We recently passed our 2-year mark of leaving Anacortes for Alaska and starting our dream of cruising the world on our sailboat. Much has changed since then and we’re constantly revising our plans but it continues to be a fantastic experience. Here are some of our thoughts and insights on some common questions we’ve heard along the way.
What was different than expected?
Wags: There were a lot more people most places we visited. I guess it makes sense that anywhere there is a beautiful bay there will likely be tourism, but there weren’t a lot of isolated anchorages throughout Mexico. It wasn’t until Costa Rica and Panama that we started enjoying the postcard anchorages with palm trees, clear water, and us as the only boat. Also, I expected to be able to surf more often. It’s a natural contradiction that good places for surf aren’t usually good for anchoring your boat, but I still had high hopes. As it stands, I think I have only surfed two or three times in the last six months of travel.
Paula: First, I thought we would actually sail more than we have. Sure, there have been days when we sailed but most of our time has been spent motoring between anchorages when the wind is either non-existent or straight on our nose. I’m sure this will change on our next leg as we enter an area of more consistent trade winds. Second, we’ve spent more time in marinas than I expected, especially in Mexico. We still anchored out quite a bit but the convenience factor of a marina when one is at hand is pretty high for us. Being able to step off the boat and walk into town to provision, eat, do laundry, explore, etc. is very nice. And, of course, we can hook up to power, which means… air conditioning!
What motivates you/gives you pleasure?
Wags: I think I secretly thrive on the challenge of it all. Even though I bitch and moan every time something difficult happens or something breaks, there is quite a sense of accomplishment in overcoming adversity or repairing stuff.
Paula: I’m glad Wags thrives on the challenging stuff because my answer is more on the fluffy side. Sharing experiences with friends, interacting with wildlife, seeing new places and learning about other cultures is what gives me pleasure. Some of the best moments so far have been when friends are aboard and get to experience all of this wonder with us.
How do you live in such close quarters 24 hours a day?
Wags: I once spent 111 days without a port call on an aircraft carrier with guys I barely liked…this is easy. Seriously though, it can be challenging but communication is the key. We get snippy at times, but we call each other out if we are being snarky or passive aggressive. Honest communication.
Paula: We communicate with each other and realize we need “me” time, which can be as simple as alone time reading in the cockpit or sitting at the bow looking for whales.
Do you get seasick?
Wags: Sort of? I often feel green but I have never progressed to actual mal de mar. It usually happens to me because we get underway from somewhere sheltered and enter rough seas while I am running around above and below decks getting sails set, stuff stowed – too much movement on too many axis.
Paula: Yes, sometimes, especially at the beginning of passages or in very rough seas. A friend gave me some Stugeron (cinnarizine), which works wonders for preventing seasickness and that has helped immensely. After a couple of days at sea, my body adjusts and I can stop taking the medicine.
(Photographic proof has been banned by one particular seasick crew member.)
Wags: Surfing a tidal surge at Ford’s Terror, Alaska. It was a perfect day of great friends, incredible scenery, and a once in a lifetime experience.
Paula: For me, it’s still the one amazing day in Glacier Bay, AK filled with wildlife encounters.
Paula: Nearly colliding with another boat while under sail at night off the coast of Mexico during the early stages of the 2016 Baja Ha-Ha rally. We were close enough to see the crew of the other boat emerge from below into the cockpit when we blew our air horn to alert them of the situation. Why someone wasn’t there on watch already remains a mystery.
Wags: Ditto, Paula nails the single scariest moment. Overall there aren’t a lot of memorable scary moments, thankfully. Don’t get me wrong, there have been adrenaline shots brought on by botched dockings, ropes caught in the prop, bar crossings, etc. but more often than not it’s a low grade continuous gnawing pit in your stomach, like when you are in bad weather and the sea is unrelenting and won’t stop. You want it to end, but the ocean gets the final say.
Best aspects of the boat?
Wags: There are a lot. She is very solidly built, beautiful joinery, etc., but I think the single aspect we come back to again and again is how much we love the cutter rig. This sail plan gives us a variety of options. At night we sacrifice knots and just use a reefed main and the staysail. That way the person on watch can handle all lines from the cockpit and we are prepared for squalls. During the day when the wind gets forward of the beam we put out the Yankee and staysail together. The slot effect accelerates the wind and it is like having another gear.
