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January 29, 2007

New Photo Album, Mazatlan to La Cruz

Here's all the photos of Mazatlan, Isla Isabella, San Blas and Chacala:

Mazatlan 2 La Cruz

January 28, 2007


So when last you saw your two heroes we had played a whole bunch of music in San Blas and were ready to take off for parts unknown. Well we didn't quite make it out from San Blas that day. Rain came in and there's really no reason to go sailing in the rain, so we hung out for another day. I was really shocked, I hadn't had any honest to goodness rain the entire time I'd been down. It was kind of nice, Tate went out birding and I just sat around the boat and read all day. The next day, the weather cleared up and we decided to take off for Chacala. Of course when we went to pull up the anchor, we found that we had once again hooked an old abandoned anchor. What are the odds? This one was a very corroded 45lbs Navy style anchor, so we just unwrapped it from our chain and committed it back to the briny deep.

Chacala is a little beach resort hamlet 20 miles south of San Blas. The wind wasn't up, so we motored the 20 miles trying our hand at fishing along the shore. Well we didn't get a bite the entire day. At one time a group of 4 Bonitos came and swam right along side the boat. It was great, they were pacing us, hanging out about four feet off the port side just below the surface. I decided to reel in my rod, and then went forward and dropped the lure back in the water and let it back until it was right in front of one of the Bonito. He just swam on like it wasn't even there. I guess I should try a different lure.


We got to Chacala in mid afternoon. The bay is completely exposed to the west, but we were able to tuck right behind the northern point inside the rest of the anchored boats by putting out a stern anchor to limit our swing. This gave us great shelter from the northwesterly swell that was rocking most of the bay. I had only planned to spend the night in Chacala, but as usual 5 days later we were finally picking up the anchors. The first couple of days were slow, but then Tate and I decided to take our instruments ashore. Well, like usual it took about 15 minutes of us playing before someone came over to check us out. This time that someone was Erwin and his brother German (pronounced hairmon). Erwin is the lead singer in a 17 piece Banda band and he invited us to the festival they were playing that night. The sand flies were killing us on the beach, so the four of us got some fresh beers and went out to the boat for a few hours. Tate and I hemmed and hawed about taking off with these guys for the festival. We'd just met these guys and the festival was 20 kilometers away in Campome. In the end we decided that it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Tate and Erwin on Bodhran:

The next thing I know I sitting in the back of a pickup with Erwin, the band equipment and the case of CDs which I was sitting on as we were bouncing down a dirt road into the pitch black night. Erwin and I were chatting remarkably well considering our mutual language skills, the bugs in our teeth, and the fact that we were both only marginally inside the bed of the truck and hanging on for dear life. I'm not sure if things were better or worse when we hit the paved road, yes it was easier to hang on without the potholes, but now we were doing 60 down a little back road in the dark of the night. Eventually we did make it to Campome, but there was a religious procession going down the main road, so we had to work our way around the edge of town until we found the Zocalo where they started setting up for the nights entertainment. I'm still not sure what the festival was, but it was definitely very Catholic with the long meandering candlelight procession headed by a float with a live person playing Jesus preaching on the front and another one playing Jesus being crucified on the back all being pulled by a very nice new looking tractor. It turns out that the town couldn't afford the full 17 piece band, so Erwin and the other singer were there along with a substitute band from Tepic. If you haven't seen a Banda band before, it's quite a spectacle with the two singers, 3 clarinets, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, a drummer or 2 and a tuba all playing ¾ time oompa style music. They were great. The other highlight of the festival was the fireworks. I just love this country's lack of concern for human safety. The fireworks got started off with this guy running through the crown with a paper mache bull on a metal frame on his shoulders. Attached to the metal frame are a bunch of lit fireworks, mainly they're just shooting sparks and making lots of smoke, but occasionally one of these buzz bomb/ground bloom flower type things would go shooting off into the crowd causing people to scatter to keep from getting burned. The big firework finale was a big wooden devil frame covered with pinwheel fireworks, whistling peetes, and the obligatory burn everyone in sight little buzz bombs that would jump out into the crowd, two of which caused my life to flash before my eyes. There were five different sets of fireworks on the devil to prolong the finale, the final set caused the devil's head to split open and start spinning with a shower of sparks ending with a big honkin buzz bomb taking off straight up into the night sky. I've definitely got to build one of these things for the 4th of July next year. It was just too cool!

Watch out for the Toro:

El Diablo ready to go off in a blaze of glory:

The Band (Erwin is in the middle and German is above):

German was cool enough to give us a ride back to Chacala about one in the morning. I'm sure that the party went on quite a bit longer, but we were getting tired. Erwin and German were supposed to come out the next day at 1:00 to go fishing with us, but they never showed up. Instead we ended up hanging out with Cap'n Ron, Tate (another Tate), and Antonetta off Voyager. They had bought a bunch of shrimp and mystery fish off a shrimp boat that had anchored in the bay and they treated us to a 5 or 6 course meal.

This morning we left Chacala and motored off for Banderas Bay. Once again there was no wind, so we motored all 40 miles. Along the way I was treated to one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. A Humpback breached, entire body completely out of the water, not 200 feet right in front of the boat comping down with a huge splash that set the boat a'rockin. It was so close that I could actually smell it, not a pleasant smell by the way. Of course I didn't have a camera ready, but I did finally get a couple of whale fluke pictures today. We've been seeing all kinds of Humpbacks the last few weeks, but normally they're not that close to the boat and we haven't been going out of our way to get close to them, but today they seemed to be coming to us.

