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


[Kyle]After an early hour arrival into Mexico - and once we had slept a little bit, we went to the marina office to introduce ourselves and to start the check in process. They had the forms all ready for us as well as a nice packet which gave us clear, detailed instructions about each step as well as a map showing where to go for everything.

Clearance in México can be a lengthy and frustrating process. Ensenada, however, was forward thinking enough to be the one place in the country that put all of the necessary government offices together in one building. This turns a two day process into a couple of hours. The only glitch we had was when we had to go find a bank mid-process because the payment desk in the building required cash.

We were finished our official clearance with enough time left over for a long stroll along the waterfront amongst the passengers of a newly arrived cruise ship - the same one we saw in San Diego and in Avalon. We also had time to stop in the marina office before they closed to come up with a plan for the next few weeks.

The ritual of swapping out our Q flag for the appropriate country flag
we are officially in Mexico

We were in Ensenada not just because it was on the way or because it was such an easy place to clear in. We also needed yet another haul out to (hopefully once and for all) address our recurring rudder problems.

The replacement rudders we got from Fountaine Pajot in 2014 have been giving us trouble ever since. We’ve slowly fixed one issue or another and all that remains is the not unsubstantial issue of water making its way into the blade. When we’ve removed the rudders at haul out, we’ve been confronted with the sight of rusty water dripping out of the shaft/fibreglass joint, which it should not have been doing.

Thus, we finally had to come to the conclusion that what needs to be done is to open up the rudders, see how bad they are inside, drain them, fill and rebuild them. If they’re bad enough, we may even have to have new ones fabricated. This task is above our skill level, so it was to fall into the hands of Baja Naval in Ensenada.

I had just barely got out of bed the next morning when José from the marina came by to say they were getting ready to haul us out now. I didn’t even have time to make coffee.

Haul out and Rudder removal

Well, our early haul out left us ahead of schedule, so we would be able to start on our long, unpleasant yard list right away.


[Kyle]It was the day after the US Presidential election. I could go on, but this is a travel blog, so I won’t... apart from saying that sailing to a new country for the first time in years had the added sense of feeling like a cause. We hoped the Mexicans wouldn’t be too sore at us.

The forecast had been for light and variable winds, so our plan was to sail when we could and motor through the calms when we couldn't. By the time we left the breakwater astern, it was blowing 17 knots - MUCH more than expected.

We hoisted the main and unrolled the jib, leaving a reef in just in case the wind picked up even more. It did, and soon we were pulling the mainsail down to the first reef as well as Begonia pitched over the building chop.

To complicate matters, the US Navy was busy conducting live fire exercises in the very patch of ocean we wanted to use. Not only that, but they were moving around a lot, so they were using a pretty big area.

We altered course to sail as close to the wind as we could. That had us just skirting the area under the watchful eye of the patrol boats. We passed by one of them close enough that we were expecting them to zoom over and run us off, but they let us pass.

We beat upwind for a few more miles before we crossed the line into Mexican waters, which the Navy seemed to be leaving alone. We turned downwind to pass on the outside of the Coronado islands, which made things calm down a bit. The Navy fell behind and we were instead joined by a thin parade of big sport fishing vessels headed between San Diego and the fertile waters off Mexico.

We sailed into the lee of the islands and the wind stopped, which left us bobbing around in an uncomfortable swell for an hour or so until we crawled our way out of the shadow. When we did, the wind came back and then some. We shortly had two reefs in each sail. This made us safe for the conditions, but we were still spending a good portion of our time wishing the wind would just die down already. Light and variable indeed...

We had already passed the halfway point before it was even dark. It was becoming quickly apparent that our initial 30 hour estimate for a really slow sail was going to be way less than 24. Our ETA was hovering right around midnight. If we arrived then, we had a choice of lingering outside the harbor until morning in order to be sure we could see our way in, or enter when we got there.

I conducted a good study of the harbor chart and decided that it looked like a pretty well marked and lit entrance. Ensenada has a fair amount of heavy shipping, so it seemed like it should be pretty easy to follow a deep water route in. We decided to give it a go, with the proviso that we could always abort and head into open water until morning if there was anything we didn't like.

Our actual arrival time was about 2am. All of the buoys were in place at their charted location and all were lit with bright new LED lights. There was also a bright range to help keep us in the center of the channel, which was an easy, straight shot from the safe water buoy.

We gently pulled up alongside the open end dock, where we got our first taste of the harbor’s surge, which in our case was technically sway. We were holding about a meter off when we rose slightly and then moved about a meter sideways, squishing the fenders with a slight lurch. We tried to get a line around a cleat, but we were back out of reach at a meter again, repeat. Hmmmm…

We were in the middle of a little Laurel and Hardy routine of running exactly the opposite way than we needed to be every time Begonia changed direction, when we were saved by the night watchman. Well, saved might be a bit of an overstatement. He got a line cleated to the dock, but that only changed the dynamics of the problem. Now only one end of the boat was swinging in and out while the other alternately bounced off the fenders and jerked to a stop at the end of the line in exactly the opposite direction. At least we could reach the dock. We got the other lines ashore and with a lot of pulling and only a little tripping over each other, we we finally got everything tight enough so that Begonia stayed put. Whew! Welcome to México.

