We are missing Black Friday – but three large dolphins woke us up this morning, swimming around the boat, rubbing themselves against the anchor chain – and apparently listening to music that we played loud enough on the sound system to vibrate the hull. My view is that they like John Prine and Beethoven the best… They stayed for at least 45 minutes surfacing within a few feet of the boat.
Busy day ahead – rowing to the nearby palapa for lunch, and um, hmmm…
Happy Thanksgiving! The one truly great American holiday – generally free from jingoism, fireworks, commercial pressures and TV dinners. We hope you have a good meal with good friends.
We’re at anchor in Bahia Tenacatita – a quiet place and a marked contrast from the high level of activity and tourism at Puerto Vallarta. We got in yesterday afternoon, dropped the anchor and promptly went swimming in the warmest water we’ve seen yet. On the horizon are palm trees, sandy beaches, and high, forest-covered hills.
Sunset brought another reminder that we’re getting south – a cloud of tiny mosquitos. The small ones are the ones that carry malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and that new entry: chikungunya. In most of Pacific Mexico there is little risk of any of the above, although we did hear from a health official in Puerto Vallarta that chikungunya, previously limited to the eastern Caribbean, has made an appearance in Chiapas.
Hannah killed hundreds, Birgit strung mosquito netting, and Syd hoped that a sufficient blood level of fine tequila would make his flesh unappetizing. (It seemed to work.)
Thanksgiving here will consist of sausages, eggplant and marinara sauce on pasta, and, reflecting the context, jicama pieces with chili, salt and lime juice as an appetizer. We hoped to catch a dorado on the way here, but no joy. But we have plenty of food and water, and we’re planning for a lazy four day weekend, including visits to the palapas on the nearby beach…
What a sail! We arrived in Puerto Vallarta yesterday afternoon, after three and a half days from Bahia Santa Maria. Unexpectedly, there was mostly plenty of wind – and for half a day we found ourselves doing 7, even 8 knots with a double-reefed main and staysail only. Exciting, but never scary. Or, at least not really scary. The boat did great – no breakdowns or issues, other than a problem with the iPad, not a big deal.
We’re almost a thousand miles south of the border, already east of El Paso, Texas, and two hours ahead of Seattle. We can see big changes in the night sky – Polaris far lower, Orion wheeling across almost straight overhead. We formally entered the tropics a couple nights ago – 23.5 degrees latitude – and it’s beginning to feel like it.
We instituted our new water policy – fresh water for human consumption only – drinking, coffee and tea, and cooking (pasta and other boiling jobs are done with ½ fresh, ½ salt). All other normal water functions are taken care of with sea water, through the handy foot pump in the galley. After washing and rinsing the dishes in salt water, we give them a slight rinse in fresh with the hand pump, and that’s it for non-human consumption uses. It worked wonders. We could easily carry a month’s worth the water on the boat if we conserve it this way. Much easier than dealing with a watermaker.
Hannah seemed to have the wildlife watch – sea turtles bobbing along, and then two humpback (I think) whales doing the amazing breaching show, where they fire themselves into the air, perhaps half of their length, then rotate and fall on their backs with huge flukes waving above them. That was about 30 miles from Cabo San Lucas as we went towards Puerto Vallarta – a 300 mile open ocean leg of the trip.
The capper, though, was that we caught a beautiful Dorado (aka: Mahi-Mahi, or sometimes even Dolphinfish). It was right before heading into Puerto Vallarta, so we ended up doing “catch and release” – hoping we’ll get another one on the way south from here. It was enough fish for at least three meals, and proved that our fishing methods actually work.
A particularly nice part of this leg was the long nights under the stars, alone in the ocean, no other boats within thirty or forty miles most of the time, with time to think, and dream. Warm night sailing in a t-shirt is hard to beat. Clouds blowing across the moon, new sea birds wheeling in the air and skimming the waves, and no commercial breaks at all.
Today was spent cleaning up the boat and dealing with paperwork, clearing into Mexico. There seems to have been an explosion of bureaucratic detail since I was last here on a boat. It took all day to go through the hoops, but it was friendly, inexpensive, and good practice for my Spanish. Birgit and Hannah spend the time hosing the salt crust off everything, sorting laundry and cleaning. Next is to get our first shower since San Diego, two weeks ago. Swimming in the sea is good, but one or two showers a month is not excessive, right?
We’ll hang out here long enough to get ready for the next leg, loading up on water, fuel and food, end head out early next week for Bahia Tenacatita, Barra de Navidad, and then, after plenty of snorkeling, surfing and eating, on to Zihuatenejo.
We’re at anchor in Bahia Santa Maria, 240 nautical miles south and east of Turtle Bay. It’s about 60 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer here, and the night sails on the way here were the first time on the trip when no one needed polypropylene long johns. It’s warming up! The sea water temperature is now 76 degrees F. We had no fog, and a pretty steady northwest breeze.
Hannah is now doing watches on her own, which breaks the four-hour-on, four-hour-off routine into a much more pleasant schedule.
