Sunday, December 16, 2007

Roadtrip to Cabo Pulmo

The reports of theft from the anchorage in La Paz finally wore me down, so I last thursday Bella and I moved Sula into the Palmira Club de Yates. Bella deemed it the "posh marina", and it is a step up from almost every place I've been for the past.... 3 years? For example, there were three uniformed attendants waiting at our slip to catch lines when we arrived! We rented a car and early the next morning we set off aross the dry plains and mountains of the East Cape area toward Bella's temporary base, the village of Cabo Pulmo, home to an extensive rock and coral reef system that is a National Marine Park.
Cabo Pulmo is a pretty little town with sandy paths for streets, solar panels on every palapa roof, and wild horses meandering the palmed beach. The social and economic hub of the village seems to be the dive shop for the Cabo Pulmo Divers, which is now decorated with one of Bella's murals, which she had been painting in exchange for free diving.
Not a bad deal for either party. Peliu and Henry are the wonderful couple who run the shop and they were very generous. Within a few mintues I was all geared up in multiple wetsuits, tank, BCD, and the whole works. The only paying customers were a couple from Dallas, who seemed to have about as much dive experience as me (barely any), and spent a good half hour figuring out how to put their masks on. The whole mess of folks and gear was finally loaded into a panga and with a stiff push from the fender of a 4x4 pickup, the panga slipped off the beach into the water. Panchito, the boat captain, soon had us expertly flying across the top of the waves at 20 + knots with the 80 horse 4 stroke Yamaha singing like a sewing machine. This is how the other half lives! That same chop would have had Sula burying her bow and down to an uncomfortable 2 kts. Henry the divemaster is a dashing Dutchman who is not un-Cousteau like with his wild bleached out Rod Stewart hair and ratty french wetsuit from the 80s. The first dive was El Islote, a stone pinnacle that rose from 60 feet depth up to a rock that stuck above the surface. It had been almost 7 years since I'd been certified, but I wasn't about to let the tourists from Dallas look more "jacques-like" than I, so I quickly tried to remember all the different ways to die underwater and how to avoid them. After a few minutes of near panic I was finally able to get my mask to seal, while Bella chased down my drifting fin and strapped it back on for me, and finally calm down. Once I was breathing air, things were awesome. The fish and corals and rock formations were beautiful and it was great to be really diving again in warm water. We spotted a large school of Manta Rays, flapping slowly, flying in a perfectly geometric formation like a squadron of stealth bombers, cruising into our hazy blue world from above, and then quickly fading back out again. We made another dive in similarly great conditions, and I had nothing to fear looking like a novice as the Texan couple were such a disaster that even I looked like a dolphin in comparison. The woman had a specially made Buoyancy Control Device with integrated lead weights to try to get her to sink... which it barely could. At some point after they actually manged both get hauled into the boat like dead whales, they both started puking over the side. The man was also bleeding from what looked like his eyes and groaning like he was dying. I don't think they saw the Mantas either. The both turned out to be fine and had pretty good attitudes about their ordeal.

The next day Bella and I had a great side trip up into the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna, the high mountain range that forms the spiny crest of southern Baja. We drove on beautiful meandering dirt roads high into the "thorn forest" and then a short hike up a canyon to a beautiful waterfall.
It was an interesting area to begin with, each tree and cactus, more beautiful than the next, with green mountains rising all around, and then to come upon a scene as perfect as this cascada, defies description. I would love to spend the whole day exploring around this area, as the river above the falls was lined with perfect little sand beaches and a chain of clear pools that led who knows how far up into the mountains. I'd like to do some more hiking in this area later next month. There is a network of trails that go up into the cloud forest that caps the high moutnains. Those wetter regions harbor "relic" plant species that were more pervasive in the lowlands thousands of years ago when the entire region was more wet, but now only survive in islands around the mountaintops.
Then, after the hike, a rave! What could be better? Bella's clan in Pulmo is a great, diverse group from all over the world. Jimena y Tonguy y Ingrid y Pelieu? y Henry y Bella y Ramon and those two guys from Idaho who stumbled into the party... thanks for such a fun time. Muchas Gracias para todo. I hope to see you guys somewhere around the world again.

Bella has decided to stay in Cabo Pulmo to work on her art, so I'm alone aboard Sula now for the first time since Seattle. It will be a good chance to get things shipshape again and relax before a trip back north.

Happy holidays to everyone. I hope you're surrounded by your loved ones and enjoying the fruits of December wherever you are.

Monday, December 10, 2007

La Paz

We've made it to La Paz. We had a near gale today and ran aground before passing the second buoy of the La Paz entrance channel. Lame! I think it may have been a case of plain old excitement trumping caution. Its a notoriously shoal area and we probably should have been going much slower and more cautiously... but we weren't. So we're hauling along doing six knots, motorsailing with a half jib out, and suddenly, softly, the speed is down to 0.0, and the depth sounder reads 0.2. I can't repeat my exclamation. But the good news is that everything worked out fine. We just unfurled the whole jib and literally sailed off the sandbar back into the channel. Sula is a tank. I was very glad to have a fully encapsulated lead keel at that point. Bella thought is was great fun, but I couldnt' agree with her.

We spent last night at anchor in Isla Espiritu Santo, a very beautiful place, but a cold front has just swept through and its a bit too cold for snorkeling and nice to be in this sailor friendly city. Dan is leaving tomorrow so we're having a bit of a sendoff for him tonight. Then hopefully in the next few days things will warm up and Bella and I can spend a few days on the famous turquoise bays of Espiritu Santo and Partida, before I fly up to the flood zone (seattle) for a break.

Its good to be afloat! And in this easy corner of the Golfo de California.

here's a video from a nice downwind day sailing toward cabo.


Here's a video from the top of Monte Isabel.


