Saturday, December 8, 2012

There's Just Never Enough Space!

This month’s Raft-Up topic is about what you wish you had on board or had left behind, and what is your biggest space splurge.

Unfortunately, since we’ve only been out for a short time it’s hard to know yet what I wish we had or hadn’t brought.  So instead I’m going to modify the topic slightly and talk about why we actually brought so much damn stuff with us.  Hopefully this will help non-cruising family and friends understand our thinking a little better, especially since I know some of them wonder if we’ve completely lost our minds!

While I definitely went overboard with provisioning (which I’ve discussed in a previous post) there is no doubt that the largest amount of space on our boat is devoted to boat parts.  Before our departure our friends will testify to the fact that we spent endless hours trying to get the boat “ready to go” in as many ways as we could think of.  That list was seemingly endless – always growing and hardly ever shrinking. 

As we got closer to our departure and time was running out, we focused instead on critical systems on the boat (water maker, engine, generator, water system, toilets, etc.) that might break and the parts we would need to fix them.  When you are hoping to be gone for 5-7 years you have to assume that almost everything will break at some point – no matter how much you take care of your boat.  The days before our departure were a mad chase for parts we had forgotten while we still had direct contact with Fisheries Supply and a car.

After making our way down the coast we were very happy to have some of those parts as we already had need for them!  The biggest surprise was having to replace our alternator – a major part of our charging system – which unfortunately also meant sourcing another backup (also in a prior post!). 

So with a little more actual experience under our belts and a clearer picture of what might break or items we hadn’t thought about, the race was on again to source those items before leaving for Mexico.  We had heard plenty of nightmare stories about getting parts shipped to Mexico and about how expensive parts were to BUY in Mexico – so we really wanted to get everything we could NOW think of prior to departing the US.

Flash forward 3 ½ months of using the boat fairly hard 24/7 – not tied up at a dock with a constant source of power and water, but rather at anchor – running every system daily.  Using the boat like this brings a whole new set of issues – some of which you can’t possibly anticipate having never done it before.  What items you may ask?  Well, our recent order (which we’re hoping a family member will be willing to bring down at Christmas!) included the following: 
  • A fuel pump for the generator (already lost one in just 3 months – a seriously critical system!);
  • A dual-swivel for our main halyard (recommended during our rig survey to prolong the life of our halyard – which is high tech line and VERY expensive to replace);
  • Some water filter cartridges (for taking on water in Mexico);
  • A 2-prong electrical connector (these corrode incredibly fast in salt and sun since they’re not stainless);
  • A BUNCH more tubes of adhesive sealant (it’s incredible how fast the sun breaks down sealant - we’ve sprung two major leaks since we’ve left!);
  • Rolls of blue tape (needed for masking when resealing),
  • A low-draw DC fan (you can NEVER have too many fans – especially low draw fans so that they can run all night);
  • 20 feet of tubular webbing (to protect lines in high-friction areas);
  • A shorter flag staff (our current one is too tall and interferes with the dingy when it’s on the davits)
  • And last but not least – a collapsible salad spinner (I can’t believe I didn’t think about the fact that pre-washed lettuce would be a thing of the past once I left the states – duh!)
Just this morning we blew a fuse on our generator (we’ll be adding that to our order!) and we found out that possibly the only way to fix our on-going issue with our engine-driven refrigeration system is to somehow find and install a belt tensioner that will work with our system.  Try doing that in Spanish – not to mention having to walk to the distant places that MIGHT have the parts! 

Suffice it to say that there is a never ending stream of items that break down on a boat that is being used every day.  Add to that the difficulty and expense of securing parts outside of the US and I’m guessing our readers can understand why we would want to take advantage of visits from home to help get additional parts here.  Am I right?

Soooooooo…….do we have a ridiculous array of parts to fix the boat?  Yes!  Will we need every one of them?  I sure as hell hope not!  Have we thought of everything?  Definitely NOT! 

However, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to fix many of the systems that are certain to break over the next few years – systems that have become pretty important to our survival and comfort when we are VERY far from any parts store and no longer have loved ones coming to visit.  And perhaps what I have failed to convey until now is that having those parts on board make ME feel significantly more comfortable when I am living a life that is basically 100% outside of my “normal” comfort zone.  

Our First Official Guests!

Susan & Larry - our first official guests!
So we’ve officially had our first visitors come and go and I couldn’t have asked for better people to test drive our guest quarters!  Since we’ve only had guests a couple of times before leaving, it’s always interesting to see how it turns out – what works and what doesn’t. 

Our good friend Susan and her boyfriend Larry came to visit us for a week, arriving on Thanksgiving Day.  Susan we know VERY well, but Larry is kind of “new” to us and he hadn’t been on a boat before, so we thought it might prove “interesting”!  I’m thankful to report that he did VERY well and was a kind, helpful and eager to please guest.  Both he and Susan were a joy to have on board and it was wonderful to spend some time with my much missed friend (have I mentioned how much I miss Susan and our daily walks???).

Between the two islands
After their arrival on Thursday we spent Friday provisioning for their stay and then wondering La Paz.  We had been invited onto our friends Mac & Catherine’s boat for dinner and a very nice time aboard Indigo was had.  On Saturday it was off to Caleta Partida – our first venture out to the island of Espiritu Santo, where our friends would also be.  Caleta Partida is actually located in between the island of Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida with a winding and shallow channel between them.  You can anchor on either side, but the Caleta side is a huge bay capable of holding MANY boats, so it’s a popular spot to join friends.   From La Paz it is about 4 hours of direct motoring, or about 6 hours of tacking up wind, assuming the wind is cooperating!   Unfortunately the wind was not cooperating, so we did have to motor.

Brett under one of the many rock formations on our hike
Wow!  What a beautiful anchorage!  We found our friends, set the hook nearby and then invited them over for a pasta dinner.  The six of us watched a great sunset and had a nice time.  The weather was perfect – just a light breeze, very few bugs and probably too much wine (I know, us?  What a shocker!  I’m going to blame the guests!).

