Monday, January 12, 2015

La Cruz

The 43mile journey down the coast from Chacala to La Cruz was another motorfest. The wind did show up and we had a lovely sail but for only about 40 minutes, we were however doing an impressive 8.4 knots during that time with the wind hitting us on our beam and the seas were pretty flat. And then the wind died just as quickly as it arrived. We floundered for a while in vain hope that the wind would pick up again but we had no such luck so on went the engine. We did see a number of humpback whales cruising up the coast and three, including a calf, came within a few hundred feet of our boat.

As we approached Punta Mita we entered the waypoints on our chartplotter for a number of rocks off the coast and were a bit surprised to see that our Garmin Electronic charts showed these rocks on land instead of in the water – a bit disconcerting. We had heard that some of the electronic charts were off and here was proof.
As we approached La Cruz we saw the anchorage and it looked huge and busy. The whole Ha Ha fleet must be here. We dropped the anchor in about 25 feet of water as close to the harbor entrance as possible so as to shorten the dinghy ride. No sooner had we done so a Catamaran started to drag it anchor near us. WE tried to hail them on the VHF but we could not raise them. We had just arrived and therefore did not have our dinghy in the water to try to help. All was fine in the end and the boat did have a secondary anchor which caught and stopped the boat about 100-200 yards from the rocks. It turned out that the man who owned the boat had lost two previous anchors in the same spot in previous years, apparently due to rocks chaffing the anchor rode. We thought it was a bit tight where we were and given the dragging boat we decided to up anchor and move further out so we could sleep easy despite the longer ride into town. Our anchor spot was on the outside of the anchorage on in the suburbs as I called it and allowed us to watch a number of whales passing us. We even had a small calf leap out of the water only about 200 yards from the boat. In the evening we could hear a pod resting near us, their heavy breathing punctuating the still evening air.  

We have experiencing some difficulties with our dinghy outboard motor since San Diego and despite cleaning the carburetor and fuel pump numerous times it keeps happening. Our water maker also gave up the ghost so I have to fix that which will be essential for our journey south to Central America where access to good clean water will be limited. For these repairs we decided that it would be easier to do at the dock in La Cruz so we booked a slip for the following day. It was also about time to clean the boat after 10 days on the anchor. The sea salt was building up and the decks were getting grimy.

Given that I had tried everything I thought to fix the outboard motor I requested help on the morning cruiser’s VHF net (a wonderful thing) and Jack from Let It Be came over to help. He suggested that he do what I had already done numerous times and clean the carburetor. He did it and low and behold the motor worked fine. Perhaps I did a bad job or there is dirt further up the system. At least we know it is not electrical.

I won’t bore you with the whole story of repairing the water maker but it involved be swearing a lot, burst high pressure pipes and water everywhere and elation when I identified the problem not as clogged membranes from lack of use but a faulty low pressure sensor. It works well now and the product water tastes great.

La Cruz is a great destination. Although it is on the Mexican Riviera it still has the Mexican feel with ram shackled buildings and cobbled streets some great restaurants and bars and it’s not busy. It also has a great Sunday market selling all sorts of local and international foods, seafood and arts and crafts. The girls were in heaven.

After two days in the harbor and our boats repairs and cleaning done we went back on the anchor. Our friends Neil and Jessie on Red Thread kindly invited us over for dinner and drinks. We had a wonderful evening with them and the food was great. I even found a Scotch whisky enthusiast so we had a bit of a tasting.     



The short run of 22 miles to from San Blas was covered in just over four hours with no wind to speak of. We dropped the hook in about 25 feet of water in the north east corner of the anchorage to try and escape as much of the swell coming into the anchorage. There were about 5 other boats in the anchorage and most were rolling pretty badly, but we were not sure of this was due to swell or the pangas and speed boats speeding through the anchorage towing people on “bananas” or wake boards.