Here's the crew riding back from the beach approaching a fish camp on the swamp.

here's us hanging with the pescadores

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bahia de los Muertos

Well. We are here. Its amazing. The sailing is perfect. The weather is absolutely amazing, and we are all getting really relaxed. Beautiful sunsets, green hills, puffy white clouds. And, we have a new crewmember, who is awesome. Bella Bananas is a English woman who lives around here in Cabo Pulmo, painting awesome blue murals and scuba diving all day. We are all having lots of fun, and are in no rush to do anything. We all sit now, at the Giggling Marlin yacht club watching the yachts swing at anchor as it gets dark, still wearing our bathing suits.

I had some trouble with uploading video from the last post, I'll work on that when I have some more bandwidth.

hasta pronto.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Baja Part 2

Bahia Tortugas was a relaxing stop. Its a small costal town popular with cruisers, and the harbor had 10+ yachts in it when we arrived. The sun came out, and the boat and our gear slowly dried out, and we scouted around town, finding a place to take a shower, the number one thing on our list, and most of the essential food items we needed. The town is dusty. The roads are all unpaved except for the calle principal which leads to a big dust cloud every time a car passes. And the exhaust smell of that passing car has that very mexican quality to it. I don't know if its the leaded gasoline, but it only leads to an increasing desire for another shower. Which is hard to come by on Sula, we mostly rely on saltwater dips over the side. As could be expected from three single guys sailing for months alone, we were interested in finding the "nightlife" in this town. The closest we came to it was a place with the word Bar scrawled across the door. I'm not sure what we stumbled on, but it was a small hole in the wall, with a pool table, red lights, gigantic androgonous bartender, and the single sullen customer was a woman who silently watched us play pool, trip over the boards sticking up from the floor, and almost hit our heads on the nails sticking out of the roof. The giant, curious bartender woman?, at one point silently handed me a hammer from behind the bar to pound sideways the nails from the roof. Our other "nightlife" expereince was a pool hall with about 40 caballeros smoking, drinking, playing pool. At one point the entire Bahia Tortugas gay community walked in the door, with all white suits etc. We had a good time, but not one woman was to be seen.

We spent one weekend in Bahia Tortugas and then set out for the next big stop, Bahia Santa Maria. We spent one night at anchor, waiting for wind, then set out he next morning again only to have our breeze die off. We kept the motor off for a while, and jumped over the side to refresh ourselves, as the air had finally climbed above 70 degrees. We found the water as well, had finally reached comfortable range. What a relief to be clear of the 60 degree water that had been with us since the start. Just after we dried off, the breeze did pick up again, and we were off again, running dead downwind, straight toward the next bend in the coastline and the next safe haven. This was real ocean sailing. Downwind in a fresh breeze with the speed always high, and the boat rolling deeply either direction, and land nowhere to be seen. It was great to make good time and not listen to the engine or see the fuel supply dwindling. It was a night arrival on the third day out and we tucked into Santa Maria in a nicely protected anchorage from the NW. The next morning, after a pancake breakfasat, we braved the warm rain, to load up the dinghy with surfing equipment to try another trek across the land that protected us from the swell, to find that swell breaking on the ocean facing beach. Here we motored the dinghy up a strange mangrove estuary, past several fish camps, shortening our walk. This was reminescent of our last hike. Huge dunes, fields of cactus, and big breakers on a lonely beach.
This beach was filled with plastic garbage, dead animals, and the wreck of a 1950s midship house cargo ship. The surfing was good for novices and we had a great time in the waves, "riding" the big longboard for quite a while, Waikiki style. We promised to be back the next day, for more surfing, and a beachfire barbeque. The next day the rain was even harder, and the wind had come up. The waves were blown out, and we could barely get driftwood to catch fire. We aborted, and headed back for the boat. The previous day we had been caught leaving at dead low tide, and so we had to row and haul by hand the dinghy through the mangrove swamp. Today we were smarter, and had more water. We stopped in the fish camp to see if they had any lobsters for sale. As we approached this strange swamp encampment, we were encouraged by the fishermen to land, and "step into the office." Sure, they had lobsters, but there was no hurry, so sit down on the porch and have a beer and we'll see about some lobsters. The ringleader was Victor, a very kind and very drunk fisherman who made sure we had whatever we needed and more. I'm not quite sure what happened, but more and more people appeared, and more and more bad spanish was spoken and more empty Tecates were thrown into the big cardboard box, and our crate of lobsters and fish got bigger and bigger. When we finally pried ourselves out of Victor's claws it was getting dark and we had another low tide swamp to navigate out of, this time in a dinghy filled with 13 lobsters and a big red fish, for which Victor and Tony Tijuana would accept no money. We were successful in declining the huge handful of marijuana that was thrust toward us at one point. They said we were the first gringos to visit their swamp in a long time, and I imagine we were farily entertaining for them, contstantly running aground in their backyard. Whatever the case, they were unbelievably nice and generous. While we had been trying to lite soggy beach garbage on fire, and sharing Tecates with Victory and Tony Tijuana, the stiff SE wind had continued to blow, and the dinghy ride back out to the boat was rough. The bow was thrown high into the air several times over semi-breaking waves, and the climb back aboard the bucking Sula was a little hairy. I'm not quite sure how it happened but we managed to get the dinghy and engine aboard, lashed down, and the anchor up, safely, while at the same time we all ate 3 lobster tails with garlic butter. I'll just say that I've got a pretty amazing crew. Sula was this whole time, anchored off a lee shore, pitching heavily into the chop. If one anchor or rode element had let go, in only a minute or two, Sula would have been on the beach for good and we would be able to spend more quality time with Victor and Tony Tijuana. But my beautiful 33lb steel Spade anchor held like a bull. We made our way out into the storm. I made a radio call trying to find the other boats at anchor who may have shifted into the southern part of the bay to find relief from the SE chop that had built up in the north. I made a faint contact with another yacht who said it was better down there, so we set off, motorsailing in rough conditions in total darkness in, 20, 25 knots and hard rain. At one point, out in the middle of the bay, I looked up to see a pure white streak of water flying past the masthead light. Seconds later, a big gust of wind knocked Sula over deeply and the air was abolutely filled with water. We luckily were only flying a scrap of the jib, and were able to head up into it as the sail flogged like a machine gun but brought the boat upright again. In 30 seconds it was over, and we were a bit speechless, but we began motoring again, towards what we hoped would be a calm, protected anchorage. In another hour, we were there, and the stars had come out, and things were much calmer in the south. We happily set the anchor again and fell into our births. The next morning it was Ian who was the hero, with an amazing Thai lobster stir fry with rice. It was a short sail to Bahia Magdalena, and just after noon we anchored down off a sandy beach, in the sun, with all our wet gear spread across the deck, drying to a nice salty crust in no time. It was time for another hike, and this was the day. The vantage from atop Monte Isabel was a semi religious experience. Cumulus clouds and ocean as far as the eye could see, 60 miles out to sea.
I hope this video can capture a bit of this place too. After the hike, and a meal, with spirts high, another beach fire, a good rest, it was south yet again, only 130 miles to CABO!

