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, December 30, 2007

Espiritu Santu, Los Frailes and the approach to Cabo San Lucas


Feliz Anos Nuevo!

We spent Christmas at anchor in La Paz, a town I haven't been to in over fifteen years, but I'd always had very fond memories of it. It was a sleepy little town of dirt roads, adobe homes and very chill people. It is now a well developed city with a broad boardwalk that lines the bay, hundreds of hotels, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, and real estate agencies. But the laid back attitude is still there, and of all the cruising spots in Mexico it is definitely one of my favorites. The locals are very friendly, happy and relaxed. There is still a feeling of being in a small town. Naturally the sunsets were spectacular, but it has been very cold and windy, with Northerlies blowing down the Sea of Cortes and whitecaps inside the bay. Getting back and forth by dinghy has been a damp experience most days.

We've spent a few days in harbor, enjoying ourselves, resting, and making repairs to the boat. One of the most important ones has been to the hot water heater. One of the fittings started leaking a while back, so we disconnected it. That was somewhere in the Caribbean, I think, and it really wasn't an issue until we hit Mexico. Before then, if you wanted hot water, you just dove overboard. Since we crossed the Tehaunapecs, it has gotten progressively colder, and, not surprisingly, the crew has become somewhat more piquant. Somewhere around the Tropic of Cancer we realized that not having a water heater was going to become a real problem, i mean, we like each other and all, but after three or four days at sea without bathing, you just don't want to be downwind of anyone. So we raced around town looking for parts to get it working again. We've managed to cobble something together, enough that we can now avoid hypothermia and/or trench foot.

We've also been eating well. AnnMarie is aboard now, so the food has been fantastic. Plus she brought down a full duffel bag of food and treats from the states, including various cheeses and chocolates, so while our appetites are always sated, our waist lines are increasing at about the same rate as the universe. When I first met Ann, she had been working as a pastry chef for the Fog City Dinner, in San Francisco. We dated briefly and then she moved on to the boat and began cooking up mouth watering meals that lacked for nothing except caloric restraint. Each night I would come home to what any condemned man might demand on the night before a hanging, and quickly realized that if I kept eating such rich food, I'd probably end up dead as well.

Not wanting to offend her by asking her to stop doing what was clearly a great talent and what she so obviously loved, I foolishly concocted a goof ball story that there was a terrible propane leak and I needed to disconnect the stove, leaving her with only a microwave oven and a ten inch barbecue grill to work with. While that slowed her down some, she continued to make fabulous food and eventually (several years later!) I admitted that the stove was actually okay to use. I continued to gain weight but that is only because where good food is concerned I can resist anything but temptation. Since she has been aboard we've had nothing but delicious, fattening meals...unfortunately there seems to be a problem with the gas line where it attaches to the stove, so I've had to disconnect it. Oddly enough, we do have a microwave oven and a barbecue grill, so no worries, eh?

On Boxing Day we pulled anchor and set sail for Espiritu Santu, the large island just north of the hooked tip of La Paz. Of course, the batteries died just as we were getting ready to leave the fuel dock, so we ended up stranded there another night until we could get new ones. Fortunately there were two available, at an ungodly price, but there is definitely something wrong with the electrical system of this boat, and I've no doubt I'll be investing some serious effort into tracking down just what is causing the problem. For now, we throw money at the problem. Isn't sailing fun! Especially for AnnMarie, who has to work to keep me in the style to which I've become accustomed: a grungy, dirty, smelly boat repairman.

The winds had been fierce lately, with gale warnings most days. There was some talk of the harbor captain closing the port, preventing any boats from leaving, so we wanted to get outside the harbor just in case. We were eventually headed south, so while forty knots and fifteen foot seas may sound like a lot, in this boat and in that direction it was actually a walk in the park. The only problem was that we'd need to go a few miles up wind to get to the relatively well protected anchorages out at the island. The La Paz harbor entrance is actually quite long, with a very small entrance just at the southern end, and the channel is paralleled by a sand bar for most of it. While it looks tempting to just shoot across, doing so will leave you stuck in the sand until high tide. Not a good place to be when the winds pick up. We could see five foot high breakers crashing along it as we motored out.

