Monday, December 28, 2009

It’s always sunny in Puerto Vallarta- By Brady

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Since my brother Brian and Erin’s wedding in August I have been slowly preparing for this trip to Mexico. For example, I saved spending money, bought sunglasses, explained to my job that I was going to be in Mexico for about a month, and bought a waterproof camera and housing (to make my waterproof camera even more waterproof) for scuba diving. The most important thing: I bought the ideal plane ticket. I found a great ticket for a great price and couldn’t wait to go cruising. So after four months of planning and saving what happens? I miss my flight due to an intense game of bingo at a bar the night before. This wasn’t all bad because I did win a free bar tab for that night and ended up getting put on an even better flight that had just one layover instead of three. I guess everything happens for a reason.

As I flew over Puerto Vallarta I was amazed at the lush green mountains. I looked online and researched Puerto Vallarta enough to know that it wasn’t the Mexico I knew or remembered from my trip to Cancun. This place was much more beautiful and inviting. When I got off the plane, I hailed a taxi to go Paradise Village Marina. I was eager to try out my horrible high school Spanish on the driver. The sentences that I formed out loud didn’t make as much sense as they did in my head but I assumed the driver knew where I needed to go and what I was saying. To my surprise when he dropped me off he said “Ok, Paradise Village Marina. Is there anything else I can help you with? Would you like information on tours or activities amigo?” This was all in perfect English, of course.

resort Paradise Village Resort from the beach.

After being on Delos for a few weeks it feels like home. I have even changed my flight to use up every last day before I return to UCF for my spring semester. Like Erin said in her last blog post, the best plan is to make no plans. We’ve told each other we were setting sail the next morning to get out of “Little America” 100 times only to find ourselves the next day at the pool for happy hour, using one of the two alligator slides or body surfing at the beach.

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Alligator slide at the pool.

One of the main things I was looking forward to for this visit was scuba diving and surfing. I read and researched basically everything there was online relating to Bahia de Banderas and its underwater world. We have gone to two amazing diving locations, both of which were a new world from what I knew of diving in the Florida Keys. Las Tres Marietas are three small uninhabited islands that lay just outside the bay. Jacque Cousteau even spent some time here. The area is filled with caves cut out by wind and water and an abundance of marine life including some large Moray Eels. The second dive spot was called Los Arcos and was also an amazing dive. This site has walls of rock that drop from the surface to 50 feet and then again from 60 to 1800 feet. Things like that don’t exist in Florida. The surge from the waves was so powerful that you would swim into a cave fighting the current then get shot out the other side when the surge reversed. Although we haven’t done any surfing yet we are planning, or should I say hoping, to leave tomorrow and find some surf and a place to spend New Years.

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Tres Marietas from Delos at anchor.

Middle of the Marietas.

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Brian and Erin emerging from a cave.

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Puffer fish hiding in the shadows.

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Moray Eel.

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Coral formations on the rocks.

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Chillin with some cold ones after the dive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best-laid plans... Posted by Erin


Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” And that has been my maxim for the last four years, when Brian and I began to whisper to each other that one day we wanted to sail away on our own boat. In the wee hours of the night, when we’d let ourselves dream about taking this trip, it always seemed better not to have too much of a plan. We just wanted to go.

When we finally started to share our dream with people in Seattle, everyone wanted to know where we were going. We’d boldly respond: “South. Wherever the wind takes us.” But we soon realized that wasn’t enough. So we canned a few responses: “To Mexico and the South Pacific Islands. From there, New Zealand…”; “Down to Costa Rica, then across the Pacific with a stop in the Galapagos Islands…”

Yet, deep down, we’d only allow our imaginations to take us as far as Mexico. It seemed too risky to let ourselves dream beyond that. There was so much to do before we left—buy the boat, get the boat ready, rent our house, save enough money, quit our jobs, get married!—that we couldn’t focus on being gone. And we knew enough to know that weather windows, safety of the crew and boat, and the plain fact that the Pacific Ocean spans a massive area, can ruin plans and spoil expectations.

But today, just two days before Christmas and four months into our travels, I’m feeling a bit directionless. Here we are, in Mexico. We've accomplished what we set out to do… Now what’s next?

It’s human nature, I suppose, to want to know where we’re going. When we’re kids, adults ask us what we want to be when we grow up. When we register for college, we must declare a major. When we get married, the reception hall fills with people who want to know, “When are you having kids?” The unknown is okay for small things, but society tells us that the big things, the ways we live our life, should be planned.

Over the next week we need to ask ourselves a few big questions: Do we sail to the South Pacific islands from Mexico, or do we go south to Costa Rica and then the Galapagos Islands? Should our first stop in the South Pacific islands be the Marquesas group, or do we leave a little earlier and explore Easter Island and the Southern Tuomotus beforehand? Is our ultimate goal New Zealand, or should we head north of the equator for cyclone season?

Of course, we all know that plans change. Now that we’re out here, our social hours are spent talking with people who are out here too. We’ve heard story after story about how the best-laid plans cause more frustration than satisfaction. A month ago, when we were anchored in Espiritu Santo, we helped fellow sailors contact family members who had flown to Mexico to meet them for Thanksgiving. They were supposed to meet their family 110 miles north of where our boats were anchored, but weather and illness had prevented them from making their destination. A few days ago I met a couple who had planned to spend just months in Mexico and have been here (happily) for years. And I’ve heard about a few who set sail from the states only to learn that this life isn’t for them.

Perhaps not having a plan is enough of a plan. We’re out here—we’re spending Christmas in Mexico, and we’re here on our own boat! It’s warm, sunny, and I don’t see any frantic last minute shopping sprees in my future. The fun part of not having things figured out is the surprise—life always seems more exciting when it’s not throttled by expectations. I suppose that even if we don’t know where we're going, it’s enough to just go.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Paradise Village Marina- Posted by Brian



For the first time since entering Mexico Delos is tied up to a dock with unlimited power, water, and even trash pickup. We’re currently at the Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta, known in the cruising community as “Little America”. It’s a stark contrast to the small Mexican villages and towns we visited traveling south. There’s an air-conditioned mall with MacDonalds, Starbucks, and Dominoes Pizza separated by upper scale tourist shops and time share sales offices.

We’re adjusted well to life on the dock and taking advantage of the water and power to get caught up on boat chores like changing oil, polishing stainless, and scrubbing the deck from stem to stern. In the morning we work on the boat and take afternoons to enjoy the beach and pool at the resort.

In the spirit of the holidays we decorated Delos with our version of a Christmas Tree. It’s actually our storm drogue upside down hanging from a halyard. Hopefully this will be its only use on our travels. I really wish we could take credit for this original idea, but the prize goes to Brad on Capaz who thought of it first.

We also took advantage of the fast internet at Starbucks to upload new photos and even some videos. There should be a new link to the videos on the right so enjoy!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Arrival in La Cruz- Posted by Brian


We arrived in La Cruz yesterday afternoon after a 7 hour sail south. We motored for the first few hours and had a great sail when we reached the bay, pointing straight at the anchorage on a comfortable beam reach in 15 knots of breeze.

We should be in the Bay of Banderas until after the holidays. We’re looking forward to a visit from my brother Brady who’s flying in from Orlando with our mail and packages and our planned stay at the Paradise Village Marina resort. For the first time since leaving San Diego we’ll tie up to a dock with unlimited power, internet, and be able to explore the town without our dinghy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chalaca- Posted by Brian


Who Ya Gonna Call? GHOSTBUSTERS! was the song stuck in my head all afternoon. The Mexican bars sure love their American music. In La Paz 1 of only 3 radio stations was dedicated to American classics from Air Supply to Sting, mostly from the 80’s and 90’s. We’re currently anchored a few hundred feet off the beach in Chacala, Mexico. The theme of Ghostbusters is just audible over the crash of the breaking surf. The anchorage is slightly rolly because the west is completely exposed to the the Pacific Ocean. We set a bow and stern anchor to always keep our bow into the swell, something we haven’t done since the Channel Islands anchorages in California.

View of Chacala from Delos.
From our vantage point in the bay we have a tremendous view of the bars that lay on this stretch of beach. Lush green hills and coconut palms serve as a backdrop for the small village of Chacala. A bright yellow sign welcoming “cruissers” is visible on the roof of the Playa Bar, making it known to the anchorage that they have food, drinks, wi-fi, and even showers for weary boaters. Impressive homes dot the hillsides like the Mexican version of Malibu. The colors are much bolder than their American counterparts with Red, Yellow, Turquoise, and Orange standing out brilliantly amongst the tropical foliage. Other than the music and surf it’s eerily quiet and still. There are 3 children playing on the entire beach and no patrons in the restaurants. When we sampled the Pina Coladas yesterday afternoon there was only one other table seated.


Homes perched on the hillsides.


Our "private" beach bar.

We arrived yesterday afternoon after a short 20 mile trip from San Blas. As we move further south we find the charts are off from our actual GPS position by almost 2 miles in this area. According to our navigation system we’re anchored somewhere in the hills looking down upon Chacala. We spent most of our passage scanning the horizon with binoculars for rocks that may or may not be there. According to our cruising guide there are a number of rocks that have been reported in the area but no definite position recorded. Better safe than sorry. I remember seeing a last survey date of 1910 on a chart we were studying.
Anchorage view of Delos.
We saw more whales on this passage than any other. We counted 4 separate pods and at least 20 individuals, all humpbacks. Our closest encounter was about 100 feet away with the giant gracefully breaching the surface for a breath before arching his back to dive again. The humps on his back broke the surface then submerged for almost 15 seconds before the tail slap signified he was done. We didn’t catch any fish although we had one solid bite that triggered the fish alarm (empty beer can on a string). For a while we were harassed by a cormorant that repeatedly dive bombed our trolling lines. Luckily he wasn’t very skilled and couldn’t time the dive correctly. The last thing we need is an angry bird on deck with a hook in its beak.