The next day we decided we should go snorkeling.  I have to say that Larry earned my full respect here as he is clearly NOT comfortable in the water, but it never slowed him down a bit.  I really respect a big guy that is comfortable enough to ask for a life jacket and who is not be afraid to push outside of his comfort zone – I know it’s not easy, so bravo Larry. 

Beautiful cactus flower!
While snorkeling we saw some “puffer” fish (not sure I have the right name, but the ones that puff up when you scare them) and lots of colorful fish – but the best was when we got to follow some turtles!  What a difference it is to see them under the water – so much more graceful and free looking than when they are plodding along on land.

The next day we were all feeling like we needed some exercise so we decided to tackle the big hike up to the top of the mountain that looks down on the anchorage.  Brett and I were hopeful that we’d be able to get a cool photo of our boat in the beautiful blue water and we knew there would be a lot of great flora and fauna to see along the way.  It’s far greener than normal right now as the Baja received a lot more rain this year than normal – so there are tons of flowers and plants that are not usually in view during the dry season.  A perfect time to hike! 

So off we went to the white sandy beach at the bottom of the climb.  Thankfully the tide was in and so we didn’t have to drag the dinghy forever (not true later!).  After donning our hiking shoes and bug spray/sun screen, we made our way past thousands of tiny crabs to the base of the “wash” which is the easiest way to hike since there are no ”man-made” hiking trails.  I LOVE to boulder and this was a truly amazing hike – big boulders, small ones, plants, flowers and even a famed stick bug!  There were stunning views all of the way up!  We finally reached the top (or as close as we dared as the top looked a little dicey) and what a fabulous view – well worth the trip up. 

Thousands of tiny crabs!
While admiring the view we downed a much earned beer, took some of the great photos you see here and rested a bit before starting back the way we’d come.   After the long trip down, we found the tide had gone out (as expected) and so we carried our dinghy about 200 yards out to the water, trying not to step on the 1000’s of crabs on the beach – ick!  The funny part is that once we got to the water the dinghy would float, but it was too shallow for the motor to work!  So we poled, walked and paddled the dink the long way back until we were finally deep enough to motor the last couple 100 yards.  Guess we needed an arm workout after working our legs so hard!

Hikers (still pretty fresh looking!)
Time to go swimming!!!  How good did the water feel after we stripped down back at the boat?  You have no idea.  Hiking in 80 degrees for 4 hours makes for some very hot people and I was thrilled to jump in upon our return.  The crisp, cool water felt wonderful and quickly helped us cool back down to the normal 98.6 degrees we are supposed to be at. 

Sadly, our trip to the islands and our fun time with Susan and Larry had to come to an end.  Once back in La Paz we got a local recommendation for the best “authentic” Mexican food within walking distance.  Upon our arrival we all looked at each other questioningly as it looked exactly like a Las Margaritas at home – not exactly what we had in mind.  Plus we were the ONLY people there – yikes!  Now I really should mention that most people here make the afternoon meal their main meal – so not many folks go out to dinner unless they are tourists or other travelers. 

So we sat, perused the menu and then something dreadful happened…….

We ordered margaritas (which took up an entire page of their menu, so they were obviously a popular item) and were told there were none!  GASP!  What????  No margaritas?????  How can it be???  Well apparently they were out of a “crucial” ingredient and would rather not make a sub-par margarita – which I can totally respect!  It’s just so different because this would never happen at home – heads would fly if a restaurant was out of a mainstay cocktail!  But in Mexico it is simply no big deal to run out of something that is integral to your establishment – people will just order something else.  No big deal.  And you know what?  I have to say they are right, it isn’t a big deal!  Life goes on without margaritas and we still had an absolutely FANTASTIC dinner – with beer!  

Larry close to the top!
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Susan and Larry the next morning.  I would like to thank them both for being wonderful, sensitive and respectful guests.  For not using too much water, for contributing to our food and beverages (as we have a limited budget) and most of all for understanding the concept that this is our home (it’s all we’ve got!) and that there is a reason we have some seemingly weird “rules”.  We couldn’t have asked for better guests and we miss them already.   

Caleta Partida anchorage from the top!
Next guests – the entire family of 11 adults and 9 kids (!!!) for Christmas!  They’ll be chartering two other boats for a week and we’ll have our two nieces (Gwyn and Kyndal) plus my sudo-sister Cheryl on board.  It’s going to be a crazy group – hopefully crazy FUN!  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wonderful Places to Stop Enroute to La Paz

So after two heavenly days at Bahia los Frailes, we must continue our journey towards La Paz.  We had highly anticipated guests arriving on Thanksgiving, so we wanted to make sure we would have a couple of days to clean up and get the lay of the land prior to their arrival.

Ensenada de los Muertos
At dawn we reluctantly depart and make our way to our next stop, Ensenada de los Muertos (which translates to something like Bay of the Dead).  As soon as we are out of the anchorage at los Frailes we are in about 12-17 knots, right on the nose with short choppy waves – very similar to being in the Straights of Juan de Fuca on a bad day.  After two months of downwind sailing, going to weather is a bit of a shock!  We had forgotten how much harder it is to bash into the waves and had come to completely take downwind sailing for granted.  No more of that for now!  We proceeded to bash along for the next 10 hours until we gratefully reached los Muertos just before dark.   It was a sweet little bay, even if it has a fairly creepy name.  Thankfully we did not personally witness any of the dead ourselves!

They have HUGE moths down here!
With weather report in hand (thank god for SSB radios!), we decided we couldn’t afford to stay the next day as the wind was supposed to  be perfect to continue on, so we wanted to take advantage while we could.  The wind never did materialize, so we basically we motored the entire 45 miles to Bahia Ballandra – our next and final stop before La Paz.  I have to admit, after the bashing into the wind the entire day prior, I did not mind just motoring along on completely flat waters one little bit!!!

