Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shiriri Saga #37. Landfall. Marquesas.

Landfall at Dawn.

Very windy, very rough, a midnight conference out in the cockpit. Anne is feeling very bad because we will not manage to weather the windward end of Hiva Oa Island - our first destination in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. Shiriri has spent the day sagging off to leeward as she is swept by wind and current into the windy waters between Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva. We will never make it around to the harbour(Atuona) on the south side of the island. The more we have tried to sail closer to the wind to get around the point, the more we have slipped sideways. Anne, our Navy girl and navigator blames herself for not allowing for the west setting current. Really the problem is that it is so windy that we cannot use the mainsail, and without it`s push from the tail end of the boat Shiriri does n`t go to windward much at all.

Finally we bow to necessity, swing to take the elements on our stern and find peace. The steady bouncing on the knife edge of waves that we have endured for the last long while is over. Shiriri `s stern lifts, a big foamy crest breaks behind and we surge forward on our way to our new destination, - Taiohae Bay,and the main settlement on Nuku Hiva.
I take the late night watch over from Anne and as part of the hand-over she tells me I should see the first land off to starboard in the morning (Ua Huka). So it`s dawn now, where is it? Nothing but a hazy horizon. I do my usual sweep around the whole horizon and voila ( practicing my French) off to port is a tall rocky spire, topped with green vegetation and surrounded by creamy white surf. LAND! (Fatu Huka) Almost it seems anticlimactic, we have been at sea for so long that we had forgotten about it! But even so my heart starts to beat faster.

Through the day the wind begins to ease even though the waves still come roaring up astern. Steering gets a little trickier without plenty of speed but we still have 15 knots of breeze and 55 miles to go. This is awkward as we wish to arrive at Taeohae Bay to make our entrance at dawn and at this speed it will still be dark. The wind continues to drop overnight however so that when I come on deck the dark bulk of Nuku Hiva fills the grey sky beyond the bowsprit. Heather joins me in the cockpit as we approach the entrance. High cliffs, crashing waves and suddenly the bay opens up ahead of us. I turn to Heather and find her fast asleep, curled up in a corner of the cockpit. I sail Shiriri between the island headlands and into the deep bay. The wind falters in the lee of the land and I start the engine for the last leg of our journey up to the head of the bay. We will live after all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 36. Ghost Ship.

                                 The Encounter.

Wonderful, splendid, uplifting! Ah yes, the ITCZ is all those things, especially the uplifting bit with all this rising air and the accompanying clouds, and we are ready for a change. We have yet to fully learn to be cautious about what we wish for! The boats we speak to every day are arriving in the Marquesas Islands one after another. Moonlighter describes coasting along beside high green volcanic cliffs as they arrive at Hive Oa and here we are with a thousand miles yet to go: but it is only a thousand miles (so has our distance scale expanded) and now we count down in hundred mile plots on the chart ( at last we are on a chart of the South Pacific).

The boats ahead of us have named this southern boundary of the ITCZ, Squall Alley and it gives us plenty of those, but there are also splendid days and nights of moderate winds in which we can get some serious shut eye and meals are only somewhat difficult to prepare. The ice boxes are now empty and some stores are getting low. Heather has the messy job of cleaning out the bucket with the last layer of smelly broken eggs. We pack on sail when the winds go light and carry more sail at night. An ordinary cloud that then hits us with forty knots is a wake up call as we struggle to get sail down, and once the sheet of Reddy, our mainstaysail/drifter, lifts me off my feet and almost overboard in a gust as I bring it down. Reddy has turned out to be our champion sail in light wind conditions: big and light and high up and guaranteed to liven up any dull sailing day.

One night I am on watch after sunset and small puffy trade wind clouds are crossing Shiriri`s path as she reaches south under full sail. Things are so peaceful that I revel in my watch. Watching the stars, the moonlit seascape, my mind slips into reverie. Below, in the after cabin, I can see the brass lights glowing as Heather and Anne read their books. Suddenly a blur of shadow pulls my attention back to the bow and there is a large square-rigged sailing ship right before the bowsprit! She is running before the wind. Her square sails practically overhang my little schooner. Time stands still. Figures on deck turn towards me. The ship sweeps past and in another blink of an eye dissolves into mist and moonlight and a dark shadow cast below on the seas surface. The hair is still standing up on my neck!