Cabo is not too bad. We're anchored for free just off the harbor entrance. Civilization is loud and busy, but nice for a change, even if it is overpriced and Americanized. The weather and water are amazing. Today I'm going to fix the shaft seal, as it threatens to sink the boat every time we motor. I think we're going for a swim at the famous Playa de Amor just to the right in the pic above, then next morning fuel and water filled up, we'll leave for points....... north?

Sorry about the typos. Wish I had more time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ensenada to Cabo Part 1

Well, its hard to know where to start. Its been over 800 miles since I last blogged and so many things have happened and I just don't have time to do the experience justice. Its been 800 miles of rocks, and sand, and dust,and gravel, and cactus and a constantly parading panorama of mountains, beaches, fishing boats, islands and waves. We departed casually from Ensenada in the morning and motored just a few miles to Islas Todos Santos. Some very kind fishermen showed us to one of their mooring buoys to use. We hooked up the dinghy and the motor and made a quick scouting hike around the barren desert landscape as the daylight faded out. We scrambled up to a high point to look for surfable waves. We spotted a few, but later that night after eating our first tuna caught by the handline, the north wind that was continuing to blow urged us to make distance south. We sailed when we could and motored when the wind died, and by that next evening we arrived just at dusk at the enticing Isla San Martin, a volcanic island, almost perfectly circular, with rumored lava tube caves and a trail to the summit of the small mountain. The next morning we made our way ashore and explored around the beaches and lava and cactus encrusted slopes of the mountain. We never made it to the top as it was just too hard to walk through a carpet of cactus and every so often someone would scream out in pain as he bent over to gingerly pull the cactus thorns out of his flimsy footwear. That afternoon we motored south again for just a few hours, surveying the coast with binoculars, looking at any signs of civilization we could spot, and any good surf breaks for Ian to jump into. We tucked around the corner of Cabo San Quintin and anchored in 6 fathoms near a sandy looking beach. It was a nice anchorage, almost completely protected from the prevailing NW swell, although some did wrap all the way around the point and come north a bit. Sand bars prevailed in this area and at various stages of tide when a large set of waves came through, breaking waves would appear on previously flat calm areas, making dinghy trips to the beach a bit more exciting. We hauled Ian's short surfboad and the giant foam Wavestormer longboard to the beach to find some waves. Ian had a long unsuccessful hike around the point looking for big, peeling, barrels. He mostly found miles of kelp, rocks and lots of dead sea lions rotting on the beach, but not much rideable. I pulled on my wetsuit (thanks Hank) and as the sun set we rode small crumbling breakers in the cold shallow beach. After dinner aboard, we paddled to shore again and made a crackling beach fire and felt very alone, it was one of the more desolate places I've been so far. There's not much around except for fishermen in pangas during the day, and animals, boat, and plastic carcasses washed up on the beach. There was a nice west facing beach on the chart so the next day we set out with boards strapped across our backs to hike through the scrub and dunes, across the peninsula to the ocean.

The dunes and the beach were again, beautiful and desolate. A very different scene from our beginnings in Seattle and an exotic and interesting adventure. The day was cloudy and a bit cold, but we still braved the chilly water to get thrashed by the beach break. Ian tore up the huge curling faces, while Dan and I mostly impersonated clothing in a washing machine as the white water exhausted us and made laughable our attemps to stand up on the boat sized Wavestormer. Another beautiful trudge back across the dunes to the boat, and home, and a hot meal, and early evening departure for points south. I think it was the next day we approached land again, still looking for the combination of a good surf spot and good anchorage. They are hard to come by singly, and together even more rare, and we motored past many miles of coastline before deciding to stop a few miles east of Cabo Canoas. The waves again were a disappointment. I scrambled up the strange reddish hill just up from our anchorage and was rewarded with a break in the ever present marine layer of clouds, and one of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen.

