Saturday 29 December 2012

Feliz Navidad from La Cruz

When we updated you (about a month ago), we were enjoying the peaceful solitude of Chacala, a small village between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.  Chacala provided our first taste of what felt to us like “real” cruising (ie “this is what we left home for”) – we were in a small place (the twelve boats anchored with us were some kind of local record), we spent our days homeschooling in one of the palapas (thatched roofed restaurants) that lined the beach, the kids tried their hands at boogie boarding (with surf big enough to thrill them, but not too scary for Mom to watch!), and for once, we found ourselves relaxing and sharing stories with other cruisers.  

It was a far cry from the days in marinas that had preceded it, where we were working hard to beat the clock to be ready to go south.  It also turned out to be a far cry from the last four weeks, where we were in another marina, again working to beat the clock so that we could be “anchored out” for Christmas. 

The short story is that we made it.  Here is the long story …

Before leaving San Diego, we booked eight days at Paradise Village, a resort marina in Nuevo Vallarta.  With pools, waterslides, tigers, parrots, daily yoga, and recommendations for tradespeople, it had something for each of us.  We knew that we would have to do some work on the boat (in fact we had a list of jobs we planned to do), but as ever, we had underestimated how much. 

We got our first clue that our “holiday” in the marina wouldn’t be quite what we had expected when our high water alarm went off about three hours before our destination.  Max checked down below, and found water and smoke (an odd combination to say the least) when he opened the compartment behind our bunk in the aft cabin.  Once we had shut down the engine and he could look at it more closely, he found that we were taking on water around our exhaust pipe.  Thankfully, the leak was slow, and once we shut the engine down, the boat sat high enough in the water that we had time to think through our response.  Taking stock, the biggest surprise was that it was neither night time nor rough seas.  It was mid-afternoon and dead calm – not the usual time for things to go wrong!  Our resident gymnast (aka Frank) climbed over the pushpit, down the transom, and pushed one of our cool spongy damage control plugs into the exhaust pipe and then Max got to work with Rescue Tape and wrapped the now cool exhaust pipe with it.  We were relieved that the repair held, and we made it slowly to Paradise Village.  The marina office recommended a Canadian (from Kitimat BC) mechanic called Jack, and we now have a shiny new (fabricated for us) stainless steel exhaust pipe.  It even has a rubber flap to keep seawater out in following seas, the search for which was the source of much wasted time before we left Seattle when hunted fruitlessly search for a flap to fit our old exhaust pipe.  Of course, the new exhaust pipe meant several days of sleeping with a hole in our transom, several days of the boat smelling of fibreglass, and various poses of boat yoga as Max worked with Jack and his Frank (not to be confused with our Frank) and the fabricator to reconnect our engine to the outside world. 

Once the new exhaust pipe was in place, it was time to re-align the shaft.  Max had contemplated taking on this job by himself, but we decided to ask Jack and Frank for assistance.  Suffice to say that it took the three of them all day to complete the job, Jack had to go out twice to buy new tools, and it was just as well that I took the kids to the pool during the job, or they would have learned an entire new vocabulary of words to express frustration!  Sometimes it is good to ask for assistance!

With our exhaust and shaft in place, the next priority was to investigate the source of the burnt-out 200A fuse that had slowed our departure from Cabo San Lucas a few weeks earlier.  We had been running on our #2 Alternator (160 A) since then without incident, but we wanted our redundancy and capacity back.  Within seconds of running up the engine on our #1 alternator, the familiar burning smell filled the cabin, and the alternator was too hot to touch – we had our culprit!  Thankfully, Jack knew of an alternator shop that he trusted to do quick work, and we had our alternator back (insides completely replaced) the following day.  This was good because the following day was three days before Christmas, and we had children reminding us frequently that they wanted to be anchored out for Christmas. Max also got the grey water system working again, rebuilt the manual bilge pump and convinced the electric bilge pump to work again.  The electric bilge pump and float switch will be replaced once Frank shows up with supplies from Canada. The excel spreadsheet of projects still covers several pages ...

Shortly before leaving San Diego, we faced a question common to every walk of life, but particularly applicable to cruisers – fix or replace?  In our case, it was to do with our aged (but solid) refrigeration system.  We went with the “fix” option, but we had still been unhappy with the amount of power it drew and the amount of time it had to run every day.  We couldn’t do much about the power draw, but the daily heating/cooling cycle was something we could influence.  When we found out that a friend of ours was heading to the hardware store to buy 1” thick pink foam for his fridge, we shared the rental car and the insulation board.  Given that the job required patience and clean hands, we decided that it would be mine to do … so I spent a day cutting jigsaw puzzle pieces and fitting them into the freezer.  It’s not pretty, but we have gone from running 30-45 min every 1.5-2 hours to 15 min every three hours.  This makes such a difference when we need to generate all the power that we use (and since our fridge draws 30 Amps, it is not a trivial thing to reduce its pull on our batteries).

