Tuesday, December 14, 2010

San Jose del Cabo to Muertos Cove

San Jose to Muertos Cove (23 59.355N, 109 49.352W)
Perhaps it was that we were headed for a place known as "Dead Man's Cove" .... Whatever the reason, we were anxious to arrive before nightfall. At 8:00 a.m. on December 4, we motored to the fuel dock at Puerto San Jose. Alas, a Cayman Island fishing vessel with voluminous tanks had pulled into the fuel dock before us, and there was only room for one! He would be there for another hour. We recalculated the miles left to go and the gallons of diesel aboard our relatively diminutive sloop, and decided to head out.

At 9:00 a.m. we had 8 knots on the nose. At 1:15, 15 knots. At 2:45, 12 knots ... and so it continued. But it wasn't just the wind slowing us down. We had failed to account for two other opposing forces: 1. the outflowing current from the 700-mile long Sea of Cortez, and 2. the pull of a new moon, which one fellow later told us was at peak pulling power for the year. So much for setting anchor before darkness fell.

We made slow progress, and approached Muertos at 10:00 p.m. Our tanks were much lower than we'd anticipated, and the night was as dark as India ink. I have never had so much trouble gauging depth (i.e. distance from the land) and distinguishing the placement of lights (are those anchor lights or lights on land?).

After twenty minutes of careful motoring during which we compared our depth soundings to the chart, we anchored in 40 feet at the coordinates posted above, set the anchor drag alarm for 50 feet and settled in for some sleep. Daylight revealed that we had come far closer to land than we'd hoped to be, and that all those lights I had concluded were land lights were indeed anchor lights. I quietly blessed our conservative choice. Instead of barging in among them, we had bobbed just outside the cove's best shelter ... and ... all's well that ends well, as Shakespeare once argued.

On December 5, we moved Nereid further into the cove and surveyed the shore. To our starboard, a restaurant (reported to be cruiser-friendly); ahead of us a beach; to port, a hotel. Everywhere, the blue, beige, and terra cotta tones of Mexico.

We lowered Galatea over the rail and rowed toward shore, stopping along the way to converse with other cruisers. Some friendly folks from Canada warned us that the wind was forecast to come up hard from the south for the next several days and that it would be best to "stay put" in Muertos until the blow was over. Bobbing alongside their boat, we nodded our heads, probably in rhythm with the swell and having already accepted that mother nature had just reset our agenda.

The day before we had burned through more fuel than budgeted (a sacrifice to current), and heavy headwinds into Cabo would more than deplete our tank. We chatted with them about whether fuel could be gotten ("none known, but someone at the restaurant might know"), refused their kind offer of 5-gallons (the husband had frowned when the wife offered it), then said our goodbyes.

George pulled for shore, where waves broke softly among rows of rocks spaced a panga's width apart. Above the waterline lay a row of pangas, sterns to the cove: these are Mexico's ubiquitous fishing boats, fiberglass work horses about 20-25 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3-5 feet deep. Here and there among them were men fixing their nets or cleaning a catch, their trucks parked further still upland.

It seemed likely that the section of beach aligned with a panga would be our best bet for a landing without excessive exposure to rocks. I navigated George toward a spot, smiling at the sight of children further down shore who were moving as fast as crabs between the soft foam at the waterline and the shade of their family's beach tent. One of the older women from the tent, elegantly attired in a red dress, walked to the shore and mounted a jet ski. All of the children began jumping and shrieking in glee. She helped one of the children into a life jacket and sat him in front of her, then took off with a roar, her long black hair streaming out behind them. She looked like the coolest grandma ever!

We landed Galatea with aplomb (and a splash) and made our way upland, chatting with a couple of fishermen and patting a black dog who stood in the shade licking the remains of a freshly cleaned dorado. "Do you know where we might find fuel around here?"

"How much do you need?"

"15 gallons."

"Go get your cans. I'll drive you."

God had just shown up in the form of a retired commercial fisherman named Terry.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

San Jose del Cabo

We have traveled a long way in the past week or so, and we're feeling just about every nautical mile! But, we're now tied up at a marina in San Jose del Cabo, soaking in the luxuries of hot showers, a full water tank, and internet access. There's an art walk in town tonight, and we intend to hike a mile to see it.

After leaving Bahia Tortuga we sailed south under genoa and a double-reefed main. Shifting tailwinds made it difficult to avoid an accidental jibe, so we sheeted in the genoa and let out the boom. Unfortunately, we heard a CRACK and saw something go flying. That was the scariest moment I've had on Nereid. Fortunately, it wasn't the mast or the boom: it was the shackle that held our preventer's block to the starboard toerail. George made a trip out to the foredeck, picked up the hardware and tied down the mainsail. He brought back into the cockpit another piece of hardware; one we hadn't realized had come loose. We believe it's a piece that helps keep the mainsail in its track. So that was the last of our using the main sail on this section of travel. We kept on under genoa as long as it was useful, but motored through the night.

In the wee hours we motored past the Isle of Cedros, rocking and rolling in heavy seas. Visibility was limited due to salt spray, and so we rolled up the side panels to look directly out into the night. Orion was laying on his back on the horizon, larger than I have ever seen the constellation. We watched him travel over a third of the dark dome, and switched shifts. I saw what looked like a brightly lit boat not far off our port side beam and called George back up to identify her: it was the half moon, rising behind the clouds, low to the water and orange enough to be a pumpkin. For the next couple of hours, we motored through heavy seas, wind and spray paying friendly visits as we worked around to the backside of the island, where a nice anchorage provides shelter for folks like us. There were about eight other cruisers anchored when we arrived, but plenty of room. We set our hook in forty feet around 2:30 a.m., ready and grateful for bed.