The day before we left we heard one of the marinas hailing a boat coming in from the sea and trying to cut across the bar. It was deceptively calm then, high tide, and perhaps they thought they might find enough water to get across. It is a long way around to the channel entrance, and skipping over might seem like a lot easier solution, but it isn't. We heard "Vessel approaching La Paz harbor, you are heading towards shallow water, alter course or you will run aground" on channel 16, the VHF distress hailing frequency that all sailors should monitor when at sea. There was no response. The marina repeated its warning several more times, each time being more explicit about describing the boat, its position and what course to take, but they never acknowledged the call or altered course. A few minutes later the vessel came on over the radio "Ah, who ever that was warning us about the sand bar, thanks...but we're stuck. So, where is that damn channel anyway?" I just hope I'm never on the same freeway with that guy.

Once out of the harbor we put up the sails in about thirty knots and close hauled our way northwest for an hour or two. Triton seems to go to weather best in strong breezes, and she bounced along at eight knots in some of the finest sailing we've done on her yet, but we've had to dress warmly and even wear hats! Eventually we tacked back to the northeast and reached for the island. We arrived just in time for yet another glorious sunset, and dropped anchor in a small bay towards the eastern end of the island, tucked in behind two smaller islands called, one called "Cock Island", the other "Chicken Island", at least that's what Robinson claims their names are, but would you trust anything a man wearing that hat would say? We spent a couple of days there, but never felt totally protected from the wind. The strong north east blows would crest over the cliffs to our north and race down into the anchorage. We put down a second anchor, but even still, the wind was cold and there wasn't much to do.

We eventually moved further north, hoping to find a good anchorage near a well know sea lion roost. Robinson had hoped to do some snorkeling there, but the waves were too large to be safe, so we decided to head further north but were slammed by the gale force winds whipping down the bay. We bashed along but soon realized we had too much sail up. It was quite a struggle to get the jib back in under such strong conditions, and in the process Jessica banged her hand pretty badly against the winch. Just another reminder how quickly things can go from glorious to horrific when sailing. We decided to duck out of the wind and found shelter inside a small bight off Islas Partida, a smaller island just north of Espiritu Santu. We spent the night, and although the water was crystal clear, there wasn't much else we could do but enjoy the scenery. Baja is just beautiful. I'd always been impressed by the Mexicans love for their country, and having seen a significant part of its coastline, I understand why. The red and brown cliffs, bright blue waters and dark green cactus make a perfect pallet of colors. That night there was a blood red moon low in the sky just over Robinson's hatch. I tried to photograph it, but with the wind and waves bouncing us around, the boat never stopped rolling enough for me to take anything but a blurry shot. At least, I hope that was what happened.

We then headed south, down towards Cabo San Lucas, but stopped for a night at Los Frailes, a nice beach open to the ocean from the east and south, but protected from the northerly wind that had been pushing us along by a large cliff that extends eastwards off the beach for several hundred meters. There are a few homes, hotels and palapas along beach, and the sea is teeming with fish. We watched as manta rays jumped up several feet out of the water and splashed down again and again. Jessica sat on the deck with binoculars and watched the cute guys walk along the beach. The water was a bit warmer, so AnnMarie decided to do some spring cleaning and scrubbed the barnacles and algae that had accumulated during our stay in Puerto Vallarta. I took a great shot of her, but we modified the image a bit just in case she ever decides to run for senate. The original photo is better.

We left there the next morning and headed for Cabo San Lucas. We had hoped to be able to sail most of the way, but the wind and waves were very high, and dead on our stern, which made it very difficult to do so. We motored along, and I eventually let out a drogue. This is a small, cone shaped parachute that provides resistance against yawing side to side when a wave comes up from behind and tries to twist the stern around. We had used it once before, but this time I had rigged up a second line to it, supposedly to make it easier to retrieve. It ended up fouling around the main line and collapsing the chute, but it still provided just enough drag to make running with the waves comfortable. I definitely need to figure out a better solution for getting the drogue back on board. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

As we approached Cabo San Lucas AnnMarie caught a beautiful Dorado, and we had a delicious dinner that evening. AnnMarie also made a tub of ceviche, which was incredible. Robinson and I fought over the last portion of it, and at one point I thought it might come to bloodshed, since we were both armed with forks. Ultimately we each shoveled as much in our mouths as we could, pushing food off the others fork whenever possible. You think its dangerous to get between a bear and her cub? Try standing in between a hungry sailor and one of Amp's recipes and you'll learn the true meaning of danger.

We reached the harbor towards sunset, and went past Cabo's famous archway on our way into the very well protected marina. Later on we'll probably take the dinghy over and try some snorkeling, if the weather permits. For now, we are heading into civilization again, and will probably spend at least one night dockside. That means hot showers, restaurant food, bad tourist attractions and tacky Americana, but I could use the rest. It has been a long trip and I'm looking forward to getting home. We need only get through a few days in Cabo, reprovision, fix whatever is broken, and then we are headed up the hill for Ensenada, then sunny San Diego and ultimately San Francisco Bay! In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy new year and hope this next one will be even better.