We arrived at our next stop around 3pm.  Bahia Ballandra is a wonderful little bay with three (!!!) separate beaches and amazing rock formations to look at.  It is also the location of “mushroom rock”, a proud local rock formation – that unfortunately ended up falling over due natural corrosion plus a few too many tourists.  But no worries – the local community put it back together with some handy rebar and cement and you can hardly tell the difference – well done! 

Ballandra at sunset - beautiful!
We enjoyed two wonderful, relaxing days here and I’m happy to report I have finally inflated my kayak so that I could go explore all the wonderful rock formations.  I love using the kayak as it allows me to drift slowly and quietly – which means “nature” doesn’t find you as threatening, so tends to move around more.  It’s amazing how if you just slow down and really look – you see whole new micro worlds.  The rocks where full of crabs of all sizes – from about ½ an inch to almost 6 inches wide.  My favorite ones were brown with incredibly bright red legs – they were highly skittish, so I had to be very quiet to watch them dine on the crustaceans around them.

Mushroom rock at Bahia Ballandra
Brett took this time to bone up on the generator manuals to figure out an issue we were having when charging.  After a long morning of wading through all the information, he successfully fixed the issues and we were up and running again – super important for a cruising boat.  It never ceases to amaze me how gifted Brett is mechanically.  I feel extremely lucky to have him as my mate in this journey as I know he can fix almost anything, which gives me great peace of mind.

Now that we are slowing down, I’m beginning to see why so many people love it here in Mexico.  The sun, the sandy beaches, the clear warm blue water….I think I can definitely stay here for a while!
Next stop……La Paz!  

The Perfect Day

Bahia los Frailes
It’s 6:15am and the dawn is just breaking.  We’ve been traveling all night for the 2nd night in a row and our destination is in finally in sight – Bahia los Friales.  It’s a fairly large bay about 45 miles past Cabo San Lucas and it is also the unofficial end to our long push south.  We have traveled almost 2500 miles down the entire west coast and while it hasn’t hit me yet (as I’m exhausted from not getting enough sleep), the fact that we have made the turn in at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula and can finally start to relax will soon set in.

We reach Los Frailes and get the anchor set, just off the beach in the northwest corner of the bay.   Far enough out to be safe, but close enough to hear the waves breaking over the beach - peaceful.  By the time we put the boat away and clean things up it’s about 8:30am and the sun is shining in earnest.  We drop into bed wiped out, but we are too excited to sleep.  Something has changed – what is it?  We give up on sleeping and get back up.  I make a hot breakfast and we linger over it with our coffee in the cockpit.  It’s so nice to be at anchor again!  The sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky and it’s already at least 78 degrees outside.  It. Is. Perfect.

I look over to another boat anchored nearby – it’s a large catamaran and I see a woman on board jump off the boat into the water.  She has her snorkel gear in hand and quickly sets off.  Swimming I think?  I could actually go for a swim?  The water is registering at 88 degrees here – it is clearly warm enough to jump in.  I look at Brett, relaxing with his coffee next to me and say – I’m putting on my swimsuit! 

I jump in.  The water is wonderful – clear and blue and just slightly cool, which feels amazing on my sun heated skin.  It’s only 10am in the morning and I am swimming in the OCEAN!!!   There is a huge school of fish below our boat – there must be 200 of them.  They move slowly, lazily away as I move through them – then come right up to me as I just drift with them.  The fish are about a foot long and about 2 inches wide and are colored black, white and yellow.  They are beautiful and I am literally swimming with the fishes on a Wednesday morning – unbelievable after years of working – now I am finally getting to play. 

After taking care of some chores, Brett and I decide to go to shore and walk the beach.  It is the first time my feet have been on land since we left Ensenada nine days ago.  The sand is warm between my toes, but not too hot to walk on – it feels wonderful to exercise my legs and we revel in the long stretch of open beach before us which sweeps around the entire bay.  We walk the whole span at a nice clip, walking in the surf when we get too warm.  This beach is so different from other times I have been to Mexico – only in touristy cities.  There is not a single “vendor” on this beach.  No one is trying to sell me anything – there is just pristine white sand, sun and blue water.  Perfection.

Two manta rays jump at once!
Back at the boat we are reading in the cockpit when suddenly we hear a loud spash.  Than another, and another!  Low and behold, multiple manta rays are jumping out of the water just 100 yards off our boat!  They are mid-sized – about 2 feet across or so.  They fly out of the water, flap their “wings” for a moment and then do a crazy hard belly flop into the water.  The rays launch about 4 feet out of the water and when they land the water splashes up about 2-3 feet high.  It is and incredible to watch and they jump on and off for hours – as many as 5 at a time!  I feel amazed and blessed to have seen so much on this trip already.

The mantas make a BIG splash when they land
Later we watch the sun set as we have dinner in the cockpit with a nice glass of wine.  Many boats have come in over the course of the day as the Baha Haha group has departed from Cabo and many of them are working their way to La Paz as we are.  We thought they would have been long gone by now (having left a week before we did) but we’ve heard that many were waiting for a good weather window to transit the bottom of the Baha coastline so it appears we have caught up with them.  It’s been entertaining to watch over 50 boats come in and anchor as things got more crowded – but thankfully they all seem to know what they are doing. 

After the sun sets we stay in the cockpit drinking our wine and marveling that the temperature is still so comfortable considering we are in shorts.  It must be 77 degrees or so and it’s only a week until Thanksgiving.  A light breeze blows but it is not cold – this is heaven on earth.

Beautiful sandy beach!
I think over the course of the day and realize it has been the perfect day.  After two months and over 2500 miles, we’ve pushed very hard to get here and it hasn’t really felt much like the “vacation of a lifetime” that I’ve dreamt about.  It has been 100% about accomplishing projects, provisioning and making headway down the coast – not about what you dream of when you think about taking this sort of trip.  True, we’ve had fun along the way, but it has also been a lot of work and long hours of travel.

