The Log of Moira
These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>.
The schedule of the Baja Ha-Ha rally gave us a starting date of October 25th 2004, and a finish date of roughly November 9th. When we signed up I admitted to two expected benefits: shame and socialization.
Shame was my first hope and expectation. The sail down Baja required a passage of three days to the first stop, Turtle Bay. Then two days to Bahia Santa Maria. And then a day and a half to Cabo San Lucas. <Larry: Note that “days” are 24-hour days.> In other words: multiple night passages (which frightened me) and offshore sailing, requiring a high level of self-sufficiency. I thought that if 450 other cruisers (about half of which were female) could do this, then so should I. So I needed the event to shame me into making the leap.
Socialization was also important because we thought the rally would be a good way to meet other cruisers heading South. This has proven true and has given us a fine opportunity to enjoy the company of many interesting new acquaintances: retirees, traveling South with no schedule; families with children; part-time cruisers, who leave their boats in safe marinas to travel back to the States until the next time of escape <Larry: and about a third of the fleet was on a one-season dash, planning to return with their boats to the States before the beginning of the next hurricane season in June.>.
<Larry: The first leg of the rally, from San Diego to Turtle Bay, started on the morning of October 25th, and was a bit over 350 Nautical Miles. If you have a small-scale map of Mexico, Turtle Bay is located just south of the big “dewclaw” about half way down the Western coast of Baja California.
One septuagenarian on another boat was taken very ill on the passage down. The boat he was on holed up on the back side of Cedros Island and put out a radio call. Several of the sailors in the fleet already at anchor in Turtle Bay were doctors, and got on to Megabyte, a powerboat that was part of the fleet, and headed back north to Cedros. They got to him, made a hairy and hazardous boat-to-boat transfer at sea, got the man down to Turtle Bay, and got him stabilized in the little one-room clinic there. He was eventually evacuated to a hospital in the States, an operation which was an epic saga in its own right. Cruisers help other cruisers.
The normal expectation is that these passages, southbound along the northern Baja coast, will be downwind. However, November is a month with a high percentage of winds out of the South, and we got a nose full of them on this leg, with winds from the SW at maybe 25 knots. Sloppy, wet, slow, and not the stuff of picture postcards. But we got the job done, and dropped the hook (anchored) mid morning on October 28th. Turtle Bay, more properly Bahia Bartolomé, has a town of about 1,000 people, living mostly in cinder block houses. The town was economically hard hit by the closing of the local sardine cannery, and is more and more dependant upon sales of diesel fuel and beer to passing yachties. Really pleasant people, as are nearly all Mexicans we’ve met.
The morning roll call on the radio the next day was full of tales of woe: typically, equipment newly installed for the trip that had broken in its first use. Calls to the fleet for replacement parts, or for expertise in fixing one gadget or another, were met with success in a surprising fraction of cases, as one cruiser could supply from his stock of spare parts or experience for another cruiser who hadn’t been so provident. Cruisers help other cruisers.
After catching up on our sleep, we took the dinghy in to the dilapidated town wharf, strolled through the dirt streets, and bought some pan dulce (pastries) and fresh tortillas at a small tienda (shop). Then back home. That afternoon, we enjoyed a potluck beach party put on by the rally, finger food and beer, and replenished Moira’s diesel tanks from a miniature outboard-powered tanker that wandered through the anchorage.>
As we left Turtle Bay, we noticed that our speed both under sail and power had decreased dramatically. We usually sail at 5 to 7 knots when the wind cooperates, and motor at 6 to 7.5 knots, but we were down to 2.5 to 3.5 knots and the boat under sail seemed almost stalled (this occurs when the sails are pulled in way too tight, but the sails were not in fact too tight). At the same time a racket began, an intermittent banging on the side/bottom of the boat. This went on for many hours and during our first night outside of Turtle Bay. Something was not right but we were not sure what the problem was. We had not spent a lot of time on the boat at night while sailing so the noise could have been the waves which would occasionally thump the side of the boat as we sailed through the swell and considerable wind. Well, we came to the conclusion that we had somehow caught a lobster or crab pot and the fishing lines were wrapped around our rudder or keel. Larry began a process of reversing and going around backward in a circle, trying to get rid of the pots. Gradually the noise declined and after many hours the speed came back up. This was only preparation for the future because outside of Bahia Santa Maria and going into Puerto Vallarta we had the same joy. By now we were more proficient and immediately recognized the problem. We have a 12 foot long wooden boathook on board with which Larry was able to trap the line lying below the surface near the stern of the boat, pull it up, and cut it, which released the line and accompanying pots or nets. What a relief! <Larry: A relief mixed with the unhappy knowledge that we have dented the income of some fisherman, who can ill-afford the loss of the net/trap or its catch.> We were fortunate that one of the cruisers on the trip was a diver, whom we paid to look at the boat’s bottom. He could see scratches on the keel of the boat which conformed to the expected points of contact with the pots and the weights inside of them. No permanent damage, but this is the sort of problem-solving that goes on with a boat and is part of the cruising experience. <Larry: We were also fortunate that we escaped without significant damage. Several boats that caught fishing lines or nets suffered bent propeller shafts, and several had their steering jammed by lines, requiring a mid-ocean dive over the side with a bread knife to free the rudder and regain steering ability. This will not be our last such experience.>