Our next stop was Puerto San Carlos. It's not a recommended stop for cruisers, but we needed fuel (now that we knew we'd be motoring) so we worked our way through the tricky channel and arrived at the fishing pier about an hour before sunset. It's a real working dock, and it took us awhile to find a place we thought we could tie up without subjecting Nereid to rusty shrimp boats and pilings. Fortunately, some fishermen on the dock offered a hand and some oversize bumpers. We fueled up, and practiced our Spanish, and then accepted a ride into town to get fresh fruits, vegetables and tortillas. Puerto San Carlos is a tiny town with unpaved streets, except two, and the same fine dust that we experienced in Bahia Tortuga. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we were back on the boat freshly provisioned and fully fueled before sunset. We motored a few hundred yards out and dropped anchor. It was a peaceful night.

The next morning we repeated the gauntlet, motoring out through the narrow channel that leads into Puerto San Carlos. We hit open ocean around 9:30 a.m., knowing we had a long stretch before us but wanting to time our trip around Cape Falso for the calmest time of day. Around 11:00 a.m., I saw what I thought might be a dead seal off the port bow. It's not unusual to see seals sunning themselves on the surface, but this one was unusually stationery. I didn't wake George, since I thought it might be a sad sight; but when I got nearer I saw that it was actually a turtle! I woke George, and over the course of the next mile we saw several of them. What a treat! It was invigorating to see them alive and wild.

The remainder of the voyage was simple and required, simply, endurance. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer and enjoyed a grail moon. (In the north we only get it at Easter, but this was indeed a grail moon, looking like a chalice.) Sunrise was welcome, as it always is, and soon enough we saw the Cape ahead and began picking up chatter from the fishing vessels that call Cabo San Lucas their home port. We rounded Cape Falso a little before noon, impressed with the rocks, cliffs and sand and in no way worried about the currents. From then on, it was simply sightseeing - marveling at the developments along the shore, the size of the cruise ships, the number of parasails. Around 2:30 p.m. we radioed Puerto San Jose del Cabo's marina and negotiated a slip for two nights. And so ... here we are. Safe, sound and salty.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Turtle Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico

We're at anchor just off the shore of a small, dusty town known as Bahia Tortugas. The area used to be known for turtles but, sadly, none remain. There are, however, plenty of pelicans and gulls, and a few osprey, whose nests are visible on the local electronics tower and other high spots along the shore. The terrain is desert-like, reminding us both of Nevada. Hills barren of vegetation (at least from this distance) undulating in variegated shades of beige to brown, ending at the blue water's edge.

Fishing appears to be the town's main economic engine, with a half-dozen or so boats manned with three- to four-fishermen casting nets and pulling in by hand. Last night we watched them haul in and weigh their catches, rock stars to the birds that followed, screaming in their wake.

We arrived at 1:05 p.m. yesterday, thankful to be setting the anchor and having earned our rest. We left Ensenada at 11:00 a.m. on 11/21, expecting good tailwinds; however, we were disappointed. With headwinds from 6 to 16 knots, we motored down the coast, taking three hour watches, regardless of mal de mer, which hit me (Celeste) quite hard. My buddy the bucket was never far away. It was a fairly uneventful trip, otherwise, our spotting only one other vessel along the way and that a sailboat that had left the same marina around the same time as us. They radioed over to check our status when they saw us stop, but we had only run over some kelp and were taking time to back it off the prop. The sailor soon passed us, and it was a lonely trip from then on, though Nereid didn't seem to mind. She handles well, and it's really, I realize, her crew, that we need to worry about. Around 11:00 a.m. on 11/22, we pulled into Bahia San Carlos, a strip sheltered from the winds that make its northernmost point a famous destination for windsurfers. We set our anchor and rested for 24-hours, letting me get my stomach back under control. (The cats have done remarkably well.) At 10:30 a.m. on 11/23 we pulled back out, thankful for NE winds that allowed us to travel along at 6.5 knots with just the mainsail, double reefed. We saved a lot of fuel and didn't take down the main until we set our anchor here in Tortuga, at which point we found that we'd lost a batten. Otherwise, she's shipshape. Not so lucky was the sailor coming in just behind us who reported "a hell of a trip" and was coming in "with no prop, and a broken mainsail - under jib alone." At 1:05 11/23 we set the anchor here in Tortuga, put things aright and got the dinghy over the rail. George had read of a restaurant where we might get showers - hot ones if we're lucky. He pulled us into shore, where a nice little wave swamped over the back of our dinghy, Galatea, and wetted my stern - but what's a little salt water to us now? We hauled her up on the sand, tied her to a stranded tire, and set off in search of the Restaurant Veracruz. An hour later, having trod through the unpaved town with its fine, pale dust, we arrived at the place, looking like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strips. Luckily, they were open. We managed to get across the idea that we were seeking food and showers, and we got the food - quite good too. We recommend it. The showers must just be a rumor. Luck was with us. We returned to Galatea at the magic hour, able to watch the birds and fishermen in the golden glow, then pull back to Nereid for an evening's rest and half a game of Scrabble. Today, we've cooked turkey and mashed potatoes, baked fresh bread and brownies, and enjoyed them all with cranberry sauce. It's been a lovely Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Departing for La Paz

We are departing this morning for La Paz, which will be about a 10 day sail - and we do mean sail! We postponed our departure until today to allow the leading edge of a front to pass by: that meant that we avoided headwinds and now will (should) have 10-20 knots behind us for the next few days. A sailor's dream! Fair winds and following seas.

