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.
About a week ago, we asked for suggestions for a dinghy name. What a creative bunch of friends and followers we have – there were a lot of great (and funny) submissions!
Here’s the list in its entirety:
3 Hour Tour
Everyone’s a winner, but we had to choose only one. And the honor goes to…
Englebert H. (Humperdinck)
The winner will receive this custom Frida keychain straight from Melaque, Mexico! We’re sure she’ll be anxiously awaiting the postman.
And to everyone who participated in this little bit of fun, here’s your participation trophy.
Seriously, thanks for the suggestions. And thanks for sharing in this adventure with us!
Actually, we built a large stainless steel arch on the back of Gadabout. Okay, so it’s not a “garage” in the traditional sense, but we do store our dinghy (aka, water pick-up truck) and other assorted stuff there, so for all intents and purposes it is a garage. And for further clarification, when I say “we built” I actually mean “we financed and supervised.” Small details for sure, but they say that’s where the devil is.
For the less than nautically inclined, an arch on the back of the boat serves multiple purposes. It is where additional solar panels will be mounted; it has davits (lifting arms) off the stern which are used to hoist the dinghy (we really need to name that thing); and we built it with room to strap our surfboards underneath the top. Clearing the dinghy and surfboards off the foredeck has made life much easier, and with the davits it is now quick and easy to hoist the dink out of the water each night, which prevents it from being stolen.
First, we mocked up the design with PVC. Next, the entire arch was fabricated onboard with tack welds. The structure was taken back to the shop for final welds and polishing then brought back, hoisted, and bolted in place. The entire process took about three weeks.
I know there are purists out there (you know who you are) who will decry an altering of a sailboat’s aesthetic lines as pure sacrilege and those of ya’ll without sin can cast the first stone, but we are very happy with the final product and the options it gives us.
p.s. If anyone has a suggestion for a name for the Dinghy please send it our way!
An overnight sail from Mazatlan brought us to Isla Isabel, a small island 18 miles off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Isla Isabel is a national park and, as of 2003, a World Heritage Site. It is nicknamed the “Galapagos of Mexico” because of the large number of nesting birds and iguanas that inhabit the island.
Frigate birds, boobies (blue-footed, brown and red-footed varieties), brown pelicans, white-tailed tropic birds, Heerman’s gulls, sooty terns, and brown noddies fill the shores and air.
There is also an active fish camp and a tourist eco-camp on the island. This is no cushy resort, though. Unless you have your own boat, the trip is a 40-mile open panga ride from the nearest town of San Blas.
We anchored, caught up on our sleep and, after a little snorkel exploration, took the dinghy ashore.
Due to the lack of natural predators, the birds are unafraid and willing to allow people to get very close.
A short hike to the lighthouse put us right in the middle of a blue-footed booby colony. We watched as the birds interacted, communicating via whistles and croaks, the males trying to impress the females with their dance moves. It was like an avian version of Saturday Night Fever, and we were front and center.
One particularly amorous pair even cooperated for this short video (apologies for the wind noise – we promise a better video camera is coming soon). Enjoy the show!
We didn’t plan to spend seven weeks in Mazatlan. In fact, we planned to be there for only one week, but life is like that… plans change and flexibility is the key to new opportunities. We stayed longer to have a boat project completed (to be covered by Wags in a separate entry), which turned into another boat project and a quick trip back to the States to renew our Mexico visitor permits.
The extra time in Mazatlan gave us the chance to make some new friends, volunteer with the local animal shelter (Amigos de los Animales),
and see and do so much that this city has to offer. There are beautiful plazas and the basilica:
The public market with its fresh produce and yummy street side food vendors:
Stunning natural scenery:
Architectural and cultural sites:
And every thing in between:
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to slow down. This time we did.
Carnaval Mazatlan is one of the most popular carnival celebrations in Mexico. We were excited to be in town as we had heard it is a must-see. The week leading up to Ash Wednesday is a constant stream of events, from pageants and concerts to fireworks and parades. We decided the main parade on Sunday would be our best opportunity to join the festivities.
Getting into town from the marina was painless. We caught the bus and 40 minutes later we were downtown and twenty pesos (about one US dollar) poorer. We walked to the malecon, the oceanside street where the parade takes place, and with a half hour to start time the crowds were filling in fast.
After choosing a spot to stand, we quickly discovered we would be able to see only the higher aspects of the parade as neither of us is above average on the height scale. Wags noticed several people with small wooden stools and, leaving me with my promise to stay put (so we wouldn’t lose each other), he headed off to find the enterprising person selling them. Upon his return we stepped onto our new, 2-foot-high, extremely wobbly viewing platforms where we would spend the next two hours taking in the sights and sounds of Carnaval Mazatlan 2017. Luckily, there was a temporary, slightly more stable, metal fence just behind us to assist in our balancing act.