Cheers for now!



Tuesday, December 25, 2007

La Paz, City of Peace and Quiet


Feliz Navidad!!

That's Spanish for Merry Christmas, or, more accurately, "Happy Tacky Season". Now, where trailer trash decor is concerned, I come from some serious stock. My paternal grandparents used any holiday as a reason to redecorate their home inside and out. The Season Of Good Cheer was the pinnacle of their efforts. They spent at least two months preparing for the blessed event and every inch of their converted 800 square foot bungalow was awash with decorations. They hand-painted the windows with scenes of snowmen, elves, and sleigh bells. There were no less than three full-size Christmas trees inside, along with every ceramic Santa statue every offered at Dottie's Paint And Bake Ceramic Emporium. The roof was adorned with a life-size Santa along with his sleigh and reindeer, including Rudolph with lighted nose. There was a five foot high, fully lighted Frosty The Snowman on the lawn, along with enough Christmas lights to affect the power grid in New Jersey.

At night, people would stop in front of their house and gawk. Some of them didn't smirk or laugh, but only because they were waiting for their eyes to adjust. If homes were people, my grandmother's would have been a six foot tall drag queen with pink lipstick, standing on silver high heels in a purple mini skirt and furry yellow bra holding a Mai Tai and smoking a filterless camel. My mother, whose sense of taste was more refined than pure Uranium, referred to Grandma's decorating sense as "Early Halloween". So, I have a special place in my heart for really, really tacky decorations. Whenever I see fuzzy dice hanging from a rear view mirror, or those large breasted silhouettes on mud flaps, or a skinny guy with a mullet wearing a guinea T-shirt, it makes me homesick. That's why Mexico in general, and La Paz in particular, has really touched a special place in my heart.

Mexico's culture, being almost entirely Roman Catholic, has really embraced Christmas for all it is worth. It doesn't matter that they don't get snow, they get Wal-mart, consumer capitalism and a complete lack of self restraint where really bad Christmas decorations are concerned. They seem to have zeroed in on absolutely the tackiest stuff they can get their hands on. I mean this is stuff my grandmother wouldn't have hesitated over. Oh, and really, really bad statutes. And strange restroom signs.

There is also no end of strange, odd, and out right bizarre bronze creations lining the boulevards that skirt the water's edge. For a culture that is very, very conservative where most other things are concerned, they seem to lack any self-restraint for about three weeks before each new year, or anything made from metal. We've included only a few of the thousands of examples of Mexico's idea of holiday cheer. The video of the dancing Santa was taken from the desk of a local marina. The giant Christmas tree lined with CocaCola insignia dominated the center of a town square, just in front of the main church. Crass, gaudy and something I'd only expect in New Jersey.

The ride across the Sea of Cortez was uneventful, although it was a bit difficult with only the two of us because it meant not getting enough sleep. We did catch quite a few very big tuna. Our filleting skills are improving, so we've ended up with quite a lot of fish and have had great meals when Robinson cooked and almost tolerable ones when I did. In fact, we ended up eating so much fresh fish that we gave a bunch away when we got into port. It took us about one and a half days to get across the sea, and we sailed most of it. We did pretty well and would have hit Cabo without any effort. So, you are probably wondering why we aren't in there yet. Well, partly because of scheduling and flight issues but mostly because it seemed like a much better place to hang for a bit while Ann was here, we decided to go to La Paz instead. We had no end of advice from other cruisers that assured us we'd have a much better time, and that, anyway, Cabo was "a dump". I'd been there about fifteen years ago, it was a college party town, populated by drunk students, bad bars, and overpriced marinas. It didn't impress me much then. Everyone we spoke with said it has gotten much worse since. So, we diverted course and headed north.

We arrived in La Paz a few days ago, and grabbed a mooring ball in Bahia Santa Cruz, a large harbor that runs along the city's west side. This is a "virtual marina", which means that while they have put down pilings for docks, they haven't actually built them yet, so the "marina" is sort of imaginary. The only thing available are mooring balls, a dinghy dock and showers. That's okay, because by way of amenities we really don't need that much right now, and we are located just off the main road and can see the entire town wrapped around our little bay. It was nice to get a hot shower though, and there are some great restaurants and cafes within a block of us. We were also visited by several large dolphins that swam within a few feet of the boat. There are no end of fantastic places to eat close by. We had a great meal yesterday, which included menudo (tripe) soup, and something Robinson ordered called a "burro" which was larger than his head. I ordered the taco special but was a bit unclear about what exactly was in it. I ate my first ever liver was actually...not bad.

AnnMarie flew in two days ago. Her flight was due in at two, and I woke up at 7:30, wandered around the boat doing chores, then around 10am decided to take a quick nap. I woke up, looked at a clock that was actually the wrong time zone, and thought I had only twenty minutes before she was supposed to land. I raced out to the road, found a cab and went to the airport to pick her up. As I got out of the cab I bumped into a young woman who was sitting on top of a large duffel bag wearing a giant back pack and looking a bit confused. She wanted a cab, and I thought she could just jump in the one I was getting out of, but apparently there is some sort of regulation preventing this, and she needed to go across the airport to find one.

Her name was Jessica, and as we stood there trying to figure out where she needed to go, she mentioned that she'd been crewing for an eco-tourist cruise boat for the last six months, and had somehow mistakenly come to the airport a day early, and now needed to go back to town, find a place to stay and then come back tomorrow. I explained that I was here picking up Ann who was due to arrive in a minute, but if she wanted to wait just a bit, she was more than welcome to come back to the boat and spend the night on board rather than spend money for a hotel room for just one night. So we waited together for AnnMarie to arrive, only to discover that I had just arrived at the airport an hour early, and her flight was going to be an hour late. When it rains, it pours.

Well AnnMarie arrived safely, made it through customs without a snag, and we went back to the boat and relaxed over dinner and drinks at the restaurant on the marina pier. The wind had been picking up and the waves in the harbor had been building as well. We jumped in the dinghy and headed back to the boat, but got slammed by the waves, which crashed over top of the bow and sprayed everyone with salt water. For a second I thought this was going to be a really bad start to what might be a very long night. Instead, Jessica and AnnMarie started laughing so hard I thought they were going to fall overboard. We got back, rousted Robinson and put on dry clothes, then unpacked all the treasures AnnMarie had brought down, which included warm boots and hats, which we'll need for the rest of the trip.

That was yesterday. Jessica had expected to fly home for Christmas, but we all got along so well, and enjoyed her constant laughter, that we invited her to come sailing with us. Although I'm sure her folks would have rather she were there, they thought the adventure was a once in a lifetime opportunity and wished her well. So, she is along for the ride, at least as far as her schedule will permit. It is surprising how many great folks we've met along this trip! We've all been hanging out, laughing a lot, and having a grand time. We had expected to leave yesterday for Cabo, but we've decided instead to gunk hole around the local islands, do some whale watching, maybe see some giant sharks, and generally have a relaxed time over the holidays. Our original plans had AnnMarie coming along as far north the outside coast as was possible, but given the very limited number of places she could have gone ashore, and the difficulty in getting to an airport from there, we thought it made more sense to take our time and drop her off in Cabo before the first of the year.

So, we'll head out tomorrow, weather permitting, and spend the next few days detouring, exploring, and generally goofing off, and having more fun than we're probably allowed. In the meantime, I wish you all a very, merry, tacky holiday, and all the good cheer you can handle. May the new year see you all in good health, happiness and the joy of the season.




Monday, December 17, 2007

Mazatlan: A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to check out there.


Hola Amigos!

There should actually be one of those upside down exclamation marks in front of the greeting, but my damn gringo keyboard doesn't have one. That's okay, 'cause anyone who heard me uttering this phrase would know instantly that I've just used up about thirty percent of my entire Spanish vocabulary, and I either have a severe speech impediment or I'm retarded. Most folks correctly guess it's the latter.

So, we left Marina Puerto Vallarta (the only absolute proof that the universe will end in entropy) and headed north for Mazatlan. The ride up was just more of the same: dolphins off the bowsprit, whales spouting off in the distance, consenting turtles attempting to drown each other, startling sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, beautiful moon-lit nights, cool gentle breezes during the day, and spectacular scenery whenever we get close to shore. It's enough to make you retch. Fortunately, there has been a break in all this paradisaical monotony. It's getting cold.

Nights have been down in the fifties. I've had to start wearing some clothes while above decks sailing, and wrapping myself in blankets when in the cockpit. Yesterday I needed a jacket and socks. SOCKS! The cruiser's worst nightmare. Actual socks! Next it will be pants. God only knows how long before we'll need shoes. It seems the horror is only getting worse. This trip is turning out to be far rougher than I ever imagined it could get. Maybe we should go to Cartagena?

Now, you might wonder why we aren't heading due west for Cabo San Lucas right now. Well, that's because the wind, ever vigilant adversary to cruisers everywhere, is now blowing directly from the West. Two days ago, it was from the North East, exactly what we needed for a beam reach to CSL. It was also predicted to stay that way for at least a few days. That was before we were ready to go. Once the weather noticed we were set to go, it changed direction.

So, the plan was to sail for about twenty four hours due north along the mainland coastline, stop off at Mazatlan only long enough to drop Robert off (he needs to get back to Nicaragua and...for reasons that defy, change the crew list, and then head South Westerly for Cabo. That would put us on back on a beam reach even with Westerly winds, much better for catamarans, and give us a fast ride across the Sea of Cortez. The only fly in that ointment was the demonic forces that had possessed the Mazatlan Port Captain and Immigrations office. More on that in a moment.

We made it into Mazatlan harbor without incident. The winds weren't too bad, the waves weren't too rough, and we approached the breakwater entrance as the sun was rising. There is a really pretty little lighthouse on a rock just outside the harbor. Short of an actual mermaid sitting on the rocks around it, it was exactly what any oil painter could ask for in a background.

We hadn't planned on being this far north, and really weren't prepared. We had no sailing guides for the area, and the charts weren't that informative, so we weren't sure where exactly to go, but there was a pretty little cove just inside the breakwater. We motored in and drove around, noticed there were a few other big cats at anchor, and thought it might be a good place to drop the hook. We asked another sailor for advice, and he suggested we stay here, as the various offices were close by. There were marinas a few miles further up the coast, but it wasn't clear if they would have room for a catamaran, and it was kind of pricey. So we dropped the hook.

Well, actually, we didn't. It didn't work. The windlass control had been acting up for a while. I had repaired it earlier, but the micro switches inside it were pretty rotted, and while it would happily raise anchor, it wouldn't lower it. I had taken to shorting the terminals with a screw driver to get the hook down, but even that wasn't working. No one on board really relished the idea of manhandling the other anchors out of the locker, we were all tired, hungry and sleep deprived. So we said, as Pat Boone likes to say, "Boone It!" and decided we just go find a marina, tie up for a night and fix yet another broken part.

We turned tail and began to head out of the harbor. As we did the guy from the cat jumped in his dingy and motored over to see what was up. We explained the situation and he said "Oh, well, why not just raft up with us?". I was amazed. It was such a kind gesture, among a myriad of wonderful acts of kindness we'd received throughout our adventure, and it made our lives just that much easier. And from a total stranger. Sometimes cruising really fucks with my well-honed cynicism about humanity. We sidled up next to his boat, tied along side, and made friends with Henry and J.J. on "Rapscullion", yet another cruising couple from the states.

They had been out cruising on their catamaran for a while, and seemed to be loving every minute of it. Both of them had a great attitude about sailing, and were definitely enjoying themselves. We thanked them profusely for their generous help, loaded up the dinghy and headed into town for the Port Captain's office. Robert had made flight plans for tomorrow, and was beginning to worry about missing his flight. This is apparently one of the things he stresses a lot about, and he had on his "not happy" face. We teased him about it. He didn't think it was funny...we did.

The harbor was small, with maybe fifty boats in it. There was a blue building called "Club Nautico", which provided cruisers with showers, a dinghy dock and ice. The woman who worked there, Wendy, was very, very nice, and showed us around. We paid three dollars for use of their facilities, and headed off into town to find the Port Captain's office.

We wandered around a bit looking for the building, but by around one o'clock (plenty of time to get this done) we eventually found it. It was quite new, clean and had several people working inside. It appeared very efficient. We approached the window and explained what we needed to do. The woman behind the counter said we needed to speak with the Port Captain himself, and to please take a seat and wait one moment. What she meant was, please sit on those plastic chairs designed by the Marque De Sade himself, and molder into old age while we watched numerous clerks chatting and exchanging Christmas gifts from the otherwise vacant waiting area. After about an hour of watching this, we got fed up and asked again.

Editor's Note: There aren't any photos of the government officials involved in the remainder of the following episode, mostly because the author's comrades feared his having anything metallic, heavy or edged (even a camera) in his hand while dealing with government officials and had taken it away from him, for his own good. Instead, because my mother always said "if you can't say anything nice, compliment her shoes", I've included some snapshots of the various bronze statues that we've encountered throughout the Mexican coastline. Fortunately, they were too heavy to carry over to the government offices. By the way, none of the port officials had nice footwear.

