The sun is creeping over Isla de Piedra, bathing the anchorage in a haze of bright gold. The fishing boat captains are yelling to one another crude greetings, loading equipment and sleepy eyed tourists into their well-used powerboats. The cries of seagulls and pelicans intermingle with the high-pitched warbling of assorted tropical species filling the abundant greenery. Our valero "Gitane" is slowly stretching her docklines awake as the morning fleet speeds past our med-mooring and out of the harbor. Winter has reached us here in Mazatlan. The thin sheet on our bed is soon to be replaced with a fluffy down comforter; it may just be part of the norther that's blowing, but the temperate gauge has steadily dropped and is at this moment resting at 65' and that's inside! Get out the jackets and ski poles! How do you say, "acclimatization?" It is actually a welcomed chill; Christmas is in less than one week and though snow will not be probable in this tropical locale, the need for a sweater is definite and comforting.
I now must apologize to everyone for not having written sooner. I cannot truthfully say that I had no time, seeing as J and I have an amplitude of time on our hands between fixing and cleaning and maintaining the boat, doing errands, learning Spanish, and socializing with other cruisers, but I didn't know what to write yet. I guess this early morning bliss of coffee and cake and goldeness above has inspired me. (and now that I have just finished the first installment of this pseudo-epic, I apologize for the mailbox-jamming and/or 'cant read it in one sitting without my boss finding out' size of it)
We started our journey down the coast with the "Baja Ha-Ha," an event we explained to most of you. It is an annual pilgrimage of sorts, those seeking sun and adventure and meeting up with like-minded cruisers, from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Baja CA. It took around two weeks with a couple of stops along the way in Bahia de Tortuga and Bahia Santa Maria. Our departure was a bit chaotic and poorly timed. San Diego was engulfed in smoke and flames the day after our going away party and as we ran from West Marine to Boat U/S to Downwind Marine to the Ha-Ha kickoff party, breathing and driving was becoming a bit more difficult and dangerous. Our plan was to drive to Ensenada that evening to ready the boat for departure the next day. Of course all our last minute, quite painful spending took longer than anticipated and we did not get back to my mom's house until around 8pm. We walked into the dark house with the only light emanating from a TV. The news was showing yet another apartment building burning to the ground as a reporter wrapped in a burn proof jacket rambled on about the ferocity of the raging inferno to the north. Needless to say, my family was not thrilled about the prospect of us leaving that night. In addition, we heard of fires plaguing Ensenada; we did not at that point know how close to town these fires were, but it made us anxious to get down there so we could simply cast off our lines and save our boat if need be. It also made us wary being that the fastest way to get down there is the toll road and if that was blocked by fire, it would be impossible and/or quite dangerous to use it. After much discussion, we loaded up the car and waved our goodbyes to the charred skyline of San Diego County as we crossed the border near midnight. The toll road was empty all the way down and only as we rounded the last hill into Ensenada was there any hint of wildfires- they were burning on the unpopulated hills above the city, and last we heard were of no threat to the town. We worked on readying the boat all of the next day, into the next night, constantly pushing back our departure time as one urgent last minute project or errand presented itself. Finally at 3am on October 28th, we started the engine, cast off our lines, and powered into the smoky darkness of early morning.
The first passage of 275 nautical miles was fairly uneventful; we were forced to motor the majority of the way due to lack of wind. Our only tense moments occurred the last night out. The first event confused us more than alarmed us; on the distant horizon, four bright lights were visible. As we approached, the lights remained in a seemingly straight line and we posited that they were fishing boats working as a team. I attempted to track their movements. We could have gone in between the boats, but the VHF was constantly abuzz with crews getting their rudders and props ensnared in fishing nets, having to dive under the boat in the pitch black, 60 miles offshore. We did not want to take our chances. (Of course, there was also that little paranoid voice in my head warning of ambushing pirates; was this a trap? The sensible part of my brain answered back, why would pirates light up their boats visible from 3 miles away?) It looked like they were stationary, so I pushed the tiller to port and seaward we went. After twenty minutes and no apparent progress around them (it actually seemed as if they were cutting us off or following us), I called J to the helm and we decided to change course and follow another cruiser heading toward land. This tactic, thankfully, was successful, and we realized that we had chosen the precise time that the pescadors had chosen to head their fleet out to sea. This may not sound incredibly stressful or requiring any brainpower, but in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean (ok, not quite in the middle, but out of sight of land in a foreign country, you might as well be) on a boat with a malfunctioning radio, things take on a whole new level of importance. The second event again had to do with those hardworking fisherman (most cruisers are aware of how laborious a career this is and how one chopped up net from an unsuspecting or ignorant boater can cost scarring amounts of time and money, but there is always that uncaring nimrod who doesn't bother to exercise caution or simply puts blades on their props to free their own lives from problems with nets). We were still following the other cruising boat from the previous adventure, Maryann II, with whom we have subsequently become good friends. Thinking that there was not a net between a fishing boat and its first marker buoy, they became tangled in the net trailing the fisherman, and warned us via VHF of their situation so that we had time to divert and go around all of the lit buoys. Luckily, the net ended up freeing itself from the rudder of Maryann II and no harm was done to either net or cruising boat.
We pulled into Turtle Bay the afternoon of October 30th , peeled off our salty damp clothes, scrubbed our sunburned, dirty faces, and lowered the dinghy into the water (our inflatable dinghy sits on our deck when doing passages so that it will not flip over or get ripped off the rope that ties it to the stern-plus it slows the boat down a great deal when left to trail). There was a party on shore at a local restaurant (it's a town of less than 1,000 people and the restaurant raised enough money last year from the Ha-Ha to build a disco area inside. I think it's the only restaurant big enough to accommodate the several hundred cruisers who participate in the rally- though we heard stories of people waiting four hours for food or not getting food at all due to the lack of servers staffed. One would hope they would hire more help for the few days the rally cruisers are in town, but maybe none is available. Who knows). J and I were excited to get to shore and start meeting fellow cruisers and have a beer- and then I climbed up into the sea-berth just for a minute, of course. That was around 6pm and we awoke around 6am the next morning, ready to disco. Although the passage was only two and a half nights and three days, it can be exhausting, especially when your body has not yet adjusted to the idea of night watches. We usually do two or three hours at a time- two if we are hand-steering the tiller, three if the autopilot is working. Or we try to stay up as long as we can to let the other person sleep. Once you get into an anchorage, the first priority, after securing the boat, of course, is usually resetting your internal clock with sleep.
That morning I stayed on the boat to attempt to reorganize the chaotic bowels that lay underneath the expanse of flush deck, while J dinghy-ed to the local fuel boat to fill our diesel jerry jugs with outrageously priced fuel (but understandable- it was hundreds of miles to the next mid-sized town). Everyone else in the rally was apparently thinking the same thing, so it took hours for J to return with two full five-gallon jugs. (We burned much more than ten gallons of fuel on the motor down, but decided to wait until Cabo to fill up, even though it would mean sailing the majority of the way. Of course we wanted to sail as much as possible and turn off that clunker in the stern, but if there wasn't any wind again, it would basically mean dropping out of the Ha-Ha. It turns out there was no need to worry about that dilemma during the next leg; the other extreme, however, that's the next story. As soon as J got back we opened up the engine room. I removed the broken hose clamps affixing the heat exchanger to its mount on the engine. Apparently the constant use of the engine convinced the clamps they just were not sturdy enough for the job and to shake themselves to self-destruction. I tried to replace them but our spares were all the wrong sizes and the same most-likely-going-to-bust-soon kind, so added new clamps to the shopping list. We overheard other boats discussing the auto parts stores in town and decided to dinghy in and wander around before heading to the Ha-Ha beach party scheduled for that afternoon. We motored to the town beach and were directed by the local boys which way to land to avoid certain submerged rocks. They also seemed to have a couple of separate dinghy watching operations going on, and when we chose the left side of the beach, those boys cheered while the others dragged their feet through the sand with dejected looks marring their young faces. A group of about ten boys helped us up onto the beach, carrying the dinghy, outboard and all, up past the waterline and informed us that security services would be one dollar after returning from town. We took the path from the beach past a small restaurant and onto the one main street of this dusty and faded town. There didn't seem to be much going on except for a couple of groups of small children shyly asking for candy with an outreached palm (it was Halloween, but unfortunately, we forgot the candy on the boat). We ambled down the dirt road to the auto parts store (not a huge selection, but surprisingly enough; they had most of what we needed among the tall metal shelves covered with random engine parts and jugs of oil). We stopped at a Pemex station to ask directions to the other autoparts store we had heard of, and the woman working there led us to her truck and told us to hop in, she would drive us there. I decided to go down to the beach while J rode over to the store (which was unfortunately on siesta at the time, so no luck with the remainder of the list). I met a fellow cruiser having a beer at the little restaurant on the beach, and he told me about his engine troubles and experiences down the coast before heading into town to search for parts. When J returned, we paid the boys their dollar and jumped into our dinghy, which wouldn't start at first. We rowed a bit further out and then tried the outboard a few more times, luckily with success. A quick change on the boat and we were ready for the beach party/potluck. All morning and into the afternoon, the grand poobah of the event, Richard, had been on the radio warning people about the shore break at the beach where the party was going strong. A real and serious danger is flipping the dink with the outboard running. Not only can you damage the engine, but a propeller flying through the air does not know that arms, legs, and face are not pleasant nor desired things to slice into. It sounded like someone had tested this theory a few years back, which is really scary considering Turtle Bay is hundreds of miles from a hospital. On the morning of our departure, someone had a serious allergic reaction that they had experienced before and were hospitalized for back in the states. After surveying their options, the crew put the victim in a taxi to Tijuana, for an 18 hour ride over unpaved road and then the transpeninsular highway. They didn't negotiate the price beforehand, so it ended up being about $500. Which is not that bad considering the distance, there and back for the driver, not to mention the fact that an ambulance ride in the states, even for five minutes, is almost a thousand bucks. I doubt the taxi driver would have taken insurance though. So anyway, we waited for the lull between the curls and went for the beach at the perfect time, with no threat of flipping. We had rowed in just in case, as we don't have a kill switch cord on our outboard. The party was winding down a little by the time we got there, but was still a lot of fun. We ate homemade ceviche and pasta and drank our warm Tecate beers while chatting with everyone else about adventures thus far. We hiked to the top of a bluff above the party spot and watched the sun sink behind the western hills. We scurried down the hill and over to our dinghy to leave before the darkness nestled itself between the bright desert stars. We were almost past the shore break, but were a little too slow and got tossed around and pretty wet as we climbed into our inflatable and slalomed through all the sturdy cruising boats anchored off the beach. Its such a joy to be around other boats that are cruising and look like it. In San Diego, especially in the marinas, the boats were either pristine with uncluttered decks and sparkling stainless, or, in the mooring fields and anchorages, falling into painfully obvious disrepair; we saw a couple of boats on their mooring balls missing planks in their hulls or with plywood permanently nailed to the hull as a patch! To dinghy through a calm bay with the brush-covered mountains in the background, through boat after boat adorned with jerry jugs and solar panels and "I'll get to that tomorrow" peeling varnish teak or spot covered stainless, affirmed the fact that, yes, we were finally cruising.