<Larry: The second, leg, from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria, was roughly 230 Nautical Miles, and went much more “as advertised in the brochure” with winds out of the NNW. As a result, we sailed the whole leg, leaving Turtle Bay in the morning of October 30th, and anchored (contrary to policy) in the pre-dawn hours of November 1st. After catching up on our sleep, we had a look at the Bay. Bahia Santa Maria is inhabited only by a small group of fishermen who live in a dozen or so plywood huts in one corner of the Bay. The most astonishing event of our stay was a seafood feast for the rally (remember, about 450 people!) cooked by the families of the fishermen. Given the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area, it is further astonishing that the rally was able to materialize a rock band, brought in by truck, ferry, truck, and small outboard-powered boats. Entertainment was also unwillingly provided by some of the boaters, whose dinghies overturned in the surf on the way to or from the feast, fortunately without damage other than to dignity. It was a pleasant feed, but I have the feeling that the both Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria became much more pleasant places the morning after the rally departed and solitude once again descended. One of the costs of joining a rally such as the Ha-Ha is that one feels some pressure to conform to their schedule. We would have been happy to spend more time at both Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria.>
<Larry: We departed Bahia Santa Maria at the in the pre-dawn twilight of November 3rd, for Cabo San Lucas, a passage of about 200 Nautical Miles. About 3am on November 4th we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and officially entered “the tropics,” and in the mid-afternoon of the 4th we anchored off of Cabo San Lucas. This leg was also downwind, though the winds fell light toward the tip of Baja California and we wound up powering the last bit of the trip. One hard-core sailor on the rally took six hours to cover the last dozen miles.>
Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California, has some amazing rock formations at its entrance, with photogenic arches. Very dramatic and picturesque. The town is laid out on a series of hill and flats and looks from afar white and quite lovely. Many luxury hotels spread down the long beach with bars, restaurants and lots of palapas <Larry: small, thatched restaurants along the beach> all over the place. Going ashore in Cabo can be easy because there is a dinghy dock in the marina, which can be used by paying 20 pesos (about two dollars) to the very friendly guard. <Larry: “Can be easy,” that is, if one makes it alive through the narrow entrance to the marina. One must avoid being run down by speeding pangas in the narrow channel.> The first two blocks from the beach are a series of hotels, time sharing condos and apartment buildings. The next two blocks inland from these are mostly t-shirt stores, junky art stores, bars for gringo sport-fishermen (bars with names like Squid Roe and The Giggling Marlin), and the likes of Hard Rock Café, Domino’s Pizza, MacDonald’s and Subway sandwiches. The introduction of the American stores is really not as surprising as one might think because Cabo is really built for and maintained for the gringo visitors, mostly sport-fishermen. When we were in Cabo San Lucas, I did not really consider that we were really in Mexico any more than when in Tijuana, which is not much more than an American foothold into Mexico. While both Mexican people and officialdom were friendly and helpful, the town was certainly divided into two parts: that occupied by the gringos, and the rest of the city occupied by the Mexicans. The Mexicans seemed prosperous, although the living standards were dramatically different. The schools had well-uniformed kids who appeared healthy but somewhat shy. My overall impression was that development impact fees were needed and appropriate (above what was collected already) to overcome the vast need for infrastructure required by the large amount of development in Cabo, all of which is being built to meet the needs of the gringos. <Larry: We rented a car and drove back up the Pacific coast of Baja a bit to the town of Todos Santos, a wannabe artists’s colony and home to the Eagles’ original Hotel California. It was a gentle introduction to the fact that Mexico’s roads are a shared resource: specifically, shared with livestock.>
<Larry: Boats that anchor out at Cabo without the right equipment can experience a miserable back-and-forth rolling motion at times. We did OK, mostly. The anchorage at Cabo San Lucas is, for some of us, almost a holy site, as some years back an unexpected storm came up from the South in December and wrecked on the beach much of the cruising fleet anchored there at the time. Caveat nautor.>
The trip south to Cabo was thrilling, exhausting and immensely educational. We proved to ourselves that we could actually do this thing called “cruising.” While I admit that I like the cruising aspects more than the longer passages, I am learning how to be a competent first mate to Captain Larry and that has been stimulating and exciting, requiring lots of focus and learning about the boat.
