Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

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here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Puerto Escondido, Zihuatanejo and Beyond


Gentle Readers,

We arrived in Puerto Escondido. I didn't get much sleep last night, I think the full moon kept me awake. Or maybe it was the shooting stars. Or mars is in retrograde, which makes me seasick trying to follow through the night sky. Plus the milky way was a mess, spilled across the sky. I know I shouldn't cry about it, but it fucks with my Zzzzzz's. To make matters worse, it was yet another boringly spectacular sunrise this morning, and yes, more damn dolphins on the bowsprit. I keep thinking about an aphorism I just saw, that went "Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead; do not walk in front for I may not follow; do not walk beside fact, just leave me the hell alone!" I'm starting to feel that way about the dolphins. Look, you can't eat them, you can't tease them, they are definitely having all the fun at the expense of my bow wake, and they're always smiling!!! Damn pests, if you ask me. Always skulking about, showing up, getting in our way then running off. Or maybe I just need to get some sleep.

Anyway, we checked into town, spent a day walking around, there was some festival or other, they blocked off the street and had a mariachi band on stage. This is yet another tourist town, with every other shop selling the identical schlock. It really is depressing how much of this crap you see for sale everywhere large amounts of moderately wealthy tourists are found. I've no doubt that people are buying this stuff up by the armful, but it depresses me to know that I'm probably related to several of them. Were my grandmother still alive, I wouldn't be surprised to run into her haggling down the price on a life sized animated parrot that moves its lips in sync with Elvis Presley tunes, her bags stuffed with cheap blankets, brightly painted napkin holders and miniature Mexican sombrero toilet roll covers.

We checked into the Port Captain's Office. It took less than ten minutes. They took our papers, stamped them and handed them back. I was shocked and amazed. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before in Central America. I'm sure this is some anomaly (the regular bureaucrat took sick and the replacement wasn't up to speed) but my friends assure me that this is the new system. If so, traveling in Mexico just got a whole lot easier. The last time I had to do this you allocated about seven hours over two days to complete the process, and had to pay at least fifty dollars or one tenth your anticipated life time earnings, whichever was greater. This was free. I fully expected to be struck by lightening upon exiting the office.

We didn't stay long, enough time to have a meal, relax, and get ready for the trek north to Zihuatanejo. We motored out the harbor with good weather and flat seas. The crew are in good spirits, we've spotted whales a bit off our port this morning and there are always the compulsory dolphins, sea turtles and damn gorgeous sun sets. I never thought I'd long for the dismal gray skies of New Jersey, but a bleak landscape every now and then doesn't hurt.

The trip to Zihuatanejo was uneventful. We motored along, stopped for an occasional swim, fished off the back, caught the occasional tuna and otherwise just slept. The seas were pretty calm, but there was a storm brewing up north and west of us, and we were starting to see big rollers lumber in as the days progressed. We also noticed that the seas picked up quite a bit around noon, with winds freshening considerably by the afternoon and dying off a bit towards evening. Nothing surprising there, but it would turn out to be exactly the pattern we'd come to avoid. We also discovered that we are in a bit of a slipstream, with a two knot current running against us. Still we've made good time, averaging around five knots course over ground, so we can't complain. Even if the sunsets are beautiful.

We reached Z that day. The anchorage itself was easy, we dropped the hook in thirteen feet of water, and after a couple of unsuccessful tries finally got the CQR to hold. We've had really bad luck with that anchor, and I expect we'll replace it as soon as possible with an oversized Rocna or Bugle. In the meantime we manage after a try or two. We've also had some problems with the anchor windlass control. It doesn't seem to want to lower the anchor. It had been acting up for a while, seemed to be a short in the wires because it worked if you pushed them into the control housing, so I took it apart and re-soldered the connections. It seemed to fix it for a day or two, but didn't last.

Zihuatanejo was a great anchorage, easy to get to and good holding bottom. We pulled in, relaxed, and were greeted by a beautiful butterfly, you can just see it here as it fluttered by our boat. We've seen quite a lot of nature, but there is something quite calming about butterflies. They just seem so completely lost and unprepared to handle anything, yet the flit about and never seem to have a problem. One went streaking past us at about forty knots while we were struggling through the Tehuantepecs, it didn't seem that bothered by the wind, at least compared to us.

