Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tao on the hard and August 2010

Although Shawn had vowed never to go through the pain of putting Tao on the hard again, we found ourselves once again racing to get her safely put away. After getting to Bahia San Carlos, we spent a day trying to plan our attack at which point we realized that we only had 4 days to get it all done and there was absolutely no way that we were going to do most of the work in the anchorage and meet the time schedule. After going to town to fetch Pepe from her storage spot, picking up a load of fresh veggies, and reserving space in Marina San Carlos for 4 days, that evening we went over to Mystic for dinner. Great company, trigger fish ceviche, and two huge Caesar salads (one for each couple) was a perfect way to spend our last evening (for a while) on the hook.

The next morning our work began. First stop, fuel dock to fill with diesel and biocide. Next stop our slip for the next four days. Then a whirlwind of activity: freshwater clean everything (sails, lines, canvas, chain, metal parts, down below) of saltwater, hang to dry, pull down below when the monsoon decides to open right above us, do it all again, climb to the top of the mast, remove tricolor light, cover with foil, remove all perishable food, organize medications, remove any propane propellants from cabin, remove all deck gear (BBQ, Moni, Sunny, boom, lifelines, etc.), remove running rigging, decommission Yannie and Seahor, clean and store Eeyore and life raft, disconnect and stow all electronics, and the list goes on.

Four days of craziness, made even more exciting by the unsettled weather, still we got everything we needed to done. Thursday the 29th we were at the haul out dock early to run freshwater through Yannie and then the lowboy came to haul us out just after 0800. We spent the rest of the day doing final tasks; cleaned the bottom, wrapped everything in tinfoil and zipties (no duct tape as it is a pain to remove upon return), plugged through hulls except cockpit drains, did laundry (upholstery etc), covered portholes and hatches with reflective material, stored everything down below at which point Tao was no longer open for living in. Phew!

We enjoyed a final dinner in town at J.J.’s with Mystic and Serenity and luckily found a decent but still inexpensive hotel with Griz to catch some zzzzz’s before the big drive north. The next morning we stopped at Tao for a few last second things, purchased car insurance for the days drive, and were off! It was a crazy drive north through several different storms- drainage on highways is not so great in Mexico... The highpoint of adventure was just before the border going under a flume carrying water over the highway, with the cliff on our right dissolving onto the highway, crossing a river of muddy water and having to swerve to miss the waterfall of water overflowing from above. Yay Pepe the wonder-truck. We're pretty sure driving through Mexico in the monsoon season is more dangerous than any sailing we've done yet. (Good thing Chris was driving)! We got searched at the border, likely because the official asked if we bought anything in Mexico and when our reply was “only a sombrero for my nephew” he eyed our completely packed car and asked us to pull over. A team of four women searched the car and were very nice, smiley and fun and weren't in the slightest worried about or interested in Grizzly or any of the other gear in our car. We were quickly off again and around dusk and the next rainstorm, pulled into Tucson for the night. The last day of July we made it to LA, thankful to be able to stay at Chris’ fathers place for a couple days of organization before Shawn and Grizzly flew east and Chris continued on in Pepe to Idaho. We did manage to squeeze in visits to Jane's storage barn, breakfast with Scheherazade, and dinner with Ledy and Angie.

Through August, Chris has been in Idaho having time with the river and his river family. This season he’s been a “celebrity” guide for Canyons (whose new owner is Greg McFadden our friend and fellow guide) with 3 very fun trips: the first annual LGBT trip down the Middle Fork and the Natural History trip and the Wine and Culinary trip down the Main Salmon. He’s recovered brilliantly from his pectoral rupture at the end of last season and is loving this however brief time on the river though still dreaming of sailing. (This season's river pictures to come soon!)

Shawn and Grizzly have been in Shangrila-de-Judy to help support her through her first several rounds of chemotherapy. Judy is going to be fine, but was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer that is being treated aggressively due to the presence of the HER2/Neu+ protein. Treatment = lumpectomy plus sentinel lymph node removal, port installation, 6 rounds of chemo at 3-wk intervals, a month of radiation, and Herceptin infusions for a year. She’s doing amazingly well with a good attitude and the only side effects so far are bone achiness, a frustrating week of very low energy post infusion, and hair loss (which she's replaced with super styley wigs).