We left an hour before the rest of the fleet to get a little
head start, since our boat is relatively slow. We watched as a
hundred spinnakered boats barreled down on us. We don't have a
spinnaker (a large very light sail for going downwind), and at
that point the wind was too heavy for our drifter, so we had a
large headsail up, and alternated between our club and main. We
were still experimenting with our boat's sailing abilities, and
were a little disappointed with the downwind performance. We tried
to go wing on wing, but the sails wouldn't stay filled and the
booms were bouncing all over the place. J lashed the booms out,
which helped quite at bit, but made jibing a pain. At least we
were moving pretty well. That night the wind coming from shore
picked up and we had one of our best nights of sailing yet. We
had to hand steer, as the weather-helm was too much for the autopilot,
but the time raced by as we rocketed along on a close reach at
six or seven knots. We both cheered as we saw our speed jump above
eight knots several times. (we are usually thrilled with our boat's
progress if it hits 5.5 knots/hour) Our sleigh ride lasted all
night and we wish it had continued into the following day. But,
alas, we were basically becalmed as the sun peeked over the horizon.
For hours we willed the sails to fill and take us on our southeasterly
course at a faster clip; if only we had known what the next 24
hours would bring, we would have blessed Neptune for the calm
weather to be continued on our website(if its up yet): sailgitane.dhs.org:2003
Part 2 February 1, 2004
The afternoon streamed into evening and gradually the wind started to pick up out of the northwest. We watched the lights of a small fishing village on the coast flicker on off the port beam as we rounded a hazardous looking Isla Asuncion and continued on our southeasterly course. Around sunset the wind had increased enough for us to decide to put another reef in the sail. Though that sounds fairly simple, by this time the swells had grown to five or six feet, fairly close together, and to get the boat into the wind we started up the engine and headed the boat into the wind and waves. Gitane seesawed, now with the bowsprit cutting into the oncoming waves, and I used all my force to keep the tiller under control (the sails and wind and swells were working against me; they were much happier with Gitane beam-to the seas, which is not good for us, as water comes crashing over the side and the mast stretches to reach the opposite wave. The potential for a knockdown (mast touching the water; ie. Boat on its side. ie. No good) is dramatically increased with the boat in that position.) its getting dark, I am at the tiller with increasingly frighteningly large swells tossing us around while J scurries up to the mast to start bringing the main sail down to its second reefing point. Our boat is flush decked and the only thing to keep one from sliding across the deck and into the water is a one inch tall teak cap rail running the perimeter of the boat. Of course, we also have our inflatable harnesses on, with tethers clipped into jacklines (nylon webbing running the length of the deck), but of course I imagine these breaking at just the wrong moment. So I am sitting in the cockpit, trying to keep an eye on J, trying to keep us into the wind, yelling "Hold on!" every time an especially large swell is heading our way, and then every minute or so (they seemed like hours) called up to J to ask him how he was doing, which I am sure got annoying, but in the darkness, I couldn't see him at all and over the thumping of the motor was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to hear him falling overboard or yelling for help from the black water, so my paranoia got the better of me and thus the constant check-ins occurred. After the main was reefed, he had to go forward to adjust the staysail, but now we could head downwind, much to my relief. The swells were still building, but coming from behind were not throwing us around quite as much. By two a.m. or so, the swells were at eight to ten feet, the wind at 20-30 knots, and the only member of our crew getting a good nights sleep was our autopilot. We had never been in such rough weather before on our boat. On bigger boats, yes, but not our own little ship, by ourselves, now 60 miles off of land. Relatively, of course, this was not that bad. It was not raining, the seas were not 30 feet and breaking, the wind was less than 50knots, but I had never been tossed around like that and listened to the constant unidentifiable noises rattling and crashing below, with a semi-constant black wall of water chasing our stern. After talking with J, and subsequently talking with other cruisers about the construction of our boat, I was relieved to hear what protection the hull provided with its sturdy design and inches of fiberglass. At that time, knowing that J was not the least bit worried about the hulls integrity comforted me greatly and I actually started enjoying the conditions.
I saw steering Gitane as a game, trying to keep her surfing the swells as well as her sails efficiently trimmed was a definite challenge, but made the time fly by. More than a few times a wave hit us on the beam and down we went, burying the leeward rail under water and sending everything in the cabin to the opposite side of the boat and eventually onto the floor. Once we got so much water over the side that we found our waterproof hatches are not at all waterproof, as water streamed in through two of the three hatches and drenched the floor. Luckily none of our numerous electronics (including a laptop) were in the path of the salty mess. We stuffed towels into the crevices, and did everything in our steering abilities to avoid rushes over the side. We were averaging 5-7 knots, and by mid-morning could spot the outline of Cabo San Lazaro and Punta Hughes, guarding Bahia Santa Maria. It took us another few hours to reach the mouth of the bay, with the seas maintaining their height but becoming more confused, coming from several directions at strange intervals. Once inside the huge bay, J attempted to work the throttle control before turning on the engine and found that it would not shift out of reverse (little did we know, this type of transmission apparently is very finicky while the engine is off, so there most likely would not have been a problem if we had turned it on), so we prepared ourselves for setting anchor under sail, the winds still blowing in the high teens and twenties inside the bay. The rest of the ha ha group was chatting on the radio and we listened anxiously as two boats told of having their rode snapped and losing their anchors. One of the boats actually lost two anchors. We deliberated sailing on to Cabo San Lucas to avoid tacking up to the north side of the bahia and dealing with the anchor and perhaps dragging with no engine, but we were both pretty tired and wet and Cabo was still 170 nautical miles away, so we decided to try to anchor and then if that failed, maybe reconsider continuing on. As we started zigzagging up to the anchorage area, we found that the gooseneck on the main boom had come partly off and needed to be reattached, so we reached out to sea until it was repaired. Then as we adjusted the staysail, J noticed that the stainless steel gooseneck on the club boom had bent almost 90 degrees under the strain of the previous 24 hours. Another repair job to add to the growing list.
We approached the field of boats almost an hour later (it's a big bay), and discussed the game plan. We had not anchored under sail in this boat before, so I was a bit nervous. J, as usual, was calm and confident and tried to reassure me that we had plenty of room and would not careen into any other boat (my biggest fear in close quarters with other cruisers). The first plan was to sail the boat into an empty spot ( I made sure we were far away from any other boats, actually too far away, but again, my fears were getting the worst of me), using only the main sail to navigate through the few boats around us. We abandoned that plan because we soon found out that when the staysail dropped, we could not steer through the wind. Of course we found this out as we were going past other boats and I could barely hear j and didn't understand why he wanted the staysail back up and I started to get a little hysterical as it seemed to me we were headed straight for other boats. I pulled the sail back up and we formulated plan B: as soon as we got close to our desired position, I would drop the staysail as J released the main to luff, and then I would start to drop the anchor. This time the plan worked gloriously, with the exception of the anchor being dropped a bit too early and not quite digging into the sand bottom 30 feet below properly. We let out 270 feet of 3/8" chain rode, just to be on the safe side in the wind that was supposed to blow in the low 30's that night. As the sun began to set, I jumped into my scuba gear and followed the chain down to our anchor, passing a couple of small fish along the way. Our anchor was not dug in, and so I did my best to rearrange it and make sure it would dig in if we dragged. Back on board, after a tea kettle sponge bath and a mug of hot chocolate, we popped a batch of popcorn and lit the lanterns and listened to another wonderful bedtime story over the VHF. We had decided to keep an anchor watch throughout the night, even as exhausted as we were. We had anchored in front of a few local shrimping boats, and the last thing we wanted to do is become pinned on their bow in the middle of the night. We set our watch alarms and every 10 to 15 minutes poked our heads above the companionway hatch to check our bearings. We did loose 2 hour watches. On this night, as long as we got up and looked when the alarm went off, we didn't mind if the person on watch snoozed in between looks. Thankfully, we didn't perceptibly drag, most likely due to our generous amount of scope (usually one uses a 1:5 ratio for anchoring with chain, so for 30 feet, 150 feet of chain would have been sufficient in normal conditions).