Finally had my camera around when some Humpacks dropped by:

So now we're in La Cruz, which is about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. It's kind of crowded here, but we'll check out the scene and see how we like it. We may be here a couple of days or we may be here a couple of weeks.

Tate's Thoughts

I rowed to shore alone, Jason staying back with Bodhran for a little peace and quiet.... Chacala, where we found ourselves, is a bit of a fishing town but also kind of a touristy place. Not touristy in the sense of Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, this place is small and out of the way. Ten or so beach palapas filled the shoreline, all with hundreds of chairs but attended by only about 15 patrons. I wandered my way out of town listening to the hum that is the borderline between a Mexican pueblito and the encroaching countryside. There was a little spur road which ducked into the shade and I followed it as it quickly narrowed to no more than a footpath. Yellow-winged Caciques were flying through the trees overhead and I came up to a little stream, not clean but not filthy either, and aside the stream sat an old woman named Rosa. She was working her way through a bucket of laundry in this trickle of a creek and she looked up at me quizzically. She must have thought me lost but I was not lost, just wandering and that was what I told her. Ahh, the birds, she said, commenting on something I had said to her. She professed her love for the songs of the birds. 'Las cantas, son bonitas!' she said with real inflection. A small flock of Painted Buntings were converging in a tree nearby. I spoke to this woman for quite some time. It seemed that she was from the land itself, perhaps she'd washed her clothes in that stream when it flowed clean with unfertilized water, when you could drink from it and were healthier because of it. She was somewhere between 80 years old and timeless and wore long sliver braids. She dressed like a schoolgirl. When I asked her if I could continue on the trail up toward the hillside she said I could provided I did not take the fruit that grew on the trees.. No, I told her, I just wanted to enjoy the songs of the birds. 'Ahh, you are like me', she said.

Five hours later I was back in town and looking for an Internet connection. I asked another girl with long braids, this one actually a schoolgirl, and she told me to go on up to the primary school and I could use the computers there. Upon entering the school I met Teresa, the volunteer teacher for the 1st-3rd graders. Teresa is an American with Cuban heritage and speaks both Spanish and English without a hint of accent. We talked awhile and she invited Jason and I to give a presentation to her students about out travels. 'Could we include music in our presentation?', I asked. She said that that would be great and it was decided upon .

Jason and I reported to school the next day, thirty minutes after the students were to be there but only 3 children were in class. Teresa said that the kids seem to show up late on Fridays. Another thirty minutes and the classroom was full. There was even a lady from the Department of Education, a truly a nice lady and I wish I could remember her name so I could write it here. We came in with our instruments on and there was a big map of the world on the board. I gave a little introduction in Spanish and told the kids why we were in Mexico and how we got there. Then we broke into 'Monkey and the Engineer' which seemed to delight the kids. Not one of them had ever seen a banjo and certainly they'd never heard 'Monkey and the Engineer'. After the song I asked the kids a bunch of questions, mainly about music and languages. I told them that I was learning Spanish and encouraged them all to begin picking up a second language. Its much easier at that age. Jason knows a bit of German and he taught them all to say hello and goodbye which they all repeated in unison. I wish you all could have seen that!

Tate and I singing Salty Dog Blues to the school kids:

Tate helping this kid strum the banjo while I was playing Stealin:

After our presentation we all went outside where thank yous were exchanged and pictures were taken. Teresa let the kids run wild for 10 minutes or so and we stayed to let them play our instruments.

In all it was a great experience and both Jason and I enjoyed our peek into the education system of rural Mexico.

January 22, 2007

Taking San Blas by storm

Tate and I have been having a great time here in San Blas. Our first day in town pretty much set a precedent. We went into town about 6:00 and after posting my last blog entry we went to the town square and set up next to the gazebo and picked for a couple of hours. All the kids came over immediatly, followed soon after by a bunch of other people in the crowded square. I don't think that they hear much bluegrass around here and everyone seemed really interested.

Tate and I in the main square in San Blas:

After a couple of hours of picking, we went to a restaurant to get some food, but the owner wasn't around. The people who were watching the placed hooked us up with a some beers and as we were the only ones in the place, we whipped out our instruments and started playing there as well. Unfortunately the owner never came back, so we paid for our beers and found a little taco stand that made their own tortillas. We each had 3 or 4 60 cent tacos and a ballena. They owners were interested in our instruments, so we pulled them out and started playing at the taco stand for an hour or so.

Playing music with Stefano, some Italian guy we met, at our favorite taco stand in San Blas:

We eventually went back to the main square and were going to play a bit when some guy told us of a jam session going on at the San Blas Social Bar. It turns out that there wasn't a jam session there, but they wanted us to play and even put out a tip jar for us. Well by 2 in the morning when we left, we had only paid for one round of beers ourselves, had $10 in the tip jar and had made a lot of friends. Not a bad evening.

Tate and I playing late into the night at the San Blas Social Bar:

The last couple of days have been more of the same. Exploring and birding during the day and playing music at night. I think we're going to play at the Social Bar one last time tonight and then take off tomorrow. I'm still not sure where we're going next. I guess we'll all find out when I put up my next post.