In the midst of this Shawn has also gotten to be there to: (1) help with the final closing and moving of her maternal grandparents estate (which included a well timed boat ride on the St. Lawrence with her dad and mom, a trip to market in Kingston with her mom, Aunt Barb and Cousin Daniel, first yoga classes and even teaching one at the studio in Kingston, Canada!), (2) go sailing on Cayuga Lake on Rags, (3) see her twin 18-month old nieces (Ainsley and Campbell) baptized and visit with her almost 4-year old nephew Liam, (4) spend time nearly daily with high school friend Leah and her partner Gretchen who just brought home their 2 premature twin boys (Gabe and Luka) from the NICU, and (5) even do more yoga and teaching in Ithaca.

Life in the “real” world is busy and although very glad to be on the river and in Ithaca, both of us are also looking forward to life back on the boat in our own little sailing world. We’ll be back together at the beginning of September and until we get back to the boat, we will continue visiting and enjoying our land based adventures with family and friends.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Midriff Islands (July 15-23, 2010)

As the sun rose we sailed out of Puerto Don Juan on the slightest of breeze to cross the Canal de Ballenas toward Isla Angel de la Guarda (AdlG). Winds were light, then nonexistent, then light. Dolphins played in the calm waters, we made HAM radio contact with our friends on Mystic, and as we coasted along Chris spotted a whale- just resting, barely breaking the surface. We were sailing ever so slowly that it didn’t notice us until we were close enough to see its blowhole opening and closing! Finally this majestic giant sensed our presence and dove (or sounded as Chris argued the words mean the same thing); someday we’ll capture it on film… The question over sounding’s equivalence to diving inspired us to break out the whale and dolphin book that Shawn’s grandmother had given us and take turns reading aloud as we slowly progressed.

Tao closed in on the southern tip of Isla AdlG and the currents took over sweeping past the end of the island. As the slight winds were not enough to move us the correct direction, and our goal, Isla Estanque's (Pond Island), entrance must be specifically timed according to tides and currents, we decided to do some motoring. Rounding the tip of AdlG, we found that there is a ridge (that we guess connects AdlG to Isla Partida the next midriff island to the south) to cross with depths changing at an unsettling pace from very deep to a minimum of 65-ft; just one more factor helping to create the strange water movement and waves in the area. Another 6-nm and we reached Estanque, a tiny island off the SE tip of Isla AdlG. Approach is very specifically around the east and north sides of the island to enter the very narrow opening at its western side. This approach is required because there is a very shallow (i.e. waves breaking over them at low tide) line of rocks that run SW to connect the little island to the bigger AdlG. Considered a reef, the entrance is not to be approached during an ebb tide, as the currents can sweep you downstream and over the reef.

Motoring directly toward the reef we anxiously awaited the correct bearing at which point we could turn into the entrance. Chris at the helm, and Shawn on the bow we passed into the pond through a 20-ft wide opening flanked on both sides with rocks who's center was marked by a sand spit, we saw saw a minimum depth of 6-ft! Phew! Once inside this pond, really only big enough for one boat, Tao had all weather protection. Two magical days were spent here, checking low tide depths at its entrance as the water drained out of the pond, watching the ebb tide create crashing waves along the reef, hiking up through cactus forests, and spending dusk hiding from no-see-ums (only Shawn as they didn’t bother Chris).

The morning of the 17th we planned to exit on high tide around 0530 in the morning just before switching to the ebb, but we awoke as thunderheads crashed and lightning flashed seemingly just over our little island. We monitored and the cell rapidly moved north of us. With the bulk of the weather passed, though there were still ominous clouds, spitting rain and no sun to illuminate the shallows, we decided to go for it. A bit tense, we weighed anchor and motored out of the pond just as the ebb had started. The tension melted away as we turned away from the reef and with a slight breeze we started to raise sails. However, just on the NE side of Isla Estanque, the ebb had begun and very large confused waves came up out of seemingly nowhere to crash all around. Thankful again for Yannie, once clear of that, we got our sail on and had a quick and lively sail south toward our next goal: Isla Partida a mere 10-nm south.