Of course, it was not all maintenance and greasy hands (just mostly).  Max and I had the chance to go to a Mexican Fiesta (with tickets won on stage at a 3-second karaoke contest … long story), as a family, we helped to launch baby turtle hatchlings into the ocean, visited tigers and parrots, and even to go to church during advent, where we learned about families living and working at the local landfill who now have a reason for hope thanks to some volunteers from Canada and the States.(  

Being in one place for awhile also meant we got to spend time with some of our neighbours.  Richard and Elaine in Windarra ( have been mentors to us since we started getting ready to cruise.  They also have a Stevens 47 but have had the boat for 12 years, cruised extensively and as two Boeing engineers have a very thoughtful approach to setting up their boat.  They visited us in Seattle but it was a treat to spend time with them on their boat to accelerate our learning curve (and drink their G&T's).  Many of our friends from the Ha Ha were also there.  With Phil from Silhouette we shared a rental car and reprovisioned at Cosco and stocked up on fishing lures and some boat supplies at one the large boating store in Puerto Vallarata.

Finally, days after we had first thought we might leave Paradise Village, we set off on the afternoon of 23 Dec (our only real deadline was to be anchored out for Christmas, remember) for La Cruz, six miles and a world away.  La Cruz is kind like a mix of the two worlds we have seen so far – much more built up than Chacala, but nothing like Paradise Village.  La Cruz is still an active fishing town, and when the new marina was built a few years ago, they worked closely with local fishing community to provide a daily fish market and a weekly artisan market (looking forward to this on Sunday!).  We are going to be here for a couple of weeks at least. The plan is to relax, let our souls catch up, do the minimum of maintenance that we can, and generally spend time as a family.  The location of our "Christmas holiday" is different from other years, but the intent is the same :)

Now let's wander through the month with some photos ... starting in (or according to our GPS on) Isla Isabela.  Much of the chart data is off by a mile or so so careful visual or radar navigation is the order of the day when close.  At anchor the GPS regularly shows us half a mile inland. 

Here is one who got away ... literally.  We hooked our first Dorado enroute to Isla Isabela, took its  picture, even videoed it, but it got away before we could net it and land it on the deck.  Too bad, because they are great to BBQ.  We had learned a few things since then, so the next one we hook will have more of a fight to escape from us!

After our Dorado escaped, we caught three good-sized (over 24" long) Tuna (Bonito/Skipjack) in the following hour, so it was still a good day of fishing :)

Mom always gets the job of filleting the fish...

Isla Isabela is famous for the blue-footed boobies and frigate birds that roost there.  The air was constantly full of them. 
They are not particularly afraid of humans, and let people approach their nests very closely for photos.

We have seen iguanas everywhere ... here is the Isla Isabela encounter ...

At the center of Isla Isabela is a volcanic crater lake (Lago Cráter).  We hiked there, but it sure wasn't a place to swim (the island is basically a big bird cage and all the run-off goes to the crater lake...)

After our  hike, we had a chance to play on the beach with our friends from the other two boats in the anchorage

Hermit crab!

The anchorage was rocky and we did not have a particularly secure spot, so Max had stayed on the boat when the rest of us went ashore.  Here are the kayakers returning.  

The water at Isla Isabela was incredibly clear - we could see (and try to avoid) the rocks on the bottom when we anchored.

Johnathan and Frank enjoying a snack of kiwis.

Johnathan studying up on Pacific Mexico.  The anchorage at Isla Isabella is visible in the background.

Cold water and fresh limes ... crafted by Victoria ... yummy!

After a day at anchor at Isla Isabela, we set off on a night passage for Chacala, where we arrived just after daybreak the following day.  Now here is a view worth selling your house and leaving home for (the green-roofed building was our "school" for the week) ...

The palapas provided a great place to relax and watch the sun go down ...
The view from the dingy beach path.  We could sometimes bring our dingy right to the main beach, but when the surf got too big (evidenced by waves taller than people and/or other boats swamping their dingies) we would bring our dingy to a little inlet around the corner and walk to the beach.  Much less drama that way!

Victoria still loves to draw ... this lovely sketch was done on a day when Mom thought we were studying Math!

Max and the kids returning home towing the new surf board we were given ...

... and Johnathan trying it out with Frank.

Our favourite taco shop in Chicala.

Once we got to Paradise Village, it was time to decorate for Christmas ... our mast, Frank's sleeping bag, and Victoria and Johnathan's ingenuity provided us with a tree...
Mexican Fiesta night at Paradise Village! 

And the silly hats on the kids' heads the next morning

A couple of shots of iguanas at Paradise Village.  One  morning we spotted six iguanas in this bush!