The Port Captain was called over (this time it only took about five minutes) then he studied our new crew list, our old crew list, the boat documentation, our visas, our passports and then explained that he couldn't sign Robert off the crew list unless we first got the crew list stamped by Immigrations. "Okay, No Problemo!" we said. That's Spanish for "Okay, it's now my problem". They gave us directions to the immigrations office. "Oh, but you need to hurry, it's 2:00, the office is about ten blocks from here, and we close at 2:30". So, we rushed out of the office and immediately started arguing about the directions we'd been given.

Naturally, any directions proffered by any government official in any foreign country are, by law, required to be wrong. It was part of the Geneva convention and one of the few clauses that all participating countries still enforce. That, and the clause that limits a hotel's responsibility to anything stolen from your room, to only fifty dollars, even though they gave your room key to the local junkie. We were hoofing it along and not finding the place, so we flagged down a taxi. Now, when I say taxi, what you're thinking is a big, yellow Ford Impala, no hubcaps, plastic seats. What I'm describing is an open sided, propane powered golf cart with roll bars made from drain pipes. The one pictured here is from later on in our adventure, much newer (it even had seat belts, although they didn't work) and in much better shape. That particular driver was an amazingly nice, friendly, helpful gentleman who was the exception to the rule. There's always one.

We jumped in, explained that we needed to go to Immigration as quickly as possible. There is no actual literal translation for "quickly" in Spanish, the closest you can get is something to the effect of "before the change of seasons", and the driver slowly drove us to the Customs building. "No, not the Customs building, the Immigration building!" we explained. "Oh, senior, I'm not sure I know where this is." he replied in Spanish. Now Mazatlan is not big. There are about seven government buildings all in an area smaller than a college campus, and this guy grew up there, in a port city where cruisers regularly get rides to these buildings, yet he wasn't sure if he knew where they were. This is equivalent to growing up in a kitchen and not being sure about the location of the silverware drawer. God may have created man, but taxi drivers are definitely the work of the devil. But, I'm not bitter.

So, we rushed over to Immigration...eventually, after first driving through several blocks of town, every known road bump in Mazatlan, and backtracking twice. We pulled up to the offices and asked the cabbie if he would wait--we would only be a minute. They were standing in front of the doors looking as if they might close them at any moment. So we ran up, pushed past the guard at the door, and delivered our paper work to the guy at the front desk. He had cultivated the kind of posture that communicates completely just how annoying your presence is to him, and that if only you would go away he could get on with chatting-up the clerk. He droned, "Oh...okay...please sit over there, on those chairs with the other five moldering Americans and we will let you know when we can process your paperwork." We sat down on chairs that were probably discarded by the Port Captain's Office as being too comfy, and waited. And waited. And waited.

Picture an old Spanish building that has been converted into a government office. Imagine twenty five Mexican government workers, all milling about it. There are several back offices, they all have very comfortable chairs in them. Whenever a door opens you can see several other workers all sitting in them, drinking coffee and chatting amiably. There is exactly one desktop computer in the entire building. There is a pile of paperwork along the right side it. A clerk sits in front of it, typing with two fingers, for about three minutes, then picks up a folder from the pile and moves it to another, much smaller pile on the left. She has that look about her that suggests perhaps she was given this job more for her assets than qualifications. Her assets are cresting out of her uniform.

She then gets up, fixes her makeup, adjusts her navy blue polyester stretch pants which are one size too small and teeters off on three inch high heels-- no doubt these are also part of the Immigrations uniform. She comes back a few minutes later and chats with several other "workers" (I use this term because, technically, they are being paid for this), all of whom are standing around chatting with all the intensity of purpose you see in any union run GM manufacturing plant. In the meantime, the front desk person places folders on the ever growing pile on the right.

Eventually the clerk returns, sits back to the computer and repeats her data entry process. The pile on the right continues to grow. The pile on the left can be seen to increase only by archaeological standards. Paint dries faster. Plus, you suddenly realize that since the front desk person is placing the folders on the top (not bottom) of the right pile, the only way your paperwork will be processed is if you can prevent anyone else from submitting a request. We tried standing in the parking lot and warning newcomers about the problem they are having here with contagious plague, but others must have already tried this before us because everyone just assumed we were talking about the city water supply.