Puerto Vallarta is located about 260 Nautical Miles from Cabo San Lucas. We had a fast and comfortable beam reach passage (wind about perpendicular to the beam or side of the boat), which took about 36 hours. There were two points of note about the passage. First, this passage took us further away from land than we had ever been—about 90 miles. Second, we had to tiptoe through a fishing fleet about halfway across, an experience that would be repeated many times in the coming months.
We did travel with a rally group again; this group was sponsored by the Paradise Village Marina and the Vallarta Yacht Club, both in the Nuevo Vallarta area, and both of which like to encourage cruisers to patronize their facilities. I was enticed by a loosely-arranged rally with 40 other boats, two free nights at the marina and a month’s free membership at the yacht club, so we signed on. The yacht club in addition had arranged a whole week’s worth of parties and events to introduce the newcomers to the town of Puerto Vallarta, which made the first week fun, free of cooking duties, and full of opportunities to meet and become friends with all the cruisers we had traveled with. Good adventure without stress.
Puerto Vallarta has a population of about 210,000, and sits on one of the Pacific Ocean’s largest and deepest bays with plenty of beautiful beaches, pleasant weather (until the hurricane season of summer time) and a broad range of development which allows for every taste and budget. Good, consistent winds make the area and ports South fabulous sailing environs. Hurricanes have not seriously bothered the bay for 150 years, mostly because of the protective mountains which almost surround the city except for the bay itself. The city itself is a mix of old and new, tumbledown and up-to-date. Luxurious development: hotels, condos, and time shares stand next to the older, more charming part of the city behind the waterfront. The old Romantic Zone offers the houses and hang outs of Burton, Taylor, and Houston (of Night of the Iguana fame), restaurants, and a small hotel district built along the riverfront a la San Antonio. The downtown zone has most of the larger retail of the city. Shops (tiendas) are often a small part of the first floor of a house that could be selling anything from Cuban cigars, art, clothing, remanufacturing of auto parts, or a small restaurant with maybe six chairs. Charm, mixed with things falling down around you, interspersed with something that would give an OSHA inspector hives. You need to watch where you are walking.
We also visited several small towns and villages around the city. Sort of middle-class settlements, often located in a valley, with houses sort of sitting on the hillsides in various states of incompletion and dilapidation, and suddenly a satellite dish sitting up proudly looking up to the sky. One of the highlights was a visit to a family’s house where we were treated to home made corn tortillas (made from scratch by Grandma while we watched), accompanied by refried beans, guacamole and a delicious dish made from nopales (prickly pear). Delicious, and I’ve been delighted that I could replicate the dishes.
So, initial impressions are: lots of pride shown by the Mexicans toward their homes, cities and government; a great deal of respect for Señor Fox, who is considered the People’s choice for President; and considerable friendliness and helpfulness by the Mexicans, who greeting gringos and each other with hola or Hi. But a great deal of money needs to be dedicated to infrastructure, and English needs to be taught in the public schools. Today, English is mostly taught only in the private schools so often parents send one child to a private school.
