Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shawn’s Visit (April 6-14)

Yelapa marine iguana

Although any visit would have been too short as a “visit” falls short of living the life, this was a wonderful birthday reunion and celebration based all over Banderas Bay. It was filled with a little bit of almost everything: sailing friends, lee shore anchorages, sailing off of anchor, bioluminescence, downwind sailing across the bay, sailing onto anchor in the dark, motoring in flat calm, surfing, hiking to and swimming in freshwater waterfalls, surfing, HAM radio contacts, weather, sailing, time together alone, beating up wind, cooking underway while sailing upwind, sailing onto anchor at sunset, surfing more, wishing for flopper-stopper, visiting over pineapple boats and tea, project lists, taxes, surfing, bus rides, group meals. It was everything Shawn could have hoped for (since being in two places at once isn’t an option); we managed to pack it in and relax as well. The only bummer was that it came to an end. Rest assured; we’re working on that part!

The nitty gritty of it was as follows: The anchorage at La Cruz was rockin-and-rollin’ when Chris returned from the airport with Shawn; 20-knot afternoon breezes had turned the anchorage into a lee shore. Rocky held well, the winds abated as the sun lowered, and we ventured to shore for a street side dinner with crews from Pisces and Estrella. They all lured Shawn back to Pisces for a surprise birthday cake- two years and running, thank you Julia!!!!

The 7th was Shawn’s birthday proper and half the day was spent just figuring out how we wanted to structure this quick visit. Shawn wanted to sail. First, however, a trip to Mega for more groceries was required, and then more time on Pisces in the marina as they were wed to the dock in the final throes of preparation for their journey across the Pacific to Hawaii. This was bittersweet, as in our original plans we would have been preparing as well… We sailed off anchor around 1730 and tacked upwind for 4.5-hrs to Punta de Mita, where Chris had spent most of his time for the past couple weeks. His sailing abilities have sharpened through singlehanding and together we confidently set anchor at this known anchorage in the dark, what would have previously been nerve-wracking was simple and smooth.

The next morning we reassessed our plans, from our anchored position in Punta de Mita. Of course Shawn wanted to do EVERYTHING in only a few short days. The swell was not up, but the winds were, so we decided to head south across the bay to Quimixto, a tiny jungle town accessible only by boat. Very island-like, as we approached, the bottom profile was drastic, very deep (beyond the depth sounder) and then all of a sudden very shallow (40, 30, 20, ready about!). After sailing around testing for depths, we chose to anchor directly off the surf break on a spit of shallow area, likely created by the river spilling into the sea, and practically had the bay to ourselves in the furthest point south that Tao has visited.

Quimixto is a tourist destination for Mexicans from Puerto Vallarta brought in by motorboat and taken up the drainages on horseback to a beautiful waterfall. We spent the following day hiking up the freshwater river into the jungle, avoiding the crowds by hiking directly up the river and finding our own beautiful swimming hole along the way. We quickly bypassed the built-up waterfall that tourists dined next to and continued to hike another mile or so up the river to the next totally deserted and stunningly beautiful waterfall. We chose the quick route down along the horseback trail and once back at the ocean, Chris got his shortboard out and surfed the "left" that Quimixto is known for, small now but still well formed.

The morning dawned without wind, and Chris paddled out for an early surf. After breakfast, we motored a couple miles west to Yelapa, a quaint pueblito built into the steep, jungle hillside now a teeming Puerto Vallarta tourist destination, known for its tranquility, snorkeling, and parasailing. We anchored once the depths became attainable (which was uncomfortably close to shore), hopped in Eeyore, and rowed to the beach. Just a quick stop, we had a nice lunch and then a walk around the beautiful and flowering town.

Back on Tao, we were off to sail back to Punta de Mita and meet up with Chris’ Canyons family member Lisa, “Whizzy” visiting for surf-safari-number-2. A beautiful upwind sail, we managed to come quite close to Las Islas Marietas, a hoped for snorkel spot over the next few days, and sailed on into the anchorage on nice winds just as the sun set behind the point.

April 11th we finally connected with Whiz, had a Mexican lunch, introduced her to Tao, and then got a small surf session in just off the beach to the port of Tao. We made plans to sail out and snorkel at the islands the next morning, but we awoke to no winds and changed our plans. Instead, we had a fantastic surf session just east of the anchorage at “La Lancha” in which Rachael, Lisa, and Shawn surfed the nice soft shoulders with their bigger boards and the more hardcore Eric and Chris searched for the faster steeper waves on their little potato chips. Shawn’s final full day started by sharing pineapple and tea on Nanu, followed by an epic surf session outside the Punta de Mita point at “the Cove”.