Whereas Ian is constantly scanning the shoreline for a nice curling wave, I'm always looking for a nice high hill very close to the water, for its one of my favorite things to hike up high and gain a vantage out over the ocean and the terrain that lies landward. I hope the pictures can do some justice to the beauty up there. The situation must have helped a bit as well. Its quite a feeling to look around and see nothing human but the small boat that's carried you so slowly and arduously down the coast. The vegetation and terrain is again, so foreign to my native rainforest that it adds greatly to the experience. And I'll admit, its nice to get off the boat, and not be worried about ETA's or weather, or fuel, or cooking or sleeping, or the other miriad things that need to be worried about. When I returned to the boat, the wind had come up, so we were, gone again, hoisting a reefed main to a finally, healthy breeze from the WNW. The speed inched up into the 7.0 kt range , but we mostly averaged around 6 knots. It was great to finally get a breeze that seemed determined to blow for more than a few hours and we made good use of it as we crossed a large bay, almost 100 miles to Isla Cedros. At Cedros the next day, we attempted a hike, but the arroyo we explored into seemed to go on forever and we never gained any altitude. It was southward again, hauling up the anchor and watching the bizarre moutains of multicolored rock slowly pass by. We glassed a small clump of palms on the Cedros shore, rumored to be an ancient spring, where the Spanish galleons would stop to replenish with water on their run up and down the coast from Mexico to the terretories in present day California. Late that night we pulled into Bahia Tortugas, our first real Mexican city since Ensenada and a very good natural harbor, as its anchorage is mostly protected from all directions.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Estamos en Mexico! What a relief to have made it through Migracion, Capitan de Puerto, y Aduana, and then Migracion again, and then back to Capitan de Puerto for another set of stamps and a whole notebook full of offical looking papers that I don't quite know what to do with, that somehow allow us and Sula to spend as much time and money in this beautiful country as we want! We like Ensenada very much. We are having to use more of our Spanish than I imagined, the fish tacos are just as good as rumored (and cheap), and the next 1000 miles of deserted Baja coastline are looming to the south. The plan is to head for the Islas Todos Santos tomorrow to spend a few hours at anchor exploring around, as there is a famous surf break there that Ian is pumped to try. There is also a nice cove protected from swell on the east side of one of the small islands, and trails and various ruins to explore. The fishing is also rumored to get good in those parts, so we are excited to begin using our expensive and convoluted Mexican Fishing Permits. The Plan is to use what wind we can find, which is usually West 10kts in the afternoon, and dead most other times, to make our way south and conserve fuel, as there is no fuel until Bahia Tortuga, almost 300 miles to the south. We may stop in a few places such as Cabo San Quintin, or Isla Cedros, to look for surfing, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, anchoring opportunities. I can't believe this is actually happening! I've been reading about these places for so many years now, its very exciting to be on the verge of exploring them. It's a bit embarrassing, but I am at Starbucks now. Sorry. I know that's not very romantic. Its the nicest and biggest one I've ever seen, and the only place with WiFi that we've found, and seems to be to social lynchpin of the entire downtown area. Globalization! The inside this "cafe" looks like a nice generic ski cabin in Colorado, but for some reason it doesn't diminish the tough, gritty, perfectly Ensenada fisherman's bar we've found 4 blocks away.
Ian and I take some of his friends out for a Sunset Cruise to avoid San Diego anchoring police.
Our lifesaving salvaged beach cruiser, handed off to Ian's pal Annie.
ready to go!

Monday, November 12, 2007

North of the Border

We're still here in SD, wrapping up a few loose ends, slowly, and trying to figure out what we need to do before passing south of the border. We can't quite figure out what we need to get here that we can't get down there. There are many conflicting stories about what to bring, or what's plentiful on the other side. We'll just try to stock up as much as we can. San Diego is a little conflicting itself. The weather here is really nice, but still not quite warm enough. There are tons of young people, but not quite the scene that we appreciate. And the city has its defenses on high alert against any transient sailor that might end up liking the city a bit too much. We are now anchored in a sandy little cove off of mission bay that has a 72hr time limit. We are thinking about how to extend our stay in Mariner's Cove and one tactic we've come up with is to take a sunset cruise every night to avoid the harbor patrol when they do the evening check at 16:20. But we shouldn't stay here much longer, as mexico will hopefully be more,...... of everything.

I found a broken down pink beach cruiser in the bushes last night, and now that I've got it fixed up a bit, it's let me get around much easier. As I was "flintstoning" it to the bike shop this morning along the boardwalk in PB I was accosted by a nice young woman jogging at the same speed who said that her friend had a bike stolen recently that looked just like it, so I guess I may have to give it up before we take off. But at least I can get around in style and she might get her bike back.

I'll update before we drop behind the cactus curtain. I hope all y'all up north are staying warm or at least happy as winter approaches.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

San Diego

Sula is now happily tied to her berth at the Hyatt in Mission Bay. Slips are hard to find in this city. We scrubbed off 7 days of salt, and we are excited to be only 25 miles from Mexico. It was a very calm motor last night from Catalina. We had a few ships in the distance and brilliant phosporescene and the motor purred on perfectly. I'm not sure how long we'll stay here in town, as it doesnt' seem as if the city really wants us to stay, but we'll try to get as much done before we slip south of the border. We are changing out one crew member, Dan's friend Tommy will be sorely missed as his even dispostion, quiet confidence and great skills in the galley and on deck made him an excellent crew member. He also has a condo in town here that's empty at the moment, so that's another point in his favor. Joining the crew is my alaskan cousin Ian, fresh from his job navigating a cruise ship in Hawaii.

There was a problem with the link to Kevin's rescue video. I'll post the actual one below. Thanks DM. Kevin's rescue was on 10/26 so he got pushed off of the main screen into the archives. This should work.

Kevin, all crewmembers aboard Sula were thinking about your experience aboard Passing Wind last night as we motored through calms on the way down. We weren't so sorry to be motoring, and more appreciative to have a dry deck, and a gentle easy roll.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sobering News

I'm still here on the back patio in downtown Two Harbors, currently the only customer at the bar. I just recieved some very sobering news about our buddy boat Passing Wind II. Kevin sent me an email saying that they rolled the boat in a big wave and the boat was semi-destroyed and eventually sank and that both he and Greg had to be rescued by Coast Guard helicopter. It turns out he wasn't joking. I just spoke with him on the phone and he is doing fine, although Greg has a hurt shoulder and wrist. Kevin is back in Seattle without a job, or camera, or laptop, or wallet or clothes, but with a new appreciation of just how nice it is to set foot on this beautiful terra firma we're lucky enough to inhabit. Kevin, my thoughts go out to you and I'm glad you and Greg are okay. I'm sure you were exerting superhuman efforts to keep her afloat and cut the rig away once the capsize happened. I hope to meet up with you somehow down south even if it is by car.

