Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's Getting Hot In Here

We are definitely in the tropics now! Since leaving California on what must have been the coldest, rainiest day in the history of San Diego summers, the weather has steadily gotten warmer.  I still have the odd feeling that Christmas and my birthday were a hoax because we spent our time lounging in our bathing suits and zipping around the bay fishing for 20+ lb sport fish from our dinghy.  However then I look at the calendar and realize that I am indeed one year older and our trip is almost half way completed!
Some of the hundreds of dolphins we saw on our way into Ixtapa
We are currently anchored in Zihuatanejo (zee-wa-ta-NAY-ho) and I think it is shaping up to be our favorite spot so far.  Not only are we in a beautiful protected bay but this is a town that has definitely maintained its local culture despite an increase in tourism.  Here, there are no mega resorts, those are reserved for Ixtapa down the road.  Instead there are many local guesthouses and some boutique hotels that seem to be frequented primarily by vacationing Mexicans.  There is a local market where you can buy everything from a whole cow to a bottle of soy sauce and a morning seafood market right on the beach where we land our dinghy.  Prices are not cheap but finally reasonable and on Sunday night we joined what must have been the whole town for their weekly gathering at the basketball court. That night the entertainment was Zumba and other forms of exercise to get the townspeople moving.  This was probably appropriate as I believe Mexico has now passed the US as the fattest nation in the world! I am certain it is also the most picturesque basketball court I have ever seen with a view of the sun setting over the bay and mountains as a backdrop for the dancers.

Back to the weather...Although we passed the Tropic of Taurus (formerly the Tropic of Cancer) on our way down the Baja, the nights have still been pleasantly cool and we often need our fleece jackets when we are night sailing.   Around San Blas we broke out the "harbor awning" a large tarp that we spread over the boom and tie out to the sides of the boat to keep the UV rays off the deck.  It is amazing how much this little bit of shade cools down the cabin.  We do not have air conditioning but have been more than comfortable most the time.  However, here in Zihuatanejo, it is hot.  Hatches open, awning out, and I am still practically dripping sweat into our food when I try to cook anything inside the galley.  So, yesterday I got crafty.

A large sewing machine was not in the budget for this trip and frankly I don't know where we would have put one.  Luckily, until now we have been fortunate enough to find other sailors with Sailrite machines when we needed to do sail repairs. We do however have a hobby machine, a gift from my Dad and Jane, that has been very useful for some small projects.  Yesterday I was determined to increase the ventilation on Moments.  Failure was not an option.
Our new wind scoop in action.  For the front corners I made some homemade grommets by sewing a washer between two layers of fabric and stitching around it like a button hole

I could write a whole blog post about the wonder that is a Mexican fabric store but this time I did not even need to visit one.  Adam had a ripped camping hammock (thanks to Kraemer, I believe) that he has kept from college due to some premonition that the thin green fabric would at some time become useful.  Yesterday I made half of it into a beautiful new wind-scoop for our middle hatch and we are currently experiencing gale force winds in the cabin.  Well, it may not actually be that effective, but Adam put it through the test with a handheld anemometer (wind speed gauge) and he would like everyone to know that, "the wind-scoop transfers the free stream wind velocity with 100% efficiency, thus defying the Betz Limit of power transfer."  For those of us without a degree in engineering, this means that we catch most of the wind coming towards the scoop and redirect it into the cabin.  We are pretty happy with the outcome and our cabin is once again a place of comfort and moderate temperatures.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Yes! You heard us right. Moments has run aground in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico. Now you're probably thinking, shipwreck, two dead, the dreaded end to the blog. However, read on...

So, it's not that bad. We've seen worse (today running into town). Yes, we just had our bottom painted. But the truth is, our first grounding of Moments was quite anticlimactic. We're ok, the boat's ok, and we've learned...the boats seen worse. One of the wonderful items we found aboard Moments was the previous owners log book, which splendidly details the travels of Moments former crew. You see, the boat was originally in Texas, and spent a considerable amount of time cruising the Gulf Coast (and later the Pacific Northwest) which is known for shallow waters. In these travels, Moments was frequently aground on the sandy shoals of the area, probably groundings similar to our recent experience, but I'm sure, as with any boat being used, some worse.

We knew the entrance from Melaque to La Laguna at Barra de Navidad would be a tricky one. We had heard only to enter at the highest tide, as the dredged entrance only ranges from 1-2 fathoms (1 fathom = 6 feet, so 6 to 12 feet). Enter the sometimes annoying truth about tides...the high tides in the area were at ~6:30am and ~9:30pm, both (admittedly) during our usual high time of slumber and of course in the dark. Well, darkness adds a whole another element to entering unknown shallow territories, so we decided we we bite the bullet, wake up before the dawn, and be at the entrance just at sun up. We'd be entering just past the highest tide, but hey, close enough, right?!

