Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spit Shined and Ship Shape

 We checked into a slip for a few nights back at Marina Riviera Nayarit (La Cruz) on our northward return to Banderas Bay. A few days turned into a week, and allowed us to get a lot done on the boat.

Coming into Marina La Cruz

Your reward if you wake up with the sun -- at 7 AM in the marina

We also uncovered a few more eateries, music venues, convenient corner tiendas and of course got to know a few more locals and cruisers on the docks. 

Thanks for the special dinner, D and L.
We had a fun evening as guests at The Black Forest restaurant, as a thank you from the boaters with the broken rudder outside Tenacatita Bay. Turns out they live in La Cruz, eat at the Black Forest weekly, and were awfully appreciative of our help or potential help. Really nice folks – and from the Northwest.  

In addition to some unusually good German food (with a Mexican flair!), we found a sweet pizza place, an outstanding taco stand, and on our last night we checked out two more cruiser’s hang-outs, including Britannia, where “open mic” turned out some darn good cover bands.

La Cruz has turned into a “home base” for the southern part of our trip. We haven’t counted, but have probably spent have about 5 weeks there in total. It’s a great destination in the Puerto Vallarta area – both from sea and land vantage points. It is full of services including boatyard and chandlery, computer store, and hair salon (that’s right Sandy, you have some competition here as Lanham’s top barber). 

With the only mega-store a 45 minute bus ride away, grocery shopping in La Cruz allows for the fun of buying fresh organic eggs and tequila at one shop, warm tortillas and some produce at another, and shrimp or dorado almost right off the boats at the fish market. Fresh meat is the one thing that we did not find we wanted to stock up on here. The town does have a couple of carneterias (butcher shops) but the observable standards of cleanliness were out of our comfort zone. I’m sure we are just squeamish because the mujeras were lined up to buy hunks of cow, lamb, or chicken daily. We thought a good find was the spit-roasted whole chickens at Sr. Pollo, a road-side stand along the highway, where the meat was well-cooked and came with sides of rice, potatoes, jalapenos, and corn tortillas – $7 and enough for several meals. 

In addition to an ongoing stocking of food provisions, we got well-rested, Melinda got to go to morning yoga class at the marina, and we had our laundry done at our favorite lavanderia called “Jaboncito”  (little soap). Just maybe, that is the best thing about life in Mexico. You pack up your dirty laundry and carry it to the friendly shop where it is weighed. The charge is 12 pesos ($1) a kilo. So for about $6 (quarters not required) we return later the same evening or the following day and pick up our beautifully packaged clean, fresh and folded laundry. It is folded so well that nothing needs ironing and we’ve never even lost a sock.

Also in La Cruz we asked around and found Eduardo and his Computadora Hospital, a shop where we replaced our broken computer printer for a used one at reasonable price. The printer is a bit of an extravagance on the boat, but it has come in handy for copying, printing or scanning some boat paperwork and it has a perfect designated shelf. We had a consultation with a Pieter, a Dutch electrician who has a solar panel shop in La Cruz. We know the panels are not giving us the full voltage they are capable of and we suspect the cables, which are beginning to show the signs of salt-air corrosion. He confirmed and had good recommendations for rewiring… we’ll put it on the list! In the meantime we’ve been motoring plenty to keep our house batteries charged up. While it sometimes feels like entropy is ever increasing – there are still way more systems on the boat that are working perfectly than not. “Mi barco es rota” (my boat is broken) was one of the first Spanish sentences we learned on this trip and have fortunately not had to use much!

The inflatable kayaks however were beginning to look “rota.”  They have continued to be one of our favorite toys, plus a useful mode to get ashore. They were well-used to start with and the fabric is thinning, the seams beginning to tear out. We gave them a big cleaning, drying, deflating and seam mending with the sewing machine. “Pretty” was not a goal, strong was. They are back on deck, with another lease on life, holding air and keeping us drier. We also got the bicycles out. Keeping zippers corrosion free is an ongoing challenge and the biggest recent challenge was getting the bikes out of their zippered bags. We got them oiled up and decided that it was nice to have them off the deck and we couldn’t see a lot of long bike rides in our immediate future. We asked a local sailor if he could find a deserving kid or family in La Cruz that would use one and decided to keep one to see if it came in handy in La Paz.

 Most exciting, we got high marks on a rigging inspection and some pointers for “tightening the rig” which we did. We’re anxious to see if we notice a difference when we set off again. The rigging inspection is a requirement for insurance to sail to Hawaii as well as a good idea. We reconnected with the surveyor and delivery skipper who lives in PV and had sailed with us when we bought Solar Wind down here. It worked out easily for him to meet us in La Cruz. His son is a rigger here and did the inspection aloft. 

