If you are thinking to yourself that we were in P V about this time a year ago, you’re absolutely correct. You win a margarita! Nineteen ninety-seven has been about going with the wind and whims, but once again we are making forward progress (toward where, I don’t know at this point.)
Where We’ve Been
Since the last newsletter (La Paz, September), we reprovisioned Moonshadow and returned north into the Sea of Cortez for another six weeks of fun in the sun. After reuniting with “buddy boaters” Buddy and Ruth on Annapurna, having gone our own directions most of the summer, we returned to La Paz for a farewell visit before a singlehanded crossing of the Sea to Mazatlan at the beginning of November. There we joined up with many of our friends from Northern California and the Sausalito Yacht Club who had just come down in the Baja Ha-Ha Cruiser’s Rally. Friends Dick and Mary Hein joined us for the trip from Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta, with stops at the remote Isla Isabela and beautiful Jalotembra. I love this part of the coast as the dry, scrubby landscape gives way to the verdant landscape of the tropics. It’s great to be back in the world class Marina Vallarta and Banderas Bay with its quaint villages, beautiful seascapes, jungles, and of course the culture, fine dining and nightlife of Puerto Vallarta. It’s also nice to be wintering in the cool daytime high temperatures of 85 degrees.
The Sea of Cortez Remembered
A manta ray jumping
Spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez was one of the most memorable experiences in my life. If you can survive the heat, the raw beauty and solitude are your rewards. Some of the sights and sounds that I’ll never forget: The slap of the bellies of manta rays as they hit the water after leaping three feet into the air with wings still flapping. The obnoxious cawing of seagulls. The hooting of owls, just after sunset, echoing off the rock wall faces of the Baja terrain. The pattering of MaiTai’s feet as she sprints the length of Moonshadow’s deck, in hot pursuit of huge moths. Being a master moth hunter, she often caught them by one wing, while the other wing buzzed against her nose like a playing card in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The silent flight of the pelicans, an inch or two above the water, in “ground effect,” seemingly forever, without flapping their wings. The bursting exhale of dolphins, unseen, as they break the glassy surface of the water at night in a calm anchorage. The drone of a panga (a small Mexican fishing boat) as it heads out for the day’s/evening’s work. On some particularly calm days hearing just nothing. Sometimes I’d turn off the stereo to hear a complete absence of any sound. The scratchy squeaking of a lobster attempting to free itself from one’s grasp. The ceramic “chink” of chocolata clams opening up in a steamy pot water. The high pitched hum of the wings of the “no-see-ums” making strafing runs around one’s ears. The sudden whoosh of water as a school of small fish breaks the surface in unison, being chased by something higher up the food chain. On our last evening in the Sea, we had a small beach party at Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida. Ruth from Annapurna printed up the words to a bunch of sea chanties and folk songs and then played guitar while we all sang along. We may have been a bit off key, but I’ll never forget what a special time we had as the sun quietly dipped below the mountains to the west.
From the solitude of the Sea of Cortez we go to the hustle and bustle of cities like Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. One experience not to miss is riding the city buses around town. The buses are very interesting. No two are alike. The drivers work on some kind of split, so they are very accommodating and will stop to pick up or drop off passengers on request anywhere along their route. The buses are usually relatively clean, safe, and one can get across town for two pesos or about 25 cents. The entertainment value alone is worth a buck. First there’s the decor. Nowhere in everyday life does the Mexican brand of frivolity manifest itself as it does in the city buses. Each bus has been carefully “personalized” to fit the tastes, interests and religious beliefs of the driver. Some are quite restrained, while a few go all out. One bus I saw had so many colored lights on the exterior that it could have been mistaken for a low flying UFO. Inside, the cab was upholstered in black diamond tuck and roll. The driver’s seat was finished in blue crushed velour. There were, of course, pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin of Guadeloupe (the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary) surrounded in a gold fringe, displayed where the side of the bus curves up to the roof. There was also a statue of Jesus on the cross just behind the driver’s head. The gear shift handle was clear plastic with a real scorpion embedded inside. The shift lever was covered in a very ornate boot that made it look as if it were an accessory to a horse’s saddle. It was laced together with leather and had fringes all around the top. It gives a great visual as the driver grinds through the gears, bumping down the road. Two little stacks of fare receipts were held in place by little clipboards, mounted on the fare box. The clips were shaped like Playboy bunny heads. Stuck to the inside of the windshield were two hearts, pierced by arrows, backlit by red neon lights. For entertainment, you have the horn which plays out a tune, usually something like La Cucaracha. Sometimes we are blessed with live entertainment on board. There are the clowns, comedians, balloon twisters and the ever popular mariachi singers. For the most part, it is uh, well let’s just say “amateur.” We are not quite clear if we are supposed to tip them for playing or to get them to stop. Sometimes, we just get off, take another bus, and get a whole new experience. One driver we saw even has a mini light show control board that he manipulated to the music of his high bass stereo. Between collecting fares, shifting and making sharp turns, we got a light show, all for only two pesos.