I'll post our itinerary below. Meanwhile, the other big news is that we have a "third crew member." He's a Flat Stanley. In case you're not familiar with the story, Stanley is a boy who is accidentally flattened when his bulletin board falls on him. At first he is disconcerted, but then he realizes that he can now fit in an envelope and travel by mail! He undertakes great adventures. Many children now create "flat" versions of themselves and send them off on great adventures, and that's how we came to have a flat "Tucker" aboard. He'll travel with us for about six weeks, and then make his way back to Seattle to tell his tales to the children in Ms. Graff's class at Lockwood Elementary. Here's a picture of Tucker, the night he arrived on board:

He's dressed appropriately, in colorful casual gear and has been an uncomplaining hand while we've stowed and provisioned. Hopefully, he'll learn the ropes this week!

Here is our itinerary, prepared by George:

We plan to stop at Turtle Bay, Bahia Magdelena and somewhere between Cabo San Lucas and Muertos Cove. If we are tired, have bad weather, or just want to play tourists we will make other stops listed in the waypoints section. Weather is looking real good, the boat is ship shape and Bristol fashion, and we are ready. Come visit us in La Paz!

Miles Anchorage
from Conditions

Ensenada to:
Puerto Santo Thomas Marginal rest stop
Cabo Colonet 65 OK
Isla St Martin 95 Protected from S. winds
San Quintin 110 Rolly but OK
Sacramento Reef to Vizcaino Bay 95 miles across
Isles St. Geronimo 120 Good
Fondeadro San Carlos 163 Good
Santa Risalilita 225 Good
Turtle Bay 275 Excellent - Fuel

Bahia Asuncion 50 Good
Bahia San Hipolito OK
Punta Abreiges 100 OK-Good
Laguna San Ignacio 126 OK - also called San Juanico
Punta Pequena 166 Good - Best place to rest
from NW winds btwn
Turtle & Mag Bays
Bahia Magdelena 245 Excellent - Fuel

Miles from
Mag Bay
Cabo San Lucas 155 Very good-Fuel-Expensive

Miles from
Cabo San Lucas
San Jose del Cabo 14 Excellent - Fuel
Los Frailes 38 OK
Muertos Cove 67 OK, Showers, laundry, etc.
La Paz 150 - 170 Excellent - Fuel


Ensenada 01ENSN 31* 46.050’ N 116* 47.100’ W
Pta Santo Jose Pt. S Jose 30* 26.000’ N 116* 40.000’ W
Pta Colnett 02PTC 30* 57.250’ N 116* 22.000’ W
South of San Quintin 03SANQ 30* 10.020’ N 166* 04.500’ W
Sacramento Reef SAC REEF O 29* 44.000’ N 115* 50.000’ W
Cedros Island Cedros Island 28* 18.000’ N 115* 09.000’ W
South of Pt. Eugenia Pt. Eugenia 27* 44.000’ N 115* 05.000’ W
Turtle Bay Tutle Bay 27* 38.500’ N 114* 54.000’ W
Bahia St. Roque Bahia St. R 27* 07.000’ N 114* 28.000’ W
Pt Abreojos 1 Pt. Abre 2 26* 47.000’ N 113* 48.000’ W
[Pt Abreojos 2 Pt Abre 2 26* 37.000’ N 113* 38.000’ W]
[Pt Abreojos 3 Pt. Abre 3 26* 41.000’ N 113* 32.000’ W]
Cape San Lazaro 1 Cape San 1 24* 48.500’ N 112* 22.000’ W
Bahia St. Maria B St Maris 24* 44.000’ N 112* 16.000’ W
Bahia Magdalena B of Magdelina 24* 29.700’ N 112* 05.000’ W
Cape Falso Cape Falso 22* 49.000’ N 110* 03.000’ W
San Lucas San Lucas 22* 52.500’ N 109* 49.000’ W
Punte Gorda Pt. Gorda 23* 03.000’ N 109* 32.000’ W
Boca de Tule Boca de tu 23* 14.000’ N 109* 22.500’ W
Cabo Los Frailes Cabo Los F. 23* 22.000’ N 109* 24.000’ W
Cape Pulmo Cape Fulmo 23* 28.000 ‘N 109* 22.000’ W
Punta Arena Boca de Tule 23* 35.000’ N 109* 25.000’ W
Punta Arena de la Ventana
Pt. Arena V 24* 05.000’N 109* 46.000’

Monday, September 27, 2010


We arrived in Guadalajara by plane at 6am, Sunday, having flown past a dramatic electrical storm about an hour out of this great city. Exhausted after 24 hours of wakefulness, we were deposited by taxi outside Casa Vilasanta, and knocked and knocked until the great hand-carved doors were opened by a sleepy clerk.

After five hours sleep, we rose to explore. Sundays, the city bars motor vehicles from Juarez, a wide avenue. We walked there via the cathedral Templo Expiatorio, (Temple of Atonement), peeking inside and being riveted by the gloriously lit interior - rows of French stained glass filtering sunlight into the sanctuary.