We got out fishing gear, but no luck so far, even though a small flying fish and a squid jumped up on deck during the second night. We saw a big sea turtle paddle away from the boat as we sailed along one afternoon.
As crowded as much of the earth may seem, Baja California south of Ensenada is a pretty empty place. We’re anchored in a huge bay, with sandy beaches, dramatic, dry mountain peaks around us, and the population of the entire 50-some miles of shoreline isn’t more than 10 or 20 people, and that estimate may be on the high side.
This leg of the trip confirmed that Serafina is a sailboat. It took us about 50 hours to get here, and all but 16 of those hours were under sail. Very cool, leaving her with plenty of fuel, no matter what the wind and weather may offer, to make the next 465 miles to Puerto Vallarta. We’ll set out in a few hours.
Internet is limited to what we can get on Birgit’s Mexican SIM card – which is working here in Bahia Santa Maria, but doesn’t when we’re at sea.
The next update will be from Puerto Vallarta in four, five or six days…
November 11, 2014
We arrived in Turtle Bay yesterday, just as the sun was coming up over the rocky, nearly barren hills – 67 hours after leaving San Diego, now 330 nautical miles away. We had all sorts of weather except rain, including nearly 20 hours of dense fog – but the systems and the crew all performed well. A little seasickness for Hannah, which cleared up after a good sleep the second night out. Birgit also felt a little queasy after preparing an excellent pasta Bolognese in tumultuous seas, but recovered as well.
A wonderful part of this leg was the nearly full moon each of the three nights, bright enough to make it seem like it never really got dark – even in the fog. Also a treat was enough steady wind to sail for nearly half of the distance, mostly at 5 knots or more. Not that we were close enough to see the details, but Northern Baja, after Ensenada, is a severe land, nearly barren, apparently empty of both vegetation and people.
But not completely barren. There were enough people for someone to put a lobster pot in the channel leading past Point Eugenia – about 15 miles before Turtle Bay. We were motoring in the dark with lumpy seas, and we nailed it square on. We heard a thump and our speed promptly dropped from 5.5 knots to 2.5, occasioning comment not suitable to a family web page. The, ah, captain was at the helm.
Talk about odds: think about how many billions of square feet of ocean there are, and how few of them are covered with crab pot floats. The chances of hitting a crab pot, or any other flotsam, should be way less than the odds in the Irish Sweepstakes.
We snagged the trailing line with the boat hook and cut loose the crab pot and one of its buoys, dropping the 200 pound pot where we hope it will be found. Once we had the anchor down in Turtle Bay a quick dive and a small hand saw got the rest of the line and a float loose from the joint between the rudder and the hull. No propeller damage or line wrapped around the shaft. Lucky us.
Turtle Bay (a.k.a. Puerto San Bartolomeo) is a name used by cruisers that has, at least for the time being, stuck. It’s a safe anchorage, almost always above the hurricane belt. A tiny town, maybe 500 or a thousand people, it’s centered around shellfish, including a marine snail (caracol) canning plant.
A few minutes after we dropped the anchor a guy, maybe in his early fifties and looking perfectly well put together, paddled out to say hi, and to ask for a piece of chocolate. We’re anchored next to a large local fishing boat, and, perhaps embarrassed by the chocolate addict, the cook motored over in their panga to offer us coffee and a package of sweet rolls…
Next step is to set out to cover the 700 miles to Puerto Vallarta – maybe in one shot. We’ll see how we, the weather, and the boat hold out. There may be some intermediate stops… For some of the crew, it was the first swim in salt water since Hainan, China.
Although hurricanes are very unusual after November 1, tropical disturbances have threatened to become organized cyclones – which is bad, for those of you who are not sure. Anita has been updating us via the satellite phone on the evolution of the systems. We’ll be paying close attention as we proceed further!
Plenty to report this time. The problem with the halyards was clearly beyond our abilities and expertise to fix, and I’m very pleased to report that Port Townsend Rigging, in the person of Lisa Vizzini, stepped up to the responsibility in a quick, friendly and effective manner. It turns out that the headsail halyard apparently got wrapped around the upper spreader bar inside the mast during its installation at PT Rigging in March. Everyone makes a mistakes (more on that later), and it’s the response to a mistake that distinguishes a good business from an average one. PT Rigging came through with flying colors!
An excellent local rigging company, Rigworks, Inc., served as a surrogate and provided new, re-routed halyards in one day. They were also prompt, friendly and professional, and we learned a lot watching them work. One of the interesting tricks of the trade is that they tied a bunch of steel nuts on the end of the halyard and used a magnet to guide the halyard as they fed it into the mast from the top. We also got from them a $175 (!) roll of Teflon tape that can be used to protect the lines from chafe, should any appear.
We were also able, thanks to Hannah’s slim arms, to replace the failing outhaul car on the boom. She had to reach past her elbow into the back of the boom to remove nuts that held the outhaul car’s track in place, while I used our new impact driver to loosen the screws and Birgit twisted on the driver with a Crescent wrench (called that, by the way, because for a long time those wrenches were only made by the Crescent Tool Company in Brooklyn, N.Y.). And don’t get me started on Vise-Grips. Suffice it to say that only brand name Vise-Grips (not Vice-Grips) are worth your money.