We spent the morning cleaning up the boat and trying to determine the problem with the transmission. Steve from "Wabi Sabi" came over after hearing our request for any kind of information or help with the tranny over the VHF that morning on the check-in net. The transmission was emptied of oil and refilled and when the engine was fired up it worked fine. (again, it may have been fine to begin with, but we learned that later). Then I responded to a couple of other boats requests for a diver. One boat had lost their anchor, and wanted me to recover it. (after anchoring, they were exhausted and happy to be in the bay after such a rough ride, and fell asleep before putting a snub line on the rode. The nylon chafed through and when it finally snapped, it woke them up with a deafening pop. They actually thought that they had been hit by another boat. Up on deck, it became obvious what had happened and with their quick response, they did not drift into any other boat and re-anchored with their secondary.) Another boat had lost their snub line over the side. I thought that the anchor would have been harder to locate, but with the help of a GPS waypoint marking where the boat was when it chafed through its rode, I found the chain within minutes, much to the delight of the crew. I tied a line from the boat to the remainder of the nylon rode still attached to the anchor chain and they recovered it later. The next task, which I thought would be much simpler, was actually more difficult due to low visibility and the small size of the object being searched for. After 20 minutes or so of swimming in circles and trying to guess where the boat had been before it swung, resurfacing once when the current pushed me leeward and totally out of the search area, I happened upon the nylon line with a chain hook attached to the end. That was officially how I met Jed and Monica on "Maryann II," though we had seen them and said hello as we all frantically raced around the West Marine in San Diego the night before the official start of the Ha Ha. Jed ferried me back to "Gitane" and later we all took a panga into the beach for the party organized by local fishermen and their talented wives. They even brought in a band from La Paz for the fiesta. Dinners of fish tacos and lobster and rice and beans were sold at ten bucks a pop, and beer was for sale as well. (Check out a picture of the four of us at < >.) It may seem a bit expensive, but most cruisers were happy to support these kind locals who live in a small village of corrugated roof huts back in the lagoon. And boy were we impressed with what they could pull together in a day! The food (for 400 cruisers!) was delicious and the band was awesome. We ate our seafood and admired the beauty of the place as we talked with our new friends.
Steve from Wabi Sabi offered us a tour in his dinghy back into
the lagoon full of mangroves and the aforementioned village. So
we piled in with his wife and two kids and after briefly getting
stuck in the sand, everyone getting out to push, we glided through
the mangroves, commenting how it felt like the Jungle ride at
Disneyland and giggling about the satellite TV dish attached to
one of the corrugated roofed houses. We returned to the boat and
settled in for the night. The much awaited story teller came on,
but this time the VHF kept cutting out and the reception wasn't
as clear as previous nights. The story was a bit less coherent
as well. At some point during the tale, we learn that the spinner
of these wonderful stories is rowing around in the middle of Bahia
Santa Maria, returning from the boozing and dancing on shore.
Luckily for him, his drunken storytelling ability is almost as
good as the sober one.
J and I were still recovering from our trip so far, and we
loved BSM so much that we decided to ignore the 6am official start
of the next leg and spend the day getting ready to leave instead
of half stowing everything and frantically wondering what we forgot
to do. We left around 5pm, sailing out of a beautifully peaceful
bay, the moon rising through the dusty blue and pink behind us.
It was amazing to us how radically different the conditions were
upon arrival (huge swells) and departure (relatively small). The
sea is an amazing thing. The next 160 nautical miles were much
less eventful than the previous; we alternately sailed with our
drifter in the very low winds and motored (there was a party in
Cabo for the end of the Ha-Ha and we didn't want to miss it and
so decided when the wind got too light to switch on the iron genny).
The only notable occurrence happened on J's watch; he was raising
the light wind drifter sail and somehow it ended up in the water.
When a sail fills with water, it is extremely difficult to wrestle
it back onto the boat. I woke up at the commotion and came on
deck and helped pull in the enormous sail. Then we pulled it up
and let it dry while pulling us downwind.
We motored the last 20 or so miles around the cape and into the harbor. Along the way, we noticed a huge fortress up on a hill, surrounded by bright green. The movie "Troy" with Brad Pitt had been filmed here, and was still being talked about all over Cabo, as hundreds of locals had been hired for extra work as well as services. The set was quite impressive, but we soon forgot about it as we rounded the arches and injected ourselves into the chaotic bay and harbor of Cabo San Lucas. Dodging jet skis, dinghies and pangas, we motored into the close quarters of the heavily commercialized marinas and fuel docks. We loaded up our tanks with diesel and water, then scooted back to the outer harbor to find a spot to anchor. Despite the other blights of the place, the beach is quite pretty. We anchored in clear water 25' deep, in which we could still see the anchor below. We went for a swim to set the CQR and to bathe, and enjoyed the sun's heat and the warm water. In such crowded anchorages, one tries to ignore the fact that at least half of the boats are pumping out their holding tanks directly into the water you are bathing in; sometimes its hard to overlook this when a "floating brown trout" meanders by. Anyway, we got washed up and listened to the radio to see what was going on. There was an all day beach party continuing into dinner continuing into getting really drunk and dancing on the plywood stage in front of lots of other cruisers with the same silly neon pink or blue Ha-Ha shirts adorning their sunburned bodies. We dingied to the public dock in the harbor and asked some directions and after walking for 20 minutes and almost being electrocuted (well kind of; we were 50 yards from the curb of a side street when a large truck took out an overhead power line; it was like fireworks but a lot more dangerous), we arrived at the beach party dinner. The majority had been there all day and most were quite inebriated. Which didn't help matters when we heard on our handheld VHF that one of the boats in the anchorage had freed itself and was taking a stroll, and even kissing other boats without anyone onboard. We had our first sit down meal in a restaurant in weeks and had a couple of beers, splurging after our longest passage yet.
We got to talking with Bill and Lynn from "s/v Faith"
about our transmission. They had heard our inquiries in Bahia
Santa Maria, and it turned out they have the same engine and tranny.
And they had some schematic drawings of our beast. We promised
to meet up in the next couple of days, but we didn't see them
again until Los Frailes. Though it was fun to go out on the town,
we were exhausted and headed home fairly early, quite sober and
sleepy. The next few days were all about readying the boat to
move on. In Mexico, all cruisers are supposed to check in and
out wherever there is a port captain. From what we've heard, except
for the uninhabited bays or the smallest towns, everywhere has
a port captain. Which is horrible for the poor cruiser. In Cabo,
to check in and out was at least 120 bucks US, some people paid
over 200 (with immigration). Every other place is at least $30USD,
and that is if you spend a day running all over town getting signatures
and money and stamps; if you get an agent, its at least $15 more
(in Cabo it was $75!). We, um, forgot to check in, in a manner
of speaking. We decided we would check in at La Paz and just play
stupid if asked about our papers, since they said our next destination
after Ensenada was Cabo. (Due to this extortive policy, after
only two check ins and outs I am ready to be done with it and
we have decided to stop a lot less in Mexico than we had planned.)
So we provisioned a little, tidied up Gitane, and cussed profusely
and often at our finicky (and still not yet fixed) outboard. We
were anchored at the furthest spot in the anchorage from the inner
harbor, and we would be looked upon with pity, sometimes receiving
a charity tow, when we would row our inflatable for 45 minutes
into the wind to get to town.
Early one morning before sunrise, we upped anchor and headed for Los Frailes, 45 nautical miles around the tip of Baja. We budgeted about 12 hours to make the passage, hoping that that would be trimmed by some good wind, or if becalmed, our trusty engine. We motored for a couple of hours, then the wind came and pushed us along, still motoring but with sails up, at 6 knots for almost an hour. And then the wind died. Completely. Then our transmission suddenly began to make a horrific grinding machine gun noise, and would not shift into forward or reverse without that disheartening noise. So we turned the engine off and hoped for wind. For the next twelve hours, we were becalmed. Most of the time, with our lightest jib up, our drifter, we ghosted along at less than one knot. As we started rounding the coast, the current picked up, against us of course, and we just laughed as we watched our GPS speedometer read negative one and two knots. We cheered whenever we had a positive number flash on the little screen. We tried to get into the true cruising spirit and relax and enjoy the sunshine on our bare bodies, not caring when we would get there. We are not on a schedule really, after all. So we drifted. At seven pm the wind started. It was from the north, blasting pretty steadily, so we set our sails and were on our way. Unfortunately, we needed to go north, and our boat doesn't point too well into the wind, so we decided to make a long tack away from the coast and then make a single tack back to Frailes. It was a beautiful night. The moon startled me as it rose above the horizon; I thought a cruise ship was looming to the east, but as the orb ascended, I realized my paranoid mistake and enjoyed the wind and star-filled sky. We sailed into the Sea of Cortez about 35 nm, joked about simply continuing on to Mazatlan as we were almost a quarter of the way there, and then tacked back towards Baja. We pointed as high as the wind and our boat would allow, thinking for a bit that we would skip Frailes and continue on our way to La Paz via Muertos, but as we approached land, we realized our tack was taking us perfectly into the cove of Frailes.
Twenty miles out, the outline of the mountainous coast became visible and we grew anxious to arrive and get out of the choppy seas. We passed the catamaran "Pantera" and hailed them on the VHF, asking about anchoring conditions in Frailes. According to our cruising guide, Frailes looked big enough for one or two yachts on the outer shelves but right down the middle there is a submarine canyon with a depth of 350'. Without an engine, and with some pretty strong wind gusting in the 30's, we were nervous about the anchor not setting and falling into the canyon, with us dragging helplessly around the bay or into the shore, or into other boats. "Pantera" assured us there was plenty of room, about seven boats were there at the moment, but the bay could accommodate at least 20 safely. He continued on his way to Mazatlan, reaching the port (130 nm away) at the same time we reached Frailes five or six hours later. Yeah, that's a fast cat. We finally got in that afternoon and anchored under sail (successfully, and a bit less stressful than the previous time at Bahia Santa Maria). I dove on the anchor to make sure we were set; we weren't really, so I dug the anchor into the sand and positioned it so if we did drag, it was more likely to catch. It's a 45 lb CQR, so this is no easy chore. We let out lots of scope and when I checked it a couple more times in subsequent days, the wind still blowing pretty hard, the anchor still hadn't set, but the last 50 feet or so of chain hadn't moved at all. Its 3/8 chain, and very heavy.
