Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 394 to 403 of the Third Voyage: In which so much happened in two weeks that I’m already posting!

Editor’s Note: Okay, confession time. Not that much really happened. I just went off on so many tangents that I figured I should post something before the whole thing went into War and Peace territory. That, and the two weeks in question was about six weeks ago so technically I owe you one (well, maybe two.)

Week 15:  Summer has officially come to Barra and it’s everything we could have imagined. Hot? Check. Humid? Double check. High UV? Checkmark can’t see its shadow so it’s got to be over 10. But I must give us snaps for handling it with a bit more grace than last summer. The bitching has been minimal and I think we’ve finally come to terms with the fact that life in the tropics will consist of four seasons: hot, hotter, Good God, and That Wasn’t So Bad. With one summer in Mexico already under our belts, we are better equipped to handle the heat. Now we just quietly sweat like wildebeests as we go about our daily business. We figure as long as we’re staying hydrated, avoiding sunstroke, and bringing towels to mop up the puddles we leave behind, there’s no reason why we can’t be outside enjoying ourselves. I mean, lots of people change their clothes four times a day, right?

Of course, the upside of summer (and the thunderstorms that barrel through, dump 600 clouds worth of rain in about 20 minutes, and leave a steam bath in their wake) is that all of Barra has exploded in color. The hillsides that were once dry, brown, and brittle are now resplendent in varying shades of green, all manners of flowers are blooming, and the air is alive with hummingbirds and butterflies. Unfortunately, the mosquitos are also abundant and OFF! is a prerequisite whenever going outside. I’ve taken to carrying a can with me everywhere because you never know where they may be lurking. Alas, the OFF! doesn’t seem to work as well on the flies which have also hitched a ride with the sun and the rain. Most restaurants are outdoors and any not on the beach or lagoon (and thus getting a little moving air), are susceptible to a sizeable invasion. We spent one uncomfortable evening at a café down a side street from the church. There was no breeze and the tables were surrounded by planters (i.e. insect summer homes) and we spent the entire meal eating with one hand and swatting away flies with the other. (Of course, it was arguably the worst food we’ve had since coming to Mexico so it’s entirely possible that the infestation of flies was less environmental and more a commentary on the food.)

Week 16:  Now just because we’re handling the heat better, it does not mean we’re giving up the quest for coolth. We have, however, given up on the central air. Having to flush out hoses and clean strainers of sea life once a week was just too much work for what we were getting out of it. Let’s just say that when the unit can only cool the raw water intake a good five degrees and the water is easily 90°, it’s not a good return on your labor investment. Last summer, we got two of those large, floor-unit ACs (the ones that weigh about a ton and exhaust out through the window via a gargantuan hose) for each of the sleeping cabins. They take up a lot of real estate, but they do work. And if you can sleep at night, it makes it easier to survive the day. So, the cabins are bearable, but the pilothouse and galley are still sweatboxes. We placed a huge fan on the companionway steps to move the air around, but then we thought, “This is silly. We’re on flat-rate electric. As long as we’re already using enough watts to power a small city, we may as well get a small AC window unit to place in the companionway opening and get rid of this big, noisy fan!” Cut to a couple of days later…we bring home a small AC window unit (the only one that will fit in the opening) and find that it does a nice job of keeping the 18 inches in front of it nice and cool but not so much the rest of the area. So, we have now put the fan in front of it. In fact, pretty much right back where it was. It’s just as big and as noisy, but now it’s moving cooler air around the boat--enough where we can use the galley and get a couple more hours use out of the pilothouse before it gets too warm.

So why bring up something as boring as AC? Because to get said AC, we had to go to Manzanillo. And to do that, we rented a car! So why bring up something as boring as renting a car? Because this was our first time driving in Mexico! (And by “our” I mean the Captain. Much like grilling, tinkering, and hauling up the garbage, driving rental cars is a “man task”. My job is to act as navigator a.k.a. provide fodder for the marriage counseling sessions.) Had we still been in PV, I don’t think we would have done it. The taxis move through traffic like an angry swarm of killer beers; there’s a reason the buses are dented, cracked, and held together with duct tape; and the “collectivos” should just plain come with crash helmets (seriously, we were in one where the driver cut through parking lots and up and on the sidewalks to make up time because apparently he had to be at his next stop the previous Tuesday) and if it was just those vehicles on the road, it’d be terrifying enough. But add in all the cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters—each driven by an individual who is either blind, oblivious, or late for an appointment—put them on roads that haven’t been repaved since Ricardo Montalban was hawking the Chrysler Cordoba, and it’s utter chaos. I was talking to a guy in PV who was originally from Mexico City (the land of 20 million cars and one traffic light and a perennial top three finisher on Forbes’ list of Worst Traffic in the World) and he said the first thing he did when he moved to PV was get rid of his car because, as he put it, “These people are crazy.”

But here it is a little different. For one thing, the Costalegre area is not as populous as Banderas Bay so already you have 5,000 less nut jobs on the road. Plus, Colima is one of the wealthier states so they can afford nicer roads. Editor’s Note: Barra is in the state of Jalisco which doesn’t have as much money for infrastructure as Colima. The Grand Bay Resort & Marina, which is situated on a peninsula across the lagoon from Barra, is in Colima. That was by choice because the resort wanted to be associated with the “classier” state as did some of the beachfront communities along the Pacific Coast. As a result, the state line wiggle waggles all throughout the area as Jalisco tries desperately to hold on to as much real estate as they can. Consequently, the road conditions can go from good to extremely dodgy in any given stretch depending on which state you’re currently in. All this pettiness culminates in “the bridge”. This single-lane bridge, which spans a shallow ravine that acts as part of a natural boundary between the two states, sustained some damage during Hurricane Patricia back in 2015. The Colima side is a beautiful, red-brick paved road. The Jalisco side is pot-holes and dirt track with a little paving material thrown in to keep up appearances. The bridge, on the other hand, has become the proverbial hot potato. Neither state wants to pay to have it fixed, so each tries to foist it off on the other. In the meantime, the bridge continues to fall into a state of disrepair. Who will win? (Or lose, as the case may be?) Like many similar situations in Mexico, I doubt if it will be resolved in my lifetime.