We got a good report and got to have lunch with our friend Doug and his wife. They have tons of sailing experience, including double-handing to Hawaii, so it was fun to hear their stories and advice. Lanham did the adjusting, cleaning and tightening of the stays while I did the cleaning and polishing of the stainless on the boat. Together we reversed all the halyards, a recommendation to extend their life by exposing the other end to UV.  Jose (yes, we paid!) polished and waxed the mast while his helper, Guermo, gave the top deck a soapy washing. At $30 more we couldn’t resist having Oskar clean the bottom. What a luxury! Feeling shiny and ship shape!

Some parting shots of La Cruz -- a little sad to say good-bye!

Ready for the next chapter – north to the more rugged Sea of Cortez

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Familiar Territory

We made the remaining 150-mile trek back here to Banderas Bay over 5 days. A nice leisurely pace, but also necessary lay days due to squally weather, big head winds and uncomfortable lumpy seas!

We first tracked back to Chamela in sunshine and a nice close reach. The clouds were spectacular, the shadows on the hills beautiful, and the weather perfect for drying out all the dampness from 3 days of rain. We did laundry as well as airing the pillows and sheets.

We were really determined and optimistic about catching a fish. The sport fishers and pangueros had been having luck out early in the morning and had reported catching dorado. We know they liked our lures – and we know we had some BIG fish strike, because we lost 3 lures, one line broke just as we were picking up the pole and the next didn’t even slow down, just took all the line off the reel. We have been using 60 lb test line, thinking we couldn’t really handle a 100 lb fish, but we will up the weight of our line next time we replace it. We did catch a nice 15 – 20 lb skipjack tuna and another one the next day – so we are not really complaining -- just hankering for a little more variety – and we hated losing our favorite lures. We are getting pretty casual with photographing the run-of-the-mill tuna catches...

After resting up in Chamela, grilling salmon and visiting the town by kayaks we prepared for an early morning departure by bringing in the flopper-stopper rig before going to bed the second night. Big mistake – it was way too rolly to sleep, so since we were wide awake we took off at 1am, thinking that we might do the 100 miles (about 16 hrs) back to Banderas Bay in one stretch. With dawn the wind came up, on our nose, and with it bumpy chop, making 6-10 foot swells close together. With a double reef in the main we were still getting knocked around. We were about 8 miles off the coast, thinking it would allow us to sail whatever heading was most comfortable. By about 11am we were still 15 miles south Cabo Corrientes, (cape of currents) the big point where the water is supposed to get turbulent! While the boat was performing well it was not a situation in which we’d want to deal with anything breaking. We were beat, so made a slow mid-day trek in to revisit the Ipala anchorage that we had stopped at on the way south. As we neared the small bay, it was already haboring 5 sailboats and 4 large tuna boats. Apparently nobody wanted to be out getting beat around. This anchorage had seemed small with two boats in it last time we were here, but “any port in a storm” we found a spot and 3 more cruisers came in and found safe spots too before nightfall. 
One of the four tuna boats that joined us in port -- though the weather doesn't look too threatening!

Our new favorite bay
The wind stayed up the next day, but we were glad to stay put and have another day to kayak in and walk the town. The town of Tehuamixtle at Punta Ipala turned into one of our new favorites. We had a short hike up over the hill and imagined the possibilities of building a casita overlooking this bay! To us it seemed like the “yet to be discovered” get away. Not easy to find from Puerto Vallarta, but really just around the cape from the south Bay of Banderas. According to signs, the town just got electricity and water/sewage treatment in 2009. We bought homemade “arroz con leche” (rice pudding) from some kids out in front of their house (how’s that for brave). The aborrate mujer did not have anymore fresh tortillas but sold us half of those she had bought that morning for her own family. We had a beer at one of the restaurantes and finished just as the extended family came up from the beach for their mid-day Sunday meal of fresh pawns, tortillas, rice and beans. So glad we found this little spot and “had” to spend an extra day!

The gate to town and a beautiful little roadside chapel.
I found a sweet little kindergarten that looked like a place of real learning...
maybe we WILL move here.

The school yard had a pony, a calf and some goats -- talk about hands on learning.

and they are ripe for some playground improvements...

Monday morning, we left Ipala at 6 am, along with two other boats headed north. The tuna boats had headed out the night before, a good sign that the wind had calmed down around the point. We had a good trip north – about 10 hours to La Cruz. There are about 2-dozen cruising boats outside the marina and probably 4-dozen more inside. The last couple days have been spent on maintenance – fuel filter, lubing, cleaning – the usual – and a dinghy trip in to freshen the provisions. We are making arrangements to have a rigging inspection while here, an insurance requirement (and good idea) for the Hawaii portion of our trip.

