Welcome to our mid-life crisis! These are the chronicles of Laura and Patrick, their young son Jack, and their goofball Labrador Retriever named Evinrude (Rudy), as they travelled the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in their catamaran. We went cruising in search of a change of pace, a closer knit family, and peace of mind. We found all three and more. The fun all started in October, 2008 and nearly four years later the Mexican adventure came to an end August 3rd, 2012. With our mid-life crisis cured in Mexico, we are excited to start a new adventure - life back in America.

Candeleros Chico

Candeleros Chico
Just another beautiful day at anchor on the Baja. 2010

Dolphins at play in the bow wake 2011

Dolphins at play in the bow wake  2011

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Next Step - Where will we End Up?

Patrick and I have been having many important, intense discussions in the past few weeks. It's hard to figure out where to take your home next, when you don't HAVE to go anywhere. As the Winter Season on the Gold Coast 2010 is winding down, we face a very big question. We know we are going to spend another hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez, but what then????

As mentioned before, none of us on Just a Minute really enjoyed our time on the Gold Coast of Mexico the way we enjoy the summer in the Sea of Cortez. I am sure that a lot of our initial dislike centered around the terrible weather that first greeted us on the Coast caused by the El Nino this year. We had days of clouds, cold, rain, several squalls and then the Weather Bomb that nearly ended our cruise right then and there (February 4th blog). Then Jack got Dengue Fever and has still not fully recovered. I was also sick for weeks with some lingering bug and now Patrick is down with it, so we have had some troubles this Winter that I am sure play into our dislike of the Gold Coast. But it's more than that.

First, the Gold Coast has relatively few anchorages for an 80 mile stretch of land and many boats cruise the Gold Coast. Those two facts alone mean that most of the anchorages have 20 or more boats in them at any time. We have seen several anchorages with more than 30 boats in them at once - that is a lot of boats and often the anchorages are too crowded for safety if a bad weather system were to strike (like the Weather Bomb.) Also, every anchorage we have been in except Barra Lagoon is severely affected by the swell of the Pacific Ocean. Even on a beautiful calm day, surf is crashing on the beaches, and the boats are rocking in the swell. It can get very tiring after a few months, especially if you aren't feeling well. Sometimes it is just nice to just stop moving. Another reason is the feeling of disconnect from local Mexicans. In the Sea, visiting small towns, it is easy to meet and talk with locals. Here in the big cities, crowded anchorages and ritzy resort settings, it is really hard to meet the "real" people. There is a lot of money on the Gold Coast and the cruisers seem to be more of a nuisance than a needed part of the economy.

All of that leads up to the fact that after the Summer in the Sea, we don't want to come back for the Winter on the Pacific Coast. The ideas are springing up thick and wild with possibility at the oddest times - late at night, over coffee, while doing the dishes. Every chance we get together (which is basically every day, all day long) we end up tossing around the ideas. To Hawaii in November from Mexico, spend the winter and then on to Alaska in the spring. Down to Panama in November, four months there and then on to Hawaii. Bash all the way up the coast to Alaska. Ship the boat home, and start cruising immediately in the Inland Passage to Alaska. All we know for sure are three things - we really, really, really want to spend at least a year cruising the inland passage to Alaska; we aren't going to spend another winter on the Pacific Coast of Mexico; and we aren't done cruising yet. It's a start.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We Love Manzanillo!

It's hard to believe we have spent ten days in the same anchorage, and could easily spend more. We are enchanted with this area, and have only seen a fraction of it so far. Finally I am under the spell of the Gold Coast. I get it now, here. Before our experience here in Manzanillo Bay, I would gladly have never visited the Gold Coast again in a sail boat. I would still skip the rest of it, but Manzanillo Bay/Santiago Bay will always be worthy of a visit.

Yesterday, Patrick and I left Jack on board to complete school work, while we took our sewing machine into a Manzanillo shop for repair. After finding the "store" (actually a man's home) and leaving our machine in his capable hands, we went off to explore Manzanillo some more. We had heard of a small place called the "Bar Social" which still operated under the old Mexican custom of feeding bar customers delicious food for free while they drink. A grand custom I whole-heartedly support.

We easily found the bright yellow and red double doors and then walked into Mexico of yesteryear. At the center of the grand room was a perfectly curved barcounter which encircled the bartender's work area. All along the counter, comfortable stools stood ready. The soapstone bar counter was beautiful, old, yet timeless. The ceilings rose to 20 feet, and large wooden beams were painted a deep red. Most of the walls were a strong, deep yellow, with one section painted blue to showcase sailfish trophies. Old pictures of Manzanillo were positioned on the walls. One small doorway said "cocina" above, and one older woman could be seen working away to prepare the appetizers. The young bartender gave us a smile as we entered and picked out some stools to sit in. The only other patrons were two men in soccer uniforms.