"The Boys" went off partying tonight, looking for whatever good times the town could offer. Robert has shaved his beard, which makes him look about ten years younger, and Robinson put on a clean shirt. In cruising terms, that is the moral equivalent of going out hunting loaded for bear. They never returned. I went to sleep. Sometime after sunrise I woke up, and they still weren't back. I wasn't too worried about them, but they did have the dinghy. Eventually they returned, hung over, exhausted, penniless, and most significantly, without any apparent injuries, except maybe a few brain cells they weren't using (only the weak ones die). They did have a few good stories to tell, but I'll leave that to them.

We left Zihuatanejo but stopped just north of it at Marina Ixtapa. It seemed like a friendly enough place, quite a well protected harbor with a very shallow and narrow entrance I'd hate to have to navigate in a seaway. We pulled up to the fuel dock and waited for the attendant. Eventually (by archaeological standards it was actually quite fast) the attendant arrived and began pumping diesel. We went ashore to the strip of restuarants and convenience stores located along the marina for ice and drinks, and although their didn't appear to be any eatery with food quality better than a Long John Silver's, we decided we'd at least stop for lunch while we were there. We asked the attendant first if we could leave the boat along the fuel dock (note: this is Mexico, at lunchtime, where everyone and everything shut down completely) and were told absolutely not, that we had to move once we finished refueling.

We then asked if there were a dock or slip to tie up to while we spent money on disappointing food in the marina. We were told that we would have to pay for a full day's berthing fee. We laughed and laughed. "You have got to be kidding. You mean you want us to pay you for the privilege of eating at your mediocre restaurants?" we asked the attendant. He seemed to think that was a perfectly reasonable idea. He then left of lunch, as did every other dock worker. We had lunch on the boat, making a delicious meal which took the better part of an hour and a half. Eventually the attendant (funny use of the word, really) came back to tell us we needed to move the boat. I explained that while I wanted to leave right this minute, my crew were on their lunch break, and wouldn't be done for another five minutes or so. Fuck'em!

We eventually disembarked and headed north, making great time. We were averaging six knots running on both motors at 2100 RPMs. That is great speed for very little effort. The swell has picked up, and the weather reports from up north are worsening. We decided to try to make Puerto Vallarta before the wind got too bad, so we pushed the engines up to 3300 RPMs and were sloshing along at eight knots, riding up and down the long rollers that were beginning to build. As the day wore on, the swell and chop got worse. At first it wasn't too bad, but by afternoon we were bashing into waves and taking green water over the bows.

Eventually the seas were so large, and so square, that our speed dropped to under three knots. We decided to turn tail and run back to a small fishing village we had just passed. Unfortunately, at just that moment a fish hit our trolling line. We dragged it in quickly, gutted it, threw it on ice, then rev'ed up the engines and headed south. The harbor was ten miles back, and we were worried about losing daylight. Going into an unknown anchorage in the dark is something to be avoided if at all possible.

So we pushed the throttles up full and ran with the waves. Triton jumped up, lifting her bows as she picked up speed. The wind and sea continued to build and we found ourselves surfing along the breakers as they ran up behind us. We motored along at ten to twelve knots, with bursts far higher. This was both thrilling and a bit terrifying, as it required constant attention at the helm. At one point we were picked up by a breaking wave about nine feet high and slid down the face of it at over fourteen knots, with the meter peaking momentarily at twenty! The entire boat was thrumming from the speed as the wave rushed past. It was exhilarating and everyone was grinning like madmen!

Triton made it to Bahia Chamela, a small south facing anchorage just before sunset. We headed in towards the small, cliff lined harbor strewn with fishing pangas and lobster pot buoys. It was a very tight space but we had hoped to sneak in and set the anchor in the very well protected inlet. As we motored along I looked down and noticed that the lobster pot buoys that so densely populated the Eastern wall were only those whose lines allowed them to float above the surface. The channel we traversed had numerous empty Clorox bottles tied to lines floating just below the surface. To a boat with propellers this is the moral equivalent a submarine navigating through under sea mines. This is one way of keeping anyone but the home boys out of your neighborhood.