Cruising on a Budget
Many people believe that one has to have a lot of dough to go cruising. In fact most people out cruising are on a fixed income, usually less than what one needs to live on land. Then there’s my friend Joey. Joey is 28 years old and has caught the cruising bug. He claims that as a career window washer, he’s never earned more than $8,000 per year. He does, however, have a high propensity to save. Working for three months plying his trade, he can cruise for the remainder of the year. Joey bought a fully equipped cruising boat, an Islander 30, for $9000. He has put $100 into repairs since he started cruising and a few hundred bucks into “toysÓ like GPS (Global Positioning System), etc. In addition to the sailing, Joey is an avid surfer, loves to hang by hotel pools, and enjoys meeting and socializing with the visiting and native muchachas. Joey cruises on $500 per month and eats most all of his meals out. He says he could do it on $250 a month if he did more of his own cooking. Hanging out with Joey, I can tell you he has definitely mastered the art of living large on a small budget.
Muy Cool Stuff
Getting excellent weather information every day from Tom (Tango Papa-See November Latitude 38) on the Chubasco Net, a daily Ham radio broadcast, which helped us navigate our way through a very active hurricane season in Mexico. Laughing at some of the crazy antics of Mike on Tortue, who undoubtedly has one of the wackiest senses of humor. Having a beer one evening aboard Tortue in Puerto Escondido, when someone came on the radio announcing that a case of Latitude 38’s had been dropped off at the dinghy dock-It was like someone had said “gentlemen, start your enginesÓ as 20 dinghies raced to get their copy. Getting a critical engine part from Tampa, Florida to La Paz in three days, thanks to Dale on Last Hurrah, who hand carried the part from Downwind Marine in San Diego. Teaching my brother Jim to find clams in Bahia Concepcion, whereupon he found close to a hundred more. Strolling in La Paz on Halloween, we came across nine wonderful kids out trick-or-treating. I bought them all esquisitos (bacon wrapped hot dogs) at a roadside stand. They came up to my table at the hamburger stand, one by one, to thank me afterwards. Having a wonderful sail across the sea of Cortez from La Paz to Mazatlan, singlehanded (and four paws), covering 245 nautical miles in less than 28 hours, and catching a 15-pound Dorado and a 20-pound tuna along the way. Yum yum! Sam’s Club in Mazatlan for provisioning. Riding horses to a mountain jungle waterfall in Yelapa (near Puerto Vallarta) with Amber and Donn & Susan Kinne, enjoying a “Coco Loco,” which is a drink made right in a coconut, at a palapa bar on the river. Working on the boat engine is much nicer than going to a blood bank because the engine doesn’t ask you what countries you’ve visited or your sexual history before taking a pint of blood.
Muy Malo Stuff
“Followers,” or people who follow your radio conversations to working channels so they can listen in on your conversations. Once in a quiet anchorage, I heard some people change to another channel to talk, and at least two or three other boats “followed” as evidenced by the sound echoing across a very quiet anchorage. Sometimes we make up stuff just to fuel the “rumor mill.” Hurricane Nora, with its constantly changing path, coming within 200 miles of us in Puerto Escondido, and putting Slow Dancer on the rocks to the north of us. The incredible “outflow” from hurricane Nora dumping more than ten inches of rain on us the day before she passed. Cascades of water tumbled down the mountainsides, filling up the arroyos and eventually breaking through the burm at Bahia Marquer, turning the water brown with silt and littering the surface of the water with dried plant material. Being literally run out of the anchorage on three occasions, in the middle of the night, because of the unrelentless attacks of “no-see-ums,” or small mosquito type bugs. I call them “flying teeth,” because they are hardly visible but have a very painful bite. In some cases, citronella candles and insect repellent are absolutely ineffective.
As usual, our plans are cast in Jell-O. Our friend “El Nino” has been playing havoc with the worldwide weather patterns. This could cause out of season and out of location tropical disturbances in the South Pacific as well as a reversal of the trade winds which usually blow from the southeast in the southern hemisphere. This may make it unwise to go to the Marquesas next spring as we had initially planned. If El Nino persists, our backup plan will be to turn left at the Panama Canal and spend a season in the Caribbean. If so, we’ll transit the canal around mid March and work our way up the east coast of Central America, visit Cuba, pop into New Orleans in time to catch the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival and then follow the Antilles chain to Trinidad in time to avoid the hurricane season. We’ll work our way across the north part of South America in time to transit the canal once again and head for the South Pacific in the Spring of 1999. All plans are subject to change on a whim!