Paula: She is way tougher than me and I trust her oceangoing capabilities to give us safe passage. She is very comfortable. It never feels like we’re camping; she’s simply our home on the water.
Worst aspects of the boat?
Wags: A definite lack of storage on deck (only one deep lazarette) and a wet bilge. Several items drain into the bilge such as air conditioning condensate and the anchor locker. I know, I know…I can remedy these things…and I will, but I wish Tayana had done it first.
Paula: There are several areas that are difficult to access for maintenance and/or repairs. Also, I wish there were a few more large storage spaces.
Does it cost more or less than expected?
Wags: I’ll have to defer to my actuary. It ‘feels’ like we spend more, but I am a notorious tightwad. I think it stems from the costs coming in big hits. We will often have weeks where we don’t spend a cent, but when we hit a populated port we have to reprovision, repair, take on fuel…
Paula: The real skinny… so far, it’s about the same as expected. Some months we’ve spent more than anticipated, as Wags said, but overall our estimated costs have been fairly accurate.
Do you miss flying/working?
Wags: I get asked this a lot…anytime anyone finds out that I was a Naval Aviator. The answer is easy, OF COURSE I miss flying! It was the most amazing job a guy or gal could have, but we all move on. It was an incredible chapter in my life, but so is this one.
Paula: Work itself, no. I miss the social interaction and the intellectual stimulation that work provided, though. It’s always a treat when we spend time with friends with whom we can have intelligent, diverse conversations.
What about pirates?
Wags: It is a concern. We don’t go (anchor) where we shouldn’t be. (You wouldn’t walk down back alleys in Baltimore, would you?) We institute measures against petty theft, and we trust our instincts.
Paula: High piracy-prone areas are well documented and we will plan our route to stay clear of them. There’s always the risk of petty crime, of course. We take appropriate precautions, such as lifting our dinghy out of the water at night, locking our outboard motor, and securing the boat when we go ashore.
Do you carry guns on board?
The previous question always leads to this corollary. The short answer is “No.” If you have a gun on board you need to declare it in every country. Officials will typically confiscate it and (in theory) return it to you when you depart, which means you won’t have it available to you while sitting in the anchorages. If you fail to declare a weapon and they find it on board (dogs have very good noses), then you could be looking at prison time and/or forfeiture of your vessel – we’ve watched enough TV to know we don’t want to see the inside of a foreign prison. So, as defensive measures, we carry
everything that is legal to be carried. There is a machete by the bed along with a can of wasp spray (shoots up to 20 ft), and just like in all the movies, we have a flare gun.
Favorite place so far?
Wags: Alaska, no doubt. We worry that we saw the best first and for the rest of our travels we will be trying to find somewhere that can compare to Alaska. So far that is true.
Paula: By far, Alaska. We can’t wait to return.
Best aspects of cruising?
Wags: The wildlife. The stuff we get to see on a daily basis is amazing. I mean, this is what people take high priced vacations for and pay tour operators to show them. This was what I hoped cruising would be like.
Paula: The marine life (our almost daily visits from dolphins are always a treat) and wildlife in different places – sea lions, whales and bears in the Pacific NW, whale sharks in Mexico, monkeys in Central America, and tons of really cool birds (the blue-footed boobies are still one of my faves). Aside from nature, building new friendships is always special. We’ve made many close friends over the past two years, some fellow cruisers and some landlubbers in places we’ve visited, friendships that will last a lifetime.
Worst aspects of cruising?
Wags: Rough passages and thunderstorms with lightning. As mentioned before, Neptune can be unrelenting. It’s tough to describe how uncomfortable it can be, but the good news is, everything ends sooner or later.
Paula: What he said, plus I get the added bonus of seasickness. Luckily, none of these occur very frequently.
(The pics never seem to do these things justice so we’ve stopped trying to capture it.)
What are your favorite pieces of gear on board, and why?
Wags: I use a lot of stuff regularly, but here are three that I have found to be necessities: 1) My Myerchin knife. It is super sharp and has a bosun’s fid that has a multitude of uses. I use it every day. 2) A bench vice. You don’t need it very often but it is irreplaceable. When something metal gets bent you can put it in the vice to re-straighten it, hold things while sawing, and the hard metal anvil part is good when you need something to bang against. There aren’t many places that you can hammer on a sailboat. 3) My little grabber tool. This has rescued SO many dropped items from hard to reach places (i.e. the bilge).