San Diego is a great spot for marine supplies. There are riggers, machine shops, and a wonderful marine hardware store called San Diego Marine Exchange, all walking distance from Shelter Island. I even got some hard-to-find charts of the San Blas Islands of Panama.
So, with all that done, we decided to do a test sail yesterday. We went out around noon, under sun and blue skies, and sailed up and down San Diego Harbor in 15-20 knots of warm wind. A very lovely November day. Sorry, Seattle.
Further on the subject of mistakes, as we returned from the test sail, the captain of our ship (ok, it was me) managed to put her aground on a sand bank near the entrance to the Shelter Island Marina. “What’s that sign say?” Hannah asked innocently, as we sat there stuck. It said, “Danger, Shoal!” I’m pleased to say that the exactly correct nautical terminology was used – which you will find under the entries for “O” in the handy new glossary that you can reach on the tab above. Anyway, it was nice soft sand. We raised the sails, which heeled the boat over enough to get us off. Hannah’s hat blew off during the excitement, so we got to perform a nice “Man Overboard” drill and got it back.
The saying is, “There are two kinds of sailors, those who have run aground, and those who lie about it.”
A post-sail inspection of the halyards showed no compression or abrasion, so it appears that the problem is solved. We stopped by the fuel dock on the way back to our slip and filled the tank to the tippy-top.
Now we are back at the dock, watching the weather, stocking up, and wallowing in luxury at the San Diego Yacht Club. In the spirit of full disclosure, as John Erlichman used to say, I have to report that they make an even better bacon cheeseburger than the Sloop Tavern. That’s an achievement of a very high order. The only snarky comment I have to make is that you can understand the issues of race in the United States quite well by comparing the ethnic composition of the SDYC to that of the US prison system.
So, now we cook some meals to eat during the three day passage to Turtle Bay, about 300 nautical miles down the coast of Baja California. We’ll leave here either Friday or Saturday. Life is about to change a lot! We’ll definitely have limited phone and internet access, but we’ll try to keep you up to date.
We are in San Diego – last stop in the US before heading down the coast of Mexico and beyond.
The trip from Oxnard to San Diego was a first – we sailed the whole way! We did 139 miles in 28 hours (under sail), first with a light breeze, then later with a strong one. We had to tack around a fair amount, as the wind was never exactly right for our course, but Serafina did as well as 8.3 knots through the water, so we still made a good average time.
It was Hannah’s first leg of the trip, and the first time on a sailboat for her friend Sean – “the tree man.” He did great, sharing a watch with me, while Hannah was on watch with Birgit. Their 10:00pm to 2:00am watch was an exciting one – strong winds, rail dipped in the water, salt water roaring down the deck, then pouring rain. Hannah is settling right in and will be an excellent sailing companion – she was right at home at the tiller in the dark and the wind.
Special thanks to Sean, who pointed out a worn spot on the foresail halyard. A biologist, he climbs trees a lot, and thus pays attention to lines. Something inside the mast is chafing the halyards (the lines that raise the sails) when the sails are hoisted – right where they pass by the radar antenna. Big problem, since we can’t be changing out halyards every few weeks. For now, the worn spots are reinforced with polyester seizing twine. Once the foresail halyard is replaced, that may be enough. We’ll figure something out. Any suggestions? Maybe wrapping the chafe spots with stainless steel wire?
Talk about the lap of luxury. Our membership in the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club ($75 a year) entitles us to moorage at the San Diego Yacht Club – not for free, of course. What a place! If you took all the negatives about the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club and changed them to positives, and all the positives about the STYC and changed them to negatives, you’d have a perfect idea of the San Diego Yacht Club.
For example, as a negative, the STYC does not have an Olympic size swimming pool sparkling under brilliant blue skies. On the other hand, a positive, STYC has a great dive bar with fine hamburgers and two pool tables. Another positive is that I bet no one has ever joined the STYC to “do” business lunches, or to enhance their career or their “social position”…
All the way down the US coast, we felt like the leading edge of winter was just a few steps behind us. A passing cold front was what made our trip from Oxnard to San Diego exciting. But now we’re getting into something different – the relatively less detailed information about ocean weather in more remote areas, and the still-lingering East Pacific hurricane season, usually a summertime issue. Hurricane Vance is lurking along the central coast of Mexico, forecast to turn north. Vance is “only” a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of 70 knots, but, still…
Vance will be history by the time we get to areas the storm might affect, and let’s hope he’s the last of the fall’s uninvited guests.
We’ll head out Tuesday or Wednesday, next stop most likely “Turtle Bay” about halfway down the coast of Baja. Most all our paperwork for Mexico is in order, including a very colorful and official-looking “Temporary Importation Permit” for the boat. We’ll pick up a Mexican fishing license at a fishing equipment store here in San Diego on Monday -and get a couple nice tuna lures at the same time.
It’s time to check the stock of critical items, like Joy dish soap, #6 coffee filters and other hard-to-find things that seem essential to life as we know it. Triscuits can be replaced with tortillas, but there’s no substitute for Joy!