Sunday, March 27, 2011

R.I.P. Seahor(se), could be worse...

Yesterday at 0200 Saturday March 26th, Seahor was taken from us, literally. A crazy 24-hrs ensued. Chris bolted out of bed at a noise in the quiet night. He opened the hatch and looked out, Ruby was there, must not be anything. "Hola?" he said, confused. No answer. Then he noticed that Seahor was gone and a mere 2 meters away was a small canoe being silently and quickly rowed by two men. Both Shawn and Chris started yelling at them then in Spanish, "Bring back our motor!! Thieves!!" Our only response was very loud whistling.

The next half hour was a blur. Chris lowered Eeyore into the water, unlocked Ruby and hoisted it from Tao's stern onto Eeyore as a white panga with no lights raced across the estuary toward the whistles. Shawn watched the canoe meet the panga which had a large engine (at least 75-hp) and grabbed the binoculars to follow the pangas movements. It raced back across the estuary to the Pemex fuel dock area. At that point Ruby was ready to go and both of us had shoes so we pushed off from Tao, and sped across the estuary to confront them. Before we could get there, (luckily) the panga and one man raced off up the river and we assume the other thieves had left the scene with Seahor via truck or foot. Still in a half-awake adrenaline-pumped stupor we motored around the dock and saw a man in an oversized black sweatshirt with its hood up and shin-high white rubber boots just hanging around. We went over and asked him if he saw anything. He beckoned us to shore to talk but says he heard nothing and that he was a fisherman (he MUST have seen what happened...).

We motored back to Tao in our sadly deflated (due to the cold) dinghy, very cold, and quite shaken. By then it was about 0245 and sleep was not going to come easily. Every noise seemed too loud. The roosters were for some reason already crowing. Chris was philosophical about it and listed off all the things he was grateful for mostly saying that although it was less-than-ideal it could've been so much worse and hey, that's 25 pounds off the boat and when we sell the surf-mobile set up, we now won't need to carry any gasoline aboard. Shawn, filled with anger, struggled to see the silver lining. We discussed all the times we had been stolen from in our lives and how each situation felt and tried to sleep.

After fitfully tossing around for several hours, the sun finally rose. We went ashore and made a beeline to the weekly flea market (held on an old runway) to look for Seahor, pretending to be in the market to try to find some leads to where we might "buy" a small engine. No luck. Since this also happened to be the freshest food market, we quickly bought fresh provisions and headed into town. Once there we did a few more errands before stopping at the police station to make a report. Of course, the one in the center of town was the "policia municipal" (i.e. they had bullet proof vests and machine guns) and we apparently needed to get to the "ministerio publico" (public prosecutors) offices. Weighed down with our packs we headed in the direction we were pointed and when we finally found it, we had been right next to it earlier in the day at the flea market..

A sole public servant was working in the office this Saturday, surrounded by paperwork. For the next 2-hrs he took our statements, in Spanish, with photocopies of Chris' drivers license and our original owners manual with Seahor's serial number and wrote up an official report. He subsequently called the police comandante (commander in cheif, or captain of the police force) who was currently a few towns away. He said we could leave and the comandante would be along to our anchorage in a little while to question us.

Still weighed down with our provisions, we walked back to the Singlar Marina (where we safely leave our dinghy) and transported our purchases out to Tao. By this point it was 1530 and both of us were extremely tired so we took a half hour siesta before getting Chris ready to head back to shore, talk to the boss of the Singlar Marina, Arie, and make a report with the Port Captain's office on the other side of town. Shawn was staying aboard to clean fruits and vegetables and be available speak to the comandante whenever he made his way to the marina. At 1730 Chris dinghied out to pick Shawn up as the comandante was due at the marina in a few moments. On our way back in, we stopped by Third Day to see if they'd be willing to listen to the 1800 weather for us and we found out that they had had their 3-hp stolen the night before and had heard that to two surf boards were also stolen from a boat in nearby Mantenchen Bay...

We got back to the marina office and Arie, the comandante, and three of his men were waiting for us. Chris again retold the story (in Spanish) and Shawn added to parts that she remembered more clearly than he. The comandante was a very commanding figure, yet was able to make us feel completely listened to and heard. He told us there is a certain population of drug addicts in the area and he thinks they are the probable culprits, though a fisherman many have been an accomplice, and small motors tend to be sold elsewhere as they are of no use to anyone here. He said that we were the first to report actually witnessing a dinghy motor theft and if they find anything they will be in touch. We thanked them for listening to us and tiredly made our way back to Tao around 1900.

