Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Bright Side

When sailing, you have to fly the flag of the country you are from and the country you are in. This is the Mexican flag. As you can see, it has taken a beating and symbolizes how we are starting to feel. Don't get me wrong, sailing is great. But after a while, the salt and sun start to take is toll, on everything. Even my bobbypins are rusting. Plus, it's a lot of work. And life on a boat is work. Things always need to be at least adjusted if not fixed. And things are just starting to wear down, like this flag.

The skiff has a few small leaks and the seats are being held up by tires. We are down to one oar, well, three, technically, since one is in two pieces. The fresh water pump stopped working. The air mattress has a slow leak that's gaining speed. The sails need repairs, the lines are starting to fray, the solar shower fell over board months ago. We've been using a 2 liter Coke bottle with holes in the bottom. And, the worst of all, the coffee situation hasn't been the same since a French gal accidentally deep sixed part of the coffee pot in Panama. Otto dove on it twice to find it, but in 30 feet of murky water on a cloudy day, it was lost to us forever.

We limped along OK with various efforts of making coffee. We found another percolator pot, but it was small and was difficult to use. Sometimes its hard to make coffee before you've had coffee. Then we went with the cone route. We found filters, but no cone. Now we are rolling with cowboy coffee. Where you just throw in a few tablespoons of coffee into water. Shut if off as soon as it boils. That worked OK with the good Costa Rican coffee. But now that we are back in Mexico........We are both staring to feel a bit like this flag. Still flying, but the sun and salt are taking its toll.

So is limited funds. No money equals no fuel. No fuel equals no charging the batteries. No batteris equals no navigational equipment, no lights, no fridge, no toilet, no recharging the ipod. Things are getting skinny here in the Crystal Blue. Lucky for us, its near a full moon so we can run at night without lights. Sorta. When ever we get close to a boat, we run down and turn them on until is passes. Its risky, running without radar at night, but we are betting everyone else is. Besides, men have been sailing thousands of years before it was even invented. And, on the plus side, since the water pump broke, Gary installed a foot pump, so we at least have water again. And we had to use the last of the ice before it melts. Yum. Vodka and Passionfruit Kool-aid coctails. Maybe things aren't so bad after all...........

Monday, April 19, 2010


Its a good thing sailing is easier than posting pictures on this blog site! I've tried every approach I can think of and can't seem to get it right. However, I don't want to deprive you, dear reader, of a nice visual experience, so bare with me.

Red Skies at Night, Sailor's Delight

Red Skies at Night, Sailor’s Delight,

And we were indeed delighted to finally be off and sailing again! With only a few minor injuries from pushing the skiff through the surf (mine was very minor, a scrape on the shin, but it left a funny purple scar visible now when I wear a skirt) we were ready to pull anchor. We, as in Gary. That’s his job. He heaved-ho by hand the 35 lb Dansforth anchor and 100+ feet of anchor chain and line. Just in time, too as we could see a black cloud coming our way. Not weather, but soot from burning sugar cane. We motored away just as the black ash started to sprinkle the decks.

We motored out of the anchorage, dodging boats left and right. Clearing the point, we raised the main sail then the jib. Killing the engines, always a moment I savor on any boat, we found our course. A 700 mile straight shot at 359 degrees takes us to Huatulco, Mexico.
Well, the saying “Red skies at night, sailor’s delight” was wrong. It wasn’t long before we were in 25 knot winds with gusts up to 35-40. Lessons learned sailing in a gale:

1. How much power the wind has
2. That it’s all but impossible to steer a 55’ cat into the wind when 1 engine won’t start
3. How much noise a sail makes as its getting ripped to shreds
4. What an accidental jibe is
5. That one will toss a 6’4” man around like a ragdoll
6. That even getting almost launched overboard in gale force winds and 4’ seas still doesn’t cause Mr. Laidback California to lose his cool.

