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Oct. 28, 2003

30N, 116.05W, 11:00
We left our berth in Mission Bay 26 hours ago under an ash cloud that had deposited a quarter of an inch of fine ash all over everything. There was little point to washing the boat down, although I did, because the ash kept falling at a rate that you could never get ahead of it, and continued falling all the way to Point Loma (start of the Baja Ha Ha race) and out to sea until sometime after dark. The boat is a mess. We don't know how to remove the stain, but we're out of there, can breathe again and our home/lives were never in any danger.

We joined this ragtag group of racers for the three-legged race to Cabo San Lucas to have a good time, to learn a little about cruising Mexico, and to meet those whom we're apt to run into during our trip south. There are over 100 sailboats in twelve divisions racing, and five or six of us "stinkpots" making up the "No Comprende" division. At this point, we are way out in front, and anyone who is not dead in the water 90 miles astern has joined us in polluting the environment. Right now, about 17 miles offshore, it is 75 degrees with hazy skies and not a breath of a breeze. There is maybe a six-inch swell, and the water is a clear beautiful blue. It's not yet noon, and I've already caught and released a small yellowtail and had a toothy monster nip through a leader. Retirement is hell.

In order to make the long legs to Cabo much less tiring for Dona and myself, we picked up some derelict to share the watches. Actually, Steve Norstrom is a retired Western/Delta pilot who is keeping his Nordhavn 40, NorthStream, in our slip at Van Isle while we're off cruising down south. The three on, six off watch schedule is really nice, but it’s also great having someone who knows the N-40 and has a ham license aboard. He also owns a sailboat and therefore speaks (forget the Spanish) "sailing." One may question his motives, but it's possible the only reason he agreed to help out is because he’s afraid we might turn around and return to Sidney, leaving him slipless there.

October 29, 2003

27.41N, 114.53W
At anchor in Turtle Bay after a smooth 47 hour run from San Diego. We were third to finish, behind another powerboat and a 65-foot Swan. We just finished lunch, a swim and a shower and are contemplating a nap and/or a trip to the city. With all these tough decisions, I almost can't handle the stress.

November 2, 2003

25.11N, 112.49W
I've been a little remiss with the log. We've been having too much fun. Retirement has ruined my work ethic, making me very unreliable. I got talked into taking the big dinghy down off the boat deck and pulling some folks on a wake board. It's now hanging off the stern awaiting the 80 degree water and more customers on arrival in Bahia Santa Maria. The beach party in Bahia Tortugas was a huge success. What was to be a potluck ended up being enhanced by some of the local residents selling beer, tacos, sea snail ceviche and just watching the crazy gringos blowing off steam. Everyone enjoyed the music, dancing and camaraderie, but the real entertainment was watching the yachties dumping their dinghies and passengers while attempting to transition the surf line. All had a good time. This annual event means a lot to the economy for the 3000 or so residents of Turtle Bay, and they really go out of their way to make sure the cruisers are treated well. Yes, they charged $1 to pick up a bag of garbage and dispose of it and $1 per person for the water taxi to town, and a little extra to deliver something to the boat, but they also collected a few errant dinghies, oars and at least one wallet and passport that the returned to the owner after locating him. Nice, friendly people.

The 06:00 to 09:00 watch is the best, and I just finished. By the time you acquaint yourself with any traffic around you and catch up on the progress and events that occurred during the last six-hour period, there is a warm glow beginning to form in the east. A few minutes later, you turn up the brilliance on the radar, depth sounder etc., and BANG! The sun leaps right out of the ocean. Almost like
one of the many manta rays we've seen doing back flips in front of the boat. It takes about two minutes from the time the very top of the sun is visible above the water until it's completely free. It’s such a simple thing, yet it never ceases to amaze me. I never tire of witnessing the whole performance. After the show, someone is generally stirring below and brings you coffee and breakfast shortly thereafter. After breakfast your tour of duty is nearly over, and it's time for a little nap. Now I ask you, what could be better than a show, breakfast and a nap?

Sadly, my fishing experience on this trip has not been an improvement over our other cruises. We've had reports from the "fleet" where many have landed albacore, yellowfin tuna and numerous Wahoo, even a 50 pounder. All we've managed to wrestle aboard have been a pair of 16-inch yellowtails and numerous skipjacks. It’s depressing. As a result, Captain Queeg has diverted Free Flight and its merry crew off course so as to cross right over Thetus Bank, where it has been reported that even the most unskilled among us can place quality fish on the barbeque. We are about two hours off that spot now, so I've got to go and sharpen the fillet knife.