We stayed in that peaceful anchorage for a week, working on
projects (as the saying goes, the definition of cruising is "working
on your boat in exotic places") and enjoying the company
of fellow cruisers. The anchorage started to fill up and the second
night we were there we heard "s/v Legacy" hailing us
on the VHF, saying they had a message to pass on. We didn't know
the people on this boat, but they had been in the Ha-Ha , so we
figured they must be relaying for some of our new friends. Shock
turned to laughter as they delivered the message, "Your mom
says Hi!" What? J's mom Mary scoured the internet for anything
on the Ha-Ha, and quite a few boats doing the rally had their
own websites, updated by SSB e-mail. Mary found their website
and emailed them about us. They just happened to sail into the
same anchorage that day. Too funny. You cannot get away from the
parents! My mom was in on this too. The next time we got to an
internet café, which was in Mazatlan, she had sent a message
asking how our passage to Mazatlan had been, when in fact we didn't
even know we were going to Mazatlan instead of La Paz until literally
the moment of our departure. Weird. We enjoyed Los Frailes, just
taking a breather after the rush of the rally. Most of the boats
in the bay were also participants in the rally, so when we had
a potluck on the beach, we got to compare notes about the last
couple of weeks. Personally, we decided if we had the chance to
do the Ha-Ha again, we would probably not participate. Our boat
was too slow to keep up with the rest of the pack; Westsails are
notoriously slow, but the fact that most boats were larger gave
them quite an advantage(only two or three boats were smaller than
ours, out of about 130 boats!). We would have taken our time and
stayed longer in the anchorages, but on the positive side, it
gave us a needed deadline to leave San Diego and we met tons of
wonderful people and were glad to have the assistance with things
like our tranny. Overall, we are glad we did it, for those were
the exact reasons we chose to participate in the first place.
Our friends Jed and Monica on "s/v Maryann II" showed up with their guests Bern and Jen on board. We had a lively cocktail hour in the cockpit of their boat thanks to Monica's margarita martini concoctions. Two of those and the boat was rockin' without any waves. Our outboard problems were the source of many a pitying look and bad joke, and Jed brought out his copy of Steinbeck's Log of the Sea of Cortez (blasphemous cruiser that I am, I don't remember if that is the exact name of the book; if I got the title wrong, sorry, I will try to correct it later). He had me read a passage dedicated entirely to the evil outboard, what he called a Hansen SeaCow. He goes on about the machine having a life of its own and the capability to choose when to work and when to play broken. Thanks to the potent margarita and the unfortunate familiarity with the topic, I could barely read through my peals of laughter, wiping my eyes to read by the flashlight held by the grinning J. We had them over for dinner the next night for pumpkin soup, in which we used our big pumpkin from San Diego that had spent much of its time on board wrapped in a towel in the V-berth. After our guests left, we put a candle in the pumpkin shell (which we had used for a big serving bowl) and set it in the water, watching as the illuminated gourd bobbed away, casting an orange glow on the black water. It made it about 50 yards before hitting some chop and capsizing. We figured next time, we should put some ballast on it. These are the things you do and think of when you are cruising. There is the time. Its great.
Jed and Monica took off for La Paz a day or two later, as did quite a few other north bound boats. We stayed on, enjoying the peaceful beauty of the bay. One day another boat got on the VHF and talked about joining up for a hike to a taco stand a few miles away. J and I hadn't been for a real walk in a while, so we decided to go, along with six or eight others. We had a visit with another boat planned that afternoon, but we figured we would be back by 3pm. We left around 10am, walking on the beach past the fishing village, then onto the dirt road leading to the next beach where the only coral reef in Sea of Cortez exists. We walked through the brush covered hills and chatted with the others and listened to the first of many stories told by Bruno on "s/v Freelance," a beautiful wooden boat that is 90 years old. He is singlehanding from Vancouver to Costa Rica then French Polynesia, then back home. He has a plethora of stories, and he is such a good raconteur, I don't care if half of them are made up. We had the pleasure of spending another two weeks with him in Mazatlan, where we got to know this hilarious guy even better. We also met Elan on "s/v Falcor" and Bill on "s/v Que Onda." Bill's a single hander as well and is good friends with Elan and his wife Katy. We hadn't had a chance to chat with the latter two, who were the other youngsters on the Ha-Ha, but we wanted to hang out as they were just about our age as well, and the name of their boat was from "The Neverending Story," one of my favorite childhood movies ever. So our walk, five miles down the road, we came to the little store mentioned and a restaurant right on the water. It was gorgeous. J and I didn't bring much money, so we ordered one meal to split. We waited patiently as everyone around us got served, and then started to eat, and then finished. Meanwhile, people at other tables were getting served their food, but despite asking about our delayed meal, then others questioning the waitress who kept saying just one moment, we never got our food. It was extremely strange. We were also going to be late for our visit on another boat, so 15 minutes after everyone else finished, 45 minutes from when we had ordered those beef tacos, we canceled our order and grabbed a bag of chips and a candy bar at the store and booked it home. We were an hour late and although they were not upset, we did not get to visit with our friends because they had a dinner date at another boat. Ah, the social obligations of cruisers. The next night Katy and Elan invited us over to their boat, along with Bill, for tacos and Chuckie Shaw wine, the cruisers' vino of choice. Katy and Elan are filmmakers from San Francisco, a year older than J and I, and have similar plans and similar monetary restrictions (they wanted to make it to Panama before finding jobs, but Elan said if they kept drinking as much beer as they had been, they would only last monetarily until southern Mexico). Both boats were headed for Mazatlan the next day. We hoped we would see them again after our trip to La Paz to get work on the transmission done. But, the next day, the wind was blowing strong from the north, as usual, and as we pulled out of the bay, we decided to forgo La Paz and head straight for Mazatlan, as it may take us a week or two to tack up the sea, whereas Mazatlan was a nice beam-broad reach. We zoomed along to the south east, enjoying the 25 knots of wind (it seems strange to us that people on the VHF had been talking about not leaving until the winds died down to less than 15 knots. Our boat loves 25, 35 knots, and its not uncomfortable when the seas are cooperative. We hate motoring, plus at this point, could not motor, so the wind was welcomed). We made better time than we had estimated in the twenty hours since leaving, but with our current conditions, we would get into port around 8pm- after dark, unfamiliar with the harbor and local conditions, without a motor, under sail. We were not comfortable with that proposition, so we decided to heave to for eight hours about 45 miles outside of Mazatlan (heaving to is a method of back-winding the front sail, balancing it with the main sail, and locking the rudder to windward. This essentially stalls the boat; you still make a little bit of way, but not enough to really count). The seas were much less comfortable in this position, but it was necessary to prevent a premature arrival and be drifting around outside the harbor entrance, with huge container ships and cruise ships and fishing boats, etc. At 10pm we were under way again, passing more and more boats as we approached land. At 5am, the wind stopped. We spent the next 10 hours barely ghosting toward the mouth of the harbor, in hindsight kicking ourselves for heaving to. We sailed finally under the lighthouse (second tallest in the world) and into the old harbor, deciding the channel to the marina district looked a little too snug for us to negotiate under sail. Inside the harbor, we thought we had made a mistake as there were no other sailboats, just local sportfishing boats. We rechecked our chart and it corresponded with where we were, so we took advantage of the open anchoring field and set the sucker in 30 feet of water. And so, after about 3 weeks and 1000 miles of sailing, our stay in Mazatlan began.
Mazatlan days (by J as well)
Despite our original plan of moving six miles north of town to work on our transmission at a marina, we quickly grew attached to our corner of the city. We were just a fifteen minute walk from all of the attractions of Mazatlan's downtown and Centro Historico, found several bakeries with excellent (and cheap!) Mexican pastries, were just down the road from the mechanic who would be working on our transmission, and we had made fast friends with some staff and members of Club Nautico. Eddie, an employee and member of Club Nautico, became a wonderful friend as well as a very helpful local resource. On his days off, he would ride with J on their bikes over to the transmission mechanic to make sure that work was being done satisfactorily and that we would not be overcharged. He is a very kind person with a great sense of humor.
It has been a very interesting start to our cruising experience. Very much like living in the same college dormitory for four years, but compressing it in to a zip file. For the two and half months of our stay, we were in the old harbor, the majority of the time tied up to the seawall at Club Nautico where we made many wonderful friends and became a sort of welcome wagon/information station for arriving cruisers. We had many lively and lovely dinners aboard fellow cruisers' boats, and we definitely tried to cram as many people as possible onto our boat for dinners and parties (for J's birthday we sat 10 people down below for a pasta dinner complete with a Three Kings (Rosca de Reyes) cake, as J's b-day is on the 6th of January. With a little help from a prodding knife, J found the baby Jesus in the cake the next day).
When we arrived here in Mazatlan's Old Harbor we were the only yacht there, but within a week the first round of other boats (Falcor and Que Onda from Frailes) began to filter in and we became encompassed in neighborhood life, spending almost every evening aboard one or another's boat and meeting up for adventures ashore. Then our new friends departed for points south as we adapted to the manana attitude and waited to begin working on our transmission. Days later the second wave (Mary Ann II, who you have also already met, and Dragon Fly) came and the cycle repeated itself. And then those boats departed and we moved to the seawall at Club Nautico to begin working on our transmission. And then my parents came to visit for ten days and departed, and we really started getting work done, yet the transmission was still at the shop. And then the last wave (Ariel, Chrokeva, Bruno on Freelance, Nangijala, La Gaviota, Soul Catcher, Borracha,) arrived and the cycle began to repeat once more. So our two-month stay has been broken up to the extent that we feel as if we have been here for years, had many friends who have come and gone and experiences that feel like they happened in a different lifetime.
