Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Off to Hawaii and BC

Tis the night before Rani leaves and all through the boat, pandemonium reigns.

We have been in Mazatlan for nearly a week and have been busy transferring our worldly possessions from Ladybug to Ladybug II, prepping Ladybug II for a summer to be spent here, making ready to sail Ladybug to Hawaii, packing for Rani's trip to BC, and socializing with fellow cruisers and the friendly marina staff.

It took about two days to clear out Ladybug and stow everything in the new boat. On Ladybug, most items were stored in Rubbermaid totes because she lacks dedicated storage spaces but in the new boat there are all sorts of small odd-shaped storage areas into which we have had to squeeze our lives.

To leave a boat in Mexico, you must anticipate blazing sunshine, torrential rain, humidity, hurricanes, insect infestations, nesting swallows, and intense heat. We removed all the external lines and fed them into the mast and boom or stowed them in lockers. Rani is currently taping tinfoil and cloth blinds on all 11 opening ports (it took all afternoon to locate long-life masking tape in Mazatlan – eventually found at the Walmart). We lashed down the dinghy and covers, and tied several extra dock lines with rubber shock absorbers. We also used the huge fender we found floating off San Carlos as a hurricane precaution. All sails are safely stowed in the V-berth after being washed and dried earlier in the week. Tony – a local expatriate Brit will be looking after her while we are away (he runs a boat-watching service).

Ladybug now has only the bare minimum in supplies and spares to get her back to BC. It is amazing how much stuff we had on her and she now floats quite a lot higher! I will be shopping tomorrow for provisions, so that should sink her back down a little. I thought I would be sailing alone to Hawaii but there is a chance that a fellow from Sidney, BC will fly into Cabo San Lucas and join me for this leg. I hope that a friend from school in Victoria will meet Ladybug in Hawaii for the second leg back to BC. I plan to leave on Saturday so that gives me two days more to prepare. Cabo is about 3 days away and then it will be about 4 weeks before we reach Hilo Hawaii, if all goes well. The trip from Cabo may be to windward initially but when we reach the trade winds we should have north easterly winds following us.

Rani flies out tomorrow on US Airways, assuming the Swine flu pandemic does not ground the flight. People are wearing masks here in the streets, but there are no local cases as we are 100's of miles away from Mexico city. She will be working as soon as she gets back to Duncan and is really looking forward to seeing her friends again.

We threw a party yesterday on Ladybug II for some of our 'dock mates' and the marina staff. Rani spoke lots of Spanish and I nodded and smiled and served cake and punch. People seemed to enjoy Rani's curry, rotis, and humous, which are novelties here.

Here are a few pics from Los Muertos that really go with the last posting:

The Train Room at "Grand Sueno" resort

Pool and suite at the same resort

Rani admiring the reflecting pool.

Archeological dig at Los Muertos

Ardy and Marv (off Odyssey) at Los Muertos

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back in Mazatlan

Well we finally returned to Mazatlan, our friends who run the Singlar marina, and little Ladybug. First a bit about our sailing (my friend Jamie Orr has pointed out that we have remarkably little about sailing on this blog!)

We sailed south from La Paz with our friends Marv and Ardy, who are cruising on a Peterson 44. Our first stop was Caleta Lobos, which we reached ahead of Odyssey by about an hour. The winds were light and in our face, so we tacked across La Paz Bay with our big genoa and main (reefing the main as the wind built to around 20 knots). Our Monitor windvane steered the boat without a problem, so long as we made sure to keep the weather helm light (i.e., by reefing the main and letting it out on the traveller). We made up some score cards from sheets of paper towel to greet Odyssey as she came in to anchor. I gave her a 5.7 (the Russian judge) and Rani, a 5.9 (Canada) for her anchoring drill. Marv and Ardy are a good team and make it look easy.

Odyssey got us back the next day by beating us into the anchorage at Los Muertos by an hour and rating our less than well-oiled anchoring drill with their own score cards. The trip to Muertos began early in the morning with a few hours of motoring, but around mid-morning, a wind filled in behind and we were soon rolling downwind with partly furled jib winged out on a pole and the main on the opposite side. Again, the wind vane steered her quite well although she wandered a bit as the larger waves twisted her off course. We had winds well in excess of 20 knots - the most we have experienced with the new boat. She does seem to be a bit more solid and comfortable than the Cal, although there is surprisingly little difference between the two.

