Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 7

We're now 900 nautical miles from the mainland, but still less than 1/3 of the way to the Marquesas. We had a wonderful sail today, as we finally reached the NE tradewinds. Despite light winds during the night, we had a run of nearly 150 nautical miles over the last 24 hours. Dennis and Josh put up the spinnaker right after breakfast, and we flew it all day long, reaching speeds of over 9 knots at times.
It is still surprisingly cool, even at mid-day. Once we reach the tropical heat, we will probably look back nostalgically at this respite. The solid overcast we've been experiencing for the last few days gave way to a brilliant sunset. Vicki and I were hoping to see a Green Flash, especially as Dennis, Carol, and Josh have never seen one and are skeptical of its existence. But no luck this time.
Our position this evening is 15 deg 23 min N, 119 deg 00 min W

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Days 4-5

Well, we weren't able to stop at Socorro Island. We arrived in the middle of the night, and it was too dark to approach for anchoring, and Dennis did not want to heave to. We were a bit disappointed to miss a peek at this world class dive destination. But there is a big advantage to not stopping, and that is to take advantage of the nice winds we are experiencing.
These coastal winds are forecasted to die by Thursday, and we won't arrive at the NE tradewinds before then. Interesting -- we are nearly 700 nautical miles from land, and yet we still have to go another 150 miles or so to reach the tradewinds!
Another interesting thing about the weather is how inconsistently the winds blow, especially at night. During last night's watch, I saw anywhere from 7 to 18 knots of wind, with such variations occurring as little as 5 minutes apart. This makes it a challenge to use our windvane, as it needs to be reset with large changes in wind strength (or even small changes in direction). Fortunately, Evergreen is equipped with a hydraulic rudder, which makes it easy to use as a trim tab, to compensate for shifts in wind strength.
Although we have not seen any other shipping for the past 3 days, it doesn't feel very lonely out here, as we are checking in with three different HF radio nets. There are more than a dozen boats on their way from Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos to the Marquesas that are checking into the Puddle Jump net each evening. We were surprised to find that one of them, Pericles, is only about 20 miles behind us (he had been anchored at Socorro and left a few hours after we passed it by). He is close enough that we can communicate by VHF radio (channel 16). The other boats are all at least 200 miles away.
Sea life is pretty sparse so far -- we have had no hits on our fishing gear since the blue marlin strike a few days ago. Yesterday, a pair of spinner dolphins executed a synchronized leap off our port bow, which almost made me wonder if they had escaped from Sea World!
Bird life has been mostly boobies, with the odd tropicbird, shearwater, or petrel thrown in. It's not completely accurate to say that we have caught no fish, because every morning we find one or two tiny flying fish that have landed on the deck during the night.
We're all pretty much adjusted to the constant motion, although sleep is sometimes interrupted by a particularly hard roll to port (we're on a starboard tack). We have been sailing with a reef in the main the entire time, in combination with the 140% genoa, the staysail, or both. This morning, the wind shifted slightly from N toward NE, so we have poled out the genoa wing and wing.

The sea is a beautiful cobalt blue, and if you look over the side, the rays of the sun shimmer down into the depths. It is a delight to be here!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 3

We've had a great passage so far. Often this is the slowest part of the voyage, just getting from the West Coast of Mexico to the NE tradewinds. But we've had steady winds in the 10-15 knot range, allowing us to average over 5 knots in boat speed. We've seen a number of ships. There has not been much sea life, but we saw a group of spinner dolphins somersaulting in the air yesterday, and today a beautiful billfish with the most amazing, irridiscent blue pectoral fins and tail made a few passes at one of the fishing lures we have been trolling. Carol has been keeping the crew well fed, and with four adults the watch schedule is pretty relaxing.
Early tomorrow morning we will close with Socorro Island, and if conditions permit, we may go for a snorkel before carrying on with our passage.
Our position this evening is 18 deg 54 min N, 110 deg 19 min W. We have N winds 18kts, and a NW swell of about 6 feet. We're steering a course of 250 true, and making over 6 knots under reefed main and staysail.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adios Mexico!

We pulled away from the dock yesterday morning, and motored across the Bay to Nuevo Vallarta, where we presented our passports and ship's papers to the port captain and an immigration officer, and enjoyed our last Mexican food for awhile. After clearing out, we tacked out of Banderas Bay in winds varying from zero to 20 knots. Evergreen can really get up and move once the apparent wind hits 20 knots. We saw up to 7 knots on the knotmeter, sailing close-hauled under staysail and reefed main. This is probably the only time we'll be heeled over for the entire passage to the Marquesas. Unfortunately, all the extra provisions didn't fit inside lockers, and some had been stowed in less secure positions. A container of rum broke loose and dumped most of its contents into the bilge. You're supposed to contribute some booze to King Neptune as you cross the equator - hopefully we'll get credit for this early contribution!
Just before dark, we pulled into the anchorage at Punta Mita, and put the hook down for the night. We want to have plenty of daylight when we head out to the open ocean for the first time.
In a couple of hours, we'll be heading out into the big blue Pacific! Next stop Hiva Oa.
I will attempt to post to the blog while underway, but for anyone wanting to follow our progress visually, you can go to: and look for KI6HAI (the skipper's ham call sign).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Still waiting

Evergreen is not ready to leave the dock yet, so we're still here in La Cruz. Yesterday we rode the bus to Sayulita with Scott and Monica from Scott Free. We first met them in Bellingham three years ago. We had a nice day, and took a long walk to a nearly deserted beach south of town. The surface of the sea looked deceptively calm, but the periodic sets breaking against the rocks were dramatic!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Night of the Iguana

There is a large tree near the walkway from the marina into town, and every evening we look up to see iguanas perched in the uppermost branches. They presumably are seeking shelter from predators. They're still there in the morning, but after the sun has warmed them, they climb back down to the ground for their day jobs. This morning I counted ten of them, some up to four feet long.

We're more active than the iguanas, but not by much. We're in a holding pattern while Evergreen makes final preparations for the passage to the Marquesas. We've cleaned the boat and prepared it for a 2-month nap, and we've purchased our return air tickets from Rangiroa to Papeete to LA to PV. We've said good-bye to cruising friends who are heading north towards the Sea of Cortez for spring. Today I'll go over to Evergreen to help splice some line. Anticipated departure date is currently next Tuesday.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami effects

As I posted yesterday, most boats elected to leave the small boat harbors in Banderas Bay, in anticipation of a tsunami surge estimated as large as 2 meters in height. Turns out that is almost exactly what we got. What is surprising is how long it has lasted. There is still a noticeable surge in and out of La Cruz marina, nearly 24 hours after the first wave arrived yesterday. Several of the channel markers (similar to this one) were swept away by the current.

Out on the deep waters of Banderas Bay, the tsunami was not detectable. While enjoying a beautiful afternoon of sailing, we followed radio reports from shore, reporting a surge of about 30 inches at about 1pm local time. The surge cycle grew in strength, until a maximum water level change of about 66 inches was reported around 3:30pm. The surge cycle was as little as 10 minutes. This rapid movement of water generated strong currents at the marina entrances for La Cruz and Nuevo Vallarta. Several boats reported being unable to buck the currents to get back into the marinas, and the rest of us were advised to remain in open water for the night. This was a problem for some of the boats here for the Banderas Bay Regatta, as they had left the dock without anchors or chain! There were probably about 150 boats anchored out at La Cruz (normally there would be between 30 and 40).

We returned to our slip in the marina at first light. There was still a strong current at the entrance, rapidly shifting between ebb and flow. River running experience was helpful for "reading" the water and counteracting the current. Although it doesn't appear so in this photo, these two boats nearly collided as strong currents pushed them out of the channel and toward the shore.

Back in the marina, damage from the tsunami was immediately evident. At least two fingers at the end of Dock 11 were destroyed, and at least one piling was bent.

These docks were intended for 60-foot boats, and were only constructed 3 years ago. According to one eyewitness, the break-up took place within a few minutes' time. Fortunately, no boats remaining in the marina during the tsunami were damaged, as far as I know. Vicki and I extend our sympathy to the people of Japan who have been so severely affected by this event. This was a reminder that we are all connected on this Earth, and that we are no match for the forces of nature which can strike anywhere, anytime.
Note: a dockmate who is a professional writer has a great blog post and excellent photos on this event, from the perspective of someone who stayed in the marina for the duration:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami warning

Awoke to news of the devastating earthquake in Japan. The tsunami warning map showed the arrival of a potential wave here in Puerto Vallarta by around 1pm local time. After some confusion and further forecasts of up to a 6-foot surge here in Banderas Bay, we, along with most boats, left the marina for deeper water. It was amazing to see so many boats out on the Bay at one time, far more than the number of racing boats for the Regatta.

Right around 1pm, we started hearing reports on the local radio of the arrival of the surge at the various marinas around the Bay. Water levels went up and down as much as 6 feet in as little as 10 minutes, creating strong currents in the entrances and damaging some of the docks. The first surge was by no means the strongest.
Now, at 5:30 PM local time, 4 1/2 hours into this event, boats are still being advised not to enter the harbors due to strong currents. Hundreds of boats are milling around the bay. There are concerns over a second set of tsunami waves from the second earthquake. We are not sure whether we will anchor out or even heave to under sail
We have not suffered anywhere near the damage inflicted on ports in California, let alone Japan, but this is still a reminder that humans are still no match for the forces of nature!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Whales and other tales

We've had many close encounters with whales over the years. A humpback surfaced a few boat lengths ahead of us off the west coast of Vancouver Island. A minke came up not 15 feet off our stern quarter in the Catalina Channel. We've had to dodge entire pods of whales here on the Mexican Riviera. But we've never hit one -- yet!

It does happen. A J-boat sank on the 2009 Baja Ha-ha after overtaking a pod of whales in high seas. Bernard on Simple Pleasures hit one near Careyes a few years ago. Last week, Darryl and Donna on Luffin' It became the latest victims. They were sailing into Tenacatita Bay when a whale came up under them unexpectedly. It appeared to have its tail trapped between the fin keel and the skeg-hung rudder. It shook the boat violently, and gave a series of mighty thumps. By the time it was over, the boat was extensively damaged and taking on water. With the help of fellow cruisers, they stabilized the situation, and were able to continue on to Banderas Bay, being towed the last 40 miles by friends on 40 Love.

The boat was hauled out the other day here in La Cruz, so I went over to see the damage and talk to Darryl and Donna. They were pretty shook up by the event, as would be expected. The boat has major damage, which is still being assessed. The most visible damage from the outside is the prop strut. Normally sticking straight down from the hull, it is now bent off to the side like a big banana.

Our sympathies go out to Darryl and Donna, who have had their cruising season cut short unexpectedly.

Our season in Mexico has also been cut short, but for an entirely different reason and not an unhappy one! Our friends Dennis and Carol on Evergreen have invited us to join them and their son Josh for the passage from Puerto Vallarta to French Polynesia! We have been looking forward to this for many years, and had even planned to take our own boat across this year, but decided the boat was not quite ready. But we are ready!

Evergreen is a Liberty 458, part of a family of boats including the Kelly-Peterson 46. It should be a comfortable ride for the 5 of us. Having this many onboard will make for a relaxed watch schedule and plenty of time to contemplate the vastness of the Pacific.

The planned departure date is March 18. I'm still grading papers, but Vicki is already helping Carol with boat jobs and provisioning. We are still trying to figure out how to update the blog from the boat. The passage from here to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas is over 2800 nautical miles and will take approximately 3 weeks. After touring the Marquesas, the boat will continue on to the Tuamotus and then on to Tahiti. We will fly back in late May or early June to put Southern Cross to bed for the hurricane season, and then return home for the summer.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Return to Banderas Bay

After Carnaval, we had no further excuses to linger on the "Riviera." The water in Tenacatita is still plagued with red tide, taking the fun out of snorkeling and swimming. With a good weather forecast, we raised the anchor and steamed out of Barra. By noon there was enough wind to sail, and by 3PM we had the anchor down in Chamela.

On the way into Chamela, the Dutch yacht Witte Raaf pulled alongside, and Joanneke snapped some great pictures of Southern Cross under sail.

We laid over a day in Chamela, and then took off the next afternoon for the 100nm passage around Cabo Corrientes and into Banderas Bay. Although the forecast was good, and we started off under sail, we were soon beating to weather and being body-slammed by short but steep seas. As darkness fell, a fleet of shrimpers approached, so we began motorsailing almost directly into the wind, the hobby-horsing motion slowing us to a measly 3 knots.

I had to drain the fresh water from our bow tank to keep the bow from diving into the seas. Finally, around 4AM, we approached the Cape where conditions were actually quite mellow. The wind and seas died, and our speed increased to our usual 6kts under power.

Once into Banderas Bay, we got some favorable wind for sailing, along with some terrific whale sightings. We were anchored in La Cruz before noon, after a 19 1/2 hour passage.

Plans for the rest of the season are now in flux. We have just been offered crew positions with friends leaving for French Polynesia in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mardi Gras (a week early)

We're not sure why Barra celebrates Carnaval a week earlier than almost everywhere else. Be that as it may, we sure enjoyed the Mardi Gras parade! Here's a selection of photos and video clips that will hopefully convey some of the fun.

Of course, there was a Queen:

But this is a town that plans ahead. They even elect a "Baby Queen":

The gringos even got to elect their own King and Queen (Vicki is on the right, asking the King how he was chosen):

And this being Mardi Gras, the other variety of "queen" was on display as well:

If you can't be a queen, you can always be a princess:

Like all good parades, this one had horses:

And cows:

The cows seemed a bit dismayed to be followed so closely by the butcher:

Some of the participants brought a distinctly Caribbean flavor to the event:

But overall it was a family affair:

Here are a few video clips to give you a feel for the event: