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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Big Jump

3/28/ 2012   The Big Jump

After years of planning and hard work we've been full time cruisers now for two years. We have logged over 10,000 miles and completed a near total refit of our 35 year old boat.  Now , after all of the work, the planning and hours on end of dreaming  we're teetering on the brink of  what inspired us  when all of this began.  This next passage has been firmly in the someday realm for so long that it feels a bit unreal. Finally in a few short days we will un-tie the dock lines and store them away with the fenders and the outboard and set off on our biggest adventure yet; the great Pacific Ocean and its 25,000 islands scattered over more than 64 million square miles.    

There is plenty of work to do before a big passage but at least the butterflies are familiar. This jump feels very much like our last few months in Seattle and the days spent in San Diego before leaving the United States for Mexico. Each day is filled anticipation and excitement as well as bits of tension and stress. It's not all smiles and bon voyage parties though. We're human and so between the work, the heat and the clock ticking loudly sometimes those bits of stress and tension build and bubble up into big bits of emotion.  It all must be normal though because every Puddle Jumper I've spoken with has shared stories of their own melt downs as they work through the lists and piles and jobs to be done.

On a boat, any boat there is always a well worn to do list. We simply seem to move things around on the list and add new ones as we go. There are also the inevitable hard hits on the bank account to pay for all those gotta have items.  Eventually the momentum builds until finally the whole process takes complete control of your lives.  Someone at dinner said I looked more relaxed than most of the others at the table so maybe that means I'm getting more comfortable with the cruising life.  Not pulling my hair out is a simple reflection of having done this often enough to realize that there really are only to important lists: the jobs that will keep the boat from sinking and everything else.

We've loved Mexico and will definitely miss this place we have called home for so long.  We're still very happy that we decided to stretch out our stay through these seventeen months and it turned out to be a great primer.  We call it "cruising light" because the weather was near perfect, the cruising was easy, provisioning was a snap and we always managed to find a way to get the things we needed along the way.  Each new problem from finding someone to "mule" down boat parts and pieces to trying to stutter out a new language was a part of the experience and ultimately pretty easy and simple.

In just a few days we'll set sail across the biggest ocean in the world and with that cover more miles in one jump than we are unlikely to attempt again.  We are aiming for Hiva Oa in the Marquesan Archipelago -a tiny dot 2700 miles away (2700 miles at 5 mph = roughly 22days.)

The South Pacific will be very different.  We will need to learn to speak at least a little French, Marquesan, Tahitian and Pigeon and I am pretty sure that I'll still be trying to roll my r's for months to come.  When we finally sail out at the other end wherever that may be I suspect we will be able to put this big step in the same light as every other big step we've taken: not nearly as difficult as all the hoopla would warrant.

 Right now though all I can see are the miles and the remoteness.  We will be on our own for three to four weeks and then we will spend the next three months marching from island group to island group where everything we consume beside fruit and coconuts has to be either stored away in the boat or brought in by supply ships at great cost. To that end we have been provisioning like never before.

How many rolls of toilet paper do you think you would need for 4 months? My educated guess is 40 rolls. How many eggs do you think you would buy if they cost $12 a dozen?  I'm packing six dozen AND bought a can of powdered eggs that equals 80 eggs. They were a last light bulb idea and cost me $24 and a valuable spot in one friend's carry-on bag- so I hope they work out.  When will the next opportunity be to wash down the boat with fresh water? I have no idea but I'm counting on the tropical rain between now and the six months to a year before we see a dock and a hose.  When will we see a boat yard with a travel lift big enough to haul Island Bound? Four months from now in Raittea, Society Islands but we've planned and prepared for no haul-out for at least two years. When will we reach a port where we can have things shipped in if we need repair parts or pieces? Four months from now in Tahiti but anything coming in will come with a very hefty fee  so that leaves American Samoa, a stop that is so far away though that it's out of the realm of planning. 

Another question is how much do we need to bring to trade? And what should we bring? Who knows! We bought dozens of fish hooks and extra fishing gear to trade along with a few bags of lightly used clothing and canned food (Spam and Mexican seasoned meats) some sewing supplies and fabric which we hope will be popular.  We won't carry cigarettes or alcohol though we are told they are highly prized items; we're just not willing to leave addiction and bad health in our wake. Sorry guys!  We do have piles of crayons for the island kids, bubble wands, popcorn and powdered drink mix for sharing if the kids come to the boat.  I have also stashed away a fairy wand and a tiny etch-a-sketch to give away along with notebooks and pencils and extra aspirin and basic medicines to share along the way. A side note, the only thing the Mexican Pangeros ever asked me for was aspirin! 

OK, the question many of you want to ask is am I nervous and afraid? Well, no not really.  Island Bound is made for this and can take most anything the seas can dish out. We've become pretty competent sailors over the miles and have a tried and true plan for getting plenty of sleep which is the one big danger we could face.  Bill is an excellent captain and our sailing tends to lean towards the conservative. Early on we learned the truth about reefing: by the time Kat says it's time to reef it's usually to late. So we reef often and reef early.  I trust Bill's leadership and I know our goal is to never be in a position where we have to use any of our emergency gear.

Here in La Cruz one by one the Puddle Jump boats are leaving the marina and starting their crossings and as each one leaves the excitement builds. In one big step each of us will be entering a whole new world.  Our marine single sideband radio will allow us to stay in contact with each other and our families and will even let us email in our blog updates -sorry no pictures for awhile. The internet, Google and Google Maps, Skype and cheap flights back to the states will be a thing of the past along with our days in marinas, dinners out at cheap taco stands and 80 cent bags of tortillas.

From here on out we'll be rolling alone. We will roughly follow what is called the "coconut milk run" across the pacific. The ocean is so vast and the islands so small in comparison that running into friends will be a real luxury. It's hard to imagine but even if we leave at the same time on the same day as another Jumper by mid day we may not see them again during the entire crossing. 

There are really no impulse decisions in timing for cruisers. There are usually choices in direction to be made but no wild changes to the established seasonal routes.  Those who cross go between mid march and the end of May. Period.  If something happens to delay your departure (as happened last year with our friends on Buena Vista) you simply have to wait out another year. 

We follow in the wake of centuries of sailors pacing along their same routes to take advantage of the best the winds have to offer. The biggest worry is the ITCZ where it is possible to experience squalls -rain, high winds and lightning- or the complete opposite the dreaded doldrums. Once across the ITCZ we are pretty much home free!  Once across, like all the sailors before us we will grab hold of the fabled trade winds and be steadily pushed across the miles to our first landing at Hiva Oa. 

Once through French Polynesia our plan is to favor a northern route while most of the fleet will be making a slow bee-line for Australia or New Zealand. Around the first of November when most of the fleet flees southward for the coming cyclone season we expect to turn north for the safety of the equator and winter over in Micronesia: more countries, more languages and more experiences to write home about in the fall.  Oh and I almost forgot, once we depart you can follow along with our progress if you'd like by going  to www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=wdf2704    In the meantime I will keep striking things off our lists and somehow manage to find just one more place for just one more grocery run. So far it's been a great ride. Kat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

3/12/ 2012 Make-Over Mexican Style

We are still in Banderas Bay staying at one of our favorite places, La Cruz. and there has been a grand transformation going on all around us for the last few weeks. La Cruz is generally a sleepy little town. The kind of place where when you walk through town you hear friendly hola's and buen dias' thrown from every corner. The kids on their way to school are just as likley to say hello as the shopkeepers and restaraunt owners. There are loose dogs wandering around, kids playing in the streets and senior citizens sitting in their courtyards or on the sidewalks in front of their small homes hiding from the heat. We brag about the place and have enjoyed sharing it with friends. But these days our descriptions would be drowned out and covered up by the dust and noise.

There are simultanious reasons for the change. A few days ago Copa Mexico began their annual regional races. The 24ft J-boats are leading the way for an entire month of racing in the bay. The little trailerable boats came flooding into La Cruz for weeks before the racing started and their activity was just the beginning. Next came the first of the "big boys" sailing across the finish line from California -no trailers here. The catamaran that lead the pack (The original Water World Boat sans Kevin Constner) had racked up some 400 mile days and the rest of the race fleet came streaming in behind. These big flashy boats with their uniformed crews and dead serious competition have their own week on the water which then will slowley lead into the annual Bandereas Bay Regatta. The BBR which is the closest thing to big money racing a crusing boat ever sees. The Regatta is an opportunity for even the cruisers to get in on the action because they handicap especially for cruising boats allowing even the loaded down "house boats" a chance at the gold.

