Saturday, January 28, 2012

Banderas Bay Images

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Friday, January 20, 2012


Yesterday we took a bus ride north to the beach town of Sayulita -- a very popular surfing town with a beautiful beach and a funky artistic charm.  It's a big draw for tourists in the area looking to surf and bask in the sun.  We thought it would make a nice day trip from La Cruz and a good opportunity for Colin to try out the beach toys that Santa brought him.  Contrary to his first beach experience, this time he loved the sand.  I even took him out for a dip in the waves which he found amazing and a little scary.  We'll make a water baby out of him eventually.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"La Cruise" Lounging

It's clear to us now why La Cruz has become so popular with cruisers and how boats seem to be drawn in for extended stays here.  The lifestyle in this little Mexican town is simple, relaxed, and fun, with a large community of westerners who work to make our stay as enjoyable and convenient as possible.  At times we have to remind ourselves that we are in Mexico.  There are also times when we need to get away from La Cruz just to remind ourselves that we are in Mexico.  But, we're finding the pace and the lifestyle here to be very intoxicating (as well as the tequila).  The days roll past quickly -- most of the time we can't remember which day of the week it is.  If it weren't for stray humpbacks, our days would be void of all stress.

A few days ago we took the boat out for a day sail to test the steering after our whale bump in the night.  It was a beautiful day on Banderas Bay as we sailed south on a beam reach toward Puerto Vallarta in 12 knots of wind.  After about an hour I spotted a lone whale spout in the distance.  He was a long way off so I didn't take much notice.  About 15 minutes later he spouted again -- a few feet directly off our bow.  The blow was so close he sprayed our bow pulpit as I clung to the wheel waiting for the impact.  I saw a quick splash as the whale dove and then silence.  We had just missed another collision by just a few feet (or, perhaps, inches).  WTF?!  I see one whale the entire day on a large bay and he just happens to surface in front of our boat.  We're either incredible unlucky or have a school of krill living under the keel.  Whatever the reason, we're not taking any chances with whales anymore.  We used to steer toward humpbacks  to get a better view, but now turn the other way with the motor running.  We'll be happy to just see them on TV now.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whale Encounters in La Cruz

We dropped the hook in the La Cruz anchorage on Saturday afternoon following a relaxing day of motoring and sailing down from Chacala. There were humpbacks everywhere rolling, flopping, and breaching in the surrounding waters as we made our way in to Banderas Bay. If we could have sailed the whole way it would have been a perfect day, but the wind always seems to be too light or blowing right on the bow or stern. Still, we enjoyed the time out on the water and I even managed to catch a fish that wasn't mackerel. I reeled in a nice little tuna which I filleted for dinner that night. That makes 7 mackerel and 1 tuna, if anyone is counting.

It's hard to believe we've been here three days already. We're still in the process of cleaning up the boat and learning our way around town. I have a few boat projects to take care of and need to work down the list before it gets any bigger. Especially after our whale encounter on Sunday night.

We were sitting at anchor on a peaceful night surrounded by about thirty other boats. I was just getting ready for bed and went on deck to let Keiko do her business when I heard a blow from a humpback just off the starboard bow. I called for Millie to come up on deck and before she could get up the steps the boat shuddered and lifted as the whale slammed us from the stern. He surfaced on the starboard beam and I watched him roll on his belly and slap the water with a fin, nearly taking down our dinghy floating next to the boat. The next thing I saw was his head as he came up to get a look at what he just hit. I stood there on deck in my underwear, dumbfounded, staring down a 15-foot juvenile humpback with a clear lack of depth perception.

My first response was to check the bilge for water. No problem there -- everything looked dry. Next I checked the steering, expecting to find a bent or damaged rudder. The wheel still turned but it felt a little sloppy. I found the steering cables were loose and the rudder stop was severely bent but, otherwise, the boat seemed OK. The next morning I donned the dive gear and went under the hull, expecting to see visible signs of a collision. Surprisingly, the hull, rudder, prop, and shaft all looked untouched. After a few turns to tighten the steering cables the boat seemed to be back in order. We'll take her out for a day sail this week to check it out but it looks like we may have escaped an expensive haul-out and repair.

Word soon got out that we were hit by a whale at anchor. With that many boats around us the primary fear is getting tangled in an anchor chain. But, from what I've heard, a whale hitting a stationary boat is a rare occurrence. We couldn't believe our rotten luck. I noticed a lot of fish bubbling around the boat right before he hit so that probably had something to do with his lack of attention. And, even though it was a traumatizing event, we were never in any real danger, surrounded by many boats in 25 feet of water not far from shore on a calm night.  It was clearly an unprovoked, unintentional attack and once he realized his mistake simply swam off.  Having a well-built boat certainly helps in situations like this.  I'm amazed at how strong Jean Marie is.  She can take a direct hit from a whale without showing a mark.  Although, the next time we see a whale in the anchorage I think I'll run the motor just to let him know where we are.
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lazy Days

We really enjoyed our stay in the little beach town of Chacala.  As usual, the two nights we expected to stay soon stretched in to four.  They were, however, four very peaceful days anchored just off the beach with our friends on Serendipity and Velella Velella..  After 3 months of sailing we're finally starting to slow down and relax a bit.