The day was capped off by a bus journey to La Cruz for a very fun TEAM YOUNG group dinner enjoyed by five fun young cruising couples (Pisces, Caramelo, Estrella, Nanu, and Tao). And all of a sudden it was the day Shawn had to fly back to the States, ahhhhh, nooooo! Unfortunately, we spent the morning finishing our taxes and finding a place to print them, but smoothies with Whiz at Debo’s CafĂ© made it nearly bearable. And then Chris and Shawn were on a bus back to Puerto Vallarta. Too short, but Shawn was reinvigorated by the visit and is very excited to get back to the boat as soon as possible.

Although overall the quick trip was indeed dreamy, in reality, it was also a difficult transition. Time has moved forward for both of us and we have basically been apart for almost a year. Shawn realized that she was just a visitor into Chris’ current life, which was rough for her. The visit instigated processing. What does our joint future hold? Of course that is unanswerable, but the silver lining is that it allowed us to realize that time apart has been good. It has provided us with perspective on what wasn’t necessarily working with our relationship before. Now that those things are illuminated, we have the opportunity to continue forward with our relationship aware of those pitfalls- simultaneously allowing and forcing us to walk a different, even healthier path. We will get back together in a month, get reacquainted with our lives together, and work toward a much improved relationship.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Punta de Mita and La Cruz (written April 5, 2010)

Passage: Matanchen Bay to Punta de Mita

Total time: 14-hrs

Engine hours: 0

Total distance: 59.8-nm

Average speed: 4.3-knots

At 0330 March 20th, Chris was already slowly cranking in the chain on Tao’s manual windlass. He wanted to take advantage of the light NE breeze off the land and set sails as soon as the anchor was aboard. He made way under sail moving south steadily at 3-4 knots. He was hoping that winds would pick up by midday, as Don predicted, so Tao could run downwind at over 5-knots to her destination. As the morning wore on, the light offshore winds abated until Tao was once again rolling around in left over wind waves still far from her destination. The situation was reminiscent ofTao’s trip to San Blas from Isla Isabela, when Chris was forced to turn on his engine at midday to make his destination by nightfall. While waiting for wind to pick up, Chris saw a sea turtle pop his head up on Tao’s port side and wave his boomerang shaped fin in the air, as if to send Tao on her way. Sure enough, no more than 15 minutes passed before a brisk breeze picked up from the NW. Before two hours were up, Tao was again comfortably sailing downwind at 5-7 knots.

Another breaching whale sighting and 4-hrs of fun downwind sailing later, Tao was making her way into the Banderas Bay, giving Punta de Mita a wide berth as breaking reefs extend up to a half mile from shore. With plenty of daylight left, Chris decided to short tack his way up wind, into the anchorage from the south. The wind was sufficiently strong enough by this time to take down the main and sail by jib alone. Chris can more efficiently douse the sail and lower the anchor with this combination. Many sailors prefer to keep the main up instead of the jib in this situation. Onboard Tao, the jib is much easier to bring down and shove out of the way quickly than the main, whose reefing lines and large bulky battened panels always seem to clog the cockpit during the most critical moments. In addition, Tao seems to like to sail faster and more efficiently under headsail alone. Tao maneuvered inside of the other anchored boats and set the hook in 18-ft of water over hard-pack sand.

After a few moments to relax Chris was able to take in his new surroundings. A pleasant sandy beach with palms faced out towards the anchorage. Surfers were catching rides on what appeared to be a great right-hander just off to Tao’s port. But, the real surfers dream seemed to be outside along the outer point, where the rocky reef setup looked like the makings of a good point break, with small waves crumbling in. As he looked around in the golden light of the sunset, Chris breathed a sigh of satisfaction. He felt proud of his accomplishment. He had come as far south as he would venture alone on Tao this season. Special thanks go to Tao’s hard working crew members, his father Dave, and friend Monte, and to all the folks on the boats she has been traveling with. You know who you are.

Surf Therapy (March 21- April 4)

The anchorage at Punta de Mita would be Tao’s home until the day before Shawn’s arrival in Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday, April 6th. Although the a combination of wind, swell, tide, and boat traffic could sometimes create a significant roll in the anchorage, the price was worth paying for the access to the numerous nuggets of surf to be found within dinghy range. Chris finally found a place to realize his dream of surfing directly from Tao at anchor, in a sunny, warm water location; no wetsuit required. Waves broke over various rocks and shoals surrounding the point and into the bay, supporting swell from several directions. Wave character ranged from short and powerful to long and soft, perfectly suited for Chris’s shortboard and longboard, respectively. He was very glad to have brought his longboard out of retirement last summer, specifically for this trip south and these conditions.

His normal routine has revolved around 1 to 2 daily surf sessions, ranging from 1 to 4 hours in length. The exercise has rejuvenated his body and the hours spent frolicking in the sea rolling with the waves watching the birds, sea turtles, fish, and even the setting sun rekindled an indescribable intimacy with the living ocean. Some days the waves would be blown out in one location, but be offshore and well formed in another. Some days the water was cooler and murkier, while on others the water was so clear and warm that the rocks 5ft below appeared within arm’s reach while the water felt like a warm liquid blanket.