We needed to stop immediately and turn around, so I pulled both throttles into reverse, waited for our forward momentum to stop, then pushed the port engine throttle forward to spin us around. There was a snap, and I realized that the throttle linkage cable had broken, and to make matters worse, was stuck in gear, with the engine at about 1200 RPMs. Fortunately, I knew how to do a back and fill (a single engine technique for spinning a boat around in a tight space) from my days sailing monohulls, so we turned around quickly if not somewhat cumbersomely and got the hell out of Dodge.

We headed further out into the larger bay, dropped the anchor in about sixty feet of water and spent the next few hours fixing the linkage assembly. Now, this particular linkage cable had failed once before, which was why I so quickly recognized what was wrong (the last time I spent several minutes saying "That's funny, it doesn't seem to reverse in a straight line anymore?") so I knew exactly what needed to be repaired. The difference was that this time I had no intention of spending another six agonizing hours bent at funny angles trying to get at the impossibly difficult screws that secured the cables.

Instead, we unbolted the entire throttle housing and lifted it straight out of the console, exposing the part we needed to reattach and tighten down. Now, I'd always wondered why there was a piece of bright yellow plastic bolted up to the inside of the console wall. It couldn't be for any kind of protection from water, it was deep inside the fiberglass console. It remained a mystery to me for over a year. Then, while trying to repair the assembly, I dropped a very import piece. It went pinging and bouncing down into the dark recesses of the boat. You see where all those wires disappear below the decking? Well, if something goes down there, not even a customs inspector will find it. I think my cell phone fell down there, but short of drilling through the hull or using an Xray device, it isn't worth trying to find it. If the part went all the way down there, there, we were screwed. I was really not enjoying this moment. That happens a lot in sailing, in case you haven't picked this up from prior posts.

"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" Okay, not the most clever cursing, but I was tired, hungry, aggravated, annoyed and we were still rolling around in the ocean swell. After searching for the piece for the better part of an hour, I found it, and began to attempt replacing it. Then I stopped and thought "Wait a minute, what if this happens again?" So, I decided to put something underneath he housing to catch any pieces that might drop. I started looking around the boat for something to use, some sort of...sheet or something. I realized that what I needed was a piece of plastic I could attach to the wall that would catch anything that dropped. Wait a minute, what about this yellow stuff already attached to the wall?

"Fuckin'A!" Okay, not much better, but if you're from Jersey it will do. I pulled out the bright yellow plastic sheet and stretched it below the opening. Two small pieces of duct tape held the far end in place. I then went back up top and tried reattaching the cable. This time a screw fell, but was caught by the plastic and rolled to the center of it. Whatever genius put that there before me must have had exactly the same problem, and known better. Who ever they are, my hat is off to you!

We got the throttles repaired and put back together, then reset our primary anchor a bit further in to the harbor and out of the swell. It didn't really feel like the anchor ever truly caught (useless CQR), so we dropped a second anchor, this time the Danforth, which caught immediately and held. I slept better that night knowing we weren't going anywhere. Of course, that night the anchor windlass switch decided this was a perfect time to stop working completely, so we spent a considerable part of the next morning debugging electronics before we could get under way. We also had to pull the other anchor up by hand. A process I do not recommend for any but the most energetic.

We left as soon as possible that morning and sped towards Puerto Vallarta, hoping to get there before the winds picked up. We'd seen some whale's breaching off our port bow, and several large blows off in the distance, so we were optimistic that we'd get to see some whales close up.

Well, the seas are picking up and I need to get back to navigating, so its off for now. We hope to be in P.V. before nightfall. In the meantime I wish everyone a less frustrating day than we've had, and may all your electronics work the first time!

Cheers, for now.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's Nothing But Turtles, All The Way Down...


Fucking Turtles!