Juarez was happily occupied by thousands of bicyclists, skaters and pedestrians, comfortably spread out and moving at a Sunday pace. We had breakfast at a cafe then walked along the avenue, marveling at the old Catholic structures and browsing market stalls. George is delighted with the warmth of the Guadalajaran people, who pour into the parks to hula-hoop, picnic, dance and visit. These people know how to live.

That evening, having provisioned, we cooked "hamburger sopas" (which were tasty) then toured our posada's rooftop, which is set up for lounging. We balanced ourselves on a chair (both of us, George's arms around me) and I snapped a photo of the sun setting behind the cathedral. Caution: there is romance in the air here.

We took an evening walk to the cathedral to hear the bells, and arrived as evening mass was letting out. Hundreds and hundreds of people were inside the cathedral and hundreds more were on the plaza outside, mingling, vending, and even ballroom dancing - about a dozen couples, some of them dressed to the nines. We sat by the fountain, and laughed when we noticed the neon crosses installed atop the cathedral, an edifice built in 1897. Then we walked back home in search of sleep.

Sadly, sleep had decided to take the night off and spend time among the cars and dogs near our posada. Ah well, as George say, "It's a good thing we're young!"

Celeste began school today. She's in a class of eleven (several of whom are here at Casa Vilasanta), hailing from The Netherlands, Germany, St. Lucia and The States. The school lives up to our expectations: well-organized, student-centered, demanding and intensive. She observed two live classes in the late afternoon and begins teaching Thursday.

Buenos Noches!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We arrived in Ensenada at 4:30p.m. the 20th, having left San Diego's town dock power under at 6:15a.m., same day. The seas were rolling and the sky overcast. We took two hour watches, the first watch being most notable for beam seas and for the fleet of large, private fishing vessels that raced past as we left the town dock, sending us rolling like Weebles. Wolfgang suffered confusion and nausea, and I empathized with the latter.

We entered Mexican waters around 8:00a.m. All was quiet. Off Rosarita were tugs on a mooring, and two container ships, one being from Panama.

By the second watch the cats had settled in, and by the fourth they were napping. I was wakened during the third when the wind picked up and George decided to set the sails. Unfortunately, the main winch gave out (probably needs new pauls). We headed back on course under power, glad to be basking in sunshine and traversing blue waters.

We always monitor VHF-16 while underway, but yesterday was the first MayDay we've encountered. Three men in a small vessel radioed in distress: their vessel was taking on water through a hole in the stern and they were unable to keep ahead of it by bailing or bilge. They estimated they had 20 minutes before sinking. The U.S. Coast Guard out of San Diego picked up the call and kept them active on 16, gathering information -- ages, descriptions, country of vessel registration -- and instructing (don life jackets; take your flares if you have to get in the water). A harbor patrol boat dispatched from the port nearest the distressed vessel's location. We headed in their direction as well, and arrived just as the Coast Guard helicopter left. The men had been taken aboard the harbor patrol vessel, the waterlogged boat abandoned.

We continued on our way. With the sunshine, the trip went fast. Soon we saw the massive flag that marks Nava Bajal and the entrance to Cruiseport Marina. To our surprise, the Washington State Ferry Nisqually was at the entrance to our new homeport! It had been brought here in hopes the large seal/sea lion populations would opt to lounge on it. That didn't take, so it is being disassembled. Nevertheless, it was a nice reminder of our original home.

Our welcome has been warm. We were greeted by cruisers from Federal Way and Arizona, and by the time we had rowed back and forth from the showers we also had met people from Seattle, and Whidbey Island.

It's going to be a good trip.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Becoming Professional Vagabonds

We haven't posted because we haven't had much in the way of maritime news, but now we have something to say! We will be taking Nereid to Ensenada next month, where she will reside while George and I go to Guadalajara for a month of teacher training. Groucho Marx said, "The difference between a bum and a vagabond is that a vagabond will work when he has to." Call us vagabonds, friends. By the end of October we will both be certified to teach English in language schools, and by January we should be working somewhere on the Mexican Riviera. More details will be posted here as they reveal themselves in ways worthy of note.

In other news that didn't make the maritime blog, George had rotator cuff surgery (left shoulder) on July 20. We were blessed (best word I can find) to find two good health care providers: a surgeon AND a physical therapist, both of whom we trust and like. George is, as the doctor said, a very young sixty-eight, and recovering his range of motion at a pace that the physical therapist finds impressive. Meanwhile, he's been studying Spanish 4-6 hours per day and continuing the research for his upcoming book on Mozart.

Life is good.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The California Goldfinch Rush

En route from Oceanside to Catalina we were joined by a small fleet of the American Goldfinch. They rested and hopped around and ate our food, tried to help us with navigation (see photos) and the main sheet, argued with each other over whether we were properly set for wind direction, and generally entertained us. There was a barrel-chested guy we call The Admiral. In one of the photos you see him berating a colleague (no doubt over something nautical.)

And yes, that's my head they're roosting upon. Ah, nature! There is never a dull moment.

(George is giving a gentle nudge. He decided to share.)

(This is so em-bare-asking!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dana Point and Chula Vista (Take me out to the ballgame!)