Zane Grey here. We anchored in Bahia Santa Maria at 16:00 central time on November 2. The spell is broken and life is good. I caught a yellowfin tuna, a small Dorado and more skipjacks than I care to remember en route to Bahia Santa Maria. It's tough being captain, mechanic, chief procurement officer and sommelier. The weather is getting tropical, but still very pleasant even though wind is picking up. Tonight it's fresh Dorado almandine, in a white caper sauce, spinach, coconut rice and a nice Grgich Hills fume blanc. It sure beats Del Taco. We're both wondering what Dona has planned for breakfast in the morning.

The Ha Ha fleet finally has their wind. Unfortunately, it came up during the night when many were already at anchor. The plan is to spend two days here relaxing and exploring on the beach. I don't know about going to the beach, but while it's blowing upwards of 40 knots with 10 to 12 foot seas at eight seconds outside and 30+ knots in the anchorage, sitting tight is a great plan for us. Nordhavn and stabilized or not, I'd rather hole up here than begin the 26-hour run to Cabo San Lucas under these conditions.

And hole up we did. The day before we departed for the Cape we had a beach party! Someone trucked a generator, sound system, beer and a band from La Paz to the other side of Baja and threw a party for 400 boaters. The people in the fish camp prepared fish, lobster, beans, rice and salsa, and they charged $10 a head. They probably thought they were skinning a fat cat by selling lobster bait to a
bunch of crazy gringos, and we all felt we were getting one heck of a deal. Once inside the river bar and on the beach, the place opened up into a maze of waterways, allowing many of us the opportunity to break away from the concert and tour the fascinating mangroves.

November 7, 2003

22.53N, 109.54W
We made it into Cabo yesterday after 23:30 underway. After a sloppy start close in to shore, we hung a left and picked up a nice offshore swell square on the tail. Initially, the sailboats had a good enough breeze to fly their colorful spinnakers, giving us quite a show, but as the sun went down so did the wind, replaced by a full moon, which accompanied us until dawn. When the sun began to rise we noted a crowd of boats congregating on the horizon. At the stroke of 07:00 everyone hit the throttles, smoke muddied the early morning sky and we found ourselves looking down the barrel of a tuna tournament's shotgun start. Fifteen minutes later the first of the raging horde began flying by, providing us with 30 minutes of the sloppiest ride we've had since September.

Seeing that the marina was full, we picked up a mooring buoy, put out the flopper-stopper and allowed Steve to jump ship in a panga. We dropped the dinghy, and with paperwork in hand, headed off to Cabo San Lucas. What a zoo! We dropped our papers off with an agent who, for $190, paid for the visas and cleared us into Mexico and out of Cabo. While it won't be as expensive in the future, we do have to check into and out of every place that has a port captain.

Today it's back to the paperwork guy to pick up our papers, then we’ll restock the larder and lunch on Dorado fish tacos before the organized beach party this afternoon. We're about a quarter of a mile off the beach, and it really starts to hop in the early afternoon. Yesterday some guy was teaching the beach revelers how to do the Macarena, and I'd have sworn he was on the boat because we didn't miss a word. There’s nothing better than Mexican hip-hop. This morning a pair of huge cruise ships anchored off our stern, so we're going into town before they disgorge their load. Can't wait to get out of here. Sunday morning can't come soon enough.

I’m sorry I complained about the sloppy ride the tournament fleet gave us. And I'm sorry about my decision to have Alex spit and polish Free Flight. I'm not sorry; however, that I decided to pin the 110 pound Bruce Anchor in place when we departed the placid waters of Cabo San Lucas at 08:00 under clear skies with an outside air temperature already pushing 90 degrees. Everything was going well until we rounded Punta Gordo (my patron saint), and then it hit us. Our first indication that things were heading south was when we heard one of our fleet, who was about an hour ahead of us and a few more miles offshore, talking about 30+ knot winds and 12-foot seas. All things being equal, we'd have much rather stayed in Cabo for another dance lesson from Reuben than spend eight hours riding a hobby horse over the 43 mile route to Los Frailes. I'm not sure how big the seas were, but they were square, very close together and they often filled the foredeck, which is eight feet above the waterline, with two to six inches of water. Although the flood quickly drained away, even well-sealed hatches leak when submerged for extended periods of time. We are now anchored in Los Frailes. It's nighttime, and things have calmed down quite a bit. We're wondering what tomorrow will bring.