This all occurred somewhere south of the Cape Mendocino area, where Dan and I had a taste of why that area seems to have a bad reputation. I'm reminded that the ocean deserves much respect, and that many areas of the world do not have the amazing US Coast Guard standing by just a few short hours away, and that voyaging on the ocean is not only a non-stop party.

I would like to commend the amazing job of the USCG for hauling Kevin and Greg back to us with such professionalism and skill. Just watching they job they do made me very emotional, to see that they put their own lives at risk to go out into the worst conditions to save mariners in peril.

Please watch the video of Kevin and Greg getting lifted from the sea.

on the right side of the page click on the video link that's second from the bottom. It says something like "2 Persons in Water Lifted to Helicopter." I got the video to play by following the directions and right clicking where it says "download" and then, save.

At the end of the video you get a glimpe of Passing Wind.

Thanks everyone for following along and for all the support. Tommy, my thoughts are also with you, as I've heard you aren't doing so hot lately. Keep the faith, brother, I hope too see you soon. Fair Winds to you all.

Warmer? Climes Part II -- Catalina Island

When you talk to Catalina Islanders more than a few of them say, "yeah I wanted to sail south once too, but we stopped here on this island and it was pretty nice so we decided to stay for a while and well... that was 35 years ago." And so it is with us,.. a bit. We were ready to leave last night for the final push to San Deigo, but then it turned out to be Taco Tuesday at the little bar/food/hangout place in town and its just very relaxing in this village. Its not warm, but there are plenty of palm trees to give the illusion and we do find ourselves happy in shorts for a few hours in the afternoon after the fog clears and before it gets cold again. The "place" has free coffee refills and cheap greasy food and wi-fi, and everybody is very friendly and we are just about the only tourists around, except for a few other cruisers. I have two Spade anchors down, and there is more of the island to explore, by foot, kayak and snorkel, so we may be successful at leaving tonight, to arrive in SD in daylight tomorrow, or the Catalina tractor beam may pull us in for a bit longer. Two Harbors is a funny little town, with dusty dirt roads, beautiful vistas, and lots of cats and people in golf carts. Dan and Tommy have tried to hitchhike to Avalon, the big city on the South end of the island, so who knows when/if they will make it back. Maybe I should just settle in and explore the hills around town. At least I'll have the kayaks to myself, as using them in place of a dinghy for the three of us continues to provide some entertainment, as Tommy proved last night. I'm freezing now on the back patio, so its time to move somewhere, inside or farther yet south, I'm not sure.

Sula is the boat anchored far left.
6 inch breaking waves swamp Tommy and fill up the kayak.

Warmer Climes- SF to Catalina and the City of Conception

On the morning of our departure from SF the fog had rolled in overnight and was dense enough to provide a good excuse to have a relaxing, slow morning. We finally made it to the downtown fuel dock around noon. Sula burns about half a gallon per hour and we had burned about 15 gallons on the way south from Eureka, as after the storm passed we had mostly dead calm. We were informed we were the last boat to recieve non-taxed diesel at $3.85, it was going up to $4.35 per gallon with no sign of coming down soon. Who knows if fuel prices will ever come down? Sobering, but also a little exciting. Yet another reason to wait for the wind. Maybe it could hasten the return of sail as viable way of moving things? We were ready for some wind as we motored in a calm out under my favorite bridge.
The fog still lurked there past the gate and after enjoying a last sunny glimpse of the huge red span, and passing an impressive inbound containership we were swallowed up into the ever threatening offshore fog bank. The wind picked up, only to die off again a few hours later, leaving us to lurch around in its remnant waves, turning on the radar every short while to make sure there were no more containerships bearing down on us. The wind returned again later that night, this time to stay for a bit, and the fog lifted finally as well. For two days we made great time south on a broad reach, steering directly for the big turning point at Point Conception. It was the wind we had waited for all trip, a stiff NW breeze and no fog. It was not to last however, after those two great days, the wind gave up and the fog came back, thicker and wetter than ever. The motor kept us moving nicely down the face of the swells for the third day and we rounded Point Conception at dusk with only the lonely sound of the fog signal from the lighthouse letting us know that land was near. We had tired of motoring in fog and Charlie's Charts, our cruising guide, provided us a sanctuary named Cojo Anchorage, protected from the NW swell, a small cove in name only, just around the corner to the E of Point Conception. The sensory deprivation of spending a long time in fog makes a landfall even more exciting. In the old days, without radar and GPS, this was simply not possible, for good reason. Even with these amazing tools, and a great depth sounder, all my senses were on high alert entering a strange cove, at night, in fog. I love it. I've realized that its these experiences that are actually why I like sailing so much. There are so few ways to actually test oneself in our modern society, we spend a lot of time finding ways to bring the adrenaline back in, rock climbing or jumping out of planes. It may not seem very exciting, but seeing strange lights appear out of the fog and getting the anchor down in the right place is my equivalent of jumping out of a plane. The lights and shapes that appeared out of the dark and fog were confusing and huge and scary. Its very hard to get a sense of scale, but what we theorized may have been a tug towing a huge barge, or a small ship and a wharehouse turned out to be simply two other boats at anchor in Cojo, a 60' sailboat and a 200'oil spill response ship. With the anchor snugly down in 5 fathoms of water with a sand bottom, and my homemade kellets thrown in for good measure, we were treated to another sensory feast, as an Amtrak train blasting its whistle and blazing a ghostly trail through the fog, passed us, very close, just on the edge of the beach. A warm meal was cooked and we all settled into damp berths with a promise to make our way to shore the next day to explore this strange corner of California, and find the small town of Conception, charted not far from the beach. In the morning the fog had cleared a bit and we had an enlightening view of the cove and shoreline. Landing on the beach in small surf in kayaks turns out to be a great way to start off the day with soggy clothes, especially when there are three crew and two kayaks. Dry bags, and making the trip with as few clothes on as possible on seems to be the solution.
We ignored the No Trespassing signs, and surveyed the awesome beach and cliffs that we had to ourselves. Above the bluffs we followed a few lonely dirt roads past expansive views of thousands of acres of grassland, ocean and a few cows. As the day wore on the fog began to lift, and the air warmed and we slowly dried out. The beautiful and desolate Santa Ynez Mountians appeared, trimmed in blue, as the fog slid off back out to sea. The least private property seemed to be the railroad tracks themselves so we followed them for a few miles, as the city of Conception, was sure to be an old railroad town.
After a while we realized there really was nothing, no highway, no town to be seen anywhere. At a lonely railroad crossing we did meet the owner of the huge cattle ranch on either side of the tracks. We apologized for tresspassing and gave our excuse as looking for the town of Conception, as we were overdue sailors who only needed to call our mothers. He was nice enough and gave us free reign of his ranch, and explained that there was absolutely no town of Conception, it had only been a small Spanish garrison and outpost in the days before the Mexican-American war. Its still there on the chart though, a small square of dense urban shading, just bordering the railroad.
Mystery solved, and coast surveyed, we stuffed our pockets with fennel seeds and braved the surf to spend another calm night at anchor with a good hot meal, and watched trains rumbling on through the night. I had a beach fire and watched the stars come out while Dan and Tommy stayed dry on the boat and read various books on nautical disaster. We shoved off the next morning, and had a very pleasant motor in light airs and clear weather past the impresseive Northern Channel Islands. Our next stop would be Catalina Island, for a rest and exploration of that harbor and town of Two Harbors.

