Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Leg 1, Intermission—Mazatlan

We spent most of our first afternoon in Mazatlan in or around the pool, 

but Bryan and I also did some information gathering, trying to figure out where to buy a replacement hard drive for our computer. On the coast of Baja, we planned to use the computer along with a USB internet stick to pull in all-important weather forecasts. We had no other devices aboard that had this capability, so we felt quite a bit of pressure to get it working again.

Take your daughter to work day?

The next morning, Bryan and I took several buses into Office Depot and the computer store in downtown Mazatlan. Office Depot doesn't carry hard drives and didn't seem to have any way to order them. We eyed the new laptops, just in case we had to go that route, but all the keyboards were Spanish keyboards and all the operating systems were in Spanish too. The computer store downtown was closed already, since it was Sunday, so we grabbed some lunch and made plans to come back the next day. We spent the afternoon in the pool and I spent some time working on our health insurance situation, trying to beat the deadlines for the Affordable Care Act while jumping through some illogical hoops (The website for the Oregon Exchange was broken, so we had to use an agent. But the agent referral website I found was broken too. Finally, I found some agents in our area and started gathering information, much of it contradicting. You have to be physically present in Oregon to apply. But you have to apply before March 31 whether you're in Oregon or not. Moving back will qualify you for a 60 day open enrollment period. Moving back will not qualify you for a 60 day open enrollment period. And on. And on.) We just wanted to make sure we were covered when we hit the US, but dealing with all of this hoopla, without phones and on sketchy internet required more than one pool-side pina colada.

March 24, we took another trip to Oldtown Mazatlan. The main electronics store didn't sell internal hard drives. 

As we walked down the street, we saw computers in a pawn shop window and went in to ask if they knew where we could find them. 

They sent us around the block to “Computer-Repair-Shop Alley” and we popped in to one shop after another 

only to be told they didn't have any way to find us a hard drive. It was hard to believe that in a city this size, we couldn't find a replacement hard drive, so we kept looking. 

The last shop we went in sent us to yet another store, a little no-name repair shop around the corner. They weren't open, but the woman in the store next door 

said they were just out for lunch and would be back in 30 minutes. 

(You should know that almost all of this communication was in Spanish, so we did our best and hoped we'd understood correctly.) We spent a few minutes in a Mexican-style Sur la Table, where household goods of every sort stood shoulder to shoulder on ceiling-high shelves. We picked up a tortilladora (it's way more fun to say than tortilla press) and a few other things we needed, including a large cutting board for a project on the boat. We stopped in lots of fabric stores and finally found some polar fleece to cover our settee seats. The current upholstery picks up salt from our wet clothes and then attracts the humidity. Polar fleece doesn't attract dew in the same way and we wanted dry seats for the trip home. I fumbled through a description of safety pins and Bryan finally rescued me by grabbing a pen and playing a quick round of pictionary. While we were getting ready to check out, the power went out. They print multiple sales tickets and receipts for every sale, so I hoped we could still make our purchases, but the power came back on right away and we got what we needed.
We'd gone back to the no-name computer store several times during all of this, but they still hadn't returned. Now, after all the shopping we could think of and a little lunch ourselves, we walked back and sat down in front of the store. The glass doors were still locked, but the metal gates were still open. We figured they were coming back at some point today, but didn't know how long we should wait. 

About the time we were thinking about making a plan, the owner pulled up. We followed him into the cool shop and explained, with all of our new vocabulary, hard-earned from a day of searching all over town, what it was we needed. He understood right away and started tapping away on his laptop to see if he could find us anything in the area. The only drives he could find that would fit our computer were similar to the hard drive in my old laptop. It's keyboard was broken, so we couldn't use it for weather, but Bryan figured he could use recovery media to reinstall our current system on the old, but still usable hard drive. He spent the rest of the day trying to pull in recovery media in the marina's computer room only to discover that it wouldn't install on any disk but the original which, of course, was broken. You should thank me right now for all the computery details I'm omitting from this story, but we spent much of the next few days fighting, with bad internet, in another language, to solve a problem Bryan could have solved in the states in an afternoon with $50-100. I finally summed it up to a friend. “This computer problem is just as important, just as expensive, and just as frustrating as our dinghy loss (though, of course, not as sad). But it doesn't make for nearly as good a story!” He downloaded a whole new operating system, only to discover the install wizard was in Spanish. It failed to install on my old hard drive, but only after it had erased the old operating system. We seriously considered just buying a Spanish laptop for the Baja weather and then re-selling it in the US. I finally found a shop in Cabo San Lucas that said the could get us a new, English-keyboard laptop in only 2 business days. Problem solved! (See the next post for the disappointing truth:-)
We spent the next few days dealing with the computer, insurance, and bank fraud issues. The bank wanted us to mail in our paperwork or come in in person. We finally convinced them to let us scan it in and e-mail it—whew! 

