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 piñata 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.

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