Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Home Away From Home...Away From Home

We had another delightful trip home to visit family and friends complete with a surprise appearance at a family Christmas gathering.  We played golf; we satisfied cravings for food at some favorite restaurants like In-N-Out Burgers, Las Olas Mexican Restaurant in Solana Beach, and Villa Capri in Carmel Valley; we hung out with the grandchildren; and we saw friends in far away places like Sacramento, Palos Verdes, Napa and Oregon. 

Returning to Moonshadow after trips home, it takes a day or two to digest all that happened in such a short time-span.  We really pack in a lot in the few weeks we're away, and it's all such a sharp contrast from our regular routine.

But here in the Marina at La Cruz, it's anything but our normal Moonshadow routine.  First, there's life in a marina.  We're use to swinging on an anchor.  Along the marina's docks, you never know what you'll see.  You might even catch a fish without even trying!

This beauty just jumped right out of the water and landed at our feet as we were getting ready to head out to a restaurant.  We didn't want to stop to clean it, so we tossed it back into the bay. Now there's a fish in La Cruz with a story to tell and we doubt he'll ever jump onto the dock again.

Just down the way, we watched the 5-7 year old cruisers kid group strategizing about their next Lego's build.  We hear from parents of cruiser kids that they can seek out other cruiser kids within a hour of the anchor hitting the bottom (or in this case, the dock-lines getting secured)!

We were headed out for the evening so never saw what they created, but given the ammo they had, it must have been spectacular!

La Cruz isn't just a Marina somewhere.  This is a town that really grows on you.  Just about any night, you can happen upon some really talented musicians who've found La Cruz and just like it here so much, they either moved here or put it on their regular tour.

And the town here is really very nice. Check out this park in the town square.

It's clean, comfortable and laid back, even the dogs like to hang out.  No fear of being on next week's taco menu.  Actually, that Mexican stereotype doesn't apply here.  There are two veterinarians here and happy tail-wagging dogs everywhere.  Why wouldn't they be happy?!

Finding a cool shady spot around mid day is an idea not just the dogs have figured out.

And another thing we liked; this is the kind of place that's just fine with having a Christmas Manger set up in the public square... and leaving it there till February.

But there's another reason we're here. Moonshadow is due for a major cosmetic make-over.  La Cruz Shipyard comes with a good reputation and friends who've had work done here recommended Pedro Vargus of Sea Tek to do the work we have in mind, so this will be Moonshadow's home away from home for a while.

Shepherding good ole Moonshadow from her watery domain to her new temporary home on the hard is a nerve-wracking experience we're glad not to have to do too often.

There's nothing natural about pulling a 29 ton sailboat out of the water and hanging it from some canvas straps on a moving travel lift.  It kind of reminds us of passing under the bridges on the Inter-coastal Water Way, where we'd just cringe and wait for a big noise!

With Moonshadow on the hard, we've had to find a home away from home.  One of our favorite bar/restaurants is Philo's, which hosts great music and serves good food.  Philo's wife, Maria, doubles as a real estate agent and found us this beautiful Casita right on the beach.  We realized we were in for a treat as we followed the driveway from the street.

"Casa Por Fin" is a fabulous old Mexican home whose current owner has lived in for 26 years.  Since her surgeon husband died a few years ago, Marielza converted some of the living spaces into "casitas" with kitchens and private access.  

This was the first place in a list of five that our agent planned to show us, but after seing Casa Por Fin, we stopped Maria asking if we could just return to her office and sign up for this house.  

With beach access and just five minutes walking distance from the boatyard, we couldn't believe we'd find anything nicer.

Living here, we almost hope the boatyard doesn't live up to their 45 day estimate of how long it will take to finish the work we've ordered.

Really Pedro, if it takes longer, we'll manage... somehow.

No, really... take as long as you like...

We'll be right here!

Banderas Bay, where La Cruz is situated, is one of the best sailing areas on the Mexican Riviera, so don't worry Moonshadow,  we'll have you back in the water looking better than ever real soon!


Some of our friends may have heard about the Mexican Authorities recent inspection of foreign yachts, and subsequent impounding of 338 yachts.  This is a nightmare for the owners all of whom are trapped in marinas (and into paying marina rent) while the government figures out what to do.  Arriving at several marinas across Mexico with teams of automatic weapon toting Marines, and evidently looking for stolen boats and/or owners attempting to circumvent the Mexican documentation requirements, this team found neither but nevertheless impounded scores of boats for little or no cause.  Some owners with all the necessary paperwork simply were unlucky enough to be away from their boats at the moment of the surprise inspections, so they were presumed to be guilty of (something wrong) and impounded.

This all started before we arrived in La Cruz weeks ago so, at least so far, we and Moonshadow are not involved in any of this. We have all of our paperwork and it's all on file at the marina and the shipyard.  The rumor mill is that this has caused such a backlash among those in the Mexican tourism and marine industries that it should all be solved soon.  The problem is soon is a word that is difficult to find in the Mexican vocabulary.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This cruising life ain't all that easy, you know. 

Not that I'm complaining, 'cause I'm not. But still, there's a lot a things that are way harder than back in my old life on land. Like just getting online with Facebook to see what our friends are up to can be a frustrating experience with third world internet connection problems. Then there's working in the engine room. My favorite thing is dropping that tiny little part into the bilge, then spending 30 minutes looking for it. 

So with Deb still in San Diego and these thoughts on my mind as I was attacking "project week" here in La Cruz, Mexico I took a break to watch the Chargers/Broncos playoff game at the bar above the marina office. That's where I met a man that made me re-think just how "hard" this cruising life is. John Berg sailed his Nordic 40 "Sequel" from Ventura down to San Diego, then joined the Baha Ha-Ha fleet to sail on to Cabo San Lucas. Now, he's here in La Cruz. John found his way to my end of the bar by the TV, introduced himself and asked if anyone was sitting in the chair near me. John is totally blind. 

As we talked about the usual cruising stuff, some aspects of our conversation were like no cruiser chat I'd ever heard. While we "watched" Payton Manning rip up the Chargers defense, little tidbits of what it must be like for John to undertake this cruising life peculated to the surface of our conversation, interrupted by big plays that I'd describe to John.

John uses an Apple iPhone for his navigation because it has a native text-to-speech capability. Wouldn't you like to go through a whole day where the phone had to read every word on the screen to you? John prefers his headsails rigged to the forestay with bronze hanks rather than roller furling because he gets a better sense of what the sail is doing on a douse while he's out on the bow pulling it down. He says he's adapted to most all of the cruising and sailing tasks but the last bit getting into the dock is a problem. John lost his wife four years ago so he's now looking for crew. He said he had his doubts about going forward with cruising but then realized "life is short".

When it was obvious San Diego couldn't win, John got up with his backpack and his cane to head down the dock to Sequel. After asking me to confirm it was a 50 peso note he'd pulled from his pocket for the bar tab, John left me alone to watch the last few minutes of the Chargers season and ponder the difference between cruising for this John and cruising for that John. 

Though I'd have loved to see the Chargers win, my day was rewarded with meeting an exceptional man who has overcome huge obstacles to do what comes really pretty naturally to me, even with all the "hard work". I hope John can find good crew that can describe the scenes available to those of us with the gift of sight, like these breaching whales observed on our passage to La Cruz.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Home for the Holidays

Though the weather in Chiapas Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, was warm and calm, the conditions out in the Gulf of Tehuantepec were fierce.  Created by weather conditions far away across the Central American Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, northerly winds streaked through the gaps in the mountains resulting in 45-50 knot winds and 20 foot seas along our route. These notorious conditions are not necessarily associated with any typical weather features like rain or clouds, so in the old days Tehuantepeckkers could and did catch many mariners by surprise. 

Nowadays, though we're lucky.  We can consult modern and accurate forecasts that virtually eliminate getting caught by surprise.  So, after a week of waiting in Chiapas, we finally got a favorable weather forecast for a no-drama crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and off we went, along with eight other cruisers who had been waiting with us for a break in the weather.  We arranged morning and afternoon radio net check-ins with the other boats which gave us something to look forward to each day across the Gulf.

Along the way, we did see more interesting sea life including many large sea turtles chilling out on the surface, many so close we nearly hit them.  Fortunately all the turtles heard Moonshadow in time, woke up and paddled out of our way.

Realizing we weren't going to have any scary Tehuantepec sea stories to tell, and maybe feeling a little bored,  our Captain spiced thing up with a surprise man overboard drill.

Caught by our GPS chart plotter, Deb demonstrated the benefits of her excellent man overboard training.  She had recovered the pretend Captain (a floating cushion) in just four minutes and we were back underway and on course after just six minutes. Awesome job, Deb.   

565 miles and 71.8 hours later, we arrived in the beautiful bay surrounding the lovely town of Zihuatanejo.

The last few miles were flat and calm which was good as it allowed us to see several huge logs, some mostly submerged.  

Anything this big and heavy could definitely ruin an otherwise fine passage!

Soon Moonshadow was swinging peacefully on her anchor in beautiful Zihuatanejo...

...where we kept an eye on her from several vantage points...

... and toasted her for getting us here!

On the beach where we enjoyed refreshments precisely at "beer o'clock", fishermen were demonstrating their skills at fishing with nets.

Several blocks up from the beach, the roads in Zihua are closed to vehicular traffic.

This clean and visitor friendly town is definitely on our list for a re-visit.

But our mission was to arrive in Puerto Vallarta by Mid December so on we went.

Fuel was found at the marina in Ixtapa, just six miles around the corner.

The Marina was easily navigated using our primary tools that we always keep available for immediate use,  Eye Balls.  You can spend all the money you want on electronics, but they're not always the best source of navigational data! 

The Marina in Ixtapa was excavated from a swampy estuary.  Evidently, nobody gave the Crocodiles their eviction notice.

Next day, we left for Manzanillo and anchored where all the babes hang out:  the Las Hadas Resort, site of the movie "10".

A long time ago, some guy caught a sailfish off of Manzanillo. Word got out and more fishermen showed up.  Next thing you know, a huge steel sailfish showed up in the town square.  Now, this is the billfish capital of Mexico.  This is all blown way out of proportion... we didn't catch anything.

Sailing in the tropics, it's easy to forget Christmas is just around the corner... except around this corner in Manzanillo, where you can't miss it.  Nothing says "Christmas" like pink and black Christmas trees.

It was nice to see people sprucing up around town.  Evidently OSHA hasn't payed a visit here lately.

TIP: Always stand on the full paint can!
From Manzanillo, we continued on along the Mexican Riviera coastline visiting Barra Navidad and Tenacatita.

Tenacatita has an estuary among the mangroves that provides fun dinghy exploration.

Then it was on to our new temporary home Marina Riviera Navarit in La Cruz, Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta. This is where we left Moonshadow for a surprise trip home to San Diego for Christmas.

Good ole San Diego, always fun to return to.

We successfully kept our visit secret for months, even resorting to a couple of fibs.

It was all worth it when we walked in to the family gathering at Deb's sister Robyn's house.

We miss our friends and family and treasure these few, short chances to hang out with them.
At the next low tide, we'll write our new plans in the sand.  For now, it looks like we will be in Mexico throughout 2014, splitting our time between a minor refit at the boatyard, exploring more of the Mexican Riviera and the Sea of Cortez and possibly a sail home to San Diego for the summer before returning to Mexico with the "Baha HaHa" rally in the fall.

This will give us some time to reflect on our cruise to date, now approaching two years, over 10,500 miles, and 178 ports of call.  That's a lot of memories!