Friday, January 25, 2013

Long-term Visitors

After the holidays, the majority of the family left – but my Mom and step-dad Lloyd stayed – keeping the large power-catamaran they had chartered while everyone was here.  The plan was to spend the next 3 weeks heading north, exploring the Sea of Cortez and hopefully making it up to the Loreto area. Unfortunately the weather decided not to cooperate, so we never made it farther north than Isla San Francisco.  

Nachos during the game...
Immediately after the family left the winds picked up into the 15-20 knot range for the next 7 days.  Since 20 knot winds can create some pretty big waves in this area, we decided it might be better to wait for better conditions before leaving La Paz.   After a couple of days at the marina we all decided to move out to the anchorage in downtown La Paz to have easier access to the city.  While there, we explored the town together, eating many a great meal and we even got to see the Seahawks in their playoff game while eating one of the biggest (and tastiest) plates of nachos I’ve ever seen.

New Years Eve
Good Luck Achieved by Lloyd!
While waiting for better weather we also rang in the New Year with a great dinner at one of the restaurants in the Costa Baha marina.  There was a great band, a great 5 course dinner and some nice wine too!  After dinner we joined some friends we had met (Glenda and Laird on Winterlude) and celebrated like the world was going to end!  We even participated in the local custom of seeing how many grapes you can stuff into your mouth.  Tradition says that if you can fit 12, you will have great luck the coming year.  Sadly, I couldn’t fit more than 5 grapes and Mom could only manage 7.  Lloyd, however, won the day when he fully accomplished all 12 grapes!  Impressive!  Did I mention how HUGE they were????  J

Finally the wind decided to cooperate, so off we went to Caleta Partida.  Actually – we were supposed to go up to Ensenada Grande, but by 4pm the wind has picked up and the swells were coming into the anchorage, so we met up with Costa Baha I (aka Good Fortune – who had arrived much earlier as they travel much faster!) and moved back down to Caleta Partida which is much more protected.  Boy are we glad we did as the only other boat left in Ensenada Grande showed up at about 9:30pm – which meant they were willing to pull anchor, sail 45 minutes south in huge waves and re-anchor in the dark – instead of sticking it out at Ensenada Grande.  Yikes!

At Anchor in Caleta Partida
We had two mildly uncomfortable nights at Caleta Partida before the weather settled enough to return to Ensenada Grande.  During that time I had a great time playing with my new inflatable paddle board (thanks to a Christmas miracle – also known as the Wiebe’s!).  I had tried the one they had rented over Christmas and loved it.  This one was a little harder to balance on, but with a little practice I got the hang of it and really enjoyed the workout and the view as I paddled my way around the anchorage.

The Sea Lions at Los Islotes
After moving we a nice night in Ensenada Grande, but while the winds were low we decided to depart early and make our way up to Los Islotes to try to swim with the sea lions.  Along with the sea lions, the snorkeling there is absolutely amazing.  There are huge schools of fish along with cormorants and pelican’s that will dive into the water right next to where you are snorkeling – so you actually get to watch them chasing after the fish underwater – pretty neat!  After taking turns snorkeling there, we got back on board and headed up to Isla San Francisco – about 2-3 hours north (traveling at 6 knots).  The photos of the area looked amazing – but unfortunately the reality was not nearly as interesting compared to some of the other beautiful anchorages we have been in this area.  

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp!
Too bad since it was so far to get there – especially since we had to return the next day as the weather was predicted to get bad a few days out and we didn’t want to get stuck there.  But we did enjoy a quiet night at anchor, along with a great meal – trying to recreate cheesy bacon wrapped shrimp on the BBQ along with stuffed peppers.  Imagine lots of gooey cheese melting all over the BBQ (and a few overboard to boot) and you’ll get the idea.  Even though it was a bit of a fiasco, we still managed to get some that were perfectly cooked and delicious!  Great job on the BBQ Lloyd – that was quite a challenge! 

After one night at Isla San Francisco it was back to Ensenada Grande where we had a nice couple of days – including doing a great hike over to the east side of the island where there were some incredible views!  The weather was nice, but a little on the cool side – and unfortunately too cold for snorkeling or swimming, so we read a lot and played some great games of dominoes and cards to pass the time.

An Impromptu Gathering
At this point the weather was predicted to get VERY bad, so both boats went back down to Caleta Partida as it is by far the most protected anchorage at the islands.  Some other boats had obviously heard the same weather report, so there ended up being about 5-6 boats at anchor when the winds began to hit.  Prior to that we had invited all the boats over to Good Fortune for happy hour, so it was nice to get to know some of the other people that would be enduring the wind storm with us.  We especially liked Dan & Kimberly on Dazzler and Alex and Naomi on LunaSea (who also have a cat Luke on board). 