No, really, I mean that. We've seen a comely amount of mating turtles on our trek north to Puerto Escondido. Apparently there is some sort of "jet stream" current along the coast here that happens to be going exactly where these creatures want to get. So they hop into the stream, and then like passengers on a long train trip through Amsterdam, find other passengers to hook up with. The first time we spotted a pair we couldn't figure out what was going on. As we got closer, we realized what they were doing. It was a bit embarrassing, and I sympathized with them (having more than once been a teenager caught in the back seat of a car with a girlfriend) but who knew?

I also felt bad about laughing. Out loud. And pointing. I shouldn't have pointed. Or cackled. Cackling was definitely rude. I feel really bad about snorting and chortling too. Turtles have such a solemn look about them. Sort of like Methodists. But as anyone with a hot tub can tell you, boinking while bobbing just doesn't work. In fact, turtle sex is about as ridiculous looking an activity as walking in on your grandparents by accident. And then standing there with the door open and laughing.

Now, I'm sure there are some very complex courting rituals within this species of Testudines, with many subtle nuances and deeply moving moments (probably having a lot to do with figuring out what sex your partner happens to be before hand) but two reptiles doing it doggy style in the middle of the ocean while both trying not to drown is hilarious. I still feel really bad.

It hasn't been an all turtles humping all the time. We've seen hundreds of other singles, floating forlornly along. They definitely have two looks to them. One is a sort of "just got laid" kind of relaxed float. The other is a "still want to get laid" sort of anxious swim. And not unlike most trains through Holland, there were a lot more of the anxious ones than the laid back, relaxed ones. At one point we stopped as a turtle anxiously paddled by. Rob decided to jump in, so he could pet it. At least, that was what he told us he was doing. We watched only until he got close enough to shake hands, but felt we owed him his privacy (and, like my grandparents, it was something I didn't really want to watch...again), so we went below. He eventually returned to the boat, and definitely had that laid back, relaxed kind of look all conservationists get after communing with nature. I'm sure it was all above board but if some scaly, green, Methodist kid shows up twenty years later asking for him, its his problem.

We are on our way to Puerto Escondido, motoring along (the wind isn't against us, but that's only because there isn't any) and sloshing along over long, gentle rollers that have wandered in from the storms up north. Yesterday, Robinson painted the dinghy's name on it's sides. We argued over what to call it, but deferred to his vote for "Tritonita". He spent all afternoon working on it. Then he christened it, being that he is the "captain of the dinghy", which basically means we let him run the motor when we go to shore. While he was christening it, we untied his mooring line and let him float away, without an engine or oars. This is a shot of him getting back using "praddles" which are the worst of both worlds of oars and paddles. You fasten then onto your arms, and row along. Of course, you'd need six foot long arms to use these things without feeling a right bork, but dangling a cigarette out of your mouth adds a certain panache.

He was very proud of his artistic achievements in regards the name, and was a bit disappointed we didn't think more of his masterpiece. He mentioned this several times. Rob and I just looked at each other for a while. We now do nothing but compliment him on it. Whole conversations are dedicated to admiring his handiwork. "My God, Robinson, is that really the first time you've ever stenciled letters onto a dinghy? No way!?! That's amazing! I've never seen anything quite as good. And you say you've never done this before? Wow, you really have a talent for this. Maybe you could get work back in the states doing this?" We go on about it until we get bored or anything at all distracts us. He graciously ignores us taking the piss. Next time you see him, make sure to tell him what a great job he did.

We also installed the radar just before we left. This is the same radar we slogged down to Trinidad and have had with us ever since. We just got around to doing it, and a more half assed job I've not done at that. It would have been best if we could have placed it on a mount in front of and above the spreaders, and then run the radar cable down through the mast and through the internal cable runs inside the boat, but that would have probably required several decades to accomplish in Mexico. So, instead we mounted it on the spreader bar, then zip tied the cable to the shrouds, and ran them back across the cabin top. It looks terrible, but it works, and means we now have a working radar, with an additional chart plotter and GPS. Given that we will start heading into fog soon, this might just come in handy...along with alerting us to pirate attacks, half sunken freight containers, white squalls and other mythical creatures.

Putting it in required going up the mast in the bosun's chair. We waited until dark, ostensibly to avoid the heat but mostly because I'm a programmer and don't wake up early enough in the morning to get anything done before its too hot. The other reason was the obvious fear of being hoisted up a mast that may not be rated for fat captains.