Chacala is a small resort town that caters mostly to Mexican tourists with a handful of gringos that rent beach houses or sail in like us.  There is one main street with a couple small markets and a number of shops selling souveniers to the tourists.  The pretty little beach is lined with palapa's where you can enjoy fish tacos and sit in the shade with a beer watching the surf roll down the sand. 

The water temp was perfect for a swim to cool down from tropical heat.  It was my first dip since leaving California and I enjoyed it so much I decided to bring Colin in with me.  His reaction was slightly different.  The ocean is a scary place, especially for an 8-month-old going for his first swim.

Later that day we introduced Colin to sand.  Suprisingly, he reacted the same way.  It was fun to watch him recoil from the touch of the sand on his body -- as if the earth was trying to devour him.  Eventually he overcame his fear and the big sand box became his favorite new toy.  Millie spent that night washing it out of every crevice.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012


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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Feliz Año Nuevo

Well, we said goodbye to 2011 with a bottle of wine, Don Julio, and some new friends on Vellela Vellela.  We met Rob and Kai in San Jose del Cabo and met up with them again here in Matanchen Bay.  After an exciting boat ride up the jungle to see the crocodiles we spent the evening drinking on their boat, bringing in the new year with shared stories, laughter, and mac-n-cheese -- a perfect ending to a very busy year.

It was a difficult decision to finally pull away from the dock at San Jose.  We made so many good friends, sharing the Christmas holiday potluck-style with Marionetto, Mwelu, Reunion, Desolina, Auspicious, Dream Catcher, Pacific Pacer and others on the long dock at Puerto Los Cabos.  It's a very comfortable and relaxing environment -- the perfect place to hang out after weeks of long passages down the Pacific coast.  But we were eager to see mainland Mexico and decided to set sail on Tuesday the 27th, a few hours behind Marionetto and Pacific Pacer, for Isla Isabela, a small island off the coast of San Blas, Mexico. 

We were looking at a 2-day passage across the Sea of Cortez on the tail end of a "norther" that had been blowing hard for five days.  I wanted a nice breeze for this leg, which we got, but was hoping for comfortable seas, which we did not get.  That first night out was one of the roughest for us, as we were both seasick for most of it.  The wind wasn't the problem -- we saw anywhere from 15 to 25 knots on a beam to broad reach.  But, the seas were really crossed up, coming from the west and the north in short choppy waves that caused the boat to constantly pitch and roll.  I don't think I've ever been that close to feeding fish off the rail. 

Luckily, it didn't last long.  The next day we saw ideal conditions, as we sailed in sunny skies and flattened seas.  In the morning we got a call on the radio from Marionetto who saw our sails a few miles off their stern.  We made good time on the crossing with boat speeds from 6.5 to 7.5 through the night.  In those conditions I wanted to keep the boat powered up to get through the chop as quickly as possible.

The wind died on Thursday morning and we motored in to the anchorage at Isla Isabela.  The guide books decribed this island as the Galapagos of Mexico, with large flocks of blue-footed boobies and frigate birds.  It's a beautiful place with great hiking and snorkeling.  Unfortunately, the anchorage is small and rock-strewn, making it difficult to set the hook and even more difficult to retrieve it once it snags a rock.  We were looking for a patch of sand just south of the rocks called Las Monas and found an open spot in 25 feet of water that looked promising.  But, after backing down on the hook we could feel it skipping over the rocky bottom.  It was a calm and sunny morning so we decided to spend the day there and keep a close eye on the conditions.  We waved to Marionetto as they sailed past.  They decided to continue on to Banderas Bay, and we look forward to meeting them again down the coast.

After a few hours catching up on sleep and a nice lunch break, the wind began to come up and we could hear the disturbing sound of chain scraping rock.  So we decided to set sail for San Blas and crossed our fingers that the anchor would come up.  I was able to free it without too much difficulty and we were, once again, on the move, looking at an 8 or 9-hour sail to Matanchen Bay, a few miles south of San Blas. 

Matanchen is a wide-open bay with good protection from northerly winds and a relatively easy approach.  This looked like the perfect place to make our first night entry, and although the charts are surprisingly inaccurate in this part of the world we had a working radar and good light to guide us in.  We made and uneventful landfall at midnight (other than being harassed by a deranged frigate bird), dropped the hook near a few other boats, and went down to sleep.  After three months of sailing we'd finally made it to mainland Mexico.

And, what a difference a couple hundred miles make.  The lush tropical jungle and mangrove forests of San Blas are in stark contrast to the dusty deserts of Baja.  Yesterday we walked down the road to the estuary and booked a panga ride through the jungle to the village of La Tovara and the crocodile refuge.  We shared a boat with Rob and Kai from Vellela Vellela and Frank and Sheryl from Serendipity, winding through the mangroves under sunny skies.  We were not disappointed as we motored past several crocs, turtles, falcons, and a boa constrictor.  Colin was less impressed and slept through most of the boat ride.  When I tried to show him the enormous crocs at the refuge he seemed more interested in the fence.  But, he seemed to enjoy himself, smiling and laughing in his usual manner.  After lunch in La Tovara we made our way back and caught a bus into San Blas to run a few errands before going back to the boat.

So, here we are (finally) in mainland Mexico.  It's a beautiful, sunny, 80-something-degree day with a light breeze blowing and Bob Marley on the stereo.  I'm trying to decide whether to have a cold beer or a rum drink.  It's definitely a new year.
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