Monday, October 29, 2007

San Francisco

At sea, the sailor yearns mostly for a good breeze and for the comforts of the next port. Yet after a few days in port, its the sea that begins calling again. We have been having a great time in this city, but that wide open sea does begin to call us back, as does the "Paradise" in our imaginations, with welcoming warm waters, sandy beaches and days of only sailing from one perfect spot to another. So Thursday has been selected as a shoving off day, and the weather looks like it will cooperate so far, the forecast is for N or NW wind 15-20kts. If that forecast holds it will keep us moving nicely and hopefully we'll make San Diego by the 5th or 6th. In SD, my cousin Ian Maury will be waiting for us with a few surfboards to add to the menagerie we keep on deck. Dan and I are not surfers, but hopefully we can change that by the time we reach Cabo.

San Francisco has been very relaxing. Dan has "worked" at his old job at South Beach Marina taking tourists out sailing and maintining sailboats. I have spent most of my time reading and riding a bike around the city and catching up with old friends and family. Dan and I commute to the Mission most nights on our bikes to find his hipster clan and socialize with them. One sign that its time to leave town is when going out starts to seem like a job.

One highlight of my stay has been a great bike ride I took with my old friend Mariana over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. It was one of those perfectly clear days here, sunny, with cool, crisp air, when you feel it might be the best city in the world. Its the time of year now after the fog has abated that San Franciscans say is their real summer. Its not quite warm enough for us, though. Hopefully La Paz will be warmer, as that's our next big destination.

The view of the city from the top of Twin Peaks.

A good end to a bike ride as the sun sets behind the GGB.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eureka to San Francisco

Eureka was a great place to spend a few days, but Dan and I both began to yearn for a bit more action, at sea and ashore. We did have a great time on our last night in Eureka and went to an art gallery to see the band, Scout Niblett. Scout herself was a slight, unassuming young British woman, very cute, with baggy sweatpants and floppy cowboy boots, who had a beautiful voice, and would mesmerize the small town crowd by singing sweetly while strumming her electric guitar a bit, only to suddenly let loose mega-amplified meaty chords that collectively moved all hairlines back a few inches. Why this soon-to-be sensation was in Eureka, I don't know. We may go see her again soon, as I think now she's in SF. Anway, we somehow managed to get up before dawn the next morning to catch slack water (not a drink) at the Eureka bar . (Bar crossings can be very dangerous as during an ebb current the ocean swells curl and break like surf and can capsize anything but the biggest boat) Past the bar, it was as we expected, large swells and a slight breeze, from unfortunately, the south. We stopped motoring just a few minutes past the entrance jettys to check on the source of some mysterious water appearing down below, and with the boat wallowing the the swell, I immediately had a "cleansing experience" over the side. The end of my sailing career flashed before my eyes, but in a few mintues we were going again, and I steered for the next several hours as we motored and began to feel much better. After we rounded the feared Cape Mendocino, the wind began to build, and our latest "first night out gale" had begun. Our timing is getting consistent at least! We could have waited another day for this small front to go through, but ashore, 25 knots sounds like only a slight breeze, but when you're out there, it all feels like 35, and the waves happily heap up and start to slap the boat around. We were ready to get going, so when its time to move on, you just start moving, damn the torpedoes. It was another long night of going slow, bad visibility, and taking cold spray down the neck of your jacket. Water was forcibly injected into each previously hidden leak in the deck, and almost everything down below was wet. It wasn't as bad as our first night out from Neah Bay, but we were excited for it to be over. At around noon the next day, the wind began to slack off and the waves began their seemingly interminable process of laying down. Wouldn't you know it, the wind kept on dropping down to nothing, and the motor was started to keep something productive happening and not just the maddening lurch to each wave. It was a beautiful sunset, and a clear night, with more porpoises swimming alongside the boat all lit up from phosphorescence. The next day there was not a cloud in the sky and the waves finally responded to friction and gravity and flattened out. The motor purred on and on and I watched the sun blink on from under the horizon, and then amazingly only a few hours later, fall back into the sea. In the time in between, we aired out all the wet gear we could and spent quite a long time just watching the mountains, and rafts of kelp float by. One thing I've always loved about calm weather is that its much easier to see any disturbance on the surface of the ocean. Whales and porpoises and even jellyfish seem to come out in flat seas, but really they were there all along, now its just possible to see anything that touches the surface for miles. We did a slow, cruise-by of the desolate Farralon Islands, and then drifted a bit to wait for slack current at the Golden Gate. As we drifted, a NW wind finally began to rise and we hoisted full sail and set a course for a spot in the haze where the long awaited Golden Gate loomed. It was a fairly intense evening of dodging containerships and finding our way past fourfathom shoal. Only a few miles from the gate the breeze slacked a bit too much and we dropped sail and resumed motoring into the Bay. Crossing under The Bridge, was very exhilirating and every bit the moment we had imagined. It was probably my 13th time passing under its span, but this was the most beautiful and imposing the bridge has ever looked. Its colossal height and breadth have never seemed more like a miracle, with the tops of each tower piercing into the fog. We secured a dock in South Beach harbor and Dan dragged me out to the Mission district in soggy jeans to roust out what adventures might still be had that night. Now I've secured my new permanent table at the South Beach Cafe, a 100% Italian experience, and the sun is shining and we are feeling that a bit of pressure has been relieved, as Mexico is still waiting for us, and winter can come and the harsh Pacific can churn away up north, as long as it sends us a few long days of NW wind in a few weeks. Thanks to any and all who have followed along or offered words of encouragement. If you're in the bay area, drop us a line and we'll have plenty of time for a warm, dry, night out in this wet, foggy harbor.