Shortly after our happy hour the already lively winds picked up even more and overnight were in the 20 knot range.  Early the next morning, one of the other boats in the anchorage (which bizarrely happened to be the other boat our family had chartered, but with a new group on board) started to drag.  Thankfully Dan (from Dazzler) jumped in his boat and went to wake them up before they hit the rocks.  We had tried hailing them and sounded horns – all to no avail.  Later they ended up leaving as they needed to return the boat the next morning.  No way I would have left as it was blowing close to 30 knots by then in the anchorage and the waves outside looked huge.  Totally nuts if you ask me!

The Calm Before the Storm
Over the next 24 hours the wind continued unabated with gusts up to 40 knots and sustained winds in the mid-30’s.  After two more boats dragged anchor – we decided Bella Vita would run an all-night anchor watch – with one of us checking outside every 20 minutes or so.  One of the boats that dragged was a new sail-cat that had come in and anchored around 6pm.  They were obviously fast asleep when it happened as they also didn’t respond to horns and bright lights shone at them.  As they neared the rocks it was once again Dan to the rescue as he had the only dinghy already in the water.  Thanks to Dan, they also didn’t hit the rocks – but it was pretty close.  They soon anchored right in front of Good Fortune and unfortunately ended up dragging AGAIN around 1am in the morning and hitting Good Fortune – but thankfully lightly and no damage was done.  For some bizarre reason, they then took off and left the anchorage – only to return about 3 hours later to anchor again.  It was a very eventful night!  But thankfully everyone else held for the rest of the storm and after three days the winds finally blew itself out.  That is definitely not what I was hoping for during my parent’s time here – I wouldn’t wish that for anybody!

Finally the winds calmed down enough for us to return to La Paz.  The power cat was due back on Saturday morning and so we thought we’d make the crossing while the crossing was good, not knowing if it would get too windy again.  While Mom and Lloyd are seasoned boaters, I think there were just done with the Sea of Cortez and ready to go home!

So back to La Paz to the Costa Baha Marina, which is where the Moorings charter company is based and we had the treat of having three whole nights at a dock!  Since they had rented a car we decided we MUST go back to a wonderful steak house called Estancia Uruguaya and some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten!  We also returned to one of our personal favorites – a place where the locals eat that have an incredible shrimp dish.  

While the weather was not what we would have hoped for, I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed having three full weeks of time together with these two wonderful people.  When you are far away from home, it’s delightful (no matter what the weather) to have a little piece of home come to you.  Since these are two of my top 10 favorite people in the world, it was great to be able to spend so much time together – especially since I’m not quite sure when we will be able to see them again.  Once again – goodbyes were very hard to say – which is why we just have to say, until we meet again.  But know we miss you already.

We'll miss you guys!!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Family for Christmas!

The Entire Clan!
About a year ago, a little after we announced that we would be wintering over in the Sea of Cortez, my folks announced a big surprise for the Seattle family members.  They had decided to charter a couple boats and would bring the entire family (9 adults and 9 kids!) down to spend the week of Christmas cruising with us out of La Paz!  There would be a big power catamaran (which would sleep 12), one other rented sailboat and Bella Vita.  Between the 3 boats, we would be able to fit the whole family for a week of fun together over the holidays.

The Charter Boats
One of the best things about this plan was that I didn’t have to say a long-term goodbye to my Seattle family, knowing I would see them just a few months after our departure.  The group included; my Mom (Judy) and step-dad Lloyd; my brother Greg, his wife Suzanne and their 3 kids (Gabrielle, Delaney and Gwyn); my step-brother Dan, his wife Robyn and their 5 kids (Isaak, Austin, Kyndal, Andrew and Lexi); my step-sister Alisa, her husband Scott and their son Lucas; and last but not least, my sudo-sister Cheryl.  

The Captains at the Moorings Briefing
The first to arrive were my folks, just a couple of days ahead so that they could do the final provisioning prior to the arrival of everyone else.  With my Mom’s list in hand, I had checked out the area markets to make sure we’d be able to source all of the food that she had in mind to feed everyone over the week they would spend here.  I’m not sure it anyone can really understand the HUGE amount of ingenuity it takes to plan meals for an entire week for 20 people – but if anyone can do it, it’s my Mom.  She is amazing when it comes to this sort of thing. 

The Hoardes on the Move
After their arrival (in a car loaded to the roof after a Costco run in Cabo), we sourced the rest of the food and beverages and got most of it sorted out just before the rest of the crew arrived, 24 hours later.  The bus arrived with the remaining 16 at about 7:30pm – eager to get off the bus and head out on our boats!  We had a nice dinner at a local restaurant, and then it was off to each boat to get things sorted out so we could leave as soon after the morning briefing from the Moorings charter company.

Mid-day on the 23rd, all 20 of us headed out to spend the night in a nearby anchorage called Puerto Ballandra.  If you’ve been reading our blog, you’ll know we spent two wonderful nights there before reaching La Paz.  The sun was out and the winds were fairly light, so after getting all three boats safely anchored a large contingent departed for the beach while others took out the kayaks and paddle boards my folks had smartly brought along.   

To The Beach!!!
Unfortunately, even though the winds were light that night there was a southwest swell that had all of our boats, but especially the sailboats, acting like bobbing corks in a bathtub.  It was NOT a good night and I felt terrible that this would be everyone’s experience on our first evening out.  A couple of the kids, and several adults ended up jumping ship to sleep on the power cat as it was much calmer. 

Thankfully, dawn finally came and we were able to depart for smoother waters in the more protected bays on Isla Espíritu Santo.  We happily stopped for lunch in Bahia San Gabriel – a huge bay with a gorgeous white sandy beach.  Everyone quickly forgot the terrible night as they swam and snorkeled and played in the water.  What a relief!  Since we were not sure how protected this spot would be, we left around 2pm and traveled up to Caleta Partida – a nice protected anchorage where we would spend the next two days.  On Christmas Eve the kids did some Christmas caroling in the dinghy and we had a great meal of shrimp tacos – perfect for a Mexican Christmas!
Christmas Eve Dinner
Wanting a better beach with a lower population of Boxfish (not a good fish to step on!), we moved on to Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida.  This is the wonderful spot near Los Islotes, where you can swim with the sea lions – a must do when you are cruising in this area.  We anchored all three boats in the center finger of Ensenada Grande – which has a pristine white beach that is perfect for the entire family to enjoy.  We ended up staying at this anchorage for the remainder of the trip as it was an excellent spot for kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming, snorkeling and beach lounging.   

The Kids - Movie Night!
I’m sad to report that we completely missed out on the sea lions as every time we tried to go, the waves were too big and the snorkeling would have been tough.  On one attempt the power cat rounded the point and was immediately bashing into very short 6 foot seas.  We quickly turned back before all of the kayaks and paddle boards when sailing overboard in the wind.  Yikes!  What a shame as Brett and I had gone there just a few weeks prior and had a GREAT experience that we had really hoped the rest of the family could enjoy.  But as we’ve learned over our time in this area – the weather rarely cooperates with what you want to do!

Three Generations of Wiebes - Lloyd, Dan & Kyndal
The amount of “Northers” blowing through was surprising and seemed to never end, but thankfully we were very protected in our anchorage.  The only issue was one night when a “Coromuel” came out of nowhere (which is what they do).  These are basically a strong south wind that comes up in the evening and blows throughout the night.  They are not fun as all of the local anchorages are completely exposed to wind from the south – so basically you just have to hope your anchor is set very well and ride it out as there is nowhere else to go.  Thankfully they only last for about 12 to 18 hours and this one was mild.  Soon the sun was back out and everyone was playing again.

"Children of Dan" Snorkeling Expedition
While it was slightly overwhelming at times to be with so many people after spending so much time alone the past few months, I wouldn’t have given up even a minute of the time spent with these people I love so dearly.  Some of my favorite moments included paddle boarding with each of my nieces, making dinner with my sister-in-law Robyn on Fajita night, drinks in the cockpit with various visitors, multiple games of “will the wind take it”, watching my brother-in-law Scott try to paddle board (even after falling in more times than I can count – you are a trooper Scott!), watching the sun come up with my niece Gwyn after our first rough night at anchor, watersports with my niece Kyndal (who loves to get you to fall in the water!), trying to kayak with FOUR people in one kayak (didn’t get very far but had some fun trying!), watching beautiful sunsets with my family and drinking some of the best fresh margaritas I’ve ever had – made by my sister-in-law Suzanne – you are an artist girl!  We also loved having Cheryl, Gwyn (at least for a while) and Kyndal (a natural born sailor!) on board – go team Bella Vita!!!

Suzanne - the Master Margarita Maker
Our family is incredibly blessed to have such a wide variety of people with different beliefs, but who are still able to come together in a very small space and not only get along – but really have FUN together.  We work well together, make each other laugh and can even talk about real stuff that matters – without getting upset or creating the bad feelings and fights that seem to plague many of the blended families I know.  I love the fact that even though we may have completely different beliefs, they are willing to listen and debate in an open matter and not judge me for my own views when they are different from theirs.

