Monday, March 31, 2014

Legs

It's time. Hurricane season is coming, so all the cruisers are making their move. Some of our friends are headed south to El Salvador, others are making the jump to the South Pacific or heading back north via the long passage to Hawaii. And we are heading north. Against the prevailing winds and currents, against prevailing opinion, we're going to be "bashing" all the way home.

Bryan hypothesized that it was the delivery captains who started calling this route "the bash" in hopes of drumming up more business from fearful sailors and, just a couple of weeks ago, we heard a story that indicates he might not be too far off the mark. Everything we've heard from people who've actually done the trip gives us more confidence that our plan is sound. We've dealt with headwinds and currents, high winds and big seas before. We know the boat can handle it (maybe even better than the crew). And we have plenty of time to wait for good weather to make the trip as easy as possible. 

Still, we've been a little apprehensive about the many, many miles we need to cover and all the potentially difficult capes to round. So we've been trying to break the trip up into manageable chunks. We plotted out 13 legs of 200 miles, roughly 48 hours. Some legs are a little bit long--Bahia Tortugas to Ensenada is almost 300. Others are significantly shorter--Astoria to St. Helens will be a breeze at +/- 70 miles.
Then, to help us visualize our plan, Bryan drew it on the wall.


The map is stylized, and not quite to scale. But it gives us a beautiful representation of where we've been and where we're going.
We plan to stop in between most of these ports along the way. And we wouldn't be surprised if we missed one or more of these in favor of another port that ended up more convenient or attractive in the moment. But this helps us to pace ourselves and watch our progress. The girls even made a tiny boat symbol as well as a (very much not-to-scale) house on the other end. On our passage from Isla Isabel to Mazatlan, the last portion of our first leg, I glanced up and more than once, saw that the little boat had been moved a little closer to our destination dot.

Many people opt to head back to the Pacific NW via Hawaii. The winds and currents are often much easier on boat and crew, though of course, there are more miles to cover. But we have pretty limited water and fuel supplies and don't think that is a safe option for us. Besides, we made friends in many ports along the way and are really looking forward to visiting them again on the way back. And we expect to meet up with family a time or 2 along the way too, something that wouldn't be at all feasible in the middle of the Pacific.

We've added some fuel tanks on deck for the long days of motoring and have put in a stock of good watch snacks to entice the whole crew to be excited about watches. We have a new watch schedule that makes better use of the energy of the young people we have aboard. And, since we expect the "bash" to be difficult, every day in which we can sail, every day that's not miserable, feels like a win. 

Leg 1-Yelapa to Mazatlan-188 miles (Already done! It was a beautiful trip and we even were able to sail for much of it!)
Leg 2-Mazatlan to Cabo San Lucas- 192 miles
Leg 3-Cabo to Bahia Magdalena- 170 miles
Leg 4-Bahia Magdalena to Bahia Tortugas- 253 miles
Leg 5-Bahia Tortugas to Ensenada- 281 miles Here we may detour out to Isla Guadalupe, the westernmost point in Mexico. It would add about 100 miles, about 24 hours to our journey, but if the winds are up, it would be considerably more comfortable to reach out and back again instead of beating into the wind and waves on a stubborn rhumb-line course.
Leg 6-Ensenada to San Diego-62 miles!!!

Leg 7-San Diego to San Miguel Island- 195 miles
Leg 8-San Miguel to Monterey- 180 miles
Leg 9- Monterey to San Francisco- 88 miles
Leg 10-San Francisco to Eureka- 223 miles
Leg 11-Eureka to Bandon- 213 miles
Leg 12-Bandon to Astoria- 124 miles
Leg 13- Astoria to St. Helens-68 miles

If all my numbers are accurate (I'm off the boat and away from my charts, so I'm not double checking) that's 2237 miles. That number seems impossible. But we plan to leave this afternoon for the first part of Leg 2, 150 miles or so across to the Baja peninsula. Before I know it, we'll be halfway...then 3/4s...then home.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Take Two

Our first trip to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, we spent a lot of our time at the La Cruz Inn, where Michele and Trina stayed. We didn’t really explore the town and felt completely overwhelmed by the calendar of cruisers’ events we were handed when we checked into the marina. But this time around, we knew we’d be in town for a week or 2…or 3 or 4.
So our goal for our first full day in La Cruz was to walk around and see what we could see. We ran into David and Carolyn first thing, and took off for town together.
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They’d only been in town a day when we pulled into the small boat dock just a few slips away from CrazyLove (and right next to our mutual friend Will from Thallasea. Remember Will and his errant dinghy? Remember Will and the lovely Christmas celebration?) But they’d already scoped out a cheap taco stand that sold rotisserie chickens and fried taquitos.
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We walked through town, past the roundabout with the town’s eponymous cross (made of Hunacaxtle wood), and up to Tu Pollo on the corner of the main highway.
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The sign says “Welcome for Chicken.”
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We got fried tacos, bags of rice and salsa, and delicious potatoes (see them roasting there underneath the dripping chicken fat? Oh, yes!) for all 5 of us for about $7.50 USD. David and Carolyn dug into their order on the spot and immediately went back for more. We picked up some drinks at a local “mini-super” and walked back to the main plaza to eat.
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We found some shade in the gazebo and dug into our meal under the watchful eye of the local iguana population.
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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the cobblestone streets around town.
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We eventually stumbled across an lovely oasis called The Octopus’ Garden. It’s part restaurant/bar/coffee shop, part art gallery/T-shirt printing shop with live music several days a week, a dance floor upstairs, and a wood shop out back.
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We walked through the quiet courtyard and found our way to the Huichol Art Gallery at the back. The owners work closely with indigenous people from the area to market their colorful yarn and bead artwork and reproduce several designs on bright T-shirts to help spread the traditional artwork more broadly.
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After a few minutes, several kids burst in and dashed up the stairs. A little curious, we followed them up and found a young Canadian woman teaching an aerial silks class to a mix of locals and cruisers’ kids. She flipped deftly between English and Spanish and just as adeptly, flipped up and down the hanging silk.
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I pulled up a chair next to one of the local moms and we easily found connections between our busy lives. She said, “I’d love to learn English, and they offer classes here, but by the time we get home from school and eat something…there’s just no time."
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Evening found us at "The Twins," a taco stand near La Cruz's main plaza. This small street restaurant had opened just a few days before we arrived in town. Over the next few weeks, it was fun to watch the owners add menu items and equipment as they could. First, they added napkin holders, then salsa bowls for each table, and one proud day, they owner called Bryan over to witness the installation of an Al Pastor rotisserie. They learned our names and joked with Meira about her insatiable appetite. We met some of their 8 kids (including the 3-year-old twins) We affectionately nicknamed the place "Tacos on the Square," "White Tent Tacos," or eventually, Alejandra and Leno's place. 10 peso tacos and new Mexican friends--now we're talking!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Under the Sea