After we ordered our beers, the bartender began placing small dishes in front us. First ceviche, then guacamole, a stack of tostados, and a salad of potatoes and carrots. Everything was excellent. It was the best ceviche I have ever tasted, and I took more than my fair share while Patrick wasn't looking. As soon as we finished a dish, the bartender would take it away and replace it with something else. Next came savory refritos. and then jicama with limes and chile. By this time, we were having trouble doing justice to the food offerings. But if our stomachs had been up to it, there would have been more food coming. As we continued to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, our beer, and each other's company, we were asked several times if we wanted any other food. The answer was a disappointed "no".

The beers cost double of what they would in an ordinary Mexican bar, but the cost difference was more than fair to cover the excellent free food. Instead of paying 10$ pesos for a beer, it was $24 pesos - more than a WHOLE dollar difference. Yes, I think there are cruisers out there so cheap that they wouldn't gladly spring for an "Expensive" beer when they can get it cheaper elsewhere. But come on.... You're talking about a buck, and one great experience. But don't get me started, cheap cruisers could be the topic of a series of posts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rudy on Duty

Rudy is a love dog. He greets everyone with a wag - and a lick if he can get close enough. He loves everyone, especially children and people drinking beer (he is also a candidate for AA). He rarely barks, but if he does, it's usually only at coyotes or other dogs.
We wouldn't trade him for anything, but we were a little sad that he would never do the one duty a dog is good for on a boat - intruder detection. We joked that the only way we would know if someone came on board would be the shift in weight as Rudy ran over to lick them.
So late one night in Barra (at 3:15 am) Rudy went ballistic. It sounded like Kujo was on deck right above our heads. His growl was low and menacing (we had never heard it before!) and his bark was ferocious. Patrick ran out on deck to find a panga with two men paddling away from our boat, just 100 feet off. They started up their engine when they saw Patrick come on deck.
Now it is interesting to note that Barra has been the scene of nine dinghy thefts just this season. Though we have rarely heard of other cruisers losing items to theft, it is obvious that Barra has a group of thieves who have perfected their modus operendi. Now we will never know if the gentlemen in the panga were simply out fishing, or if they had more sinister plans, but we know what Rudy thought of them. We were so proud!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Language Barrier Strikes Again

We left Barra de Navidad yesterday at high tide, just to make sure we would get out without grounding. During our days there, we saw about seven boats get stuck in the mud, and I even ran our dinghy aground (much to Jack's dismay) so there is good reason to be cautious when entering or exiting the Lagoon in any vehicle.

The trip to Manzanillo Bay was a long one for Jack. He is still pretty fragile, and the motion of the ocean was not good for him. We were very excited to get into the Las Hadas anchorage and find a spot right up in the best area. The anchorage was so full, that very little room was left anywhere else, so it was doubly great to blunder into the premier spot. It wasn't until after we had the anchor set that we learned the reason for our luck. We were told by fellow cruisers that there was a big wedding happening that night in the resort and that a fireworks show was planned for the event. The reason the premier spot was open was because the harbor master was advising boats to move further out to avoid possibly being hit by falling embers. JaM had set up at the very front of the anchorage, closest to the fireworks launching zone.

Well, we thought about it. Should we move, or not? Between the facts that Jack was feeling pretty ill and needed to stop moving and the premier spot had no wave action and was very calm, and that we had done such a great job anchoring close to everything (but safe), and that the "possibility" of some embers hitting the boat wasn't that frightening, we decided to stick it out and just see what happened. The fireworks were planned for 9:30 that evening, so we had plenty of time to think about it. Of course, through the afternoon, six more boats showed up adding to the already packed anchorage, and short of leaving the anchorage, there really wasn't anywhere else to go.

So we filled some buckets with water, got the water sprayer out and primed, and closed all the hatches to wait for the show. 9:30 p.m. came and went, then 10:30, and still no fireworks show. At 11 p.m., the harbor master contacted JaM and warned us that the fireworks would be happening any minute and that we should be ready in case an ember hit us, since we were so close to the show. We told him we were ready and he signed off. Just to be extra safe, I jumped up on the cabin roof and sprayed water over the bimini cover and sail bag. But an hour later, still no fireworks. By this time, Patrick figured that they must have decided to cancel it. At 12:30 a.m. a musician with a beautiful voice began a concert for the wedding goers. By this time, everyone on JaM was in bed, fully clothed, but trying to sleep through the excellent sound system the wedding had. The musician sounded like he was at the foot of our bed.