January 19, 2007

Back in San Blas

Tate and I stayed in Mazatlan for 3 days reprovsioning, catching up on sleep and hanging out with Evan off the 48 foot catamaran “Java”. It turns out that Evan was friends with Bonnie and Greg and had even gone with them on their inland tour of the Copper Canyon at the beginning of the season.

The water from the aft water tank was getting a bit funky and so we emptied it leaving us with a hundred gallons of water to fill along with the 30 gallons of diesel we were down. Tate made the run to and from shore with four 5 gallon water jugs and three 5 gallon diesel jugs for the 6 times while I took the bus out to the Gigante in Mazatlan's “Gold Zone”. We planned on doing most of our provisioning at the Mercado ( the central market downtown), but there were a few things that we wanted that we could only get at a big box store, so out to the Gigante I went. It's really a depressing place right across the street from the Home Depot, next door to the Office Depot and up the road from the Wall Mart and Sam's Club. It's basically a Fred Meyer style all in one store with three quarters of the shoppers being American retirees who fervently believed that all the Mexicans were trying to rip them off. I don't know, maybe they were. You could tell that all the employees were sick of trying to argue with the customers in what English they possessed. The whole place has a really bad vibe. Unfortunately my trip was a bust. I was looking for Ramen noodles, mac n' cheese and brown sugar. I came away with five bags of groceries, but none of the items that I had set out to find.

Tate on top of the hill by the light house:

The next day was far more successful. Tate and took off early and hiked to the top of the hill with the lighthouse right next to the anchorage. We then set off to do the rest of our provisioning at the Mercado. It's basically like a big 365 day a year farmer's market except with a bunch of stalls that sell dried goods and canned goods along with all the butchers, poulterers and fishmongers stalls. We had to go to a whole bunch of different stalls to get everything we needed, but that's half the fun. The place is definitely a tourist attraction, but it's also the place where a lot of the locals do all of their shopping. After the Mercado, we turned in our case of empty Ballenas (1 liter Pacificos) for 12 fresh ones and left Mazatlan in mid afternoon.

Tate at our vegetable stand at the Mazatlan Mercado:

I like Mazatlan a lot, but the anchorage is a filthy place. Every morning we awoke to an oil spill around Bodhran. There would be so much gas in the water that you were afraid that someone would like a match and the whole place would go up in flames. When water would splash up into the dinghy it would be a blue gray with lots of little particles in it. Looking back from the lighthouse, the entire city is shrouded in a brown haze. Once we were around the breakwater we had a 15 knot northerly rolling us southbound with the remains of the seas that had built up in the storm that we came into town on, but with a stretched out period. Suddenly everything was clean again. Coming into port after a crossing is one of life's great pleasures, but it's often surpassed with the joy of setting sail for someplace new especially when we were greeted after a few miles by a pod of Humpbacks repeatedly breaching a half mile from Bodhran.

The boat was a bit rolly through the night and I didn't get much sleep at all, but the wind was good and we made 70 miles out of Mazatlan before it died and we had to motor the last 15 to Isla Isabella. Once the sun came up, I was greeted by more Humpbacks surfacing every few miles. They're everywhere down here. We reached the anchorage on the south side of the island about 9:00 in the morning. The anchorage is notorious as an “anchor eater” with it's rocky bottom, underwater spires and generally uneven seabed. It's also notorious for poor holding. So we tied a trip line to the front of my Bruce anchor and bouyed it with a fender in case we had a problem retrieving it and dropped the hook in 6 fathoms of water. 9:30 in the morning and it was 80 degrees in the water and in the air. Mission Accomplished, we had arrived back in the tropics. I was dog tired and wasn't comfortable with the anchor so I sent Tate ashore on his own while I took a nap. Isla Isabella is an Ornithologist's paradise. Tate's account of his shore expedition is below.

Isla Isabella's exposed southern anchorage:

As I said before, the anchorage at Isla Isabella leaves a lot to be desired and I didn't want to spend the night there. We weighed anchor around 5pm and took off south. Our mission was to get out of the Sea of Cortez and into warm weather again. Now that we were here, we weren't sure where to go next. San Blas is one of my favorite places in Mexico so far and is only a 45 mile sail from Isla Isabella. It's also a great place for birding. So we sailed through the night often in less than 5 knots of wind until the wind died all together around 6 o'clock this morning. By then we were only 6 miles out of San Blas and motored the rest of the way to the breakwater, up the estuary and anchored just south of my old spot with three other boats. I don't think that we'll be here more than a few days. Who knows where we'll go after this? We're warm again and being warm in January is good enough for me.

Tate's Thoughts

January 19th

We pulled the boat to the leeward side of Isla Isabella at about 9:30am on Jan. 18th. Big rollers from both the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez were wrapping around the island a bit and it felt good to be out of that and back onto a somewhat stable platform. Isla Isabella is a volcanic island about 85 miles South of Mazatlan and it was touted as a spectacle of nature, hardly to be missed although the anchorage was reported to be sketchy so we would only be stopping for the day. I was still sleeping at the time the island came into sight for I had pulled the 7pm to midnight and the 4 to 7am watch shifts with little sleep in between. I came out on deck a little before 9am and looked out to the island, thousands of birds were circling overhead. The rocky shorelines and cliffs were foreboding to say the least and Jason would opt to stay with Bodhran should her anchor lose it's grip on the rocky bottom.