Pam and Phil Boulding gave us Two Years Before the Mast as a wedding gift. We've read it to each other as we've come down the coast and thrilled at seeing the sites Richard Henry Dana so eloquently described. Though much has changed in the past 170 years, something that hasn't changed much is the cliff line at Dana Point. In Two Years, Dana describes the imposing edifice and how they had to kite stiffened cow hides down from them to the beach. Without a full cargo of 55,000 hides, none of the men on his ship would be headed for home.

Today, Dana Point hosts The Ocean Institute. Any of you with an opportunity to sign your child's class up for the curriculum there, please do so! The OI has a replica of the ship Dana was a hand in (The Pilgrim) and another tall ship (The Spirit of Dana Point) which are classrooms during the week. They teach children about seamanship, the life of a sailor ca. 1835, the history of California and trade along the coast, and about marine life and conservation. The teachers dress in period costume and make it a memorable, exciting learning experience.

George and I joined the OI and took a tour of The Pilgrim. Even got to help out with a few lines, though we never left the dock, and take the docent out for happy hour.

We then joined new friends Andrea and Eric for dinner at their home. Andrea and I met at the Woman's Sailing Convention a few months ago. They have a 26' day sailer and get out frequently - taking on all kinds of weather. This despite busy lives. Eric works with an intriguing software solution geared towards maximizing human learning. http://www.aleks.com/. Andrea is an artist. We came home with warm memories and a good reading list.

I suppose I should say something about sailing ... On the trip from Catalina to Dana Point I finally found Nereid's sweet spot. If you set her at 60 degrees, you can let her fly. It's exhilarating to set the sails and let her run! I would have kept on going to San Diego if we hadn't already known Dana Point was our destination. (And besides, the military frowns on your setting a course that comes too near their exercises.)

We also sailed the whole distance from Dana Point to Oceanside. It's not that far, but for us to have two whole days of sailing is (unfortunately) worth remarking. May there be many more!

Alas, our trip from Oceanside to San Diego was under power. Light winds and headwinds forced that decision. A light weather sail is on the top of our wish list.

We made it into Chula Vista (south San Diego) just before the current storm hit. We were grateful to be snugly tied dockside. Today we ventured out to try the public transport system. (Chula Vista is where we're likely going to live from June thru November.) It's a dreary hike to the trolley/public transport station, so there's a moped in our future. But, we made it to the ballpark in time for the first pitch (which was delayed due to rain.) So many people in ponchos - you would have thought The Mariners were in town!

The Padres won, and they deserved the win. When I bought the tickets I swear they were at the bottom of the standings for NL West, but tonight they're at the top. So much for rooting for the underdog! It's always good to take in a ballgame. (What lubbers we are!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

She's Launched!

Around 7pm on Good Friday in the presence of a few salty friends, George christened his handmade wooden dinghy and took her for a row, in the relatively chilly waters of Avalon Harbor.

Four fabulous fellows wheeled the boat from its tiny building grounds towards the waterfront, with an entourage, including chase cart, following at parade pace.

The small party headed for South Beach along the quiet residential street of Clarissa, which seemed to be the perfect route; however, the street ended abruptly, 3 feet above the beach. The dinghy was carefully lowered into the surging swell, George quoted the designer Sam Devlin's traditional launching speech,we all quaffed some Martinelli's and the captain set her afloat.

The milk-white boat with shiny African mahogany trim rows beautifully. She is a little tippy but that may she will handle well in waves. (Next trial.)

What to name her? Our mother ship, Nereid, has a name with dual meaning. First, it's a Greek word for a sea nymph and daughter of Neptune. Second, in our solar system it is the name of a moon orbiting the planet Neptune, and the moon with the most erratic orbit (which suits our sailing style). Following that tradition, we looked up the moons of Neptune on Wikipedia and found: "Galatea (Greek: Γαλάτεια; "she who is milk-white")[1] is a name popularly applied to the statue carved by Pygmalion of Cyprus in Greek mythology. An allusion to Galatea in modern English has become a metaphor for a statue that has come to life." Galatea it is!

Special thanks to: Bob Cranton (whose generous nature provided space), Roger (who received every shipment necessary) and Sam Devlin, who pioneered the stitch-and-glue building methods and designed the boat that George built.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whales, Weather and Women who Wow!

January 30, 2010 Saturday - Departed Catalina Island for Alamitos Bay. The island is green from the storms that passed through. (See the photos in our slideshow.) Life is springing forth again, always ready to grow with encouragement. We had no wind, so motored east towards the mainland. Celeste had the helm and George read aloud from Richard Harvey Dana's book Two Years Before the Mast, which is set in these waters in the early 1800s. About 30 minutes out, Celeste suddenly slowed the motor and took the boat to starboard to avoid a pod of whales.

This was a lollygagging group, about half a dozen in number, also headed towards Alamitos. Every 10 seconds or so they would surface, exhaling in a puff that didn't result in a spout but was audible. They were large - about the size of a school bus - and dappled, grey and white. We'd never seen this sort before, so ran downstairs to pick up a book every Pacific Coast traveler should carry: Whales and Other Marine Mammals of California and Baja by Tamara Eder with illustrations by Ian Sheldon. With its assistance we identified them as Cuvier's Beaked Whale. These whales make deep dives of 20 to 40 minutes to feed on deep-sea fish and squid. (Sure enough, the squid are running.) We sat still about 5 minutes waiting for them to move on. Because of course we know that you are supposed to maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from any whales, for their safety as well as yours. The problem we've had is getting the whales to follow the rules. After they'd disappeared we waited another 5 minutes. Then, with George at the helm, we started off again towards Alamitos. No sooner had we started then they resurfaced, just ahead of our port bow.