I went ashore to try and check in but the Port Captain’s office was closed so I would have to come back later. We chilled out on the boat and went for a swim in the relatively clear water. The swell at the moment was not too bad. Our friends on S/V ‘Ohanna came in to the anchorage and we all went into town later to have a meal and a few drinks. The small town seems pretty much totally local tourist orientated, very few Gringos. The beach is lined with palapa restaurants and bars and still being the holidays there were quite a few people about enjoying themselves. Chacala we decided was one of the nicest places we have stopped off at so far: small, plenty of character, average anchorage, swimming, good food at good prices.

We decided to stay a few days and as the swell was picking up we deployed the stern anchor to ensure we kept the bow into the swell. We have a 55lb Stern anchor with 20 feet of chain, probably a bit big for our boat but as most of us know there is no such thing as an anchor that is too big as long as you can raise it once deployed and that is where the test would be when we left.

The following morning the wind shifted to the east from the land whilst our bow was still facing west towards the swell. We decided to leave the stern anchor out as it might just be a land breeze. During the day the wind stayed coming from the east and built to gusts of up to 25 knots. I was pleased that the stern anchor still held especially with the force of wind being partially on the beam. I considered again to let go of the stern anchor and allow the boat to swing around to face into the wind but the wind started to die down and we managed to get some sleep.

With all that force on the stern anchor I found it impossible to raise it by hand so I lead the rode to the bow of the boat and to the winch and it popped out easily.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reflections from 2014

Takatz. Alaska

It is hard to believe that yet another year has passed and we are rapidly getting deeper into the century. The beginning of new year is a time when I try and remember everything that has happened to us during the past year and think about what might happen in the year ahead. The remembering part is becoming harder and this might be because that so much has happened or it could be that I have lost a few more brain cells during the year in which I turned fifty.

Katya and I welcomed in 2014 in the San Juan islands near Seattle, spending it with the wonderful friends we made during our stay in Friday Harbour from September 2013 to May 2014. Jude was sadly not with us but she was spending her New Years celebrations with her parents in Sydney.

Jude returned from Australia in April and we set sail for our second season cruising in Alaska in early May. Alaska, and all the way up through British Columbia, is the most spectacular area to cruise which is why we chose to complete the journey for a second time having done it in 2013.

People think of Alaska as cold and wet, which it certainly can be, but it is not that bad, with a climate not that different to Washington or the UK, I fact I will go so far as to say that our experience is that the summers there were better than the ones I remember from the UK. Yes there was rain but we had more days of sunshine. It never really got that cold but I did wear shorts and T shirts for much of the time. I never owned, or wore, a T shirt in England!

The scenery in Alaska is absolutely breathtaking and the wildlife is abundant. You truly feel like you are close to nature. Having seen many of the sites last year our trip this year did not quite have the wow factor that last years trip gave us but that is only to be expected. The first time you do anything that is new and adventurous is always the best.

The anchorages in Alaska are exceptional. It's not hard to find a truly protected place to drop the hook and find flat calm water even if the wind is blowing 25-30 outside in the channel. From small coves with enough room for one or two boats to wide open bays with steep mountain backdrops Alaska has it all. Yes the anchorages have their own challenges: deep water, steep drop offs and a long way from amenities but you quickly get used to any enjoy those elements.

We enjoyed all the wonderful seafood we caught in Alaska: halibut, cod, rock fish,  salmon and the excitement we felt when you drag up a pot of delicious Dunganess crab or large spotted prawns and ate them fresh.

The Alaskan wildlife is exactly that, wild. Hardly a day went by when we did not see a bear, either Grizzly or black. The same goes for whales. we got close up, seeing them leap in the air and bubble feeding. It was like being on a wildlife program all the time we were there.

As we headed south from Alaska we wondered if we would come back and if so when. We could certainly see ourselves visiting again but it's impossible to say when given the difficulties of getting back in a boat. We fell in love with the place, the people and the wildlife and I feel privileged to have seen it up close and personal and to share it with our family and friends.