Isla Isabella's rocky shore:

We were both deliriously tired and putting the dinghy (old Unruly) together was a test of patience and endurance. By the time she was all bolted together with the wheels on (which allow you to pull it up the beach) I was bleeding in two places, had a jammed toe, had sticky cornmeal paste from my fingers to my elbows (from the emergency rations that we no longer have) and I was working on a good sunburn. All of that pain and suffering, can you imagine?? Not to worry, it all washed away with a swim in the deep blue, the radiant blue 80 degree sea water.

I pulled Unruly up onto the beach in front of a fishing camp just as one of the pangas was unloading its catch. I thought about offering my services as Fisheries Observer but then remembered that I wanted to head out and explore the island. Besides, they'd have to talk to my contractor first. I did inquire about the tide so as not to lose the dink, and I asked about a trail which they pointed out. Soon I was climbing that trail which leads out behind the fish camp and into a genuine fairy tale.

Blue-footed Booby:

There were primarily three species which were nesting on the island, the Magnificent Frigatebird being the most common, followed by the Brown Booby and the Blue Footed Booby. The nesting birds pay you little mind and provided you don't charge them, they don't move at all. They just look at you with a very simple expression. They are completely defenseless while nesting and this has lead to their demise over much of their breeding range, it even lead for them to be called Boobies, which is unfortunate enough.

The Frigatebirds were nesting in the scrubby trees which were just over head height, their chicks a bright, fluffy white.

As far as I could tell, all of the boobies nested on the ground.

Brown Booby with chick:

There were birds nesting over the entire island, loud and rancorous, defecating at will.
While hiking around the scrub forest, the smell of guano and the sounds of the birds were ever present. It was as if I had entered their house, with its own particular smells and noises, and indeed I had. The birds almost changed the color of the sky, there were that many on the wing. I ambled around for about four hours and did not see another soul besides that of the fishermen on the beach, who were not all that interested in the birds, or in hiking around in the hot sun for fun.

January 15, 2007

Photo Albums fixed in Internet Explorer

So people having been telling me for a while that my photo albums weren't working. Well it turns out that I forgot a nested close tag in my the photo links into the albums on every single one. It worked fine on firefox, but not in IE. So long story long, the links all show up in IE now, but the whole site is designed for and looks better in firefox.

New photos

Here are two new photo albums from Christmas and Tate and my travels since then:

Christmas with my family:

Photos of Tate and myself in La Paz and the islands north of there:

Los Islotes Video

Nick brought out his underwater digital camera when we went out swimming with the sea lions at Los Islotes. I edited down the three videos he took and put them together. Sorry that they're in wmv format. Windows Movie Maker is the only video editing software I have. Hopfully there's some Mac program out there for watching wmv files for all you Apple people.

LosIslotes.wmv (6.3MB)

Back in Mazatlan again

Tate and I are back in Mazatlan for my third time this year. We spent a little over a week hanging out on Islas Espiratu Santo and Partida. The islands were great, but we got caught in one anchorage for 4 days without getting off the boat when a big norther was blowing through. This has been an unusual year for wind in the Sea of Cortez and these northers having been blowing through one after another with 25-40 knot winds that build up steep short period waves. After the norther that pinned us down in Caleta Partida we had a 4 day break until the next blow came through. We decided that we'd spend that time exploring and then take off right before the next system and let it carry us out of the Sea. Tate's going to write a detailed account of some of our time in the islands below. I'll fill in the rest

The dinghy over on El Magote with La Paz in the background:

We left La Paz on a with a moderate north wind blowing and after motoring out the long channel we set sail and started tacking our way dead into the wind. It was 2:00 in the afternoon by the time we raised sail so we didn't have a lot of daylight. Fortunately there are anchorages all along the Pichilingue so we didn't have to make it all the way up to the islands which is a good thing. It was after two hours of beating that I really realized how bad my sails are getting and how poorly Bodhran is going upwind. My sails are from Dallas Sailmakers. Bodhran was originally registered in Texas, then Louisiana, then moved up to Washington 17 years ago. So it's very probable that my sails are original which would make them 28 years old. At a minimum they're from before the boat came to Washington 17 years ago. Now 20 years is a good life for a sail if it's well treated and not sailed hard. Sailing over 4000 miles in the last few months on these poor old sails has pretty much ruined them for anything but going downwind. We made about 5 miles northing in 3 hours and pulled into a bay just north of the Baja Ferry dock for the night and I officially made the decision to leave the boat in Mexico this May and come home and work for the summer with the goal of making enough for a new genoa, mainsail, (gasp) roller furling and if possible a staysail. So if anyone knows of any good paying work between May and October, let me know.