Then at 1:30 a.m., after an hour of playing the musician stopped, and without any other warning we were under attack! Evidently what the harbor master had been saying was that it was not just a "possibility" but an "absolute surety" that our boats would be burned up since the fireworks were AIMED directly at the anchorage. And they were set very low, probably around 120 to 160 feet up. With the first body shaking shock wave, we raced from our beds to the deck. Directly over our heads fireworks were blasting. We were so close to the explosions that we could feel each shock wave. Rudy was panicked and raced around the boat twice before he ran for cover in his trusty bunker under the table. The explosions were so low that not just embers were falling into the water, but fully lit, still sparkling firework flowers were raining down among the boats at anchor. The funny thing was that since we were anchored SO close, the fireworks passed by us and were raining down among the boats that had anchored further out in the "safe" zone."

From the first blast, this fireworks show was a new experience for me. I was so terrified that all I could do was stand with my jaw dropped open, and my heart pounding, watching every explosion closely - not to see the pretty colors, but to see where the sparks would land. I had a camera ready to take video, but never even got it out of my pocket. Thankfully JaM only had two hits. One piece of firework casing landed on deck, and one small ember landed on our bimini cover. But in true JaM lucky style, the ember landed exactly in the middle of a small pool of water left over from when I sprayed down the cover!

After a terrifying ten minutes, the show was over. Thankfully this bride had not reserved a huge chunk of her budget for a bigger fireworks show. After the last ember hit the water, the wedding continued on. By 4:30 a.m., one drunken reveler had found the mike and the excellent sound system was still plugged in, so we were serenaded by a bad rendition of a Cold Play song. I was happy when someone took the mike away from the singer, until the real reason became evident. The new guy wasn't worried about keeping anyone up - he was just upset that the guy was singing in English. And so began a lovely tune in Spanish, well it might have been lovely with a trained voice. After a few songs, they evidently were distracted and finally quiet settled over the resort.

Another Mexican wedding. Truly this country knows how to celebrate.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A few videos from the last month....

Here are a couple videos I took in the last few weeks. I had to wait until I had a strong internet signal to upload. Access to internet from the boat is very hard to find here on the Gold Coast. Many cruisers are now accessing internet through a device they buy which uses the cell phone signals, but it costs money to buy the device and then about $40 US per month for the service - too much for our budget! The more money we spend, the shorter time we get to cruise, and internet does not make the cut. So we struggle on. Hopefully, we will find internet in the Baja as good as we did last summer.

As you can see from these videos, I could never have been a professional videographer - but I try! One video is of the mother Spotted dolphin playing in front of our bow underway. The other video is a sideways view of Patrick as he is just finishing up from anchoring at Ipala during the squall. The sound you hear is the rain pounding down on the bimini.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever has struck Just a Minute. The good news is, it's just a light case. The bad news is that it struck Jack. As a parent, you want to take the bullet for your kid, but you just don't get the choice.

We started hearing about Dengue Fever back in Mazatlan in December. Cruisers in Mazatlan talked about it on the morning net, and some locals said that it was a bad year for it, due to the unusual wet winter the Mexican coast was having. Dengue Fever is a mosquito borne illness, like malaria, that exists in subtropical and tropical area. When an infected mosquito bites, it transmits the virus into the human. Four to 13 days later, the human host gets sick. The cases range from mild to severe, and can even be fatal if Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever develops. The symptoms last for generally ten days but can linger for a month. There is no vaccine to guard against it, the only way to stop it from happening is to not get bitten by an infected mosquito. Good luck in Mexico man, mosquitoes are everywhere.

Four days ago Jack woke up early (an unusual event in itself) asking for ice cubes. His face was flushed and I knew what to expect when I reached out to touch his forehead. But I was shocked at how hot he was. The thermometer read 103! Besides the fever, he had no complaints, just a little headache and no energy. I called Lori on 3rd Day for a consult, since she was a physician's assistant in her old life. She recommended keeping an eye out for Strep symptoms, but barring that just make sure he had rest, fluids, and meds for the fever.

The next day Jack's fever was down to 99, and I was thinking it would be just a little bout with some bug and he would be fine the next day. The next day, he was not any better. And he started complaining about intense eye pain when he moved his eyes, and chest pain when he breathed deeply. Clearly he wasn't getting better. When I next talked with Lori, I mentioned the eye pain symptom, and she just looked at me and said "Dengue Fever."

I was flummoxed! I knew it was around since we know several cruisers who have gotten sick with it this winter. It just sounds so exotic. How could Jack get it? Of course, Jack has been eaten alive by mosquitoes first starting in Tenacatita, then again in Melaque, and still in Barra. So it really isn't a wonder.