But here in los Frailes, I realize we have literally and figuratively turned the corner.  I have swum in the ocean, walked on the white, sandy beach and enjoyed the sunset with my husband while listening to the waves crashing in the background.  I am finally living my dream and it….feels……wonderful.

Cruising Down the Baja Pennisula in Mexico

Leaving San Diego
After checking in at Ensenada, we immediately made our way south for our first overnight passage since we had left San Francisco.  We had excellent wind, so made good time down to Turtle Bay, our first stop going down the coast of the Baja peninsula.

51 = Official Squid Count!

You never quite know what you will find some mornings when dawn finally breaks – and on the 2nd morning in route to Turtle Bay we woke up to a bunch of mini squids all over the deck.  There were so many, we decided to count and there were 51 of them in total!  Apparently they were all eager to get their big break in a fine California sushi establishment, but didn’t “catch” that we were heading the other direction!  I know – terrible joke.   Bad Stacey!

Later that day we were completely surrounded by large bottle-nose dolphins - at least 30-40 of them this time.  There were about 5 to 6 of them at all times taking turns playing under our bow, with the rest all around us.  They raced along with us for about 40 minutes and they were so close you could almost touch them as they jumped out of the water.  So amazing, I never tire of watching them. 

Turtle Bay was a nice stop and a good place to get a little rest before continuing on.  The bay is quite beautiful – with high mountains on either end, connected by a long flat sandy section.  It is pretty huge – so I can see why it’s one of the stops on the popular Baha Haha, which went through the week prior.

Turtle Bay
We had a lovely day in route to our next stop of Bahia Santa Maria, with 10-14 knots of wind, kind seas and about a gazillion more dolphins – great passage day.  Unfortunately, it was followed by a night of 18-25 knot winds with large, confused seas.  With this kind of weather it’s very difficult to sleep off-watch as the boat is really noisy and creaky and waves tend to slam into the boat from all directions.  It’s incredibly loud.  They had only forecast 13-17 knots, so we were a little surprised to see the wind get up that high.  But we found the wind to be consistently about 5 knots over the forecast the entire way down the coast, so eventually we just learned to incorporate that into our forecast. 

Because of the angle of the wind, we also had to do a lot of jibing (ie. "out of the way" sailing), on this leg – which means it takes a lot longer to get where you want to go.  Originally we had hoped to arrive at Bahia Santa Maria around 3pm, but instead arrived about an hour after dark – not something we like to do.  Thankfully it is a wide, easy bay to enter – so with the aid of radar and our chart plotter and careful scouting, we managed to get safely anchored.  We have HD radar and it’s amazing how it shows literally every boat, every rock, every piece of land and exactly how it compares to the charts - very helpful – don’t leave home without it!

After a very short stay at Bahia Santa Maria (basically just an overnight), we made the short passage to Bahia Magdelana, which is just 20 miles to the south and a HUGE bay.  We had been getting some warnings of high winds for the next two days, so wanted to be there to wait it out before making our final jump down past Cabo San Lucas and around the tip of the Baja. 

Bahia Magdelena is a HUGE bay - miles and miles across.  The bay is known for the gray whales that come through and birth their calves in the spring, but unfortunately they were long gone when we passed through.  Surprisingly, we’ve still only seen the one whale on our way down (the one that almost took out our rudder!).

Bahia Magdelena
The winds arrived as predicted, howling through the anchorage as the sun was setting.  That night, we had one of the worst nights at anchor that I think we’ve ever had.  Even though we were safely anchored, there was so much wind and noise that it was almost like being out to sea all night!  It was impossible to sleep more than an hour or two at a time.  That said I was very grateful we were holed up there in just 25 knots and not out to sea or located somewhere worse!  We found out later that some friends spent the night anchored out near a sand storm where it was gusting over 60 knots all night and pelting their boat with sand.  Much worse than we experienced for sure!

The winds finally died down around mid-afternoon, so we decided to make the jump down to Las Frailes, which we expected would take us about 36 hours.  We figured if we left around 5pm we would hopefully arrive around dawn two days later.  After un uneventful night and day, the next evening we rounded the “corner” by Cabo San Lucas and it was quite a sight to see.  After an entire coastline of almost no lights, Cabo looked like it could be Las Vegas in comparison.  So many lights!!!  And it stretched on for miles – quite impressive and a nice change from the complete darkness of most night watches.

We had decided not to stop at Cabo as it is VERY expensive to stay there.  They charge $20 US a night just to anchor out and dock space was FAR above that.  Since we’ve been there several times in the past, we just didn’t feel the need to blow our meager cruising kitty on something we’ve already seen – so we went on to Bahia los Frailes instead, which I’ll cover in my next post. 

Overall the landscape on the way down is quite breathtaking.  For any of you that have visited the Palm Springs area it’s very similar to that – huge soft looking mountains in front of a bright blue sky – but here the mountains come down to long stretches of white sand and water instead of the desert.  As we traveled south we watched the water temperature continue to climb and by the time we reached los Frailes it was over 85 degrees!    

We finished our fast trip down the Baja peninsula in just 9 days and I can hardly express how GREAT it feels to know that I won't have to make another overnight passage for MONTHS!!!  Since leaving Seattle we have traveled almost 2500 miles - all at no faster than about 8 miles an hour and all done in just two months with lots of stops.  Kind of gives you a little perspective, eh? 

I am really looking forward to finally SLOWING DOWN and starting to actually live the life we’ve been dreaming about for so many years.  Here’s to hoping that reality matches up with our expectations!