Sailing along Espiritu Santo:

There was little wind the next day and we alternately motored and sailed up to Caleta Partida, the litle gap between Islas Espiriu Santo and Partida where we spent the next 4 days. The wind was up the first day, but not too bad so we took the dinghy into the beach about mile away. My poor dinghy suffered yet another blow at the dock in La Paz when an unexpected sou'wester came in and bashed it into the dock for an hour before I found it's smashed rail and tied it off between me and my neighbor. So my mission for the day was to fix the rail while Tate went for a hike up the hill above the beach. Unfortunately there wasn't any trail on the hill so Tate spent 4 hours hiking over loose rock on a steep hillside getting some great views and adding a couple of birds to his list while I stripped off the rubrail on the dinghy, and laid down some new fiberglass mat. That took about an hour, so I sat down to my book it the shade of one of the fishing camp shanties to wait for the epoxy to cure and for Tate to return. About an hour later Antonio and Francisco, a couple of fishermen from a neighboring fish camp, came over. It seems that the battery for their panga was dead. So I offered to put it on my system on Bodhran and charge it up. They took me back over in their panga covering the distance in a tenth the time it took for us to come over with my little 3.5hp outboard and I hooked the battery into my system so that it could equalize with my batteries and get some charge from the solar panels for a few hours before they came back to pick it up before they went out fishing for the night. They then took me back to the beach where Tate eventually came down. Of course I'd been noticing the tide going out while I was sitting there reading and by the time we were ready to go, there was a big sand island between us and Bodhran with more than a hundred yards of very shallow water after it. Three cheers for dinghy wheels. We pulled the dink out until we could get the bow to float with both of us in it and then motored along with the wheels still rolling along the ground and got most of the way around the island and out before it shoaled up too much and we had to get out and push until we got to deep enough water again. We went back out to Bodhran and eventually Antonio and Francisco came out with 3 nice red snapper in exchange for their fully charged battery and we sat down to a nice fish dinner, played some music and read. Oddly that would be our routine for the next 3 days as a norther came in and pinned us on the boat throwing up waves too big to take the dinghy into and keeping us down below out of the cold. We both go a little stir crazy, but we also got a couple of new songs worked out and I've even got a couple of leads down.

My poor beat up dinghy's rail:

Pass betweeen Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida:

Tate doing a headstand on our desert island:

When the wind finally let up enough to leave, we made the long trek (a couple of miles) up to Ensenada Grande where we anchored with John and Kathy on their Bristol Channel Cutter “Gertrude” and Sue and Patrick on their Southern Cross 35 “Aerabella.” They had all also been couped up for days and starving for contact with people other than their boat partners. Since we were the only ones with a dinghy in the water, we picked up John and Kathy and all went over to Aerabella for sundowners. In the morning, the Sea Lion, a 60 passenger mini cruise ship came in and anchored near us and Tate and I hiked up the canyon at the head of the bay. We spent 3 more days in Ensenada Grande, but Tate wrote about that below, so I won't say any more.

Sailing the dinghy in Ensenada Grande:

Beach at Ensenada Grande:
We left Ensenda Grande for El Cardonel, less than a mile away. It was a cold and believe it or not rainy day and I stayed on board learning Window's movie software and editing the sea lion video from Nick while Tate went ashore to do some birding. We were both a bit worn out and with the weather, El Cardonel was kind of a slow anchorage.

We left El Cardonel two days before the next norther was forecast with a little south westerly blowing in our face, so we hoisted the spinnaker and sailed around the north end of the island. We had wind at first but it died as the day progressed and by the time we turned the motor on, we'd sailed 10 miles in 5 hours. Well, Don's forecast had called for no wind and he was right, but we wanted to be well away from land when the wind piped up so we turned on the motor until about midnight when the wind picked up just enough to sail. The sea was glassy calm and it was a pleasure to sail in light airs without the mainsail slatting as it does when any kind of sea is running. We maintained 3-4 knots for the next 24 hours having a very pleasant sail until the wind decided to fill in in earnest. I tucked in a reef a little after sunset and a second reef a hour later. We were making a good 6 knots when I left Tate on watch at midnight with a double reef and the yankee up. When I got up at 3:00 we were getting overpowered with the big headsail up and even after we dropped it we were doing 6 knots with just a double reefed main. The wind was really gusty and without a headsail up, Bodhran would round up every time a gust hit. Normally this isn't a problem, the monitor would steer us right back onto course. Unfortunately this time we were in some really steep short period waves and whenever we would get rounded up it would expose our beam to the seas and a wave would crash over the side filling the cockpit sending water streaming down the deck filling the cockpit and putting poor Bodhran over on her ear. So I spent the next 4 hours until sunrise hand steering to stay in front of the waves. I could have hove to, but with the speed we were making surfing every wave we'd be able to get into Mazatlan before dark the next day, so we pressed on. Most of the waves were about 6 feet, but occasionally we'd get a set of 4 or 5 10 footers. The waves were so close that it we were basically always surfing on at least one. When we finally would hit a wide enough trough our speed would drop to 3 knots, but we were maintaining a pretty constant 6-7 with our perpetual surfing, hitting 9,10 and even 10.9 at one time when the big sets came through. It's always hard to tell how big waves are and what the period of them is, but at one time we had what I would call a 10 footer come through and as it passed I got pushed sideways a bit, when the next one in the set hit my stern, it pushed the bow back around into the first wave with a huge thud as the bow dove into the wave and scooped hundreds of gallons of water and sent them streaming back on the leeward rail washing my coffee mug over the side all the way back at the back of the cockpit. I'm guessing that the waves were about 20-25 feet apart at 10 feet high which is a ridiculously short period. After 11 hours of hand steering averaging over 7 knots, we made it around the rock at Mazatlan after after getting hit by one last 40 knot gust right at the point, we dropped sail and the anchor safe and sound, but very tired. We'll stay here for a couple of days to reprovision, do laundry and wait for weather before heading south, probably on Wednesday or Thursday.