After we got our asses handed to us, we did finally manage to get the main down, and it stayed down for 2 days until it finally let up enough to repair it. Sailing with only a jib didn’t get us very far, but we didn’t have a choice. Once the wind stopped, we raised the main, accessed the damage and got out the repair kit. We had three significant rips to patch up. We worked as quickly as possible so we could finish the necessary mends before the wind picked back up. And the next 8 days were spent with a fully raised main and no wind. While it’s frustrating to sail slower than one can swim, there are some perks. Viewing lots of wild life is one of them. We were practically sailing through turtle soup! We saw about 50 turtles a day, nearly running over most of them. And dolphins by the dozens would come and swim next to the boat. One was an amazing acrobat. It would jump about 10’-15’ out of the water while doing flips! It was quite a show. Another appeared off the starboard side of the boat and spy hopped, which is a slow and controlled movement akin to a human treading water. The dolphin raised and held position partially out of the water, exposing its whole head and look inquisitively at the boat, and perhaps me. We also had a few stowaways of the feathered variety. One even made himself at home down on the chart table for the night. Lets us little presents, too.

Limited money equals limited fuel. Limited fuel equals limited motoring. We sailed as much as humanly possible and only used the motor to charge the batteries of the boat and when absolutely necessary. Like during my 4 AM wheel watch when I had to stare at a red light on the beach that never moved past us after three hours. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life gawking at the red light. I had to fire up the engines and motor past it. Turns out, we were stuck in a river current and would probably still be there had we relied solely on wind.

Taking a straight shot from Costa Rica to Mexico allowed us to bypass Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. We wanted to avoid the infamous red tape of entering these countries, especially the Nicaraguan Navy, who will board you and site you for anything and everything. But, we were 60 miles off shore when we passed Nicaragua, so we were safe.
After nine and a half long days of sailing and round the clock wheel watches (OK, we did get to tie the wheel off a few times and both get a nap) we arrived Huatulco, Mexico. Well, we arrived seven miles off shore of Huatulco. Under normal sailing conditions that would take less than an hour. With our lack of wind curse, it took us a maddening eight hours. Finally arriving just outside the harbor, we dropped the sails and fired up the engine to motor in. After docking, we checked our fuel levels and discovered we didn’t have any! We must have motored in on fumes. Later, we had to haul our fuel jugs, by foot, up to the gas station for diesel. Returning to the boat by Taxi with a trunk full of diesel, we lugged them back down to the boat and fueled up for the next leg of the journey.

Entering Mexico in Huatulco is about as pleasant experience as it gets. Instead of running around to various offices, everyone comes to you. We had Immigration, Customs, International Health, and someone government office aboard, all at once! This may sound intimidating, but mostly it was young giggly girls who flirted with Gary as they gave us all our proper stamps and paperwork. The trip to the Port Captain, on the other hand, was a different story as was the usual hassle. Nevertheless, we got all checked in and it felt good to be on land again after almost 10 days of sea.

Huatulco is a tourist town in the southern part of Mexico, in Oaxaca State. Unlike most Mexican towns, Huatulco exhibits signs of city planning and landscaping. It’s freshly groomed, trimmed, and hedged. Almost like a Mexican version of San Diego. After spending a few days exploring, (most of which, I was still rocking) we had our fill of burgers and beer, we grabbed some grub and were ready to take off. We both took one more nap and left at 11:59 PM so we wouldn’t get charged for another day at the marina. And we were off for Zipolite, Mexico!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sailing North, up the Pacific Coast

After spend about 30 seconds in Anchorage at the end of January, I decided to head back to the tropics. I cashed in my miles account and flew back to Mexico. It was great to be back in the warm and sunny. I visited with my friends, Molly, Eric, and Sully in Puerto Escondido, a hip surf town. Its always fun to see AK friends in other parts of the world. From there, I scooted over to Zipolite a small beach town with yoga. I met some amazing people and did some great yoga. Also got killer massages from Molly. Her place is the top floor of a building right on the beach. One wall, no roof. I actually saw a whale once during one of my massages. Got rained on a lil' bit too, but its all good.

