Sunday, January 15, 2017

South from Ensenada

[Kyle]We paid our bill at Baja Naval and left the dock around 10am. After a slight bit of motoring to get clear of the harbor entrance, we unfurled the sails and then just sat there. We were expecting this. The forecast was for very light winds. Wind was ‘due’ according to the forecasts and we wanted to be ready for when it arrived. We had the luxury of time and always try and conserve fuel where. It would likely be two thousand miles before we could pull up to a fuel pump. We may be able to go into a town on the dinghy with jerry cans before that, but that is not something that’s fun to make multiple trips for if we can avoid doing so. For the meantime, we would just be patient and wait out the lulls.

Our last morning in Ensenada - and a very quiet bay once we got out the harbor

We sat in the same spot for a couple of hours next to a flock of gulls before the lightest of breezes came up and we were able to slowly pull away from them. So long, suckers! By nightfall, we had passed through a gap separating Ensenada’s Bahia Todos Santos from the open Pacific.

Just as it was getting dark, half a dozen Humpback whales joined us, slowly going about their evening feed. They circled at a distance for a while and then went on their way. In the calm, we could hear every breath.

A night after that, we could still make out the lights on the hills above Ensenada. The clouds in the distance were lit up by Tijuana and San Diego even further. In the early hours of the next morning, the wind picked up and we were able to put some real miles behind us. We sailed the next four hundred miles well out of sight of land in almost direct tailwinds. Once or twice a day, a ship would pass by close enough to see.

Slow but pretty progress for the first few days

We had originally intended to stop at Turtle Bay and anchor for a night, but our slow progress the first couple of days made it seem more sensible to press on to our next planned stop at Bahia Santa Maria, a couple hundred miles further on. We were trying to arrive at the Sea of Cortez for a forecast period of south winds – opposite the prevailing direction.

We had been having great difficulty getting a good enough connection through our ham/SSB radio to download a forecast, and also to tell our offshore contacts about our change of destination. We were hoping we would have a good enough cell signal at anchor to update our forecast so that we could determine when was best to move on. Aboard Begonia, we can use the radio for long range voice conversations, but primarily to transmit critical emails. For the emails, the radio connects via a Pactor modem to the computer, and for years it has been frustrating and temperamental when trying to send and receive emails. There are several issues that can cause problems (e.g. signal is not good enough, the server we want to talk to won't answer, and a host of other hardware issues), but we believed the biggest issue was a power/voltage issue, if the batteries were not full and charging our modem ALWAYS seemed to lose power just as we tried to connect. Maryanne had time to so some sleuthing on this trip and finally identified a simple solution - it turns out that there are two power inputs to the modem (the second is optional and not connected, in fact we weren't even aware it existed) - she found a cable that would fit into the second power socket (one that had previously functioned to charge a spotlight) and WOW - our major problem seems to have vanished and our radio seems to be reliable and trustworthy again. Over the years, Maryanne has enlisted the help of fellow cruisers, been on long calls with radio experts, and nobody even suggested or hinted that a second power input would solve the problem - she is a genius! {Maryanne: better late than never, but this makes a HUGE difference to our peace of mind at sea}

As we approached Bahia Santa Maria, our wind finally started to taper off. In order to avoid another night at sea, we deployed the spinnaker, which had us pulling into the bay around noon (although our chart depths did not seem to match reality once we arrived). We set the anchor, ran the checklist, and went for an afternoon nap which we were most ready for after 7 days at sea and on watches.

About half an hour later, there was a knock on our hull. We groggily surfaced. One of the other boats anchored nearby stopped in to introduce themselves. There were two folks in the visiting dinghy (Richard and Denis) with another two back at the boat, Ebenezer III (Octavia and Rick). Ebenezer III had done the Baja Haha rally in November, and was now doing the long, upwind trip back to Sausalito, ducking in to anchor when conditions got too rough.

They arrived with a gift of a Mako Shark (also know as a bonito), and some chowder too. They had earlier asked one of the local pangueros (the fishermen that use the local 'Panga', and open boat or skiff used widely here) for a couple fillets and he threw them a four-foot Mako shark. They used what they could, but still had a third left over. They offered it to us. We happily (if somewhat nervously) took it. (Maryanne served us up steaks, and later was able to turn it into a coconut fish curry. This, along with the fish chowder Ebenezer III also gave us, kept us fed for four days!). It was nice to have guests visit and they were such good company we were happy to delay our naps; we must have seemed OK company to them too, as they invited us to visit their boat the following evening for drinks – wow, we have a busy social life all of a sudden!

Kyle finally feels retired and relaxed AND we have a shark to deal with - another first!

The next morning, we were just out of bed starting in on our late morning coffees when a squall passed through and it started to rain hard. A couple of minutes after that, the Ebenezer III dinghy knocked on our hull again, this time with Richard and Octavia. They had been exploring the mangroves in glorious sunshine but were now rapidly getting soaked in their dinghy, so of course we invited them aboard where we chatted easily until it passed. We had lots to chat about as we’d all lived around San Francisco Bay and It turns out Octavia was British and had studied, like Maryanne, at St Andrews University.

The wonderful company aboard Ebenezer III

Richard, the owner and Captain, was concerned about the weather going north. We had a decent signal on our phones, so we were able to download some high quality forecasts, which allowed us to go back and forth about their options. He decided they would leave during a lull early the next morning.

To save us having to deploy our dinghy, Richard offered to pick us up later on for the long ride to his boat in his dinghy. Great!

As the afternoon came to a close, we noticed them heading out. The wind was already dying down and we figured they must have been getting a jump on it. Instead, they dropped anchor right behind us. This would make their dinghy ride nice and short for our pickup. They were eager to prepare for their departure the next day and called us on the radio to see if we wouldn’t mind getting an early jump on our visit. Sure!

We met them again with a just-downloaded forecast and then headed over for an evening of wine and story swapping. When darkness fell, we took an hour saying goodbye and then they shuttled us home so they could continue their departure preparations. Their kindness and great company will be forever memorable, and we hope we didn’t keep them up too late.

The next morning, we emerged from bed to beautiful blue skies. Ebenezer III was long gone. The last of the other two boats in the anchorage was just pulling up anchor and heading south. Begonia had the whole twelve-mile long bay to ourselves. We were finally caught up on sleep and were able to have a refreshingly lazy day stretching the few minor things we had to do into a whole day.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Returning to Mexico

Family Time over Christmas
[Kyle]After many weeks in Arizona soaking up some Mom time, and filling up on holiday foods, the holidays were over and it was time for me and Maryanne to pack up and leave her and Darren to head back to Begonia.

Even though we had all known our departure was coming for a while, as the day neared, it seemed to rush toward us at an ever-increasing pace. Our last night there, on Boxing Day, we all had a good hug and cry over it.

My retirement finally made it possible for us to sail anywhere we wished. However, now we were going to be really far away and would also be without flight benefits (or money) to maintain our former visit frequency of a few times per year. Our next trip to Mom’s would instead likely be several years from now. It was good to be heading back to the boat to resume the adventure, but this time we were all feeling a keener sense of the loss of each other.

We sneaked out of the house when everyone was still sleeping. We had an uneventful drive to San Diego, where I dropped Maryanne and our bags at the border to wait while I returned the car to the airport.

The border crossing was without incident. We walked a couple of blocks past a bunch of cab drivers who really wanted to give us a ride to the bus station, where we boarded the bus to Ensenada. Two hours later, we were in the yard climbing the stairs into Begonia’s cockpit.

The alternating rain and dust in our absence had coated her with streaks of fine mud. She was clean inside, though, until we put down our stuff. Well, that was it – we felt like we were in the yard again.

The next day, we got everything stowed and hosed all of the dust off. That’s better! Except that we still have to get dressed and walk to the bathrooms if we need a midnight pee.

Then came time for last minute provisioning. We were going to be some indeterminately long time before we could get to good stores again, so we spent almost a whole day making our way through a whole host of grocery stores in search of everything for which we might possibly have a need. This beats dismantling an engine, but it still stands squarely on the not fun side of the fun/not fun line.

A lot of people have been asking me how I’m enjoying retirement. So far, it’s a lot of days like this, so I’m still not sure. I am enjoying not having to get flights to work or having my nice schedule arbitrarily turned into an awful one because there’s a cloud in Newark, but I feel like I have yet to realize what it’s like to have a nice lazy day as if it were Sunday, except that it’s Wednesday.

The first thing the next morning, it was time to put Begonia back in the water. She was clean and stocked and ready to go. We had a few last minute things to do once she was in, then we were looking forward to a nice walk along the paseo.