Was this an hallucination? Conventional wisdom would have it so and indeed we have been experiencing strange urgent voices calling to us as we sleep below decks and have seen sails on the horizon which then became the flash of a breaking wave. Nothing like this splendid sight however! In this world where the sensory input is still foreign to our land trained senses, our minds are creating interesting scenarios. Or have I opened to a vision of the world, of reality, that slides over and beyond our conventional understanding of time and space? Weird though it may seem, out here, that seems the most likely interpretation.

Journal .
Day 29. This morning at 8AM I shut down the engine. We seem to have made it to the SE trades. Bigger seas, smaller puffy clouds and a stronger steadier wind. We cross our fingers!!

Put the red drifter up this morning. Four and a half knots. Considering we probably have a pretty foul bottom, this is moving!

Day 30.
A fine brisk SE wind, whitecaps. We bounce and heave along. Another squall to windward.

Heather was so tired in her last night`s watch that she repeatedly fell asleep. Literally fell over sideways while standing at the wheel and bruised herself - several times! Ah, the cruising life!

Day 31.
A very nice day. No squalls. 10 to 15 Knots SE wind. 237 miles to go to waypoint off Hiva Oa.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shiriri Saga #35. And in the Beginning....the ITCZ.


We have entered a new world: the ITCZ is such an inadequate title for this seascape of mists and imaginings. Creation, is closer to it. This is our first long journey into the oceanic world and those first two weeks were times of adjustment: to isolation, to long days of discomfort, to perpetual lack of sleep. The world was too much with us and we felt the strain without many moments of wonder at our surroundings. The phosphorescence, the visiting dolphins, the amazing sunrises and sunsets were just the opening acts for what the ITCZ will reveal to us. It will change us for ever!

The struggle does not diminish, rather it is more frustrating than before, but now we have been tired for so long that it becomes normal and therefore less noticeable. The winds are light, average, strong, variable, squally when we are about to be enveloped in a monster cloud and we are always lowering sails and raising them again. When a cloud catches us the wind fans out from it`s advancing black front. I stand at the foremast, foresail halyards in hand and watch the wind waves, the size of the white caps that race towards Shiriri. If they seem not too bad, I let the sails feel the wind, heel us over and we race forward. If too strong, I will lower the sail and let the forstaysail carry us through the squall. After the wind, we are enveloped in mist and heavy rain. The rain is so heavy that the waves are smoothed off like mountains with mist drifting in the valleys. After some minutes of this, the rain eases, it lightens to windward, and out we pop into the sunny world again. Up goes the sail and we are on back on course. Hopefully someone has put the hoses from our dodger catchment into the fresh water tanks to add a few more gallons. Sometimes we shower in the deluge. One day we performed this manoeuver twelve times in twelve hours.

At night it is even more difficult to judge the power inherent in an approaching cloud as the helmsman looks over her left shoulder and tries to see the horizon through the dark base of the overtaking cloud. If visible, carry on, if its black and nasty, call up the watch below to drop sail. I get so accustomed to this routine that I can wake up, jump on deck, hook on to a safety line, drop the sail, hoist again and be back fast asleep in my berth in fifteen minutes.

Spinner Dolphins and Liptons tea.

What a unique place this is, home to the sea creatures around us and yet wrapped and shrouded in enormous clouds that lift warm moist air high into the air and into the circulation that will return it to earth much farther north where it will once again become the trade winds blowing back toward the equatorial regions and the ITCZ. We are adjusting slowly to be part of this word and feel privileged to be here: it is truly like being in at the beginning of a world that is being forged over and over again. This is an eternal realm.


AM. Last evening, as it was getting dark, we were adjusting the wind vane and in the process Anne got her head bashed by the lazarette hatch. It was an abrasion, and not serious, but BLOOD everywhere!

H. And I split the watches two hours on and off as it was a bouncy night with Shiriri rolling her guts out. It was a long night. We were falling asleep standing at the wheel!