We are only a mile or two off the coast, but the depth is over several thousand feet. There is a very steep oceanic shelf just below us, and it makes for great fishing. We've been trolling several different lures and have caught many fish, including a few tuna, and a mackerel. Mackerel make great ceviche, by the way.

Each time we catch a fish we need to stop the boat, gut it, fillet it, then reset the line. It takes about an hour and usually results in my getting seasick as I pitch about the deck with my head down in fish guts, but fresh fish is way more important than the arrival time. Dinners have been fantastic and "The Boys" as everyone has taken to calling Robert and Robinson, (odd that, they are both fully formed men of legal age) have developed a little routine they call "Ready, Steady, CAT!". Each night I'm treated, against my will, to an impromptu cooking show where they go on about the way they are preparing the food, any little tips for the viewer, and a color commentary about the local foods and spices. Perfectly normal men on shore...they are beginning to scare me after only a few days at sea.

The weather has been surprisingly good. We heard that a big storm was brewing up in the Sea of Cortez, and that the Northerlies will be pretty strong this week. We're hoping we can get to P.V. before they start pushing waves our way. In the meantime we've been enjoying the beautiful weather. There has been a very large, bright moon each night, and we've seen no end of beautiful sunsets, but watching a bright red moon drop into the ocean is something I don't get to see very often. It was spectacular! Oh, those are two turtles fucking in the foreground. No, really. Why would I lie about something you can check me on?

We soldier on, troopers that we are. Well, actually, mostly we sit and watch turtle porn while the autopilot hums away, but it passes the time. We expect to be in port by morning, just in time for yet another spectacular sunrise. There will probably be dolphins as well. Ho Hum. Dolphins off the bowsprit, sea turtle orgies everywhere we look, incredible sunsets, moon rises and balmy warm nights on the ocean. It's surprising how quickly you can become accustomed to the extremes of life. Sort of like living in downtown Berkeley.

Apathetically yours,



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Rob By Any Other Name...


Dear Reader,

Now I usually refer to you as such, although I've greeted you many other ways as well. Does it upset you if I called you something else? Say "Most Reverent Peruser", "Scanner Of All He Surveys" or even "Bored Web Surfer"? What"s in a name, really? Well, as you've heard, we played a mean trick on Robert by pretending to not ever remember his name, always calling him something different. And, as things unfolded, he took it all with grace and aplomb. Of course, we came clean eventually, and it was all in good fun, but the name thing remains a source of great amusement for us.

Now, don't think for one second that once we revealed the practical joke, the name calling stopped. No, far from it. We've all developed various nicknames for each other, and they all require some explaining. Actually, no amount of explaining will really get the point across, but it has been a source of entertainment for us throughout the journey. For instance, for Rain there was the obvious "fat ass", "kitchen bitch", and Robinson's favorite "sea anchor". We've called Robinson everything from "Jodie Girl's Name" (his first name is actually Jodie) to "Jack Of No Trades" and "Don Flan"-- he flirts, but he's still a bit of a custard. Robert has had many names, but our favorite has been "El Muneco" which means "action doll". We've feminized it to "La Muneca" whenever we are feeling particularly mean. Of course, the crew has shown nothing but the highest respect for their captain, referring to him reverently as "El Hefe" (and when he isn't in ear shot, "El Hefecito", which means little boss) or "El Gordo", which they assure me means "His Immenseness." I need to look that one up.

So we have made it through the Tehautepecs with barely a scratch and arrived in Mexico safe and sound with nothing seriously broken. We considered ourselves lucky. Several of the folks we'd been cruising with have reported serious problems getting through some of the more difficult passages around here. We'd just heard from back from Stephanie and Jeff on Musetta, who'd been sailing south through the Papaguyo's. These are winds that occur south of here that are very similar in nature to the Tehuatepecs. With no warning they suddenly found themselves in forty five knots of wind with too much sail up. Before they could get everything down, they had ripped their jib, tore out a fairlead, broken their boom vang, and taken on a lot of water, sand and dirt through a broken hatch that ruined a lot of their electronics including their laptop computer, not to mention the damage to their beautiful interior. We were heartsick to hear about this, especially given how beautiful a boat it was and how well kept it is. They said they would spend the next few weeks cleaning things up, but if I had to guess, I'd say they won't move until everything is spotless again. Good luck with everything guys!