The Bridge. Only one car may cross at a time. God forbid a Colima official should arrive at the same time as an official from Jalisco. It’d be an endless game of “No, after you. I insist.”
The Jalisco side of the bridge. You may choose between the crumbling original road or the soft dirt track that people appropriated out of the shoulder. One will rattle your spleen out through your belly button; the other may swallow your car whole. What about oncoming traffic? I’m pretty sure you have bigger things to worry about.
Once off the peninsula, we took the detour through the fruit plantations to avoid the bustling center of Cihuatlan and then—with the exception of the military checkpoint—it was nonstop all the way to Manzanillo. The interstate is a two-lane highway, but given the vast number of slower-moving vehicles that drive way over on the right-hand side to let the faster cars pass, I guess technically it could be called a four-lane highway. We’re still not sure what the speed limit was. We saw lots of signs admonishing drivers not to drive on the shoulder, but aside from the “Reduce Speed” signs coming into every village, there was no indication as to how fast you could or couldn’t go and absolutely no guidance as to how much you should reduce said speed. But if you don’t heed the speed reduction signs, don’t worry. The speed bumps at the entrances to the villages will tear out the entire undercarriage of your vehicle bringing you to an abrupt halt so you won’t have to worry about taking out someone’s taco stand. Editor’s Note: We thought the speed bumps in Jalisco were bad, but they’ve got nothing on Colima. Colima likes to group their speed bumps into sets of six with just enough space in between that your tires will get stuck if you go too slow or rip off the axel if taken too fast (“just right” is somewhere between bumping your head on the ceiling and losing a filling.) Once again, whatever Jalisco can do, Colima can do better. Except that bridge. Screw the bridge. That’s the other state’s problem.
As we got closer to Manzanillo, we saw the first of the “No Tell Motels”. They’re easy to spot because they’re surrounded by high walls and look to be the nicest structures in any given town. If you haven’t already guessed by the name, these are establishments that rent rooms by the hour. But unlike the questionable “hourlies” in the States (such as the awesomely-named Bugs Bunny Motel in Denver), these are a bit different. For one thing, there are no witnesses to whatever you are or aren’t up to. You drive up to a machine, select a room and pay for a block of time (in cash of course), then drive your car into an assigned garage and shut the door. The room is accessed through the garage. Any room service is ordered over the phone and delivered via a Lazy-Susan contraption in the wall. It sounds skeezy, but from what I understand, they’re a favorite choice amongst expats who are travelling and just need a place to crash overnight. Evidently, if you don’t mind lots of strategically-placed mirrors and a few pieces of interesting-looking furniture, they’re not only inexpensive, but also extremely clean and incredibly secure (more so than most motels.)  Just don’t turn on the tv.
But back to Manzanillo. Regrettably, we didn’t get to spend any time exploring the city this time around as we needed to hit Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and a boat chandlery and be back before the late afternoon thunderstorms hit. We weren’t so concerned about driving in the rain in Colima; we just weren’t thrilled with the prospect of getting stuck somewhere around “the bridge” and having the local authorities quibble over who was responsible for pulling us out.
Now I must admit that after four months of shopping at our little local tiendas, it was weird being back in a big box store. Apart from fresh foods, there’s not a whole lot of variety of your basic pantry staples at the local markets. But in a way, it’s kind of nice to only have to choose between the small or large jar of mayonnaise as opposed to facing down an entire wall of different brands, flavors, textures, styles, sizes, and container compositions. I mean, dude, it’s mayonnaise. I’d just assume not have to put more thought into my condiment than when I bought my first car.
But there was one small milestone in Manzanillo. With the Captain lost amongst the aisles of the Home Depot desperately looking for the nuts, bolts, drill bits, weather stripping, two by fours, and other bits and bobs that keep the boat together, I managed to successfully procure an AC unit entirely in Spanish. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it should be too hard. You find the unit, put it in a cart, and take it to the checkout stand. But this is Mexico. And it ain’t the land of the hat dance for nothing. We learned this early on…Mexicans are not into stocking. It doesn’t matter how big, small, cheap, expensive, or popular an item is, it will never be reordered and/or restocked until enough people have complained about its availability. And when the delivery DOES show up, it will be dumped on the floor with a bunch of other stuff and take up to a week to be sorted on the shelves (seriously, I thought one of our tiendas was on a fault line because the packaged goods were always scattered about in huge piles. It was two weeks before I realized they had a floor...and shelves.) In this instance, there was a big empty space under the AC unit floor model where inventory should have been. In Spanish, I asked, “Do you have this one in stock?” (He checks the computer and gives me the affirmative nod.) “You do? Great!” (He just looks at me but doesn’t move.) “Um, could you get one for me? I’d like to buy it.” (He goes back to the computer, then starts looking toward the ceiling.) “You have one, correct? Because I’d like to buy it.” (He says something and points upwards.) “Oh, it’s up there on the top shelf? High up there?” (He continues to look and then asks me if I only want one.) “Yes, please, only one.” (He calls in a manager and they look at the computer, then look upwards.) “Yes, I realize it is high up there. What’s that? No. I only want one.” (They go to get another guy. He returns and they all look up.) “Yes, it is very high. No. I only want one.” (They then proceed to rope off half the store while they go get the cherry picker. Twenty minutes later and they have completely blocked half of the home and garden section with a pallet the size of a small semi.) “What’s that? Yes, that was high up there. No. I only want one.” (They pull apart the pallet to procure my AC unit and then prepare to lift the pallet back into place.) At this point I feel like I should suggest that maybe they leave some out as it’s obviously a very popular unit but then decide against it. I wouldn’t want to mess up their system. Editor’s Note: If you ever need to purchase an AC unit in Mexico, just memorize the following and you’ll be golden... “Me gustaría comprar un aire acondicionado. Si, es muy alto. No, gracias, solo uno.”
The next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanilla. Begin tangent:  Flights out of the Manzanillo airport are generally much more expensive than Puerto Vallarta (and longer as 99% of the time you must change planes in Mexico City), so much so that all our recent visa trips have included a four- to five-hour bus ride from Barra to PV. The buses (Primera Plus – accept NO substitutes unless you like stopping every six blocks and sitting next to livestock) are very comfortable, have all modern conveniences (including WiFi), and are well maintained. Unfortunately, they still must drive on the Jalisco highways and this one in particular winds up, down, around and around as it makes its way through the mountains along roads that are okay at best, nonexistent at worst (Seriously. We went through a “construction zone” in which nothing had yet been constructed. The bus trundled along in the tire tracks made by a bulldozer along a dirt road with a cliff face on one side and a ravine on the other.) Long story short:  if you suffer from motion sickness, it will be the longest ride of your life. End tangent.
So as I was saying, the next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanillo which is only a marginally better drive than when on the Primera Plus bus because at least you’re lower to the pavement and can’t see just how steep of a drop off it is. But it’s worth the trip. Why? Cocodrilos! La Manzanilla is situated next to a large estuary that empties out into the Bay of Tenacatita and is home to hundreds of crocodiles. They’ve built a nature sanctuary that doesn’t keep the crocs in (they’re free to come and go as they please) but for less than a dollar admission you can walk around it on a raised platform—about a mile around—and see the animals from above. The walkway also includes two suspension bridges that sound fun on paper but not so much when the Deck Boss is behind you making it bounce violently up and down while giggling maniacally. We ended our crocodile encounter with lunch by the beach where we ran into “squirrel guy”. “Squirrel guy” frequents all the Costalegre beach towns and is hard to miss as he’s generally the only person carrying a large boom box and wearing two squirrels. He sells baked goods and candy bars from a large basket and for a few pesos you can wear his squirrels for a while.
They’ll all be wearing squirrels in Paris next fall.
These are American Crocodiles—not American Alligators. They didn’t spend eight years in croc school to be called an alligator, thank you very much.
It was squishy, sweaty, and extremely awkward. I think the feeling was mutual. Please note, however, that the proper way to hold a baby crocodile is with the pinky finger extended.
One side note about our experience with Mexican car rentals. We arranged the car rental via the concierge at the resort. Thrifty brought us a car—a new model Nissan Versa—from their lot at the Manzanillo airport. The rate was 900 pesos a day or roughly $50 US (putting the total with tax at around $120 US.) The guy had all the usual forms and took all the usual information. He also had one of those old-fashioned cachunker machines for our credit card (if you’re under the age of 30, have an old person explain it to you) and duly made an impression of our Visa card using an old Amex form. He then took phone-camera photos of the front and back of our Visa card as well as the Captain’s driver’s license. Good to go. Two days later he comes to pick up the car and explains that the photos didn’t come out so he once again takes front and back photos of the Captain’s Visa and license. Are we done here? Apparently not. Four hours later and he comes by the boat and asks if he can retake the photos as they still didn’t come out. Are we done now? Guess so, because four hours later I get an alert from Capital One saying a charge from Thrifty came through for $500 US and is this correct? I hit the “No” button and the Captain’s Capital One card spontaneously combusted in his wallet. One month later and we’re still trying to sort it all out.
Next time they want to take photos of our license and credit card, we’ll tell them they’re down there.