Paula: Honestly, I’m a big fan of some of our luxury items: the electric head that requires only the push of a button to flush; the toaster built into the microwave; and, of course, the air conditioner, which has saved me mentally many times in the stifling heat and humidity of Mexico and Central America. What can I say? I’m a Pacific Northwest girl! My absolute favorite, although not really a piece of gear, is the bowsprit seat Wags made. It’s the best seat in the house for watching the dolphins ride the bow wake only a few feet below!
Paula: We’re leaving Panama next week on a ~7 day crossing to the Galápagos Islands. We’ll spend a few weeks there following in Darwin’s footsteps then…
Wags: A downwind run to Pape’ete.
We’d love to hear your comments and if you have additional questions, we’re happy to answer them. Thanks so much for following along and being a part of this adventure!
It’s been a whirlwind month of traveling down the Central American coast. We left El Salvador in late March and spent a couple of weeks in Nicaragua. We had a wonderful, albeit short, visit with our good friend, Kevin, who lives on the Caribbean side of the country and traveled by planes, buses and foot to meet us in Puesta del Sol on the Pacific side, just in time to celebrate Wags’ birthday.
From there it was a crazy slog in 30+ knot Papagayo winds (Papagayo literally translates to “parrot” although we’re still not sure where the similarity lies) to the charming town of San Juan del Sur (AKA SJDS), which is a mix of backpackers, expats and Nicas (local Nicaraguans). The one thing about SJDS is that it really funnels the wind. We never thought we’d be comfortable leaving Gadabout anchored in 25-30 knots of wind to go ashore but the lively scene during Semana Santa (Holy Week), confidence in our Rocna anchor and, frankly, our craving for a good wood-fired pizza gave us the push we needed. Our friends John and Michelle on S/V Pineapple came along for the wet, windy ride and we had a fun weekend of exploring, eating and hiking – we even went to a carnival (although none of us had quite enough “confidence” to set foot on any of those rides). We checked out of Nicaragua with much left on the table… perhaps a future visit is in order.
A brisk day sail brought us to Costa Rica and we were welcomed with the protection and calm water of Bahia Santa Elena. Costa Rica is fairly laid back about checking in to the country right away so we were able to spend our first few nights fully relaxing (after too many days of high winds), hiking and racing hermit crabs, as one does, before doing the international paperwork shuffle at the official port of entry.
We tend to lose track of which day of the week it is (occupational/cruising hazard) and arrived in Playas del Coco too late on a Friday afternoon to check in, so we enjoyed the weekend and attacked the aforementioned paperwork shuffle – immigration office to port captain to customs (requiring a bus ride to the airport, 45 min each way) and back to the port captain – on Monday, a process that took the better part of the day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The next few days were spent in a marina where we gave Gadabout some washing, polishing and maintenance love while we had the benefit of shore power and, hence, air-conditioning (aaahhh…). We then we continued south to Tamarindo (or as it’s called locally, “Tama-gringo,” because there are so many gringos living and vacationing there).
Much like Playas del Coco, Tamarindo is very touristy with party boats ferrying vacationers to nearby islands and beaches, tons of restaurants and trinket shops, and lively nightlife. It’s also a surfing mecca, which is why we went, although, sadly the one day we were there it was so windy and the surf so blown out, not even the beginner surf classes were in the water. C’est la vie. We enjoyed a couple of good meals and headed on our way.
One overnight sail brought us to beautiful Bahia Ballena in the Golfo de Nicoya. This is the Puntarenas province of the country, where the true Costa Rica, at least in our minds, began to reveal herself. The local villages are small, with Ticos (local Costa Ricans) focusing on everyday life outside the tourist trade, the vibe is more relaxed, and the vibrant green landscape and abundant wildlife offers the scenes we had imagined. We spent calm, quiet nights in nearly empty anchorages. In fact, the only other boats, if any, were typically fellow cruisers with whom we explored and swapped stories over sundowners.
We woke to the sound of howler monkeys in the trees – and boy, are they loud! We watched scarlet macaws fly overhead in pairs. We visited nearby towns, hiked to jungle waterfalls (and even swam in what can only be referred to as a mud hole), dined at eco-resorts reachable only by boat, explored by dinghy and on foot, and marveled in the beauty of our surroundings.
Our last anchorage before entering the southernmost gulf in Costa Rica was Bahia Drake on the Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park. This was the most rural Costa Rica yet, where mud paths are the main thoroughfares and the main mode of transportation is by foot, horseback, dirt bike or by boat. People come here to experience the beauty, solitude and wildlife of the peninsula. The Osa Peninsula also produces its own unique weather system, which equates to one thing, rain… and lots of it. We held our breath as the daily thunderstorms rolled in, bringing with them plenty of lightning, but tried to look at the bright side – it was a free boat wash every time and we identified all our new leaks!
From Bahia Drake we rounded the cape and explored Golfo Dulce, the most remote area we’ve seen. Many places are accessible only by boat and there are plenty of secluded anchorages to satisfy the secret hermit in both of us.
Aside from the stifling heat and humidity we loved this entire area. Its natural beauty and remoteness soothe the soul. How can you not love a country whose whole ethos is captured in two words you hear everywhere you go: “Pura Vida” (pure life)!
Here are some more highlights:
Curu Wildlife Reserve where the monkey to person ratio was at least 20:1.
Squirrel monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park putting on a show.
Osa Wildlife Sanctuary in the Golfo Dulce.
Departing Mexico we followed the coast south for a two-overnight leg, past Guatemala, to visit El Salvador. We had read much about this beautiful country that has often received a lot of bad press. Originally we had not planned to stop here due to the warnings about crime and the fact that to enter the estuary where we would be staying we would have to cross a treacherous sand bar (more on that later). After doing more research about recent tourism improvements and receiving reports from numerous yachts that this was not to be missed, however, we plotted our course for Bahia del Sol. We spent a little over a week there and now that we have moved on, we reflect on our time in this country with a kind of internal conflict that we reckon every El Salvadoran deals with every day.
The people of El Salvador are hard working, friendly and helpful, and the country itself is beautiful. If we had to choose one word to describe El Salvador’s landscape it would be “Volcanoes” – large, distinctive, and visible in almost every direction.
The country is working hard to shed the stigma of crime and past civil wars and has undertaken a concerted effort to promote tourism and ensure tourists’ safety and comfort. With that in mind we rented a car and took a two-day exploration to several very cute colonial towns built high on the side of one of the volcanoes. We spent the night in a gorgeous restored mansion with beautiful grounds, a decent martini, great breakfast and wonderful service, all for less than the price of a roadside Holiday Inn in the U.S.
We also toured some interesting Mayan ruins dating to 800 BC.
We enjoyed a lunch with amazing tropical vistas from high on the volcano while looking down on the capital city of San Salvador. Rounding out our trip we were able to stop at a modern grocery on our way back to the marina and purchase some much needed staples (and cravings) that had been very difficult to find in Mexico (i.e. Goldfish crackers). All in all it was a very enjoyable tour and a nice change from life in marinas and at anchor.
Back at the boat we took some time to tour the estuary and the communities along it.
It’s no secret that El Salvador is dealing with some problems. It emerged from a 12-year civil war in 1992 that cost approx. 75,000 lives. The instability that followed led to economic weakness and vacuums of leadership and civil control that were quickly filled by criminal elements. This was the story line for over two decades but the country has finally begun to emerge from this dark period with increased export trade of sugar and ethanol and also tourism, as mentioned earlier. While we were traveling we never once felt unsafe. There are armed guards almost everywhere to ensure the safety of tourists as well as maintain civil order. While this can be disconcerting for some, we took it as a commitment to improving and sharing their country.
But, a dark side remains. After so many years of lawlessness, our friend at the hotel explained to us that mafia style criminal elements control almost every town, requiring payments from everyone from the bread seller on a bicycle to larger stores and tiendas. The price for non-compliance is often a bullet to the back of the head. Unfortunately, during our travels we saw two dead bodies on the roadsides, both almost certainly the result of this type of criminal activity. We don’t know how to positively spin this sharp contrast with our experience. Hopefully the country will continue to grow and flourish and eventually law and order will give the citizens back the safety and security they deserve after so many years of strife.
Remember that bar crossing mentioned earlier? For those not familiar, a “bar” is formed where rivers or estuaries meet the ocean and their sand forms a shallow area. That shallow area causes waves to stand up disproportionally high and make the crossing a difficult and often dangerous endeavor. Most bars have a channel that can be navigated at high tide but local knowledge is often required. This is the case in Bahia del Sol where they provide a pilot boat to lead you across the bar. The entrance/exit can often be quite dramatic so they are also nice enough to take photos (for you to be able to send to your insurer, I presume.) Our entry into the estuary was a non-event. We even wondered aloud what all the fuss was about (big mistake).