We've taken a few days to relax and prepare for the next leg, which is the bash up the coast to Puerto Vallarta. There have been very strong Northerlies (winds coming from exactly where we need to go) so we are going to wait a bit while they pass us by. Weather off the west coast of California and Mexico has been horrific, with some of the worst storms in history being reported. Had we made better time, we'd still be sitting in Cabo waiting for them to pass us by. It is some consolation for our delays, but its frustrating how much longer everything takes to do that what one would have hoped. At this point I'll be lucky to get home by the new year.

In the meantime we've been making friends with the other cruisers, some of whom we had met before in Puesta Del Sol. We've befriended a crew member from another boat, a guy named Ryan from Canada. It is surprising how quickly you can make friends while out sailing. Back in the real world folks are unlikely to just come up to you, invite you to dinner or help you fix your car. Out here, everyone goes out of their way for you. It's wonderful in a way that is hard to convey, unless you've hung around a lot with the Burning Man crowd, or grew up in the country, or lived abroad. You may never see them again, but that doesn't stop you from getting to know folks quickly, enjoying their company immensely and sharing a great time.

At dinner tonight we were all sitting around telling stories about our sailing experiences. Invariably, the conversation centered around problems we've had with government agencies, officials, absurd rules and the like. We all told horror stories of trying to get into or out of a country, the annoying red tape and bureaucracy, the customs inspectors that bust your balls, the port captains that try to make your life difficulty for no apparent reason. Not five minutes later we started talking about work, and the various jobs we've all had. "So, Ryan, what do you do?" I asked. There was a bit of a pause, then he smiled and said "I'm a Customs Inspector". We all burst out laughing as he explained that he worked on the Canadian border, and understood exactly what we were going through, only from the opposite side. It was an amusing turn around for all of us to hear his perspective. Since he didn't work on the ports, we decided he was okay after all.

Today Ryan asked us if we all wanted to go surfing with him. There is a good beach a few miles away, and the cab ride is only a few dollars. Now Robinson is a pretty fair surfer, and Robert has tried his hand at it a few times. I've surfed twice. The last time resulted in black and blues the length of my arm and leg, and near fatal exhaustion. Rain didn't feel the need for any bruises, but wanted a day relaxing on the beach. When we got there we found a surf shop that charged exorbitant prices for board rentals, but we didn't know any better so we all rented a board and walked off towards the beach.

Getting to where we wanted to surf was actually a bit tricky; there as a small river that cut across the beach and ran out to the sea. To cross it, you needed to go through the most shallow portion, just at the tidal zone, but there was a really strong current, with loose rocks and shells underfoot. There were a few moments where I though one or the other of us were going to end up dragged out to sea in the rip current, but we made it through. We found a shady spot, threw down our towels and headed out to the surf.

The waves themselves turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, as they broke right on shore. Robert got up once for a bit, Ryan seemed to do okay, Robinson managed a few waves, and your intrepid reporter caught one really promising curl that I misjudged, pitch poled my board, was launched over it, dragged along upside down underwater and eventually spit out on the beach. Overall we had difficulty judging the waves, they seemed to come in odd sets, first breaking close to shore, then far off, then over to the right. There didn't seem to be a consistent pattern to it, but the local surfers seemed to know exactly where they waves. The more I do this sport, the more I understand its attraction. It is much like golf. It seems easy, and is maddingly hard to perform with any skill or consistency, and years of experience make all the difference.

I've included some pictures of us before we set out, and some of us after we got back. It was exhausting, and I didn't last very long at all. Robinson and Ryan stayed out for quite a while, and we tried photographing them. Unfortunately I mistook one of the local surfers for Robinson (those Mexicans all look alike) so I didn't get any good shots of him on his board, but from a distance you can't tell who it is, so just pretend.