Updates from World War C:  The conflict has entered the next stage. The Advion seems to have worked as prescribed, but given our past experiences we are hesitant to proclaim total cockroach eradication in case the enemy is merely lying low--hiding their numbers and their intentions. To preserve this tentative peace, we have begun stockpiling weapons and deploying periodic doses of Advion as a show of force. The cold war has begun.
Now what?  What broke and/or failed and/or totally let us down now? This time it was the electrical socket in the cockpit. We had it installed specifically so that we wouldn’t have to run extension cords through the pilothouse when using power tools and other electrical stuff out on deck. It was not the easiest of installs due to all the wires that had to be snaked and squeezed amongst the thousands of other wires currently running through the walls on their way to the main control panel. And now it’s gone kaput. Unfortunately, we found this out while filling the water tanks. About half-way through we realized the UV-light filter wasn’t getting any power which meant we were basically putting unpotable water into the tanks. This necessitated emptying said tanks of the tainted water by running every tap on the boat for about half an hour till we got an acceptable reading on the particle counter at which point we had to run an extension cord from the pilothouse to the UV-light filter outside in order to start the whole tank-filling process over. Luckily, we have extra wire on board and the Captain found some new switches at Home Depot. Now he just has to trace through about 4,000 feet of wire to figure out where/why/and how much of the wiring needs to be replaced. Yes, now he “just" has to…

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One day there is life; the next day not so much.

A few weeks ago, Russ Harper died of a heart attack. I don’t expect most of you to know who he was, and it is to my great regret that I didn’t know him as well as I’d liked.

I had stumbled upon his blog when I was researching Barra. As the owner and skipper of S/V Spiritus, he had been a fixture here in Marina Puerto de Navidad for the past couple of years. His posts, especially those on the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia in 2015, gave me more insight into the town and marina than any other cruising guide or online source. When I finally did meet Russ, I told him how much I appreciated his blog and how I’d love to get together over some beers and talk more in depth about his travels and experiences, but as it so often does, the days turned into weeks and good intentions went by the wayside. Conversations were limited to the ten minutes here and there on the docks, in the water taxi, in passing, and nothing of any real consequence—just chats about bright work, new equipment, and that old standby…the weather.

In fact, the last conversation I had with Russ—the day before he died—was about recycling. The marina had just started a recycling program—something that, outside of the big cities, is just starting to catch on in the outlying areas. They had set up six very colorful bins and apart from one labeled “Plastico”, the others were up for interpretation. Together we speculated what Mexicans would consider “organico” vs “inorganico” given the current contents of each bin, questioned why there would be one for grass clippings when we all lived on boats, and wondered why “aluminum” was conspicuously absent given the shear amount of beer consumed by cruisers. In the end, Russ made the statement, “Well, it makes no sense. But it’s worth the effort.” We then said our goodbyes and once again said, “Let’s get together!”

Upon hearing the news of his death the following morning, I immediately began to search for meaning in those last words as if Russ was knowingly imparting some last-minute wisdom. What makes no sense? Our lives? Or how others perceive the paths we have chosen for ourselves? Maybe it’s life’s inevitable curveballs that make no sense? The “bad things happening to good people” thing. What’s the effort? To change? To endure? To always see the bright side? Or perhaps it was, after all, just about the recycling.

But what I should have been focusing on was that we never did “get together” and that the opportunity for any meaningful conversation—about people, places, and experiences (i.e. the stuff that makes us who we are)—was now gone. And I wondered how many other opportunities I had missed because I always assumed there’d be enough time. Enough time to meet and get to know new people; to rekindle old relationships; to really, truly learn to sail; to discover new interests; to go on new adventures; to write that book. But there isn’t enough time, is there? How can there be when you don’t know how much time you have left?

Now obviously we can’t spend every waking moment checking off items on the mother of all to-do lists and is it even possible to “live life to the fullest each and every day”? What does that even mean? For one thing, it sounds exhausting. For another, it probably gets lonely because you’ve become “that guy” i.e. the one with so much “get up and go” that after a while everyone wants you to just “get up and go away” because no one should be that gung ho all the time. It’s just not natural…and it’s arduous to be around.  I would also think that it gets depressing because—let’s face it—there are certain dreams that may be unattainable unless you win the lottery and/or find a magic lamp. And besides, some days you might not want to live life to the fullest. Maybe you have other things to do…errands and stuff…and a half-assed effort will do just fine. Or maybe some days your only motivation should be to lounge around in your jammies and watch tv all day. The great thing about being an adult—being human actually—is that we can change our priorities to suit our mood. It’s one of the things that separates us from the animals…at least from the ones that don’t wear jammies.

But I think I’m off-topic (assuming there was one to begin with.) Oh yes…time, tide, no man, etc. You’re not going to believe this, but I’m a huge procrastinator (Exhibit A: This Blog.) and have been all my life. If something could be put off, it was. I literally lived in the last minute. When I was in college, my mother got me one of those subliminal tapes that sounds like waves crashing on the sea shore but underneath it’s really admonishing you to “get off your butt and get some shit done!” but—in the irony of all ironies—I never got around to playing it. But I really think I procrastinate more out of fear than being lazy. The fear of not being liked keeps me from really getting to know people; the fear of criticism gives me writer’s block; the fear of rejection keeps me from voicing my opinions or asserting myself. It’s just easier to put things off and/or hope they’ll go away than to risk being perceived as a disappointment to myself and others. And it dawned on me that I had made all these changes in my life so I could presumably be a better version of myself, but perhaps had stopped short with the scenery. I mean, I could have been an introvert back in Washington and not left the security of a home, a career, and terra firma in order to sink every dime we have into the SS Money Pit, become the proverbial “stranger in a strange land”, and put myself (and my family) through the stress of being a very small dot on a very big ocean.

But I have few regrets because when I look outside, I not only see paradise, I see an incredible achievement. Leaving all that behind for what we’re doing now was the single scariest thing I think I’ve ever done (possibly the stupidest, but that remains to be seen.) But the fact that we did what we set out to do--shed ourselves of our old lives, start a new life on this boat, and see where it takes us—was a victory in and of itself. And if we all suffer death tomorrow due to “Misadventure by Large Squid”, I think we could chalk our lives up as a win. But I have to wonder if I’m selling the dream short by not making the really scary (read: personal) changes?

The afternoon after Russ died, I was talking with Israel, one the marina’s maintenance crew. Israel is one of the warmest and most helpful people I’ve met here and will always smile and nod enthusiastically even though he really has no idea what you’re saying (although admittedly, his English is still much better than my Spanish.) But I think when you’re speaking of someone’s demise, there really is no language barrier. Knowing nods, heavy sighs, and glances over at a now-ownerless boat conveyed what we were both trying to say. But then he said, “Today is life and tomorrow…mmmm…I think no.”

And that’s when the sentiment of a thousand and one motivational posters hit me square in the gut. You really are “here today, gone tomorrow”; you do only “go around once”; it is true that “no one gets out alive”; and when things get tough, yes…you do really need to “hang in there, baby.” But more than that, perhaps it’s just as important to remember that your dreams and goals may give your life direction, but it’s up to you to give it substance. And if you’re not at least making an effort every day to be the person you want to be, then maybe that’s a day wasted—a day not lived.

