Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Transitioning to Summer

"Pisces, Pisces, this is Tao on one-six" "Hey Tao, wanna go one-eight?" "One-eight" This has been a near daily beginning to our radio conversations with our buddy boat Pisces since we caught back up with them here in the Sea at Los Frailes. We awoke sad this morning as Pisces is no longer accessible via our VHF. Approximately a week ahead of our schedule, this morning they are driving "La Camioneta" (a sweet new-to-them van!) up to Tucson with their rudder on top, and we are gearing up for our last week of craziness preparing to transition into our summer. We've been anchored in Bahia San Carlos for a week now, slowly chipping away at closing the boat up for a few months while we head back to the states to visit family and hopefully make a little money for our cruising kitty. It is shaping up to be a bit of a heart-wrenching process as Tao is to be pulled out of the sea and put "on the hard" on stands in the middle of the Sonoran desert for several months through the heat of the summer. Not only are all these changes from our last 6 months of cruising proving to be psychologically difficult to adjust to, but the process of preparing a boat to be left in such heat is full of a million detailed tasks. In addition, to prepare for next seasons possible ocean voyaging we have created a list of priorities (200+ items strong) of things to buy while in the states or upgrade upon return. Overwhelming to say the least.

Poco a poco (little by little). It was invaluable to be able to observe Pisces' process and we have allotted ourselves extra time to try to keep this transition as mellow as possible. Over the past week we started by researching all the possible places to leave Tao on the hard. Upon sailing in, we were leaning toward Guaymas, as it is known to be the least expensive, and near "the big city" of Guaymas, a hub for local fishing and shrimping operations. Upon visiting, it is run by a very amiable Gabriel, and is quite a small operation in a dirt yard with a barbed wire fence for security (it was strange to see Outkast and Misty on stands without their people). It turns out that it is on the outskirts with quite a trek, requiring a bus, to get to town for buying parts to do work or even for finding a place to eat or grocery store which would make working on Tao upon return a bit difficult. Singlar is newer to the area and known to have exorbitant prices. Still we wanted to check it out. We were very impressed by their facilities (clean, paved and highly secure) and were pleasantly surprised that in trying to fill their small yard, they are offering 60% off their prices which bring them to a reasonable cost. The down side is there are no boat work services available through the yard, we would have to find everything ourselves. Marina Real, closest to the Sea, was immediately out as you are not allowed to live on your boat while working on it. Marina San Carlos tends to be the favorite among the majority of cruisers that want to work on their boats. It is obvious that they have done this for a while and are quite a well oiled machine. Because of the cruisers demand, services for both the boat and the cruisers, although more expensive, have popped up all around this little town. It is also where Pisces hauled out the first day we were here (and several others such as Plume plan to), so we were able to intimately check out their process. After weighing all the pros and cons, we have decided to haul out into Marina Seca in San Carlos because of the high level of experience, decent security, and the larger net of other cruisers experience to draw from there. We'll just have to battle the dust and mosquitos and the extra money is worth it to us for a little more peace of mind.

Over the last week we also managed to purchase tickets from Phoenix to our different destinations just in time for the 2-week mark; we both fly out on June 5th. It's quite complicated and more details will follow as things fall into place. The basic idea so far is that Shawn and Grizzly are flying to New York to visit family and Griz will be staying with GrandMum for a while. Shawn will then head to Idaho for a trip down the Middle Fork/Main Salmon with Chris and on to Oregon to hopefully work a few trips on the Rogue before checking out the yoga scene back in Berkeley. Chris is flying to Corvallis to visit his sister Sarah and pick up our chariot Pepe, and then working his way to Idaho for another season of river running with Canyons. Unfortunately, post ticket purchase, we found that the beautiful Mexican buses do not allow pets in the cabin. Yikes, now we find ourselves with a deadline in the states and no easy way to get there. We are practicing our zen and having faith that a ride from another cruiser will fall into place at the right time. Don't worry though, we do have a back up plan. We'll keep you posted. Until then, we haul on Friday at 2 pm local when the tide is high enough for our 5-ft draft. Tomorrow we plan to take a slip and drench everything in fresh water- it has been since the states since Tao has had a real fresh water bath and all of our running and standing rigging as well as our sails, canvas covers, windlass, Moni, Seahor(se), and Eeyore are screaming for a serious wash down. How different unlimited freshwater showers will be for us as well... Which brings us to today, we are madly scrambling around on board taking measurements, baking bread and cookies to use up the open flour, and generally trying to get all of the tasks that need to be done in the water completed while at the same time reminding ourselves to enjoy this part of the adventure as well.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One last push north