I started the engines, mostly to clear the air out of the cooling water system. Sometimes it loses its prime after a haulout and I have to go bleed the system to get it flowing. There were no problems this time. I slowly increased the rpm to our normal cruise setting, checking on the engines every couple of minutes to see that everything looked fine. After about fifteen minutes, as I checked on the port engine, I found the high-pressure fuel line between the secondary filter and the injector pump had sprung a leak. Fuel was spraying all over the engine compartment. I shut down the engine and closed the shutoff valve. There was a huge mess to clean up and now we couldn’t use that engine or our heat until the line was replaced. Our nice afternoon was canceled. I would be removing the offending part from its difficult to access position while Maryanne called all over town (and the internet) looking for a replacement.

Finally back in the water - only to have a new problem - Doh!
To make matters worse, it was the Friday afternoon before the New Year’s Day long weekend. If she couldn’t find anything, we’d be stuck for a week.

She didn’t find anything.

On New Year’s Eve, it was cold and very rainy all day. We stayed in bed late, mainly because it was warmer there, then we spent the remainder of the day trying to heat up the boat with a lot of steamy cooking while the town skipped it’s celebrations and also hid inside.

Rain slashed at the boat until well into the morning the next day. When it stopped, the whole town flooded onto the waterfront to enjoy their day off. There were no cruise ships docked, so it was just us and half a million Mexicans.

Since Monday the 2nd was a holiday too, we weren’t able to resume our part search until the following day. We found someone who could hopefully have the part in by the end of the week, which left us the rest of the time to do tourist stuff.

We toured museums, visited a good microbrewery (Wendlandt) and also made it to a winery (Santo Tomas) that had some surprisingly good wine. On our last full day in Ensenada, we even rented a car. This made some of the errands we had to do a lot easier, but also gave us time to drive into the nearby wine country (the Guadeloupe Valley where we toured and tasted at L.A. Cetto, and then went on to dine at Hacienda Guadeloupe). We had a great time. The wines were all good, the facilities would not look out of place in Napa, and the scenery was beautiful.

While we had the car we also visited the local 'blowhole' La Bufadora which it seems everyone who visits Ensenada must visit.  The day we arrived the weather was too calm to show off the full force (it is the 2nd largest in the world), but it was the half mile gauntlet of vendors we were required to pass through that tainted the whole experience.  Apparently everyone who goes to visit this natural feature, also requires Tequila, a new handbag and a stash of Viagra and the vendors are quite insistent.


Out and about (on the sunny days) around Ensenada
On the rainy days we hunkered down with Netflix and wondered when our parts would arrive!

I may finally be starting to feel retired!

[Maryanne]We’re also determined to embrace the fact that there is ‘different’ food in Mexico – both in the restaurants and grocery stores, and we want to try a little of everything (although to date the various offals are NOT included in the experimentation). I’ve purchased and cooked up cactus paddles (called nopales here in Mexico). We’ve discovered a great new hot chocolate drink we love (which includes corn flour, giving a a delicious malty taste) called champurrado, and been sampling the street food here too – so far, so good.

Sampling the food in Mexico

One of the pictures above also showcases a new item that has found its way aboard Begonia - a butcher block - this did not come from Mexico but was hand made by Darren (Kyle’s brother) to fit perfectly over our tiny little galley sinks (a Christmas gift); beautiful quality and wonderfully useful - it brings a smile to my face every time I use it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Exploring Arizona (and Utah)

[Kyle]After thanksgiving and a couple of weeks at Mom’s having fun and …uh…carbo loading, we took a few days to go hiking.

Fun at Mom's

First was a trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. As the date on our permit approached, so did a cold front. For a while, it was looking like it would be well below 0°C for the entire week, even at the bottom of the canyon, where it’s generally 10°C warmer than the rim. We were on the verge of cancelling, but we as the date approached the forecast continued to get milder and we decided to drive up there and have a look.

On our first day, we cranked up the heat in our hotel room and then put on all of the clothing we brought. The icy air at the bus stop for the hiker’s shuttle actually felt good for a while. When a while was up, we started to wonder if we were really prepared for this.

The shuttle dropped us at the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail. We checked over each other’s gear and then headed over the rim. It was cold for about a mile, mostly because we kept stopping to be amazed at the view instead of working up a sweat. The trail was protected from the wind in most spots. That, and a general increase in temperature as we lost elevation, had us soon stripping off layers and stuffing them into our packs.