We made a run to Walmart for groceries and some clothes and shoes. Meira is still growing and we all are going through shoes far faster than at home.

Devouring our salad, a special treat!

Market day tradition: meat for dinner

We spent more time in the pool. Meira joined a group of 50 and 60 year-old sailors who play a daily round of water volleyball. 
And Hannah and I relaxed in our own way:-)

One day a friend, a single-handing woman we'd met in La Cruz, showed up just down the dock from us. When she heard we were hoping to add a sail rig to our dinghy, she dug out a dinghy sail and passed it on to us. She'd grown up sailing and really wanted the girls to have the opportunity to learn on their own in a small boat. Hopefully we can get the rig finished before the trip is over.
March 28, we planned to leave. We checked the weather, had all our groceries ready, and made one last trip for fish tacos at The Fish Market, a favorite restaurant in the area. But in the afternoon, after we'd checked out, I started feeling a migraine come on, so we made the decision to stay another day. The weather looked good for several days, and we didn't want to leave for the long, Sea of Cortez crossing down by ¼ of the crew. The next afternoon, we had checked out again when we got the news: all the kid-boats we'd hoped to meet here had just gotten back from their inland trip to the Copper Canyon. We made the easy decision to stay “just one more day” and let the marina office know. Somehow, we managed to corral all the families for a 22-person dinner out. 

The waiters opened a tab for each boat and quickly figured out which parents from this end of the table went with which kids from that end. While there, the other boats enticed us to stay just one more day with the promise of an evening of bowling together. The weather was still good, and we knew it might be the last time in a long time we would see these special people, so we were an easy sell. We spent a delightful day around the pool with friends and had a fun time bowling together in the evening.

March 31, our really-truly last day in Mazatlan, I went out to breakfast with my good friend Jen, from s/v Appa. 
Her family is finishing up a similar trip, heading back to Seattle about the same time (some of them sailing the boat back by way of Hawaii, others beating to windward the quick way, in an airplane.) They and several others we've met will end up within driving distance and we're already starting to toss around thoughts of summer sailing in the Puget Sound together.
Despite the 36-hour passage ahead, we all managed to relax for the morning. 

We'd been ready to go for days, so we didn't need to do any last-minute running around. 

In the afternoon, we said our goodbyes and motored out into the sea for the start of leg 2.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Leg 1, part 2—Isla Isabel to Mazatlan

March 18-March 31
We did it! We'd visited Isla Isabel just after the new year when all the booby birds were still mating. Then, a month or so later, we went back during nesting season. Now, on our way back north to Mazatlan, we took the detour back out to the island to see if we could arrive in time to see some of the babies. 

It was a little bit out of the way but, as I told Bryan, if this trip was about efficiency, we wouldn't be doing it aboard a sailboat!

Apron on, pencil in the hair, hands on the tiller...baker, writer, sailor: that's me!
We had a great run over from Chacala and were even able to sail quite a bit of the 14 hour run. 
We left around 4:30 am and made good use of the morning offshore breeze as well as the afternoon onshore flow. We arrived just before sunset with enough time to dive in and check the anchor. 

In the morning, we hung out on the boat and kept an eye out for our friends from CrazyLove who were following us up to the island. Their shorter waterline meant a little longer trip, but they made it in just fine. 

We enjoyed a couple of delightful days in the waters surrounding the island, snorkeling, reading, cooking, and spending precious time with our dear friends, the last days we would have together for quite some time. 