For a moment, I was concerned they might have decided Nereid was a part of the pod. But eventually they did move on. About 15 minutes after they disappeared we saw a series of water spouts north of our position - like fountains at Bellagio, one after another spouting - almost certainly the same pod surfacing after a deep dive.

Seeing wildlife is a magical experience for both of us. Believing what we do about the imperiled state of our planet, moments like those are a reminder, a blessing and an encouragement to do what we can to be conservative in our use of resources and learn what we can about how to live in harmony with life on Earth.

Pulling into Alamitos is almost a familiar experience. We tied up on the end of Dock 15 and got set with water lines (Nereid needs a bath) and shore power (use of our hot water tank and refrigeration - no ice - on board would be our luxuries for two nights). Unfortunately, the reverse polarity warning light came on at our panel. This had occurred the last time we'd docked there, and we had called it into maintenance. We were sorry to see the same problem because it meant either going without shore power or requesting a change in slip assignment. We decided on the latter. There was just enough time for George to make the trek to the harbor master's office while Celeste started giving Nereid a washdown. Unfortunately (have I already used that word here?) a misstep knocked the long-handled brush down and sent it skidding over the side, where it floated lazily among the cormorants. What to do? Fortunately, I've learned to think for a moment before jumping in. I donned a wetsuit and waited dockside for George to return. (No cell phone access.) Unfortunately, (sorry, but we may as well state that "unfortunately" is our word of the day) George was delayed in returning. Our brush sank beyond reach. But George did return with a new slip assignment. We shoved off and motored around to Dock 12, where we had been assigned an end tie. There was a lovely 30' motor yacht (Whit's End) on the dock's west end so we headed for the east. Unfortunately, the wind picked up. There was no risk of hitting Whit's End, but we could not reach dockside despite having lassoed the cleats. George pulled away and circled for another attempt. This time the wind held its breath, but we still had a time of it. George stepped off to assist the owner of Whit's End who had come over to lend a hand. It was impossible! What is normally a simple job - gently pulling Nereid towards the dock - was made impossible by the extremely low tide that had just occurred 20 minutes before our arrival at Dock 12. We were aground, tied to the dock but 4 feet from it. George was on the dock and Celeste on the boat. "How do you feel about long distance Scrabble?" he asked. We contemplated ways of getting him aboard, but it was no use. Cruisers just don't carry gangplanks these days. George headed back to the harbor office to get a tide table. Unfortunately, the office only had one for February (and this was January 30) nor did the harbor master have a current table. George headed to the fuel dock. The attendant didn't have a table, but he resourcefully pulled one up on his cell phone. Yep - a minus 1.5'tide had occurred - exceptional for Alamitos. The moon was at perigee - "the point in the orbit of a heavenly body, esp. the moon, or of an artificial satellite at which it is nearest to the earth". Ah well, tides come and go. Within an hour, it had lifted and Nereid was snugged up against the dock. Although we were fatigued, we had dinner and then ventured out for the local bookstore. The journey to a bookstore is never too long.

Lin and Larry Pardey, a penultimate cruising couple, say that if you are going to cruise on a budget you must do three things: 1. anchor, don't dock 2. carry sails for light winds so you don't have to buy fuel 3. leave your wallet on the boat. We're aspiring to these. We've done well with anchoring and finding $5.00 moorings, we are looking for lightweight sails, and we are careful in our provisioning; but, provision we must. Alamitos has become our dock of choice in the Long Beach area because of its proximity to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck.) Organic and gluten free foods are what we value though ("cheaper to keep toxins out than to get them out") and not available in a lot of places, so stocking up is imperative. And, we've recommitted to taking vitamin and mineral supplements as needed. Again, a personal value. So, we pulled out the debit card.

We have been very fortunate in our friendships. This is true in general, and especially in Bob and Chris, who befriended us in Avalon. In them we've found warmth, generosity, humor and a zest for life. Chris' parents live near Alamitos, and she phoned us Sunday morning to offer us use of their Toyota wagon. This made our trip much more affordable, and we gratefully accepted. Chris picked up Celeste, provided her the car and sent her off to spend the day provisioning. She also extended an invitation for us to join her on Tuesday night, for a dinner party in celebration of her mother's 86th birthday. We gladly accepted and made arrangements for another night in Alamitos. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday flew by, with George traveling to Costa Mesa to see the NUCCA (National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Assn.) practitioner whom he'd found in November. Soon it was time for the birthday dinner in Signal Hill, an enclave (city unto itself) completely surrounded by the city of Long Beach. We brought a bouquet and were warmly greeted by Chris, who introduced us to Barbara (the birthday girl), her son Randy and his wife, Dale. Randy and Dale own The Wine Country, a wine store in Long Beach and were supplying the drinks. We toasted Barbara's health and settled into conversation while vegetables fresh-picked from Dale's garden roasted. We were in the home Barbara had owned for 40-some years, the place where both Chris and Randy grew up, and the air seemed to glow with memories. After dinner, Randy serenaded his mother with a piano performance, tinkling the ivories of the upright Barbara had bought when he was just a boy. (He had gone on to become a professional musician for many years.) The constancy of this family home touched me; a site can become sacred when lives are well-lived upon it.