The dreaded Cape Mendocino Boys, barking at us and playing King of the Hill on the Cape Mendocino Buoy, with Cape Mendocino behind. This band of local thugs was not too pleased with our visit, and motivated us too keep going.

On deck, watching the sun set, thinking too much about land, and life. Scout Niblett and normal life seems another dimension entirely, so distant from this lonely world.

The Porpoise Show. They've been visiting us regularly. Its most impressive to watch them at night when phosphorescent phytoplankton lights up when disturbed. A swimming porpoise will appear as a streaking torpedo of light zooming in toward the boat. When the water is clear and the night is dark enough, you can see a perfect outline of the porpoise, sparkling and shimmering in the most eery and inspiring display. Its as if the ocean has a whole new sensory option, with motion producing its own light.

SE Farralon Island. Pirate haven.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Final Push

Dan and I have decided to shove off tomorrow morning. The swells should die down from their 16ft level they are at now to somewhere around 9ft, and we should have fairly settled weather for the trip out around Cape Mendocino. Headwinds are predicted so we are thinking it may take us 4 days to make the last 230 miles to the golden gate. Eureka has been great, a little quiet for our tastes, but a great place to relax It is time to get going as we still seem to be in the normal pathway of the low pressures that seem to be stacking up out there. Mid September really is the best time to leave seattle, as October seems to be a totally different animal. Our buddy boat was in Neah Bay at last report waiting out that monster low that swung up the coast. If anyone is interested in keeping up with Kevin's blog, check out.

Dan and I were taken in by a great local family yesterday and we had an awesome night of conversation and food at their house in Eureka. Thanks Stacia and Dan(#2) for everything. It was so good to be taken care of and make such a fun connection while trapped here....behind the redwood curtain.

Its time to abandon my permanent chair here at the coffeeshop and get ready to head back out to sea. I hope my stomach remembers that its become immune to the horrors the open ocean.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Neah Bay to Eureka

Last Sunday night the 5 southbound sailboats holed-up in Neah Bay had a meeting aboard the boat of our new crusiser friends we call, "The Swiss Famliy Robinson." ( a long story) The five southbound captains discussed their plans for how many miles offshore they would go for the best weather, avoiding shipping, etc. and we all agreed on a radio call-in schedule to keep in touch. All other captains decided to wait until tuesday, but I thought we should be on our way as soon as the weather had cleared on monday. There is a mental trap that cruisers seem to fall into waiting for the "right" weather window. We found one person who said he had been waiting for 2 years to leave Neah Bay! Another flat out told us we were crazy to think of leaving with the endless train of lows bearing down on us. We were also the smallest of the five boats and I wanted to get South as quickly as possible before the next low swung down from Alaska. So, against the cruising conventional wisdom, we set out. We rounded the long awaited US northwestern most point in a moderate SW breeze, but as we cleared the cape a stiff chop from the SSE appeared as a remnant from the storm and mixed with the big W swell to produce a fairly confused sea. To add to the fun the wind began to blow into the mid 20s from the SW. Those three wave patterns created not a very nice ride. I won't beat around the bush, I threw up all night, Dan was scared, and John just stayed in his bunk. But maybe having a horrific first night at sea is a blessing, because everything else after that started to seem like gravy and our stomachs were like iron after the second day. After the blow, the wind began to veer to a more favorable direction, and the waves slowly became more orgainzed. We made mostly good progress southward, although the Oregon coast did start to seem almost as long as California. The sun began to shine brighter and our sprits climbed steadily as well. We had some amazing runs of perfect breeze. With a double reefed main and full jib Sula loves almost any breeze except a dead run. Then as the breeze builds, we just roll up the jib and she settles right into it. She is very fast for her length, and mountainous 17 ft swell from the NW only served as a surfing engine. As well as fast, she is also well mannered and stable, and hardly a wave ever threatened to come aboard. Her rudder is powerful, and she can steer herself upwind with the wheel locked for hours. She is quite simply an amazing sea boat and I'm relieved that those same lines that struck me visually, handle the ocean so well. The GPS hit 11.1 kts once as we carved beautiful turns down a wave face. The windvane also is amazing. He, (the windvane is a He), is a better helmsman that we are, and never gets tired or takes his eyes off the compass, and never needs one amp of electricity. No swell ever overpowed him dangerously. His name is Karuk. Thats one of many stories that I could descibe in more detail. It involves two great women we met in Port Townsend, Mary and Zhuvuya, who had just come from a session with their guru/spiritual/relationship advisor, a woman, who becomes a "portal" for a spirit force named Karuk. Karuk is a male though. We're very happy to have Karuk aboard as he makes long watches much more fun. We were not planning to stop before SF but John needed to get back and a nasty cold front is coming tomorrow, so we pulled over in Crescent City, CA for a night, then motored the next day to Trinidad Head, and Eureka CA. Although it is a bar crossing to get inside, this is the last best place to hole up waiting to make it around Cape Mendocino and make the final push to SF. As a crew, we did beautifully. There was not one harsh word the whole voyage, and after that first night we all began to enjoy the trip immensely. John loved looking at the ocean in all its ever changing scenes, and watching the huge swell running under, and sometimes towering over us. Dan never tired of squeezing each last tenth of a knot out of the boat, and he proved to be quite a force, making amazing meals inside the chaotic washing machine of the cabin. The ocean and the boat were all I expected them to be and more. I was constanly amazed at just how beautiful it all is, the waves, the sky, the stars, the moon rising behind the coast range. And pulling into a different, crazy, normal town, a new one each time, is a great way to see the world.