The beach at Chacala.

Hammock madness after Petter's buying spree.


There isn’t much of a town beyond the beach front so we’re enjoying our time walking the beach, kayaking, and generally doing the reverse of a Corona commercial (sitting on the water and watching the waves roll into the beach). The water is the warmest we’ve found yet, easily in the low 80’s. In a few minutes we’ll swim the beach bar for our afternoon ritual of drinking Pina Coladas while the sun sets. Tomorrow we’ll be heading south to the Bay of Banderas where we’ll spend a few weeks in the Puerto Vallarta area for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

San Blas- Posted By Erin


It never rains in San Blas in December. That’s what the locals say. Or, rather, that’s what they said – until the day that we arrived.

After two days of sailing from the Baja Peninsula, Brian and I arrived in San Blas (a small town about 60 miles north of Puerto Vallarta) on a wet, soggy morning. We’d been sailing through squalls for the past 24 hours, but the biggest storm of all had settled over San Blas and had no intention of leaving.

We dropped our anchor in the middle of a three-mile wide bay, one of just six boats in the harbor. The mountains of San Blas reach high above the sandy beach, and flourish with dense greenery and tall palm trees. A dozen restaurants line the shore, each with its own thatched roof and open-air seating.

We were drenched by the time we set the anchor, so we hunkered down in the cockpit and waited for the storm to pass. The warm humid air smelled sweet as it wafted across the boat, and the raindrops felt cool on our skin. I’ve always loved the rain, and I was beginning to miss it. A good rainstorm can be quite cleansing. It cleans both land and sea, and in our case: boat. Our boat was accumulating salt crystals from deck to mast, so a fresh water bath was welcome.

After a few hours it was evident that the rain was not leaving, so we donned our raincoats and set out to explore the town of San Blas. We landed our dinghy on the beach in front of Ismael’s restaurant, and soon realized that we were Ismael’s only customers. In fact, we were the only customers on the entire beach. Every seat in every restaurant was empty. Later we learned that the tourist season begins in mid-December and continues through February. But during the rest of the year, the seats in all of these many restaurants remain bare.

We lingered for about an hour over guacamole and two Pacificos and told Ismael that we were going to take a taxi into town. When we’d walked just a few hundred yards, a blue Chevy Blazer pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. We accepted and were driven to town by Ismael’s sister. The day before, the crew of Capaz and Totem were also driven the five miles into town by Ismael’s relatives. They each refused payment for the ride – it was simply a good deed from good people.

The town of San Blas is very small. There’s a town square (zocalo) and market area, from which stretches a few miles of streets lined with homes and small restaurants. The shops along the zocalo are a mix of restaurants, jewelry shops, bread shops, fruit and vegetable markets, and local service providers, like electronic and appliance repair shops. All of the spaces have three interior walls and a retractable fourth exterior wall, making them completely open to the street. Each space is no more than 150 square feet.

By the time we arrived, the rainstorm had deluged the streets and stray dogs, cats and chickens waded through the puddles. Brian and I splashed our way toward a restaurant overlooking the zocalo. We sat at a table that looked out over the flooded streets and watched the town go by for a few hours. Over the din of the rain we listened to the local women speak with each other, and hummed along to their melodic lilt.

Later, when the sun had broken through the clouds, we walked to the fort that guarded the city of San Blas in the late 1700s and strolled through the church that inspired Longfellow’s last poem in 1882, called The Bells of San Blas. We walked past banana plants, tall palm trees heavy with coconuts, hibiscus trees, and the ubiquitous bougainvillea vine with its brilliant purple blooms. From the fort we looked out over the entire town of San Blas, including the estuary that winds its way through the jungle for seven miles.

The Bells of San Blas.

Inside the church.
The old fort protecting San Blas.
View of San Blas from the fort.

The next day we took a boat tour of the estuary where we saw crocodiles, herons, eagles, hawks, sparrows, cormorants, iguanas, three different kinds of mangrove trees, cypress trees, and wild orchids and ferns.
The beginning of our jungle adventure.
Panga ride through the mangroves.
A 12 foot croc sunning himself.

On our third day the rain let up, and by then it was time to pick up our anchor and move on. The sun warmed us as we watched the beach fade into the distance, and the empty chairs lay in wait.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Arrival in San Blas, Mexico by Brian

After 2 days crossing the Sea of Cortez we decided to make a stop in San Blas,a few miles north of our original goal of Chacala. We read about a jungle river tour and quaint non-touristy town that sounded too good to pass up. That's one of the great things about sailing- just a slight correction to the autopilot and we were on our way. No reservations to change!

We got in this morning around 8:30 and found that our friends Brad and PJ on Capaz and Jamie and Behan on Totem arrived yesterday. We hadn't seen them for a few weeks and had no idea they would be here. We were immediately struck by the green foliage covering the mountains and everything else. The beach and land running up to the foothills of the mountains is covered with coconut palms. We heard that the mainland was a different climate but this is truly tropical looking and a stark contrast to the dry desert of Baja.

We took the dinghy to the beach and were the only customers in a string of large beach palapa style restaurants. Everyone was super friendly and the son of the restaurant owner even came down to help us drag our dinghy out of the surf. He then took his machete and quickly filled a large metal pan with chopped coconut husks and lit it on fire next to our table. The aroma was very pleasant and we appreciated the smoke. This is the local repellant for the pesky no-see-ums that are known in this area. There were a few peddlers of goods on the beach but they had a very laid back attitude giving in and moving on when you signalled no interest. The merchandise looked of high quality and better than the normal mass-manufactured stuff you'd find in a normal tourist trap. The beer was even cheaper than La Paz- 10 pesos (about .75US).

We're planning on staying here a few days to explore the town, take the jungle river tour, and relax before heading further south towards Puerto Vallarta.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Time To Head South by Brian

Neptune is certainly smiling upon us today! We're on a nice beam reach in 15-20 knots of breeze. I've seen the speed over ground top 9 knots a few times. The sea is a little lumpy but nothing the autopilot can't handle. Delos is sailing beautifully taking the seas in stride. The sky is littered with puffy white clouds stretching off over the horizon, each having a unique shape and personality that reveals itself as they slowly drift overhead. There must be over 1000 in view at the moment. At least they are kind enough to let the sunshine through. We couldn't have picked a better weather window to cross the Sea of Cortez, a trip of just under 300 miles. We departed Bahia De Los Muertos this morning and if the weather holds we should in in Chacala on the mainland in about 1.5 days.

After our time in the Partida anchorage North of Espiritu Santo we picked up our hook and headed back to La Paz to get fuel, provisions, and to pick up our newly upholstered cockpit cushions. The locally known Rodriquez Brothers did an awesome job and charged us about 1/5 of the quote we got in San Diego. We had a great downwind sail for the entire trip and got to fly our mizzen ballooner (asymmetric mizzen spinnaker) for the first time. It's really a cool sail to fly and we made good speed running about 140 degrees off the wind with the jib, main, and ballooner flying. We caught up with some boats that left the anchorage before us and made great time sailing right up to the buoys marking the entrance to the La Paz channel.

While in La Paz we had Kevin and Katie from Pahto and Eric and Amy from Secret Agent Man over for a taco feast. Everyone showed up after sunset wearing sweat shirts or pullovers- something we havent seen in some time. The weather is getting noticeably cooler. Although it's still a pleasant 80F during the day the nights are getting chilly. When we saw an overnight low in the 50's that pretty much sealed the deal on when to head further south. So we picked up our hook once again and headed 60 miles south to Bahia De Los Muertos to wait for a good weather window to cross the Sea of Cortez.

Muertos is a beautiful protected anchorage with turquoise water so clear we could see our anchor on the sandy bottom in 25 feet. While snorkeling and free diving to the bottom I suddenly found myself surrounded by a huge school of tuna! There were hundreds of them less than 200 feet from Delos . I dove down to the bottom to get under the school and while making my ascent in the middle they parted leaving a perfectly symmetrical space around me. You could tell they weren't scared, just cautious always staying out of touching distance. The school was swimming in a large circle which allowed me to stay in the middle of them for about 10 minutes. They were beautiful, healthy looking yellow fin ranging from 2-4 feet in length. I'd guess most of them weighed in at 30 pounds although I'm sure some of the larger ones were in the 40-50 pound range. I snorkeled back to Delos to grab our under water camera and a lure. I had a bright idea that I could catch something for dinner. I think it was fortunate for me that they weren't interested in my lure and hand line. As I was jiggling the lure in front of a rather large specimen I had a brief flash of me body surfing through the anchorage being towed by an angry yellow fin. I came up with plan B and returned to Delos for my 5 foot aluminum sling spear. It was not meant to be however as the school had moved on by the time I got back.

Petter and Octavia on Bella Marina have similar plans to us and we caught up to them in Muertos. They also departed this morning so I'm sure we'll see them on the mainland again in a few days. Right now our plans are to head to Chacala, then work our way down over the next week or so to Puerto Vallarta where we'll spend Christmas and New Years.

We also had internet access for our short stop in La Paz. Be sure to check out the new photos we uploaded.