February 3, 2010 Wednesday - By 10:30 a.m. we were underway for Dana Point. This is the location where Richard Harvey Dana spent most of his time hide-droughing and curing hides when the land was still part of Mexico. Hide-droughing involved transporting them to the ships that would carry them to Boston. The hides were folded in half and dried so as to be stiff. At Dana Point (obviously so named long after his days there as a sailor) the cliffs are high and steep, so hide-droughing meant sending these stiffened hides off the clifftop, hoping they would waft to the beach without being caught in a crevice along the way. We have been reading Dana's book out loud to each other, and as soon as we saw the impressive cliffs we were transported to the image of those sailors at work. The harbor is lovely and quiet, with a replica of the Pilgrim - the brig in which Dana traveled from Boston. We had hoped to tour the ships but learned they are used during the week for educational purposes, with only Sundays being open to the public. We anchored about 150' off one of the replicas and set about preparing dinner. The sun was out and we could hear the educational program being conducted. It involved re-enactments of scenes from Two Years Before the Mast, with school children (probably 7-10 years old) being "taught the ropes" and introduced to some of the customs and rigors of sailing during that era. I thought some of the actors might have enjoyed their harsh roles a bit much (berating the crew) but the children all seemed to enjoy the show - offering up hearty cries of "Sir, yes sir!" when prompted. George and I ate dinner in the cockpit. The sun was setting, when we heard voices working in a call-and-response fashion: "Heave" "HO", "Heave" "HO". It was a rowboat full of children who couldn't have been more than 7, commanded by two actors. The captain stood in the stern, mug of coffee in hand, while the mate sat, rather huddled, in the bow. The children might have been rowing with teaspoons for all the traction they were getting. They were so tiny! We had to laugh. George said the captain had obviously learned to take a good size mug on these excursions. They rowed by Nereid and we hullooed, to which they asked where we were bound. "To see the world," we replied. "Do you need any crew?" they asked.

February 4, 2010, Thursday - George woke me at 7:00 a.m. ready to head for Mission Bay. This would be a long journey, but we wanted to make it into San Diego Friday, since I had signed up for a Women's Sailing Convention that would begin Saturday morning. I was a little vague on where the convention was being held, so I pulled up the program and typed the yacht club's name into our navigation system. Oops! Whereas I had thought it was being held in Coronado (near San Diego) it was being held near Corona Del Mar (north of Dana Point.) The good news was that this was only two hours from Dana Point - and there was wind! We motored out of the harbor at Dana Point and prepared to set the sails. George was on the foredeck and Celeste at the helm with the boat pointed dead into the wind and the engine in neutral. Suddenly, a Gray Whale's massive head popped up just off our starboard bow. It reached its long mouth high into the air as it surfaced then sunk beneath the foamy ring it had made. Celeste called out to George, who turned in time to see the whale's large fluke break through the surface. It was headed for us! Gently, I moved Nereid into a slow reverse. There was not much else to do but hold our breath and hope we would pass "like ships in the night." The massive form moved past our bow (photo at the top of this post) and passed us on the port side.

We had wind from the southwest at 13-16 knots and flew towards Newport traveling a little over half the wind speed and tacking twice for our destination. It was a lovely sail! We checked in at the harbor office and proceeded to the moorings, which are bow and stern but not well maintained. We had an awful time getting Nereid settled, but finally did so by assembling the dinghy and rowing our bow into place. We both were glad to be settled and George insisted on taking us out to dinner. We rowed the short distance onto Balboa Island and found a gem of a Mexican restaurant on the main street of this tiny community. We rowed back and settled in for what would be a full day of stormy weather.

Friday was wet and windy - very. I couldn't imagine what the coordinators of the Women's Sailing Convention were dealing with in preparation for Saturday. They had bad weather to contend with and 200 women ready to go out on the following day. All I had to do was dress for the weather and travel light - a few things in a plastic ziploc bag. So I spent Friday working (internet access at last!) at the local Starbucks, a regular haven for digital nomads. Saturday morning arrived without much change: heavy rains and winds. George and I bundled into our foul-weather gear, pumped out the dinghy, and rowed to the dock. Even the birds didn't bother to waste energy fleeing from us - the weather was just too much. We tied up and then trekked a good distance to the public showers. By the time we emerged, the rain had stopped and the clouds were beginning to break. It might be a good day for a sailing convention after all.

This was the 21st annual Women's Sailing Convention, organized by Gail Hine. It was being hosted at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, a lovely and friendly club, and sponsored by the Southern California Yachting Association. Here was an amazing collection of women: captains, crew and sailors. Capable women who have accomplished remarkable things and lived life with gusto. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, having signed up for 4 practical courses: Head Maintenance, Winch Maintenance, Sail Trim and Going Up the Mast. In every course I learned things valuable for George and me. And I made some new friends. Remarkably, two of my three instructors were from the Seattle area! Captain Nancy Erle, who has circumnavigated twice with all-women crew, and Captain Linda Newland, who has a long and highly respected list of accomplishments that include sailing solo from California to Japan. Both were excellent instructors, truly inspirations. For the first time, I am thinking seriously about pursuing a Captain's license.

It's now Sunday. A sunny, clear day. We've decided to stay two more nights. Then we'll head for San Diego. We still want to get in a tour at Dana Point, and we have to be back at Catalina Island before the 23rd. For now, we're setting out on a walking tour of Balboa and Lido.

Fairwinds, all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

El cielo es azul! (The Sky is Blue!)