A few shots of the baby Olive Ridley turtles (day-old hatchlings).  We rubbed our hands with wet sand to remove our human smells, then we let them go near the waterline at sunset ...

The next day, we studied a little more about them during our school time, and made some out of beeswax.  We have also heard a lot about missing snow this year ...

Victoria's handy-work - a vase of flowers.

Our school room in Paradise Village (the hotel lobby), and a picture of the new generation of writer at work (photo by Johnathan)
A view of the back of our fridge compressor ... the funny smell at night and the non-starting compressor in the morning were the clues we had to go on to find out why wirenuts are no longer "code" on a sailboat! All wire nuts have been replaced with proper connectors.  These ones were hidden in the electric motor.

The view inside one corner of our freezer.  The new pink foam means that our fridge runs soooo much less than it used to (which means that our engine also runs sooo much less than it used to!)

Repairs done, we made it to La Cruz in time for sunset on Dec 23 - with time to finish our shopping on Christmas Eve ... our usual just-in-time project management at its best!

Ready for Santa!

Lots of lights so Santa can find our boat

Sunrise on Christmas morning (at anchor at La Cruz).  Victoria woke up early to take this picture, but she waited until almost 8am to wake the rest of the family.  (Thank you Victoria!)

Santa came!

We have enjoyed our first few days in La Cruz, with watching sealife from the cockpit (dolphins, rays, and even a whale who passed through one night), fishing (there are loads of sardines taking refuge from the pelicans and boobies under our boat, and the kids lean over and catch them with their little nets), and paddling (Max, Victoria and Johnathan entered a fun paddling competition last evening at the local marina).  We'll be here til Frank comes back in January, then we'll head back to Paradise Village for more repairs and school work.

Today we are going for a day-sail to run our engine, charge our batteries (with solar, wind, and our improved refrigeration, we haven't run it since we arrived on 23 Dec - six days ago!),  and maybe even see the whales that come here to have their calves.


Thursday 29 November 2012

Night Passage to Chacala

This was supposed to be an overnight passage from Isla Isabela to San Blas .. but leaving Isla Isabela before dark (which we wanted to do) would have meant hanging around outside the entrance to San Blas (likely hove to) for a few hours (which we did not want to do) so we changed our plan on the fly and are now approaching Chacala (which was our next destination anyway) and will arrive there just after daybreak. Much better.

To quote our guidebook - "Chacala is the quintessential anchorage most people dream about when setting sail for the warm tropical anchorages of Pacific Mexico". Need we say more??

We plan to be in Chacala for about a week, then we will head for Paradise Village Marina (near Puerto Vallarta) possibly via La Cruz.

We are cruising and all is well,


PS - Isla Isabela was pretty much as advertised - rocky anchorage, clear blue water, and loads of birds & lizards ashore. We arrived there yesterday afternoon, and spent the morning ashore today. We didn't want to spend another night on anchor watches, so here we are on passage!
At 18/11/2012 06:54 (utc) our position was 23°13.80'N 107°19.92'W

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Tuesday 27 November 2012

Dodging Fish Nets

Still trying to get to Isla Isabela without getting stuck in nets or lines. An incredible density of fishing with all the nets or lines marked with the finest 2L pop bottles ... The fishermen in the pangas are very cheery about the whole thing though. They zoom over to tell us which way to go which is usually successful with a mix of hand waving, Spanish and English. One of our friends just behind us has already gotten stuck on one line.

Despite it obviously being a good fishing area we have not caught anything ourselves yet. One turtle spotted by the children. They are very busy at the bow spotting the float marker for us.

At 18/11/2012 06:54 (utc) our position was 23°13.80'N 107°19.92'W

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Saturday 24 November 2012

Mazatlan and a Few Photos

We have been in Mazatlan for about a week now.  Four days anchored in Mazatlan Harbour and a few days at El Cid Marina just north of Mazatlan.  A chance to clean the boat, fix a few things, do some homeschooling and take advantage of actually having an internet connection to sort our admin (and update our blog of course).

We will leave here in the next few days with an intention of sailing south for a brief stop at Isla Isabela and then to San Blas.

A few photos:

San Diego was a pretty busy place at start of leg 1.

And we caught and ate some fish.  I guess Johnathan likes fresh tuna.

And were visited by many pods of dolphins and porpoises.  A few whales too.

And a few persistent boobies.

Half Way Across the Sea of Cortez

Crossing the Tropic of Cancer

Cabo San Lucas at Anchor
And there was some swimming

 And Liz led the Ha Ha'ers in yoga when the opportunity arose.

And of course some sailing ...


Well, we are finally in Mexico and the foul weather gear has been washed and stowed away for awhile.  More adventures to follow.