Stop and Smell the Cactus

Ok, ok, I know it has been a very long time since the last post and I would really like to think it was because we were so busy but the Mexican inertia finally took hold.  Let's face it, we were just too damn lazy, pure and simple.
We arrived back in Mazatlan after a busy summer doing major renovations to various properties and immediately set about getting the boat back in order.  We spent about 2 weeks (thankfully not on the boat since it was on the hard) replacing the prop, fitting a new seacock for the watermaker, new waterline (raised it again), rebuilt the steering pedestal, new fittings for the solar panels and a load of other things.  The list just never seems to end.  We carried all this new equipment with us and  wondered if we would get through customs with the big duffle bag full of boat parts, but  no one even batted an eye.  We even had time for the timeshare scene.
After the whirlwind mini refit and securing the boat in the El Cid marina,  it was a quick trip back home for Christmas to (need I say) frozen, snowy Alberta.  We stayed away last year and the kids were not impressed, Christmas is still pretty important, especially now with young grandchildren.
After a couple of weeks in the snow Mazatlan looked pretty darn good.  Before we left for Christmas Rueben, the local upholsterer, came by and took our boat cushions for recovering.  Jackie wanted leather again and we were shown some pretty nice samples.  They were promised for January 10, I must admit that I sure that it would be sometime in March before we saw them again.  On return we phoned Rueben and he came through with flying colours, not only did they look great but were done on time and for a price that was at least 75% less than up north.  A big thank you to Rueben.
While we were home we Skyped our friends in England, who informed us that they were coming to Mexico.  In Mexico I spoke almost daily to Ian (when we had internet) about boaty things and had been on his case to come for a visit.  We had only 2 days after our return to get ourselves back together before our friends, Diana and Ian, were due to arrive.  It was a mad scramble to try and get organized, but Jackie is a real trooper and pulled it off with time to spare. 
It was such a treat to have them aboard, both are hard core sailors, and we are neophytes by comparison.  Jackie and I got to play tourist guide and really enjoyed showing them the sights of Mazatlan.  Of course this included Diego's and The Brentster, the El Faro Lighthouse and Stone Island, Machado Square and a side trip to Copola but the highlight was the Palapa del Mar and the copious amount of margarita's consumed.  Needless to say we took a cab back to the boat as no one was fit to walk.  There is some truth in the "T" shirt saying, "One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!"
Our first sail took us to Isla Isabel which is an overnighter.  During the night the wind piped up a bit and Leif, true to course, did not have the reefing lines run so it was a bit exciting hanging off the end of the boom in the dark trying to get things in order.  Lesson learned!
Isabel is known as the Galapagos of Mexico and Diana and Ian were amazed at the bird life.  They were particularly impressed with the blue footed boobies.  They have a very similar bird (sans the blue feet) in England, the Gannet.  The frigate birds were out in force and there were many downy babies in the nests.
Baby Frigate

Mr and Mrs Frigate

Wanna dance?

Diana trekking on Isabel
The following day was an easy sail over to Matanchen Bay and we dropped the hook and enjoyed a very nice sundowner in the cockpit as we marvelled at the orange sunset.  The following day we went around to San Blas marina and were well received.  I want to add here that the much maligned jejenes were not out in force and I would dearly like to say that the only bite I received was from Jackie in a passionate mood but alas that is not so!  She says "Dream on Sunshine!"
It was the obligatory trip up the river on the Jungle tour and Diana even had a swim in the freshwater pool next to the crocodiles.  There is not a hope in hell that I would do that, fence or no fence.  We bought some of the great banana bread from the vendors and after a cerveza from Ismael on the beach it was back to the boat.
The following day we managed to take in the fort and see the church that inspired Longfellow's the Bells of San Blas.  Did you know he never actually went to San Blas?  After the fort we splurged for a lobster/shrimp dinner out and had a very good meal at a roadside restaurant that we had spotted previously.