Tate hand steering on our way into Mazatlan, the seas never turn out well in pictures but they were running about 8 feet when I took this one:

Tate's Thoughts:

January 4th

“Back to making 4 knots again”, says Jason from the helm. La Paz is drifting away behind us and the magnificence of Isla Espiritu Santo is about 4 miles to starboard. Jason goes back to his book and we both return to our dreamlike existence aboard Bodhran. Yesterday we had a pleasant sail after a couple of pre-departure glitches. Jason had been in La Paz for about 3 weeks and maybe he had gone a little soft in that time. He had pulled the dinghy into two pieces because at sea they nest together up on deck. We had hoisted the bow section aboard when the stern section decided to make a run for freedom. Hey, who tied that knot? The anchorage in La Paz is interesting because it is like anchoring in a wide river; the tidal current is that strong. The stern section of the dinghy was moving away from us at about 3 knots and we were both highly concerned.

“I can get it, you want me to go?” I always have to ask permission before abandoning ship seeing as Jason is the captain and all.

“You won’t make it back!” He shouted as he was emptying his pockets. Dire prognosis, I thought as I pulled off my sunglasses and shirt. “Okay, GO!” And thus I took my first swim of the trip. I dove through the 70-degree water and came quickly to the ungainly raft. I grabbed a rope and began a serious sidestroke in attempt to regain Bodhran. I could barely hold position while giving it everything I had and so I yelled, “Throw a rope!” Jason already had one in hand and launched it 20 feet back to me, a perfect toss. I grabbed it, already winded and Jason pulled us back to the boat. I climbed back aboard, bleeding from the sharp edges where the transom of the dink had been repaired. Disaster narrowly averted.

After both sections were aboard and stowed we were ready to pull up the hook. Jason cranked the windlass as I was coiled the chain down in the chain locker. After a couple of minutes I was called up on deck to admire the second anchor and chain that had become entangled in our own set-up. We pulled it up and found a pretty descent anchor with its chain wrapped around ours before it disappeared into the depths. I said that the anchor would be easy enough to remove as long as there wasn’t a boat on the other end of that chain. The abandoned anchor was in fact a pain to deal with but after some pulling and twisting, some cussing and spitting and me dropping the boat hook in the water (which Jason saved, commenting that we were now even…?), we had it aboard. Jason grinded the chain apart and the anchor is now riding up near the mast, a token of our troubles, perhaps even a trophy… no, just another tripping hazard.

My new 25lbs CQR as it came up with our chain:

So that was on the 3rd of January, not to be confused with The 8th of January, which is a great song. After getting underway, all went as smooth as can be. We had a steady 15-knot wind from the North as the entire world encompassing our boat became blue. We didn’t make too much distance that first afternoon of sailing but it was perfect for me to get reacquainted with the boat. I really haven’t been sailing much since Jason undertook the daunting task of preparing his vessel for blue water cruising. That was more than a year ago and I never had to deal with halyards or jib sheets while at sea in Alaska. I am learning the new set up here though and am quite enjoying this quiet, peaceful method of travel.

My last trip to Mexico entailed 4 months of buses and hitchhiking everywhere from the Texas border down to Chiapas and that was anything but peaceful. For me, sailing as a mode of international travel is more than peaceful, it is spiritual… a connection to the multitudes throughout history that roamed the oceans, that discovered, or felt they discovered the world. As I look at the rugged cliffs of the island that we’re approaching I get that feeling of discovery, a sense of my own adventure, however tame in comparison to those of lore. The water is crashing off the bow, the wind and the cliffs, this is all very real, and I am enamored by it.

January 11th

Leaving Ensenada Grande in the pallid light of mid-morning, the sea, the sky and the distant cliffs all a varying shade of gray. Only the closer hillsides, which are now retreating into the past show shades of color, a rich, if somewhat burnt reddish brown with a hint of green, a desert in the grips of winter. Okay, I am in shorts and a T-shirt but I’m not even considering taking the shirt off. Yesterday though, yesterday was idyllic.

Captain Rose and I were sitting in our folding chairs up on deck and we were marveling at our surroundings. The air was still and warm, the coffee was hot, fiendishly strong and the day could not of held more promise. We planned our day over eggs, beans and tortillas, Mexico’s ideal recipe for the first meal of the day. We wanted to head out to Los Islotes, a couple of tiny islands which jut off the bigger island that we were anchored at, Isla Partida. Jason had been out there previously when his family was down for Christmas and he was excited to get going. I didn’t ever want to leave my chair for the sun and the water were in such concordance as to induce unfathomable peace and happiness. I’m not making this shit up, it’s true. I did get up to stretch though, and we capitalized on our momentum, filled our wide bottomed coffee mugs (the one Jason no longer has) and hopped down into the dink for which I had suggested the name ‘unruly’.

The little Nissan 3.5 horse popped to life and we motored smoothly to the next cove to invite Nick and Cindy from the S/V (sailing vessel) Baloo. They are out of Shilshole in Ballard and are kindred spirits, even if Cindy has renounced many of god’s chemical treasures. She says she wants a healthy baby (her and Nick are newlyweds) and Nick says he wants a bigger boat… the boat would be cheaper.

