Saturday, December 18, 2010

Barra de Navidad

Dec (?) Nic and I are in Barra de Navidad. Cruiser Mecca. We're using the cheap internet at the Sands Hotel. The Happy Hour here is popular with the cruisers, probably because the drinks are super cheap, and that they have a great tie up for dinghies. There are about a dozen boats anchored in the cove behind the breakwater. Nic is blogging while I shop for carpets and pottery. Tomorrow, we continue south to meet up with Nic's parents in Zihuatanejo. It's 200 nm. A long voyage, but we're ready. A few more provisions to gather, and then we're off!

Dec 11th, 22:05

We're 4 miles off Cabo Corrientoes, the most SW point of the Bahia de Banderas. Nic has just gone below to nap, so I am standing watch. Alone. My first solo night watch! This is a totally new experience for me. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little spooked by the idea, but it does help that the seas are pretty calm. There's virtually no wind, so we're motor sailing with just the main. Also, the moon is out - a waxing crescent, which is enought to illuminate the ocean and outline the mountains to port. Nic harnessed me in to.. WHOA! Another one! Every once and a while, a HUGE glowing mass travels across the water. The phosphorescence revealing something's path. We've seen lots of dolphins zipping around the boat, but these lights are different - more diffuse, deeper (?) and generated by a much larger body in motion, seemingly larger than Sula. It's not hard to imagine these lights are created by whales as we've seen them so frequently. Whether it's a whale or a school of fish, it's difficult to tell. But it's really incredible to see all of this action around you in the middle of the ocean at night.

6:38 a.m. Nic came up around 1 a.m. and I fell into bed. Nic had a great watch. Lots of wind, some big waves, dolphins and shooting stars. When I went to bed, Orion was overhead, now he's setting to starbord.Sirus is 20 degrees above the horizon and Venus is brilliant off the port bow. For a while, it felled in for the moon, lighting up the sea. And now, the sky is just starting to brighten as the Sun approaches the horizon. 6:59 a.m. No more stars. Just Venus. The Sun is coming up ahead in the SE. I can see the horizon all around us now. Some nice rolling swell pushing us towards our destination. We just hit 7.3 kn! This has been one of the most exciting and beautiful experiences. I'm thinking a lot of my family and their off-shore adventures. Cedar in 20 ft swells off the Bahamas, steering through the waves while listening to the Chieftans, and Harmony, sailing to Costa Rica and then doing a trans-Atlantic.. I've waited a long time for this.

My first post!

Dec 6th, 10 p.m.
Nic has kindly allowed me add to his blog, which has been a wonderful way to keep friends and family up to speed on our progress. Forgive the leap back in time, but I'm entering some notes from my journal from our departure from PVR... Before the funeral, we did a two day trip to Yelapa, across the Bay of Banderas. The mountain hike and waterfall were wonderful. But the most incredible experience happened one night around 10 p.m. A pod of dolphins had corralled a school of fish in the cove where Sula was anchored. A display of 'phosphorescence fireworks' took place before our eyes as dolphins chased fish around Sula.. It was incredible! We could see the shapes of the dolphins illuminated by the phosphors. The speed with which they moved and that their prey responded with animated the black waters like cloud lightning across the sky. It was incredible! It's a great comfort to see such richness and diversity of wildlife. Almost every day sailing we've seen whales! Over breakfast at our anchorage in Yelapa, we saw half a dozen manna rays swimming by - their 'wing tips' appeared as a school of tiny dorsal fins. During our hike in the mountains, Nic spotted the most beautiful emerald parrots flying across the tree tops. And during our sail back to PVR, we were escorted by dolphins swimming at Sula's bow. I feel like nature is thriving, in spite of everything.

Swimming with.....

We anchored in Bahia Tenacitita for two nights. There's a nice dinghy trip up into the mangrove swamp and its one of the calmest anchorages around. Sara wanted some civilization so we made a dinghy trip across the choppy bay to the cute town of La Manzanilla, for some shopping, drinks on the beach at sunset and admiring of cocodrillos. (crocodiles) Both nights, then anchorage was very nice and calm with only a few feet of swell wrapping around the point. But both nights I heard a strange noise that I couldn't place. It was a creaking, groaning sound coming from the bow that sounded like the anchor chain scraping on the roller. But every time I would check there would be nothing. Only the two dolphins who were patrolling the bay. Every time we heard the sound, we'd notice that the dolphins would surface nearby! I began to wax conspiritorial. It was the dolphins rubbing up against the boat! Screwing with us somehow. And Sara, LOVED these dolphins. We watched them swimming the bay for two days and new them by their ragged dorsal fins. Sara kept metioning how much she'd like to swim with them an I said, "go ahead, jump overboard, but I'm staying right here!" (where its safe) Our last morning, I heard the groaning sound again and ran up to the bow. Sure enough! It was the dolphins! They were cavorting with our anchor rode! Both dolphins would make a run at our rode and pass the rope slowly down their entire lenth, snout to tail! The anchor rode was in constant spiral! And the water was totally clear. Coffee was abandoned. Bathing suits thrown on. And into the water we went. I was a little scared, but what a great way to die anyway. It was scary, intense, and beautiful. They did not leave and didn't seem to mind our presense at all. They swam right up to both of us and circled and continued their backscratching with the rode. I saw an image that I won't forget for the rest of my life. Sara, had pulled herself down the anchor rode, about 10 feet down, halfway to the bottom and was hold on tightly to the chain as two dolphins swam below her, the anchor chain straining at their backs, both of them! pulling this mermaid into a perfect circle. It was, absolutely, the most beautiful image I expect to see in my entire life.

The Gold Coast

Sunsets. Empty, pristine anchorages. Adventuring hikes around bird colony islands which are nesting spots for lime-green footed booby's, (Sula's namesake) Snorkeling across fields of coral festooned with irridescent fish. Piping sea breezes during the day, calm at night. Whales. Fish. Fish. Fish. We finally caught a Dorado (mahi-mahi) offshore but he parted the small line before I could gaff him. Birds. Warm water. Friendly cruisers scattered about. Abandoned hotels ashore.

South Again

Sara and I flew to NYC to attend her Grandmother's funeral in Greenwich, CT. It was a hectic few days but a wonderful time to remember Mrs. Tiedemann with the whole family.

Back on the boat we slept fast and recovered from snuffling noses quickly. After another shopping trip we bid farewell to Puerto Vallarta for real sailing!

Sailing, all night, Sara's first night watch, good wind, then dying. Pulling into beautiful Bahia Chamela the next day.

And finally! Sara catches our first fish! A small tuna? Trolling in the dinghy with a red and white bucktail jig offshore of our island anchorage. Finally! Fresh fish tacos!


Anchoring in Yelapa is hard! We dragged two anchors and hit another boat! :( I was pretty upset. But the damage was minimal and the kind Canadian owner was understanding. Pesos were exchanged and my anchoring ego began its recooperation. But in the meantime, Yelapa was beautiful. A jungle hike into the huge mountains with a swim in a cold waterfall really lifts the spirits!


Sula has finally left Puerto Vallarta! We are really, actually, Cruising now. So many amazing things have happened and we've seen so many beautiful places and sights and I feel like I'm too busy doing things to write blog entries. So maybe I'll just do mostly photos, with a few descriptions.


Will was gone in a flash and I was left with a boat which needed lots of work. I had a slip in Marina Vallarta located next to the sports/fishing/piano/tourist bar Chappy's. Most of the time I felt like I was trapped in some sort of Mexican Margaritaville. Once I finally found a way to get internet on the boat I fell into a daily routine. I would wake up fairly early and listen to the daily Cruiser's Radio Net on VHF Channel 22. I would drink two cups of coffee and have some breakfast and begin the day's projects. I would start working and not really stop for a breath until Chappy's resident piano/guitar vocalist had entered his rock set at around 8 pm with a nightly “Come on baby light my fire” sung in jazzy Mexican off tempo. My mind was completely clear during these days, I was focused only on the tasks at hand. The first task was the head. I had stupidly stored it for 18 months full of salt water, which had now formed a crust over every inner valve and surface. The pump handle would not budge at all. I tore it down to its simplest parts, discovered how it worked, and put it back together again, clean and functioning. This took almost one day. The next project was to manufacture a replacement Monitor windvane servo rudder. This is the small rudder that trails behind the boat and provides the power for the windvane to steer the boat on its own on a steady course. The servo rudder fell off halfway down the coast last week. A new one is $500, so I'll go with this jury rigged one for now. It's made with random pieces of stainless steel and plexiglass bolted and epoxied into the the old tube. It is horribly ugly. I think it will be strong enough for a few thousand miles on the ocean but we'll see how well it can steer the boat in constantly varying conditions. The next project was to discover why Sula's main transverse bulkhead was tearing loose from its fastening to the side of the hull and loudly cracking and creeping sideways with every roll to a big wave. On the way south it was a difficult noise to sleep through, with the thought that maybe the next wave would be the one to tear it completely loose and thoughts of “how important is that bulkhead?” running through my head. The theory that I've developed is that the cause of the bulkhead loosening was Sula being stored in the Sonoran desert for more than 2 years. All the moisture has now been sucked out of the wood and wood shrinks with low humidity. The boat however, being fiberglass, stayed the same size and something had to give. This was a major undertaking and I spent many hours just poking around, trying to imagine the forces on her structure and how my repairs would change things. But I knew I had to do something for the time being and so I set about to reattaching the bulkhead to the hull. I injected epoxy into the bulkhead tabbing where it was noisily tearing loose and also heavily screwed and epoxied the bulkhead to a fiberglass beam that is directly beneath it but no longer touching the bulkhead. Sula is so strongly built that I do not fear any real structural failures, and so far since the repair the bulkhead has been quiet, unmoving and seemingly strong. I spent more days changing the oil in Sula's old Westerbeke 21 hp diesel. I changed the fuel filter, and for the first time figured out how to drain the old transmission fluid, using a mirror to look underneath the engine to see the hidden drain bolt. The 'Gulper' manual bilge pump would also no longer pump and so I spent a day taking it down to its individual parts, finding corrosion and eaten Aluminum, also due to being stored for so long with a gullet full of salt water. New flapper valves and a healthy dose of epoxy to jury rig the failed metal plate brought the pump back to life after a day of swearing, contortion, and bloody knuckles.
These were all important projects and each one brought Sula closer to a condition that I would feel comfortable sailing her in for an extended period of time far from safe harbors. But no matter how long my workdays, there always seemed to be more work to do and the day of Sara's arrival approached quickly. I had been sleeping soundly every night in a small berth, exhausted by the day. Then one night 2 days before Sara was to arrive, I found that I couldn't sleep. I was thinking too much and imagining noises around the boat. Just as I was finally falling into slumber, I had a terrible, almost physically real dream. Some kind of animal fell out of thin air onto my leg! I could feel the animal struggling and thrashing around, and I attempted to throw this nighttime visitor off of me from beneath the blanket. When finally fully awake, I turned on lights and looked around only to find there was nothing there. Had it been a snake? A giant spider? A rodent? Or only a dream? I convinced myself that it was only a dream, and if the animal had been real, it was surely gone now. The next day all was calm. The workday went well and there was no sign of any intruder. Then, late in the afternoon I found a small area of chewed up food in the quarter berth. A clear sign of a rodent visitor. Why didn't I make my way directly to the store for traps? Well, optimism can be strange. I convinced myself that he had surely seen that the boat was not a good source of food and he would move on to another boat. That night I went to bed hopeful that he was just a casual visitor and had departed for less populated boats. I slept for only a hour before being awoken by a horrible racket. Not only had he not departed, but his boldness had increased 4-fold. He was now making more noise than ever and sampling every scrap of food he could find. He easily made his way into every compartment. I had to face the truth. I had rats. And the idea that he would depart of his own accord now seemed utterly laughable. I had been a fool. And now Sara would arrive later that day not to a Yacht of Luxury and Relaxation, but one of Pestilence and Unrest. A sour note to begin a honeymoon! So now its 4 am and I can't sleep and Sara arrives in a few hours and there is a noisy, hungry, rat having his way with Sula's interior. I need help. Google helps, a bit. I'm set on the right track. No poison says Google. It doesn't work, and if it does it may leave a smelly carcass, rotting inaccessible in the bilge. No glue traps. They don't work and are cruel if they do. Old fashioned spring-traps are the way to go. Cheap, effective, quick, and reusable. So I'm off to Wal-Mart in a taxi. Its open 24hrs? Yes. But, closed anyway. Welcome to Mexico. The next megastore? Open. Poison? Tons! Glue traps? A whole section! Ratoneras? (spring traps) Nope. Who knows why, but the one item I do want, the one that works, they don't have. So, having come all the way, I reluctantly buy 4 glue traps and head home. All four are soon baited with Nutella, and put into the rat's favorite places. I'm finally exhausted enough to sleep at this point and with the help of earplugs and distancing myself from the action up in the v-berth, I get a few hours of sleep. The next morning, upon inspection, the glue traps reveal a snapshot of the rat's night in paradise. Each of the 4 traps has been visited. Each lump of succulent hazelnut butter has been sampled, and each glue trap tells the same story, a happy rat wandered this way and calmly marched across the deadly glue as if it were a red carpet. There is not a single sign of struggle or discomfort! Panic is slowly setting in. Sara lands in a few hours! The boat is a disaster, completely torn apart, and has Rats. And there is no way to stop their nightly rampages. I quickly organize things as best I can to make Sula appear the very 'boat-which-does-not-have-rats' and make my way to Wal Mart. The store might be destroying the world, but at least it has everything. But it turns out, not Ratoneras! OMG. I'm going to lose it. So its another bus and a walk to HomeDepot before I finally spy the beautiful, simple, and deadly, Ratonera. I get two of the giant sewer rat sized ones and head quickly for the airport, wrapping my prize in 6 bags to hide the fact that I'm greeting my finance with not the most romantic gift upon arrival in Paradise. Its lovely to see Sara, we drop her bags at the boat and then I take her out to lunch to break the news. She deals with the situation much better than I. She's not perturbed a bit, which is a relief, but when we go to sleep onboard that night the battle begins anew. Both Ratoneras are baited with the same Nutela that worked so well with the glue traps, and I'm snug in bed expectantly waiting for the most beautiful sound in the world. But, there is nothing. No sound of good old American spring steel hammering down with final judgment. There is only the sound of the now extremely bold and well fed Rat. He is chewing happily, inexplicably, on the top of a bottle of vegetable oil, not 7 inches from a delicious Nutela baited Ratonera. He is bolder now too. When I shine my mega-bright 7 LED Flashlight on his dinner he doesn't even run as before. He's learned there's nothing to fear onboard this boat. Sara begs me to calm down and just come back to bed but there's no way I can sleep. Disgust in my rat catching abilities makes it impossible to think of sleep, let alone the cacophony of sounds coming from Mr. Rat's explorations that I'm powerless to stop. So. I scare him away to his darkest hideout and re-bait the traps. The 'experts' on the internet say it sometimes takes 2 days to catch one in a trap. The rats have to 'accept' the new trap and its scent as part of their world. And make sure you wear gloves so you don't get your scent on the trap! I throw all that out the window. I want this MF'er tonight! And Sara has brought Parmesan cheese. Hard, smelly, oily cheese that will fit nicely on the trigger with a few small zip ties to hold it snuggly in place. I re-set the traps in his favorite place, just next to the cooking oil bottle (that is now leaking out and sounds like a snare drum with every bite.) For almost an hour I pretend to sleep and listen to his scampering, cavorting, savoring, sampling and hors'derving around the boat. I can't take it anymore and pull myself out of the coffin like v-berth yet again. Sara implores me to just let it go. “Let him eat! We'll worry about it tomorrow!” But I can't be stopped, and I inspect the useless traps. To my absolute horror my worst fears are on display. There, with absolute certainty, is the Parmesan cheese, still zip tied to the trigger, but now half eaten! I'm beside myself. This rat is supernatural, a rodent devil! Or I'm the worst hunter in Mexico? Upon closer inspection I see the flaw in my workmanship. Just like how my other boat maintenance projects have taught me to breakdown and understand why something isn't working, I do the same with the Ratonera and I see it after some puzzling. My zip tie has come in contact with the hold-back wire, and made the trap a secure dining place for my enemy. Its time to readjust, like a fisherman changing lures, I'm going to give this bastard exactly what he wants.... vegetable oil! I tear off a little section of paper towel and roll it up, wedging it firmly under the tab on the trigger, then soak it in the same oil he's been happily chewing through plastic to get to for hours. If he wants this oil so much I'll give it to him. I put both traps right in the middle of the floor, right were I've seen him run every time from his hideout to the food. Next to the traps I put the bottle of oil he's been so desperate for. It CANT be true that a rat is smarter than a man! this point I really don't know. But. In just a few minutes of fake sleep my patience is rewarded with probably the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. Not 7 minutes after returning to bed, he's sprung a trap! I bound out of bed in a few seconds, and I'm not sorry a bit to see that he has had his final meal aboard Sula. The Ratonera has done its job with the utmost dispatch, no mess and quick. I drop him over the side, triumphant, jubilant, and for the next few days I find its easier than ever to smile. Even a few days later when I'm thinking with despair, “We just had a collision!?” Well, its not that big of a deal, at least we don't have rats!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Down Wind

Another crewmember departed. I just dropped Will off at the city bus in busy downtown Puerto Vallarta. Its sad to see him go. With a rush the bus was off and the person I'd sailed 550 miles with was gone, off to Queretaro to see his Sarah, working for the Peace Corps. I have a a week here in Marina Vallarta, before Sara joins me for 6 weeks of sailing. I don't think it will be a lonely week, despite the fact that I know nobody in the city, because I'm going to treat it like a mini-shipyard, attempting to fix the top 10 things that need to be repaired before we attempt to cruise 'for real.'

Our sail from San Carlos to Puerto Vallarta, started off quick. We fueled up, motored out past the towering Tetas de Cabra and waited for the wind to kick in. We quickly left of the lee of the headland and felt its effect. It wouldn't leave us for three days. We began to feel the first few rolls. Gradually at first. Then building. A constant force. We quickly hoisted sail and killed the engine. There was no thought of motoring. This was a steady breeze blowing straight toward our destination. We quickly were wing and wing, with the wisker pole set on the jib and a preventer on the main and we stayed that way for the next three days, surfing along at sometimes 8 or 9 knots, in 15-18 knots of wind. Perfect breeze. Except for the steep Sea of Cortez waves that built up. Sometimes towering above us, sometimes fading into a small chop, but with the same steady breeze. We must have averaged 7 knots over that time. We were making great distance and if felt good. But we were stressed. To be back sailing again takes a mental concentration that I have not been accustomed to in years now. Will was in awe, of the ocean, the waves, the life, the sunsets and this dynamic, overpowering, sometimes threatening environment around him. He was an amazing crewmember. He cooked some of the most delicious tacos while the boat surfed down crazy waves and rolled violently gunnel to gunnel. It was all we could do to hold on, let alone get gourmet with jalapenos and onion and a sharp knife. The only time Will was scared is when the waves were getting really big, still with the same wind, but taller and taller. And the sun going down, I mentioned that I didn't understand why the waves had grown so tall. His imagination then had them grow to twice the height and I had to tell him that we were going to easily handle whatever the Sea threw at us.

One actually stressful thing for me is the fact that Sula has been sitting untended in storage for a while now and she is starting to show the effects. There are dozens of projects that I should be attending to, but not the time to accomplish. So the next week will be my time for that. Very unfortunately, the Monitor self-steering windvane had a failure about halfway into the trip. Beloved Karuk who steers through thick in and thin, suddenly would not steer at all, and when I looked down into the wake I found no windvane rudder at all. It had completely sheared off, leaving only a ugly torn stump of stainless steel. The ocean doesn't care if its 316 Stainless or 304! Time will break everything down. Will didn't mind. He wanted to steer anyway. But it only added to my list of things needing attention.

On the third day the wind died. Just south of Mazatlan. At the engine came on. It ran fine thank god. It was an otherwise uneventful trip. Beautiful sunsets and rises. Great sailing. Amazing meals and moments of peace and thought while standing a long night watch. Whales, fish, birds, and being surrounded by nature.

We rounded Punta Mita at sunset last night and dropped anchor off the Four Seasons Jack Nicklaus golf course. Today we had an amazing sail the last 16 miles to Marina Vallarta, a ragtag Mexican experience. See photos taken from the iconic 'El Faro' bar just next to the marina.

Happy to be here. Excited to sail to some truly amazing anchorages with an amazing partner! Sorry to see another crewmember leave for a voyage in another direction. Grateful to the ocean for delivering us yet again, from her bosom, to another shore.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back in Mexico!

Sara and I are back in Mexico! In Sayulita, for Sara's sister Harmony's wedding. I'm relaxed. Its amazing. More soon!