This morning, Anne took a watch, when we finally got John Henry steering again, while we slept. More phosphorescence and dolphins last night but no rain squalls.

I just shook the reef out of the foresail and we are broad reaching in 15 to 20 knots of wind from the N.E. Like this all night, so we are foaming along at five knots plus.

PM. 05 00 20 N., 122 08 00 W. Ta Da!! We just passed the half way point: 1340 nautical miles in each direction.

The stars above, and flashing lights below.

Day 22.
Last night we had one small squall at midnight and then light winds. Anne and Heather had the star book out identifying the constellation of the Southern Cross. Later, on watch with little to do, I used the binoculars to have a look at the Milky Way. Wow! It seemed that we ourselves were on a space ship voyaging among the stars. But really we are on another kind of ship designed to move with the winds along the boundary of water and atmosphere on the watery planet, third out from the star called Sun.

Suppertime, after a lovely days sail. Still sliding along under full canvas 3' away from the equator.

Aiming for a gap in the dotted line.

6:11. Very close now, motoring past a spectacular sunset. The wind almost died, so we doused the main in preparation for night sailing. Heather has the wine glasses out and pineapple upside down cake ready. Almost dark!

00 00 00 degrees. We`re here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 34. Rolling Down the Trades.

                         Watch out for squalls.

One week out we finally left the frustrating calms and variable winds and found the trades ( oh, a lifetime of imagination: a flowing sheet, warm blue seas, a steady breeze.) to be not much of a fair trade. The journal entries tell it well.

The Journal:
March 23. Wind continued and seas remained large and lumpy into the afternoon. Not making much speed though. Mid afternoon things settled down, Bill and Anne put up the red drifter and we began to really move! We all slept during the day and we had a shower so are feeling pretty good even though we are still rolling and rocking. Tonight is one of those pre-cooked soups I canned for supper. I made tea a few minutes ago and scrapped all earlier plans. Heating something in one pot sounds quite challenging enough!

Every afternoon Anne goes on the “puddle jumpers net” and we enjoy that SO much - along with the “chat’ some of the boats do afterwards. Lots of info. about weather etc. from boats ahead & fish & birds & tankers spotted etc.

Big news,we did 110 miles in 24 hrs.

We have seen various types of sea birds: mostly boobies who are very tame..... Well, tame may not be quite the word to use. For example, they fly around us in an unsteady sort of way, looking like they might accidently crash into a sail or mast. (They are boobies after all.) When after great effort they land on a stay or mast top, they are constantly shuffling their webbed feet to keep balanced. Those that sleep-over do mess the decks up a bit but we like the company and amusement out here on the deep blue sea.

Tropic Bird tries to land on the swaying mast.

A tropic bird checked out the top of the mainmast this morning but we were rolling so much he gave up. Shook his pretty white tail and flew off.

Sailing at five knots across a quartering sea. Getting used to the rolling motion but it is hard to work on deck or in the galley.

Dolphins in the wake at night.

Day 9.
More of the above. The boats ahead of us reported rolling in the trades so we should have been prepared. Last night on my watch in the dark of the moon I had a dolphin visit. A few snorts attracted my attention to the breaking wave crests beside me. All mixed and woven through the foam were bright meteor trails of phosphorescence as they zoomed along keeping me company.

Day 10.
Last night the wind and waves turned miserable, so that steering was a nightmare of rocking and rolling, the rails practically going under - & no sleep for those down below. On my watch around 4:30, we hove-to for a couple of hours. Then we dropped our sails, started the engine and headed south west. This seems to be a system affecting most of the boats in the vicinity.

Day 11.
Another day of sailing downwind in steep lumpy seas. It`s hard to make much speed when Shiriri squirms around a lot in the confused waves. There is a N.W. swell, and a N.E. swell crossing so there are great heaps of water sticking up all over. Then in the afternoon an east swell also showed up!

We rigged up an old sailcloth tarp to keep us dry and shady in the cockpit.

Big clouds built up with mini squalls beneath as they passed overhead. We reduced sail to forestaysail which slowed us down except in the squalls. Thunder and lightning in the evening. Then the deluge: many very large drops of rain. Heather got soaked. A quiet dark night after all the excitement had moved on.

Reddy to the masthead. A used drifter we recut as a drifter/mainstaysail.

Day 12.
Covered some water last night under staysail alone. Very dark, phosphorescence glittering in our bow wave and a milky white wake. By morning the wind had dropped to a light breeze & Anne and I got the foresail up and the red between-the-masts staysail (Reddy). Even so we dawdle along south at four knots. Got John Henry ( the self steering vane) back to work, so steering is easy.

No more rain squalls today, Puffy cumulus clouds.

On the HF radio net this afternoon, the first boat in our group crossed the equator.

We ourselves are almost at the 1000 mile point. Over one third the way.

The next interesting area ahead of us is the ITCZ.

Day 13.
After a peaceful night sailing south under foresail beneath a series of black clouds, we opened daylight with a fantastic sunrise.

The day has been good for sailing but very uncomfortable with a six foot chop coming from all directions ( a counter current?). Shiriri lifts and bucks and heels way over. Poor Heather has to produce food in this stuff! She hurt her fingers - crushed in the fore hatch - Anne dug out the ice pack. Alright now.

Day 14.
AM. Pancakes for breakfast! Shower! Feeling good! Wind still NE at 12 to 15 knots, but the seas have evened out overnight. Anne talked to Victoria in Costa Rica, Wylie E. Coyote ahead of us, and Alikai in Puerto Vallarta behind us, last night.

PM. We have motor sailed this afternoon both because we need to recharge our batteries and because the trades have died down. We are in the ITCZ with it`s many rain squalls. We are busy funneling the water off the dodger, but it will take a lot of rain to fill the tanks.

This evening we have decided to motor sail through the night to get through this zone as quickly as possible. We don`t want any more thunderstorms, and sitting around with no wind for a few days increases our chances of being hit!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shiriri Saga #33The first week. Reaching for the Trades.

Reefed down.

The wind waves hide the string of fishing floats until they slide under our keel and snag amidships. Caught! The mountains of Mexico still loom large and blue on the Eastern horizon and it looks like we will not win free without a struggle. We heave-to and carefully use the boat hook to depress the long line down below the keel and past our stern. We are free again, and by evening we are all alone in our solitary circled horizon and sailing briskly along - too briskly, our cook declares from down in the pitching galley.

Our first task is to sail south-west, far away from the coast of Mexico with it`s alternating calms and variable winds, and find the prevailing north-east trade winds that will provide the magic carpet for the first portion of our journey. These will carry us south-west and then fade away in the area of converging winds called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone ( ITCZ ) just north of the equator. Once we struggle through these we will pick up the prevailing south-east trade winds that will carry us to the Marquesas Islands and on across the South Pacific to Australia. Apart from the word struggle this all seems straight forward. Seems. We have yet to learn to be cynical about descriptions of average wind patterns however, and settle down to try to average one hundred miles a day and lay down a long, fairly straight line of daily position marks on our chart. This chart will end before it can match up with one we have for Eastern Polynesia, but before we left Mexico we checked on someone else`s chart and when we confirmed there was only empty ocean in the gap, we filled it in with a blank piece of paper with lines of Lat. and Long. ruled on it.

Heather and I have begun to keep a daily journal with all the interesting detail that has no place in a ship`s log and as time goes by I will continue to write and draw our daily struggles and joys. Our families back home want a blow by blow account rather than the vague and edited story of our journey down the coast of North America. So when a book is full, we will mail it home and start another.

The HF radio net we signed up for is the main entertainment of the day. It is lonely out here. We receive reports from boats strung out ahead of us and can talk to individual boats as well. The yacht Victoria is not on this voyage but is following the coast of Central America on the way to the Panama canal. We keep a radio schedule with them and enjoy Eric`s reports. Although sometimes faint, we will chat with them over our whole month`s voyage until they reach the canal. We value the contact with our comrades: Wylie E. Coyote, Grey hawk and Astrolabe are several days ahead and just entering the trade wind belt. The family on Flyer whom we met at Las Hadas before we left will become real personalities as we follow their progress. Jim and Lindy on Moonlighter check in as well as does a boat called Sawlea from Vancouver. It`s just as well we are motoring in the calms because we need to generate plenty of electricity for all this chit chat!