As we sit in the cockpit, Lanham is playing guitar and I am getting ready to put together some fish tacos. We are back in our familiar anchorage, almost home away from home, with cell phone reception and pelicans dive-bombing for the sardines that hide in the shadows of the boats. Not the smartest looking birds, and inclined to look near-sighted when they cock their heads, this afternoon one pelican nearly knocked himself out when he crashed into the hull of Solar Wind on one of this mistimed dives. He sat a foot away, bobbing like a dizzy cross-eyed cork. When he finally swam away, he had a stripe of blue bottom paint from our hull on the back of his head and trailing down his neck. Where’s the camera when you want it? Hope he doesn’t start a fashion trend among his buddies.

Sunset time…

The Rescue

The cruising guides all cover it, but we apprehend what we already know, and we had overlooked the Pacific Swell.  Swell is a major player in the lives of those sailing off of Mexico’s west coast.  Swell, as distinct from local wind-waves originates hundreds, or even thousands of miles away – the product of strong storms and their resulting waves and currents having had time to organize and sort themselves into relatively regular patterns.  Mexico’s winter swell comes from Pacific storms off California and in the Gulf of Alaska.  It almost always comes from the northwest.  Swell can be experienced as gentle and undulating; a rising and falling elevator ride 10’ up, 10’ down in 15 second intervals (the period).  Or, particularly when it meets local current or high winds, swell can build higher – 15’ or more and, (worse) steeper (6 second periods for example).

As we left Tenacatita Bay on January 2, 1213 and entered the Pacific to head north, the morning off-shore breeze was building past 20 knots to the sort of wind that was going to persist all day.  Seas were rising, and we double reefed the main accordingly, reducing it to ¼ of its full size.  To balance the rig, we eased out about a third of our genoa – covering perhaps ½ the area between forestay and mast.  With this comfortable arrangement we set out to steer the waves, or steer around them more accurately.  We were a couple of miles off-shore when we noticed a 44’ sailboat laboring under full main with no headsail.  As they lurched and rolled, their rig seemed to be handling them, not the other way around.  Suddenly the distance between us began to close rapidly, and the other boat’s motion became truly wild; skating sideways down 8’ swells, and being slapped by 4’ cross-pattern waves, only to turn 90 degrees and dive dangerously into the next trough.  As green water rolled across their decks, their main began to come down and it was clear that something was very wrong.  As we came alongside to offer assistance a “securite” call came over the radio; the boat had snapped its rudder off and was in distress.  Securite is the universal (French originally) radio call to advise other mariners of important information.   It is one step short of the more commonly understood “mayday”.

Under the conditions “coming alongside” meant approaching to within about 50 yards, too far to make oneself heard over the wind.  The 17-ton boat in distress was careening down the face of the swells alarmingly rapidly, and could cut that 150’ separation to 50’ in five seconds.  Radio contact revealed that the man and woman aboard were staying calm, with only light cuts and bruises.  They requested that we stand-by in the event they should need to abandon their boat, as our boat has a swim-step (making climbing aboard from the water easier), but that they were cruising with a “buddy-boat”, and he would tow them in.  As we were preparing 200’ of ¾” rescue line to drag, a call came in that the buddy boat could not get his engine started.  

At this point fellow cruisers who had heard the call began to radio from the bay around the point and five miles distant. One with experience in rescues began to organize the effort. The rocky shoreline and reef, still several miles away but closing fast was of particular concern.  His admonition that all boats involved have all their sail down was well understood. We began to tighten our circle around the rudderless craft as our dragging line now became the intended tow rope.  We were concerned that our 45 horse-power engine might not have the power needed under the conditions to pull both boats, so we were relieved when the radio announced that the buddy had succeeded in starting his bigger diesel.  Still, circling the disabled boat waiting for the tow boat to arrive revealed the extreme difficultly with this sort of rescue.  Not only can it be dangerous to approach the boat close enough to throw a line, but it can be impossible for those aboard to snag a line being dragged.  It may be easier to rescue people who have jumped into the water and swum clear of their boat than to rescue another boat for a tow.  Imagine riding one of those mechanical bulls that were popular barroom amusements in the 80’s, but now imagine that the bull is also on a randomly spinning lazy-susan.  It is hard for those aboard to hold on, much less snag a line dragging in the water when they cannot predict which side of their boat will be presented with the line.  Many passes were taken, and none came close to succeeding.
Getting a line to the boat in distress proved nearly impossible.
 All were relieved when it was announced that the cruisers in the bay had pooled efforts and hired a brave Mexican panguero to make the seriously uncomfortable trip out to assist in the line transfer.  Even with the powerful and quick panga backing cautiously towards the bucking hull and then charging away when it charged them,  several attempts were required before the line was successfully transferred.   As the cruising buddy feathered his power keeping the tow-line taught, the rudderless boat careened helplessly left and right through 240 degrees putting incredible strain on the line.  The line eventually failed, but the flat water of the sheltered bay had been reached and the ease of resetting the line highlighted the complications of a successful rescue in disturbed seas.
 The computer screenshot is the record of our track steered that day – note the distance traveled and the average speed – 17 nautical miles in almost 6 hours! Needless to say, enough excitement for one day. We escorted the towing boats back in and anchored to try our departure again the next day.

