and officially inducted us into the Sour Grapes Yacht Club, “…with full rights, duties and responsibilities therein,” which we think includes flying the flag in exotic places while waiting for someone to ask us about the club’s legendary illustriousness, the sum total of which we were given free rein to "embroider." Don and Kathy, we hope to meet up with you again!
We flew the SGYC flag until a gale blew in (again, at Los Muertos) and we took it down to keep it safe until next time.
The crew of Ladybug also invited us to dinner, (Woo Hoo!) and we laughed so hard my stomach hurt the next day. We look forward to meeting up again with Clover, Ladybug, Southern Cross, Silhouette, Estrellita, Zulu, Pandion, Buena Vista, and other “Puddle Jumpers” in the Marquesas.
Here’s Shane Barry of the wooden Lapworth 36, Clover. See you in Tahiti Nui!
Weather studies: Here’s a sample, above, of one of the weather charts you can download from NOAA’s web site. This is what's called a GRIB file, showing wind direction and color-coded speed. The white area near the Equator is the area to pay close attention to, as it can balloon out to 300 miles one day and shrinks to less than 100 the next. While we can get this information via our Ham radio, some of these files are big so we're selective in what we download at sea with that teensy baud rate on the ship's modem.
Here's another chart showing where the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is, in red, with isobars from the North Pacific High in turquoise. The ITCZ is the belt near the Equator, of hot steamy calms punctuated by gale-force thunderstorms; the kind of place one does not linger in. The ITCZ is where boats expect to use their fuel so as not to get caught in too many windy squalls. But hey, it’ll be WARM rain, right? Wait, I'm from the Pacific Northwest; what's warm rain?
Navigation: The straight line distance from Cabo San Lucas to the Marquesas in French Polynesia is 2,610 miles. But sailboat courses tend to zigzag across wave faces and sail by the wind, so the actual distance we’ll sail will likely be closer to 3,000 miles. Ironically, longer distances can mean shorter sailing times because you’re using rather than fighting the winds. We’re planning on a 30 day passage and have emergency provisions for 45. We’re hoping for a 25 day crossing, but should any worry creep into your thoughts, refer to your mission in the second paragraph above. To further allay worry, we do have emergency equipment aboard, such as notification beacons (EPIRB and via SSB radio) plus a life raft, and pre-arranged contacts ashore who’d be notified by the Coast Guard in the event a beacon was ever activated.
Here’s a Great Circle chart with our course on it. When plotting very long courses you need to take the Earth’s curvature into consideration; otherwise you could introduce an error. Great Circle charts are Gnomonic rather than Mercator projections; just as on a globe, latitude lines on a Great Circle chart are parallel, but longitude lines converge at the Poles. A Mercator projection, which is what we’re all used to, makes longitude lines more parallel than they really are, thus introducing distortion. All meridians of longitude are Great Circles, but the only parallel of latitude that’s a Great Circle is the Equator. Cool, no? So when you look at a Great Circle chart just pretend it’s round, and it will make more sense.
Notice (if you can see them) the little tick marks along our penciled course; each one is about 60 miles. Note how much closer they are together along the Equator. This stuff was all figured out hundreds of years ago, which gives us an awed respect for navigators who never had satellites and other gizmos. Karen’s celestial navigation skills are miniscule in comparison to theirs, but are enough to get us home if need be, without electronics.
Cappy steers a straight course with a smokin' wake.
The best course to sail from Mexico to the Marquesas is not the shortest distance; it’s S-shaped. To sail from Mexico to the Marquesas, we’ll stay in the Northeast Trades on a southwesterly heading, aiming for a point about 5 degrees north, 130 degrees west. Once near there, we’ll look for opportunities to dart straight south through the Intertropical Convergence Zone, meeting the SE trades on the other side. Weather-faxes via our radio will tell us where the ITCZ edges are, and how wide it is. Most ITCZ crossings are made at around 126-129 degrees of longitude.
Here’s a pilot chart of the North Pacific Ocean showing the northern hemisphere part of our route in orange. Of course, the last several hundred miles are not on this chart because they’ll be in the South Pacific Ocean, which is covered by another pilot chart. The blue spots are “wind roses” and give a huge amount of weather info for every 5 degree square of ocean. Pilot charts are what sailors use for passage planning, so if you’re interested, google the term and learn a lot in a short time!
Here's a sign that we never figured out. These were all over, even painted in parking lots, but nowhere was there any explanation of them. Probably a gathering spot for emergencies.