Mazatlan is a wonderful city, and we spent our first month exploring it as much as we could. We especially enjoyed the historic old downtown area with its crumbling buildings and quaint hole-in-the-wall establishments and the vibrant Juarez Market filled with luscious fruits and vegetables of all sorts down the hall from the chicken feet and pigs heads laying on the butcher's tile counters. We loved to sit on a bench in the Plaza Machado, watching the wonderful musical programs put on by local schoolchildren. Then the young dancers and artists and musicians would meander out of the big beautiful arts building next to the Angela Peralta Theater. Our friend Jock played his music at the popular Pedro y Lolas as well as at the Jazz Bar across the square. It was a wonderful treat to park ourselves at a sidewalk table and nurse a beer for hours while soaking up the amazing music and magical atmosphere.
As we have alluded, one of our major projects and reasons for spending so much time in Mazatlan was the repair of our transmission- a model that the factory stopped supporting over twenty years ago. We were lucky enough to meet a couple on the Ha-Ha that has the same engine and transmission in their boat as we do in ours, and so I spent as much time with Bill and Lynne on Faith as I could. Between Bill's input, some ancient drawings faxed from the manufacturer, and a whole lot of head scratching, we had diagnosed the problem were finally ready to tackle the job of removing "the beast" in mid December. Our output shaft had stripped both it's end and the inside of it's shaft coupling. Had we not met Bill and Lynne, or been in the States when this mishap occurred, we would have had no option but buying a new transmission. However since labor costs in mexico are far more reasonable than at home, there was a chance we might get this one repaired for a reasonable price. If that was not possible, we had a back up plan- Bill and Lynne have had a spare on their garage floor for 8 years, which could be ours if we needed it.
The Storm- don't read this mom! (written as an article)
When the halyards started their frantic tango at 3 am, I convinced my boyfriend J that we should get up and check on conditions. Besides the 20-30 knots of wind, there was a bit of a swell in the anchorage, and the floating wooden docks were bucking violently, as was the small ski boat attached to another dock on our port side. We were med-moored (along side a short dock) to the sea wall in the old harbor of Mazatlan while we pulled out our stripped transmission. Gitane, our flush decked 1974 Kendall 32, is pretty solid; her inches of fiberglass dull most noises above the waterline, so if our hatches are closed, 30 knots of wind is a gentle murmur above. Slapping halyards, however, scream vibrations down the mast. We ran around the deck, collecting laundry from the lines, stowing loose items, marveling at the increasing wind and waves, glad our boat was barely moving despite the turmoil around. Though we had experienced winds of this strength several times during our month med moored and the winds were at their forecast strength, we decided to stand anchor watch, just in case.
I rushed into the cockpit seconds after a loud thud reverberated below decks: the corner of the dock lodged itself into the scupper as we were blown down onto it. I deposited myself with fenders onto the rearing plywood to fend off Gitane. The dock was supporting our weight, so even if our anchor dragged more, we would be against it, not the wall. I watched helplessly in horror as the little ski boat to port took on water, tilted at a sickening angle, and finally capsized in a matter of 30 minutes. I couldn't leave our boat to help as it boxed with the now splintering plywood. From the blackness of the anchorage appeared Mette, a fellow cruiser, rowing to shore in his little inflatable with a couple of big fenders. He came to help, as cruisers often do even in the most precarious of situations, his boat anchored out secure, his competent girlfriend Mads aboard. As J prepped our secondary anchor for deployment from the dinghy, the wind changed from south to east and we were blown off the dock. Way off; our anchor had dragged. The dock bucked wildly, and our boat joined it, smashing our windvane against the wood, ripping off the end plank, then it started to pound the metal framework holding the dock to the seawall. To starboard, we were blown directly onto a small powerboat and the dock it was secured to, while our bowsprit was reaching for a fancy sportfisher double moored and tied up on the other side of that dock. J jumped aboard the sportfisher, grabbed one of the mooring lines off the bow, attached a longer line, wrapped it around our starboard winch, and started cranking. Meanwhile, Mette, Jock and Lucas (cruisers ages 25, 73, and 15, respectively, all on different boats) were all on our dock, trying to help me fend but mostly watching helplessly, while one of the employees from the club was on land waving for me to abandon our boat. No way! Luckily, the mooring line held, and the pounding ceased as we were winched away from the damaged dock. But we weren't homefree yet. Gitane's bowsprit was now threatening to entwine with the sportfishers stainless rail, something that could liberate our mast, and our hull was grating viciously against the smaller motorboat. I climbed onto the sportfisher, fending off the six foot sprit while Jock fended from the motor boat. J and Mette jumped in the latter's dinghy, and worked calmly but quickly transferring the secondary anchor and rode from our dinghy which was now trapped behind Gitane, into Mette's and out into the harbor. The anchor rode kept tangling while Mette struggled to keep the inflatable in place 100 feet off the port bow. Finally, the anchor was dropped, the rode delivered to the boat, and Lucas winched us away from all hazards. As the black turned to gray in the east and the wind and swells decreased, we reset our primary, returned the mooring line to the sportfisher (which, thankfully, was not affected by the borrowed line), and assessed the damage, all a bit more slowly now as we were finally out of danger. That morning we learned the wind built up to 45 knots and stayed above this frightening figure for more than two hours. We were lucky, the only damage we sustained was cosmetic; the paint was worn to the fiberglass in the scupper, we had numerous scratches where we over-affectionately rubbed the motorboat (that boat was a bit more damaged- we tore off the rubrail and took off a chunk of fiberglass from the corner- that's what Mexican liability insurance is for!), and one bar supporting our windvane was minutely bent. Quick thinking and numerous helpful hands saved our boat from becoming uncomfortably intimate with the Mazatlan seawall. I guess the saying, "A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what it was built for," doesn't always hold true; maybe the clichés, "Always be prepared," or "Expect the worst," would be more appropriate!
On the way to Isabela (not so bad, but still a little scary)
The sun was slipping past 45 degrees on it's daily journey when J and I decided to start the engine and motor the last ten or so miles to Isla Isabela. We had no desire to circle the boat until morning, nor did we wish to try our luck at anchoring in the dark in such a notoriously difficult natural harbor. The frigate birds and boobies circled above as dozens of dolphins raced beneath our bow and off both sides of Gitane. The island and its nearby spires rose majestically as we approached, highlighted with reds and oranges as the sun dipped into the sea. We anxiously rounded the southeast shore, giving plenty of room to the rocky cliffs being pounded with breakers. The bay was much smaller than we anticipated. The cove seemed barely big enough for one or two boats, with swells forming breakers crashing against all sides. The chart mentioned a submerged rock in 5' of water, a further concern. To add to my mounting trepidation, earlier that day our friends had come into the anchorage but had decided to continue on to Bandaras Bay as the anchorage seemed too risky for them to feel comfortable. It was absolutely gorgeous, with pink clouds haloing the gray and black cliffs and speckled with soaring birds. Such a change from Mazatlan, where we had spent the last eight weeks getting our transmission repaired. But even among the profound beauty, my paranoid qualities appear as soon as it is time to anchor. As we motored into the northwest area of the cove I am asking J if he sees the submerged rock and will we sink if we hit the rock and don't you think we are getting too close to the cliffs and do you see those swells? We put the transmission in idle and let out the anchor and fifty or so feet of rode. We settled back and the chain started bumping along and it is quite obvious that we are dragging in this anchorage known for fouling ground tackle. It is getting darker and darker as I pull up the chain by hand; for some reason our windlass was being extremely slow and therefore ineffective. We get the anchor back on board and reposition ourselves, driving up maybe 30 meters from the rocks. I start to let down the anchor when J yells calmly from the cockpit, "Jenny, the transmission cables aren't working." Great. My nightmare! We were in neutral, which was better than being stuck in forward, but nonetheless I am freaking out because now we have no propulsion, there are swells coming from behind us, and the rocks are way too close for comfort. I let out 60 feet of chain while J ripped open the engine room hatches and tried to remedy the problem. No success; it wasn't the cables, but the transmission itself. The rocks looming in the now shadowy dusk, I am convinced we are going to end up on the rocks, on this island 40 miles offshore, with no other cruisers in the cove. (Sometimes I think I try to make up for the fact J stays so cool and collected; where would a sea-tale be without the drama and fear?) J, still annoyingly calm, gives the options of letting out more chain and setting a stern anchor and trying to fix the problem or weighing anchor and sailing on to La Cruz. I choose the second option, as these days I feel much more safe in the middle of the ocean with propulsion issues than near land. I pull up the 45 lb anchor and its 3/8 inch chain, again by hand, which of course brings us closer and closer to the cliffs ahead, the swells starting to break not 15 feet from the bow. J raises the staysail as I struggle with the last twenty feet, my arms shaking, nauseous with fear. I remember the thought skating across my brain, "now I know how those little women lift up cars when their child is pinned beneath." My baby just happens to be a 10-ton tub. With each length of chain dragged aboard, I pray that the next will not be impossible to recall if the anchor becomes pinned beneath some rock on the bottom, the fate of many a cruisers' anchor. But finally the anchor's all onboard, and we slowly turn the boat around in the northwest wind, ghosting uncomfortably close to the jagged shore. We sail out of the cove, cursing the guys who fixed the transmission (after inspecting the transmission, J surmised that it was not an internal problem with the beast, but a nut securing the shifting lever had fallen off (read: our fault), and when J tried to put the lever back on and shift when we were in the precarious situation, he couldn't get the angle necessary to make it work. The next day he jury -rigged the lever back on, as the nut had fallen into the unreachable blackness of the engine room bilge, and we didn't have any spare metric nuts of that size on board. Oh, what zip ties and hose clamps can accomplish!) As we raised the main and jib, sliding further away through the blackness from the circling lamp of the lighthouse announcing the island, we breathed a sigh of relief that the event was nothing more than a reminder to always stay alert to the possibility of mechanical failure and we prepared ourselves for an unscheduled night of watches on our way to Banderas Bay.