After about twenty minutes, we begin to realize that they aren't going to actually do anything. We approach the front desk guy and ask what is going on. This seems to generate some interest. They explain that it will take another hour, and that we should come back after lunch. "Won't you be closed?" we ask. They assure us that they won't. We jump back in the cab and ask him to take us to a restaurant. He drives us over to the seaside board walk area, we find a restaurant to have lunch. We ask how much...he says five hundred pesos. We laugh a lot. A typical taxi ride is six pesos. Fortunately, he had parked illegally, and a truck and bus have both pulled up behind him and begun honking their horns. Robinson negotiates with him, we agree on something not completely absurd, pay him and walk away in disgust. Fucking taxi cab drivers. When I'm elected emperor, you best not be wearing a peaked cap.

So we ate lunch at a really great restaurant, great service, and the chef, an American, came over to make sure we were enjoying the meal, discovered we needed to know if the Port Captain would be open tomorrow and even called some friends to find out for us. Sadly, I cannot, for the life of me, remember the restaurant, but if you're in Mazatlan, and standing in front of a bronze mermaid, it's just behind you.

We then went back to the Immigrations office. They were closing the doors as we arrived. We again pushed our way past the guard, who didn't want to let us in, found the front desk guy and asked what was going on. "Oh, why did you leave?" he asked. "Because you told us to." we explained. "Oh, no, no. We are closed." he answered. We started arguing with him about it, with it becoming clear that they weren't interested in doing anything this late in the day (hell, it was almost 3:15) and that we weren't going to be able to get Robert on his flight. At that point Robert became very agitated and tried to explain the necessity of getting this done today, as his flight left tomorrow afternoon. "Senior, my bicycle is tomorrow!" he said in his best pleading Spanish. Everyone stopped speaking. Robinson turned and looked at him as if he had he'd just sprouted twigs. Even the front desk guy didn't know how to respond. There was an uncomfortable silence while both Robinson and the front desk guy both stared at him like the dog on the RCA Victor label.

Eventually Robinson regained the momentum, explained the situation, and somehow convinced them to complete our paperwork right now. Mostly because I think they realized we were already back inside, and prepared to sit in their office until sunrise if need be, and because they felt bad for us having a retarded child with us. Of course, that wasn't going to stop them from fucking with us. "Oh, well, we cannot process your paperwork without copies of your passports." he said. "Oh, no problemo, Senior, I have them here." I replied, pulling out several copies of each of our passports. "Oh, no, mi amigo [technically, that's Spanish for "my friend", but it doesn't mean he's my friend], you must have three copies of every single page, even the blank ones."

Now, at this point I realized that some parts of the Mexican bureaucracy hadn't got the latest memo, and that Mazatlan was still back in 70's. "Where can we get copies made?" I asked, vowing to bring my copier with me next time I have to come to any government office. "Oh, just down the street." they explained. We sent Robinson, while Robert and I remained in the building, afraid that if we left they would close. He returned about a half hour later with the copies. We gave them to the front desk guy, he brought them back to some other official, then came back with our paperwork, but not our visas. This is bad because you can't leave the country without them.

"We need a signature from the Port Captain saying that your boat is in the harbor before we can give you the visas." he explained. The fact that more government officials aren't strangled with their own red tape amazes me. I have, however, noticed a very high correlation between countries that insist on strict gun control but permit Byzantine bureaucracy. They obviously know that a well-armed populace would not put up with this shit. We left Robert at the Immigration office again, and went back to the Port Captain's office, but it was closed. We came back. The front desk guy was gone, but the guard was still there. He insisted the Port Captain's office was open. We explained that we were just there, and it wasn't.

There were several phone calls made to the now off work front desk guy's cell phone. The guard then explained that we could also have the harbor master at Club Nautico write it. Robinson and I jumped back in another cab. As we rode back to the harbor, we decided that it would have been significantly less paperwork if we'd just thrown Robert overboard and declared him missing at sea. We asked the taxi to wait while Wendy signed off on our documentation. She quickly wrote us a cover letter, and we shot back to Immigrations. We showed them the letter, they stamped it, stamped our new crew list, and finally gave us back our visas.

Robert was safely off the list, so he could leave. Now, all we had to do was get the Port Captain to sign off on our new crew list tomorrow and we could leave. In the meantime, we had to spend yet another day in town. As we went back to the boat we noticed the wildest sunset I've ever seen in my life. This was unlike anything else I've ever witnessed. The clouds had an almost velvety sheen to them, and there appeared to be a monstrous face staring down at us. Double click on the picture and look at it in full size, it was really very spooky looking. No doubt we'd angered the Gods Of Bureaucracy. Mother Nature doesn't have a thing on the Red Tape Demon hovering over us today!

