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


[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.