Rain needs to be going back soon, so we will be losing one of the most fun crew members we've had in a while. Although we've teased her mercilessly, she has given as good as she got. Her cutting remarks, withering stare and most especially, that innocent look when she has just poured ice water down your back. We kept hoping that she'd change her mind, but no amount of pleading or tears could sway her from returning back to work and finding bugs in the other programmer's code. I told you she was evil, but we'll miss her anyway.

We leave for Puerto Escondito next, its about a day away, and then on to Zihautanejo and eventually to Puerto Vallarta. We hope everyone is doing well, and we look forward to seeing you all as soon as we can.




Friday, November 16, 2007

Huatulco, Mexico


Dear Readers,

We finally arrived in Huatulco, Mexico on Friday, November 16th, 2007 and were greeted by Enrique Loustalot Laclette, the harbor master for Marina Chahue, who has turned out to be by far the best harbor master we have ever met anywhere in the world. In fact, our stay here has been incredibly easy, simply because of his efforts. He is always cheerful, helpful and willing to go the extra mile. Marina Chahue is a private marina, located just before the main harbor if you are headed south. There is a large reef/rock outcropping on sea side entrance but if you follow the deep water channel between the rocks and the northern side in you'll have no problems at all.

The main harbor, just a bit further south, is small, studded with tourist shops, fishing pangas and boat tour facilities. It also has a free anchorage just outside it, but we hadn't realized this until after we arrived, which actually worked out to our advantage. The port captain's office, Coast Guard station, and many other facilities are located there.

It is a busy little place with constant boat traffic. Aside from the fuel dock (more on that later) there isn't any real reason to go inside. The outer harbor has a decent anchorage, and you can dinghy in to the docks inside, but I would lock everything down and not leave it overnight.

The marina Chahue harbor itself quite new, with obvious plans for significant expansion. To get in you need to go through a quite narrow channel, which dramatically reduces the wave action from the ocean once inside.

The marina itself is very well protected (it would certainly be a great place to hide during bad weather) but has limited facilities (no fuel dock, hot showers, repair shops, boat chandler, etc.) but Enrique more than makes up for that with his comprehensive knowledge of the area and his willingness to help you with whatever goes wrong. While we were there he arranged for our check in, explained where everything was, drove several of us cruisers to town for fuel (a process that took repeated trips), and personally intervened on our behalf when we ran into problems with the Huatulco Port Captain's office.

There isn't a fuel dock, but there are two alternative options: you can have a fuel truck brought to the docks (provided you are purchasing several hundred gallons) or you can ferry jerry jugs from the Pemex station. Ask Enrique about this. The local fuel dock is located right at the main harbor entrance, but it isn't for the feint of heart. The dock is situated such that the tides wash in, creating very large waves. I wouldn't attempt using it except at high tide, and even then I'd make sure I had every fender I owned in between my boat and the dock. To make matters worse, there is a constant stream of pangas, tugs, jet skies (may they all sink to the bottom) and any number of other fishing boats rumbling past with no regard for wake. Expect to be bounced against the wall continually. Mexican boaters are still new to the idea of a "no wake" courtesy. We filled Jerry Jugs from the fuel pumps and drove back and forth in Enrique's pickup truck. It took three trips, but was better than scraping the sides of our boat.

The check in process was simple. Various officials came to our boat, we signed a few documents and paid a set fee. The only incident that surprised us took place in Spanish, and we didn't learn about it until after they'd left. Since my language abilities are limited to grunts and clicks, Robinson did all the translation. We explained that we had arrived from Nicaragua, showed them our papers and the ever important crew list. There was some involved conversation between Robinson and the officials, a few quick smiles, some papers stamped and they left. Robinson was grinning that mischievous smirk of his. "So, I have to tell you something funny" he said afterwards. "They looked at the crew list and said (assuming Robinson was the only one who spoke Spanish) 'Okay, he's the captain...fine...your the first mate...fine...Robert is the crew...fine...who does she do?', I didn't know if I understood them correctly, or what to say, so I just smiled. I'm not sure what they thought that meant, but they smiled back and chuckled." It may have just been a language problem, or a very improper assumption. In Mexico, both are possible.