Now obviously some people are quite happy with who they are and see no reason to change, in which case I guess I’m just babbling to the choir. But this is my wake-up call-to-arms or however you want to say it (mid-life crises will work in a pinch) so suffice to say that had my journey of personal growth followed the same trajectory as the boat and not gotten stuck somewhere around Cape Mendocino, I should by all accounts be able to single-hand this boat, speak a second language, and be shopping around for publishers. As it is, the boat is still a maze of thingies that attach to whatsits that make the dingus do that thing where the front of the boat turns right and maybe doesn’t hit anything. My Spanish-language skills have not yet evolved past the “See Jane Run” stage though I have mastered “say that again?”, “is that what I said?”, “I’m sorry!” and six different facial expressions that convey bafflement (which coincidentally are the English phrases and mannerisms that’ve served me best over my lifetime.) And that book? Well…let’s just say if “thinking about it” could be published in book form, I’d be more prolific than Stephen King.

I know the things I want to do; the things I’d like to change about myself. The question is, what am I going to do about it in the time I have left?

Maybe it’s time to trek out to the Pacific coast, listen to the waves crashing on the seashore, and say to myself, “Get off your butt, get shit done, meet new people, learn new things, write that book.” Maybe it’s time to face my fears, quit procrastinating, and become that better version of myself that I’d like to be. And more importantly, maybe it’s time to “get together” with the Russes of the world before they’re all gone—both figuratively and literally. Some days I’ll do more; some days not so much. And there will be days when I’ll just lounge around in my jammies all day. But I will resolve to move forward. The journey is still ongoing even when it’s tangibly standing still.

Does this make any sense? Maybe it doesn’t. But I think it’s worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Day 318 to 394 of the Third Voyage: In which we wonder, “Good Lord! Where did the last 76 days, 9 hours, and 18 minutes go?”

We’ve been in Barra de Navidad for a little over three months now, which means I’m about two months late updating the blog. But believe me when I say that we’ve been keeping busy. Rather than bore you with the minutia of how we’ve been spending our time, here are the highlights:

Week 1: Got settled into the marina; explored Barra and the surrounding towns; scoped out local tiendas for everyday needs; had 32 10-gallon water bottles delivered to replenish the fresh-water tanks; and ordered a UV-light water filter to convert the non-potable water at the dock into something drinkable because there’s nothing suckier than having to pour water from 32 10-gallon bottles into your tanks when the fill hole is only 1” in diameter.

Week 2: Took stock of the boat including everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; moped for four days after completing list of everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; pulled the transmission and sent it to JonCo (Barra’s only gringo mechanic) for a complete rebuild.

Week 3: Took possession of aforementioned UV-light water filter and refilled the tanks (general consensus: awesome water!); coordinated the shipping of parts for the transmission; and attended fiesta at JonCo’s house to visit with transmission and commiserate with fellow cruisers, after which we decided that the transmission was lonely and sent our outboard over there to keep it company.

Week 4: Invited for drinks and dinner on Carinthia where we learn too late that Dietmar pours the strongest margarita in all of Christendom—as in how-is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila with a splash of lime and salt. Upon stumbling back to the boat, the Deck Boss falls into the water. After fishing her out—and to avoid an encore—the Captain and Dietmar attach her to a halyard and hoist her safely onboard. I get her bandaged up and put to bed and wander out to check on the Captain who is now passed out on the dock. I promptly fall in the water.

Week 5: Don’t remember week 5 due to a severe hangover from aforementioned week 4.

Week 6: Semana Santa i.e. Holy Week i.e. National All Of Mexico Goes To The Beach Week. Barra is packed. The resort is packed. Music is blaring. It’s a blast. Given the sheer humanity on the Malecon and at the beaches, pools and restaurants, I’d say about three thousand people have descended upon the town—so given the size of the average Mexican clan…about eight families.

Week 7: Semana Pascua i.e. Week after Easter i.e. National Everyone In Mexico That Didn’t Have Semana Santa Off Are Now At The Beach Week. Not as crowded as Semana Santa but still busy—I estimate only six families are in town or roughly two thousand people.

Week 8: The latest round of brightwork—begun in week 6—is completed; the transmission rebuild is finished and it is brought back to the boat for reinstallation; and the engine room blower picks this week to conk out, meaning the engine room is fast approaching sun-surface temperatures.

Week 9: The transmission—despite having been pulled out and reinstalled at least a half a dozen times—decided that it would not go gently into that good engine room. What should have been a four-hour process turned into four days. It didn’t want to swing into place, it refused to align with the bolts, it resented having its screws tightened, and it wouldn’t deign to attach to the propeller without bringing the shaft so far forward that water started to pour into the engine room. On a good note, the bilge pump still works.

Week 10: The Panama Posse is officially formed. Spearheaded by Dietmar on Carinthia (he of the is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila margaritas), the posse is now an official rally open to all boats heading south. The starting point will be in Barra in November of this year. The end rendezvous point will be Panama in June 2018. Check out the website for more details:

Week 11: The Deck Boss and I make our six-month visa trip out of the country. We head to Corpus Christi, Texas which is so hot, humid, and wind-blown that it makes tropical Mexico feels like a temperate zone. Using this opportunity to stock up on boat parts and gringo items, we have had half of an Amazon warehouse delivered to a friend of hers for transport back to Mexico.

Week 12: We spend all week trying to figure out how to squeeze half an Amazon warehouse onto a 52’ boat.

Week 13: The Captain makes his six-month visa trip out of the country and heads to Denver to visit with his family. The other half of that Amazon warehouse is waiting for him for transport back to Mexico.

Week 14: Week 12, The Sequel.

Casa Dulce Casa (or thereabouts)

Pictured: A large family having their picture taken in front of the Barra letters on the Malecon during Semana Santa. The police wanted them to a) remove their children from atop the sign and b) move along. The family responded by a) not removing their children from atop the sign, b) not moving along, c) inviting more people to join in the photo, and d) shouting “POLICIA” instead of “cheese” as each picture was snapped. We were highly amused. The policia? Not so much.

Backtrack:  A little bit about Barra.

Barra de Navidad is a small town of about 7,000 people nestled along the Costalegre (Coast of Joy) that runs between Puerto Vallarta (about 135 nm to the north) and Manzanillo (about 25 nm to the south.)  With the horseshoe-shaped Bahia de Navidad in front, a large lagoon in back, and mountains on either side, it’s the only hurricane hole in Mexico aside from PV. Traditionally it’s a fishing village, but in the last twenty or so years it’s been promoted as a tourist destination. However, it’s more akin to what Puerto Vallarta was probably like forty years ago…before the cruise ships, spring breaks, expats, and Starbucks turned it into “Mexico Lite”. Here in Barra, there are restaurants that cater to holidaymakers and stalls that sell beach stuff, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but the rest is a true coastal working town. There are no supermarkets, no fancy stores, and few paved roads; there’s not even a bank, just an ATM that frequently runs out of cash. But you can generally find everything you need if you look hard enough and if you can’t, the slightly larger town of Melaque is a short bus ride away. If you get desperate, many of the big box stores can be found in Manzanillo and Santiago about 90 minutes away.

So now we shop like the locals do:  we go to one carniceria (butcher) for bacon and pork, another for beef, one tienda for fresh items, and another for packaged goods. All the tiendas sell freshly-made bread. For pastry, most expats patronize the French Baker, but we prefer the little shop up one of the side streets. There’s no sign and no counter—just a makeshift display case that they wheel out when the pastries come out of the oven. Beer is available everywhere although the OXXO (arguably the nicest store in town) carries Indio and you can reload your cell phone while you’re there. On Thursday mornings we go to the weekly market where you can find anything from household items to clothes to fresh fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the market, spread out over a couple tables, the latest DVD releases are available for about $1.50 each. And by new releases I mean a lot of these movies are still in the theatres. The packaging is in Spanish, but the DVDs are in English and the sound and picture quality is pretty decent. I mean…so I’ve been told. 

Although the variety of goods is not as great as in PV, we’ve found the prices to be a little lower to the point where we still do a doubletake every time they tell us the total. Case in point…just yesterday we went to one of our local markets and purchased bananas, apples, limes, bread, cranberry juice, yogurt, cheese, and made-fresh-that-day tortillas and frijoles, and the total came to 130 pesos—that’s roughly $7 dollars. Looking for fast food? There are at least three places in Barra where they grill up chicken on the sidewalks in big, steel drums. A whole chicken with rice, salad, tortillas, salsa, and taquitos runs around 120 pesos. Which is also what we spent on a kilo of thick-cut tocino (i.e. 2.2 pounds of bacon) at the carniceria. The last time I bought bacon in the States for $3.50 a pound it was that already-cooked crap that the Captain immediately dubbed “fakin” and asked that I never buy again.

English is not widely spoken in Barra, but everyone we’ve encountered is patient, happy to repeat things and/or correct our Spanish as needed, and seem to genuinely appreciate our attempts at communication. And where words fail, pantomime fills in the gaps.

We are currently staying in the marina at the Grand Isla Navidad Hotel & Resort. If you want to be impressed, Google it. Because it is pretty damn impressive. It’s considered one of the finest resorts in all of Mexico and it is breathtaking. Spanish-colonial architecture, first-class service, fine dining, 200 rooms, 27-hole golf course, three swimming pools, private beach lagoon, landscaped grounds, etc. etc. etc. Oh…and no guests. It was full over Semana Santa and there have been a few weekends where they’ve hosted large functions, but for the most part it’s empty. I guess this is nothing new. Someone from PV told me that one day last summer they had an occupancy of 15. Not fifteen percent. Fifteen people. Rumors abound as to how they can keep the doors open in which things like, “tax write off”, “money laundering”, and the “C” word are bandied about. But in the end, the one that makes sense is that the marina fees keep the resort going during the slow times.

The moorage rates are preposterously high from November through May. The monthly rate was quoted at $32.80/foot, but if you actually stay for the whole 30 days, you qualify for a discount of 30% off—which is actually only 15% once taxes are added back in; daily rates are so high that if you stay for 10 days, you should just go ahead and stay another 20 at the monthly rate plus discount because it’s the same price. I’d be more specific, but I only got a C in algebra back in high school so I don’t think I fully comprehend it myself. Low season (i.e. now) is much easier as the rate is $0.33/foot/night regardless of length of stay. But the real boon is the option to pay a flat rate for electricity. Given that we held the record for most electricity consumed in Paradise Village last August and September and that our electric was more than moorage both those months, we stand to save some money this year which is very handy given our high “Shit Going Wrong” factor.

Which leads nicely into a new section we’d like to call, “Now What?” in which we bitch about something else that has gone belly up on this barge. This time around it’s the stove! Not the stove per se—more specifically it’s the solenoid which is a metal gizmo-like thing that gets the propane from your tank to the burners on your stove.  A new one has been ordered, but to avoid customs delays and duties we’re having it shipped to Texas where the Deck Boss and I will be headed end of May for our bi-yearly visa trip. So until then…no stove. Just some grilling, a lot of microwaving, frequent sandwich making, and much dining out i.e. things normally reserved for height-of-summer-heat eating. Now the solenoid should be plug and play, but of course it isn’t. Because manufacturers can’t just leave well enough alone, they have to “new and improve” everything until it renders the whole system obsolete at which point they’d be happy to sell you the “new and improved” version of whatever it is you’re trying to fix. So the solenoid is shipping with a bevy of additional items to get the new to fit with the old. We went ahead and ordered a new regulator as well because we may as well “new and improve” it all at the same time.

Editor’s Update: Upon arriving back in Mexico with all the parts, the Captain successfully fixed the stove and the galley is once again open for business…just in time for it to be too hot to cook.

Dispatches from World War C.  Though conventional warfare—sprays, gels, borax, and myriad natural remedies—has been effective in population control, total eradication has eluded us. Dare I say that our roach foes have proven to be more cunning than originally thought. It’s not uncommon to have nary a sighting two nights in a row only to walk in on a free-for-all on the third. I believe they also might be building up a tolerance to the copious amounts of RAID sprayed liberally throughout the galley. Either that or there’s a brisk trade in gasmasks on the black market. I’ve taken to putting pantry items (tortillas, crackers, bread) into sealed plastic bins and fresh fruit into vegetable tubs in an attempt to starve out the enemy. We’ve even resorted to removing Edgrrr’s food at night which has just served to piss him off more than usual (and that’s saying something) but just like a bad game of whack-a-mole, once we clear them out of one part of the boat, they pop up in another (as evidenced by the fact that I recently found two in Edgrrr’s litter box which only reinforces my opinion that just when you think a cockroach can’t get any nastier, they think of ways to up the ante.)

I have ordered some Advion Cockroach Gel Bait which is supposed to be the be-all-end-all of roach eradicators (and with a name like “Gel Bait” it sounds like if they don’t get snuffed out, they’ll at least get hauled away in handcuffs.) Barring its success, it may be time to drop the bomb on them…literally. You may be wondering why we haven’t already and the answer is twofold. Firstly, there are the animals to consider and the pain-in-the-butt factor of keeping them off the boat for the however many hours/days this will take. Secondly—and most surprisingly—I haven’t found any in Mexico.

Now if you’ve ever walked down an average street, been on a bus or ridden in a taxi, eaten from a street vendor, or otherwise spent more than five minutes in this country, you’ll quickly realize that there is little oversight when it comes to public safety. The infrastructure and retail establishments of just one four-block stretch of Paseo de Mazatlán here in Barra would give OSHA, FDA, USDA, EPA, CPSC, and a hassle of other acronyms headaches for weeks. Between the steep curbs, uneven and/or missing paving stones, potholes the size of kiddie pools, no discernable traffic laws, dozens of unleashed/unfixed dogs roaming around, exposed electrical wires, rusty rebar sticking out of everything, unregulated pharmacias, and at least a dozen food stands that are probably not licensed let alone inspected, they’d be writing out violations so fast they’d have to establish National Carpal Tunnel Day just to recuperate. You pretty much live in Mexico at your own risk. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you read the fine print on the back of the immigration form, you’ll find that it’s actually a liability waiver. So the fact that a good roach bomb can’t be found is pretty indicative of how hardcore they are.

Editor’s Update: So far, the Advion Gel Bait just might be living up to its hype. In the mornings, we are finding juvenile carcasses littered about the countertops. At night, there is little activity when on roach patrol—perhaps the occasional adult stumbling around like it’s on a bender. Overall, it’s quiet. Almost too quiet. Like they’re plotting something…

Aerial view of Barra with the Grand Isla Resort in the background.

Gutter view of Barra with an entree in the foreground.

Pictured: A typical street in Barra.
Not Pictured: The two-foot-deep pothole. If you fall in and get hungry waiting for a rescue, don’t worry. There’s a stray dog down there selling tacos.
Meanwhile back at the boat...

