Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where the Wild Things Find Us

We've made it to Nicaragua, to a small protected estuary and mangrove-lined bay near the town of Chinendega. In Escapade's quest to make it through the Panama Canal before Christmas, we've been running pretty hard for the last week or so, foregoing extended stays in the ports we have stopped in. To take advantage of a much-coveted weather window in the Gulf of Tehantepec, we cruised briskly through Acapulco, Puerto Angel, and Hualtuco on the Oaxacan coast. The Gulf is notorious for full-force gales when the weather gets rough, sometimes trapping yatistas North or South of it for days or even weeks at a time.

Thanksgiving landed right in the middle of our latest passage, a 3-night, 4-day trek from Hualtuco to here. We were underway the entire day, and it turned out to be a beautiful one: baths for the boat and for us, pleasant winds from behind, and a remarkably traditional meal that Debbie whipped up from the boat's larder (and, note from Ben, an incredible apple crisp baked by Emily - good for dessert that night and breakfast the next morning!).

As we sail through the salty waters, scramble around land when in port, snorkel off the back deck, and otherwise take advantage of our natural surroundings that our lifestyle affords us, it's become clear to both of us that our encounters with nature are some of the best parts of this journey. As such, we would like to dedicate the remainder of this post to fill you in on some of the wildlife that we've run into, or (as you'll see) that has run into us:

  • Dolphins, dolphins everywhere: While their playful, friendly visits are not infrequent, they never get old. In packs of five or six or more, they come cruising up to the side or the bow of the boat and stay with us for awhile, leaping and spinning and showing off in a grand fashing. We believe we've met a few different sorts: Pantropical Spotted, Striped, and Common Gray. Our favorite encounter occurred in the middle of the night-- Ben was on watch when a large family of dolphins found our bow and entered into some of their most formidable theatrics, highlighted - literally - by a surreal bioluminescents show, making them look like comets flying through the water all around us. Fortunately, they hung around long enough for Ben to wake up Emily to enjoy the 3 am performance.

  • Crabs galore, including those that climb trees and those that scale rocks, those that swim through water with fiercesome speed and those that scuttle over the sand at a neck-breaking pace.

  • As is generally the case in any glorious ecosystem, the wildlife we've found has been smart, adept, and well-adapted. But not Boobys. Not the smartest birds on the block, boobys visited the crew of Ohana often, balancing tenuously on mast while we tried unsuccessfully to knock it off with our primitive ammunition: giant marshmallows from the Puerto Vallarta Costco.

  • Yesterday while kayaking through the mangroves, our peaceful paddling was interrupted when not one, not two, but an entire school - 30+ little fish - leapt far out of the water, all at the same time, and then landed, as one. A school of jumping fish!

  • Giant child-head-sized toads, it turns out, are NOT just a thing of fantastical children's stories. They live right here in Nicaragua, at Marina Puesto Del Sol, where they hop through the clubhouse and seem even too warted and bloaty to move when we approached them for a photo.

  • And if that's not cool enough for you, Emily's reward for her hard work in the galley of Ohana was being pooped on by a passing bird through an open hatch while making lunch for the rest of the crew. Although the species identification of the dropping was not confirmed, it is possible that it was some sort of revenge for certain airborn marshmallows...who knows.

  • And finally, the capstone, the crown jewel, the piece de resistance in our cache of encounters with wild things, the one that shows, above all, that wildlife has literally been throwing itself at us: during an overnight run last week, we were awoken by a wet slimy stinky guest that apparently wanted to join us in bed - a flying fish had inadvertently, on its commonly several hundred yard cruise through the air, found the 'eye of the needle' and flew into our bunk by way of the porthole - yikes, what a surprise!

From here, it's on to Costa Rica, destination within unknown. But we hope to continue meeting wildlife along the way, and we hear that it's a good place to do it.

Pictures from Ohana and Puerto Vallarta

Because we didn't get a chance to include photos with our last post, here are a few from our time with the Ohana Crew in Puerto Vallarta. We're happy where we are, but miss Tom, Nicole, Chris, and the lifestyle we enjoyed with them greatly!

The Ohana Crew: Chris, Nicole, Tom, Ben, Emily

Every single day, we observe "Sunset Time," where everything stops as we watch the sun sink below an unobstructed horizon. This one is from the Cabo - Puerto Vallarta crossing.
Our evening's entertainment while docked at Paradise Village: Emily grooving center stage with Chris on back-up vocals and Tom on table-top percussion. (Ben is taking a break from lead vocals to take the photo.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Ideal than Ideal

When we started this adventure we had a vague hope that we would find success in the business of jumping from boat to boat, seamlessly winding our way down to Panama in the shortest time possible. Realistically, however, we were pessimistic about the possibility for a flawless trajectory and we expected to have to modify our vision. As it turns out, though, after three weeks of travel, we have found luck and open doors around every corner we have turned.