Friday the 15th dawned cool and foggy but the sun peeked through enough for us to see our buddies Outkast had found the anchorage in the middle of the night. After visiting Odyssey, a 44-ft Petersen and having nice chats, we went to visit Outkast with our cereal. The winds were coming up, but the fog was still lingering. What to do? Pisces had already left to cross to San Carlos and Scheherezade who was supposed to meet Outkast had been forced to return to Puerto Escondido due to engine troubles. A plan was hatched- let's head north, go on a long passage (for the Sea), a couple days if this wind holds and 100-nm up to Bahia San Francisquito. And we were off; around 1 pm we weighed anchor and sailed out into the finally clearing fog. Enjoying watching Outkast tack around, we made one tack bee line and came rather close to the low lying Islas Santa Inez, no problem since it was day and the fog had left only a haze behind. The winds were abating and Chris caught a little grouper (or cabrillo, we really need a fish ID book) but returned it to the Sea. We decided to head between Isla San Marcos and Isla Tortuga as the light slowly faded with the wind until it was pitch black with no wind and unfortunately a 2-ft swell from the south making the windless sails bang around so much we reduced to bare poles and drifted until about 3 am when a little westerly breeze joined the now south and north swells. At least we were moving, however slowly, in the right direction.

The next morning dawned windless with still sloppy seas, and hot. At this pace it would take several more days to make San Francisquito. Outkast decided to turn east and head for Guaymas to haul. We stayed on the rest of the day, under drifter alone relaxing, resting, reading, and even baking bread as we drifted toward our hopeful destination. That evening as the sun was lowering toward the Baja peninsula and we hadn't quite made 15 nm all day with 65 or so still to go, and NW flow forecasted the next few days (which would turn our journey into a beat to windward), we decided to take the evening ESE breeze that filled in and start the journey across the Sea a little early. Yet another lesson in non-attachment as our northbound plan just wasn't destined with those conditions. It was sad as we watched the sun set one last time behind Baja but felt good to be sailing east on favorable winds. And it was a most beautiful night. Five knot steady breeze on flat seas, phosphoresence in the water with pitch black skies marked by millions of brilliant stars. Even the fog that loosely surrounded us didn't mar the beauty of our crossing.

The next morning the winds relented briefly and then filled in from the forecasted westerly direction, building and pushing us directly toward our destination- mainland Mexico. As the winds veered to the NW we kept changing sails but in general flew along between 4 and 5 knots under some combination of drifter, full or reefed mains'l, or 100% jib alone. As the winds built and we approached land faster and faster, we realized that we weren't yet ready for the "big city" craziness that is on our schedule for the next few weeks. So we set a course for an isolated bay a bit north of San Carlos called Bahia San Pedro. About 8 nm off, as we were passing Isla San Pedro the fishing lines went taught! Not just one, but two fish on! Shawn hove the boat to and Chris enjoyed the fight that the bonito gave him as he reeled them in. We must've gone through a school of them because we had caught two large ones at the same time. Sure that we couldn't finish both we freed one and thanking the ocean, kept the other for dinner.

We got back under sail and headed upwind toward our hopeful anchorage while Chris cleaned Mr. Bonito on the high side of the boat. Just as the now fish-filled tuperware went into the just chilled refrigerator we reached Bahia San Pedro a beautiful little isolated bay where we found great protection from the solid NW winds. We sailed onto the hook under jib alone and started preparations for the feast that ensued. Shawn cooked up some rice and made an olive oil and vinaigrette dip for the fresh cooked garlic loaf and Chris grilled up amazing butter drenched bonito and in celebration we shared a COLD beer. In case you were wondering, Grizzly absolutely LOVES fresh caught bonito! The next day we slept in, recovering from our 3-day, 2-night passage and slowly sailed out figuring we'd head toward San Carlos and share the rest of our fish with Pisces. But the winds didn't cooperate so after an hour or so of becalmed bobbing around in sloppy seas, we brought down the sails and motored back into Bahia San Pedro figuring it must not be time yet to head into the city. We were quickly hailed by the other two boats in the bay and invited to a red meat burger BBQ. Day 46 since La Paz, fresh red meat sounded wonderful and we enjoyed the 10 person gathering on a boat even shorter than ours!