Things will wrap up at the end of the month when the marina will be hosting a one day vacation tradeshow extravaganza. This too is serious money for the Puerto Vallarta area and La Cruz is crowing over capturing the event from Acapulco for the first time in ten years. All these things have coelesced into some serious work and money being dumped into sleepy little La Cruz. A huge pavillion was built in a matter of days and soon filled with racers, beer, music and the everpresent secrity. The marina grounds have been washed, painted, clipped and trimmed until everything sparkles and shines. The money has been flooding into similar work all over the Bay area. From here to Puerta Vallarta there are workers everywhere from the wee hours of the morning until well into the night, painting and picking up, washing down and hauling sod and trees for landscaping and generally sprucing up anything that holds still.

The town square in La Cruz has been torn up and completely rebuilt all within the last few weeks. This included new surrounding roads, a stonehenge looking paviliion, new curbs, sidewalks and pathways through the park and a new coat of paint. Seemingly every cobblestone street in town has been dug up and redone. They are burying power lines and gas mains, laying sod and painting newly poured curbs, sidewalks and park benches everywhere. Very early on in the process a crew inexplicably punched fist sized holes like swiss cheese through almost every sidewalk in town -yet almost all the sidewalks remain untouched and un-repaired. Maybe it will be done by the time the trade show arrives? The workers are being bussed in and they fill the tiendas and restaurants for lunch and dinner and the local beer joints have long lines at siesta time. They have been cutting down old trees and planting new ones and the dust and the noise rolls over everything in sight.

There had been a rumor that E'l Presidente' would be visiting soon but no one knew if it would be for the races or for the trade show. There has been a large Navy presence for days now and then the Army rolled in. The transit police slips in daily with their silent caravans of dark tinted windows and spinning flashing lights. The exact date and time were reported to be top secret -as a matter of security. The exact date and time were carefully guarded secrets held close in order to insure a high level of security. Plus no one knew if it is actualy the president who was expected or the state govenor who is also refered to as E'l Presidente'.

Then yesterday I received a VHF call from Katrina of Marina La Cruz asking me a favor. Katrina is the go to gal for anything Marina La Cruz. She is not the marina manageer nor is she a secretary but rather is more like Julie on the Love Boat but sexed up: PR, customer relations, organizer extrordinaire, in charge, idea filled, high heel wearing, cleavage showing, wowzer did-you-see-that-skirt- business manager. She proceeded to tell me the President was coming in the morning and that the racers were planning a nautical salute and could I try and solicit the cruisers help and participation in an ovation of sorts . So filled with her instructions I showered and changed and set out to explain to each and every boat on dock 4 that if they would listen to VHF chanel 01 from 9:00am to 9:45am they would at some point hear a count down: 10, 9, 8..... and when the count came to zero we would all add our salute of air horns, bells and loud hailers to the blasts form the racing fleet as a kind of tip of our hats to the President. It was the hottest part of the day and I didnt have much time as we had a dinner date and I only knew a few people on our dock but what the heck.

The morning came and I tuned into CH01 and heard nothing. Nine o'clock came and went as did nine fourty five. Bill and I had work to do so we kept our loud hailer on and got busy. Eventually the air filled with the pulse of a helicopter as the first bird flew in for recon. An hour or more passed by with the helicopter making slow wide circles over BIll and I as we worked on deck installing our new spinnaker sock and hauled the new dinghy up on deck for a dry fit its place for our crossing.

The crowd thickened all around us, more and more cruisers took seats in their cockpits to watch the spectacle and the Navy and Army were at full force spread out all over the marina grounds. There were two military patrol boats weaving in and out of the fareways, numerous exits and parking lots were cordoned off and left with armed guards and they installed a metal detector on the walkway leading to the Sunday Artisan Market. The area of the sea wall where the helipads had recently been laid out was sprayed down with water to dampen the dust, the walkway passing closest by was cordoned off and sharp shooters were stationed in the marina's Sky Bar.
Finally at nearly noon the rest of the flock of helicopters came charging over Banderas Bay -we are told the President always travels in a procession of five- and landed to the thrill of the crowds. The cruisers stood on deck all over the marina waiting for the sign that never came. Not one horn blew, nor bell rang and not a sound from the racers over on docks ten and eleven.

Oh well it was a good idea and there did seem to be a better representation of courtesy and home port flags flying even if it didn't pan out. Everyone had been surprisingly receptive of the request and as a bonus for me it gave me a great excuse to meet the rest of my dock four neighbors.