Our exit was a different case indeed. Our departure began innocently enough with smooth seas forecast as we followed the pilot boat to the bar. Everything looked ducky until a set of three surf-able sized waves rolled toward us. We had a pretty good head of steam going and Gadabout launched her 20 odd tons off the peak of each one in quite spectacular fashion. The good news is that nothing broke and no pants were soiled, although it was nip and tuck on both accounts. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
So there you have it, a warts and all summary of our time in El Salvador. Overall, we are glad we didn’t skip this stop. It is actually these kinds of real, unedited experiences we enjoy most when we travel, the opportunity to see a country for what it is and for what it can be. We sincerely hope the situation continues to improve for the El Salvadoran people and we look forward to a return visit in the future.
Since late January we’ve been living in a world of firsts. That’s when we left Barra de Navidad to continue our journey down the Mexico coast. Barra was our southerly most port last season before we backtracked north to leave the boat in Puerto Vallarta for the hurricane season. All the places past Barra are new to us and we’ve had a whirlwind five weeks checking them out. There are several where we’d love to spend more time but we have to keep moving or we may never make it out of Mexico.
Leaving Barra we made a couple of quick overnight stops on our way to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. Our first stop was a small cove called Ensenada Carrizal, which offered some good snorkeling and a short hike to stretch our legs. The guide books didn’t mention how the waves stack up on the rock beach in a straight west swell but we found out quickly and did our hike in soaking wet clothes after getting dumped from our kayak and paddleboard on landing – not the planned way to cool off but it worked.
Our second stopover was in Caleta de Campos, a pretty bay surrounded by a white sand beach and a small town crawling up the hill at one end. Unfortunately, due to the swell and rolly conditions, we didn’t leave the boat to go ashore.
Upon arriving in Ixtapa, as we were taking down our mainsail, a humpback whale paid us a surprise visit. Neither of us noticed him until the HUGE splash as he breached just 20 yards off our port side! Needless to say, we did not capture it on film. With a shot of adrenaline fresh in our blood from that encounter we anchored at Isla Grande, a small island just off the coast of Ixtapa. During the day the water around the island is a lively scene with pangas ferrying day-trip passengers from the mainland and old ski boats pulling water weenies with screaming beach-goers. Ashore tourists hang out at the colorful palapa restaurants feasting on fresh seafood and cervezas and snorkel in the crystal clear water of the cove on the south side of the island. By nightfall, the anchorage returns to peace and quiet.
The next day we sailed the short distance to Zihuatanejo, or “Zihua,” where we spent the next three weeks. A city of about 100,000 people, Zihua still manages to retain a laid-back, fishing village charm, especially in the Centro and beach areas surrounding the bay, which is very popular with sailors and fishermen.
Each year in mid-February a week-long festival called Sailfest is held to raise money for local education initiatives, including new schools and scholarship programs. For a small donation, folks can participate in a variety of activities, such as auctions, dinners and parties throughout the week. One of the most popular fundraising activities is the opportunity to ride aboard one of the sailboats, for a daysail or a sunset cruise, or during the “Rally ‘Round the Rock” race or the final day parade of boats to Ixtapa and back. We participated in the race (taking 1st in our class!) and hosted Canadians Denise and Krys onboard for the parade. We’d heard of Sailfest for a long time – it’s been going for 15 years! – so it was neat to be a part of it this year.
After Sailfest, we rented a car and drove to the nearby towns of Troncones and Playa Saladita to check out the surf. We loved the area and mentally added it to our “return someday” list.
Wrapping up our time in Zihua we had a visit from our good friends, the Grabans. We had only one day with them but we wrung the life out of it with a daysail, swimming, snorkeling, sunset, and dinner at a local favorite taco joint. It was the perfect end to an awesome stay in Zihua Bay.
After an overnight sail from Zihua we arrived in Acapulco. We had heard mixed reviews about Acapulco. The city has been battling serious drug-related crime for the last several years and it’s sad to see the impact of severely decreased tourism as a result – empty beaches, shuttered businesses, fishing charters without customers, never-finished high rises. Looking past that, though, we quickly discovered a wonderful city with beautiful beaches, clear water, friendly people and tons of stuff to see and do. We saw the world famous cliff divers – honestly, we’ve both been waiting for this since seeing them on “The Love Boat” in the 70s.
We visited the Fort of San Diego, which includes a wonderful (and air conditioned) museum. We strolled around Old Town and dined on the beach at Caleta.
We’re hopeful that the situation in the city will continue to improve and the crowds will return. Acapulco deserves another chance.
Our time in Mexico is nearing its end but we still have many more firsts in the future so stay tuned!
The day started out innocently enough…breakfast, coffee, listen to the morning radio net, then it was time to make some more water. Onboard Gadabout we have a reverse osmosis water maker that allows us to turn seawater into drinkable water at about twenty gallons per hour and only millions of dollars per glass. In order to do this we must run the generator. That should be easy enough; it was just running while we made coffee and toast. (Editors note: for any of you who are following along super closely you might ask, “But wait, I thought they had a DC water maker and didn’t even have to use the generator. As a matter of fact, he even bragged about it!” Well, that’s another story for another time, suffice it to say we like spending MANY thousands of dollars to make water, instead of just SOME thousands of dollars.)
So, start the generator I did, and within a few minutes Paula commented that she smelled something burning. I responded with my preformatted answer “all generators do that, honey…” while quickly turning it off and trying to locate the origin of the odor. All the diesel stuff on a boat uses ocean water to circulate around a heat exchanger to help cool the motor. After starting a marine diesel engine, one should always, ALWAYS, check to see that the water is being expelled from the exhaust. This means that the pump is working. I mean, this is basic Cruising 101 stuff here, guys, any idiot knows to check the exhaust. Well the one time (ok, maybe second) I didn’t go up and check, Neptune and Murphy decided to team up.
Upon gaining access to the generator and opening the pump housing it was readily apparent that the impeller had failed. Impellers are rubber paddle wheels that are somewhat vindictive and like to choose the most inopportune times to fail, usually by shedding rubber parts deep into the heat exchanger. Check. Ours did that, right on schedule. Now, instead of simply changing out the impeller, we (Paula was now fully involved) had to start taking off rubber hoses that are so difficult to remove that it makes you wonder if they started with the hoses and built the motor around them, and start fishing for rubber pieces all the way to the heat exchanger.
One hose was removed by destruction due to a combination of its intransigence and my frustration…and, of course, it’s the one size of hose for which we do not have a spare. So, leaving Paula on impeller replacement/shrapnel recovery duty, I dinghied to shore, grabbed a cab and was off to find a hose guy. You see, in Mexico, there is seldom one-stop shopping. If you need screws you go to the screw guy (Casa de Tornillos, in our case). If you need hose, you go to the hose guy. But wait, hose guy doesn’t carry clamps. You need to go to the clamp guy for that. You get the picture. These stores are seldom anywhere near each other, so every parts trip becomes an adventure in expanding our Spanish vocabulary with words seldom used in conversational society.
I will spare the build up and suspense, but as we (the cabbie and I) got turned away at tienda after tienda (this one sells hydraulic hoses, but not your kind…this one sells water hoses…) we worked further into a labyrinth of back alley repair shops where they found it less and less amusing that a gringo in a collared shirt would be darkening their doorstep. The guy at the final shop where I managed to purchase my hose looked straight up like a caricature of every bad hombre Mexican stereotype Hollywood has ever portrayed. He even spat on the floor when I walked up, for effect. But, after a few minutes of searching and a joke about gringos that I didn’t fully comprehend but made even my cabbie visibly uncomfortable, we were on our way back to the boat.
By the time I got back Paula had found all the pieces and installed the spare impeller, so I simply had to cut the hose to size, lacerate my hand, re-do the hose after it leaked the first time, and bingo-bango, we were making water, only ten hours after I began. And a mere hour later, I had that glass of water!
We finally finished all our lightning-related repairs on the boat and broke the dock lines tying us to Puerto Vallarta. We were there two months longer than planned this season. While there was certainly some stress and a lot of work involved, we also had a ton of fun exploring the area and spending time with friends.
Our new landlubber pals, Chris and Steph, introduced us to awesome local restaurants, let us tag along on Costco runs, and provided us with frequent dog fixes (thanks, guys!).
We visited with cruising friends in the marina and friends who happened to be in the area on vacation. Our friends Jessie and Dave made their annual pilgrimage to Gadabout to escape the Pacific NW winter.
We even had the opportunity to partake in local Mexican Christmas Eve festivities, thanks to our amigo, Juanito, and his family.
We wouldn’t have experienced much of this had we been on our original timeline. I guess Mother Nature wanted us to have a bit more fun before leaving this beautiful area.
Our first leg was a short trip across Banderas Bay to Punta de Mita for the night then the next day was a long one, 90 miles, to Chamela Bay. There were a few whale sightings along the way, including a mother and calf, and a pod of dolphins paid us a visit to play in our bow wake. The seas were a bit sloppy but the weather was beautiful. After no open ocean for 8 months, though, plus the stress of an after-dark arrival in the anchorage, we were exhausted when we finally dropped the hook at the end of a 14-hour day of (mostly) motoring. We spent three days in Chamela exploring and catching up with friends, then continued south to Tenacatita Bay.
Last spring, we were the only boat in Tenacatita but in the high season, this anchorage turns into a busy, activity-filled cruising community with a fun atmosphere and tons to do. We spent three days kayaking, paddle-boarding, surfing and relaxing. On our last morning, we awoke to dolphins swimming between the boats. A short while later, a trio of whales was spotted in the bay. A call went out on the VHF radio and soon everyone was on deck watching as the whales made their way into the anchorage, in just 30 feet of water. One of them rolled on its side, appearing to wave at all the people ooh-ing and aah-ing over their presence then they turned and headed to deeper water.
We took that as a sign to leave, as well. A short 2-1/2 hours later, we pulled into a slip at the marina in Barra de Navidad, where we’ll spend a week before plying new waters (for us) as we continue south along the Mexican coast.
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get struck by lightning.” – Wags
In early October, we received a message from Juanito, our boat manager, informing us, “Tengo una mala noticia,” which basically means, “I have bad news.” After several more texts and a series of mediocre Google Translate attempts, we determined that there had been a lightning strike on or around our boat and there may be some damage. Juanito’s English is marginally better than our Spanish, which is to say, less than conversational grade, so we weren’t able to get a detailed account from afar. We knew there were a few lights inside the boat that wouldn’t work and, unfortunately, a few lives lost, as evidenced by the picture Juanito provided of the three dead birds that were found on our deck. So, after an amazing summer in the Pacific Northwest, we arrived back in Puerto Vallarta late last month with hopes of finding only minimal damage and being able to stick to our plan of an early November departure. Those hopes made it only as far as the 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to the marina.
The bright side was, Gadabout was afloat and there were no external signs of damage, to the hull or deck. The (now quite crispy) dead birds were still there, lying side-by-side on the dock, left as proof, we assume, that the photo sent to us was real. We entered the sweltering cabin and immediately turned on the air conditioning, except that it didn’t start. The air conditioning was fried. This was going to be less than fun. Over the next several days, in 95 degrees and 80% humidity, we worked our way through all the systems onboard to find that the damage from the lightning, which was, in fact, a direct strike to our mast, was extensive. It destroyed everything on the mast (wind indicator, VHF antenna, anchor and navigation lights, and radar) and all of our navigation electronics inside, as well as the AC, inverter, and fridge and freezer controllers.
After five days of staying on the boat with no AC and no refrigeration, we threw in the towel and booked a week in a nearby condo. Sure, we could’ve powered through, but we decided our sanity was worth the cost. Besides, there was a washer/dryer at the condo, so that would offset the cost of having to go the Laundromat at least a few times – Wagner logic, at its best.
Three weeks later, things are progressing. We’re back on the boat, the AC is fixed, we’ve installed a new inverter and the batteries are fully charged. We had a spare refrigeration controller onboard and were able to source another quickly, so the fridge and freezer are back in service. New electronics are ordered and installation is underway.
Best of all, our insurance company, Markel (a division of USAA), has been wonderful and is covering everything (minus our deductible, of course)! We’re pretty sure the dead bird photo was the tipping point for them – it was one of the photos we sent them to show that the damage was indicative of a lightning strike.
We’ll be in Puerto Vallarta much longer than we anticipated but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll come out of this better than before. Plus, we have the opportunity to spend time with friends – some from last season and some new. It took a little time but we now see the silver lining in this cloud. Let’s just hope there’s no more lightning!
When cruising in the tropics there is inevitably a decision to be made come hurricane season. One can:
1) Clear out of the hurricane zone (usually between latitude 30 deg N and 05 Deg S). This is the least risky option but severely limits the cruising season as it allows only four to six months in the tropics before it’s necessary to clear out of the hurricane zone.