They were into coming along so after finishing our coffee aboard Baloo we motored over to Aerabella where Patrick and Sue were getting their day started. A retired couple with the mindsets of youthful travelers they didn’t even think about not coming along. “Sure” was all that Sue said.

Jason offered up Bodhran for the ferry service so we went back to her and gave her a good bath. In general I think Jason likes to keep his boat on the dirty side so we are less of a target for thieves. The deck was still filthy from the errant anchor and rusted chain we’d picked up in La Paz so I grabbed a scrub brush and bucket and went to town. Hey, no cabin boy comments!
Bodhran was in fine shape as we picked up our friends and headed out from Isla Partida to the small islands which were a couple of miles away. A 130+ foot cruise ship was anchored off the islands and the neon greens, pinks and yellows of snorkelers were all around. This would have been a confounding spectacle for us except that the crew of the cruise ship, which was called Sea Lion, had invited us to a beach bar-b-que the previous night. In fact, while hiking up an isolated canyon that bisects Isla Partida Jason and I had come across a group of hikers from the Sea Lion. They had a guide and I heard his voice before I saw him. It was Mike Greenfelder, my old roommate from Sacha, a lodge where we both guided down in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Stars were in full alignment and the bar-b-que that night was outstanding.

Tate at the top of the canyon:

Sea Lion, Gertrude and Bodhran anchored at the bottom of the canyon we just hiked up:

Jason and I brought our instruments, me on the banjo and Jason on guitar and we played around the campfire. We picked every song that we could think of and were rewarded by smiles and tow tapping, that and all the free food and beer we could imbibe (and more). Hey, has anyone ever tried acrobatic yoga? Highly recommended, thanks Eza!

So, Mike comes by as we are setting anchor off of Los Islotes and he is in a Zodiac full of wide-eyed tourists. Sea Lions and birds from shore are making a racket. He shouts that there is nothing to see which we take to mean ‘hurry up, it’s great!’. ‘Happy travels!’ he shouts as they head back out to the small cruise ship which is ready to weigh anchor and be gone. Who knows where I’ll see him next, I’m sure it will be somewhere as unlikely as a remote canyon on an island somewhere in the Sea of Cortez.

Cindi and Nick on our way out to Los Islotes:

Nick from Baloo leant me a shorty wetsuit and both he and his new wife, Cindy had their professional looking wetsuits and snorkel gear. Patrick had on a Northwest style wetsuit complete with a ninja hood and then there was Jason who was to be insulated in a more natural fashion. We were all pumped up and one at a time we jumped from Bodhran’s beam. The water was startlingly cold, 68-degrees and I was thankful for the suit. We made our way to the rocks and the honks, burps, moans and squawks from the Sea Lion colony were pervasive. Brown Pelicans were slamming into the water, as were Blue Footed Boobies. The perspective of that from underwater is nothing short of fantastic. Everywhere we looked there were a myriad of fish, big ones, little ones, striped ones, cute ones… all scientific terms to be sure.
I was swimming alongside Jason and we were a few feet above an enormous school of silvery baitfish. The light was at our backs and the rays of light through the water and reflecting off the fish made the whole scene seem surreal. The school parted instantaneously just before a darting black fish with an elongated head swam through. It seemed to be flying… it was a Brandt’s Cormorant, a diving bird!

It is difficult to describe the gracefulness of sea lions swimming. I had seen them plenty of times scootching around helplessly on rocks or shorelines but out of the water they bare little resemblance to the coordinated dancers that they are beneath the surface. I remember looking over at Jason, who is not a coordinated dancer, his beard jutting out comically beneath his mask. A sea lion swam up just to the point of making contact with his face before flipping effortlessly, swimming away up side down. My own laughter filled my snorkel and I surfaced, pulling my mask off to facilitate my expanding grin.

Now I don’t know about the ethics of swimming this close to a sea lion rookery but I do know that these sea lions, thanks primarily to eco-tourism, are fully protected from the spear and the gun, which are more destructive than the laughter of the world over. All of these islands we were exploring are protected from hunting and fishing to a mile offshore. The entire marine ecosystem here seemed quite healthy and swimming with the sea lions was magnificent, something I will never forget.

I swam back to Bodhran, which was anchored about 100 feet from the snorkeling grounds and I climbed aboard. Sue was already back and we could see foot-long fish swimming all around the boat. I dried my face and grabbed my binoculars. The cliffs of Los Islotes are stained with Guano, mainly from Pelicans, Frigatebirds, Boobies, Cormorants and Gulls. The Sea Lions were snorting and honking away, the big males must have weighed a ton. Pelicans were slamming the water in formation, sunshine glimmering off the water… just a typical January day… here.

Tate snorkeling:

Cindi and a sea lion:

January 1, 2007

Feliz Ano Nuevo

Happy New Years and welcome to 2007. I've been hanging out here in La Paz for the last couple of weeks. First my Dad came out and stayed with me on Bodhran for a week moored at Marina Palmar at the west end of town. The marina doesn't have a breakwater and the two weeks I spent there were rolly to say the least and downright uncomfortable at times. Apparently it's an unusually windy year this year with one norther after another rolling down the Sea of Cortez. Supposedly it's turning out to be a solid El Nino year instead of the mild one that was predicted. Either way the winds been big and steady and has me thinking twice about going up further into the sea before spring.