We spent the day in Los Frailes, cleaned the inside of the boat and snorkeled a bit. We saw lots of beautiful fish and other critters. I could have speared a fish for dinner, but we're trying to draw the freezer down to the point we can find what we brought with us. I'm going to have to throw away a chunk of Ahi and another of Wahoo because they are getting old, and I hate to freeze fish. Friends of ours just radioed on the way in to the anchorage that they caught a three foot Dorado and are begging us to take a chunk. It’s great stuff, but I'm ready for something other than fish. Daytime temperatures are right around 100 degrees with 70 percent humidity. This may become a long-range problem, but with the breeze we currently have and the 83 degree water temp, I am adjusting. The sunset from the anchorage and this evening's 77 degree temperature were magnificent. It's now 21:45 and we're planning to leave here at first light for an anchorage called Los Muertos that is about 50 nautical miles north of here. Tomorrow is Dona's birthday, so it looks like I'll be getting up early, putting out to sea and then preparing breakfast.

November 14, 2003

It's almost dawn, and we're anchored north of La Paz between Isla la Partida and Isla del Espiritu Santo. It's been a week since we arrived in Los Frailes, and I'm trying to figure out where the time went. We slogged our way to Bahia Los Muertos. It was not as bad as the day before, but salt is everywhere. On arrival, we discovered that the owner of Cabo's Giggling Marlin restaurant and bar had opened another in this remote location. Why would anyone open a nice place like this so far from civilization? None of the locals frequent the place, so how could the occasional cruiser or the lost/adventuresome gringo from La Paz possibly provide enough cash flow to pay the light bill? Leaning against a wall in the closed gift shop was an architectural rendering of the "Bay of Dreams," a master plan for the development of the whole area into a residential and resort community. It's a great spot. We would have played golf on one of the courses. The “Bay of Dreams” does have a nicer ring to it than the Bay of the Dead, but I doubt the future of the place. The drawing was almost three years old and only the restaurant plus a few homes, for the owner and partners we understand, have been built.

The night before our arrival at Los Muertos, Rennie and Anne Waxlax threw a birthday party for Dona aboard their 65-foot ketch Cassiopeia. We had a wonderful meal with good friends, saw a movie and had a great evening. Our first night in Los Muertos was Dona's actual birthday and my turn to perform culinary magic aboard. But here we were with a private restaurant, lots of friends and a great excuse to have another party so, what the heck? This is Mexico. Now here are Dona's thoughts on the whole Birthday happening.

“Thought it was going to be fairly quiet, a non-event. Well, that didn't happen. Our good friends on another boat (who talked us into joining the Baja Ha Ha in the first place) had us over for a wonderful evening. The next day we were having afternoon margaritas at The Giggling Marlin's palapa in Bahia de Los Muertos, and the whole thing escalated into a great party with several other boaters joining in. I was even hung by my ankles in front of the Giggling Marlin. I can't believe I did that! I had a great time, and so did everyone else."

Being that the "Bay of Dreams" held such an attraction, and it was still blowing like snot outside, we elected to spend another day walking the beach with Dammit. These were his first steps ashore in 18 days. We had lunch at the Giggling Marlin, took a siesta, replaced the zinc on the main prop, and I was finally able to barbecue a nice rack of lamb for Dona's third birthday dinner in three days. We departed the following morning, slogging our way north to the pretty anchorage of Caleta Partida, where we find ourselves today. Our plans for going forward are as confused as the seas have been. We have a slip reservation in La Paz (necessary due to the destruction of other marinas during last month's hurricane) for the 17th through the 24th, but the forecast remains for 15 to 25 knots out of the north. While we wanted to visit some more islands to the north, it may not be worth the trouble. Dammit's on the verge of mutiny, and we're getting tired of running with the boat closed up and washing the salt off the pilothouse windows so we can see outside. Adding to the confusion is the fact that our forecasts are no better than those at home. Today's call was for 15 to 20 knots and so far (09:30) it's hot, without a breath of a breeze.

When I retired a few months ago, I figured I was out of aviation, but to the contrary I find myself in this huge wind tunnel called the Sea of Cortez. We spent another day at Partida then moved up to Ensenada Grande, a very nice anchorage with a beautiful beach that is fairly well protected from the nagging northerlies. The crew of Cassiopeia, Dona and I returned to our boats, grabbed our towels and coolers, and set up a "beachhead" from which we explored. We dug a little sand and had a few beers. It was quite a full day. Earlier in the day, I got a little extra exercise when I noticed the dinghy dancing merrily away from the boat on the wind generated waves. Dona figured that since she had tied the dinghy to the cleat, it was now my turn to do so, after I caught up with it and brought it back. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to put my fins on before diving in to give chase because it was really moving out. Also fortunately, the water temperature was 82 degrees this time rather than 49 degrees the last time the dinghy untied itself. Probably the only reason I'm still alive after the first time the dinghy escaped was our son, Chris, dove in and recaptured it. To this day no one has stepped forward to claim that first bowline.