2) Put the boat in a safe harbor and cross your fingers. Option 2 carries some risk as the boat will be stationary and will require a fair amount of prep to be storm ready should a development occur. Selection of a well-sheltered location with a low probability of hurricane landfalls (based on past history) helps minimize this risk while enabling an easy continuation of cruising after hurricane season.
3) Continue cruising and hope that you will have enough warning and be close enough to a safe harbor should a storm develop in your area. This option is typically reserved for the brave and uninsured as storms can develop quickly and sailboats aren’t fast enough to easily get out of the path of a storm. Insurance companies don’t like this option and usually won’t provide coverage.
After careful consideration, we chose option 2) and decided to use the time to visit friends and family and enjoy the beautiful PNW summer. In late May, we finished our cruising for the season and docked Gadabout in a protected marina in the Puerto Vallarta area. For the next three weeks, we worked day in and day out preparing Gadabout for her summer break – washing and removing sails, maintaining winches and anchor chain, removing lines and canvas, cleaning the interior, strapping Engelbert H. (the dinghy) to the foredeck, and finishing small (and a few large) projects.
We developed a storm plan and secured the boat with extra dock lines.
We hired Juanito, a well-respected boat manager, to maintain and look out for Gaddy in our absence and booked our tickets home.
We have plans for a couple of “Year 1 Wrap-up” posts, so do stay tuned. And we look forward to sharing new experiences when we continue south in the fall. Thanks for being part of our adventure!
We took a pause from boat projects last week, rented a car and headed to the small town of San Sebastian del Oeste, an old silver mining town in the hills two hours outside Puerto Vallarta. There’s not much to see or do in San Sebastian, but the town is charming, nonetheless, with cobblestone streets, a beautiful chapel, a few shops and restaurants, and the natural beauty of the hillsides surrounding it.
There’s no silver mining around here anymore. The area is, however, home to agave farming and, with it, a number of tequila and raicilla distilleries. Raicilla is a liquor distilled from green agave rather than the blue agave used in tequila. Green agave grows wild in these parts, making it a very accessible resource for small-scale (and home) distilling, thus its moniker, “Mexican moonshine.”
On the drive home we stopped at a small distillery to check it out for ourselves. The manager, Luis, gave us a fantastic tour of the facility (even though we’re pretty sure we interrupted his siesta with our midday timing) and described each step of the distilling process.
First, the agave is burned in a large earthen fireplace, where it smolders for three days. It is then transferred to a wooden hut and left to ferment in large barrels.
Once the fermentation is complete, it is double distilled, passing through a carbon filter the second time.
As in all good distilleries, the finished product is available for tasting and purchase. We were happy to oblige. Raicilla tastes similar to a good tequila, but with a smoky finish. In addition to raicilla, Luis produces reposada and various flavored liqueurs, as well.
We settled on a bottle (or two) of raicilla and thanked Luis for the great tour. Back on the boat, we toasted a much-needed break and a fun day trip. ¡Salud!
It’s 0830 and the sun is already warming the docks at the marina in Barra de Navidad. We’ve had the VHF radio on since waking, waiting to hear our favorite words… “The French Baker is entering the marina.” He’s here! I press the button and say, “French Baker, French Baker. Gadabout, dock B” to let him know we would like to purchase something. When he reaches the dock we greet him with our best “Bonjour!” and try to control our urge to buy everything in sight.
Barra de Navidad, on the Pacific Mexico coast, is a wonderfully laid-back town with a protected, smooth water lagoon, a surf break out front, a relaxed vibe and lots of good restaurants and beachside watering holes for an afternoon cerveza.
Emeric, the man known simply as the French Baker to most, has built an enviable reputation and clientele over the past 16 years and was, for us, one of the main reasons we were so excited to visit. His shop in town is easily recognizable by the “El Horno Francés” sign out front. Stopping by for a crepe and café is always an option, but the best, at least for us cruisers, is his daily delivery of fresh baked goods – baguettes, croissants, danishes, quiches and tarts – to the marina and anchorage, in his panga.
This year, we arrived late in the season and had only a week of daily bliss before Emeric closed his shop for the summer. We took full advantage, though. By the end of the week we had gorged ourselves with enough almond croissants and raisin sticky rolls to induce a food coma and stocked our freezer with enough baguettes to last until June. We’re already looking forward to visiting next season and hearing the friendly “Bon Appetite!” from our favorite French Baker.