It turned out that December is a pretty good time to hike the Grand Canyon. Almost all of the warnings about making the hike have to do with dealing with summer’s relentless baking heat and the need to stay hydrated. Our hike was cool, but not uncomfortably so, which made it seem not too strenuous at all. There were also a lot fewer people on the trail, which made us feel like we had the whole amazing place to ourselves most of the time.

We overnighted in established campgrounds, which were way nicer than what we got used to on the High Sierra Trail. Bright Angel Campground, down at the Colorado River, even had flush toilets and potable water on tap.

Wow - The Grand Canyon, up close and personal!

At Indian River, on the way back out, we got to spend the afternoon watching helicopters resupply the camp, load by load. As if the scenery weren’t entertainment enough.

The last mile or so before we emerged at the rim on the Bright Angel Trail, the cold returned. We dug out our warm gear and donned it for the trip out amongst the day-trippers.

After leaving the Grand Canyon we took a big detour to Bryce Canyon for a day there. More scenery. LOTS of scenery.

Bryce Canyon - more WOW!

Before returning to Mom’s, we then went to Zion National Park the next day for a hike to their highest thing: Angel’s Landing. It was the weekend by then and Zion was pretty full. Again, we were confronted with all sorts of warnings about the need to pace ourselves on the strenuous trail in the blistering heat. The trail was steep, but in the cool air and without heavy packs, it was a pleasant stroll. The first half of it is even paved.

The second half is a different story. The trail follows a narrow ridge to the top, with long drops to either side. In most places, a heavy chain runs along the single lane trail for support. In a few places, it’s even necessary to pull yourself up or lower yourself down using them. Again, it was good to be there during the off season, as I could imagine there are long waits in the summer for a turn at the chains – all in the heat.

Maryanne skipped the chain part. I basically got to the top with minimal delay for a handful of people descending. The view at the end was worth it, though, totally worth it.

Zion National Park

We stayed at Zion until the last of the daylight left, racing around to see as much else as we could before it got dark.

We made it back to Phoenix the next day, our heads full of memories of sublime places. When we got there, we got a message from the yard in Ensenada: Our rudders were done, Begonia was ready to return to the water upon our return, and the bill was less than we feared. Woo, Hoo!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ugh, the Yard

[Kyle]Begonia had just been hauled five months ago, so there really shouldn’t have been much to do. We had to remove the rudders, of course, but we were getting good at that, so it only took a few minutes. Our new engine (from last year) needed it’s first oil and filter change. We also knew it should hopefully be a while before we haul out again, so we changed the oil in both sail drives. Our main task was a good spring cleaning. Over the years, Begonia’s various storage areas have become less and less manageable as we’ve accumulated more and more stuff, much of which we probably didn’t need. It was time to go through them all again piece by piece and honestly evaluate whether each item is earning its keep. It took us all of the daylight of to full days do dig through and organize everything we had.

Digging out the rudders to find and fix the root cause(s) of our issues

We had a couple of other major jobs to do: a stanchion base broke as I was climbing off of the boat as it went into the lift. We also wanted to do a major overhaul of our anchor windlass. Both jobs should have been straight forward, but in the way that these things do, one complication after another cropped up until a day was gone for each and all we wanted to do was get showers to get the grime off.

Toward the end of the week, we finally started to feel like we were getting on top of things and we allowed ourselves to venture out and enjoy the city.

There are many things we like about Ensenada. México’s best chefs are found there, so we had some really nice food. There were a couple of festivals we got to meander through. The Baja 1000, one of the world’s major off road races, started just a few blocks from the yard.

Baja 1000 race starts and ends on our doorstep

My favorite thing, which quickly became a nightly tradition, was a walk to the nearby fountain. The fountain in Ensenada is huge and elaborate. hundreds of jets are fired in sync with lights and booming music, ranging through classical, mariachi and techno. Just hearing the music from the boat makes us want to go out and watch the light show. it’s like a fireworks display. The whole town seemed to come out every night to make the fountains a family night.

The musical fountains put on a grand display at night

When the week was finally over, it was time to get up VERY early for the long journey north to Arizona, where we planned to spend the holidays with my Mom getting a much needed rest from the yard while they rebuild our rudders.

We got a chance to look at them before we left. They had been opened up and drained and the good news was that they were basically in pretty good shape (at least better than our 'worst case' fears). Once they’re closed up and resealed, they should last us a good long time.

Sights Road trip from Mexico to Arizona had some impressive sights