The big victim is homeschooling. Jack got one day off for Christmas, one day for his birthday, and now he will get at least a week or two for Spring Fever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Barra de Navidad, Mar 5 - 8

The anchorages are getting a little closer together presently. The trip from Melaque to Barra was 2.77 nautical miles, just across the bay. We needed to make water and power before heading in to the lagoon at Barra so we did a big circle around Bahia de Navidad before heading into the channel that leads to the Barra lagoon. The lagoon is notorious for boats running aground, but fortunately the bottom is about four feet thick with gelatinous mud, so no one gets damaged. Several times a week, you will hear a boat calling out that they are aground as they move in or out of the lagoon. A boat yesterday went aground three times just trying to get into the anchorage in the lagoon. The lagoon is enormous, but most of it is 6 feet deep of water,or less. We are currently anchored in six feet of water, but the tide only moves a couple feet so we are fine. The lagoon is so protected that sometimes at night you think you must be sitting in the mud since the boat is so still.

Barra has a lot to offer. Not only is it a beautiful, charming town but it also is home to "The French Baker". This godsend to bread-lovers is the darling of the fleet. The proof of that is the fact that "The French Baker" is the only person who is EVER allowed to conduct entire conversations on the VHF Channel 22 without anyone complaining. No one would dare reprimand him in case he pulled a "Soup Nazi" move like the character on Seinfeild. Who could bear to be denied one of his baguettes?

On the VHF, channel 22 is reserved as the hailing channel. You only use it to call another boat. When you make contact, together you choose another channel to move to in order to continue your conversation. If you forget to move, other boats will interrupt your conversation and tell you to move to another channel (usually in a snotty voice.) Channel 22 is the party line, and if you talk on that channel, then every other boat in a 20 mile radius is listening to your conversation pipe into their home. Believe me, it can be really annoying, But every day on Channel 22, "The French Baker" announce his comings and goings around Barra, and he even takes food orders from boats on Channell 22. So it is not uncommon to hear several conversations like the following, every day, without one single complaint from anyone:

  • "French Baker, French Baker. Yes, this is the French Baker. French Baker, I would like 2 baguettes, a lime pie, and four chocolate croissants, please. Okay, I will put that down. What is your boat name? Oh, this is SomeCrazyName. I am in the lagoon, near the back of the anchorage. Okay, SomeCrazyName, I will be there is 20 minutes."

There is no other person in Mexico afforded the same consideration.

I have now learned the French Baker's name, but it was obvious that he prefers to be called "The French Baker." He is a kind, happy man, and if I was not already married..... Have I told you about his almond croissants?

Tenacatita to Melaque, Feb 27 thru Mar 4

After the Tsunami Regatta, we stayed another couple days in Tenacatita. We had an excellent dolphin show one day when a school of 2 foot Jack Crevalles took up residence under our hulls, in the shadow of our boat. Unfotunately they didn't have long to enjoy the shade before Nacho and his family came to visit. Fish scales floated down through the water like confetti as the dolphins herded and fed. The dolphins would charge under our boat, the fish would scatter, and then a minute later the survivors would congregate under our boat again. Each time there were fewer Jacks. Rudy was extremely interested in the going's on. One dolphin swam between our hulls, down the length of our boat and did a slow circle around the back pontoon, just under the surface, with his body turned so he could see us. Patrick and Rudy were standing on the back steps together and got a great look at him, too. The dolphins continued feeding for about 30 minutes and during that time we saw several complete leaps out of the water, many surface dives and slow shallow circles around the boat. It was an amazing experience.

The next day we met Tenacious Grace, a nice family from Canada on their new Seawind 38 foot catamaran. They are just one of the many families who chose this year to start out on an adventure. We spent a great evening on their boat and look forward to seeing them again further north before they head for home. Tenacious Grace is on a one year adventure, and are about 8 months through it, so we won't be spending the summer in the Sea with them, but there are plenty of other new families who have told us they will. It seems like this next summer in the Sea may be crowded! Hard to imagine, but it sounds like fun.

Finally, we began to get that itch to start moving. Adding to the urgency to move, was the fact that we had run out of everything from Top Ramen, to flour, to beer and did not have one fresh vegetable or fruit on board, so we pulled anchor around the 1st and went to Melaque, the next anchorage further south. Melaque is a great town of 10,000 and we were sure to find a good supermarket or two there. Oddly enough, we also found a lot of French Canadians, but they evidently know a good thing when they see it, and have chosen Melaque as their own Mexican heaven. Melaque is charming - a long sweep of sandy beach, with one of the best restaurants we have found in Mexico (cheap, excellent Mexican food just like they serve in America), and a happy hour from 1 - 6 pm daily with 2 for 1 margaritas (no cheap tequila!). It's surprising that we only stayed three days.