Today is November 18th. We arrived in La Paz on the 16th, and have been getting a little cleaning, provisioning and exploring done. Hurricane Marty has done a lot of damage, but it's a lovely town with lovely people. The Marina La Paz is gone. Docks have simply disappeared, and boats are still sitting on the bottom with masts and shredded sails above water. Once tiled walkways and breakwaters have reverted to their underlying riprap. Streets are sunken, and a lot of masonry work has been destroyed, but the people are rebuilding. La Paz is more than its infrastructure. It's the people. It's the Mexico we enjoy, but not the time of year to cruise the Sea of Cortez. The temperature, both air and water, is great, but it's the wind that ruins the cruising. We don't enjoy being bounced all over the place and chipping salt off the boat every day. Today's plan, every day seems to have a different plan, is to explore La Paz for a few more days while holding out for a weather window allowing us to make the eight hour run back to Bahia Los Muertos. We will spend the night there before launching off on the 30 hour passage to Mazatlan.

Dona here. Yesterday was a beautiful day with no wind, and the women on Cassiopeia & I decided it would be a perfect dive day. The guys decided that was just too much work and left us to our own devices. That was a mistake! We hired a panga with captain & dive master and off we went. We were back to the top of Isla Partida in an hour and a half. It took about four hours to do the same trip in the other direction in our boat. We went to some tiny islets that are the habitat of some local sea lions and their pups. We suited up, and over the side we went. Those cute pups were all around us and very curious. One came right up to our facemasks and even played with a snorkel and gently pulled on one of my friend's long hair. Beautiful tropical fish were everywhere, and the water was crystal clear. Our second dive was on an old purposely sunken boat where we cruised through the windows, doors and companionways accompanied by an assortment of fish and a very shy octopus. A very large school of barracuda passed by, gave us the eye (were they thinking we would be good eating?) and kept on going. It was a great day, too bad the guys missed out.

November 22, 2003

23.47N, 109.01W
Our weather window opened up a little earlier than we had anticipated, so we departed La Paz yesterday morning in a dead calm. The forecast calls for two very good days followed by a real "Norther" with winds in excess of 40 knots for those in the northern sector and high, steep seas for those making the 200 mile passage across southern portion of the Sea of Cortez.

Yesterday was spot on with almost a mirror surface during the eight hour run to our anchorage just off the Giggling Marlin Bar in Los Muertos. The problem was that there were NINE boats in our anchorage when we pulled in. It’s obvious to us that Mexico is filled up. No wonder I haven't been catching anything lately. The place is fished out, and it's time to move on. After a very pleasant evening with our friends from Cassiopeia and a good night's sleep, we headed off in different directions, us to Mazatlan and the four of them on a southerly run to Isla Isabela. Its 2:30 p.m., and we're about eight hours into our 30 hour run under clear skies. Seas are flat with an outside air temperature of 85 degrees. Dammit's stretched out taking his post lunch siesta on the couch. Dona's running the boat and I'm waiting for a nice Dorado to bite. It's too late to thaw a rack of lamb for dinner, so either I produce or it’s pasta once again. The pressure is mounting, and I hope you can feel my pain. I’ve gotta go change the lure.

Actually, the pasta wasn't bad. As darkness overcame us and the Sea of Cortez turned a purple red, Dona served rigatoni pasta with a vodka cream sauce in candle light. We had a proper Pecorino Romano. As we were beginning to eat, Dammit shot off the pilothouse berth behind us and jumped to the forward windows over the wheel, hissing and spitting. Sitting on the bowsprit was a pretty big sea bird of some kind. Dona went outside and got nose to nose with it, trying to coax him away. He was apparently a very tired fledgling, 100 miles offshore, hanging on for dear life, and he wasn't going to budge. Dammit expressed his opinion, but we figured we should let him rest a while. He departed at first light the next day, leaving an unmade bed. In retrospect, had I fully realized the mess that our hitchhiker (Roger-the-Lodger) would leave me to clean, I'd have voted with Dammit.
When we finally reached the entry to the marinas to the north of town, we saw a dredge blocking our entrance. I called to ask if the entry was closed. There was no response from anyone on channel 16. Tired, anxious to transit the notorious entry close to slack water and a bit put off by it all, I decided to go for it. At any rate, we scraped by the dredge without anyone waving his arms and yelling, and we found our slip. I won't comment on the landing with the three-knot crosswind/current in the marina. Hey, I'm retired now.