The lingering stormy conditions motivated us to dig out our foul weather gear just in case. A morning check in on the Amigo net told us that s/v Juniata was still anchored at Isla Partida; it would be nice to have a little company as until now we'd seen very few sailors. We entered the NW anchorage under jib alone and did several passes before agreeing upon the perfect anchoring spot; safe from both the current SE winds as well as the possible nighttime westerlies and far enough away from our new neighbors. Moments after we set Rocky, still closing the boat down, the skies opened with a downpour of freshwater. The relatively cool temperatures motivated Chris to take an unheard of nap and Shawn to do some baking- empanadas (chorizo and mashed potato filled for dinner and peach and cinnamon filled with a citrus icing drizzle for dessert). Though time was short we spent two comfortable days here visiting with Juniata over fresh yellowtail sashimi, snorkeling in the clear waters, and circumnavigating the little island in Eeyore.

The morning of the 19th, we awoke and waited for wind. Shawn, having managed to get stung and bitten by a wasp on her inner thigh and was having quite a reaction, decided to take a Benadryl and was out. Around noon the winds came up every so light, Shawn roused to help weigh anchor and get canvas up then crashed again as Chris sailed on variable wisps of wind. A few hours later, Benadryl effects waning Shawn took over on deck and after being baked on deck in the sun Chris took a much needed respite down below. Winds were still very light and getting lighter and we were contemplating Yannie as we watched fish fins cut through the calm seas and listened to birds chatter flying between islands. Our patience paid off as a fresh breeze filled in from the SW and we had beautiful sailing for the second 5-nm of our journey to Isla Salsipuedes. We took anchorage in the north slot of Isla Salsipuedes (Leave if you can Island), a most beautiful island. With bow and stern hooks out in the narrow slot, we enjoyed two mellow nights here, and one amazing day hiking to the high point for a view, snorkeling and completing another circumnavigation in Eeyore (making sure to stay close to shore in case of strong currents).

Feeling the pressure of time until Shawn's flight and Chris' guiding, the morning of the 21st we weighed anchor(s) and hopped the short distance to the NW anchorage on Isla Las Animas. Planning to start our northern crossing back to San Carlos that afternoon, we set the hook and hiked up to check conditions in the Salsipuedes Channel. Winds came in strong. With recent memories of our travels upwind in Canal de las Ballenas, conditions did not look comfortable. Or, maybe it was that we didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. We spent the post-hike afternoon snorkeling all around the anchorage and generally continuing to enjoy our time in the Midriffs.

Waiting for the ebb tide to pass through the channel, we were prepared to leave, but didn’t until the next afternoon. At that point, the winds had cut in half and we had a very pleasant upwind sail south through the channel. That is, until the winds shut off at the southern end of Isla San Lorenzo right around happy hour. We wallowed in the strange waves and currents and listened to the southbound net weather. The famous Don Anderson weather report of “No wind” usually meaning no winds more than 30-knots in any specific direction, this time meant, literally nothing and also no expected Chubascos. Yannie came on and we cut quickly through the water, Captain Tilly was employed and had to work quite hard to keep us on course with the currents pushing us back toward the Midriffs. We had dinner, figured out our watch schedule, and watched the sun set one last time over Baja. And we motored, and we motored, and still we motored. We had given up our crossing with wind by spending an extra day on Isla Las Animas- completely worth it (and that is coming from Shawn who is generally against motoring except for safety). With time constraints we were forced to make choices and in our estimation, testing the motor was a fine compromise for squeezing in just a little bit more time in the Midriffs.

Our crossing was relatively uneventful. Nearly full moon created bright skies still filled with stars. While passing to the south of Isla San Pedro Martir, a cargo ship steamed quickly by, likely destined for Puerto Penasco. No wind conditions held through the entire night and Yannie was brilliant. Her first real test since all of the recent work on her- her longest stint of consecutive running ever, nearly 15 hours! The next morning as Isla San Pedro Nolasco came into view, winds finally piped up, sails were set and the engine was given a rest. We enjoyed immensely, 6-hrs more of great sailing, with a wing-on-wing downwind for the final leg into San Carlos (that was the only real downwind sailing this whole trip!). With an exciting sailing entrance on gusts from different directions around the mountains into the harbor, we set the hook and took a breath before shifting our thinking to putting Tao away for a couple months of rest.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bay of LA

We spent 8 beautiful days exploring the Bay of LA. We arrived before the fleet of sailors that spend hurricane season there and it felt like we had the place to ourselves- reminiscent of being on SF Bay during a weekday when everyone else is working. With no local knowledge of the area and very little guide book information to go on, we played it safe as with so much land and water, there is no obvious (to us) pattern to the winds. It seems that whatever opening an anchorage has, wind is funneled in creating onshores. We awoke in La Gringa with SE winds and angry looking waves, reminiscent of both wind events during the previous day. So after cleaning dishes from the previous day’s passage, and battening down again, we weighed anchor. Once out of La Gringa, we entered a strong SE “windy lane” and sailed out toward the islands in the bay.