Los Muertos is a great anchorage, with the best snorkeling I have ever done on a small coral reef just off the large beach. In the crystal water, we saw many schools of colorful fish darting amongst corals and rocks, waving fronds of seaweed, and sea slugs on the sand bottom. Later, we enjoyed touring a very upscale Hacienda/hotel with stables, pools, 18 hole golf course (a bizarre contrast in this arid dessert) and a huge room full of model trains. Suites go for around $2500 US a night, so we limited ourselves to a beer each and had supper at a restaurant at the far end of the beach. The next day I baked a banana loaf and some fresh bread for our crossing. We said our goodbyes to Odyssey for this cruising season and look forward to seeing our friends again in the Sea next season.

The crossing from Muertos was much slower than our last crossing of the Sea (53 hours - about 20 hours more than last time) due to light winds that had us close hauled nearly the whole trip. The wind vane once again did an decent job of steering despite some big cross swells, but was no help during the periods of motoring (7 hours total) that we were forced into when the wind disappeared completely. We saw a few grey whales in the distance but there was surprisingly little wildlife on this crossing. We arrived late at night and had a stressful entrance through the narrow shoaling breakwater entrance, although it helped that we have been here before! We will investigate installing an autopilot to steer our new boat while under motor.

When we reached Mazatlan, we received a warm welcome from the staff at the Singlar Marina where Ladybug has spent the last few months. We are now tied up beside Ladybug and are beginning to load our possessions on the new boat and clean up Ladybug for the trip up north. There is another couple here who plan to sail to Vancouver via Hawaii in the next 2 weeks and I will compare notes with them on the crossing. Rani flies home to BC in a week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cruising in Paradise

See pictures at end of the post...

I feel as though we have finally arrived in the Sea of Cortez that I have read about and dreamt of during the last few months. We have anchored in the sheltered waters of Agua Verde, El Gato, Isla San Francisco, and Isla Partida. All along the Baja coast are green water coves with white powder beaches that invite bare feet, and reefs that entice snorkelers with corals and tropical fish.

At Puerto Escondido, we hiked through Steinbeck's Canyon dwarfed by giant boulders which had tumbled down from the mountains of the El Gigante range during the rains. We did not find the big horned sheep that Steinbeck described in his log from the Sea of Cortez, but the dry chutes of the canyon, fringed by palms and the imposing walls of multi-coloured rock, were awe-inspiring.

Chris shocked me by shaving his head the previous night, something he had meant to do for a very long time. The fact that he had done it in the shower with blunt scissors and left random tufts of hair did not make it very attractive. We tidied it up the next morning and as he scaled the walls and boulders in the canyon, he looked like Spiderman – see photos.

Our next anchorage in paradise was Agua Verde, aptly named as the water is truly green. We spent several days hiking the rocky bluffs and relaxing on the beautiful beaches. The water was so clear and shallow that we could see a sailboat wreck with the naked eye. The village of Agua Verde was typically Mexican with goats and chickens running around in the dusty streets, little kids shouting “ Hola” and people sitting around chatting in front of their homes.
Another couple, Keith and Debbie, came over with us to buy groceries at a little tienda where we stocked up on fresh vegetables and fruit.

We walked past a small farm with tiny piglets peeking out of their pens, kid goats bleating, and turkeys chasing each other. There was a cheese-maker across the road and we bought a couple of wheels of goat cheese for less than 3 dollars each to share with friends on another boat, the Faulkener family on Windfall. The Faulkeners, Jim and Meri, with kids Tim and Carolyne, have sold their small farm and an internet business in Colorado to sail for a few years. Strangely enough, they are thinking of emigrating to Nova Scotia (where Chris is from). Chris and I met with them for a glass of wine that evening to discuss the merits of farming on the east coast and found we had much in common.

From Agua Verde we sailed to Los Gatos, the azure waters of the bay backed by beautiful red bluffs. In the evening sun, the rounded salmon, pink and red coloured rocks at the base of the more jagged cliffs looked like soft pillows. We met a single-hander, George, a retired anthropologist and teacher from Yellowknife, who recognised Brisa and told us that he had made an offer to buy her a couple of years ago.