Mazatlan was fun, but I preferred La Paz. Once again, it was less touristy. We had a very nice slip at the El Cid, were able to recharge our batteries, provision, fumigate the boat and take Dammit to the vet. I know he's been constrained. This trip wasn't his idea, and he's pretty bored; however, the rule around here has always been that if you take certain liberties, don't bring home anything that could negatively impact your shipmates. Am I being unreasonable? Well, we believe that Dammit returned from his beach walk at La Bahia de Los "Dreams" with pulgas- also known as fleas.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner with a number of cruisers and others who permanently live on their boats in Mazatlan. We had a slice of turkey roll, instant potatoes, peas and carrots. A Mexican band played way too loud for anyone to carry on a conversation, but we had a great time.

November 28, 2003

21.51N, 105.53W
Isla Isabela. We left Mazatlan at 04:00 today, threading our way out the narrow river of a channel in the dark and made our anchorage off the east side of Isabela about 45 minutes before dark. I'm not a big fan of anchoring in the dark, even when I'm familiar with the anchorage, but this would have been insane. Our actual location is two miles away from where the GPS and charts say we should be. We've had a few occasions where the electronic charting and GPS would have put us onto the rocks, maybe 20 yards off, but an island two miles off on the charted position? Manana. From what I understand there's more of this to come, and this was a real attention getter.

We had a pretty bouncy and rolly night of it, but the breeze at least kept us cool. Dona spent most of the night in the smoother aft end of the boat, while I opted for the cooler front berth. Eating Bonine like M&Ms, I survived the night without incident. We had hoped to go ashore to see the nesting sites for the frigates and boobies, but the swell and wind were still pressing us toward the beach and rocks. Later in the day things calmed down a bit, and we felt safe to leave the boat in the dinghy and run around a bit. I've never seen swarms of big birds like this before. They were mainly juveniles soaring, swooping and perfecting their fishing and, when unable or unwilling to catch their own, thievery skills. Ma and Pa were otherwise disposed further offshore or in and around the nesting site. The big males were very obvious with their big puffed up red throats. It was quite a show.

November 30, 2003

This morning as we started hauling the anchor, I thought we were really in for a tough time. The anchorage around the corner from this location has a reputation for being an "anchor eater," and that's one of the reasons we chose this spot. Where I dropped the hook, it was reported to be part sand, rock and old coral. I intentionally picked a nice white sandy spot to set the anchor, but as we laid out the 150 feet of chain, it snaked over and through all kinds of places. During the 36+ hours we remained, with all the skating around we did, I imagine the chain worked its way into all kinds of nooks and crannies. Now I wish I hadn't been so nervous yesterday about dragging onto the beach. We would have gone nowhere. We began a process where we'd use the windlass to pull a little chain, snub it off and let the swell plus the weight of the boat pull the chain free from the rocks. After about four cycles like that we were unchained. We hauled the anchor aboard and set off for Chacala, about eight hours to the southeast.

I have to admit something. I've become an addict. In Mexico they have limons, not lemons and not limes. Neither of these will do. We buy 'em by the kilo, living in fear we'll run out during a passage. They are ever present, to be cut and squeezed on/in everything, from almejas (clams) to
tuna. The lowly limon, 50 cents a kilo, is a requirement for the made-from-scratch margarita, but also finds its way into beer. Actually, beer on ice, with the juice of a limon and a salt rim. Doesn't do much for the low carb diet, but it sure is fresh and tasty. Whatever happened to Guinness,
IPAs and Porters? How did I sink this low?

Due to my well-known intolerance for warm climates, lots of friends and family have been asking questions about what the temperature is like and how we're coping with it. I guess I could say it's been semi-tolerable, and we're slowly acclimating. Some days are better than others. Today it's 94 degrees with a relative humidity of 80 percent. I think the best was to tell you how it is would be to illustrate how Dammit copes with the heat while we're underway. We bought one of those electric water bowls that acts like a bubbler with a small pool to drink from. We keep it up on the bathroom counter, well away from the food he would otherwise drag through the water plugging up the filter. He splashes water out of the basin, into the recession formed by the counter's teak fiddle, and then he lies in it. He spreads himself out full length on the counter while he naps, occasionally flicking his tail through the waterfall. Every once in a while, a damp cat with a very wet tail makes an appearance in the pilothouse. To sum it up, I should just say that without shore power or the generator running to provide air conditioning, it's been hot during the day, but not bad at night.

We had an electrical problem in Chacala, so were unable to use the dinghy to enjoy the beach and restaurants ashore. We tied things back together for the next day's eight-hour run and have arrived in Puerto Vallarta at the five star Paradise Village Marina where we plan to stay for the next two weeks




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