Kat

A Whale of a Story

We are in the last weeks of preparing to sail off to the pacific
islands. It's a dream come true and the biggest adventure of my life.It is so far from my prior reality and that of most of my landlubber friends, that I cannot make them understand my new reality. Often they talk of the risks, like pirates and storms and shipwrecks and death.

I've grown to realize how protected we are in the states. There was a big change just coming to Mexico. Big holes in the road or sidewalk are not marked or barricaded. If you don't watch your step you fall and it's your own fault. Along walkways there are sometimes drop offs of 20 or 30 feet without a rail. Same thing, you must look out for yourself. No one seems to follows rules or laws; they seem to be open to interpretation. If you're stupid enough to lose all your money or
to pay too much for something then you deserve to lose it. I haven't heard a single person mutter the words I'll sue you since we got arrived. But Mexico is tame compared to where we are going.

You can't take the same kind of risk in the states. You are prevented. Well mostly you are prevented. I've a bit of time out in some of the wilderness areas.
You are on your own and no one can hear you call for help. But the opportunities are a bit rare to get that self sufficient with little or no safety net. Even walking around a bad section of town after dark there are usually some people around and someone will call the cops eventually.

This is a whole new ball game. On the first leg of the journey we're going 3000 miles without any back up:we are completely on our own. The ocean is big and mighty. It occasionally reaches out and smashes some little boat into oblivion. Often no one ever knows what happened even with GPirbs(satellite emergency beacon - we have one). I'm not fretting. I'm just realizing that we don't often get to do this kind of man against nature things in this day and age. We've been in Mexico for a year and a
half; in that time three boats have been lost here. There will be more than 100 boats heading to the pacific islands this year and a couple will end up lost. There is very little help and you must always stand on your own.

It seems hard to explain why someone would take the risk. Maybe the best way is through some seasoned cruisers eyes. Some friends who have been cruising for a couple decades were telling us about a whale charging their boat. At first there were two big males breaching and tail slapping up a storm. They were off in the distance but clearly big and energetic. If you've only seen whales on TV or on the deck of a big metal ship you may have a hard time realizing how huge and powerful
these animals are. They are gigantic and strong and fast and in their element. They are the biggest baddest mothers in the neighborhood and we are pretty much the wimpiest.

All of a sudden one of these huge males broke away from his pal and started heading for their boat. It charged straight at them very fast. It was making huge waves and frothing up the water just like some horror movie. When it was a hundred yards off it lifted is head up above the water still swimming very fast and making huge waves. They could see it's big eyes making sure where they were.

That's when they saw two dolphins surfing in the head wave it was generating. They were riding the wave as the whale thundered on toward the boat at a terrific rate. At the last possible second the whale swerved away and departed with dolphins still riding the pressure wave. The boat was jarred sideways and was rocked heavily. For a while it wasn't clear whether they'd been hit or not because there was so much motion. There was no heavy thud that would have indicated the side of the boat getting caved in or the keel or rudder being damaged. The whale and his two sidekick dolphins swam off a bit slower than the charge. As time passed it became clear that there wouldn't be a second charge and the boat was unharmed.

It was a harrowing experience that scared them deeply, but they just kept going on and on about the dolphins riding the head wake. I can see them surfing in my mind can't you? The giant whale is thrashing up mighty waves and lifting his head to looking right at you, right into your eyes as he makes his deadly charge. All the
while two dolphins surf and jump and dance in the wave as he thunders toward you. While they charge, you remember several stories about friends of yours who lost boats to whales. The fear is tangible; these beasts can kill you very easily.

One can't see dolphins from a cubicle. These dolphins can't actually be seen from land at all. One can't see them on a cruise ship either. Nor can they see them from a whale watching boat. To really see them, you must stand on the deck of your own boat and be charged by a whale. You must sell your house and all your stuff and start a new life on a little boat and sail halfway around the world and
through several storms to a place so remote that no one can help you. You must feel the great strength of the beast. You must know that sometimes the whale chooses to sink the boat. Then and only then can you really see the dolphins as my friends saw them.

We cannot see them yet. We'd like to think we can, but we can't, not really. We still have a long way to go. We are only beginning the journey. Someday we will have a whale of a story to tell. We will try very hard to tell it well, but most will only see the shadows of the real story. Some things just have to be lived and that is why we are going… we want to see our dolphins.

Bill