My Dad on our dinghy tour of the La Paz waterfront:

My Mom and brothers Alex and Trevor came in 4 days after my Dad did and got a couple of rooms at the La Concha Resort out on the road North to the Pichilingue. My Dad rented a car and we all spent the next week cruising around La Paz and some of the outlying areas. The highlight of their visit was the panga ride Mom, Alex, Trevor and I took out to the islands north or town: Islas Espiritu Santo, Partida and Los Islotes. It was a five hour trip that zoomed us along the west coast of the islands 5 times as fast as Bodhran could go until we got to the Sea Lion rocks of Los Islotes. There we dropped anchor off the rocks and everyone darned their snorkeling gear and took to the water to go and swim with the sea lions. Of course it would be totally illegal in the states, but it was well done with the guide informing us how to not upset the sea lions and how to and not to get bitten. Swimming from the boat to the rocks was like snorkeling through and aquarium. There were schools of sun fish, parrot fish and these little iridescent blue fish that would swim through the rocks. There was also an enormous bait ball of some smolt sized fish that would all react simultaneously whenever you swam near making them very easy to herd. While I was in the process of herding my bait ball, a juvenile sea lion, #150 according to her tag, came up and started playing with me. She would swim right at me and then swerve at the last moment playing an underwater game of chicken, then she started hiding behind me and poking me in the back to make me turn around which when I did, she would already be behind me again. Eventually she came up and poked me in the goggles twice with her nose putting her enormous eyes within inches of my own. It was absolutely amazing and also scary as hell with the big bull sea lion completely ignoring me, but sometimes swimming within 3 or 4 feet underneath me. After snorkeling for about an hour, everyone boarded the panga and we took off for Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida where they beached the panga and setup a table with drinks and lunch. After another hour or so of eating, sunbathing and swimming in crystal clear water we took off to go back to the Pichilingue, but they were having problems with the gigantic 200hp Yamaha on the back of the panga. I'm not sure what was wrong, but we eventually made our way back at half speed or less.

My brothers and I on the malecon in La Paz:

Using a tractor to launch the panga after the blazer got stuck in the sand:

Snorkeling off Los Islotes:

The bay where we stopped for lunch on Isla Partida:

Trying to fix the outboard on the way home:

Dad took off on the 23rd and Mom, Alex, Trevor and I did Christmas on the boat eating a substantial brunch and then spending the rest of the day lounging around, drinking, snacking and watching Jeeves and Wooster episodes on my computer. The day after Christmas we drove out to Todo Santos on the Pacific coast of the Baja in the rental car. Amazingly the interior of the Baja is actually quite green with cactus and scrubby pine stretching off into the distance. Todo Santos itself is like an oasis with a river running through it sprouting up palm trees like it was going out of style. After much driving around on poor dirt and sand roads we finally found the way down to the beach and spent a couple of hours playing frisbee, watching the surfers and swimming in the once again beautifully clear water. After the beach we went into town for lunch. None of us particularly cared for the town itself so we skipped exploring around and returned to La Paz. We did of course slow down and take a picture of the Hotel California, the one that for better or worse inspired the Eagles song.

Eating in La Paz with this Mexican guy who sounded like David Bowie in the background:

Christmas at the Govoner's Mansion in La Paz:

The Hotel California in Todo Santos:

On the 27th the rest of my family took off. I was going to leave the marina on the 28th, but a big westerly came in and pinned my in my slip with waves that beat the rail of my dinghy to a pulp before I realized that it was getting smashed on the dock. On the 29th the weather chilled out long enough for me to head back out to the anchorage. Also on the 29th, Tate came in. He's going to be crewing with me for the next couple of months and also will hopefully be my Spanish and guitar tutor during that time. We took our instruments out with us last night and set up along the malecon in a heavily trafficed area across from the Applebees. Amazingly there weren't many people out on the town, but we played for a couple of hours and met lots of people. One Mexican family in particular hung out with us for over an hour. The father had a bottle of hornitos with him, so we took plugs off his bottles and our ballenas of Pacifico between songs. The tourist police were out in force keeping people civil and we were told to keep our drinking on the DL, even so they still came back time and time again to check on us finally telling us that we should be off the strip by midnight when everyone comes down to fire off their guns. We were getting a bit hungry anyway, so we took off to find some tacos and eventually made our way up to a super mini where we normally buy beer. We'd been promised homemade pasole, but it wasn't ready yet. So we sat down in front of the store with the owners family and started pickin. Then at midnight all hell broke loose. We were sitting there on the side of the road playing music while everyone and their brother was setting off fireworks. They were mainly throwing really large firecrackers at passing cars, the proximity of the cars happening to be about 10 feet in front of us. One of the mini mart guys was setting off really large sky rockets by holding in his hand until it took off. Tate and I felt like were in some scene out of Apocalypse Now calmly playing music with artillery going off all around us. The fireworks slowed down, but never stopped for the next hour until the pasole was finally ready and our fingers were damn near bleeding so we ate up and called it a night. On the way back down to the dinghy we passed a few more partys that wanted us to come play, but we were tuckered out and back to the boat we went for some much needed rest.

Today we're still tinkering with my outboard trying to get in running properly, then Tate and I will be heading out to Isla Espiritu Santo for a week or so and then we'll figure out whether to continue North into the sea or turn South for warmer waters.