Our next anchorage was Punta Napolo, a tiny cove with one house and several pangas running in and out. We rowed ashore and met Angel, a lovely old man who showed us around his house and garden in which he grew tomatillos ( little green tomatoes ), onions and a few other vegetables. It was a very tidy little place and we were impressed that he had even raked the sand outside. He pointed us to a trail which led from the house to a dry river bed and we saw some burros and a two white horses watching us from the hills. We went to sleep that night listening to the braying of burros echoing in the arroyo.

En route to San Evaristo, we saw what appeared to be sharks' fins cutting the water around our boat. We were pretty excited by this, but later we realized that the fins were the wing tips of large manta rays. We are not sure why they swim close to the surface but enjoyed watching them cruise about the boat, jumping clear of the water and doing back flips. For the record, we did see what was clearly a small shark leaping out of the water. What was chasing it we did not find out.

San Evaristo has a large bay with a small village and salt pans still in operation. There were kayaks and tents set up in a small tourist operation at one end of the beach and pangas dotted along the length of the main beach. The village had a small tienda where we bought fresh vegetables and we enjoyed a walk to the salt pans and the wind swept beach to the north.

Isla San Francisco's 'The Hook' is a very popular anchorage with motor yachts and sailboats since it is easy distance from La Paz. Its gorgeous crescent beach and warm water is very attractive. Of course, we opted to hike the ridge for a birds' eye view of the whole bay. On the walk back to the boat we met some people dining under the a canopy and found out how the other half lives. They were cruising on a 130 ft yacht with a crew of 14 tending to 8 guests
in total and the owner was shocked when Chris told him we did not have any deck hands to help us on our 34 ft sailboat! Chris made the mistake of telling him that I was his deckhand and that he had bought me over the internet :)

The next 2 islands south, Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo, are a National Geographic spread when viewed from a satellite. A sandy shoal divides one from the other and fingers of mountains along their west coast separate the stunning bays of clear blue-green water. Their only drawback is the nightly Corumel wind which blows from Baja

We stayed 3 nights in the islands and then sailed down to La Paz where we are currently anchored near Marina La Paz. We were met by our friends Marv and Ardy on “ Odyssey” as we arrived and we all enjoyed a night on the town, our first big city since Mazatlan. Chris is working hard on water-proofing the portlights for leaving Brisa in Mazatlan over the summer.

Yesterday we met the owner of the only other Coast 34 we know of in Mexico. Jackie and Mike are from Vancouver and came down the Baja last year after living on board Angelique for 14 years. Mike has gone home to work while Jackie prepares the boat for transporting back to B.C. through Dockwise, a shipping company with floating storage for yachts. The interior of Angelique was quite different from Brisa even though it was finished only 2 years later.

La Paz is a gorgeous town and we are looking forward to spending a few more days here.

Cathedral in La Paz

Sand sculpture in La Paz

Mermaid bronze on La Paz Malecon

Part of Rani's shell collection

Sunset at Isla Partida

Ensenada Grande anchorage

Hiking on Isla Partida

El Cardonal, Isla Partida

Climbing through a hole, Isla Partida

Cross over our anchorage - Isla Partida

Coral tower, Isla San Francisco

On the peak at Isla San Francisco

Panorama - Isla San Francisco

Peak trail - Isla San Francisco

Colourful rocks - Isla San Francisco

Sunset - Isla San Francisco

Chicken escaping a nosy dog - San Evaristo

Burros on the salt pans - San Evaristo

Paper nautilus shell - San Evaristo

Salt pans - San Evaristo

Red rocks - El Gato

Oasis - Agua Verde

Agua Verde anchorage

Climbing at Agua Verde

Balancing rock at Agua Verde

The Faulkner family at Agua Verde

Agua Verde turkey practicing for Thanksgiving escape.

Goats at Agua Verde (we bought cheese from their milk)

Chris's new cut

Puerto Escondido El Gigante mountains

Rani signing up for the marines.

Climbing in Steinbeck's Canyon

Hiking in Steinbeck's canyon

Leaping in Steinbeck's canyon