I remember years ago when I was a teenager a friend asked me if I wished that my parents had stayed together.  Even then I knew how special the people my parents had married were – and how lucky I was to have them, along with the extra family they brought into my life.  Brothers, sisters and in-laws I never would have met otherwise – who have all become cherished friends that I already deeply miss.  But that is a part of this new cruising life and so we move onward, enjoying the time that we CAN spend together and cherishing the fact that we are so lucky to have such great people in our lives.  You guys are THE BEST and I’m so glad we got to spend this time together! 
Saying Goodbye is Tough - We'll Miss You!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pink Jobs or Blue Jobs?

The call rings out over the engine noise from below…..”give her more RPM’s!!!”.   I ramp up the engine to 2000 RPMs and stand by.  After a few moments the next shout comes…”shift her back to into neutral!!!”    While waiting for the next directive I check the charts to make sure we’ve still got plenty of depth below us and no obstructions around us while Brett tries to identify the mystery of the incredibly loud squealing noise coming from then engine room.  He continues to shout instructions over the noise while I make sure we keep the boat in safe waters until the problem is solved.   When you are taking a “trip of a lifetime” like the one we are on, we both have to put on a lot of different hats depending on what needs to be done at any given moment.  Those “hats” are this month’s Raft Up topic – as in what exactly are the “blue” and “pink” jobs on our boat? 

In general, the way things are split up on Bella Vita depends on the category – be it a domestic chore, running the boat, regular maintenance or a specific project that we’ve decided needs to be done.  Both of us definitely have our strengths and weaknesses, so instead of defining tasks as male or female, we try to base the jobs on what we are interested in or where our skills lie.  That said I will have to admit that the majority of my jobs land on the “pink” side (cooking, provisioning and communication), while much of what Brett takes care of is clearly on the “blue” side (regular maintenance and general care of the boat).  From what I’ve heard, this seems to be pretty typical with most cruising couples, though many feel weird admitting it.

What I particularly like about our arrangement is that it makes the most of our strengths.  While some women might find it embarrassing that they take the majority of the “pink” jobs – as if that is an insult to all the women before us that fought for equal rights – I say, why ignore what you are interested in?  It just so happens that I LOVE to cook.  And part of what excites me about taking a trip like this is that I will be forced outside of my cooking “comfort zone” as the ingredients I’m used to using become impossible to find.  While it can definitely be a little intimidating at first, exploring the many grocery stores and markets for items that might be fun to try is a big part of why I like to travel.  As we eat at restaurants, it gives me new ideas to try on the boat.  Figuring out new combinations and sourcing the flavors pushes my cooking knowledge to new limits – which is exciting and makes me feel good – plus we get to eat good food!

Brett, on the other hand, is always considering what needs to be added to the seemingly endless list of repairs or improvements for the boat.  Does he enjoy every minute of those repairs?  Based on the quality or quantity of swearing that goes on during some of them, I can definitively say, absolutely not!  But when the leaky valve is fixed, or a great boat mystery resolved – he will sometimes beam from ear to ear.  Each project successfully completed is a testament to his ability to think through a problem and affect the repair – which makes HIM feel great.

When it comes to the BIG projects, we definitely both take part – with whoever has the most knowledge taking the lead.  For most boat projects, 9 times out of 10 that’s going to be Brett – but I am usually there helping him along the way and learning more about our boat every day.  Can I fix all the things that Brett can?  Nope.  But do we often noodle through mystery issues together?  You bet!  Two brains are always better than one – and the more we BOTH know about our boat, the better chance we’ll have at fixing something when it breaks FAR away from anyone that we could hire at home.

So do we divvy up the “pink” and “blue” jobs in an old fashioned way?  For the most part we absolutely do – but I’m okay with that because I know that if I WANTED to learn how to change the oil on the engine and take it on from that point forward, Brett would be extremely happy to teach me and give that job up.  But to be honest, I don’t WANT to know how to change the oil!  I’m perfectly comfortable with doing my “pink” jobs.  And when it comes down to it, why make ourselves miserable by trying to force an interest in things that doesn’t exist?  Isn’t this boat small enough already?  ;)

Maybe it’s because we both have absolute respect for the knowledge that our partner has – and their ability to do their jobs successfully is what keeps us moving forward.  Being comfortable in our pink and blue roles is what makes us a good team and it’s also the glue that holds us together when we experience the bad days that sometimes crop up.