Mexico - our new home!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Saint Doug (aka San Diego)

[Kyle]We knew it was going to be a long, slow sail to San Diego from Avalon, so we left at first light in order to give ourselves as much time as we could.

We did pretty well for a while. The wind turned against us just far enough that we could still sail within a couple of degrees of our route. We got about halfway and then it just quit like someone flipped a switch. We were left rolling around in two wave trains that were opposing one another, which made Begonia jump and lurch erratically. The sails slatted back and forth and everything was banging and shaking. Ugh!

Little wind, but we arrive in time for the sailing races

We stowed all of the sails in order to spare them and the rig, and started an engine. I hate doing that, although I have to admit it in this case the racket of the engine was way preferable to the sound of the rig beating itself to death. The wind never went above two knots the rest of the way and the arriving swell from a big storm in the open ocean was getting bigger.

Around 4am, we entered some pretty thick fog. We turned on the radar and started sounding our fog signal. As we approached the entrance to San Diego, we started spotting lots of fishing boats on radar (We could tell because they were mostly stopped). Most of them had picked the middle of the entrance channel as their spot. None were sounding a signal of any type and we got a few dirty looks as we appeared out of the fog and manoeuvred around them on our way up the channel. One big sport fishing boat came blasting out of the fog at 13 knots and passed a boat length ahead of us without even seeming to notice we were there. It’s a good thing we saw them coming.

A couple of miles later, we emerged into bright sunlight and then found ourselves motoring upstream through a pretty big sailboat race. we peeled away and tied up at the Customs dock for an inspection, which would authorize us to anchor in the A9 anchorage reserved especially for transients. We set the hook just in front of the Coast Guard station and within sight of the airport.

After a good restful day and night - we wake up to more fog

The next day, we were picked up for a whirlwind tour that would have taken three or four by bus. Our ride was from Liz, a friend Maryanne made in Italy after we lost Footprint. Liz’s husband, Michael, is in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Naples when Liz kindly answered Maryanne’s internet call of help with boxes for shipping our remaining belongings back to the States. They’ve been in San Diego for the last few years, where they hope to stay, and she was kind enough to drive us around and keep us company.

Liz showed us the sights - including Cabrillo lighthouse and beach

Our main focus of the day was Cabrillo National Monument and State Marine Preserve. Along with great sea cliffs with lots of tide pools and plenty of good information about Cabrillo’s “discovery” of the area, there were amazing views of the whole of San Diego. From our high perch, Liz was able to point out places of interest and give advice on what to see later when it was just us.

We drove through a few areas and then had a late lunch before going to Liz’s to catch up. Maryanne had, of course, met Liz years before. I was new to the mix, but I felt perfectly welcome. Liz is very interesting and has a better than average level of self-awareness, which makes her an easy person with which to converse. I liked her very much. She also has two adorable cats which were happy to let me fuss over them. That made me happy since having our own is impractical.

Enjoying San Diego Old Town at night
where handmade tortillas are part of the entertainment

We followed that with a night visit to Old Town, where we meandered through shops and pubs decorated for El Dia de Las Muertes (Day of the dead).

The next day, we got up early with the ambitious goal of seeing everything else in San Diego in one day. This was, of course, nuts. We had no hope of doing any such thing, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t try.

We started by walking to the Mexican fisheries department to get two licenses. We were going to take a bus, but there was a wait, so we just started walkin’

We don’t really intend to fish in Mexico, but we have some gear aboard (lift raft options). The rumor is that we could get fined a car each if they think we might even be capable of fishing without a license, so a license each is cheap insurance the way we see it.

From there we walked to Balboa Park. We found the visitor’s center and then made a plan to see most of the highlights via walking tour.

Balboa Park - a wonderful mix of fine buildings and beautiful gardens

Balboa Park is just lovely. We’ve been lucky enough to be able to see some great urban parks in our travels, but by the end, I decided that Balboa is my favorite one of them all. It is beautiful and grand and peaceful and inspiring all at the same time.

The buses weren’t too convenient again, so we walked all of the way downtown to the gaslight district - the center of San Diego’s scene. We had a reasonable dinner during happy hour at a bar that probably wouldn’t start getting really busy with the younger crowd for hours.

We weren’t done yet, so we headed home via the waterfront through seaport village, yet another fun district with too many nice dessert places to pass up. We figured we had to be over ten miles for the day, so we needed something to get us the rest of the way home.

Exploring more of San Diego - and the views of planes landing from the boat

We had another day in S.D. We intended to go to the Maritime museum, which has eleven boats to tour (Ooh, boats!), but things kept coming up. By the time we walked by it on the way home again, we had filled the day with a lot of other fun touristy stuff we found on the way and they were about to close, so we had to give it a miss. Maybe next time.

Thursday, November 03, 2016


[Kyle]We were up for what seemed like an unfairly early requirement to vacate our mooring by 8:00. The sun only came up at 7:15. All right. Well, it's not like we had anything else we wanted to do.