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We’ve had lots of fun learning to snorkel on this trip. Because we were new to the sport, we didn’t really know what to expect. But I think we’re getting spoiled by the snorkeling here. And our time at Las Tres Marietas was among the best we’ve had.
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Our first day there with Ryan (who, once again, took some of the photos in this post. Let’s just give him credit for all the good ones, OK?), he and Bryan went over to the island. In the morning, several big tour boats picked up moorings near ours and disgorged dozens of tipsy tourists for kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling. Some hopped into pangas for a quick ride over to the small beach on the island, so we figured it was OK to go ashore too.
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After the guys rowed over, a park ranger came by and asked me how many of us were aboard. He didn’t speak any English, but I understood him to say it was fine for us to be tied up to the mooring, but not OK to go up on the island. I told him I’d call the guys on the radio to let them know, but before they could find each other and head down, the ranger had gone ashore to find them himself. Even after watching the tour boats head in, Bryan had wondered about shore access, but none of our guide books said to stay off and there was a big “Welcome” sign leading to clearly delineated paths leading up the hillside. As he and Ryan were heading down, they ran into the ranger, who kindly, but firmly said a lot of things in Spanish they didn’t understand. They figured out that it was a big deal, though, when he started miming putting them in handcuffs.
After they got back to the boat, the ranger panga came by again, took the guys passport information, and reiterated the importance of staying off the sensitive island. “The beach is OK, but don’t go up,” he said, and mimed tracking invasive species in on our shoes (a tricky thing to do in a moving boat!) While his co-worker worked the outboard engine to keep the panga close to our gunwales, we apologized profusely and made it clear we wouldn’t go up again. But when we added, “We’ll tell our friends and the other boaters not to go up on the islands,” he seemed to calm down even more. I’m sure he could picture us posting photos on social media and encouraging others to make the same mistake we did.
So…I’m officially telling you all. If you visit Las Tres Marietas, please stay in the water
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or on the beach
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and don’t, not matter how inviting the paths or misleading the signage, don’t go up on the islands.
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The next day, Bryan and Ryan jumped in to get in some snorkeling before the party boats arrived. I finished up a few things around the boat and decided to join them. As I pulled out my snorkel gear, I spotted Bryan heading my way. He called, “You’ve got to come see this!” I hollered back, “I’m on my way!”
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Before I even got away from the boat, I was surrounded by fish.
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We saw too many different varieties to identify them all, though we spent quite a bit of time after we got out, dripping over our guide book and pointing out what we’d seen.
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The fish weren’t spooked by our presence. If anything, several schools seemed interested in us. Their hive-mind reflexes kept them from colliding with each other or with us, the unpredictable giants, swimming through their watery world.
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video
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In the afternoon, we sat back and watched the tour-boat show. Experienced kayakers and paddleboarders dodged the sunburned, tipsy kind. One man, obviously new to stand-up paddleboarding, wore his wide-brimmed cowboy hat with stubborn determination. We kept watching for it to fall off when he did, but it stayed firmly affixed through his entire stint in—and back out, and back in again...and back out and back in again—the water. 

Ryan and Meira took turns jumping off the boat.
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And I played with the photo-burst setting on the camera.
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Then Bryan and the girls went snorkeling again. The tour boats had left but the fish had not!
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I love the polka-dotted flippers!
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Later in the afternoon, Bryan took off on his own to explore the intricate shoreline, where the island’s rocks and arches meet the power of the sea.
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With every recent post, I have to work to resist the urge to type the same words: …and we reluctantly sailed away. Today, I’m giving in. As evening approached, we reluctantly sailed away. The sailing was glorious and we made good time in the brisk afternoon wind.
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Soon the sun hooked the breeze and dragged it down over the horizon. We sat in the stillness of the bay and watched the colors fade. And then the dolphins arrived, arching supple backs in the settling waves. We sat for a little bit longer—quiet, amazed.
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We finally, yes, even reluctantly, turned on the engine and motored the rest of the way to the marina in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, coming into the now-familiar entrance in the dark. The girls stayed in the boat while the adults found a way around the locked marina gates (the dock gates here require a keycard to enter or exit and we wouldn’t get ours until we officially checked in the next morning) and walked up into town for dinner.
It’s easy to see why we say “reluctant” about the places we leave behind. And at times we give in and stay a little longer. But when we manage to tear ourselves away and head back out again, we almost always find new gifts waiting, precious experiences, more wonder.