As luck would have it, two decent SW swells hit Punta de Mita while Chris was at anchor there, both bringing in head high enjoyment for all. Waves from the first swell were breaking so close to Tao at anchor that Chris could look directly into the line up while stand up and long board surfers scurried around in search of the best take off spot. Although it was exhilarating at first, he decided it would be prudent to pull up the anchor and drift a little farther out and drop the hook again for safety. Chris also put SeaHor to the test, making several 45-minute motor missions with his surfboard around the point to a place known as the Cove (also the Bahia). She seems to be holding up well, although a little extra cranky in the morning.

Apart from the solo trips, he has been very happy to share surf sessions with his friends from Estrella, Caramelo, and Nanu. Chris had finally intercepted Eric and Rachel on Nanu who are on a northbound journey back to the Seaof Cortez. Their last meeting was in early 2009 at Bahia Santa Maria while Tao was making her journey down the outside of the Baja peninsula, and Nanu making the bash back north to Half Moon Bay. On the subject of reunions, Chris was also excited to hear that his colleague and very good friend from McCall, ID, Lisa Whisnant, had booked her trip down to Punta de Mita for a two week surf adventure beginning April 9th. Lisa, or “Whizzy,” had come down to Punta de Mita for her own surf safari four years ago and is excited to return and soak up the healing, soothing energy of the ocean. Chris helped Whizzy research land based accommodation and is psyched to share some surf and talk story with her when she gets here.

Ventures into La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Twice Chris has left Tao at anchor in Punta de Mita to make the 8-mile trip to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, locally referred to as La Cruz. Many cruisers in Banderas Bay flock to La Cruz because it boasts good marina facilities, a free dinghy dock, a nearby anchorage, and a variety of good tourist amenities, including restaurants, internet cafes, mini markets, and most importantly, bars. Oddly enough, his first visit to La Cruz was by boat, but not on Tao. Ryan and Kristina from s/v Caramelo invited Chris for the short cruise the morning of March 26th, 3-days prior to their flight to the States for a short work related visit. After a great downwind sail with Caramelo, Chris visited with Lorenzo, Cecile, and Kenzo on Plume before their journey back north towards San Carlos, where they plan to haul their trailerable Nor’Sea 27 and take her back to the Bay Area. After assisting Caramelo to reset their anchor (which appeared to be dragging in the strong afternoon breeze) Chris was able to catch the last bus back to Punta de Mita as the sun went down.

Chris’s second trip into La Cruz was on Friday, April 2nd, during the crowded Easter weekend. Locally known as Semana Santa followed closely by Pascua, it is one of the busiest holidays acrossLatin America. In Mexico, beach towns are hardest hit as hordes of people from all across the country descend on the coast for fun in the sun and water. The buses were definitely moving more slowly as a result, allowing Eric and Rachel, of Nanu, and Chris to observe the throngs of colorful people filling each of the beaches along the highway between Punta de Mita and La Cruz. Once in La Cruz, Chris left Eric and Rachel at their favorite restaurant and made his way down to the marina docks for a long awaited reunion with Pisces. Julia and Jacob have been sorely missed by both Chris and Shawn this season, and meeting with them brought back good memories of their times together throughout last year’s sailing season. Tao’s most recent visit with Pisces was at the beginning of this year’s season in December 2009, when Pisces passed through Puerto Escondido on their way south to La Paz. Julia, Jacob, and Chris made their way into downtown La Cruz for a taco dinner, ice cream, and good discussions (as always). They then ambled their way to the bus stop so that Chris could again catch the last bus for the return trip to Punta de Mita and Tao.

On April 5th, 2010, Chris again prepared for a journey into La Cruz, this time on Tao in anticipation of Shawn’s arrival on into the Puerto Vallarta international airport the next morning. He had 3 crew members to enjoy the quick downwind run to La Cruz with; the crew of s/v Pisces Julia, Jacob, and their SF friend Alia. They didn't leave Punta de Mita until 1800 but as Chris' luck would have it, they made it to the La Cruz anchorage just as the sun was setting. Rocky set immediately, it was fun to have crew! The next morning Chris did a final cleaning of the boat for Shawn's first trip to Tao since June of 2009 and hopped on a bus to the airport for her 1130 arrival. He was looking forward to their reunion, sharing all of his experiences, and of course demonstrating all of the boat improvements!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Surfing your sailboat 101 (written March 20th, 2010)

Passage: San Blas to Matenchen Bay

Total time: 2.25-hr

Engine hours: 2.4-hr (plus 0.5-hr to recharge, only sailed off anchor and down estuary channel, read on for why...)