The parade began as the sunset provided a beautiful backdrop. With this year’s theme, “de Alebrijes y Dragones,” very colorful dragons dominated the floats and dancer outfits.
As darkness fell and the parade progressed, the floats became bigger and more vibrant and confetti filled the air.
The crowd was massive, the mood festive, and the energy contagious. It was a blast to see people young and old alike sharing in the celebration – everyone was there to have fun. We even got to practice our Spanish with a man standing next to us who was there with his wife and daughter.
After the last float and the brigade of dancing horses brought up the rear of the parade the crowd dispersed and we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. A few stragglers stayed behind enjoying the warm evening, one señor taking a much-needed rest on his own wobbly stool. By the time we were finished with our dinner, the brigade of sweepers had already erased much of the evidence of the parade.
The celebration continued, however, on the side streets and in local homes, restaurants and clubs, for two more days and nights, until the beginning of Lent brought an end to this year’s carnival.
The main reason for our trip to the small working port of Topolobampo was to stretch our legs and venture inland. We left the boat in the secure marina and headed to nearby Los Mochis, where we caught the train, “el Chepe,” and embarked on what is hailed as one of the most scenic train rides in the world. The route winds its way into the Copper Canyon, Mexico’s version of the Grand Canyon in the US (but an area four times larger).
With 37 bridges, 86 tunnels, and even a full 360 over itself to gain altitude, the train ride itself is spectacular. Stops in several small towns give a glimpse into local life along the way.
One of the stops is Divisidero, a stop without a town, where you can hop off the train to see the canyon (Clark Griswold style), grab a quick bite to eat – numerous vendors sell gorditas (tortilla pockets stuffed with cheese and other yummy fillings) – and browse the local handicrafts.
Our end point in the canyon was the town of Creel, located at 8000 ft. This area is home to the Tarahumara Indians, who are known for their ability to run extreme distances. We found them to be shy and reserved but friendly people. The weather was cool and beautiful and we took the opportunity to visit one of the nearby Tarahumara communities and the 18th century San Ignacio Mission.
On the way back we spent the night in El Fuerte, founded in 1564. It is the birthplace of Zorro and home to one of Latin America’s last remaining dry tropical forests. Its location by the Rio Fuerte makes it an oasis in the midst of the surrounding dry, arid landscape. In town are numerous old mansions that have been turned into boutique hotels, each quite charming and unique.
Our visit coincided with that of a regional dignitary, too, so we got to catch the local parade in his honor, complete with caballeros and dancing horses!
One thing we took away: 3 days was too short. We would love to return to explore more of the towns and spend time hiking and biking in the canyon. This was a tasting menu of a trip, for sure.
As the number on the depth finder started rapidly decreasing, I tried to reassess my route while asking Wags for a sanity check. 7 ft… 6 ft… 5 ft… “It’s getting shallow quickly!” 4… 3… 2… Gadabout slid to a halt in the soft sand bottom just outside the channel. We were aground.
After an overnight crossing of the Sea of Cortez to the mainland, we arrived at Topolobampo where we planned to leave the boat while we took the train inland to explore the famed Copper Canyon. To get to the marina we had to leave the main channel and negotiate a secondary channel. There are channel markers in place but the channel is not depicted on the electronic charts, only in one of the guidebooks showing the general path, a path which appears to cross areas much shallower than our 6-ft draft. We were motoring along between the channel markers at about 5 knots. I was at the helm with the next set of markers firmly in my gaze (I thought) and Wags was focused on shore, trying to identify the correct marina through his binoculars, when we came to our abrupt halt. I immediately put the engine in reverse and, luckily, was able to back off without any damage, other than to my ego, as a panga full of fishermen pointed out our error – I had missed a right-hand turn in the channel. Adrenaline still pumping, I guided Gadabout back into the channel and proceeded, SLOWLY, with Wags on the bow keeping a close lookout, until two shrimp boats – yes, they also got to witness the entertaining scene – passed us and provided a clear picture of the way ahead. To our surprise, there were a couple of times the shrimpers went outside the channel markers, their local knowledge serving as a proof point of the constantly shifting bottom.
An hour later, securely in our slip at the marina, we toasted our good fortune – a sand bottom, helpful locals and no damage. There’s a saying that goes, “You haven’t been around until you’ve run aground.” Well, now that we’ve been around, there’s no need to do it again.