New Years Turn Around

Feliz Ano Nuevo… As the calendar turns so we have.  On January first we turned in our New Year’s Eve anchorage and headed north.  We are feeling good about our choice of southernmost Mexican destinations, and having it coincide with the new year seemed like a good marker.
This is a Booby who wouldn't get off the solar panel.
We think he was just a youngster which may explain why his fee aren't blue
The 30th of January, we had a wonderful sail about 12 miles south to a small indentation in the coast that is called Cuastecomate. It is only listed in two of the three guide books we (and everyone else) use and it is referred to as “the secret anchorage” because it is sandwiched between the more favored Tenacatita to the north and Barre de Navidad to the south. We were glad we stopped. We were one of 3 boats, we all used stern anchors as well as bow lines to keep facing toward the ocean and the swell. We were proud of ourselves for setting our stern anchor efficiently (and without leaving the boat in the kayak or dinghy to do so). Setting two anchors is something we are still improvising on and sometimes quite the ordeal. 

I loved the town immediately. Only 4 square blocks, mostly palapa beach restaurants, a few accommodations, and from what we could tell, almost all the revelers were Mexicans on holiday. It was a festive place to spend New Years! We talked with a Mexican man who swam out to the boat, swam to the beach for ceviche, and walked a couple blocks in town and found only one closed aborrate (little grocery).

Baking becomes a big highlight while cruising!!
 On New Year’s eve the weather provided us some novel entertainment – a rainstorm! Our first in Mexico, and I think our first water from the sky since July something in Seattle. The rain was wet but warm and did not deter the kids from swimming all day. It was cozy in the boat and a perfect day for reading, writing sailmail, and baking. We had fresh oatmeal molasses cookies and peanutbutter chip brownies for our celebration aboard.

We stayed up (almost) until midnight by watching a Harry Potter movie (thank you Carol for sending us off with your collection). As we were crawling into our forepeak berth, we heard the midnight celebration and poked our heads through the hatch to watch fireworks 100 yards away on the beach.
No pictures seem to mark the auspicious occasion.

New Years day dawned rainy, but not stormy, and we decided that Cuastecomate, the secret anchorage, was a perfect southern-most destination, so we pulled out our foul weather jackets and had a very Northwest kind of sail back to Tenacatita Bay. Back in the anchorage we heard reports of 5 inches of rain in 45 minutes. And… even freakier we heard a radio report from a boat who had been surprised by a snake in their cabin the night before. The skipper was bitten, but recovering and crew from other boats had come to the rescue to remove the invader. Not common, but not unheard of with the estuary close.

On January 2nd, the weather was still not totally settled, but the rain had stopped and the forecast was for some nice wind from the south – rare, but good for the route north that we planned. We said goodbye to folks in Ten Bay and took off around 10 am – we didn’t get far as the next blog post will explain.

Tenacatita and La Manzanilla

Next we headed further south to another big and gorgeous bay, Tenacatita. A quieter beach scene, but an active cruiser community awaited us. We listened to the 9 am morning net on the VHF radio, getting to know the personalities and habits of some of the regulars. Some folks have been staying for months and doing so for years. Each Friday, the self-proclaimed mayor of Ten Bay organizes a raft-up for sharing hors d’ ouvres and chatting. Each afternoon, “swim team” assembles for the lap to the beach for bocce ball.  Lots of friendly folks share local knowledge, expertise, BS, and help each other when they can. We could stay on our boat and meet plenty of people dinghying around the anchorage and stopping by to say “hey.” 
Our cruiser group went in on a panga rental to get to town for provisioning

One day we joined 6 other people in renting a panga and driver to take us five miles across the bay to the town of La Manzanilla. As the photos show, we really loved walking the town and can’t seem to stop photographing the best-looking houses and creative architecture. There is, in Mexico some of the weirdest architecture we have ever seen.  Lots of “snowbirds” in these towns – from the US west coast and British Columbia. Some are doing the RV thing and some have built up-scale homes in the hills.
Photos from our day trip to La Manzanilla on Tenacatita Bay:

Hillside mansions
Beautiful entries

Loved this garage door and vent cover!

Colorful town

Green oasis above the ocean
its resident
and the view
The town square centered around the church

always open
a gorgeous entry
with the structure? above it 

Local kids

Street vendors

Unusual insects
and cocos frescos