We had dinner together their first evening there and stayed up late our last evening together, sharing drinks and reminiscing. We are so grateful for the vagaries of tide and time that brought them into our life and for the chance to form a lasting friendship in the recent months. They're stuck with us now!
I can just see the CrazyLove snorkelers!

One day, we got a call on the radio from a boat in the southern anchorage asking if we'd heard the announcement about the tropical storm. I hadn't been paying much attention to the radio chatter, so I hadn't heard the official announcement or switched channels for more details. I listened more closely during the afternoon, trying to pick out any information about this unlikely happening; we were nowhere near hurricane season. We watched the barometer carefully to see if a low pressure system was moving in. Nothing seemed amiss, but it took me a few hours to stop worrying.
(We heard later that there was a severe wind event in the Sea of Cortez with gusts up to 60 knots or so. Some friends of ours were in the area and waited out the storm at anchor. They told a harrowing, only-funny-in-hindsight story about looking out their hatch at 3am to see their dinghy fly off their cabin top and go sailing away toward sea. They performed a high-adrenaline rescue and managed to re-anchor in the horrible conditions. I'm glad we missed it!)
Bryan sketches out our map of the trip home
The day we left for Mazatlan, we finally went ashore for a baby booby hunt. 

We spotted several babies in the nests on the beaches and hiked inland for a few minutes, past a noisy colony of what I think were ground-nesting terns. 

Meira pointed out baby frigates 

and Hannah hunted for lizards, as usual. 

But for some reason on this visit, my eyes were drawn to the evidence of death. 

Half-eaten fish sat rotting in the path. 

Lobster tails and crab claws cluttered the tide line. Fully-grown birds and ill-fated babies lay sprawled over stones, all the grace of life lost in the twisted pose of death. 

We didn't stay long enough to see the complete process, to watch the carcasses provide food for other creatures or dissolve into the ground to fertilize the soil. 

And I don't have anything new to say about the “circle of life.” Simply that the contrast was striking, new life hatching out all over, 

side-by-side with death. Every individual fighting “tooth and claw” to keep from joining the ranks of those who lost the battle for survival.
In the afternoon, we rowed over to meet some new neighbors who were getting ready to head out for Mazatlan too. And then, with a last wave goodbye to CrazyLove, we pulled up the anchor and headed north.

So far, our conditions for going north had been great. Today, we motorsailed in light winds and calm seas. We laughed ourselves silly over the antics of a group of jumping manta rays and watched as they flipped and spun through the air, their wings rippling, and then sat out in the warm evening as the sun set in the blue, blue sky. When I woke up in the morning, the blue was gone and we were motoring over perfectly calm seas through an unexpected bit of thick fog. 
We picked up a hitchhiker, this brown booby up on the spreaders. A closer look revealed why he had stopped. His right foot hung dangling, useless.
After a few minutes on the spreaders, he took off, only to land awkwardly on our sidedeck. Bryan put on his heavy and gloves and went forward to extricate him from the docklines. 

The bird settled in for a few more minutes of rest on the dinghy and we were just planning how to get help when we got to Mazatlan when he flew off, trailing his broken leg behind. We've seen other birds on this trip make do with just one good leg, so we can imagine that he'll find a way to cope. But the images from Isabel linger and I choose to face the hard truths that color the darker side of nature's beauty.

Bryan stayed up past the end of his watch to see us through it safely. I listened on the VHF for any word of traffic exiting the commercial harbor (all vessels are required to obtain permission before entering or exiting.) We took the long way around the islands near the city, safely out of the way of harbor traffic or off-lying rocks. And just before we needed to make the turn toward the small boat harbor at the north end of the city, the fog lifted and we were able to see our way clearly into the marina.
We pulled into the same marina where we'd spent Christmas. We motored straight to the fuel dock and, while Bryan filled up our tanks, I went up to the office to see if they had any availability for us. They were pretty full, but we're small and they found us a slip. We gave high fives all around for a safe completion of Leg 1, then silly, off-balance “foot-fives” because, as one of the girls reminded us, it was the end of the leg. It's a good thing puns don't weigh anything; I think this family would sink the boat.