The saddest event of the year was the passing of Jude's father Yeffim in June. He had been ill for sometime and Jude had spent the winter with him in Australia but after only a few weeks back from Aus he took a turn for the worse and passed away while Jude was flying back from Ketchikan to see him. It has been a hard few years for Jude being in the USA while her father was ill and her sister looked after him. He was a wonderful man, a great character and will be greatly missed but we can feel him with us as we continue our life's journey. He helps us navigate the seas safely, catch the fish, and we hear his voice when others sing their songs. He is our ethereal passenger and we enjoy his company.

Another very sad event was the tragic loss of my very dear friend Paul. I had known Paul since the age of eleven when we were in the same school. We shared many wonderful experiences through his life and he was responsible for introducing me to Jude for which I am eternally grateful. We now feel so sad for his wife Victoria and the hardship she must be experiencing after his death. It's difficult to come to rationalize his death, so few people get taken by sharks in the world that the odds for it happening are so slim. But our friends all thought that if Paul was going to go it would not be in any slight mundane way but he made an international splash in all the newspapers. I think about him often and recall many of those shared experiences and wish I could see him again but his passing is also a reminder to us all that life is short and can be shorter for some than others. We should therefore remember to make the most of our time for as the saying goes " life is not a rehearsal"

We had a few guests stay with us in 2014. My father joined us for 4 weeks in Alaska. I was so pleased he made the long journey to see us and suffer some of the deprivations of living and traveling on a sailboat in Alaska. He is a brave man. Jude's niece and her friend also joined us in Alaska having just finished school and at the start of their gap year adventures. It's a bit of an extreme coming from the sub tropical metropolis of Sydney to sub arctic wilderness of Alaska. They adjusted very well and I hope they enjoyed their time with us as we did having them to stay.

We arrived back in Washington state in late August and went back to Friday Harbour where we completed a few last minute boat projects before our journey south. We departed early September for San Francisco and again felt a pang of impending loss as we waved goodbye to our friends and our winter home. Katya went to school in Friday Harbour for 8 months we were there and made some good friends who she will miss. She also experienced a sense of freedom that must be hard to find anywhere else. The community on San Juan Island are very supportive and it's a safe and friendly environment to grow up in, perhaps somewhat reminiscent of life a few decades ago. We will miss the people and the place but we will return! We left our car there.

As we headed out of the strait of San Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean on a dark and foggy early September evening I was filled with excitement, nervousness and sadness. Excitement at the prospect of warmer climes and new places we will be visiting and people we will be meeting, nervousness at what weather and seas we might experience on our way down to San Diego and sadness in leaving this very special part of the world where we spent the last 4 years with Sarita.

The last 4 months of 2014 were spent traveling down from Washington to San Blas in Mexico where we spent New Year's Eve. We have visited many new places seen more wildlife and met more lovely people. The waters of Mexico are so different from those of the Pacific North West and the contrast is clear in so many ways. Open anchorages, different language and foods make it another exciting place to be. So far we enjoyed the Mexican culture, they seem to try and enjoy themselves when ever possible. Their love of their own music rather than western music I respect although sometimes it does sound like every song is the same. They try to help wherever possible despite the language barrier. So we look forward to what is ahead of us in 2015

So what will 2015 hold in store for us? Who knows but we continue to enjoy the lifestyle very much and it's still difficult to seeing ourselves being land based just yet. There is still so much to see. We have however made a decision to have Katya in high school within the next 18 months. Although we believe she is doing very well at her homeschool studies our abilities might be stretched as the curriculum extends and Katya requires more social interaction with others her own age. It might be selfish but one of the reasons we wanted this lifestyle is that we could enjoy the precious time of Katya's youth before, as she says, she will "fly the coop" this time goes so fast and I feel very lucky to be able to spend so much time with her. (She may feel differently some time) But in the meantime we have at least decided to continue south to Central America and visit Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and  Columbia. That should take us to June and from there we will decide our next course.  I will however insert the cruisers caveat of being able to change our minds at any time.