Total distance: 6.15-nm

Average speed: 3 knots

The Fleet’s time in San Blas Estuary drew to an end in mid-March. On March 13th the crews from Estrella, Caramelo, Plume, and Tao attended the weekly cruisers potluck (in the bug-less Singlar facility) to celebrate Kristina from Caramelo’s 30th birthday. The following day Caramelo left the estuary for Chacala, an anchorage 20 miles south with palm trees and no bugs, while Tao, Plume, and Estrella stayed in the estuary to complete a few extra tasks including taxes (uggh!) and re-provisioning for the journey south to Banderas Bay. March 18th dawned like any other day in San Blas, calm and pleasant. Little did the crews of Tao and Estrella know that they were going to have a sailboat surfing lesson that afternoon.

Plume made their way out of the estuary at high slack in the early afternoon. By late afternoon, Tao and Estrella were still making an effort to get out of the estuary, somewhat of a vortex, and hoped to set the hook in Matenchen Bay a mere 4-miles away. Mistake #1: forcing a departure schedule. Mistake #2: they began their exit attempt near the end of an outgoing tide. Upon raising anchor and motoring towards the channel entrance, Estrella’s first pass of the outer jetty revealed a set of waves breaking clear across the channel. Several minutes behind and under sail, Chris on Tao did not see much wave activity out the channel. In fact, to Chris’s eyes as an indefatigable surfer of waves on rivers and the ocean, the sea state appeared calm. Tao proceeded to exit the estuary cautiously…Mistake #3. All of a sudden, out of the ocean, a distinct wave line appeared. As an oceanbound sailboat, Tao was excited to sample surfing. Unfortunately for her, Chris had no such desire for them both. Although she was nearly able to catch her first breaking wave over the shoals of San Blas, Chris foiled her attempt by starting the motor just in the knick of time, turning the tiller hard to port, and directing Tao’s bow into the steepening wall of water now making its way toward them.

Over the first wave, and luckily Tao was clear of further threat. Estrella was not so lucky. At the time, Chris felt that his close call with the one wave was a fluke. The sea was otherwise calm. He advised Estrella that the way was clear, but the risk was theirs to take. Slowly working their way out of the channel, Estrella was outside of the inner jetty when out of the ocean appeared another set of waves. This time the set consisted of more than just 1 wave, and, as is typical with most sets, the first wave of the set was not the largest. Tao watched as Estrella had the time of their life. One wave broke over their rail and the boat was rocked from end to end. On Tao, Chris observed the top of Estrella’s mast making large lurches forward and aft while her entire profile was hidden from view from the size of the oncoming waves. Then, all was well when the set passed…or almost. The line holding their hard dinghy, which was trailed behind for such a short journey, snapped in two. Luckily, a panga was on its way out at the same time and was able to help Estrella reclaim their dinghy. A little shaken, but otherwise OK, Tao and Estrella continued on under power to Matenchen Bay and anchored as the light was fading from the day. Luckily, they had both made it through their sailboat surf lessons unscathed, and the number of mosquitoes and no-see-ums was also greatly reduced; both causes for a celebration of life. Salud!

The following day, March 19th, was a day of rest in Matenchen Bay for Tao. Plume decided to make passage to La Cruz in Banderas Bay, and left for their overnight journey mid-afternoon. Adam (from Estrella) and Chris decided to go surfing on the waves rolling into the well formed bay. The perfect but small peeling right handers over the sand shoals inside of Tao looked like a good place to start. Chris later found out that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, this was the location of the one of the longest waves in North America. Although almost too small to ride, Chris and Adam were ready to get wet. Chris later realized that this was his first surf session since December 2008 at Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, on Tao’s journey south from San Francisco Bay. It’s hard to believe that he hadn’t been able to surf anywhere along the Baja coast on the southbound journey, but, at the time, Chris and Shawn agreed that ensuring a safe sailing passage took priority over wave riding. Adam and Chris were rewarded with a few short rides before the sun dipped below the palms along the rocky point and provided a spectacular canvas of gold, red, and purple before the stars appeared for another night of rest.

However, before shutting down for the night, Chris listened to Don Anderson’s updated weather forecast on the Southbound marine SSB net, and was surprised to find that Don’s previous predictions of “no wind” had been replaced. Instead winds were expected to pick up to a brisk 20-30 knots from the NNW. Chris radioed Adam on Estrella to consult about a possible change in plans. Originally, Estrella and Tao were planning a slow passage south towards Punta de Mita, stopping at a few locations along the coast to break up the trip. Unfortunately, none of the intermediate anchorages were reported to offer good protection from moderate to strong NW winds. Adam, Kristina, and Chris decided to leave at 0400 hrs the next morning with the intention of arriving in the protected lee of Punta de Mita before sunset.