We were exhausted, and went back to the boat, then wandered over to Henry and JJ's for drinks. We had a great time hanging out on their cat, it was spacious and quite comfortable. They had an "owner's version" where the entire starboard hull is basically a single living space. Their shower had a glass wall, very elegant and stylish. Definitely a boat worth cruising in!

The next morning we got up, saw Robert off to the airport (it was the first time he's smiled since the day before), and headed in to get our new crew list signed off. The Port Captain's office was open, but he wasn't there. The office worker told us to leave the documents and come back at 11am. We really weren't sure if that was such a good idea, but we were hungry and didn't have any better options. We left, had lunch, came back, and found the Port Captain. He still hadn't signed our document. We started to worry. He asked us when we were leaving. "Oh, right now!" we both chorused back. "Oh, okay." he said, and signed our paperwork.

We sighed our relief, left immediately, and headed into town. We had no intention of leaving until after I'd found the parts I needed to make another windlass control switch. In fact, he had no real authority to tell us when to leave. We were check into the country, and had a valid crew list. We could come and go as we pleased. So we walked around Mazatlan looking for an electronics shop. Now, in most places in the states, specialty electronics shops are not all found six on a street. In Mazatlan, they are.

You need Tupperware, you go to the Tupperware section of town. Bath salts? That's over on the East side, where in a two block radius you'll find thirty stores that specialize in them. You want a pinata, you need to find the pinata district, where there will be fifty stores within four blocks, all selling the exact same merchandise. We couldn't find the electronics area. We found someone who repaired radios. He sold us a toggle switch, then he directed us to another shop several blocks away. They didn't have the parts we needed either, but told us about another store several more blocks to the north. That store didn't have anything either. We kept walking. We eventually found an intersection with an electronics stores on every corner, and three more within a hundred yards. I bought a plastic box and some switches.

We went back to the boat and within a few minutes I'd fabricated a new windlass controller switch box. It wasn't waterproof, but it worked just fine, at least good enough for our purposes, and we were able to untie from our neighbors and anchor directly. That night we went into the town center for a decent meal before we headed out the next day. The town "centro" is very pretty, with many upscale open air restaurants and night clubs surrounding it. We bumped into Henry and J.J., along with several other cruiser friends of theirs.

We enjoyed a few drinks, had dinner, then found a small night club that had a local band. They were called Addiction, and they rocked. Sort of hard to describe their sound, almost heavy metal but with less ragged edge and a lot of traditional Mexican flavor rounding out their sound. The lead singer is also their bassist, which always impresses me. I got to chat with Richie their lead guitarist, the newest member of the band. He said they had been around for a while and that they had a bit of a following, but were mostly a local area band. I was really disappointed to learn that they hadn't produced any CD's yet, but if anyone comes across one in the future, please send me a copy!

They played many original tunes, did a number of cover tunes, including a fantastic version of "Sweet Child Of Mine", and a few traditional Mexican songs but with clearly their own spin on them. The crowds loved them. If you are ever in Mazatlan, check them out! Their first set is great, but the second set was jumping.

Oh, and the bar had the best bathroom signs I've ever come across. The men's room and lady's room signs defy description, but I will give it my best try. First, the men's room sign is a picture of a man peeing while standing in that knees slightly bent, arched back position every guy who has had too many beers knows as "The Pause That Refreshes." Including a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I love this country!!

The woman's room sign goes from the sublime to the absurd. There is a picture of what I can only assume is a bulimic woman wearing high heels in the act of inducing herself to vomit while fanning away what appears to be a very powerful fart. Or perhaps she is applying lipstick. It isn't clear. But the reverse image of herself in the mirror is a nice touch and the large red M probably means something in Spanish, but I couldn't figure out exactly what. There is also a wedding cake with a drain attached. Perhaps this is why she is retching? Either way, it stopped me in my tracks for several minutes while I simply stared at it, causing some consternation among the various female patrons as I stood transfixed in front of the women's rest room. They eyed me suspiciously, but assumed from my dress and lack of social manners that I must be a gringo or dismissed me as simply retarded. Eventually the owner asked why I was photographing their wall, but I was unable to express complex ideas like "ennui" and "horror" in Spanish, so instead I smiled and said "Dondeh estan ill banjo", which is Spanish for "please ignore me, I am an idiot".

The night dragged on, we stayed out too late, eventually wandered back to the boat, and woke up the next morning and headed out across the Sea of Cortez, for Cabo San Lucas. And, if we can overcome our burning desire to turn around and head for Cartegena, we should have good winds and relatively calms seas on our trip. We wish you all as much.

Talk to you next when we reach Cabo San Lucas.

Cheers for now.