We need electricity as well to make water - in our PUR reverse osmosis watermaker. I spend some time trying to solve it`s vacuum problem, and during that time we are even more careful with our water consumption. Fortunately, we have the melt water from the ice chests, so while we don`t trust it for drinking, we do pour it into the solar shower bag. The watermaker revives and produces it`s usual one and a half gallons an hour when we need it: not much, but neither does it use much electricity to make it and it is excellent quality for drinking. We do a lot of that in the hot sunny days and use the Mexican water in our tanks for cooking and washing.

The solar panels on the top of the hard dodger have plenty of bright sunshine to make us electricity as we sail, so even when we are lucky to have wind wafting us along for long periods, we are still charging up our batteries. Back in Mexico, already back in a previous life, those panels served all our power needs while at anchor.

From the journal: Day 2.

It got pretty windy last night, so we double reefed the main and reefed the foresail. We must have averaged six knots during the night, which helped compensate for more like three and a half knots during the day. In all, we made our hundred miles, but mostly south - getting westing with a west wind is something of a problem. It looks very much like we will be visiting Clipperton Island after all!

Today we were all very tired - too many bumps and thumps and emergencies during the night for much sleep. We`ve all tried to get some today. It`s much calmer and more pleasant, at least now in the late afternoon. It was still bouncy this morning when our coffee bodem leaped off the counter and smashed. It was a sad Bill who cleaned up the glass and realized that, until we think up a substitute, or buy a new bodem in Fr. Polynesia, there won`t be anymore coffee. Sob!!

We continue to make good time all day - an absolutely gorgeous sunset and a growing, almost full moon all night. Our latest joke: What is a waxing gibbous? A fashionable monkey! At our latest fix, Anne told us we had traveled 120 miles ( in 24 hours) which is excellent.

We`ve been enjoying our only wildlife so far - a bunch of boobies. They try to perch on the stay between the masts, but the boat keeps rolling, and they have webbed feet, so they slide downhill. They are always quarreling for the best spot; on top of the foremast light! Just now, a booby was perched near Bill, on the boom, and it slid off and into the ocean. Great comic relief.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Song of the Sea Breeze


July. The Song of the Sea Breeze.

The smell of dry things crushed underfoot: brittle arbutus leaves; moss, once soft emerald green, now dry as snuff; grasses, bent across the path, full of seed.

It`s the grasses that catch my fancy today, bringing my eyes down from windy white capped waves, vistas of sailboats and distant islands, to the shimmering textures among the waving stems of growing things gone to seed. A month ago all was green and short and lushly growing; a living carpet underfoot that flowed smoothly over the rocky ground: now transformed to a fecund field that ripples beneath the wind.

The blowing grasses show their different varieties now that they are seedy, their tall stems wave flags of many grassy nations, soft as feathers, fox tailed families all waving together, grainy clumps hung on stiffly bending flag poles. All individuals, together making one larger expressive form. Colour, tone, texture: all sighing as they blend to give a fine high pitched reedy voice to the wind.

Behind me the grasses merge with the forest trees that climb and cloth the rocky hillside. They too toss their heads, move their woody arms in writhing gesture and sing together in deeper tones than grasses. I take a step back and find myself standing knee deep in this singing sea, adding my own voice of praise to this glorious day of summer; singing the song of sea breeze.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shiriri Saga #33 Into The Hands Of Rosy Fingered Dawn.

Las Hadas/ Manzanillo The Departure.
Moonlighter Jim ( not to be confused with Wylie Jim) and I persuade a taxi driver to take us to the Bara ice plant where we load up a large amount of ice, pay the man extra when he sees the heavy wet ice and somehow slide it through the Sands hotel and into our dinghys. We roar our cargo off up the channel to the lagoon and into our boat`s cooler chests. This is our refrigeration for our Pacific voyage to the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia and is the best indication yet that we are offshore bound!