From there, I flew back to Costa Rica to get back on the Crystal Blue Persuasion, the 55' catamaran I'd been sailing on. It was good to be back, though a little deja vu-ish. After a few days of hanging out with Gary, the captain, and prepration, we are ready for our 700 mile sail north to Mexico. Just need the exit papers.

Things happen differently down there. Red tape is an understatement. We were jumping through hoops left and right to get all our paperwork done. First, the Port Captain. No, no no. You need 3 copies of this, three copies of that, you don't need this, you will need that. No you can't make copies here, go across town to the Grocery store. Then you need to go to the bank and pay your exit fee. Immigration, then Customs. Customs is in another town, 45 minutes away. We go to the bank, but its closed because their computers are down. Gary hops of the bus to Liberia, for Customs. He gets back just in time for Immigration. But the office is closed. No info is posted as to when they will re-open. We go back to the bank. Oh lucky day, its open!

We (we as in Gary) row our water-logged skiff back through the surf with the one oar he has left and we go back to the boat for the night. We try again the next day.

Immigration is still closed. I think, hey! Lets go to Immigration in Liberia, otherwise we are stuck here another day. We have to hurry, though, as the Port Captain is closing early today. We just missed the bus. Lets take a cab and catch the bus. There's the bus, catch it! No can do, cabbie wants the whole fare and drive slow. We take a cab the whole way. 15 bucks. We wait in line. Wrong line. We finally talk to someone. No no, can't do that here. Paula will be open today in Coco Beach. Go there. She'll be there at 2 pm. We cab back deflated. Another 10 bucks and 2 hours wasted.

2 pm. No Paula. 2:30, no Paula. 3 pm, finally Paula. Then another boat captain corks us. Slippery bastard. Finally, its our turn. Its 3:45 and the Port Captain closes at 4. And we still have to walk across town to get there. We need this, we need that. No, no. This is no good. Make new copies. No, you can't make copies here, I'm out of paper. (She was literally saying this as she was grabbing a scene of paper!) Go to the grocery store and make new copies. OK, this is fine. Do you have your papers from last year? Do you have your 5th grade report card? No! We don't need those. Yes, you do. No, we don't. OK! OK, fine, these will do. Hey, Gary. Gary? Hey Gary. I'm very thirsty. Very thirsty. Can you go buy me some water? No, not that kind, this kind. No, not that store, go to this store. I'm so thirsty.

Finally, finally, finally, she signs our papers. But, its after 4. OK, come back if the Port Captain's office is closed. We practically run to the Port Captain's office. Closed. But, she will return in just over an hour. We go back to Paula. Oh, yeah. The Port Captain will re-open. She just had to take her son to little league. I can't do anything for you, you'll have to wait for her. We wait. We are so close to finally leaving. We have been at this since 9 am this morning. Well, since yesterday, really. But who's counting? OK, we are. Shit!! We remember high tide and the skiff.

I head back down the beach while Gary waits for the Port Captain. I see the skiff, the tide is up to it already and I'm about 300 feet away. Just then, swoosh! It goes out to see and gets caught in the surf. Then another wave comes crashing over it! Oh no! Its going to be smashed to pieces!! Then how will we get out to the boat? I start running down the beach, all our groceries flopping along with me. I watch, helpless, in horror, as another wave smashes over our skiff.

Just then, I see some local kids dive in after it and retrieve it. Thank you, thank you. Have you seen the oar? Over there? Great. Thanks again. We lost the baler, but that's no big. The skiff is still in one piece. Barely.

The surf is building as Gary comes down the beach, paperwork in hand. Oh, happy day! Finally! We put the groceries in the skiff and can only push it through the surf as we dive under it. Gary scampers aboard, but I don't have the strength and am afraid I'll roll it. I cut my leg in the attempt. Here, just take my shorts, I'll just swim out to the boat. Lets just get out of here!

Finally, finally, after 2 days of running around for paperwork and buying thirsty clerks water, we can pull anchor and leave Costa Rica for Mexico.

Now, the adventure begins!