Edgrrr is the only crew member who has yet to “go swimming”. This is as close to the water as he likes to get.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 299 to 317 of the Third Voyage: In which we decide to spend another seven months in Mexico…for Barra or for worse.

Warning: the following contains language that might not be suitable for children and/or people with delicate sensibilities. I’m very sorry, but that’s just how it is right now.

So here’s the thing—no matter what you might think—cruising is not easy. Non-cruisers think that it’s a life of ease where you can just weigh anchor and head out to wherever on a whim. Days are spent happily sailing. Nights are spent drinking beer under the stars. Yes, there are moments like this—when time, tide, weather, and attitude permits—but the overall reality is a bit different. Few of the cruising guides talk about the daily doses of “oh, shit!”, “what happened?”, “how did that…?”, “will it…?”, “why won’t it…?”, and “son of a....” that go down whenever you leave, arrive, dock, anchor, moor, sail, motor, or otherwise do anything on, with, or around a boat. And if the thing that’s going to fuck up is not currently fucking up, all the ways it can fuck up are swirling around your head along with the inevitable conclusion that, “if it does, we’re fucked.”

In our lubber days, the Captain and I owned an historic home that we were slowly restoring (and/or renovating where the house was too far gone). There were no small projects—just a Pandora’s Box of blowups. The simple act of switching out a light fixture led to a complete rewiring of the house. The removal of a few cracked tiles in the kitchen floor necessitated the complete removal of said floor, to the point of exposing the cellar below, because the previous owner had thought it wise to cut away some of the floor joists to make room for his pot-growing operation. A newer addition at the back of the house had to be demolished after the removal of an interior door caused the walls to pull away from the main house because the previous owner thought 1000 square feet of cobbled-together wood would just magically stay attached with a couple of nails (see aforementioned pot-growing operation of which he was his primary customer.) Remember that movie, The Money Pit? It’s not a comedy…it’s a cautionary tale.

With the house, we had spent 10 years righting the wrongs of the past 118 years; surely, we could do the same with a 30-year-old boat. And I do think we’ve done an admirable job in the past five years. But the stress of fixing, maintaining, restoring, and updating a boat is different from a house because (usually) when you fuck something up on a house, it doesn’t catch fire and/or sink underneath you. Believe me, two of the scariest questions you can hear on a boat are, “What’s that smell?” and “Where did that water come from?” Number three is, “What’s beeping?” Now obviously, those questions are just as scary in a house as well, but at least a house will not leave you stranded 10 miles off shore or bobbing helplessly in a remote anchorage. When your house acts up, you can get the hell out and/or call in a professional. When you’re at sea, there’s really no place to go and the only “professional” for miles around is you; so you’d better hope that the schematics for the exhaust manifold match what’s in your engine room and that the troubleshooting guide says something other than, “Contact your nearest service center”. Add a foreign country to the mix and any hope of getting help and/or a tow are greatly diminished. Your only recourse at that point is to contact the navy and hope there’s enough tequila on board to pay your way to the nearest port.

And that’s just when you’re underway. Dockside living is not foolproof either—mainly because the worst thing that can happen to your boat is for it to remain immobile. It’s the rolling stone/moss factor. Many of our biggest problems with Raven were the direct result of her slowly wasting away at the broker’s marina for over three years before we purchased her. Sure, they turned over the engine once a month-ish, but the gears were only engaged long enough to move her deeper into “no man’s land” to make room for the brand new, shiny boats. By the time we came along, they had to move a dozen boats just to get her out for the sea trial. This is why a generator that had relatively few hours on it took a shit after three years and why a work-horse transmission seems destined for the glue farm way ahead of its time. Ditto for sails, electronics, winches, windlasses, wiring, plumbing, etc. etc. etc. When at dock for long periods of time, we are diligent about running all the systems on a regular basis—not just to keep them in working order but to try to determine what’s about to go south, what needs some extra TLC, and what’s just having a “me” moment. I think that’s why we got so bummed out after this last jaunt down the coast. It seems like with all the work we’ve put into this boat and the ungodly sums of money it’s taken to get her back to her glory days, it’d sure be nice for a reprieve from the “shit going wrong” factor…if even for a short time.

But it’s not just older boats. Last summer in PV, a brand-new, top-end sailboat berthed next to us and within two hours of being at dock, they had the manufacturer on the phone and were trying to troubleshoot why a brand-new engine was already making “that noise” and why there was an excessive amount of water in the bilge. Harsh words were exchanged and I don’t blame them. If I had just spent half a million dollars on a new boat, I would wholly expect not to have any problems whatsoever for at least…say…eight months.

I know, I know. First world problems. Believe me, I’m not “woe is me-ing” right now so much as just venting because it can get frustrating. Yet despite all the setbacks, compared to the life we left, this one is infinitely better and I am grateful for the opportunity to do this. And we are slowly beginning to accept that the constant parade of things going wrong is part of the cruising experience. I like to think that we have made some progress. For instance, during our first year of cruising, the Captain could go from zero to pissed off in about 3.5 seconds. These days he’s a lot slower to ire and—much like our piece-of-shit outboard--there are a few false starts and occasionally a big roar, but it usually sputters out quickly. The Deck Boss, though amazingly adaptable for an 80-something on her first boat, has come a long way as well. It used to be that 75 degrees in the pilothouse and spotty wi-fi would put her in a bad mood for hours. Now it’s not uncommon to hear her say things like, “It’s a very pleasant 82.” and “That download only took two hours! Woo-hoo!” Speaking for myself? I think I may be going in the opposite direction. I used to be the one with the infinite patience and the “Pollyanna” outlook. Old me: “It’s not working? That’s a bummer! But these things happen and I’m sure if we all work together, we can figure it out. Go team!” New me: “This blows. I’m getting a beer.” Of course, that might be progress as well.

Because if there’s one thing we’ve discovered from talking to the long-time cruisers is that the longer you’re out here, the more you’re able to take everything in stride. Either you learn to accept that shit happens or you run out of shits to give—either way, it’s imperative to your mental wellbeing to just let that shit go. But then we have also discovered that there seems to be a correlation between how long you’ve been cruising and how much alcohol you consume (I believe the current ratio is 5:1 as in five drinks for every one year out cruising. Per sitting.) But one of the great things about the cruising community is that we are all simpatico because everyone—everyone—has problems. We were recently invited to a fiesta at the home of JonCo, Barra’s only gringo mechanic. There were about a dozen other people there and we all had three things in common: we were all cruisers, we all had shit-going-wrong stories, and we all had an engine, transmission, and/or outboard currently sitting in JonCo’s shop. Is it a coincidence that JonCo puts up his own 148 proof moonshine to sell to cruisers? I think not.

So what’s up with the seven extra months in Mexico?
Once again it all comes down to hurricane season…and visas. Our current visas expire on May 23rd which gives us roughly seven weeks to get out of Mexico. Editor’s Note: More importantly, our Mexican fishing licenses expire on May 21st and I’m fairly certain that the penalties for a lapsed license are greater than being in the country illegally. Now seven weeks seems like a long time but we have a lot of ground to cover. From Barra, it’s approximately 820 miles to get out of Mexico and another 230 to get to Bahia Jaltepeque in El Salvador, which isn’t technically out of the box but is the next hurricane hole. To get completely out of the box, we’d have to go a further 105 miles to Nicaragua—and do it by June 1st. A lot of cruisers could easily do 1000 miles in seven weeks. Hell, some could do it in a week if they went straight through. But as the Deck Boss so succinctly put it, “When was the last time we got out of a country in under two months?” And thinking back to our involuntary, extended stay in Canada, the extra six months we spent in San Diego, and the eight additional months we’ve already spent in Mexico, I’d say she has a point.