From our journal
February 24, 2004
It is another beautiful day outside as we sit anchored in Chamela, awaiting gale force winds as predicted today, waiting to jet out of here and keep trucking south. We had a wonderful 24 hour sail down here from La Cruz. It was windy the entire way except part of the last 10 miles, but even then it was enough wind to keep us going. We were maintaining 4-6 knots through the night and J said he even saw the gps register 9.1 as we surfed off a wave. Pretty neat. We had to hand steer all night, but it was fine. I am still feeling crummy from my cold/flu that delayed our departure, but I felt well enough to stand watch even though J took much longer watches so I could sleep. We came into Chamela around noon and decided to anchor by the islands, but when we got in it was blowing really hard and building, so we did a fly by, went into the little cove where one other boat was, and then bailed bc I didn't feel comfortable and we were quite close to the boat. And the rocks. (in my always fearful of hitting something view). I called up the other boat on the vhf and asked them how they were holding and if the wind shifts at night and they said it was great in there and had no problems and so j and I decided to give it another try and anchor down the beach from them. Setting the anchor was not a problem (I am still a little scarred from our isla isabela experience. I know that it would be extremely unlikely for the nut to fall off again, but there is that minute chance that haunts me), and we were a healthy distance away from the other boat (although I don't think they thought so; right before we left, it looked as if they had decided to leave. Cant we share such pretty anchorages?) we let out 90 feet and waited and weren't surprised when our boat went parallel with the shore instead of perpendicular to it, because little Gitane likes to do her own thing, especially when anchoring. So we waited to straighten out, but the wind was whipping around the island in a way different from the other boat, who was perpendicular, and then the swells refracting off of the other islands were also helping to push us towards shore. We weren't in any danger, at that point, but after putting in some reefing lines in our main, eating lunch of tomatoes, avocadoes, cheese, and beans on cabbage leaves and stale crackers, we were still parallel with shore and sometimes stern to shore. When a couple of big gusts blew through, we moved even closer, so we decided that this was not a good night anchorage, and we should move to the big anchorage in the nw corner of the bay. When we pulled up the anchor chain, it had dragged a bit towards shore; it affirmed our decision to move. We motored over to the beautiful beach anchorage and had popcorn and fried taro root for dinner as we listened to the weather report we had neglected to listen to that morning. Don was in a very feisty mood, perhaps inspired by the frenetic conditions off the coast inducing high winds he was speaking about, and he basically told everyone off the mainland coast to get ready for a whopper of a blow. He had predicted moderate winds for that day, and they had shown up (that's the report we shrugged off, figuring we were going anyway), and Tuesday to Wednesday they would increase to 40 plus knots. I am not as frightened of 40 knots at anchor as I used to be, because our boat has been through that and been fine (not counting the sea wall incident), but as j and I were just now discussing, we have not been out sailing on this boat in such wind. The most we have dealt with is about 25 knots. So anyway, here we are, waiting for the wind, whiling away the morning with chai tea and latitude 38.
La Cruz was a nice place to be for a few weeks. We didn't mean to spend so much time there, but that's what happens. Our two or three weeks there consisted of hanging out in the town, munching on amazing fish tacos at 10 pesos each and going into Puerto Vallarta to visit with Kathy and Allan on Lovesong. Kathy is very pregnant. She looks great. As we lounged on their beautiful boat, they filled our heads with lots of ideas for making money, including either participating in or selling the time share racket. We tried and tried, but no one would approach us to go on a time share tour, where they pay you 150 bucks cash each just to listen to the bull for 6 hours. That was going to be our cruising kitty supplement, but alas, when we finally approached a guy and asked if we could do a tour, he said we were too young and that nobody would consider us for the tours. That would explain why we were the only couple not being hassled on the streets. Which was unfortunate for us. Anyway. Kath and Allan sailed out to la cruz with their friend George and we all sailed to the Tres Marietas, a small group of islands in the mouth of the bay, for the day. Allan and I went scuba diving in the chilly water while J snorkled above. There were tons of fish and some eels and a bit of coral and neat rock formations. I was surprised by the variety of fish. It was good to be in the water again, although I would have preferred to have been deeper as the constant surge and change in depths above 20 feet were messing with my ears. But it was still awesome until I got cold. Then we went up on the beach and explored the island a little. There were a bunch of caves and then steps leading to the top of the island which was covered with long prairie grass and agave plants. We could only go so far with our lack of proper clothing, but it was still pretty cool. We went back to the boat and sailed home. Kathy and allan are just wonderful people. Super laid back and fun loving. I think they have a few more years left with their six year plan, and then they are off for good. Maybe someday we will do that, but maybe not. We are just not ready to cast off the lines for good at this point.
The next day I went diving on the prop of Barracha. The bottom growth is outrageous here. In just a few weeks, our own prop had at least an inch of growth on it, and was completely covered with barnacles. Anyway, I scrubbed their prop and checked the rest of their hull and thru hulls and retired to the cockpit to warm up and chat. There were j and dave, sitting with beer and chips, probably talking about maine. (Dave is from Maine, though he has lived in California for over 20 years, and loves to talk Maine with J) It was classic. Speaking of MaineA day or two later we left for San Miguelle Allende to meet up with BJ. After two five hour bus rides and a layover in Guadalajara, a city we would love to visit again, we got to SMA in the evening. We met up with BJ after a bit of confusion with the meeting place, but walked to his place through the cobblestoned streets lined with colonial architecture buildings. It is a really beautiful town. The next few days were amazing; we walked around town and peeked into courtyards, enjoying the brisk February air and stuffing our faces with wonderfully cheap and tasty Mexican pastries. There is a huge gringo population, so perusing the grocery stores with imported goods was kind of fun, but usually monetarily prohibitive. One afternoon, after playing with the sculpting wax BJ works with, we went for a hike up a beautiful gorge, first along the bank of a meandering stream and then boulder hopping to the end of the canyon where a magical pool of sea green water hid between the cliffs. After enjoying the peacefulness of the hideout, we scaled the iron ladder up the side of the canyon and walked through the botanical garden sanctuary above and back into town. The next day we returned to the garden (via town roads this time), and wandered around the dry landscape abundant with cactus and spindly trees. Our time in sma was a wonderful inland diversion on our otherwise coastal journey, and seeing BJ in full artistic swing was fantastic.
March 14, 2004
We are in Huatulco, a government fabricated town on the gulf of Tehuantepec. The little port town is clean and pretty and the main town a couple of miles away is even more so. They are both pretty touristy, but for being a town owned by the government and a settlement of the same created by said establishment, I think they did a pretty good job. We got here on Saturday after four days and nights at sea after departing Zihuatanejo. We had a great ride down for the most part. It would have been nice to have sailed the whole way, but the wind died a couple of days in, but we always got a chance to sail a little every day. Out of 95 or so hours underway, we had the engine on for 54 hours. Some of that was motorsailing, but most of it was because there was absolutely no wind. We had the sails up and down constantly. I have gotten proficient doing so with all the sails. The big jib is harder to take down when it is really blowing, but then you usually want it up unless its really bad. We found some tears in the drifter. The poor thing is so abused and the fabric is so weak; I doubt it will last us the trip. I feel like a pet dog is dying- so loyal has our drifter been to us. We put rip-stop tape on the three we could find but it is just a matter of time til the whole thing is covered in rip stop.
The sailing we did have was excellent. Many times j and I looked over at each other and smiled, silently and not so silently acknowledging how lucky we are to have this amazing opportunity to witness such beauty and have such a unique experience upon the ocean. Many a freighter passed us, mostly during the day, and since some made a wide turn out of their path (which we were in), we are assuming that our radar reflector is doing its job. Or simply that we have been lucky enough to have had people aware/competent/awake at the helm of those 25 knots boat speed- cant stop for two miles massive pieces of floating metal. We try our best to get out of their way as soon as we see them, but sometimes its hard to predict their direction, especially at night. The running lights obviously help, but sometimes the angle in strange and you have to just guess what they are doing. We have only had one or two close calls, and they weren't that close.
We got into Huatulco and dropped anchor and were talking to Bob on Donalee and just as he said we would most likely get boarded by the Navy immediately upon anchoring, over zoomed the panga with six guys all decked out in their uniforms, complete with huge guns. (Bob said that the Navy doesn't even own those pangas, they rent them from the panga guys) so they boarded us and took an hour or so asking us questions to fill out their multiple page document. It was a little difficult because of the painfully apparent language barrier (I am so angry with myself that my Spanish is still horrible, I really have no excuse) Immediately after they left, we picked up anchor and moved to the marina. We had no idea there was a marina here, bc none of the guidebooks mention it bc it is so new. Its nice, albeit expensive. Almost 20 bucks a night, but we are splurging and taking advantage of the pressure water to clean our decks and laundry and stuff and the convenience of being on a dock. We went into town with Bob and Dana for breakfast and to go check in with the port captain. It is so ridiculous. The office is open on Saturday, and we just happened to come in on this day, early enough in the morning to be able to go check in. normally we just would have waited for Monday, but since the navy boarded us and the port captain here is strict, Enrique at the marina said we had to check in on Saturday. Which means, overtime charge. Double the normal amount. Which is the truly ridiculous part. The office is open, why the hell is it overtime? Ah, the joys of mexico. So instead of checking in and out, we are going back on Monday to check out to avoid the double checking out charge. The guys at the office were really nice, but its still so silly to me. Oh well, we got away (well, were not out of the country yet, I better not speak so soon) with only checking in a few times (we should have checked in at la cruz, barra and zihuatanejo, but didn't. la cruz was the worst- we were anchored in front of the office for three weeks without checking in). so now we are making up for some of it. Ok, I have to go work frantically as we need to leave tomorrow on our week plus journey straight to costa rica across the feared t-pec.