We have more friends looking to join us along the way, some from Washington and some from the UK and hopefully family from Australia. It is always enjoyable to share our experiences with friends and family especially as this nomadic lifestyle we have chosen takes us away from our friend and family.

As you can probably understand we are somewhat disconnected from what people call the Real World. We spend a lot of time in remote places away from cities, radio, English language news papers and even when we have a good internet connection our news is limited although not non existent. When we do catch up on current affairs it can be a depressing read. Isis executions, continued economic woes in Europe, escalating tensions between the west and Russia growing I stability in other regions. It is easy to want to switch off completely and live a simpler existence but we know that "reality" will kick in again when we finally get back to our land lives, whenever that might be.

In a few months time it will be 3 years since we moved permanently on the boat and probably by the time we get back to our land lives our boat will be the place that I have lived longest in my entire life. I have now spent 701 consecutive nights on the boat again something I have never done before and never expected to. We have travelled nearly 6,000 miles in our boat this year and nearly 20,000 miles since we bought her back in early 2011 all at the pace of a slow run. We enjoy the slow pace of travel as it makes the journey as much as enjoyable as the destination. It's so easy to fly somewhere and miss so much on the way but flying makes the world seem such a small place whereas sailing makes it seem huge.

We wish all our friends and family the very best for 2015

Roll on 2015!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

San Blas – Its tropical man!

Having retrieved the anchor safely we set sail for San Blas, a mere 42 miles. The seas were calm but there was just enough wind to sail for some of the way at least.

San Blas is a very old town dating back to 1530, with an historic center and plaza but not many people seem to visit because it has a reputation for having an abundance of very small flies called no-see-ums or jejenes. We were nervous about this as it can be unpleasant stuck on a boat being eaten alive but we thought we should give it a go.

We anchored in the large bay of Matanchen with its tropical setting with coconut palms, long beaches lined with palapas and warm waters. There were about five other cruising boats in the anchorage but it could have taken hundreds more.

We took Little George to the beach and had something to eat at a restaurant owned by a man called Edwardo. He spoke passable English and helped us understand how we could get into town and do the river trip to the natural springs at La Tovara. This is more like it! Mexico in the raw, tropical, all locals and not being pestered by people selling catapults and straw hats. Its Tropical Man!

Our Friends from Anacortes were also here and we all decided to take the river tour to La Tovara together so we dinghied ashore again the following day and walked the dusty road to find a panga to take us to the springs. We walked passed shops selling homemade breads and cakes and the girls bought some to eat along the way. The panga took us up the swampy mangrove river that was at first enclosed overhead by the mangroves and then opened up to lush tropical lands with high mountain backdrops. The panga driver pointed out various birds – owls, herons, eagles and vultures and then crocodiles! I was amazed at how many there were.

We arrived at La Tovara and ordered some food and drinks from the small restaurant which was excellent, all homemade and very tasty. We all went for a swim in the clear fresh spring water leaping off the rope swing. Everybody there seemed to be having so much fun all laughing at everybody falling in the water off the rope.

The following day we took a taxi into town. It’s about 8 miles and cost us $4. We loved the old town with its historic plaza and church and small shops and markets. I managed to get the Mexican phone topped up so we could make some calls and we walked around town. On the way into town we passed a group of restaurants selling seafood including lobsters and oysters and we decided that this would be a good place to have lunch. We walked back to this place and found a place to eat. We tried our best to understand the menu asking the waitress what different dishes were. Shrimp, Lobster, fish etc etc. When the food came we had every dish that we had ordered. They kept coming! We did not have the heart to send them back so we boxed some up to take home with us. Clearly we need to work on our Spanish.          

Isla Isabella

The small island of Isabella with its small anchorage on the southern part of the island was hailed as The Galapagos of the Mexican Riviera in some of the guide books so expectations were running high of seeing some unusual wildlife.