Our solar panels are back in place and not a drop of rain fell upon Nereid today! Now that the deluge is over, we may be able to get in another hike. For a look at what Catalina looks like on a summer day, turn up your computer speakers and check out this 3-minute flight video.

Today George focused on the dinghy. He's doing finish work now, and in a day or two we'll begin to paint her. This Friday, the Catalina Islander published this article about the dinghy and its builders. (Why does this remind me that my sisters always wanted us to name our tender The Dinghy Sisters?)

Being interviewed was fun, conducted on a sunny day over cold drinks at The SandTrap, a restaurant and bar across from the golf course. The reporter, Jim Watson, is a historian and film maker whose most recent film is Wings Across the Channel (1912-1945). At our prompting, he shared some of the local stories with us. We already knew that the island was once owned by the Chicago-based Wrigley family (think "Wrigley Field" and chewing gum" - how's that for a good match?) and that what is now the golf course was a training spot for the Chicago Cubs ca. 1930. Nowadays its simply a golf course with one very odd feature: the public roadway runs between the first tee--which is high on a hill--and the green--which is at street level, so golfers are required to send the ball over the roadway. Ever since I learned that I can't walk that road without the desire to wear a helmet. But Jim told us a story about the golf course that we'd never heard before, and it's an intriguing one. It comes from an interview he conducted with Lola, whose been operating his barber shop here for 40-some years. As a boy, Lola was caddying at the golf course when two Japanese businessmen arrived, dressed in suits, to play a round of golf. Lola said the gentlemen weren't interested in golfing, but they were very interested in the scenery, taking several pictures of the ridge lines and local scenery before winding up the game. That was shortly before Dec. 7, 1941. Lola always has wondered whether he caddied for spies.
It is within the realm of possibility (and of course that's where the best stories take place). During WWII Catalina was the site of the first U.S. radar installation, and the training center for elite squads.

The evening after our interview, I (Celeste) phoned my Aunt Verniece and learned that her husband, Ashley, was trained and stationed here with the Merchant Marine ca. 1945-46. His unit was housed at the Hotel St. Catherine and The Atwater (which still stands.) It may take us awhile to get around it, but it really is a small world!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weebles Wobble

George and I are waving to and fro, but we're not falling down! We're snugged down in Nereid today. The barometer is at 998 (very low pressure). That creates a vacuum for high pressure winds to drop into the void. The interesting thing on the barometer screen is how rapidly the drop to 999 occurred. I'll upload a photo: if you follow the dotted lines reading left to right you'll see the drop at the far right of the screen.

Our neighbor's flag is not doing well, but it's hanging in there. They've dropped from 5 stripes to 3 in the last 24 hours. They'd be taking their lives into their hands to try changing it now!
In contrast, our little flag is waving off the stern of Nereid, where it's more protected. I think it's a good omen that in the photo of our flag you can see the name of the boat behind us: Tenacious.
Ironically, the small craft warnings flag in the harbor has shredded as well. Maybe it's time to upgrade that to a gale force flag. (Yesterday I panicked when I overheard someone say they had hoisted a hurricane flag. Fortunately, it was only hoisted briefly - if at all.) There was tornado activity, which did some damage on the mainland. There were a couple of trees knocked down on the building where I pick up our mail, and a cashier was complaining about people hording milk. (Mea culpa.) Apparently, she doesn't understand how addicted we sun babies get to milk and honey!

So that's the news. It really is interesting to talk about the weather when you live so close to it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stormy Weather

This is the first time I've been in a town in which everyone battens down the hatches when a storm is approaching. It's kind of fun, in the sense that it is novel: everyone spent Sunday provisioning. The grocery store was as popular as a beach on spring break. Some people were stocking up on beer and ice, others on milk ... it's a very individual thing, deciding what you'll be imbibing for the next 7 to 10 days. You see, if the wind is up no deliveries will make it to the island.

On Sunday George and I stocked up on milk and ice and enough food to last for a week. Plus we did laundry ... twice, since the first batch got wet from water that came over the top of the dinghy. And because it's a law of the feline universe that if the humans wash all the cushion covers that don't have cat stains on them, there will be stains on the remaining cushions when the humans return from the laundromat. We worked from dawn till way after dark battening down, stocking up and making everything ship-shape. And we had fun doing it. Our last load of laundry was in the dryer while we sat under the eaves of a nearby hotel, dressed in foul-weather gear and played Scrabble. Then we walked back to the dinghy dock, taking note of the sandbags stacked against shop doors.

We've made it pretty cozy. Here's a photo of our cockpit, complete with the bouquet that George thoughtfully brought home after I dropped enough hints to dent the floorboards* (*This is a Christmas story, to follow in another post). Those are solar panels stacked to the left, since they only act as sails when the winds blow hard. The golden tubes behind them are our oars. We rocked a bit last night and got plenty of rain but stayed dry and comfortable. Today we had gale force winds, but Nereid held her own at the mooring. In the afternoon it was calm enough for George to row to shore and return with a dinner guest - our friend Bob, who's letting us use his deck to build the new dinghy. After a simple dinner, laced with laughter, we sent Bob home with a gallon of milk. Turns out we were hoarding: the grocery store has no milk left.

The dinghy is on hold for weather but nearly complete! I'll post some new photos in the slideshow, above. Meanwhile, it's time to catch some zzzzz's. Fairwinds, all!