John and I hiked out to Cape Flattery on Sunday. An amazing place. I want to come back and kayak there when the swell is a bit lower. John's birdwatching urges were sated as well, as he spotted a sojurner Pelican, maybe blown by the storm, at the extreme northern end of its range. This one of those primal, land-before-time places that can't really be appreciated in a photo.

Karuk does all the work while we enjoy the view.

It started to look tropical as we approached California.

This kind of sunrise over the coast after a crystal clear night with brillant starts makes it hard to get a lot of sleep during a night of motoring from Crescent City to Trinidad, CA.

Sula anchored in the snug cove behind Trinidad Head.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We don't give a ..... cuz its your birthday

Friday was our first day weatherbound in Neah Bay waiting out the first big storm of the season. The sky directly to the west was crystal clear and if we hadn't had NOAA telling us about the storm, our senses would have told us there was nothing to fear. It seemed like the last day of summer. And, just about the best way I could imagine to spend my 30th birthday. Neah Bay and its wonderful people have been great to us at every turn. This is a very fun town if one has the right attitude, and my crew has been having a great time. A female native fishing captain, Lou, drove us out to the Shi-Shi hike trailhead, but on the way stopped at her house to pick up some kippered black cod for us, and invited us to her beach volleyball party the next day. I told her the forecast was for gale force winds from the south and rain, but she wan't fazed.

Shi-Shi Beach, is awesome. John and I made the plunge into the huge turquoise shore break. That may have been the highest point in a day of highs.
Blow the tubes!
John and I exhibiting some of the collection of plastic trash we gathered on the beach
John's cooler tracks.

the walk back to the village, across the reservation from the trailhead was 8km. But we've found that usually the first person we talk to will offer us a ride. After 15 min of walking we began to hear the deep bass thumping of a very loud stereo. We were not about to ask the in habitants of the 89 Cutlass that we discoverd was the source of the loudest rap on the reservation for a ride, but as we tried to walk past them on the road, they rolled down the window and wanted to know how the surf had been. Once the smoke from the inside of the car had cleared, we explained that we had only found the broken board on the beach. This was our kind of ride back to town, and they thought nothing of stowing half a surfboard in the back seat with us, and playing some earthshattering rap for us on the way. Steve and Tasha later visited the boat and had a piece of birthday cake. Hopefully, we'll all make it the beach volleyball party later, as Tasha happens to be Lou's neice. Its funny that the places you wouldn't first imagine turn out to be the places where you can have the best experiences and meet the most memorable, real people.

The night was finished off with a pan fried Red Banded Rockfish from a local fisherman's boat, and a cake made by Dan.

Now, as the storm actually approaches, the rain has come and its a cold, blustery day. John's off to catch a salmon in the TSOO-YESS river, and Dan and his friend Kristina are hiking out to Cape Flattery. I'm going for a rainy kayak along the northshore out to Flattery, as I've wished I could so many times while on the bridge of a ship.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Juan de Fuca Straights

John takes in the moonlit path over Fort Warden on a great hike we had from Port Townsend.

Motoring in the eastern Straights with the Olympic Mountains to port

Not a breath of wind, motoring from Port Townsend to Crescent Bay

All day on deck, sailing upwind toward Neah Bay. Two passing rainy fronts, but in the evening...
Cape Flattery, Tatoosh Island, and Neah Bay. The condensing moisture pushed up by the coast range looked like a forest fire.

We're now tied up among a fleet of fishing boats here in Neah Bay. Things are drying out and a hot shower and an ultasonic toothblasting have made things a bit more civilized. John is playing old country songs on his toy guitar and Dan is huddled up next to what little warmth the kerosene heater puts out. It was an awesome day of sailing. We didn't make the best time from Crescent Bay, where we anchored last night, but we only ran the engine for about an hour out of 12hrs on the water. I didn't really leave the deck the whole time. It was transfixing just to have a nice 7-10 kt breeze, and to watch Sula work over the easy ocean swells. Even when the wind dropped down to just a few knots, she seemed to have a yearning that wouldnt' allow us to break down and motor into such a wind. And the sunset over the pacific had every one of us thinking maybe we should just bypass neah bay and head out into the ocean. But now it looks like there is an alaskan low that is driving SE fast and will dip down too far south and bring us headwinds late tomorrow if we head out. So we are planning a day in this small sleepy reservation town. A hike to Shi-Shi is in the works and an exciting visit to the general store which is the only hardware store/marine store/grocery store for this village. Hopefully the storm will blow through fast and on sunday morning we can head out and see what lumpy swells remain from the blow.