We departed El Cid Marina at 1pm so that we would sail through the night and arrive in the morning. Winds were light when we left but they picked up at about 2am to around 7 knots on the beam so I raised the sails and we made slow progress but that was OK as we still had plenty of time. Then out of nowhere the winds increased to 15knots then 20 then 25 gusting to 30, all within a couple of minutes. I still had all my sail out so there was a mad panic to reef the sails. We were soon making 8 knots towards our destination which would ensure that we arrived in the dark so I reduced sail further so we were only doing 4-5 knots which would mean that we would arrive at dawn. Given the earlier light winds the seas were small but they soon built to over 6 feet and short intervals with white caps but they were coming from behind us, thank goodness, so the ride was comfortable.

Dawn broke as we rounded the island headland to see that there were two boats in the anchorage. We scouted out a potential area to drop the hook but we thought we would wait until it was a bit lighter given that there are a number of hidden rocks and reefs. All the guide books warn of a rocky bottom and the need for an anchor trip line. Some fellow cruisers reported that they had to dive on their anchor in order to retrieve it when the visited here.

One of the boats in the anchorage advised us that they were leaving in about an hour so we decided to wait until they left and drop the hook where they were. Sure enough they departed and we went in and dropped the anchor where we thought they were. I put on my snorkeling gear and went over the side to have a look at the anchor and sure enough it was wrapped around a big boulder on the sea floor. If I had dropped it about 30 feet further north it would have been in sand. Any way I decided to leave it where it was. It was certainly secure and heaving it out now would not necessarily guarantee a better set. Scot and Cindy on Velvet sky had come into the anchorage and had the same problem with their anchor getting wrapped around a rock. They decided that they would raise the anchor and carry on to San Blas, another 40 miles. The rest of the day we relaxed and caught up on sleep as we did not get much the previous night with all the excitement with the change of winds. We did however go snorkeling in the amazingly clear waters and saw an abundance of wildlife including a spotted eagle ray, whose body does in fact look like a bird’s body if not an eagle. More boats came into the anchorage and we tried to give them some advice as to where to anchor. One of these boats was The Red Thread, a young couple who we met last year in Effingham bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island whilst on their honeymoon. They left Seattle at the end of September and are ultimately headed for Australia.

The following day we too Little George, our dinghy, ashore to see what flora and fauna treasures awaited is in the pseudo Galapagos paradise. We landed Little George near the fishermen in their pangas who were sorting and cleaning their catch whilst being watched by ever hopeful pelicans and frigate birds. We walked along the beach towards a rocky headland and saw a large number of birds with young fluffy chicks. None of the birds seem to mind our presence and you could get within a few feet without the birds getting in the least agitated. Quite amazing. We walked back along the beach and under some low hanging trees which were full of courting frigate birds, the males with their bright red inflated throat sack (what is that called?) and the females either nonchalantly looking away or actively participating in aerial courtship routines. The ground was alive with a host of iguanas of all sizes and colours from bright green and orange to dull grey. We were truly amazed at this place.

Our walk continued up a small hill the top of which was home to the fabled Blue footed boobie along the lesser known yellow footed boobie I presume, or was it a change in fashion?.

We met up with the crew from Andante who had come down from Seattle in their motor boat. I think they were as excited as we were to be there. One of their crew members was an Englishman called Jamie who was in the middle of an adventure: running from Vancouver, Canada to Buenos Aries. Yes, running. He had already completed over 4000 kms and still looked very upbeat and energetic. See

Other than the 4 boats in the small harbor and a handful of panga fishermen we were the only people on the island so it did not at all feel like a tourist trap. That is one of the wonderful things about cruising in a boat: you can get to some remote and unspoiled places.

Anchor wrapped around a rock
The following morning we prepared for departure and I put on my snorkeling gear and checked that the anchor was still wrapped around the rock. I slowly heaved on the anchor trip line to try and lift the anchor out from under the rock and sure enough it came free. Jude took in the anchor line and we set off for San Blas.