<Larry: We are often asked by non-sailors about what we do when sailing at night. The answer is, simply, that we keep moving as best we can. A conventional sailboat moves slowly (say, 100-125 miles a day), and stopping at night, even if practicable (it’s usually not), would double the length of an already lengthy passage. For multi-day passages, our watchstanding schedule has evolved to three hours on and three hours off, around the clock. In other words, one of us is on deck and in charge of the vessel for three hours while the other is off watch and, for the most part, asleep. Then we trade. The person on watch can always call the person off watch for extra muscle or judgment. We have a sea berth which cradles the occupant, giving the sense of security one needs to sleep. The first day or two under way, it’s hard to get to sleep when off watch, due to the motion, sound, and adrenaline rush of being at sea. By the second evening, though, sleep comes quickly once in the sea berth. When on watch, the time usually passes quickly with the need to adjust the sails, adjust the self-steering to keep the boat on course, check the radar, keep watch for other boats that may not show up on radar, update the log, and so on.>
You don’t just go ashore and flash your passport to get into Mexico legally from a yacht. The process to check in can be lengthy and somewhat obtuse, and depends on the protocol of each port that has a Port Captain. No Port Captain, no check in required. In the bigger ports like Cabo you can hire an agent to do all the work. This usually costs about 50 dollars in agent’s fees plus about 20 dollars for the actual Mexican port fees <Larry: both figures depend on the size of the vessel and the number of crew.>. These fees are also paid when you check out. If you do it yourself (we did, mostly), you need to go to Immigration, usually first, possibly the Port Office, possibly Customs, and the Port Captain, usually last. <Larry: The offices may be in the same building, or separated by several miles.> At each stop you provide the official with one or more photocopies of each crew member’s passport ID page, visa, a crew list (there’s a form for it), and your vessel’s US registration. The order changes depending on the relative power of the Port Captain. If the immigration guy has been there longer he may preempt the Port Captain in the order (later is usually more powerful). Each time you need to pay a fee, you may need to (a) visit the official to get a statement of the amount and purpose of the fee; (b) find the officially-designated local bank, which, upon payment of the fee, deposits the money in the government’s account and provides you with a receipt; and (c) return with the receipt to the appropriate official, who stamps your papers. <Larry: Oh, and don’t think that you can skip any steps: you can’t enter a port without the exit documentation from the prior port, showing that you’ve dotted all the T’s and crossed all the I’s.> This can be time consuming, but it is also a very good way to check out the town and find out where all the stores are located. <Larry: The job took four hours each way in Cabo, and about one hour in Nuevo Vallarta. It can take a couple of days. Each way.> You do get a feel for the town and its ambience. If the jobs are interspersed with some cold cerveza it all feels much better. So the pace of life becomes slower and, with the right attitude, much more relaxed. My blood pressure has dropped 30 points since I stated cruising. This may be the way to a more healthy life even with the odd onslaught from officialdom.
<Larry: Update on the subject of paperwork. In April of 2005, new regulations were handed down which drastically reduced the grief involved in entering and exiting a port. One is now only required to “inform” the Port Captain of one’s arrival or departure. It was not strictly specified how the “informing” is to occur, but in most cases, the Port Captains seemed to be working in good faith to implement the regulations. Given that they are no longer permitted to collect fees for the process, it is perhaps predictable that they would no longer want any more involvement in it than necessary.>
One of our concerns when we were preparing to leave the US was the extent of provisioning we might need to undertake. We stocked for about 30 days at a time with lots of general supplies, frozen food and some specialties that I suspected we would not see again until we returned to the States (such things as Kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, walnuts, and water chestnuts). But what do we find on the bus route into Puerto Vallarta but Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, with just about everything one could imagine and buy in the US? Oh well, so much for mystery. But were are learning much about Mexican fruits, veggies, and cuts of meat, all of which delights me. If you use local ingredients, food is cheap because of heavy subsidies by the federal government. However it is easy to go to a very nice restaurant (as we did the other day) on the riverfront and spend $50 for two for lunch.
<Larry: In the toilet stalls in Mexico—all but the very most modern—one is likely to find a wastebasket lined with a plastic trash bag. Your used toilet paper is supposed to go in the wastebasket, in an attempt to avoid plumbing blockages,.>
Write to us! We love to hear from our readers--send us an email. On the next page (which will open in a new window or tab) you'll type in a couple of puzzle words and click "Reveal email address," then just click on our email address to open your regular email program and write us a note. (If we're at sea, our reply may be delayed.)
This free script provided by