The only snag was that the Port Captain's office didn't come by. We misunderstood exactly what we were supposed to do, and didn't actually realize this until we were ready to leave. When we did check out, the Port Captain's assistant, who spoke no English (at least to us) wanted to charge us double for showing up at his office after 1pm, plus some other fees I just couldn't understand. I spent a good hour trying to figure out what he wanted me to do, which included using their computer to fill out the paperwork, but in the end I couldn't work out what he was saying.

When it came to figuring out the charges, the amount he demanded seemed completely wrong, and I couldn't understand his rapid fire Spanish at all. I gave up and had Robinson ride over to the office and translate. Even that didn't help, and we decided to delay our departure and come back the next day. We returned the next morning. Enrique drove us over, spoke with them for about two minutes and then waited while they processed our paperwork. If I were just cruising, with no time constraints and a limited budget, I'd have tried to figure this all out for myself, but having Enrique there made everything go smoothly and quickly.

The town itself is quite nice with many high end restaurants, tourist shops and bars, and some beautiful churches. Apparently this area is a favorite attraction for Mexicans, and they come here by the thousands. It is quite amusing to see the Mexican equivalent of the typical ugly American: extremely overweight, loaded down with expensive cameras, wearing brightly colored shirts, white shorts and an embarrassing hat. Oh, wait, that was the captain! They aren't as offensive or obtrusive as us, but you can see that Mexico's middle class is acquiring some of the less desirable traits of its northern cousins.

There are a fair number of gringos around as well, mostly from Canada, but you can't miss the Americans either. I cringe every time they walk by...especially since I know Robinson will begin imitating them just as soon as they are out of earshot. As they waddle past snippets of their conversation make me want to retch. "Oh, look at this hat, its got all colors on it." says the lumpy wife. "Well, that's because its Mexican, they like that kind of thing" replies the cigar chewing wide body husband. "Oh, I could never wear that, what would the glee club think" her response. I just don't understand why God can't tailor his plagues, catastrophic floods and earthquakes a bit more towards this section of the population.

Huatulco itself is sleepy little seaside town well on its way to becoming the next big thing. Sort of like Cabo San Lucas before the American college students discovered it. I'm not sure if that is a good thing, but it has a beautiful town square, several very nice restaurants and a the vibe is very laid back. I was surprised at how friendly everyone was, how easy it was to get around town. There are taxis everywhere and the central part of town is only minutes away.

We stumbled onto an amazingly good restaurant called "Agave", which is owned and operated entirely by women. Well, mostly all the staff were women, there were a few waiters running about, but the cooking staff was clearly an all girl band. It is situated right along the town center, and the food was incredible! I had the best mole sauce I've ever tasted in my life. Plus it has the added advantage that you can watch all the really bad tourists amble by, while eating an incredible meal and being entertained by Robinson's impression of them. We ate there several times during our stay. If for any reason you are in the area, you should definitely try dinner there.

Oh, another specialty of that region are fried bugs. They are called Chapalinas, and are crickets seasoned with chillies and red pepper. They are sort of salty, and crunchy, with no taste except the seasoning they use. Naturally, Robinson bought some and insisted we all eat them. We refused until he had one himself. I don't mind tentacles, or wiggly bits with eyes, but anything that resembles a roach is kind of hard for me to choke down. We tried them and were surprised that they weren't half bad. I mean, I wouldn't want to snack on them regularly, but it didn't taste disgusting. I instantly thought of all my friends back home and the number of parties that would be spiced up by adding this to the table.

We went back and bought a bag of ten thousand, which weighted about three ounces. I'm not sure exactly how you harvest ten thousand crickets (it must be a very loud process) but the sales woman was very surprised when we bought them. She kept showing them to use to make sure we understood we were actually buying insects. We brought them back to the boat in the hopes of returning with them to the states, but by about the fifth day they had become quite soggy, which really sucked because I wanted to make AnnMarie eat one. Now, maybe they aren't the next taste sensation to rock the country, but they might have great utility as a substitute for those dry silicate sacks you get whenever you buy electronics. Plus they have the added advantage of being edible. Well, almost edible.

So, we hope you all are enjoying your local cuisine as as much as we are!

Cheers for now.