We were awaken soon after falling asleep that night by building waves. The winds had shifted to the south and were now coming directly into our anchorage. Although much further out than the other two boats in the anchorage, Juce and Circe, we were hanging toward the beach. Worried that the conditions would worsen, we immediately weighed anchor and motored to the south end of the anchorage for more protection. Of course there was no moon, and unfortunately we had not perused the south anchorage as we motored in earlier, so we conservatively set the anchor as close to the cliffs as we felt comfortable and settled in for a less-than-restful night. The protective cliffs were creating a huge eddy of wind and Tao sailed around strangely on her anchor often ending up beam to the swell that managed to wrap around the point. Trying to make sense of the wind patterns after setting the anchor, Shawn watched as a random gust flip Eeyore tethered too far from the protection of Tao. Luckily we always remove the Seahor, our 2hp engine, when conditions seem at all questionable. When the sun rose, we saw that the true sweet spot was closer to both the cliffs and the beach, but we were happy to have gleaned the protection we had and took it as a reminder to always scope out the alternative anchorages when possible. Since the winds were solid (although from the wrong direction) we weighed anchor and started our beat toward San Carlos and lots of changes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bahia Concepcion

It's amazing how quickly time slides by, we ended up spending 9 days in Bahia Concepcion. As mentioned previously, we started off with clam fests, hot springs, and whale sharks. We then got to know one section, Coyote Bay, a little by sailing around on the light and thermal breezes. In a short afternoon, we sailed in and out of most of the anchorages before finding the nice and mostly secluded Playa Santa Barbara. Over the next couple days we relaxed, star watched, had fish nibble on our toes, and shared more yummy meals (spinach dip, chicken cacciatore, fresh baked garlic loaf, brie!) with Pisces. We even took Julia and Jacob out for a light wind sail aboard Tao, the highlight of which (besides circumnavigating Isla Guapa of course) was sailing onto anchor with them cheering us on from their seats in Eeyore dragging behind.

The next day we had planned a sail on Pisces, but up came winds making Playa Santa Barbara a lee shore with several foot chop making it uncomfortable to leave the boat. Plans for a relaxing day vanished as we quickly prepped the boat and headed to the other end of Coyote Bay for protection in Santispac. It was a fun filled upwind sail in which we got to practice our man overboard skills leaving the anchorage when we heeled over and our solar shower, as of yet untied down, rolled off the deck into the water and then we lost a lure (the nice feather that Eric gave us) and a bunch of 100-lb test line to a big hungry fish as we tacked north through the channel. Once we got Tao settled in Santispac, we jumped in the water and swam to Pisces who motored over to pick us up for a sail. It was the antithesis of the prior mellow light wind day on Tao and we got to enjoy several of Pisces sail configurations in 25 knot winds. Very interesting to check out another cruising boat under sail and we were very impressed as they demonstrated sailing onto anchor while manuevering around not only other anchored boats but a high speed Hobie Cat and our previously introduced friend, the whale shark.

After a last meal the next morning with Pisces we waved as we slowly headed toward Playa El Burro in search of water, the weather guru Geary, and possibly some internet. Several hours later we sat becalmed at the entrance to our goal when all of a sudden the afternoon thermal winds piped up to 15 knots turning it into a lee shore before our eyes. Already full of boats anyway, we continued on back to the more isolated Playa Santa Barbara for the night. Ready to sail back into cooler sections of the Sea and in need of water reprovisions, the following morning, we motored to El Burro in the early morning calm. We enjoyed meeting Geary who has lived on the beach in El Burro for 15 years and provides an amazing service for the cruising community by gathering and providing the weather every single day. He was muy amable and although he soon left for town he allowed us to hang out on his porch and even use his Internet! So after four trips to nearby stores to fill our 5-gallon jug and a few quick internet tasks completed, we were ready to head out as the thermal afternoon winds again picked up.