Our crossing of the T-pec was uneventful. After a day of running
around to check out of Mexico, we left Huatulco around 6 pm. We
pulled out earlier, but j thought he heard a weird sound from
the tranny and so we docked and he inspected and ended up changing
the fuel filter, so we pulled out at sunset. Our ssb was being
strange, so we had another boat check us into the net, and Don
the weather guy said he was concerned because the next midnight,
a gale was forming in the middle of the gulf. We did some calculations
and figured we would be 20 miles outside of the alley where the
gale was supposed to be blowing. We motored into the night and
early the next morning we got quite a bit of wind and increasing
swells. Around six am we turned off the engine and cruised along
at six to eight knots. It was awesome. We had a 120 mile day.
At one point I thought I heard an outboard, and I turned around
to see one heading straight for us. It was a little freaky being
a hundred miles or so offshore and have pangas zoom up to your
boat. Too many pirate stories have tainted our trust and when
they grabbed onto the boat we immediately told them to let go.
They looked perplexed but did so and then proceeded to tell us
that there were winds coming from the north that night around
midnight, just as don had predicted. So our pirates turned out
to be friendly fishermen warning us about the gale! We felt bad
we were so paranoid, but you know what, you never know. Why pirates
would be plying gale ridden waters a hundred miles off shore,
who knows. So they took off after a bunch of muchas gracias' from
us, and then as they were pulling away, one of the guys held up
a small dorado and we motioned him over to trade.
When j came up with a chuckie shaw wine bottle and I held it up, they full on cheered. It was great. So I passed it to them, their smiles widening, and we sailed off as they met up with the other panga for a sip or two. I filleted the fish and we cooked it up with some garlic and olive oil and a bit of chardonnay, and it wasn't bad. It wasn't excellent, and I don't know if that was because it had been sitting in the sun all afternoon or because I overcooked it, but it was still definitely a treat. Late that night, I noticed that our speed suddenly dropped from 4 knots to less than 2. I had read there were fishing nets in the gulf, so I looked over the side and sure enough, we had snagged a line. It was caught on our bobstay fitting. The boat hook got it off without a problem. The next one caught on the rudder, which was a little more difficult to get off, but we did it without having to cut the line. So before we left Mexico, we finally got caught on a fishing line and got to trade for fish. The next morning, the morning that the gale was supposed to be blowing, we were about 30 or so miles off of Puerto Madero, and it was the calmest I have ever seen the ocean. Smooth as glass calm, with an amazing orange sunrise turning the water into light. Off in the distance, a big boat made its way across the horizon. I heard something on the vhf, but as it was in Spanish, I didn't pay attention. Then in English I hear them calling a sailboat at such and such coordinates. That would be us. It was the Mexican Navy. He was so nice. He asked if we needed anything and if we do, just call them on 16. then he took our boat name, captains name, etc and that was it. No boarding. Just checking to make sure we were ok. We motored on. The next couple of days we sailed and motored on and off. Off the coast of Guatemala, we snagged another fishing line, and had a really hard time getting it off, but the fisherman was right there and ended cutting it and setting us loose. In the meantime, I am sure much to his amusement, we were hanging over the side trying to get it unstuck. Silly gringos.
March 21, 2004
"Welcome to El Salvador" Luis smiled as the panga full of local officials pulled up along side our boat at 7:30pm on a Saturday night. We had tied onto the Marina Barrillas mooring ball about five minutes earlier, after a wonderful winding trip through the river to get to the marina. We were hoping to get here by dark, but after the sunset, the darkness settled and the notched volcanic mountains and lush foliage quickly blanketed themselves in the cool gray night. After the officials checked our passports and documentation and gave the boat a "routine inspection" and then they gave us time to grab our shower stuff and close up the boat so we could ride with them into the marina to finish up the paperwork. Speeding through the mooring ball field on the panga and pulling up to the dock at the edge of a beautiful marina resort, we felt like we were in a fairy tale.
Yes, we were still slightly delirious from our five day passage, but the whole ride from the first waypoint a couple of miles off shore in was truly magical. We had decided the previous day that we were going to stop at Barrillas to pick up fuel and to rest, as it seemed like the last month of going hard was finally catching up with us. Night watches were getting harder and harder (especially for me; J is a bit better at subsisting on less sleep), and we were being pounded by almost constant waves and quite a bit of wind, both usually right on the nose. The last 10 or so miles before the waypoint were especially tough, and it took us 4 hours to cover that stretch, motoring with a reefed mainsail and the staysail. Even though there was plenty of wind to sail, we had to keep the motor on to keep us heading in the right direction because the swell would flop us around. We were covered with salt, having been doused several times by waves inviting themselves into our cockpit, and we were pretty sunburned under that scratchy white coating. I was starting to complain that this wasn't fun anymore and if sailing was always like this, I would hate it, but then the thought of a shower and dip in the pool livened my spirits and the constant hobbyhorsing didn't seem so bad. We called the marina a mile away from the waypoint, and they sent out a panga to meet us and lead us through the shoals, estuary and river to the marina. We followed Luis (a different Luis from the one who came with the customs) through the heavy current (they said 4-5 knots between the first and second waypoint; we figured that is the current we had been fighting for the last several hours) and into the passage between the shoals. I was driving, while J adjusted the sails, talked to the marina via the vhf, and stood as lookout when my view of the panga was obstructed by the sails or waves.
It went better than we thought it would, especially after getting past the first couple of waypoints, but it was definitely a little intimidating going in between the shoals which were constantly covered with breaking whitewater. (later that evening, as we sat with other cruisers at one of the palapas, the boat "Scout" told us about their harrowing experience trying to leave: they lost their steering (another reason we love our tiller) because of corroded bolts right as they were at the scariest part in between the shoals. They had the heavy wind right on the nose and six foot seas. They were getting pushed right into the shoals. As they were about a boat length or less away from a total loss and possibly fatal accident, a boat with two irish guys (we have heard other stories about them) came tacking down the channel and rammed their boat twice to push them away from the shoals! Talk about guts. So that gave them enough time to give a line to the panga driver to tow them in. god. That is one of the scariest stories I have heard, and one of the most fortuitous. If those irish guys hadn't been there, neither would Scout be now.) So we motorsailed on, through the shoals without a problem, and into the estuary/bay. By now the sun was setting, and the light on the mountains and coast was absolutely amazing. We were smiling and giddy and so thankful that we decided to stop. We sailed past a village with pangas and children playing ball on the beach and through the wide river as it got darker and darker. The VHF would suddenly start blasting 80's love songs into the night. We were going to just anchor in the estuary if it got too dark, but Donalee and the panga driver seemed to think we could make it, so we decided to go for it.
Luckily, Luis put running lights on the back of the panga so we could easily follow. It was a little unnerving at times, but I only yelled at J a couple of times to tell me what the heck was going on ahead of us, and finally, we made our way through the alley of mooring balls and tied up behind Donalee. We finished checking in and took wonderful wonderful wonderful warm pressured showers and settled around a table to inhale some sausages and potatoes and salad they the other cruisers had saved for us, as well as icy cold beer. Ahhh it was, again, magical. Everyone loves it and tells us we wont want to leave. I believe it. For eight bucks a night (they use US bucks, who knew) you get to use all of the facilities. Of course, if you start eating and drinking at the restaurant, that mooring ball gets pretty expensive. There is a van into town for provisioning on Tuesday, so we know we are at least staying that long. We would love to stay for weeks, like everyone else is probably going to, but we have to get down to CR if we want to do the canal in april. It is going to suck, with these nasty papagayo winds, but that's how it goes I guess. Everyone has been telling us how there is no wind south of Barra, so I was needless to say a bit shocked by the 20-30 knots we had been getting almost constantly. The wind would be fine, but it's the swell that kills us. Its wet and rough and frustrating. Again, I don't really want to face it again, but onward we must go.
March 31, 2004
Playa del Cocos, Costa Rica, has a great laid back surfer feeling to it. We arrived early yesterday morning after a pretty uneventful journey from El Salvador. Uneventful in the good sense that we had no major winds or waves as we were fearing and no boat problems. Donalee once again ran into big seas and winds 30 miles off and headed back to a marina in Nicuragua, but since we were hugging the coast, we didn't get anything over 20 knots. It's a beautiful coast. Early on the second morning we saw smoke wafting out of a volcano on shore. In the redness of dawn it looked amazing. I had been paranoid about hitting unlit fishing vessels at night, but we only saw a couple of boats the whole way down. Maybe I just couldn't see the little pangas, but hey, we didn't hit nothing! We stayed about 5-9 miles off the coast the majority of the trip until we got near Bahia Santa Elena where we cut across to go around the infamous point and into the Bahia de Papagayo. We were bracing ourselves for strong winds around the point, but again, we were extremely lucky and didn't get anything over 15 or 20. all of our friends who came down a few weeks ago got totally pounded coming down from Barillas, to the tune of 45-60 knots of wind! Jed and Mon ripped their mainsail, Bruno broke his boom, and everyone got wet! So, once again, we have been pretty lucky. So far. The one thing that is really irking us is this whole motoring business. We are a sailboat, and it is painful to have the engine running for the entire length of passages. This last passage we only got to turn it off for a few hours during the 72 hours here. We had enough wind to sail, but the waves and current made it impossible to keep a course. First we were getting pushed toward land, and then further south we got pushed rapidly out to sea. When we got into the Gulf, we only had about 20 nautical miles to go until Playa del Cocos, but it was before midnight, and we went back and forth about anchoring at night. We decided to power in and set the hook around 2am, but then about 13 miles out I decided that the fact that we were both pretty tired should be a reason not to go into an unfamiliar anchorage without radar (my most wanted electronic item at the moment), so I cut the engine and we drifted and sailed for awhile. Of course when I wanted to go less than three knots, the wind and current were pushing us along at almost four, with just the main! In the right direction! Why couldn't that have happened on the other side?! So I let out the main, but then the wind died and we just drifted toward our Costa Rican destination. We pulled into the anchorage around 5:30am, as the sun gleamed off the resort at Playa Ocotal where my family spent a week full of diving, snorkeling, and wandering five years ago. I never would have guessed that I would be pulling into the bay on my own sailboat. We set the hook and promptly fell asleep. When we woke up a few hours later, we talked with "Lazy Lady" on the VHF and got invited over for chocolate chip pancakes. So we went over, because who can resist chocolate chip pancakes, and chatted with Leticia and Mark and their kids Megaen and Kelvin and took showers on their boat and then we all headed to shore to start the checking in process. The town of Coco is pretty much how I remember it. Its fairly touristy, but in more of a backpacker sense than a package holiday sense. Again, a very different vibe down here than in Mexico. Its making us want to extend our cruise again. We went to the port captain, who is very nice and funny, and started our check in that lasted all day, with many stops at an internet café for copies. We did internet, and while we waited for the port captains office to open again after siesta, J and I went to a german bakery and shared a cold beer and a slice of blueberry cheesecake, all for less than 3 bucks. Yum. We finished up with clearing in and then did some more internet (taxes) and went to Senor Pizza's for a delicious pizza pie. a fellow cruiser we met at the internet place told us about 50cent ice cream, so of course we had to try it out. A day full of healthy food, I tell ya. we got back to the boat after dark and watched some movies loaned to us by "lazy lady" and fell asleep with the cool Costa Rican breeze blowing through the cabin and the faint sound of waves breaking on the shore slipping through the hatch.