We had hopes of protection in the northern anchorage of Isla La Ventana. After having a few nerve wracking moments when crossing some lighter water (30-ft from over 100) and darker water (over 100-ft apparently some type of red tide) when we got there, winds were howling right into the north cove. We dropped the main and sailed around under jib alone scoping out protection in the little islands to the west. We found the only tenable anchoring spots were on a 30-ft deep point coming off La Fletcha, and a 50-ft spot behind Cerraja. Tacking around in approximately 200-yds of space between La Ventana and these little islands, with no good charts, winds still howling 15-20-knots from the SW, and Shawn being especially gunshy after the previous days near knockdown, we decided to abandon a night at the islands for now and sailed another 5-nm to Puerto Don Juan at the south end of the Bay of LA. It was there in the all weather anchorage that we are truly recovered from our recent adventures; drying everything out, baking bread, making cookie dough and eating popcorn; we relaxed.

We spent three days in Puerto Don Juan while Shawn cooked and caught up on writing for the blog and Chris did lots of little upgrades always making the systems just a little bit smoother. We spent a day hiking to a beautiful high view point from which we could see across to the Midriffs. Rejuvenated and ready to explore some more, we sailed to Isla Ventana on July 10th and tacked up into the tight little anchorage, all to ourselves. A beautiful spot, we enjoyed hiking across the little island to its southern anchorage, through a rocky field where we found scientific data collection equipment, then on to the highest point where there was a huge cement cross. Back on Tao, we had a nice dinner and with solid SE winds all day still blowing, we decided to stay for the night. Unfortunately, at 2200, winds shifted coming from the west directly into the little anchorage. Though it never got very strong, we had decided if westerlies came in at all we would move. So, in pitch black darkness, we fired up Yannie and with a beautifully phosphorescent wake we motored to Don Juan, carefully following our previous GPS track. Having run out of most freshies, the next day we sailed to the metropolis of Bay of LA (BLA) proper to scope out grocery and internet possibilities.

The anchorage off BLA is a roadstead with towering mountains to the west down which the famous summer westerly winds pour off. We headed in and did some recon of the off-the-beaten-path town. We checked each of the several groceries, fresh water, and internet possibilities to plan our attack of the town to reprovision the following day. We decided on the internet cafe at the south end of town directly across the street from the freshest produce we found and Guillermos, the shortest walk from our dinghy and least expensive water (12 pesos for 5 gallons) for our several trip refill. After managing to buy a plane ticket to the east coast for Shawn and Grizzly (no easy feat, thanks for your help Jane!) we fueled up with lunch at Guillermos as the highest tide of the month swept across the kid filled beach volley ball court. Shawn hiked back to the grocery with her pack to get food and Chris did four trips of 10 gallons each to refill our fresh water supply.

Tuesday the 13th we had a nice very light wind sail to La Rada (translated means inlet) at the south end of Isla Coronado. We explored the beautiful lagoon, red mangroves and even saw manta rays swimming in formation! After a fun day in the sun and water, with no westerly protection, we weighed anchor and did a sunset sail across the bay to the safety of Puerto Don Juan. Originally planning to head toward the Midriff islands the next morning, we awoke and decided to organize ourselves first and pushed our departure back another day. This gave us time to meet the crew of the first sailboat we’d seen yet- currently careened and painting their bottom. Once the tide had come back up and they were floating, curious to meet the people and see their boat, we visited with muffins and were happily surprised to meet a fun young cruising couple and their boat Iniki. We were entertained by their stories of singlehanding, shipwrecks, and previous encounters and left revitalized reminded that there are other young adventurous cruisers out there. After stuffing ourselves with an overly generous amount of clams Iniki had collected earlier in the day, we organized Tao for a dawn departure.