Since then, we have continuously discussed what happened. We truly believed that no one had a need for such a small motor and therefore we did not lock it up. This has been proven true for the past two years of cruising all over the Sea of Cortez as many fishermen have commented on it's small stature and a few even made jokes asking us what we use it for, a drink mixer? Shawn specifically continues to struggle with anger about the theft and her already lacking faith in humanity. But the anger did began to melt as the police took time to listen to our account of the incidents and are apparently doing what can be done to find the stolen motors. It also helps that, barring more preventative maintenance of actually having locked the little motor as we do our larger one, we feel we have taken all possible steps to help our situation.

In hindsight, we don't think we should have left Tao. Once someone has committed to stealing something, they are not likely to back down and really bad things could happen. If we had caught up to them, what would have possibly happened? Nothing good. If it happens in the future we will instead, utilize the air horns, pull out the spotlight and the camera, NOT let anger blind us into making poor decisions and remember that our own safety is more important than anything else people might try to steal from us.

For now, we will continue to work toward letting go of our attachment to Seahor. Our Seahorse was a white, 1978, 2-hp Johnson outboard with an orange racing stripe. She had one caring owner for the first 30-years of her life and we loved and had many great adventures with her the past 3-years. We hope she finds another good owner in the future.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

San Blas Ramble 2011

To us, the “cruising lifestyle” (or ours at least) is defined by going with the flow as much as possible. It has become crystal clear that we enjoy taking our time getting to know select places versus stopping quickly into many places. Or maybe we're just slow. Testament to this, once we head out of the San Blas Estuary we will have been here nearly a month! The estuary has turned out to be an amazing place, not only because of the fascinating ecosystem (remember we are scientists), but it is flat calm (read: easy to do projects) and relatively ignored by the cruising community (read: mellow and still very Mexican as opposed to a “little America of cruising yachties” that many of the gems in Mexico have turned into. Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy those for what they are as well). In our estimation this is due to (1) the no-see-um population which is rampant during dusk and dawn, (2) the difficult entrance in which timing during the tidal swing is important, and (3) the on-going drama surrounding some long term cruisers in the estuary and San Blas’ character Norm. As we are just part of the transient community, we choose to embrace all of it while at the same time keeping busy with our own agendas.

Without planning it, we managed to get to San Blas just in time for the near week long celebration of Carnaval marking the beginning of Lent. We enjoyed the small town feel of Carnaval in San Blas. Although it lacked the amazing firework display reenacting a battle that Chris enjoyed so much last year, we didn’t miss the touristy cordoned beer garden with a captive audience feel of Carnaval in Mazatlan. In addition to the usual vendors of indigenous Huichol wears, crowning of the town’s beauties, parades, and the crowd joining in the “quema del mal humor” (roughly translates to burning away negativity) by lighting a piƱata with fireworks strapped to its back in the center of the crowd, there were some beautiful professional cultural dances and even fire throwers that performed!

We of course also checked out the fort that overlooks San Blas where the local, Guillermo, sang us a beautiful song. And we also spent a day with Andrew and Di of Saviah doing a jungle tour. “What exactly does one see on a jungle tour, monkeys?” asked Shawn’s Mum. To start, riding in one of the 21 coopertiva pangas from a large saline river upstream into smaller and smaller branches of what turns into freshwater mangroves along winding tended watery paths through red and white mangroves, lilies and flowering bromeliad is an experience in itself. Throughout the trip our guide pointed out numerous species of birds, turtles, fish, the random movie set, and the culmination: crocodiles! Before heading back, the trip stopped at a crocodilario (which in addition to baby and mating crocodiles housed other random creatures, all of which made Shawn very sad to see caged). We spent the final hour of the tour at La Tovaro, an idyllic fenced off area in this “protected reserve” in which we could swim safely. Shawn and Andrew’s cameras were working overtime…
Movie Set
Andrew and Di of Saviah