Well, in true cruising schedule form, we hit the snooze button a few times, slowly (and awkwardly, thanks v-berth) rose from bed, scarfed a lovely oatmeal (aka provisioning-needed gruel) breakfast and, oh crap...we gotta go! Sun's up. So, we decided to go for the record.

See, we have a little competition going, as it sound like Moments previous owners did as well. How fast can we get the anchor up and get moving? I think I recall times of eight  minutes coming up in the old log, but we haven't finished reading all of it yet, so maybe there is a new record coming. Well, I'm not sure when the clock starts (exit companionway?) or stops (hook to roller?) so let's just say it took us 20 minutes to raise anchor (I think it was probably faster than that, but we actually haven't timed it yet - Rachel will read this later and may be encouraged by her readers to start timing anchor's a-weigh). Side note - previous owners did not have an electric windlass as the boat now has, so...anyone have ideas on how to handicap that? Minutes per anchor scope length? I don't know...

Okay, so we got the hook up a little late, but we saw a beautiful sunrise over the entrance to the lagoon we were aiming for...things were looking up. Of course, we had studied a chart carefully to plan our entrance (quick look and "we should be all right..."). As usual, a couple breakwaters, some unmarked rocks to avoid, swell, shoaling, NBD (no big d...). So we got past that first part - we were in. Smooth sailing from here. Town/palapa (beach front restaurant aka more expensive tacos given the view)/panga (the coolest super-planing barebones fishing boat ever) parking land to the left ritzy high class marina fertilized grass land to the right, lagoon dead ahead. The wise men told us, stick to the right, near the shellfish/fish pens to avoid the sand/mud bar, yeah, aim right for the island, hang a left, and boom...ancla (anchor in Spanish - remember, it's masculine! So use the "el") land. So, we followed the wise man's advice - stick close to the pens...stick close to the pens.

Depthsounder (little meter that tells us water depth) say: 8 feet...7 feet...6 feet...5 feet (mass confusion because Moments keel is 5'6" under the water...more calibration required)...4 feet...3 feet...

Knotmeter (little meter that tells us boat speed) say (should have made a table or graph...): 4 knots...4 knots...4 knots...3 knots (mass confusion, why slowing down?)...0 knots

Engine tachometer (little meter that tells us engine revolutions per minute) /transmission say: 1500 rpm/forward...1500 rpm/forward... 1500 rpm/forward...(oh crap, we're not moving forward anymore, what do we do)... 2000rpm/forward (nope, didn't work, more stuck)...1000rpm(idle-ish, thinking...)/forward...1000rpm/neutral (still thinking/sinking into mud)...1000rpm/reverse...1500rpm/reverse...2000rpm/reverse...full throttle/reverse...etc...

So, if you followed all that. We were heading into the lagoon, clearly went the wrong way and motored ourselves into a sand/mud bar until we stopped dead, but luckily, after some guesswork and likely not-by-the-book maneuvering, we able to escape our first grounded via propeller power. Phew. Why phew? Well, later today we saw the top of our friend's boat's keel as they waited the 12 hours aground for the tide to come back up and lift them of the sandy shoal. During those 12 hours, we were drinking beers and talking about it. Hopefully we're just as lucky next time.

The propeller that got us out - thanks Max-Prop. Here, testing home remedy antifoulings that cost less than PropSpeed. Baby diaper ointment (Zinc Oxide), Lanacote (lanoline sheep's wool goop), and bare polished bronze. Stay tuned for results...I should really write a post about the haul out in general.
In case we do run aground again, anyone have some tips and tricks for us on what we should/could do? I'm gonna have to read up a bit more on this one, because the charts are getting worse and worse as we head south and there are less and less people around, so we'll have to be pretty independent.

We're glad we made it to Barra, as we heard it's a cool town. Went exploring today and looks like we could spend a while here, but after a couple days we'll keep heading south. We love Mexico, but it's time to go!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mangrove Morning

Up with the sun to ready for the mission of the day - a trip into the mangrove jungle by dinghy here in Bahia Tenacatita. After a few yawns, the daily coffee (tea for Rachel), and a quick bit of Mexico's finest supermercado breakfast cereal during the (relatively hilarious) VHF (very high frequency radio) local cruiser's net featuring rare hosts - a Mexican cruising couple - we loaded the dink (dinghy slang) and buzzed off.