Transit of Gitane through the Panama Canal
Jimmy, our transit advisor, pointed to the monstrous orange
freighter a couple of miles away, close to the approach wall of
the Gatun Locks, and said, "We need to get in front of him,
he's the last freighter for the day, and believe me, he won't
stop!" We edged the throttle another half inch forward,
our GPS reading 5.1 knots, our little 27hp beast running strong
after a day of constant yet careful pushing. The sun would be
setting in less than an hour, and if we could make it, we wouldn't
have to anchor in the lake and do the last set of locks the next
day. We scurried about deck arranging lines for a sidewall lockage,
the only possible way to go down with this freighter. We sped
past the ship as it was being maneuvered by tug boats against
the approach wall, closer and closer to the gate for the first
lock. Our little 32 foot Kendall cutter, Gitane, slipped
in between the ship and the rough concrete wall, with 2 minutes
to spare. We cheered as the orange hull towered above, and then
behind us, as we approached the front of the lock and threw our
lines to the handler on land. We didn't think it would happen
after such a late start, but we were going to (barely) make it
through the Panama Canal in one day.
Our advisor was scheduled to arrive at our boat at the Balboa Yacht Club at 0700. Ruth and John, fellow cruisers and our line handlers for the day, as well as their dog Spot came on board at 0600, and joined my partner J and I, as well as J's father John, in consuming copious amounts of coffee and blueberry muffins as the sun rose, illuminating the Bridge of Americas, the starting line of the Canal. At 0800, no advisor in sight, we radioed Flamenco Signal Station and inquired about our status. We were instructed to drop the mooring and proceed into the shipping channel. An APC tug pulled up next to us with Jimmy, and after a failed first attempt and close call with a swiftly moving barge, Jimmy jumped on board and our transit officially began as we passed underneath the famous bridge on our way to the Miraflores locks.
Jimmy told us we were scheduled to be tug-tied at 0950, which he said would give us a fifty-fifty chance of getting through the canal in one day, but we got there early, so he arranged for us to go center chamber behind a barge one lock ahead of schedule. There was a bit of confusion with the monkey-fisted lines being thrown down from the line handlers above and then being let go; the Canal workers decided that there wasn't enough room in the lock behind the barge, so they now wanted to put us through against the sidewall, which we had heard horrible things about while uplocking because of the turbulance, so Captain J refused that option and we turned the boat around in the staging area of the lock while the massive gates swung shut behind us. We were instructed to hover until the lock was ready; we would be going back to Plan A: tied to a Canal tug for the ride up. The tug charged into the lock as soon as the gates opened, and as soon as they were secure against the wall, we threw them our bow and stern lines. While struggling to take up slack in the bow line, we didn't even notice that our ascent was already underway until we looked back and saw the entrance gate half its previous height. Because we were the only two boats in the lock, the turbulence was minimal, that is, until the front gate opened, we untied from the tug, and he went barreling ahead of us into the next lock. The opening of the gate created eddies in the brackish water and J struggled to keep control of the vessel. Jimmy had instructed him to stay close, but not too close, to the rough concrete wall on starboard and gun the engine to fight the whirlpool effects of the intermingling waters. My heart jumped into my throat as Gitane got caught in an eddy and the bowsprit reeled violently toward the wall. My mind raced with possible ways to save the bowsprit and the rig as we were hurtled forward, but about five feet away from the wall, the eddy veered us to port, and I just about collapsed on the foredeck with relief. I regained my composure as we slid in next to the tug in the 2nd lock, tied up like experts, and enjoyed the ride skyward. We then motored into the small Miraflores Lake and changed lines to the starboard side for another tug tied ascent in the Pedro Miguel Locks. Everything went smoothly; we even had time to snap some pictures while the water bubbled up around us and we got our first glimpse of Gaillard Cut.
We devoured pizza and various junk-food as we started the race through the cut and into the lake for the locks on the other side. Small workboats zipped back and forth through the channel doing soundings while a few dredges carved out the constantly filling in passage. I motioned at the hundred or so plastic bottles bobbing in the water outside of the channel marker, Jimmy told us it was dynamite, not a hundred feet away; ninety years after the official completion of the Canal, they are still trying to widen the relatively narrow cut. As we gazed out at the lush jungle covered shore, it was difficult to fathom just how excruciatingly arduous it was for the French and then the Americans to construct this approximately 40 mile passage through the isthmus. The locks in themselves with their massive steel gates and looming rough walls are amazing enough, but the actual manmade canal and lake in between are absolutely incredible.
It was already 1215 and we had about 28 miles to go. Our Isuzu Pisces is a tough little thing, but we were only comfortable motoring at 5 knots, which is pushing it. We figured if worse came to worst, we would rather have to spend two days transiting and possibly pay the $440 penalty than break down in the middle of the lake and require a tow for $1,000/hour! Our deck became very colorful with foul weather gear as the thundering clouds above opened upon us in a downpour and visibility was reduced to a quarter of a mile. Lightening struck all around as we chugged on through the cut and into the lake. We were maintaining between 4.5 and 5.2 knots, despite the rain, headwind and chop.
As the hours and container ships flew by, Jimmy started checking his watch more and more frequently, which made us check our watches and the GPS speed twice as much, and as we turned into the "Banana Channel shortcut" (a very well marked and picturesque channel for smaller vessels), we raised the mainsail (technically not allowed, but most advisors will not object) to increase our speed. Jimmy consulted the schedulers on his VHF handheld, and told us we were scheduled for a 1720 transit through the lock. It was 1615, and we were still in the middle of the islands. The anxiety increased as the minutes marched ahead, but finally, glimpsed between two islands off the bow, lay the main shipping channel and the Alemania Express, which was scheduled to be our lock buddy, if we could make it in time.
We sat snug against the wall, with half of our two dozen tires protecting us from possible harm, and waited for the water to start draining out of the lock. It was simply thrilling to watch the concrete rise above us as we slowly paid out our lines. It was a little more unnerving, however, to watch the spreaders sway less than two feet from the wall. When the gates started to open, we blew our horn to signal the Canal line handlers to release our lines, and they casually strolled to each of the bollards and dropped our lines into the water below. The rushing freshwater accelerated our entry into the next lock, where the same scenario was successfully played out. We finished our third downlocking as twilight descended and as the gates swung open, we motored into the Caribbean, careful to keep up four knots of speed to keep control of Gitane as the freshwater hit the saltwater and caused a bit of liquidy confusion. Darkness rapidly engulfed the channel and we followed the markers and directions from Jimmy, until he was picked up by a Canal pilot boat after a long, wet day at work.
We anchored in the Flats, broke out the cooler with cold Panama Beer, and toasted our successful transit. We bid our friends Ruth and John goodbye and good luck with their transit the following week as they caught a cab back to Panama City, and went to the Panama Canal Yacht Club for a celebratory feast among friends who had been on a boat one lock ahead of us the whole transit. We welcomed each other into the Atlantic, and agreed, what a day, what an experience, what a canal!
From the Canal, we headed east to the San Blas Islands, where
we spent a couple of weeks marveling at the lush green tropical
beauty and crystal blue waters. Finally a weather window arrived
and we departed under lightening filled skies for points north.
A few squalls and great days of sailing later, we arrived in
the Bay Islands of Honduras where we divided our time between
Guanaja and Roatan. The diving and snorkeling was the best we
found anywhere, and when a perfect and rare weather window for
heading to Florida came a week after our arrival, a southeasterly
wind 15-20 knots, we reluctantly raised the sail and said goodbye
to near paradise. We got to Key West five days later and remained
in reverse culture shock for several days afterward. After checking
into the country we made our way up to Ft. Lauderdale where we
were offered a job on a luxury yacht, and with the starting date
a little over a week later, we scurried the boat up the coast
(thank goodness for the Gulf Stream- our little boat hit 12.4
knots!!) to the Chesapeake for hurricane season. But as a lot
of you have probably heard, the job fell through and luckily we
were able to race up to Maine (by car) for a spectacular Fourth
of July. Who knows what's in the cards for us, but we certainly
appreciate the support and positive comments from everyone and
will keep you posted when our next journey, on land or sea, commences!