We flew out of El Burro on strong SE winds and just out of Coyote Bay were becalmed in "the cone of no wind" until passing Punta Arena where we found solid NW winds. A mile apart and wind can be blowing in exactly the opposite direction, baffling. Still, it felt good to break free of the Bahia Concepcion scene. We had a beautiful sail and set the hook just before the sun set and the fog rolled in to our new home, Playa Santa Domingo, just outside the bay where the temperature is 15 degrees cooler and the breeze feels so refreshing. We'll see when the fog burns off tomorrow and who knows, maybe we'll go for a sail.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Holy Shark(s) and Chris' Birthday too!

Our last day at Los Coronados was a full one. We had a mega-snorkel day with Scheherezade in their speedy 5-hp dinghy. We started at the western point where large rocks, deep water and strong currents rushed around the point. There were a wide variety of fish but the high point (especially for Shawn) of this site was the little diving duck. At every anchorage for over the past month we've seen huge "schools" of these baby diving ducks. They are so adorable; one dives and they all dive, and all pop up 100 or so yards away only to move a few more yards and dive again. Well, at this snorkel site, there was one little duck putting all of its schooling to work swimming around the waters edge, diving down for food around the rocks, swimming underwater, and resurfacing. This little guy let us follow him a foot or so away while he went about his business. We could see the interesting "feathered" feet and got to watch him dive right toward us, wildlife moment for sure! Then we moved our party to the little Coronado. While Noah and Chris fantasized about anchoring our boats there in a norther (c'mon guys, we don't draw much but it was only about 6 ft!), Alex and Shawn searched for the rays that were supposed to be mating. And we all found them, another nature moment indeed! We followed all of this with a pre-Chris'-birthday pizza and cookie dough party.

The next morning (Tuesday April 28th) we said goodbye to Scheherezade and sailed north in light to calm winds. A full day of very light wind sailing ensued, and 10.5 hrs (2 of which were engine hours) and approximately 19 nm later we found ourselves comfortably anchored next to Pisces a little past sunset in Caleta Ramada just north of San Juanico. Here we spent 3 days with Pisces and La Querencia, searching for obsidian, seeing eels and rays while snorkeling in San Juanico, balancing rocks at the "cruisers shrine" (very similar to the shoe tree for you Echoites), doing yoga, swimming with whales in La Ramada, and celebrating Chris' 35th by sailing Pesky and having a sushi blow out with crab, salmon, sake and all (Kampai Pisces!). Saturday May 2nd, winds started filling in from the north and we sailed the 8 nm northward to Punta Pulpito over 5.25 hours. Just before sunset, Chris' rod went off, "Fish on!" He reeled it in with excitement as it has been a while since we've had fresh fish. As it got closer, though, its swimming pattern revealed that it wasn't a dorado or even a bonito, it was a shark! Chris tried to get it to spit the hook and when that failed, he reeled it in and with gloves and needlenose pliers extracted the feather and let the shark get back to looking for dinner. Punta Pulpito was a lovely solitary anchorage from which we hiked to the peak overlooking the Vermillion Sea (a line of red water), snorkeled nearby reefs, and made our newest priority list of items still required before any ocean crossing.

When the south winds started to fill in as the stars faded and sun began to rise on Cinco de Mayo, we sailed out and again headed up the Sea with the winds lightly at our backs. We spent the day slowly sailing/drifting north practicing our zen as sailboat after sailboat, unwilling to wait out the calms, motored by. Early afternoon, winds filled in from the NE quadrant and we had to change our drifter for our 100% to make more way upwind. With a beautifully blazing red sky over the Baja peninsula we were 3 nm from the entrance to Bahia Concepcion as the sun dipped out of view. Our original plan was to stand off outside the bay, but as the near full moon came up, visibility and winds were good, and we were so close, we continued on. Around 11:30 pm we were 0.3 nm off of Santa Domingo anchorage in which we could see friends anchored. But the wind vanished and the tide was headed out taking us the wrong direction. So close, but yet so far, we tacked away from land and settled in for a full night at sea. We rode currents and very light breezes all the way into Coyote Bay and set the hook next to Pisces (who had been the the bay for 2 days already) in Posada Concepcion around 11 am ending our 29 hour and approximately 53 nm passage.