The mangrove jungle tour is one of the highlighted features of this anchorage on the inside of Tenacatita Bay. How do we find these places?! Well, some people are familiar with the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks for travelers. There is a similar guidebook series for sailboat cruisers called Charlie's Charts, which we've been using all the way since Seattle. It feeds us tidbits of local highlights in addition to hints on entering the various bays along the coastline. Though sometimes out of date - actually frequently here in Mexico - it is a good addition to the hear-say we get from other cruisers along the way. We were not sure what to expect here in Tenacatita, as there has been rumors of closed anchorages and beaches laden with armed guards protecting failed resort developments. Well, we managed to anchor, and have not been approached by any brandishing forces, so it's all good so far!

While we have these hints and advice, there is usually a good bit of hunting to find exact locations and outcomes. As we buzzed off in our tender for some point on shore, we casted our trusty fishing rod into the rocky shoreline in hopes of a lucky catch. We haven't been so lucky lately, after a good stretch coming down the Baja Peninsula catching fish. Sigh...another slow morning as we approached. Bagging the fish pole for a while, we beached the dink on a tiny, calm beach with only the sight of a young Mexican couple in a Panga flirting among their new shellfish collection and an older cruising gringo clearly performing the daily ritual of escorting his two Portuguese Water Dogs to shore to take care of their business. We had a nice chat about our "plans" and his experience crossing through the Panama Canal and sailing into the Caribbean. As usual, this more than friendly cruiser directed us to our jungle tour destination, a ways down the beach.

Hidden behind a rocky patch of shore, the beach gave shallow way into an estuarial stream at first lined with fisherman tossing hand made nets, then panga (small fishing boat) parking for the local fisherman and tour guides, and finally, a very peaceful mangrove waterway at times barely wide enough for our dinghy then suddenly opening up to larger lagoons. Steering slowly at first and then accelerating after gaining a bit more confidence, we launched into the mangrove jungle with high aspirations of wildlife sightings and maybe a couple fish for lunch.

Herons, egrets, blood red mangrove crabs, and healthy schools of bait fish surrounded us as we worked our way further in. We had woken early in attempt to glimpse the rising wildlife and beat any crowd (relative term down here), which paid off it seemed. Adam steering and Rachel handling the fishing rod, we trolled a small spoon behind our craft just for the heck of it. Without much hope for any luck, we laid the pole in the bottom of the dinghy, and not five minutes later, we both jumped in fright as the pole crashed backward into Adam and the outboard engine. Rachel grabbed the pole and exclaimed, "Fish On!", and we threw the engine into neutral to fight the beast. A beast it was not, compared to some of our salmon, tuna, and dorado battles, but Rachel hauled in our first snapper of the trip, a welcome surprise as it would make a delicious treat for the day's lunch. Not ten minutes later, we had hooked into our second snapper, even bigger this time, and our lunch was secure. Not a bad start to the day!

The mangrove jungle seemed to wind on forever, but curious to see what lied beyond (we had heard of a small fishing village, some palapa restaurants, and a guarded entrance to the failed beach resort a ways back) we kept motoring against the falling tide and increasingly shallow waterway. It wasn't long until we came upon another dinghy like ours, surprisingly piloted by a young cruising couple from, you guessed it, Seattle! Lots of folks from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest down here, but a bit more rare finding those folks closer to Rachel and my age. We had a nice chat about plans and went our separate ways, but actually running into each other with chuckles several more times in the mangrove maze, until finally our boat reached the end of the road where the stream turned to beach and the fenced, exclusive resort. Without a ticket, we reversed and after a bit more unlucky trolling of the fishing lure, Rachel spotted a small (five foot long) crocodile, making the wildlife portion of the trip complete. It was the first we'd seen in the wild down here, and likely ever for me - though many alligators in Florida on family trips.

Having learned the way, we buzzed out of the mangroves back to Bahia Tenacatita, our two snapper in tow, gunning to get them on the grill before they spoiled. Actually, they ended up in the frying pan in a delicious fish taco concoction by sailing vessel Moments premier chef, the lovely Ms. Rachel Harper. Beer, tacos, and some smooth music by Santana on the jukebox (Moments newest upgrade) made for an excellent afternoon on the boat in the sun. Lounging and planning (delaying) our escape to Barra Navidad, our next destination further south. We're gradually picking the pace back up after a great month in Banderas Bay. However, the clock is ticking on our travels and we're both getting excited to get into Central America!