Our jump from Cabo to Puerto Vallarta had us motoring on the good ship Ohana for two days and one night, arriving and anchoring actually at Punta Mita on the north side of Banderas Bay (home of P.V.). The waves crashing over the bow on the way across exposed a few less than perfect spots in the old crusty caulking seams so we spent the next day drying out and resealing a couple hatches and some hardware on the foredeck. From Punta Mita, after our daily swim and afternoon cocktail, of course, we motored over to La Cruz to refuel and the next day to Paradise Village, both in the general vicinity of Puerto Vallarta.

Paradise Village is aptly named, a pristine resort setting that feels a bit surreal when compared to the un-airconditioned, inner-city hostels that we had imagined ourselves staying at in between rides. Our days here with our Ohana hosts have been active, relaxing and beautiful. After a delicious and casual breakfast, we do some work around the boat. Ben has been working with Tom and Chris to do a variety of boat maintenance; Emily has found happiness beyond her wildest dream - taking total control of the well-stocked galley while Nicole has been home in the states. After lunch we play: along with Tom and Chris we storm the hotel beach volleyball courts and take on the hodgepodge but skilled set of regulars on the court. The sunset finds us body-surfing in the ocean; we follow this with some time in the hotel pool, which has a giant alligator-shaped slide that shoots us out at ferociously high speeds.

We were eager, however, to see the Puerto Vallarta outside of Paradise Village. Our first day in the big city ellicited some quintessential travel learning experiences. The primary point of confusion was a mix-up between the words "El Centro" - the center of town - and "El Central" - the long-distance bus depot we were trying to find. Needless to say, this is an important distinction, especially when compounded by the limits of our minimal spanish abilities. Before we sorted out the confusion, we had ridden five or six buses around town and spent way more money than had we just caught a cab directly to El Central. Oh well - the adventure was well worth it, and we had the opportunity to see more of the town than intended.

While in La Cruz last week, we took advantage of a quiet morning and stalked down our next ride. We had heard of a couple looking for crew to head straight for Panama so we stopped by for a chat. It took about four seconds to realize that we had come to the right place. Not only were Greg and Debbie heading straight for the Canal, hoping to get to the other side by mid-December, perfectly in line with our goals, but they also own a very comfortable, very nice 52-foot Catana catamaran. And they have kayaks onboard. And they have snorkeling equipment. And they have a boat dog. And Debbie owns and runs a restaurant in North Lake Tahoe. And Greg´s last boat was a Melges 32 (a really fast, really fun racing sailboat). So in short, we´ll be taking cooking and sailing lessons for the next month. For something that just fell into our laps, this is going to be a pretty sweet deal.

We meet them in Zihuatanejo on the 19th, so after a couple more days hanging out with Tom and Nicole (and kids!) and Chris (and wife Lyn!), we´ll hop on the bus and take the fourteen hour ride south through the countryside.

From Zihuatanejo, it´ll be a welcomed return to the ocean and the wind - we can only happily rot in port for so long before we feel the pull to leave.

Like always, we´re thinking of everyone back home and we´re so glad you´re checking in. Please continue to keep us in touch with your thoughts and happenings. (Also, did the Damned Yankees win the World Series again?)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cabo San Lucas

Above Bahia Santa Maria:
Emily at the helm:
Ben at the helm with Skipper Mike supervising:

We made it! After 750 miles in varying conditions (sunny and warm to very sunny and hot), 11 sunsets, 6 beach volleyball games won, 4 tuna hooked, and 3 anchorages, we have arrived safely in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

We had a fantastic time aboard Interlude, with an outstanding skipper, a great crew, mostly perfect weather, delicious meals, and plenty of dolphin sitings. The one day bringing intense wind and seas, we were able to tuck into a protected bay for an unplanned anchorage. The rest of the trip brought a steady 15 knots and gentle seas, allowing us to sail and motorsail comfortably, margharita in hand. It also allowed Emily to take the helm and get experience steering the boat down the waves, without danger of catastrophe or spilled cocktails.

We made landings along the way at Bahia Tortuga and Bahia Santa Maria, giving us a chance to spread our legs and join in festivities with the rest of the fleet. The preferred land activity of the Baja Ha Ha sailors is the good old-fashioned Beach Party, complete with cold beers, CCR cover bands, and volleyball. Around dusk, our crew would pile back into our inflatable dinghy and return to Interlude for fresh brownies and evening poker.

Now that we've been thrust into the absurdity of Cabo, the serenity and simplicity of the trip down the coast seems a bit surreal. We've been working, however, on answering some of life's most important questions, namely: ¨Where is the Hard Rock Cafe?¨ Cruise ship passengers are genuinely concerned with getting to the bottom of this immediately upon flooding the city, after which they feel equipped to roam casually through the wilderness of upscale boutiques along ¨Luxury Avenue.¨

Needless to say, we're looking forward to getting back under sail tomorrow evening. This leg has us aboard Ohana, a Gulfstar 47 owned and operated by Tom, freediver and underwater filmographer, and his wife Nicole, who has embraced the cruising lifestyle and has outfitted the boat for their two young children, who will live aboard starting later this month. They have probably the best first mate imaginable - Chris - who runs his own yacht service company in San Diego and has a bottomless supply of cruising stories. Ohana will take us as far as Puerto Vallarta, rumored to be a good passing-through spot for cruising sailboats.

That's all for now! Thanks for all the good wishes.