The time we have spent here has also been marked by some monumental natural history in the making. The estuary is fluvially very interesting as it is the mouth of a river at the edge of the ocean; always moving with shifting sand bars and the channel ranging from only 10 to 15-feet. We’ve become familiar with the 12 hour tidal cycles- laying on anchor either up the river or 180-degrees the other direction toward the estuary mouth with the flood and ebb of water into and out of the estuary. Since we’ve been here, many boats have obliviously cut corners or motored over very shallow areas, the unlucky ones have run aground to await help or an increased tide. We had been here a week when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan. At noon the next day we were braced for what might come, but were lucky that the effects we saw were merely an enhancement of the normal cycle. Instead of switching directions every 6-hours, we experienced rapid switches every 10 to 15-minutes. For nearly two full days Tao swung around on anchor as the water level quickly rose and fell. Also, creating extremely high and low tides and quite strong currents flowing into and out of the estuary, the full moon just past was the closest the moon has been to the earth in 19 years!

All of this fun-having has, of course, been heavily interspersed with projects. After recovering from Dave’s visit and enjoying Carnaval, we got back down to business and started fixing and improving things that we had noticed during our sail down from San Carlos. Up the mast to pull the radar reflector add more chafe protection and tie it to the newly installed port flag halyard (that will hopefully loosen less as we sail). The epoxy came out to fix a creaky bulkhead in the galley. Seahor was finally given some love in which she was completely disassembled, impeller checked, new oil added to the lower unit, and finally she received some 4200 to seal the 1/8" copper cooling feeder tube which has markedly improved the movement of cooling water and gotten her running well, if not completely purring like Ruby. Shawn continued with, and finally finished, 7 coats of varnish on our rowing oars and then started on sewing the leather chafe protectors.

In addition, one of the things we were looking forward to in San Blas was checking out a Fatty Knees (a hard bottomed sailing dinghy that we’ve always been interested in) that a friend had stored down here, just waiting... We'll spare you the details, but it was quite an adventure through parts of San Blas that we would never have otherwise seen to find all the pieces and to get everyone to believe that we were indeed not stealing it. We did prevail and finally committed to bringing the 8-ft hull and all its sailing gear aboard. While Shawn worked on the oars, Chris sanded and re-glassed several holes and cracks in the dinghy hull. He then moved on to rebuilding the rudder (which was snapped in half), glassing a micro crack in the two-part fiberglass mast, and working on the accessories. Shawn took that opportunity to paint the hull inside and out twice then added a racing stripe to match Tao's and painted the accessories while Chris patched a few spots and the batten pockets on the sail. So, after two weeks of wild goose chases around San Blas gathering and paying for the gear and one solid week of refurbishing, we splashed her- a beautiful, new-to-us, brightly painted, chunky, 8-ft, 1983 and as of yet nameless Fatty Knees, and went for a sail as a reward.

Mostly, we have felt solitude in the estuary anchorage. However, as the weather warms up every day and Grizzly sheds her fur, the fleet of sailboats that have been in Banderas Bay preparing for crossing to the Marquesas is pushing off, and the other fleet of boats that hang out south for the winter are now migrating north into the Sea of Cortez. This has brought several waves of boats through the estuary, filled with many interesting characters. One of these boats (Pelican, an Alberg 35) had just completed a singlehanded circumnavigation and we enjoyed talking to Jonas for hours about his cruise and the differences between Mexico versus tradewind versus high-latitude cruisers, feeding our excitement about our upcoming Pacific crossing. Today we are relishing being the sole boat in the anchorage as we continue to chip away at our projects. We’ll be here yet a little longer while Chris works on constructing a dodger frame (!?!) and then we will push south looking for surf and continuing preparations for our May crossing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Isla Isabela and Dave's visit

: Mazatlan to Isla Isabela to San Blas (Feb 22 to Mar 3)

Travel Distance: 87.4-nm, 41.5-nm

Travel Time: 22-hr, 12.25-hr

Average Speed: 3.6 and 3.5-knots under sail, 6 and 5.5-knots under motor

Engine hours: 7-hr, 5-hr

We had made it to Mazatlan to meet Chris’ father, Dave, at the dinghy dock on Tuesday afternoon the 22nd of February. It was a little like Christmas as he had brought several items that Chris had requested as parts upgrades as well as some snail mail and a package from Shawn’s mom. This was the first time that we have had a third crew member so the three of us worked together to figure out ways to not only make it work, but so we all had fun.