We had a nice downwind sail along the southwestern side of the island and were at Avalon harbor a few hours later.

{Maryanne:I was not familiar with Avalon, nor did I have any idea what to expect. Being so close to Los Angeles (and Hollywood) it was developed as an Island get away for folks on the mainland, and quickly became somewhere the rich and famous visited and generally mixed well with other visitors (movie stars, Winston Churchill and many others - Marilyn Monroe even lived here for a year before she even contemplated becoming an actress). And the place totally looks the part, it is stunningly beautiful.}

Once we were secured, we discovered a bunch of little issues that seemed like they would be better addressed sooner than later. By the time we were done with those, both we and the light were starting to fade. We decided to stay aboard and deal with the dinghy tomorrow. In the meantime, just outside, we had a view of Avalon. Unlike Isthmus, Avalon was dripping with charm. It looks so much like a little Mediterranean village that every now and then, we would forget we were still in California.

First views of Avalon from our mooring

The next morning, I went out to ready the dinghy for the trip ashore when I looked out to sea and saw a giant cruise ship anchored outside the harbor. Oh no! Cruise Ship Day! So many times, we have seen charming little villages turned to overcrowded and overpriced bazaars on Cruise Ship Day. Sighting the ship makes us feel like what people who work feel when they realize it's Monday.

First day exploring the waterfront of this beautiful town

It wasn't actually so bad. Instead of increasing ten fold, Avalon's population temporarily went up maybe 30%, which it seems pretty well equipped to handle. We wandered around, looking at shops and restaurants. The triple rule seems to be in effect here as well. We know a way around that: Don't buy anything (okay, not much). We walked all over the place, taking in the view from one side of town and then the next. We found an outdoor restaurant with THE perfect atmosphere and decided we would take the opportunity to try the island's signature cocktail, Buffalo Milk. Buffalo Milk contains no buffalo products, but instead is basically a White Russian with whipped cream on top. It looks like a frappuccino, only with kick. Somebody nearby got nachos and we decided to add that as well. It was a perfect spot for one of those "life is good" moments as we watched the surf lap the beach below. {Maryanne: Prices were really not that bad, about right for waterfront dining in California - but still more than we generally like to spend - poor Kyle}

The beach club was one of the many stunning places to hang out

We followed that with a walk out of town to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens. The memorial was impressive and the gardens were really well done. All of the plants were of types suitable for the arid climate and it was especially interesting to see examples of species that are only found on Santa Catalina. Many are a convenient bench height, like the barrel cactus, but almost none seem to be good for sitting.

A walk to the outskirts of town, and then on to the Botanical Garden - where Kyle was keen to inspect the prickly things.

On the way home, we stopped in the local grocery store for a few items of which we were running low. There, my suspicions about the triple conspiracy were strengthened. Cruise ship passengers don't need groceries. People who live here need groceries. Groceries here are NOT triple. They cost the same as everywhere else we've been in California. Ah, ha!!! Busted.

I suspect the same is not true of real estate.

The ship left at the end of the day and we had the whole place to ourselves and those other twenty people again. We enjoyed an inexpensive dinner made with Catalina-bought groceries with the lights of the town as a backdrop.

There was no cruise ship blocking the sunrise the next morning, so we took in a few attractions.

First was a snorkel around Lover's Cove. The visibility was pretty good. We saw lots of fish species, most of whom were so tame, they were happy to follow us around. There was some kelp and a lot of sea grass, but strangely no stars or anemones. We were also secretly hoping to see a few sea lions frolicking around, but they were elsewhere. We would have stayed a while, waiting for them, but even in our wetsuits (thanks, Mom!), we were starting to get chilly. California water is cold, Man!

A snorkel in Lover's cove

We went back to Begonia, dried off and headed back to shore for a tour of the Casino, which is not a gambling casino, but instead just a really big entertainment venue, maintained in its original 1920s glory. It reminded us of other grand theaters like the Paramount in Oakland and Radio City Music Hall in NY. On the tour, though, we learned that we had it backwards, Radio City was built using inspiration from the Casino. Cool. The Casino is split into two main areas, a giant theater below and the world's largest uninterrupted circular ballroom above. Back in the day, Avalon used to be huge on the big band circuit. I couldn't resist swinging Maryanne around a few times in the middle of that giant floor.

A behind the scenes tour of the 'Casino' at Avalon

From there, we went to the island's museum, where we learned a lot that we didn't know about its star-studded history.

We decided we had done plenty of exercise for the day, so we would treat ourselves to a meal out. We paid for a very nice meal at a romantic restaurant. What we got us a pretty good pizza and a couple of beers at a hole-in-in-the-wall with lots of character called Antonio's. It was still romantic, though, because I was with Maryanne and we were in freakin' Avalon!

The next morning was beautiful and clear. I went outside to admire the orangey light on the town and noticed another cruise ship. Uh, oh. We didn't have much to do ashore, so we got out early. We managed to get all showered and were enjoying a nice breakfast ice cream when we intercepted the first wave of people from the ship. We were then ready to get back to Begonia to prepare for departure while enjoying the entertaining chaos ashore from a peaceful distance.