So as soon as we limped into Barra, we had a decision to make. Do we expedite our repairs, make a run for the border, and hope like hell that we don’t break down in a less hospitable spot i.e. someplace that is not a hurricane hole (which is basically the remainder of Mexico) and/or in Acapulco (in which case we’d rather take our chances with a hurricane)? Or do we settle in here and wait out another season?

Luckily—and here’s the silver lining—this was an easier decision to make than last time where we kind of had to talk ourselves into staying in PV. Everyone told us we would fall in love with Barra de Navidad, and everyone was unequivocally correct. When we first got here, we were already about 75% certain we would stay just given the late date and the repairs that had to be made. By day three, we had already bypassed the 80s and were at 93%. By day five, we decided to stay and by the end of the first week, we were very comfortable with our decision. So what’s in store for the next seven months? We know there will be repairs (lots and lots of repairs), ongoing maintenance, brightwork (yeah fun.), a new outboard, soaring summer temperatures, the ongoing war with the cockroaches, and the inevitable parade of shit going wrong. But there will also be lots of exploring, some anchoring excursions to Tenacatita (once the boat is working), a trip out of the country to renew our visas, new experiences, and new friends. And there will be Barra. I’ll blog about Barra in the coming months—mainly so you don’t forget about us, but also because maybe you’ll become as smitten as we have. But for now, I’ve got to go. The Captain needs my help—the light fixture in the head quit working…because of course it did.

At the entrance to the lagoon there is a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Judging by the all the nautical gifts and tokens left there, I'd say this is where all the locals go and offer up their "please don't let shit go wrong on my boat" prayers.

Dispatches from World War C.  Apparently, cockroaches get seasick. During the voyage to Barra, we had quite a few wobble out of their hidey holes, do a little sidestepping like they’d had too much to drink, then fall on their backs with their little legs kicking around (aka prime squishing position.) Who knew? Tell you what…I’m still laughing about that one. Little bastards. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 291 to 298 of the Third Voyage: In which we have to ask ourselves, “When does this get fun?”

Once…just once…it would be nice to get from point A to point B and not have something go wrong. Lots of other cruisers do it. They set out, get some good wind, have a nice sail, find a good anchorage, go ashore to have a cold beer at a local beachside joint, return to the boat for a relaxing night’s sleep, and, if it’s a good spot, hang out for a few days before heading to the next anchorage. Seriously, people do it all the time. So why can’t we?

We left on the 7th, as planned, and did the short jaunt to La Cruz just across the bay from Nuevo Vallarta. The plan was to stay at the marina there overnight, have dinner at a favorite restaurant one final time, finish the last of the stowing, and top off the fuel tanks prior to heading out the next morning. We delayed the departure by a day to take advantage of an optimal weather window and thus left for Barra de Navidad on the 9th. The plan was to do a series of day hops—no overnighters or incredibly long days—and take our time getting to Barra. There would be a night at the anchorage at Ipala, a couple of nights on the hook in Chamela, and maybe a week at anchor in Tenacatita. Seriously, people do it all the time. We thought we could too.

The trip to Ipala was somewhat uneventful—about 50 nm with wind on the nose so about a 7-hour motor. We found the anchorage despite our GPS being off about 15 degrees (so we did indeed anchor in water and not, as our GPS was indicating, right in the middle of the village) and set the hook on the first try. Before we did though, we tested the gears. Everything was copacetic. Unfortunately for Otter, the wind had whipped up and it was too dangerous for a beach landing, so going ashore was off the table. He would instead have to do his “bidness” on the foredeck (which he absolutely refused to do.)

The next morning, we raised the anchor and turned to head out…and lost the gears. Not a hint of trouble since Morro Bay and now here we go with the transmission again. The anchor was quickly dropped. After our previous transmission troubles, we had purchased a rebuilt spare—just in case—and stored it under the v-berth. But the anchorage had become too rolly to swap them out and we feared that Ipala was not the ideal place to do an operation of this magnitude given the lack of cell phone signal and/or lack of services of any kind. After refilling the transmission with ATF, we regained enough of the gears to make a break for Chamela—another 50 nm south. We talked about just making a beeline for Barra (about 90 miles) but we didn’t want to be coming in at night and underpowered. Plus, the dog was getting anxious.  

We got to the anchorage around 3:00 pm and set to work getting the dinghy ready to take Otter to shore and possibly stake out a nice beachside bar for a well-earned beer. The dinghy was lowered, the outboard was attached and…it wouldn’t start. All the tension surrounding the transmission came to a head at that moment. Bitching, fussing, squabbling, barking, and finger pointing ensued but finally, after about an hour and a half, the Captain finally got the outboard to start and he, I, and Otter sped to shore. We had approximately 10 minutes—just enough time for Otter to pee 16 times, poop twice, and run around like a mad dog—before it was time to clamber back in the dinghy. The tide was coming in and already it was getting difficult to drag the dinghy into and over the waves. Otter, who was having flashbacks of being flipped out of the dinghy in Bahia Asuncion, jumped out and I’m chasing him around the beach while the Captain is trying to drag the dinghy past the breakwater till finally the three of us, soaking wet and extremely irritable, are speeding back to the boat at which point the Captain says loudly, “Isn’t this supposed to be fun? When the hell does this get fun?” And I have no answer for him.

But at least the Chamela experience wasn’t all sucky. Two girls from a neighboring catamaran were going from boat to boat selling rum punch. Extremely potent rum punch. So that was nice. Plus, we finally got to try out our hand-held searchlight—we used it to flag the girls down for a second round.

Unfortunately, copious amounts of rum punch can only provide a temporary respite from your woes and when we got ready to make way the next morning, the mood was still decidedly glum. I made the remark, “Let’s get going so we can see how long it takes for something to go horribly wrong today.” The answer was 15 minutes. As I’m bringing up the anchor, I notice that it’s fluke up—something which, of course, it had never done before. I stop, lean over the edge of the bowsprit, and try to swivel it around right side up. But it’s just out of reach. So I tap on the windlass button, trying to get it to come up in small increments, and it’s ooching up ever so slightly, and then the shank hits the collar and the whole thing whips up and crashes through the teak in the bowsprit like an angry rhinoceros. It was probably two hours before I could utter anything that wasn’t, “Son of a bitch!”

Thoroughly demoralized, we decided to blow off Tenacatita altogether and head straight to Barra, which was a huge bummer as it was probably the one anchorage I was most looking forward to since the third voyage was being mapped out. The way the cruising guides describe it, Tenacatita is the quintessential paradise anchorage. A five-mile long horseshoe bay with white sand, clear water, and lots of beachside bars. There’s a snorkeling area so abundant with sea life that it’s known as the aquarium. And you can take your dinghy up an estuary through the mangroves at the end of which is a small village nestled in the jungle. How cool would that be? I mean, seriously, people do it all the time. We could have as well, but the prudent course of action was to get to the security of Barra so we could deal with our new cadre of problems. We also figured that with the way things were going, we’d have dropped the anchor onto the head of a whale who in his anger would proceed to bash a hole in our boat. And the outboard would likely be eaten by a crocodile. So on we motored past Tenacatita, buffeted by strong headwinds and choppy seas, and because it couldn’t get any more pathetic, it rained a little too.