The weather sounded a bit brisk for an immediate departure, with Don forecasting 25-30 knots and 8-10-ft seas in the Southern Crossing. Although we've found that wind intensity south of Mazatlan tends to be less than that forecast for the Southern Crossing (partially due to the mainland Mexico coast dipping SE creating protection)
we played it safe and stayed in Mazatlan for an extra day.
The first day we toured the Old Harbor area with stops to drop laundry off for someone else to do, at an amazing fresh squeezed OJ stand, a local hardware store, an internet cafe, the local eatery above the central market and then we caught a bus to the local Mega for a provision run. The second day the three of us took a different bus along the Malecon up to the Gold Zone to show Shawn Marina Mazatlan that Chris and Dave had been forced to sail into the previous season; engine-less. We had an amazing lunch (if you ever get a chance to try a "malcajete", arachera simmering in a delicious sauce in a hot basalt bowl, jump on it!) and it turned out to be a day of socializing as we crossed paths with crews from several boats; Gypsy Moon, Saviah, Begone, Pavane II, and Juniata too!

Over the couple of days spent in Mazatlan, Shawn painted 2 coats of varnish on our dinghy oars while Chris and Dave wrestled with the interface between our HF radio and our new Windows 7 operating system. In addition, Chris installed an extension to raise our GPS unit 12” so it was no longer shaded by our solar panels (we kept losing satellite connection on our passage down). Our chores done, the three of us took a nice hike up to the faro (light house) overlooking our anchorage as well as all of Mazatlan. The winds looked light and seas reasonable so we headed with excitement back to the boat and our passage to Isla Isabela.

At 1430 we weighed anchor, hailed the port captain, and sailed with the current out of Old Harbor Mazatlan under 100% jib. Shawn helped set Moni, Chris downloaded some waypoints to determined exactly what course we wanted to sail and downloaded GRIB weather files, and Dave, attempting to have an innocent beer in celebration of being underway, was rudely reminded that Tao is a small boat that heels a lot underway as he opened the refrigerator and the yogurt along with several other items dove at him and exploded on the sole. The GRIB files showed that winds indeed were light and going to lighten. So down came the 100% and up went the 165% for the night.

Shawn made a potato/spinach/lentil dish in the pressure cooker to put over rice whenever anyone was hungry throughout the passage and we decided on four 3-hr shifts through the night. Chris got the two end shifts that contained both sunset and sunrise and Shawn and Dave each stood one middle of the night shift. Winds were light and backing so between Dave and Shawn’s shifts we took the whisker pole down as the sail needed to be sheeted in to make our heading. The waning moon finally rose at 0200 and the winds continued to decrease until at 0500 Chris fired up Yannie and pulled the sail down. Except for the half hour we powered down to listen to the weather, we motored the rest of the way to Isla Isabela and set the hook at 1230 in this “mini-Galapagos”.

Isla Isabela is everything you hear about it and more! Blue and yellow footed Boobies (aka Bobos Azules y Cafes) nesting, breeding, fluffy white babies everywhere, frigates with their massive wing spans and their full bird condominium trees, both mama and baby whales breaching at the edges of the island, sea turtles bobbing along with the flow, iguanas, and crabs too. According to the scientists on the east shore of the island who have been studying this bird population for 30 years, this La Nina year has brought the largest cohort of Bobos ever recorded here, over twice as many as last year!


In addition, while we were visiting, it was the new moon; so the tides were at extreme highs and lows and at night with no moon the waters around the island teeming with life created brilliant phosphorescence. The anchorage itself was a little intimidating with long period swell rolling in from the south and repeatedly breaking over outlying reefs then coming in to crash on the SE point of the island with water exploding up to the top of the cliffs, and sending reflected waves back out to our boat- but Chris dove on Rocky when we got there and we put out our new-to-us flopper stopper (thanks s/v Nana!) and it combated the constant roll wonderfully.

We lucked out with the stable weather and the next morning after fueling up with an immense pineapple/papaya/pear/coconut salad and ham/egg/cheese croissants, we hopped in our surf mobile and putted around the island. The weather was quite calm and as we motored around the outlying crescent shaped Islote Pelon off the NW end of Isabela, we watched a baby whale breach repeatedly only a few hundred feet from our dinghy! We were subsequently surprised at the massive size of the mama whale that only showed us her back. After noting a possible nice surf break just the other side of the island from our anchorage, we completed our circumnavigation stopping back at Tao to make lunch. Ready to see the island, we dinghied ashore at the fish camp and readied Eeyore for several hours on the beach by putting on his canvas cover, tying him to surrounding rocks as well as setting his anchor.