Sense of community, or maybe not: There is a local yachty dockside hangout at Marina de La Paz called Club Cruceros. It has a small clubhouse, a nice lending library, and they serve coffee in the mornings after the daily radio net that offers weather, swaps and trades, local info, etc. Lots of permanent liveaboards and snowbirds use the club, and it’s a nice asset to the cruising community. They’ve recently done a survey, results of which will be released in May, revealing the rather large economic contribution of cruising boats to the local economy—something like an average of US $5000 per boat! Some Club Cruceros members liaise with La Paz’s business and government leaders, and they really get it when it comes to being good citizens. The problem is that we encountered more than enough members who don’t get it and can be very insular and downright rude. Public mockery of unusual boat names is just one example of behavior that left a bad taste in the mouth for more than a few transient cruising boats. It’s unbecoming and damaging to the good efforts of their organization, and discourages new membership. ‘Nuff said.
Carnaval: We loved walking around La Paz during their annual Carnaval, kind of a cross between Mardi Gras, a real carnival, and a fabulous children’s playground. This is one of six or seven stages, all fully equipped with HUGE sound systems.
Sampling tidbits of unusual Mexican cuisine and strolling along the booth-filled Malecon through the crowds on a warm evening, we stopped when Jim noticed a sign. “Tacos de la cabeza!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what those are?”
“The Spanish words mean tacos of the head,” ventured Karen. “But that doesn’t make much sense. Are they, like, maybe, SmartTacos for improving your intellectual capacity?”
“Nope,” said Jim, who once worked with a Mexican family on an avocado farm and was treated to the preparation and enjoyment of this Mexican specialty. A young man lifted the lid of a huge boiling kettle, revealing an entire… um, well, cow’s head in there. Yep. Tacos of the head means you boil up a whole cow’s head and use the fine meat from the skull. “YUM!” said Jim, as the young man dished out a particularly choice part of the cow’s head and prepared it for him. “OH WOW!” said Jim, slurping his Head Taco as Craig from Luckness and I watched in half disbelief. I mean, this is a man who won’t eat oatmeal because he thinks it’s too slimy. Seriously. We sampled a tiny bit and pronounced it “interesting.”
Danny, the young Mexican man behind the grill and simmering pot, laughed gently at our reluctance, and was delightful with his excellent English. We enjoyed talking with him for a quarter hour or so, learning that his family is from Veracruz and that that he and his wife had an 8 month-old baby asleep in a carriage at the back of his booth. His eyes lit up when he spoke of little Daniela. But then: “She’s had two operations,” he said, and we were saddened. “I hope to take her to Shriner’s Hospital in the US.”
“Do you have an appointment at Shriner’s Hospital?” I asked. No, he didn’t, but he hoped to be able to get one. I replied, “You must do everything you can to get her to Shriner’s Hospital.” Suddenly, Danny, the proud papa, looked at me and said, “Would you like to see my beautiful baby?”
“Oh, but she’s sleeping, I don’t want to wake her up,” I said, but Danny was already walking, motioning and saying “Come, come,” so I followed him into the booth’s back corner. He lifted the blanket that protected Daniela from the chill night air, and there lay a tiny girl with the most expressive huge dark eyes I have ever seen. She was the size of a newborn, though, and at eight months that’s not good. When Daniela blinked those eyes, they rolled all the way up and just the whites showed for a second before her eyes returned to their normal position. Danny lifted a small coverlet that revealed two short surgical tubes emerging from her body; one in her throat and the other in her left side. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I tried to hide them. Danny saw this and said it’s okay, it’s okay, and I realized he’s comforting me about his dying baby. What is wrong in a world where, when the medical care wealthy Americans take for granted is unavailable elsewhere, babies die? I said, she’s so beautiful, thank you for showing her to me, and he smiled.
Jim, Craig and I walked about a hundred paces, then I ran back, opening my purse and pulling out all the big bills—not nearly enough, but at least a gesture of some sort, maybe love. I rolled the bills in my palm, walked to the grill, and extended my hand to Danny, who was cooking meat. He looked up, puzzled. Holding my arm over the grill, I said, “For Daniela,” and as he reached his hand tentatively toward mine, I dropped the roll of bills in it. He looked down, saw the money, and tears sprang to his eyes. I needed to walk away quickly. As I turned to go, Danny blew me a teary kiss and whispered, thank you, thank you. I blew him a teary kiss, too.