But finally, we got into Barra—where apparently, nobody in charge monitors the VHF on the weekends—and with the help of some cruisers got Raven tied up onto an end-tie dock in the Marina Puerto de Navidad. We’ll be here at least a month—licking our wounds, expediting some repairs, and making some big decisions.

To those who are critical of our lifestyle (and you know who you are), go ahead and gloat. But at some point, we will get from point A to point B and nothing will go wrong. We will get to sail without worrying if we’ll have gears when we turn the engine back on. And we will stop at an idyllic anchorage and have that beachside beer. We may even spend more than one night. I mean, seriously, people do it all the time.
Our 10 minutes in Chamela. At least someone had fun.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 286 to 290 of the Third Voyage: In which we crew in the Banderas Bay Regatta..

Disclaimer:  The opinions, observations, and snarky asides in this blog post are the author’s and do not (necessarily) represent the views of the other regatta participants. So now that that’s out of the way…

Until about two months ago, I had never crewed a racing sailboat in my life. My sailing skills are marginal at best, nonexistent in times of crisis and/or when it really counts (such as when racing.) So imagine my surprise when I found myself on Vitesse, a 27’ Santa Cruz, participating in the Banderas Bay Regatta.

I had been out on Vitesse a few times before. It’s owner, Bart, had put up an advert on the community bulletin board looking for crew for the Wednesday Night Beer Can races out of La Cruz and the Captain had jumped all over the opportunity because there are few things he loves more than racing sailboats and beer. I went out with them a couple of times when they were light on crew but even though there was sailing, tacking, gybing, and going around buoys, it never really felt like racing. Probably because it’s loosely organized, everyone waves when you pass each other, and you’re drinking beer the whole time. So it’s more like a fun day sailing. But the Regatta was a real race and not just because we weren’t allowed to drink the beer till after we crossed the finish line, but because everyone took it so very seriously. Some boats used special racing sails, some rerigged, others came from outside the area to participate, and some would only bring on experienced, semi-professional crew.

The Regatta officially kicked off with the Skipper’s Meeting.  Held at the sponsoring yacht club, it’s not so much a skipper’s meeting as a cocktail party where they make some announcements, give a quick rundown of events, and promote the swag in between which there is as much mingling, schmoozing, and smooth jazz as you can handle.  I was only half-way paying attention because I found myself standing directly behind the “Where’s your pass?” lady and was trying hard not to “accidentally” spill my beer on her head.  Two days previous I had arrived at the gate at the top of the docks and was searching for my key fob. I had a big bag of groceries, a very large dog, and an old lady in tow when this woman and her husband pushed past us to the gate. “Great!” I said, “Can we get in with you?” to which she replied, “I don’t know. Where’s your pass?” At first I thought she was kidding. I mean, I get that as marina tenants we have to be vigilant about letting people onto the docks that don’t belong there, but “woman with groceries, large dog, and old lady desperately rummaging for a key fob” doesn’t really scream “I’ve come to steal your dinghy.” But she wasn’t kidding. As I’m fumbling around for my key fob, she’s blocking the gate with her body and going on and on about “I need to see your pass. You’ve got to have a pass. Pass, pass, pass.” And I tell her as I’m searching that I’m on Raven in Slip B-31 and she says, “That’s just a number. That doesn’t mean anything to me.” And I finally find my key fob and marina id card and shove it under her nose and only then does she very begrudgingly let me through. I’ve been worked up about it ever since. Editor’s Note: I know she’s not on our docks so I figure she must be on C and D docks so I’ve taken to walking Otter around looking for her boat so I can let him pee on her dock box. And if she complains I can show her the pass that’s now hanging around his neck in lieu of his collar because apparently having a pass gives you carte blanche to be an asshole.

But I digress.

The first day on the water was “Start Your Heart Out” Practice Day. As in a day to practice your starts. The start is very important because it’s not like all the boats can line up in a row and start sailing at the sound of a horn. You have to time a running start at the line without crossing early (or else you have to turn back and go through again) or crossing too late (in which case you’ve probably already lost because every second counts.) So the race committee boat put out a couple of buoys and we practiced our starts by going around and around and around and around. It was bad enough at the stern where I was, but even worse at the bow where the Captain was. He was so dizzy after 18 starts that we were half way back to the marina before he opened his first beer. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish it because on the way back, we decided to practice a spinnaker set and the wind kicked up, caught it, and blew it so far out that we started tipping over…way over. Brian was at the helm and immediately starting yelling to “Douse! Douse! Douse!” and I’m thinking, “I don’t want to douse! I want to be upright again and not clinging to the side as we’re doing a big old Titanic into the water. It was only later after we were upright again that I learned that “douse” meant to bring in the sails and that what we were doing was actually “capsizing”.

The next three days were race days. Now Vitesse is a 27-foot boat and there were six people on board--everyone with a job to do. Neil ran the foredeck—working the jib, preparing the spinnaker sets, etc. Scott assisted Neil, skirted the jib, and manned the halyards and lines. Richelle trimmed sails and released on the tacks and jibes, Brian and Bart each in turn manned the helm and tailing winches. My job was to time the starts, top and drop the spinnaker pole, and help douse the spinnaker (douse as in bring it in, not capsize the boat.) When not working, we were all rail meat. In the racing world, rail meat describes the people that scramble from one side of the boat to the other to put as much weight on the high side so as not to capsize the boat (as in tipping over, not bringing in the sail.)

Now the challenging thing about a 27' boat is that winches, lines, halyards, cleats, travelers, and doused sails (the ones on the boat, not in the water) are squeezed into not a whole lot of room. There is all manner of things to hit, bump, scrape, rack, stumble over, and uncomfortably sit on. Add six people all doing their various jobs on top of one another and your chances of hitting, bumping, scraping, racking, stumbling over, and uncomfortably sitting on something increases tenfold. The race itself consists of intensely chaotic moments of tacking and jibing when everyone is moving at breakneck speed, frantically doing their jobs, and barking at one another punctuated with very long stretches of hanging out on the rails watching the scenery go by, musing about what cocktails that mega yacht in the distance is serving, and wondering what the hell you’re sitting on and do you really want to know.

After each race, you get points for how you finished based on the time it took to complete the course (1 for first, 2 for second, 3 for third, etc.) and after the third race the points are totaled and whoever gets the lowest score, wins. Vitesse came in third on the first day, fourth on the second day, and last on that awesome day when the wind totally died on our last leg and then the heavens opened up and rained on us while we were desperately trying to bob toward the finish line. But here’s the thing…regattas are open to all boats (so instead of apples racing apples, it’s apples racing apples, oranges, kumquats, and watermelons) so each boat is given a PHRF “rating” number. The rating is based on make, model, age, weight, height, breadth, depth, paint color, zodiac sign, and number of beers on board. Long story short, the J-Boats that we raced against had to give us 30 seconds per mile which is how we came in 2nd overall in our class. Not too shabby for a beer can crew.

So I guess I’d have to say that sailboat racing is equal parts adrenaline, anxiety, awkwardness, and complete bedlam but not without a bit of fun thrown in. The Captain would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t think I will unless the boat is bigger, fully automated, and has comfy cushions. Oh…and the only thing in danger of capsizing is the cocktail shaker.    

A special thank you to Bart for the opportunity to be part of the Vitesse crew. I learned a lot—mainly that I’m not really cut out for real racing. I’m more of a beer can girl.
Pictured: Sailboats hovering around the start line during practice day. Only a fraction showed up so you can imagine what it was like when all 23 boats were present. It was hectic, confused, and a little stressful. And that was just inside my head.