We chose to start our island exploration by hiking up to the lighthouse, thinking we’d have our picnic lunch atop the island. But when we reached the peak there was nowhere to step without disturbing a Bobo, so we hiked back down and lunched in the shade of an outcrop on the dazzling Iguana Beach instead. Still ready for more, we hiked back to the fish camp, up to the Crater Lake, and down to the east side of the island just across from Islotes Las Monas.


It was from here we went for our first real swim of the season from the beach made of coral, dotted at its upper edge with Bobos and their newborns, and flanked by lava created rock features on both ends. On our hike back to the fish camp and our dinghy, we detoured to the peak above our anchorage and doing our best not to disturb the Bobos that have nested in the cliffs, watched the swells roll in and under Tao and crash into the beach from above.

The next day we dinghied around to the beach inside Islotes Las Monas, walked Eeyore through the reef protecting the beach, and brought it up above the high waterline so we could hike more of the island. This time we walked the entire east edge of the island to its NW extremity; among Bobo colonies, then past an area where pelicans seem to reside, and to the end of the island where turns and gulls nest and crabs cling to the rocks as the ocean roars in and out of lava formations like a Class V raging river.

In Flight


Another stunning lunch spot and we continued our loop hike this time heading into the island through the central valley lined with frigate birds up to the Crater Lake and then back down to Las Monas beach where we had lengthy discussions with the scientists living and studying there. After motoring back to Tao we spent the rest of the daylight relaxing watching the busy world around us with birds squawking, fishermen getting ready for their night’s work, and whales at play just off the island.

The sunrise on our third morning beckoned us to stay, but it was time to pull the hook and head toward San Blas to ensure a relaxed passage and get us there in a timely fashion for Dave to make his connection out of Puerto Vallarta. We pulled Rocky aboard and noted that at some time (likely when we were setting as he dragged over some rocks) his point had been bent ever so slightly. We motored away from the island in the calm conditions and were all fortunate to see plentiful wildlife with huge sea turtles bobbing at the surface and a grey whale that breached no more than 100-meters off our port.

After 5-hours of motoring in completely calm conditions the slightest breeze came up. We turned the engine off and raised first our 100% jib, then our main to sail and spent the next seven hours on a beam to broad reach all the way to the marked entrance to the San Blas estuary. Though we had purposefully timed our entrance for good entry conditions (i.e. high flood, NOT an ebb or low tide) we fully expected to have to motor in. However, as we got closer and sheeted in to follow the recommended waypoints that avoid shallow silted areas we realized the conditions were good for sailing. Rich and his son Jason from Third Day had motored out in their dinghy to meet another cruiser requesting help into the estuary and they stayed out to show us the way as well and even took a couple of pictures of us underway.

The entrance was a bit nerve-wracking as swells jacked up over silted shallows and rolled in on our beam, breaking just ahead and then just behind us. We were pointed as high a possible and were barely able to make it above the red mark. In the end (at Shawn’s request) we turned the engine on in case we needed a boost but we never needed to engage it. We did see depths as low as 5.5-ft from the water surface just at the channel entrance, but the current flooding in carried us past. Once inside the estuary there was still enough breeze and the three of us worked the jib and main sheets and helm up the channel to the anchorage where we dropped the hook in 12-ft just as the sun set over the mangroves and palm trees on shore just a couple hundred feet away.

We had homemade pizza to celebrate our entry into San Blas Estuary and slept well in completely flat calm waters, the polar opposite of the anchorage at Isabela. We were able to explore San Blas the next day, figure out the bus schedule, and buy Dave a bus ticket to get to Puerto Vallarta in time to stand by for a flight a few hours earlier than his original flight. After the day of exploring Dave took us out to a yummy early dinner and we retired to the boat to exchange pictures, pack, and eat specially prepared homemade flan.

Dave's visit was great- very special for Chris. Although it was quite tight here for 3, we were impressed that Dave rolled with the close quarters and wonder if we know anyone else who could enjoy the realities of visiting us as much as he did. Although Shawn had to wear ear plugs with the symphony of snoring and we pushed quite faster down the coast than we likely would have otherwise, we had just enough time everywhere and the weather worked out amazingly. It has been a spectacular couple of weeks since we left San Carlos. Now that we’re back at our own pace, we plan to enjoy San Blas, and you guessed it, get a few more projects done.