Checking into Mexico at Ensenada

Crossing into Mexico
We arrived in Ensenada on Sunday, November 4th, and then were up bright and early for the 9am role call at the marina office to go through the customs process.  Many of the marinas (if not all?) offer a service to help you check into the country as it can be a fairly confusing process – especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently.  After reading the following, I’m sure you’ll agree it is worth every penny…

As you may have heard, there is now a building in Ensenada where all of the “offices” that you need to visit when you check in are located in one building.  This is ONLY true in Ensenada – in all other ports they are in separate buildings so you have to walk around to each one.  For us, this made it a no-brainer to want to check in at Ensenada and avoid an entire day of traveling from one building to the next.  When you arrive, be prepared with many copies of your boat’s documentation, proof of Mexican Liability Insurance, your crew list and your passports – make sure you have MANY copies of each one – you can never have too many copies!

In my mind’s eye I had envisioned this multi-story white building with each floor containing one of the offices and lots of room for all of the people lined up to get through each point in the process.  The reality is MUCH different!  It is a small (white!) building in a nondescript part of town that you would easily miss if you were trying to find it on your own.  The whole building is only about 100 by 100 feet at best!  Inside you will find 5 windows and a minimum amount of room to wait in line – with a couple of chairs to rest in throughout the 3 (or more) hour process.   There is a window for Immigration, the Bank, the Bureau of Fishing, the TIP permit (??) window and of course – the Customs window where you’ll see something that looks suspiciously like a stop light.  More on that later!

To say we were glad to have paid the 25 bucks to get help through this lengthy process is the understatement of the year!!!  Can you say confusing?  First you go to the immigration window where they process your visa, than you wait in line at the bank window to pay for your visa.  The bank will take pesos or US dollars, but better yet – they also accept (and seem to prefer!) credit cards.  Next it’s back to the immigration window again for (??? not sure what – maybe to process that you paid for your visa?)!  Next you go over to the window where they process the paperwork for a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) if you are coming by boat.  The TIP allows you to keep your boat in Mexico for up to 10 years and you will absolutely need it if you are going to stay for any length of time.   If you want to import ANY boat parts or have ANY guests bring a part for your boat, you absolutely must have a TIP and have completely filled out the form itemizing all the main systems you have on your boat – super important!  Also make sure you bring your serial number for the main engine(s) you have on board.

Brett with fellow travelers checking in.
I should also note that if you plan to do ANY fishing or even have fishing-related items on your boat, every person on board will need to have a fishing license.  If the Mexican Federales come on board and you have the stuff, but don’t have the license you can get into BIG trouble and receive a large fine at a minimum.  While this doesn’t happen very often, why risk it if you plan to fish?

Next, it’s (you guessed it) back to the bank again to pay for the TIP!  It’s important to note that if you are getting a TIP you need an ORIGINAL document to prove ownership.  This could be loan papers or (in our case) the official Documentation paperwork.  I’m embarrassed to admit that we DID NOT have our original Documentation with us (we’d been told by the marina that we wouldn’t need it) and actually had to go all the way back to the marina to get it and then BACK to the office to stand in line at the bank again and continue the process.   Just bring EVERYTHING you think you may need and have originals AND many copies!

After you’ve paid for your TIP, you finally are ready to go to the customs window, fill out another form and then you step up to the stop light.  If you’ve been to Mexico in the past, you’ll know this is to push the button that will determine if you get set aside for further inspection.  Green you get to leave, red you get to be inspected.  Please god, let it be green, right?   There are no veggies, beef, chicken, pork or fruit allowed into Mexico from the states, so if the button is red and you have stuff on board, you will soon be saying goodbye to it!

At this point the Customs guy tells Brett to step up to the stop light and Brett turns to me and says, YOU should press the button - you have way better luck at that sort of thing!  But the stern customs man says only the captain can push the button.  So after only seeing green lights all day, what do we get???  RED!  UGH!  So now we have to wait because they will send someone down to the boat for the inspection, likely in about an hour.  Did I mention we had already been there for about 3 hours already? 

But wait!  Suddenly our helper is having a conversation with the customs guys and turns to us and says it's our lucky day (Really?  Didn’t we just get the red button???)!!!  It turns out that they didn't have anyone available to do the inspection, so the customs guy is saying we are free to leave and there will be no inspection.  GRACIAS SEÑIOR!!!  You have no idea how happy we were that they were not going to inspect our boat.  PHEW!

With help this entire process took just over 3 hours to complete – and that was with a “helper” smoothing the path and basically handling all of the paperwork at EVERY step.  They are there to answer any questions you have and are well worth the price we paid – so keep it in mind if you have to go through the process yourself – especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. 

From there on you will only need to radio in to the local Port Captain at each port you visit.  No more paperwork unless you need to update your crew list.  If you have friends or family visiting you’ll need to communicate the crew list changes to the local Port Captain and fill out the appropriate paperwork.  This is for your own safety – so that if they need to rescue you, they know who (and how many) people they are looking for. 

That’s all there is too it.  My best advice is be prepared and plan to spend the entire day – that way you will be pleasantly surprised if it only takes 3 hours!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Provisioning gone wild!
This months Raft-Up (which I am late in posting due to traveling down the Baja coast) is on provisioning - which is something I am VERY familiar with as we have just left the "safety zone" of the United States to start what we hope will be 5 (or more?) years traveling around the world.  While I can't necessarily speak about provisioning as a cruiser from a historical perspective (since we've only recently left), what I can talk about is how it feels to be leaving all of the foods we know and love and the comfort of shopping at familiar places....

Sooooooo, what are your favorite foods?  How easy are they to get?  Can you make them yourself?  Can you imagine having to think about how you would store those favorites if you were trying to buy a 2-3 year supply?  What if it has to be refrigerated? 

Yep....that's what I spent the last two weeks thinking about.  Those of you who know me know that I am a true foodie.  I love food, I love to cook, I even love to think about food!  And as a foodie, I love having access to all of the ingredients that I know and love - like GARLIC, spices and good quality olive oil!  I won't even get started on what an emergency it would be if we ran out of CHEESE!!!  And while I am certainly aware that people in all of the countries we plan to visit have been perfectly able to feed themselves for 100's  of years, I have no first hand knowledge of what will be available in each place we go, so I really had to think about what we absolutely couldn't live without.   Add to that the need to have quick and easy food on passages - which for us means breakfast bars, oatmeal, top ramen, sandwiches (mostly made in tortillas), and trail mix type stuff - and you have a whole other assortment of items that need to be purchased and stored.

Then you have to think about special occasions.  What do we like to eat at Christmas?  Will they be available where we are going (Swedish dishes - definitely not!)?  What do we like as a special treat on our birthday or another special occasion that we can take along?  More stuff to be stored!

Yes, yes, I know we will have access along the way to some of these items, but what I can't predict (especially in the South Pacific) is how much they will cost.  Since we are on a pretty tight budget, it made sense to me to try to purchase a lot of this where I knew (and was okay with) the price.  Plus there's that panicky feeling I get when I think about running out of my favorite foods!  

Put it all together and you end up with mountains of stuff stacked all over the place and the overwhelming feeling of wondering how you will ever find a place for all of this stuff you have bought!  Thankfully, it is amazing how many little places there are to pack stuff away in on a boat and it did all find a home in the end.  

I must admit to being a little embarrassed by how much stuff we have on board, especially since I know that half of the fun of travel is discovering new foods.  But I also know that when I'm pining for home in a foreign land, I'll be mighty glad I bought that extra cheese! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Checking Out San Diego

A dolphin off the bow.
We arrived in San Diego on the 16th after a great trip down from Dana Point.  I say great because we had an almost constant line of dolphins playing at our bow for hours on end.  The water was crystal clear so we could see them perfectly – I’ll try to post the short video I took along with a couple pictures.  They are so amazing to watch – graceful and FAST!  We have yet to get tired of watching them. 

After docking at the Point Loma Marina in America’s Cup Harbor and cleaning up the boat a bit, we were off to visit my folks at their place in La Quinta, about 40 minutes south of Palm Springs.  We spent 5 days there and had a great time – thank you very much for your hospitality Mom and Lloyd!  And we’re very sorry for what I’m sure will be a much higher water bill this month!  Did I mention how nice it is to have a shower where you don’t have to worry about how much water you are using and how soon you’ll run out of hot water???  J

Mom & Lloyd brought us back to San Diego and helped us BIG TIME with our final provisioning.  It’s a really weird feeling to be stocking up for an indefinite amount of time outside of the US.  While I know Mexico and the South Pacific will all have food and other goods that everyone needs to live, there is a tendency to feel a little panicky about saying goodbye to all of your favorite food items – especially if you are a total foodie like me!  I’ll write more on this later as provisioning is the topic for the November Raft-Up. 

Brett's looking pretty relaxed, eh?
After running around to a million last minute places while we still had a car, we said goodbye to the folks and then made our way over to the San Diego Yacht Club.  If you’ve been keeping up on the blog, you’ll know that we’ve been hitting a LOT of yacht clubs on the way down as it is a way to stay at the dock for FREE!  And we’ve stayed at some mighty impressive clubs on our way down, but I have to say that none of them can hold a candle to the San Diego Yacht Club.  WOW!!!  Can you say huge?  They have an absolutely beautiful club house, several outbuildings that house the junior sailing program, a full workout facility, laundry area, storage units for members, the dock master office, a big meeting room and more.  They also have an extensive library, a pool, hot tub, sauna and tennis courts.  The place is amazing and we were tied up right in front – pretty cool!  The SDYC is also in a great location near Shelter Island, which puts you within walking range of a bunch of great marine related businesses to take care of any last minute needs.  There are several excellent restaurants and pubs as well - one of which we checked out with our friends Mark and Kris who happened to be in town.  We especially loved Downwind Marine and Offshore Rigging (who did a rig survey that was required by our insurance).  The staff at both were exceptional and very eager to help.

We’ve been learning all sorts of things we didn’t know about Mexico through some seminars and other cruisers.  One very important bit is that you need Mexican Liability Insurance to stay at any marina in Mexico.  No insurance, no docking!  Unfortunately your normal liability insurance doesn’t count for some reason.  So after shopping around we ended up using Rocliffe Insurance – talk to Deanne if you need help – she was great! 

Frank and Caroline from S/V Daybreak
Ran into our new friends Caroline, Frank and Léa a couple of times, so had them over for dinner and WAY too much wine, but good stories for sure!  It looks like we’ll be leaving for Mexico at the same time, so it will be nice to have a buddy boat on the way down to Ensenada where we’ll be checking in.

The next day we moved on to the Chula Vista Yacht Club, which is waaaaaaay in the south end of the San Diego harbor.  If only you could leave for Mexico from there you would be so much closer – you can actually see Tiajuana from the yacht club!  Unfortunately, there is no opening to the south, so you have to go all the way back to the start by Shelter Island to leave – about a 2 hour trip!  The Chula Vista YC was another fun place to stay.  While not as fancy, we met a LOT of friendly members and we enjoyed our stay there very much. 

The sunset behind the Hotel del Coronado
As I write this we are at yet another club – the Coronado Yacht Club, which is located right across the street from the super fancy Hotel del Coronado.  We walked through the hotel yesterday and what an amazing place!  We didn’t think that we’d be able to afford drinks within our meager budget, so just took in the sights and enjoyed learning a little about the history of the hotel, which has been around since the late 1800’s.  Pretty amazing for a big hotel like that to stay in business through the depression and two world wars!

Tomorrow we will be off to stay at the Southwestern Yacht Club, back at Shelter Island – the perfect place to leave for Mexico, which (weather depending) we hope to do this Sunday, November 4th.  It’s kind of a strange feeling to know that we’ll be leaving the US for such a long time.  Every other time I have left, it’s been for a couple weeks at the most – never a completely open ended amount of time.  We don’t even know when we’ll be back to visit – it could be many, many months (years?).  I must admit to moments of trepidation and unease at the thought of leaving the comfort of home where everything is known and easy.  I’m also feeling very sorry that I haven’t devoted more time to learning Spanish!  But they say immersion is the best way to learn, so immersion it is! 

We have truly enjoyed our stay in San Diego and found it to be full of folks that are interesting to talk to and very interested in helping us in any way they could.  We continue to be amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone has been along the way.  Here’s to hoping that Mexico and beyond will be more of the same!  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Traveling the Southern California Coast by Boat

Sunrise in Coho.
Way back on the 29th of September (which feels like about 2 months ago instead of just two weeks ago!) we pulled out under the Golden Gate and said goodbye to San Francisco.  One thing we hadn’t really thought about was how long getting down to San Diego would take as we were so focused on just leaving and getting down to San Francisco.  Well San Diego is another 450 miles away and when you only go about 6 miles per hour, it takes a LONG TIME to go that far!  We’re hoping to be (and it’s looking like we will be) in San Diego by October 17th.

So in our travels thus far, one thing I can definitely tell you is that the days of wonderful, quiet anchorages where the boat barely moves all night are GONE, GONE, GONE!  Welcome to the new world of serious bobbing and rolling around at anchor!  I cannot believe (having never been in it) how much the boat rolls from side to side and forward and back in the frequent combination of ocean swell, wind and tide.  Think about a cork in a big bowl of water being shook by a 3 year old and you’ll have the picture.  But I’m pretty happy to report that it’s amazing what you can get used to.   While it was disconcerting at first, we quickly became used to it and thankfully most places get a little better at night – so at least you don’t feel like you are going to fall out of bed! 

While we’ve stayed at many spots as we’ve been making our way south to San Diego, one of our favorite spots was Santa Cruz.  We anchored right off the beach to the south of the big pier – so we had a great view of the big amusement park on the beach.  We ended up staying two nights so that we could walk into town and re-provision (have I mentioned what a good workout it is to schlep all your groceries 2 miles back to the boat?). 

One of MANY!
One of the craziest things about Santa Cruz is how many sea lions there are here.  I have never seen so many of these HUGE creatures in one place and man do they make a LOT of noise!  From where our boat was anchored we could easily see about 50 of them at any given time and the sound of their barking at each other is incredibly loud – and pretty much never ceased.  They definitely own all of the space around the pier – so landing or getting back to your dinghy can get a little interesting. 

Which brings me to…….THE GREAT SEA LION FACEOFF!  Yes, my handsome husband had to go to battle with one of those huge sea lions so that we could reach our dinghy and take our provisions back to our boat.  This guy must have weighed over 800 pounds and he was positioned directly below the ladder that you have to climb down to access the dinghy dock.  So we walked down to the spot right above the ladder and there are like 10 other people there looking at all the sea lions and taking pictures (because there were actually about 5 of them on the landing area – but only one between us and our dinghy) and we’re like uh oh…..he’s totally blocking us……this could get interesting!  So Brett tries talking the beast off the dock, which definitely doesn’t work and only seemed to be upsetting the big guy as now he’s starting to show us his rather large teeth.  Then Brett starts waving his arms and showing the beast HIS teeth.  This approach definitely is NOT effective and now the sea lion is really getting pissed (and did I mention how many folks are watching this whole exchange?).  So there is more barking/yelling and waving and nothing is getting any better until Brett realizes he must make bigger noise and appear more threatening or we will never get back to our boat.  So he pulls off his flip flop and starts banging it on the metal ladder above the sea lions head.  More teeth, but clearly the big guy is feeling a little threatened.  So Brett shows his teeth and bangs even louder until finally the beast dumps off into the water and the path is clear.  Have I mentioned how much I love my man?  My hero!  I’m pretty sure various versions of that story will be told by the tourists that watched for years to come… 

After Santa Cruz we had an absolutely fantastic sail over to Monterey – which is just across the bay about 4 hours away.  We stayed there for several days and I think we must have put on at least 15 miles walking all over the town.  What a great little place and it’s amazing how much they have put into the parks and historic information so that you could learn as you walked.  There is also a very large aquarium here, but at $70 for the two of us, we decided we’d be better off seeing the marine life in person through snorkeling down the road.

Note Hearst Castle on the hill.
Originally we had hoped to sail from Monterey directly to the Channel Islands, but after about 24 hours (which was a fairly rough go overnight with some higher winds than we like) we changed our mind and decided to just do day trips down the coast – so into San Simeon we pulled at dawn.  This is a beautiful spot and is also the location of the Hearst Castle – which looks pretty amazing perched high up on the hill above the bay.

Daybreak Ocean sailing out of Coho anchorage.
 After San Simeon we made our way to the bay at San Luis Obisbo and to our delight discovered our new friends on Daybreak Ocean.  Frank, Caroline, their daughter Lea and their Portuguese Water dog are great and we’ve enjoyed spending time with some fellow cruisers.  Since we were only staying overnight, we had them aboard for drinks and then made plans to “buddy boat” around Point Conception (often called the Cape Horn of southern California due to the high winds that often occur there) and then have dinner together.    We had a great sail the next day (it’s always a race when two sailboats are involved!) and as we pulled into the Coho anchorage we discovered the winds were not going to die down much at all as they were about 20-25 knots even when we were tucked in close to the beach.  But thankfully our trusty Rocna anchor was set in no time and we were good to go.  We had a great dinner on Daybreak and thoroughly enjoyed their company. 

I can touch him?  Seriously???
Next stop after Coho was Santa Barbara – which is actually where we bought Bella Vita (though she was Carpe Diem at the time).  How bizarre to pull into a place that we actually recognized!  I found myself wondering if Bella Vita could tell she was back at her old home?   After one night there it was on to Ventura, where we got to stay at the lovely Ventura Yacht Club.  We have been trying to make the most of our membership with the Seattle Yacht Club by enjoying the privileges of reciprocal clubs as often as we can as our dock access will be extremely limited (too expensive) after we leave California.  We are able to stay at the yacht clubs for FREE, so it’s a great way to travel and it’s fun to see and compare all of the clubs with SYC at home.  Plus there are showers (REAL showers where you don’t have to worry about how much water you use and the hot water is seemingly endless!), we can get rid of trash and we meet LOTS of friendly boaters as most of the guest docks are right in front of the club, so everyone stops by to chat on the way to their boat. 

So cute!
We have seen an amazing amount of wildlife, including a few whales, beautiful brown pelicans (one was so used to people I even touched him!), more dolphins than I can count and some really cute sea otters.  The sea otters are so fun to watch as they could do something completely boring and still be adorable doing it.  As long as they are in the water and not on your boat that is!  The fellow in this picture had a friend that followed him everywhere he went – I think hoping to get some of the castoffs as he was working on smashing up a crab he had caught.

Speaking of which – we had the weirdest thing happen when we arrived at Marina Del Ray.  That evening we are sitting below and we start to notice this really weird noise – kind of like a snap, crackle, pop sound.  What the heck?  So we start investigating, but we can’t figure it out.  Come to find out it’s crabs!  Apparently small shrimp like to dine on the algae that grows on the boats and then the crabs come along and eat them.  The clicking we were hearing was their claws on the hull as they grab the little shrimps. I can hear them right now as I'm typing - bizarre, huh?  

As I write this we are staying at the Del Ray Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey and I can honestly say it is the nicest club we’ve stayed at yet!  Beautiful wood interior (with LOTS of trophies), super nice people and they even have a pool!  This is our last night here and we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay and have met a LOT of friendly club members and had lots of good conversations.  It’s amazing how interested people are in what we are doing.  We also hear many stories – like spending a few hours with Bruce Kessler, who bought us lunch and told us about his adventures in being one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe in a powerboat.  Bruce was also a Formula One race car driver and a director of TV and films – some of which you might recognize, including The MonkeesMission: Impossible, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Rockford Files and The A-Team.  And he bought US lunch!  What an interesting guy who has led an amazing life – and he couldn’t have been nicer.  Thanks Bruce!

Tomorrow we’ll be at Dana Point and then it’s off to San Diego for final prep before the jump into our first official new country!  Better start boning up on my Spanish, eh? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sailing Through the Fear

So this month’s Raft Up topic (which I'm totally behind on posting - sorry!) is fear – which I think is a pretty interesting topic right now as I’ve experienced more of it lately than I think I was expecting….

So of course my biggest fear is exactly what you would expect – fear of big seas.  I have been amazed at how different it is to sail in Puget Sound versus sailing out on the ocean.  Over the years in Seattle we had been out in 25-35 knots more times than I can count.  Often enough that we even got a bit cavalier about it – at least until we got caught in 45-50 knots off of Rosario Straights – that made us a little less cocky for sure!  But now that I’ve spent the last month doing a LOT of sailing – all out on the ocean, my perspective has changed dramatically.  Now 25-30 knots is a BIG DEAL.  And 30-35 knots is just out of the question if I can help it.  If you’ve been reading our blog, you know we experienced about 30 hours of 30-40 knots with some pretty big waves coming down the coast and I have definitely become very friendly with fear in that situation.  More recently we did an overnight and while it only got into the 25-30 knot range, it’s amazing how scary that can be in the dark.  It also takes a lot out of you physically as you are tenser; worrying about the effect the winds will have on your home – what damage may occur that will have to be fixed.  There is a whole new set of noises that come into play when you are in that kind of wind – and they are not good noises!  And so we get better and better at reading the weather and try to be as prepared as possible whenever we leave the anchorage for our next destination.

Another fear we both feel, but Brett more so than me, is the fear of leaving our careers behind and being able to still make a living when we are done with this adventure.  Brett left at the height of his career, where he had developed a completely new way to help doctors track tumor growth in cancer patients.  He doesn’t talk much about it, but it was a pretty big deal and he helped multitudes of patients.  Not only is it very hard to walk away from something like that, but the medical field changes so fast that the chance of him being able to go back years later is fairly slim.  That’s a scary thing to face when you’ve just arrived at your 50’s and are wondering how you will support yourself if you live to be 90!  And so we wonder how we will support ourselves as we get older – telling most people that after taking this trip we’ll just have to “work until we die!” – which we say in jest, but may very well be true!

My last big fear is a little harder to define, but it basically comes down to being forgotten by the people you’ve left behind.  When you are getting ready to leave, it’s a very intense time and we made a point to spend as much time as possible with the people we care about as we didn’t know when we would see many of them again.  We have made so many dear, dear friends over the years and I already miss some of them terribly.  I know that as we travel farther away, they will continue on with their lives and we will be a smaller and smaller part of their life.  We’ll miss the many things that happen to them, just as they will not be here for the things that happen to us.  We’ll also miss seeing our nieces and nephews grow up and it’s tough to accept that the relationships we have with them will not be as strong over time.  I love my family and we are all very close, so it’s tough to say goodbye and to not be an close part of their lives anymore.  I don’t want to lose them – which I know is crazy to think – because family is always there, right?  That’s what makes them family – but that’s a fear nonetheless.

But this is the path that we have picked – so I can only hope that the bonds we have forged with our friends and family will be stronger than distance.  That when we come back to visit or when we return at the end of the trip, that we’ll be able to pick back up where we left off.  Perhaps those relationships will not be exactly the same, but maybe they will be even stronger from having survived the distance.  

For other posts on this topic - check out the other blogs in the Raft Up: