October 23, 2003
0800 and we were finally on our way! It was a hellish few weeks preceding this point but we did it. Our belongings were in storage, sold or given away to friends. We said good bye to family and friends and completed the maze of paperwork involved in cutting the dock lines.
As we nosed our way out of Channel Islands Harbor it became immediately apparent that we were in for a bumpy ride. Our first destination was over to Two Harbors, Catalina to pick up our first crew mate Mike Lancon. The seas were four to six feet on the beam and stayed that way all day. Ugh! Buddy did his normal puke but just the one. The rest of the day he slept and Michael let me sleep with him until about noon as I had been up until 3 AM stowing the last of our stores. We arrived at the island about 5:30 PM and picked up a mooring like we’d been doing it all our lives. Actually we have both done it before but just not together. It was nice to know we could do it without any fan fare or drama. Even Mike who was watching from the shore said we looked like pros.
The one bit of drama we had that day was finding out that the forward head was clogged. Michael tried several different “tricks” to unclog it but, by the end of the day it was still plugged and the diagnosis was that it had to be torn apart to remove the obstruction. Once it was determined what had to be done my dear husband just shrugged and said, “Great, I needed to learn how that head works anyway”. Ya gotta love a man like that!
The end of our first day “cruising” was toasted over a delicious dinner at the Harbor Reef Saloon with some fine Merlot followed by a hot shower in the public bath house while Mike Lancon dog sat our Buddy.
October 24, 2003
Up early we had a good breakfast on board Arabella then Michael took Buddy for a walk while I cleaned up the galley and prepared the boat for our day’s journey. Our crew mate Mike arrived with his black Lab Juno shortly after Michael returned with Buddy and we were off, sailing back to the mainland to pick up our next crewmate John in Dana Point.
The crossing was uneventful and both Buddy and I were grateful the seas had settled down. The only disconcerting part of that trip was the smoke from the fires burning in Southern California. Sadly, as the next few days unfolded we found this to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the voyage until we were well past Ensenada.
We arrived in Dana Point around 3:00 PM and were amazed to see a mega power yacht (we later found out it belonged to Larry Ellison) in the anchorage. It was taller than any building in the harbor and at 210 ft. it took up the entire preferred anchorage. We had hoped to get a guest slip but upon checking in we were told the guest docks were full so we went to the second choice for anchoring and dropped the hook between the fuel dock and the bait barge.
Once the hook was set our crew mate John called to ask if we were in and where he could find us. He arrived just a few minutes later and Mike went to pick him up in the dink. Now our crew was complete. Michael, myself, Mike, John, Buddy and Juno. As we settled in and toasted to the coming adventure I was happy but I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about the coming weeks and how it would all pan out. Three men, two dogs and myself. Oh Lordy, what had I gotten myself in to? I said a quick prayer and lifted my glass to the crew.
That first night in Dana Point we tried to see as many friends as possible but being on the hook made it a bit difficult. Our crew mate Mike offered to be taxi driver so we did get to show off our beautiful Arabella and visit with my friends Norm, Charlene and Ruth from the Singles At Sea club. We waved to Joe and Linda who were on the shore while talking to them on the cell phone. They didn’t have time to come out to the boat as Joe was on his way to the airport to fly back down to Puerto Vallarta. I guess we’ll be seeing him in a few days anyway. Then Mike’s sister Linda and her beau Lionel came out for a while. When they left we got in the dink and went over to the Yacht Club to see if anybody else was still around but it was too late. Oh well, instead we took a bit of a harbor cruise and circled that monster boat at the other end of the harbor. It was very impressive all shiny and new with what looked like a very efficient crew moving around inside.
October 25, 2003
This day began very early with a clear understanding of why this anchorage is seldom used. The fish boats started lining up for gas and bait at 5:00 AM and the entire area became a churning mass of eager fisherman looking forward to bringing home the “Big One” by days end. Ugh!! I turned over, put my pillow over my ears and went back to sleep until around 7:00. When I finally opened my eyes to have a look out my port I found myself face to face with a fellow standing in a small row boat, rod in hand, he was preparing to cast out his line in the direction of the bait barge. He said “good morning” and I uttered something unintelligible, closed the port, laid back down and called out to my absent husband if he could find me a cup of coffee. Moments later he walked into our stateroom with the perfect blend.
After breakfast we checked in with the harbor master to see if any guest docks had opened up. Yes! At the same time my dear friend Linda arrived to cart us around town so we could shop for the last of our provisions before sailing into Mexico. Mike took me ashore so I could tell Linda what was going on while the guys moved the boat. Once the boat was secure we grabbed our lists and were off. I knew we had a busy day ahead of us and by days end I found out just what a very GOOD friend Linda was. First, Mike and I took the dogs to the vet to get the certificate needed to take them into Mexico. This we could have done earlier but the certificates have a time limit so we wanted to wait until the last minute to get them. In the mean time Michael and John worked on the forward head. Once the dogs were back on the boat Michael, John and I climbed into Linda’s SUV and headed for Costco while Mike stayed with the dogs on the boat. Let’s see, not only Costco but we went to West Marine, Petsmart, Smart & Final, Rite Aid, two different banks and West Marine again. It seems that only one trip to West Marine a day is not enough. The one in Channel Islands where we were living got to know Michael very well. In fact I’ve seen him pick up the phone and call them (he knows the number by heart) and say “Hi, it’s me. Do you have ……
Anyway, we got everything we needed and as we were unloading the loot our friends Eileen and Leroy stopped by to bid us bon voyage with a bottle of wine. Leroy managed to secure a dock cart and the boys brought the goods to the boat while we girls went below, opened the wine and soon enough all was put away and a pizza had been delivered. It was a fun evening and a nice send off.
The only thing to dampen the day was the ever present smoke. Ashes were falling like snow all day and my feelings were quite mixed about leaving. I almost felt guilty that I was escaping this leaving my friends and family behind to deal with the mess. On the other hand I just wanted to “Get Outta Dodge”!
October 26, 2003 – October 28, 2003
We awoke to clear skies but found out soon enough it wasn’t because the fires were out, only that the wind had shifted. A quick breakfast and we all went to work securing the boat and making ready for a long leg, the longest one of the trip so far. We had three days aboard before we reached Turtle Bay, Mexico and because it all seems to blend I’m combining them all together here.
Leaving Dana Point was a pure bittersweet experience for me. I have grown so much and made so many wonderful friends there I hated to leave but, all of the experiences I’ve gained there pointed me to exactly this moment. I was on my way, cruising with my perfect partner on a beautiful boat with good friends.
We settled into a schedule of two hours on, six off. The guys gave me the preferred 6 – 8 AM, 2 – 4 PM and 10 – 12 PM schedule because it would allow me to work in the galley during meal time. I took it even though Michael and I agreed that in this marriage he would do the cooking (he’s an excellent chef) and I’d take care of clean up. I did do some cooking but I really don’t like it and it wasn’t long before I staged a revolt. They all understood soon enough that it really wasn’t fair for me to stand watch AND do all the cooking. So on that front all is good. In fact, while I write this, Michael is poaching a fish in fresh Lime that Mike caught and filleted yesterday. He’s also steaming fresh broccoli and rice. Life is good!
The first 24 hours of this trip were dominated by the fire situation. The news we could get on the radio was terrible, it seemed all of San Diego was on fire and all of the smoke was blowing out to sea. Once we crossed the boarder it lighten up bit until we approached Ensenda and saw the hills above the campground in flames. One thing I did notice that day was that because of the smoke I could actually see two sun spots on the sun as it set. It was a most unusual sight.
The days slipped by with good conversation, lots of naps and the occasional bath. Water of course is limited so the sponge bath at the end of the day is one lovely experience. It was still rather cool at night but even so, I love the night watches. With a warm cup of coffee and a good watch cap it can be most comfortable. The moon on this leg of our journey was just a sliver so the stars took command of the sky and they gave us a beautiful show. It was also very light traffic on the sea and that made it much less stressful. Our goal was to get our start before the 130 boats entered in the Baja Ha Ha and we did it. Only by a day but that gave us the advantage of securing a good spot in the anchorage at Turtle Bay.
October 29, 2003
I awoke this day to the rattling of the anchor chain paying out in Turtle Bay or Bahia Tortuga if you were to look on a map. Poking my head up topside I saw that we were in line with two other ketch’s making this the unofficial Ketch Korner. Not long after setting the hook a fog bank came in thick as pea soup and we were all grateful it waited until we were secure.
The first order of business was taking the dogs ashore. Mike volunteered and the K-9’s were quick to jump in the dinghy for the short ride to the dock. Being the over protective mother I made Buddy put on his life vest, a long yellow vest with two straps under the belly and one under the chin. It also has a handy little strap on the back so he can be picked up and carried around like a suitcase. Well, when they came back the vest was laying in the floor of the dingy. When I inquired about it I was informed that the children playing on the beach thought the sight of buddy in a life vest was the funniest thing they had ever seen embarrassing my poor little dog to bits. Mike didn’t have the heart to put it back on him for the trip home and in fact he hasn’t worn it since.
On the subject of our pups, I have to say that I’m extremely impressed with both of them. I wasn’t sure if we were doing the right thing when we made the decision to bring Buddy along. We joked that he would be perfect because of his low center of gravity but up until this he’d only been sailing a few times and he didn’t seem to like the passage making. Once we were stopped on the hook or at the dock he loved the boat but these past three days at sea proved my worries were for not. I’m sure I would not be saying this if it wasn’t for Juno. She was instrumental in showing Buddy where the potty matt was and that it was okay to use it.
Not long after breakfast our neighbor Elke from the Ketch Arturos came over to introduce herself and to inquire if we needed any sails repaired or shade canvas’ made. Mike asked if she could make covers for our two 11 gallon water jugs and she said ya sure as she swung her long leg up on our deck to come aboard. She said she could have them done in two hours and she even had the matching green canvas of our sail covers. So, for the next several hours I busied myself cleaning up after three days at sea and visiting with Elke as she came and went measuring and fitting the canvas to the jugs. As it turns out, Elke’s family has a sail loft in Germany and that’s where her skill comes from. She and her husband have been cruising for 11 years and she and I are the same age. I very much enjoyed our visiting that day and look forward to more in the future. In fact, we did run into her again at the Ha Ha party in Bahia Santa Maria. But that’s for telling a little later on.
For now I must stop. We have access to an internet café and my husband is chompin’ at the bit to get over there to update the web site. Soooooo……..
May 5, 2004
It’s hard to believe we’ve been cruising six months now, my how time flies. Guess when you’re having fun it goes by quick and YES, we’ve been having a ball. I can’t imagine a better way to live than cruising on our comfortable home over beautiful seas to exotic ports.
Currently we are in La Paz, Mexico. We arrived yesterday after a 72 hour passage from Mazatlan. The air here is hot and dry, it reminds me very much of the hot summer days growing up in the San Fernando Valley. I love it! This is a lot different than the hot muggy air on the mainland of Mexico. Of course it’s really not the temperature or type of air that defines our happiness cruising. It’s the people, the natural beauty of each port and the challenge of getting there. I also believe it’s the attitude one adopts while cruising that make all the difference. We have put over two thousand miles under our keel and at every port we have met some of the nicest people on this planet and witnessed some of the most beautiful sights a person can see. Just yesterday I was on watch as the most beautiful full moon set just as the sun was coming up. It was an awesome sight and I was grateful to have the light as we were entering a new (to us) bay and even though we have all the electronic gadgets it’s nice to back up what they say with what I see.
Just to give you an idea of our lifestyle I’ll run through a typical day. We usually start by listening to the morning net while we drink our coffee and grab a bit of breakfast. Each port assigns a channel on VHF radio so the local cruisers can hail each other. It’s kind of like a party line phone system. You hail someone on that channel and once they answer, you or they chose another channel to have the conversation on. As human nature dictates, anybody listening goes to the chosen channel and listens in as well so it’s prudent to choose your words carefully.
The morning net starts at 8:00 AM and everyone tunes in on the VHF to hear the local news. The net controller is a volunteer and each morning a new volunteer follows the same format. It starts out by letting us know what day it is (it’s easy to lose track of time in this environment) then they will ask if anyone has any medical or emergency traffic. Traffic is the term used when you want to talk. It’s always a good thing when there isn’t any but we have heard some unsettling traffic on that subject. One sad bit of news was when the boat Bingo Again hit some rocks just north of Tenecatita and was washed up on the beach. They lost their home and most everything in it but were not hurt and fortunatly able to save their cat, dog and bird. The next order of business is check in for those cruisers who have just arrived or are leaving the area. This is a good way to connect with folks you’ve made friends with at other ports. Then it’s general check in for all who are in port followed by general announcements like where the good bands are playing that night or if you have something to buy or sell. In Mexico you are not allowed to sell things so if you have something to sell you always offer to “trade for coconuts”. This morning for example we needed to find the expert on cooling systems as ours was acting up on the way over here. Sure enough we were given some good info and were even offered rides into town to get the parts. It’s a great system that really brings this community of cruisers together.
After breakfast we try to take care of any jobs we have to attend to. Then, after lunch its siesta time from 2:00 till 4:00. There’s no getting around it, the town will shut down during this time, especially the small towns and if you wanted to continue on a project you had better have all your tools, parts or supplies with you before 2:00 PM because the stores will be closed. We usually go swimming or settle in with a good book by the afternoon. The evenings are a mixed bag but seldom do we eat dinner alone.
One thing I love about Mexico it the music. It’s not hard to find great music at the local restaurants. Whether we are at a small funky eatery or splurge for a five star dinner it will most likely be accompanied with some sort of live music. For our last night in Mazatlan we went to a place called Broadway to celebrate our friend Carol’s birthday. It was a high end establishment complete with linen table cloths and excellent service. The decor was art deco, it reminded me of the clubs you see in the old movies with the tables on a level above the dance floor and a large bandstand loaded with talented musicians playing great music. I’ve never danced more in my entire life as I have in the past six months. Fortunately, I married a great dance partner.
Another fun dinner experience we started in Barra is to invite friends over for dinner and a movie. We set our little TV and DVD player up on the cabin top and all sit around in the cock pit enjoying the cool night air watching a good movie eating home made fare with new found friends. This works especially well when we are at anchor as beach landings in the dinghy are best done during the day light hours.
We expect to leave La Paz next week sometime. From here we should be able to day hop through the islands arriving in San Carlos by June 1st where we will button up the boat for the summer. That should prove to be another challenge for us as the requirements for leaving a boat unattended in the heat (we’ve been told that the inside of the boat will reach 160 degrees!) and ready to withstand the possible hurricane is intense. All sails and canvas and anything not bolted to the deck must be stowed below. Plus, all canned goods must be removed as they have a tendency to explode, especially the tomato products, or so we’ve been told. Apparently, when we get to the marina in San Carlos they will give us a list of things that must be done before we can go.
Fair Winds To All,
1st Mate, S/V Arabella
It seems I’ve been so busy living this lovely adventure that I’ve not been keeping up with my writing. So, rather than going back and giving you my slant on each and every port, I think I’ll just pick out some of the highlights as I reflect on them.
Maybe I should start by giving you a better idea of where we are. From Mazatlan to Acapulco on the mainland of Mexico is called the “Gold Coast” or so we were told by our tour guide in Mazatlan. Jose confessed that the gold they refer to is really the tourist dollars and after spending the past three months only traveling as far as Manzanillo we can understand why. The larger cities of Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo are geared for the normal tourist with large Disney like hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. We have appreciated these cities for provisioning purposes but tend to spend our time in the smaller towns along the coast. Barra de Navidad, just north of Manzanillo has been our base for the past three months. The town of Barra is built on a sand spit and is only a short panga ride across the channel from the marina. Attached to the marina is the beautiful five stars, Grand Bay Hotel and it’s always a treat to pull in for a day or two after we’ve been at anchor to clean the boat, fill the tanks with water and hang out at the beautiful pool sipping a cold margarita.
One of our favorite places to anchor is Tenecatita, a short two and a half hour sail north from Barra. There are several bays to choose from with good holding to drop the hook. The one most of the cruisers use (we have counted up to 40 boats!) is called Blue Bay. It is a large, well protected bay and has a nice beach but doesn’t have much to offer by way of local color. One fun note is that the movie McHale’s Navy was filmed at Blue Bay and some of the buildings, including the tree house, are still there. The bay we have found more to our liking is called the aquarium. The beach is lined with palapas all offering good food, cold beer and as the name suggests, this bay has great snorkeling. We have also made some good friends who live there. Roberto runs the hostel located on the hill between the bay and the ocean. The hostel is a cluster of out building with a few beds in each one. The kitchen is a separate building open on two sides and protected to the weather on the two walls facing the ocean. The main living area is a patch of dirt outside the kitchen with a fire pit and a spectacular view of the bay to the right and the open ocean beach to the left. Cooking is a communal event and after a good meal it’s a pleasure to sit around the fire with a good glass of wine and visit with new friends.
Recently we sailed south with our friends Mike, Pat, Lana and Karen on Lifee P. Baker to anchor in Santiago Bay, a lovely little bay just north of Manzanillo. We arrived to find our friends Miff & Carol on their boat Los Quatros Vientos and Dale & Jane (in keeping with our Spanish we’ve taken to calling her Hane) on their boat Magic. Once the hooks were set and the dinghies were in the water we all went to shore for Margaritas and dinner. Right off the bat we met Ricardo, a gregarious fellow who soon became our friend. One day about a week and a half later, Mike and I were on our way into town to do a bit of ‘sploring and provisioning when Ricardo stopped us to invite us to a very special event. It was the blessing of the fleet and after the priest’s blessings they were going to have a big fiesta. He was cooking three pigs and there would be a mariachi band playing the best Mexican music we would ever hear. Ricardo even promised to set us a special table off to the side. Because this was a fiesta for the Captains of the fleet, the families of the Captains had all the tables of honor and actually, I was happy to be just an observer to this special occasion. By the time we made our way home from town the blessings were over and the fiesta was just getting started so we hurried out to the boat to put away our groceries, change our clothes and went right back to Ricardo’s palapa. Sure enough, Ricardo gave us a special table toward the back of the event and in my mind it was perfect. We had a great view of all the families and the mariachi’s on stage without being too conspicuous being the only two gringos there. It was lovely to see the families play and celebrate. A group of youngsters in the 4, 5, 6 age range where having a great time playing chase on hands and knees under the family table while the parents engaged in conversation occasionally grabbing a child and popping some food in their mouth. As promised, the band was great and it wasn’t long before people were jumping up and dancing in the sand, including ourselves. Eventually the band took a break and we found ourselves in engaged in a spirited conversation with Ricardo’s brother George. We had been taking Spanish classes a few weeks earlier so mentioning this to George I pulled out my flash cards and the game was on. With each card I pulled out George came up with ten new words to add to my list. It was great fun! When the band came back out they lined up near the kitchen, put on great big sombreros and came out in a single line, each playing an instrument with the first one playing the symbols, then the drummer, guitars and horns. They snaked their way through the crowd then came back to us and the symbol player handed off the symbols to Michael. Without missing a beat Mike played them like a pro! Once they were back on stage they played a song that was a dance for the mujeres only. All the women jumped up to dance and suddenly I found myself being pulled onto the dance floor by several of the women. I can’t tell you how wonderful it made me feel to be included in that. Mike and I went home that night delighted to be invited to such a wonderful event.
Stay tuned and I promise to stop playing long enough to write again soon,
Barbie, 1st Mate, S/V Arabella