The Bells of San Blas

Diana and Ian
Remains of the church

Roadside diner

The Cook

San Blas fort
Up early the next morning and on the water to Chacala.  This day trip was one of the best we have had for wild life, and I don't mean because of the tequila.  There were plenty of BOTS (birds on turtles), dolphins and many whales breaching.  We didn't let on to our visitors that it was the best we had seen, we chose to let them think it was an everyday experience.
At Chacala, the archetypical tropical anchorage, you anchor off the beach in some swell and it is advisable to set a stern anchor.  So it was out with the chain and the 33# Bruce and into the dink, good thing I am such a he-man (not), otherwise it would have been a struggle.
We were fortunate to get a good dose of Banda music under one of the many palapas but somehow I think that Ian was not impressed.  Oh well, the beer was cold, the lunch great, the sun shone and all was well.  Diana got to swim again, she loves the water, and swam almost every day until the jellyfish changed her mind.
Capn Ian

San Blas jungle tour

After Chacala it was off to La Cruz and back to civilization.  There was a pretty good swell running and the breakers off Punta de Mita were just short of spectacular, I wouldn't like to get it wrong going around there.  We did consider anchoring off Mita but looking at the other boats rolling decided that it was preferable to be comfortable at La Cruz.  We really are wimps.
La Cruz is a great place with a first class marina.  The town itself at first appears a bit dowdy but appearances are deceptive.  There is a very active music scene and the gastronomie is terrific, from Tacos on the Street to the decidedly upmarket Masala.  We hauled our poor unsuspecting visitors off to Phylos for an evening of food and music, made an abortive attempt to find the "109" restaurant (left you idiot not right) and another evening enjoyed a great pizza at Falcones.  No trip to Puerto Vallarta would be complete without a visit to Pipi's and we duly hauled Diana and Ian off to sample the fare.  Needless to say we were all a bit more conservative on the intake of tequila, having learned our lessons the hard way!  We lost our companions on 1 Feb. when they had to fly home to the UK, confident they had a good time, even if some of it may be lost in an alcoholic blur!
Hard on the heels of Diana and Ian's departure came Carol, Jackie's sister.
Carol had been on the boat previously up north, but this was a first when she could get rid of the fleece and lounge in the cockpit with a muy frio cerveza!  Since Carol has very limited sailing experience we confined our excursions to a trip to Chacala, anchoring for a couple of nights.  We did the shore side palapas and now consider ourselves minor authorities on them, which has the cheapest beer, who has the best tacos or the best ceviche.  We went ashore to the fisherman's shack and bought a very nice Spanish mackerel for 50 pesos, this fish did us for 2 meals and was delicious.
Back at La Cruz we were treated to Mexican Train lessons by Ted and Pam on Roundabout.  We had often seen people playing but never had the courage to actually try it.  I can attest that there is indeed a strategy but a good dose of luck goes a long way in winning.
While Jackie and Carol were off playing tourist Leif got his teeth cleaned ($30) and whitened ($150).  It seems that if the materials have to be imported the price differential is not that great even if the labour is much less. 
The Banderas Bay Regatta is a big deal for the local sailing fleets and many international sailors also turn up.  Leif was lucky to secure a position as gorilla on 40 Love, my thanks to Joel for his patience and understanding.  We were a man down the second day so Dick from Full and By was pressed into service and acquitted himself admirably.  Cruising is one thing but racing is quite another.  In spite of one rather feeble crew member (Leif) we managed to place second in our class and came in 1-2-2 in the heats.
Mexico is so much more than beaches and bars, there is a whole different world just over the mountain range, so we set off to Guanajuato with Bob and Karyn from Realtime.  The bus service is very good with large luxury coaches running to all the major cities.  We piled onto the Primera Plus coach and hit the road. 
Guanajuato is a medium sized city, famous in the past for it's silver mines but more recently for it's university.  Consequently the city is full of students, very lively, with many fine coffee houses and restaurants.  The architecture is much more reminiscent of Spain than the usual white washed stucco of Mexico, in fact other than the flags you would be forgiven for thinking you were dropped somewhere on the Spanish mainland.
We stayed in, what we suspect, was an old nunnery which dated from the late 1600's.  It had been refurbished and was spotlessly clean.  The location was perfect being just steps from the main square which is fronted by the very beautiful Angela Peralta Theatre (every major city has an Angela Peralta Theatre).
We did a city tour, Karyn had found the guide via the internet, and he did a great job of shepherding us around the city.  We got to go down one of the mine shafts, there was a mini museum set up showing some of the conditions that the local Indians laboured in under the Spanish.  Pretty abysmal conditions and the Indians were expendable.
Most evenings just adjacent to the square groups form for a small tour of the back streets.  These are conducted by troubadours dressed in period costumes and there could be as many as a dozen singers and musicians in the group.  Once assembled we were led through the streets with song and music, stopping occasionally to be mentored on an important site or callejones.   It is such a pity that we could not understand what was being said, true we had the Lonely Planet  so were not completely in the dark, but missed so much.  The troubadours sang quite a few songs and those following seemed to know all the words and made us feel even more that we were missing something due to our lack of Spanish.  Somehow "dos cervezas por favor" and "donde est el bano" just does not cut it!
Bob and Karyn had to go back to get Realtime prepared for their Pacific crossing so Jackie and Leif pressed on to San Miguel de Allende, the site of the Mexican uprising in 1809 against the Spanish.
Anyone got a tooth brush?