Conception Bay is another world. We haven't yet figured out the weather in the Sea and it is totally different here. It is an all-weather-anchoring-area, safe from most weather in the sea, but noteably, the water temperature is in the mid-80s! And the air temperatures are nearing the century mark. As it is quite hot, Grizzly is not enamored with this stop, but she's putting up with us and finding all the coolest spots on board. She prefers the floor of the head (bathroom for you non-mariners) which has a floor grate allowing for ventilation, and a new favorite spot of ours is our hammock on the foredeck, especially from sunset to 10 pm when the temperatures are divine! The day after our arrival we packed it in touring the closest bays in Eeyore with Pisces; snorkeling at the reef we had so diligently avoided upon entry, gathering clams (everyone but Shawn) for dinner, and even had a surprising swim with a whale shark! It was HUGE, we guesstimate around 25-ft long (over twice the size of our dinghy) and not at all interested in us as it feed on phytoplankton. We got a good closeup picture of its head with symbiotic fish riding on its back, so check back for it later! We had a clam bake that evening with pasta and sundried tomato alfredo sauce as well as some fruity New Zealand wine, magical! Our third day in the bay Shawn, Chris and Jacob caught a ride with a very nice and information filled woman from Canada into Mulege while Julia dutifully stayed to keep an eye on the boats. With the Santa Rosalia River running through it, Mulege was a palm tree and flower filled haven (surprising in the desert) in what appeared to us half Mexican and half gringo population. We found all the most important things of course; fresh water, fresh food, a restaurant and some ice cream! We toured the towns original mission and then caught a ride back to Santispac with a doctor who runs tests for the worrisome Swine Flu. He assured us that to date there have been exactly zero confirmed cases of the flu on the Baja peninsula; very reassuring for our current travels. We ended the evening with a soak in the natural hotsprings that are cooled down as high tide waves of the bay roll gently into shore 200 yards from our boat.

As Conception Bay has a well established gringo cohort on shore, yesterday (Saturday May 9th) we decided to head in search of a bit more solitude. We first sailed to Isla Coyote to a very romantic anchorage- unfortunately it was 50-ft deep until 20-ft from shore. Next we checked Playa El Burro which houses Geary, the weatherman that we listen to religiously every morning on the Sonrisa Net; but it was a bit of a lee shore with the nice ESE that had filled in. So we continued on to Coyote Bay that houses NOLS, rumored to be closed for the season, but still a lee shore and next to the highway, we finally found the perfect spot in Playa Santa Barbara and set the hook before Chris could have a tacking duel with Pesky, Pisces' sailing dinghy. We awoke this morning to fog in Conception Bay, what?! It soon dissipated to a haze here, but we could still see the thick bank outside Conception Bay. Geary can't see the fog on his imagery and Don (the other weather guru on the Amigo Net) said (today of all days) that the Sea doesn't ever get fog... So we're currently enjoying this anchorage, doing laundry (by hand with salt water), baking garlic-saltwater-pressure cooker bread, hiding from the bees and trying to figure out when we can next make passage north with favorable winds and no fog.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Loreto and Los Coronados (written April 28, 2009)

The day after our sail repair we took Eeyore a half mile away to snorkel on a shipwreck. It was very interesting; laying on its port side in about 25 feet of sandy bottomed water. It's starboard side was out of the water and diving down you can see anchors on the bow and a huge propeller (5 blade, 15-ft diameter!) on the stern as well as a ton of fish hiding in the bowels of the ship. Upon returning to Tao, we prepped the boat and weighed anchor. In the few breaths of wind we slowly beat out of Salinas Bay and rounded Punta Perico. We had a very slow bob/sail toward the north end of the island during which we figured out a watch schedule and readied the boat for a night at sea, planning to head to Loreto to get Grizzly's annual rabies shot which was to expire May 5th. But when we rounded Punta Lobos at the north end of the island we found lots of wind. For about 5 minutes we had a perfect roaring sail wing-on-wing with the main and drifter, then it got to be too much and we had to douse the drifter replacing it with our newly improved 100% jib. Pisces was comfortably anchored at Puerto de la Launcha which at our new speed was just barely attainable before light would fade. Decision point, should we continue on as planned toward Loreto even though at this pace we would be there around midnight or pull in for dinner and a few winks before pushing off in the middle of the night? We decided on the latter and sailed in to a nice little anchorage on the north end of Isla Carmen, had a late Happy St. Patrick's Day meal (corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and even cold Guinness!) with Pisces, and caught a quick nap before weighing anchor at 3:30 am.

We had a beautiful star lit sail to Loreto with the tiniest sliver of moon rising at 5:30 am and mellow winds filling in, of course, from the SE, the direction we were heading. As the sun rose we decided to turn on the motor in order to get there with enough time to find a veterinarian, get there with Griz, and get back to the boat in time to sail to a safe anchorage if necessary as there is no protection from weather anchoring off Loreto. The winds vanished as we motored through flat calm water watching dolphins chasing their breakfast and we anchored right off the little break wall for fisherman pongas. Just after setting the anchor, the winds piped up from the NE and immediately kicked up a quick 2-ft chop pushing us toward shore making Shawn nervous about leaving the boat. But we prevailed and both headed to shore in search of information for the tasks we were hoping to complete. We quickly found a dinghy dock inside the "ponga breakwater" to leave Eeyore and a nice gentleman ashore who answered all of our questions and even found us the veterinarian information and let us use his phone to call them.

Armed with lots of information and plans to get many things done, we headed back to the boat to get our gear and of course our favorite kitten. Grizzly, our little rock star, had an exciting first trip to Mexican shore in her travel backpack. The winds were still kicking swell up and Eeyore filled with our Dahone (folding bike), empty 7-gallon water jug, and all three of us was bounding up and down with lots of spray. From there she got to ride in her little pack on Shawn's back as they wound through town on the Dahone hoping to find the Feed Supply store that housed the veterinarian before it closed for siesta. No problemo, the girls found the store, took Griz to the counter and got the shot right there next to the cash register- the transaction all in Spanish, phew! From there they spent another half hour of searching the town for its only internet cafe where Chris was checking banking information and once found we all headed back to Tao. The winds had abated and sea's calmed once we returned to the boat. With only mellow winds forecast we decided to try a night at anchor off Loreto and headed back into town for a yummy lunch at MacLuLu's, a trip to El Pescador the local grocery store for a few fresh veggies, and several trips to the purified water store with our big water jug to supplement our dwindling supply.

Tired and reloaded the three of us fell into a surprisingly calm night of sleep and headed north toward Los Coronados after breakfast the next morning on light breaths of wind. We've been here now for three nights of amazing bioluminescence and have enjoyed hiking up to the Crater, a potluck on the beach, and yoga with Scheherezade, Pisces and La Querencia, as well as meeting new cruising boats and watching huge pods of baby diving ducks practicing and rays playfully swimming around us. Yesterday (the 26th) right after yoga the winds kicked up from the north making the southern part of our anchorage uncomfortable as the swells wrapped around the northward point. Everyone else left to head around the spit, but as we were more north in the anchorage, and all the forecasts we had heard were calling for NE and land and sea breezes, we decided to stick it out here and monitor the weather. It didn't lay down as quickly as we were hoping, but all day the winds gradually decreased and after sunset we again had a calm anchorage. It raised the question of wether we need to be more willing to flow with the weather in all its fickleness versus sticking with what we otherwise want to do. It could have easily resulted in weighing anchor in the dark but turned out well this time. Which is lucky because around 10 pm when Chris got up to check the conditions, a bee managed to sting him at the base of his neck and he had an allergic reaction with systemic hives and itching extremities. All it required was two Benedryl and a baking soda paste, but it was a reality check as to our current situation and how we need to always be thinking of safety first. Today dawned beautiful and we're gearing up for some snorkeling. Scheherezade has come back to join us and Pisces has taken the slight southerly flow to start their trek northward. We'll see what happens and keep you posted on how our adventure continues to unfold.