The Great Mismaloya bones tournament

The eventual victors!

Tequila factory

San Sebastian

San Sebastian miner

Guanajuato hotel room

Hotel courtyard


Great for corn lovers


Mexican scouts

All this for me?
San Miguel de Allende

Jackie with troubadour

She brings out the beast in me!

Tugs at your heartstrings

San Miguel

San Miguel movers

Even more churches
We returned to La Cruz and made our way back to Mazatlan in company with Dick and Ann on Full and By.  The trip was uneventful and we had an easy entrance into the marina at El Cid.  We spent the remainder of our time doing a few boat jobs and getting ready to put her to bed for the summer (still sounds funny not saying winter).  We volunteered to drive a van back from Puerto Vallarta to Seattle for Jeff and Melody on Double Diamond.  They didn't tell us that it was a maxi van and it seemed like I was driving a Greyhound!  Our trip back was another adventure with only had a couple of check stops at various Mexican army posts.
The crossing at Nogales was also a non event, all that fretting was for nothing thank goodness.  We drove up Hwy 1 as far as Astoria and then hit the super slab.  We did make a side trip into Salem where Jackie bought a new SUV so we could have something to drive home in.
All in all it was a great season, even if we did not sail very much.  The inland trip whetted our appetite for more Mexican travels and we are already preparing a list for next year.

Still Trying to thaw out (not chill out)!

Keeping watch, Mexican style
We shoved off from La Cruz early in the morning wanting to get around Punta Mita before the afternoon breeze kicks up, well it was a big non event, there was absolutely no wind.  We motored, and motored and motored, boooring, thank goodness for autopilots.  We couldn't even catch a fish to liven up the trip.  We did manage to spend one night at anchor at Chacala, talk about dead, no one on the beach, no banda, no action what so ever.  There was only one other boat anchored, a big difference from the last time we were there when it was actually crowded and the beach was hopping. 
There was no stopping at San Blas this time either, instead electing to make a beeline for Mazatlan.  The overnight was pretty uneventful, at least there wasn't a million shrimpers to dodge!  We raised Mazatlan pretty early in the morning and were amazed at the swell that was running.  Our track took us inside the islands and it was now you see the shore and now you don't, pretty scarey considering the water isn't all that deep, and the waves breaking on the shore making a heck of a noise and filling the air with spray.

Sunset at sea

Mazatlan from the sea
We lingered outside the entrance of the harbour watching the waves breaking right across, wondering how can we possibly go in safely.  After a bit there appeared to be a lull and we jammed the trottle full bore and went for it.  Jackie took a look back behind us and the "Oh, oh" didn't sound good.  The next thing the stern was lifted in the air and we were off, Garth from Irish Diplomacy said we easily doubled our speed, he had a ringside seat as he was walking his dog at the entrance when we came in.  Luckily for us we went straight and did not get pushed sideways, that would have been a disaster as the mouth is very tight and made even smaller with the sand dredge moored off to the side.  The waves quickly subside once you get past the entrance and we breathed a sigh of relief as we tied up at the El Cid fuel dock.  Another place that was familiar and gave us that "coming home" feeling.  Even Gladis, the lady at the front desk, remembered us from our last stay.
Erlin and Jenn
As we wanted to get over to the "Sea" before the season closed the stay in Mazatlan was fairly brief.  However, we couldn't miss a great feed of ribs at the Fat Fish, at about $12 for the two of us for a full rack each, there can be no complaints AND they are tastey, of course washed down with a cold Pacifico!
Now ain't life a beach
A Shack Burger!

Our crossing over to La Paz was pretty much a non event, we set off with a little wind, on the nose - where else, but it soon died and the Volvo was called into action yet again.  We motored the whole way, making the marina at Costa Baja early on the third day. 
Costa Baja infinity pool
Our friends, the MacLean's, were due to arrive and we busied ourselves getting the boat ready for company.  It seems incredible the amount of gear on the boat, a lot of it seems superfulous, but you never know just when you will need it, and some of it like the storm drogue you hope you never need!
Jack and Janice arrived on schedule and we had a nice evening at the Tailhunter, named for fishing, catching up on old times.  Last year we had convinced them to do the San Francisco to San Diego trip by promising lovely warm temperatures and winds astern.  Of course nothing could have been farther from the truth, it was cold, foggy and no, nada, zilch wind, so we felt we owed them a good vacation.

After a last minute glitch with the fuel filter, anyone ever mentions "don't over tighten plastic" listen to them.  This is definitely a case where if a" little is good then more must be better" is just plain wrong. 

About the only greenery around

Artistic talent wasted
Typical Baja skyline

Our first stop was Isla San Francisco, a beautiful bay with colours we last saw in the Bahamas.  There were quite a few boats anchored in the bay but it is large and there was room for everyone.  A walk ashore to do some exploring and stretch the legs was well received.  The island is covered with low scrub and cactus, the main inhabitants seem to be lizards and pack rats, plus the odd rattler.  We picked out way back to the dinghy rather carefully after learning about the snakes!
Dried fish

Pesky tuna
Dessicated parrotfish

The following morning the bow was pointed North again and after passing by a couple of interesting anchorages, but with lots of day left, decided to press on, making port at San Marte.  This is just a crook in the coast where you can hide from northerly winds, there are a couple of reefs to the east to be respected both coming and going.
Sitting in the cockpit we noticed an couple of black objects amongst the scrub and cactus, these turned out to be pretty skinny cows, goodness knows what they eat OR drink as the land is very arid.  Jackie, Janice and Leif go exploring ashore, crossing over to view the sea to the north.  The little bay is surrounded by high hills which are very much eroded and colourfull, especially at sunset.  The following day we set sail for Agua Verde only to be met with 20 knot headwinds and fairly bouncy seas.  Jackie, the admiral, ordered an about face back to San Marte and safety in the bay.  We spent the day reading and had some great margaritas at sundown.
Welcoming committee
Agua Verde
Agua Verde was next on the list and since it was only a short hop the trip was very relaxing and without the wind of the previous day no stress.  I can take that!.  This is one of the must see places on the Baja coast and well worth a visit.  There are a number of bays offering protection from almost every direction, so we chose a spot and dropped the hook.  It never ceases to amaze me how fast the Rocna anchor sets, a bit of a difference from the old Bruce.
We spent the remainder of the day exploring, going into the village, 250 inhabitants, and stocking up on cervezas at the one and only tienda.  This was pretty interesting as the beer is kept in an old rusty freezer, not functioning, but kept cold with ice from the ice plant.  The owners shooed the chickens from  under a big Pacifico umbrella, rustled up some chairs and presto Maria's Cantina.  We invited the husband to join us for a cold one in our best Spanglish and a good time was had by all.
El Bano
Mexican garden
The next day was also just a short trip to Puerto Escondido, passing by a huge hotel complex, we wondered just who would come way out here for holidays.  Turns out that this is a hotel/time share complex who very cruiser friendly - wifi in the anchorage and pretty reasonable food/drinks for such a nice complex.  We even got free Spanish lessons, although it turned more into Spanglish in the end.
The pool at Candaleros
Escondido, the town that never was
Puerto Escondido was a big surprise, what happened to the town that was to be built?  The lights are on but nobody's home, the town simply didn't happen.  There were some pretty grand plans but for one reason or another no one cape to the party.  Singlar, part of the Mexican government, put in a modern office, nice bathrooms, a pool and a boat repair yard, complete with travel lift some years ago in hopes that if you built it they will come.  The facilities get pretty good use by the cruising community and there is a pretty active yacht club which also raises money for the unfortunate in the community.
Unfinished Escondido
The port is totlly landlocked, offering perfect protection from all but the most severe storms, so we felt quite comfortable leaving our boat for the day and going into Loreto.  After conferring with the local cab service and finding that they wanted 450 pesos one way to town and 650 return, we decided to try our tumbs.  Now this is something I hadn't done in years, but as it turned out the old thumb still works!  Our first ride got us to the highway and after hanging around in the sun for awhile a pickup stopped and offered us a ride into town.  Jackie and Janice in the cab with Jack and Leif in the bed.  Now that is something you cannot do back home anymore..
What a great little town, there is a delightful malecon lined with palm trees, a nice walking street with trees trained to grow over which are trimmed and a nice square with a number of decent restaurants.  There also is an interesting posada on the square, done in the typical Spanish colonial style.  As our guests are due to leave from Los Cabos and public transport being a bit hit and miss on the Baja, they opted to rent a car.  In the end there wasn't a big cost difference, plus they could make the trip faster and do some sightseeing on the way.  We also used this opportunity to get a few groceries for the rest of our trip.
Intrepid hikers
The following morning the MacLean's left for the bright lights of Cabo San Lucas and the boat felt quite empty.  But things change quickly when you are cruising and just as we were wonding what to do next, in comes Full and By, last seen at Mazatlan and then Double Diamond, our last contact with them was a great dinner of sierra mackeral in Barra de Navidad.  We still haven't had any luck fishing but Jeff is a dab hand and they are always catching fish.
Steinbeck Canyon

Jeff and Melody, along with us, decide that a trip up Steinbeck's canyon would be good exercise.  Apparently Steinbeck spent some time in the Baja and wrote about his journeys mentioning the canyon.  It turned out to be a bit of a scramble, lots of big rocks and some scree.  We were warned about watching where you put your hand when you are climbing, more rattlers!  We went as far as our legs could take us and came up against a boulder which we just didn't have the oomph to climb over.  After a nice snack and drink we began retracing our steps back to the boat.
Our next stop was Coronados, meeting up with Full and By, and sharing some nice water time in their blow up chairs.  This is the first time we had felt like swimming as the water was warm and clear.  In fact we could see the anchor in 30,' nicely dug in amongst the sand, missing the weed on the bottom.
Our next stop was Honeymoon Bay, a really nice anchorage with a little nook that would make a perfect Kodak moment.  More exploring ashore and a good hike to build up the appetite.
Our farthest north stop was San Jacinco which afforded some nice walks ashore.  There are lots of shells washed up on the beach and Jackie had a good time picking, getting a number to add to her collection.
Boobies in the rigging
After this we retraced our steps and made our way back to Mazatlan.  The only exciting time we had was about 60 miles out from mazatlan we ran into a number of small storm cells, the wind would literally go right around, 360 degrees in a short time.  Later in the night the lightening started and since we are the tallest thing for miles there is a pretty high probability of being struck.  In order to give some sort of grounding we hung a length of chain off the rigging into the water and crossed our fingers.  As a precaution the handheld radios, the GPS and other small electrical items were put into the oven.  We also donned our lifejackets, took the lifraft out of the locker, tied it to the boat plus had the whale bag out where it was readily accessible.  We were that concerned.  Thankfully the storm went around us and all our precatuions weren't needed.
Flaking the sails
Organized confusion
Stripping off 25 years of paint

It was a lot easier going into Mazatlan this time, although just behind us a 3 foot breaking wave gave us a little scare but we beat it into the marina.
Since this was to be the end of the season, seems funny putting a boat away for the summer, there were a lot of jobs to get done.  It was a mad scramble for a few days before we came out of the water to have the bottom sripped and the boat snugged down.
We left on 14 May feeling a little sad but looking forward to going home and meeting with family and friends.