Beside Jim and Lindy on Moonlighter, there are several other boats in the lagoon preparing to leave. A separation has developed between those who are preparing for the big crossing and those who sensibly stay on this lovely coast. Those who are for the jump are comparing notes and signing up for the HF radio net that will keep all the fleet in contact during the three thousand mile crossing. By the time we arrive in Polynesia, the cyclone season should have just ended and give us as long a time as possible to transit the south seas before the next cyclone season chases us on to temperate seas in New Zealand or Australia or to safe harbours close to the equator where “hurricanes hardly happen.”

We day sail down the coast, drop anchor off the Las Hadas resort and take a bus to a shopping mall to stock up on a hundred and one things that we could not easily obtain in the little towns of Malaque and Bara; although Heather did manage to buy a lot of beef there and can it, and one shopkeeper ordered us a large sack of Canadian rolled oats. (With the makings for porridge, we can survive anything!) Now we buy large quantities of flour, powdered milk and other basic bulk food items and pour everything into large plastic five gallon buckets and seal the lids. We label each bucket and store it away while at the same time, making a map to show it`s location. So much of this adventuring involves painstaking planning and preparation. We are stocking up (victualing) for much longer than this one crossing because we know that food will be more expensive and less readily available all through Polynesia. Back home, an adventure is often associated with neglecting to plan for an outing, but here, planning for eventualities allows us to even the odds a little as we step away from civilization`s safety net.

Refuelling for Shiriri is, as usual, most easily done by fuel jugs ferried back and forth in Edith, rather than risk Shiriri in tight quarters at a fuel dock amid rocky breakwaters and Pacific swells: and then we go back and top up our water tanks as well ( different jugs).

Anne and I take the bus around the bay to Manzanillo and visit the Port Captain for our clearance from Mexico. We are nervous of extra fees now we have spent almost every Peso but it is our lucky day and we are asked to sample some Mexican Coffee and give our expert Norte Americano evaluation.... “Great!!”, we say, and leave with a very nice final memory of official Mexico. As we step out on to the street we meet a local fisherman who has overheard that we are in search of fishing equipment, so he walks with us and helps us buy the right stuff: forty pound test nylon for hand lines and three-prong hooks. “Just wrap silver cookie wrapper around the hook, let it out, and check once in a while.” It will work very well, with a bungie cord to absorb the first strike, and not involve rods and reels to clutter up the boat. We will be fishing for food, not sport.

March 16, 8AM. We place ourselves in the rosy fingered hands of the dawn and sail out into the infinite reaches of the Pacific Ocean. We will not see land again for a month, neither will we see any ships or planes on the lonely ocean trails we will follow to the Marquesas Islands.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shiriri Saga #32. Tenakatita Bay. A Manta Ray Tows A Boat Away.

We have arrived in a semi-tropical paradise.

Shiriri angles in toward a surf swept beach because the GPS is telling us that it is the direction for our next anchorage. The crew has a heated discussion about the merits of following the directions of a machine. Heather is quite sure that this is a wrong course and soon it is also obvious to the rest of us; there is no hidden entrance tucked just around the corner of this bay. The GPS is correct and so is Heather. The bay we seek is around the next headland and the GPS is pointing to the most direct route across the neck of the peninsula. We have rather sketchy charts of Mexico ( photo copies taped together) and this leads to some creative guessing at times. Thank goodness for Charlie`s Charts, the set of boating guide books that give us mini sketch maps and useful information of coasts and harbours. We have a lot of these books and we will use them until half way across the Pacific. We turn to the Mexico one now to navigate successfully around the headland and to anchor in Tenakatita Bay.

Enatai. One of the yachts in T. bay

There are a number of yachts at anchor in the most protected corner of this big bay, but we wiggle into a place not too far from the beach where a little river curves around a palm lined sandy point and empties into the gentle surf. It is like a set for a tropical adventure movie (and has been). We soak up our first feeling of having arrived in the south seas at last. Of course this is really only semi-tropical, and winter at that, so we have the benefit of both dry sunny days and moderate temperatures. Victoria is nearby, as are other yachts we will get to know better over the next couple of months. “What an interesting group of people!” we think, feeling at home among this individualistic fleet who started out in their home communities around the world as unusual square pegs but now find themselves fitting right in.

We stay here is this idyllic bay for a few days but are determined to return and explore it more fully when Gwyn flies down to visit us in a month`s time. We must move on to the little town of Melaque, just down the coast and get Heather settled and writing her book.

Melaque Bay with Bara in the distance.
The waves bend around Punta Bahia and keep us gently rocking at anchor, but getting ashore is more challenging: those same gentle swells break with a roar when they meet the sandy beaches of Melaque. Each day we practice the skills that we never had occasion to learn in our own protected home waters. As we row toward the beach we watch the wave pattern : some are bigger than others and we need to catch the back of a good-sized one and ride it well up the beach. “Steady,” we say, “Wait for it! Now! Pull!” and, as the latest wave slides under us, the oarsman digs in hard and we lift with the wave as it crests and get a ride on it`s back up the beach in a smother of foam. We are out in a second and pull Edith well up the beach. Timing is everything. Launching can be just as difficult.

We find a room for Heather to write, thanks to help from Astrolabe who will also be waiting here for the March departure date for the South Pacific. We row her ashore with her precious lap-top computer and walk up to the little writing room. Anne goes off to Spanish lessons and I begin to do some drawings as I wander the town. After the long trip down the coast, constantly on the move and adjusting to new conditions, this is heavenly. Imagine our surprise to discover Saltspring Islanders living here. This town is a winter retreat for some of those who follow the sun south each winter.

In the lagoon.

Bara de Navidad.

At the other end of the long bay is the entrance to a channel which leads onward to a wide lagoon. This is where we will settle for a while, away from those constant landings through the surf. I`ve already bashed my spine against a thwart once when Edith hit the beach too hard on one landing and I can not afford a second thump. Away from home and with our voyage dependant on our good health, we need to be extra careful. Edith, our dory, now has her outboard engine mounted on the stern for the long trips back and forth to the town of Bara. From there, Heather takes the bus to her room to write her book. Usually I go with her, we brainstorm what will happen in the next chapter, and then off I go to explore and draw until it is time to reverse our morning`s journey, fill our water jugs at the Sands hotel, and motor home to our lagoon which is liberally sprinkled with other cruising boats. For some, this is their destination for the winter and for others like us, this is a place to stock up on supplies and ready ourselves for the big crossing to the south seas. I paint and varnish Shiriri and check things over. By now we know how all can depend on everything working as it should!

Edith journeys into the heart of darkness.

The Ray in Tenakatita Bay.

When Gwyn arrives to visit, we decide to take her back up the coast to Tenakatita Bay for a last experience of this lovely place. We land at the river`s mouth and walk the long beach to a large hotel and view the pasty white North Americans here for a short cheap escape from winter cold; already, we belong to a different tribe. We take Edith up the river that branches and then narrows to a winding stream, deep among the overhanging jungle trees, which leads to an ocean beach. We discover it is the same surf beach landfall that we approached so simplemindedly five weeks before. It seems a lifetime ago already: a busy life, full of new experiences, slows time down and seems to stretch it out into infinity.

One day, we are away from Shiriri, visiting on another boat when we notice some frantic activity in the bay. A yacht near Shiriri is moving along with no one aboard! A family from a nearby inflatable dinghy puts a child aboard to steer this wayward boat and it dawns on the assembled yachts that SOMETHING is towing it by it`s anchor chain. A young American free dives thirty feet down to the bottom of the bay and untangles a giant ray from the chain! I hate diving, am a poor swimmer, so this act, which is so straightforward to him, is wildly impressive to me! Courageous! What we call courage has so much to do with being trained in advance for the event. An act which is courageous can be prepared for by habituation. Still, that must have been quite the experience; despite his having swum with the peaceable rays before.

Shiriri`s crew belong to an adaptable species and know that even the life we are successfully adjusted to now was difficult to imagine just a few months ago. The learning curve was mighty tight at times, but here we are, and we are preparing to step back into the classroom of hard knocks in another month`s time. We have developed some faith in the process and in ourselves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shiriri Saga #30 Y2K in Banderas Bay.

                         Sailing south off Cabo Corrientes.

Punta Mita, Punta Mita, where are you! Shiriri sails along quietly through the darkest hour before the dawn as we look for the northern point that will welcome us to Banderas Bay with Puerto Vallarta at it`s head. Normally our GPS would give us our place on the chart, but our cruising guide warns that the chart does n`t co-ordinate with the GPS position. The radar shows something out there to port but the land is so low that the image lacks any definition. There are islands, reefs, and isolated rocks ahead and we really should stop and wait for daylight!

Rosy fingered dawn arrives hurriedly and a little late and the morning light resolves all our problems: we can see the low cape, the little islands off to starboard, and are able to plot where the troublesome reefs and isolated rocks will be. A couple of local fishing boats are headed home after a night`s fishing so we follow them to the little town of La Cruz and drop anchor beside the boat with whom we hope to spend Christmas. Our three day crossing of the Sea of Cortez has been uneventful and mostly under power in calm conditions so we are quite ready for a holiday!

Poor Anne has been counting on getting together with some people near her own age on Astrolabe a yacht we had met in San Diego and that is why we have been hurrying along, but we find they are going into a marina for several days over Christmas and, unfortunately, Shiriri`s cruising budget determines that we will remain here at anchor for free! Mexican marinas are not cheap. Fortunately, her navy friend, Nancy, is flying down soon to join us for a week. We will just have to enjoy the friends we now have on the hook beside us: Wylie E. Coyote and Victoria have arrived soon after us. This is the time of the end of 1999 and the big Y2K scare. Will life continue? Will our computers work? Oh my Gawd!!

In fact, Christmas goes down very well with lots of visiting back and forth between our boats as we cement friendships with our cruising comrades. We explore the village and take the local bus into Puerto Vallarta. Travelling back and forth on this bus will feel a lot more like clear and present danger than sailing down the coast! We peer into marinas and decide that our little village gives us a much fuller experience of Mexico that those artificial enclaves. “Hola! Hola!”, we call to the folks on the dusty streets as we walk back down to our boat.

Heather has contracted to write a sequel to The Patti Stories and needs a span of time and a place to write; away from the boat and the distraction of her companions in such close proximity. We must also wait two more months in Mexico to be sure the hurricane (cyclone) season is over in the South Pacific because that`s where we are headed next. But first things first: our friends on Astrolabe recommend a lagoon farther down the coast where we can anchor, close to little towns where Heather might find a room to rent for her writing project.

We enjoy Nancy`s visit and see in the New Year around a fire on the beach where we can watch the fireworks all around Banderas Bay. Then it is time to head south across the bay and around Cabo Corrientes. We are so conditioned to the expectation of windy conditions off capes that we up anchor and leave in the dark to get to the cape early in the day. We do not know whether to be disappointed or not when we sail around it in the lightest of breezes with our big light air genneker barely filled. It is about this time that we coin the phrase “Boring is good!”so as not to tempt the weather Gods into fulfilling our foolish wish for more exciting conditions.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 29. The Baha coast. Night Encounter.

                                                 Night Encounter.

Somewhere off the northern tip of Cedros Island, partway down the Baha coast, we are experiencing a black and windy night when out of the darkness looms an apparition straight from hell. A big sooty mass passes ahead of us with a lurid light shining from its center that bounces across the wave crests and locks on to us. A death star? A tractor beam? The tired crew member struggles to separate fact from fantasy, and slowly the real picture emerges. She is looking at a freighter of some sort angling across our bows with a big side door at the waterline open to show the light within. Did they see us? There seems to be some magnetic attraction that determines that if two ships are in the same ocean they will be drawn together when least expected. A miss is as good as a mile, we say but resolve to keep a sharper lookout in future, not just at night but even in the day because it is easy to forget to look around the horizon regularly and to be surprised by some twenty knot freighter that has come over the horizon and close alongside within quarter of an hour.

                 San Benito Islands to the west of Cedros Island.

We are developing that familiar deadbeat tiredness (partly, a form of seasickness) that dogged our path down the northen US coast and resolve to find an anchorage and take a rest. Up ahead, off the west side of Cedros Island, is a blob on the chart (San Benito Island) that promises a lee to anchor behind out of this too familiar strong north-west wind. By the end of the day we are anchored in the shelter of a rocky cliff near a Mexican fishing village and are joined later by the yacht Victoria who is headed south like us. We met Mary and Eric in San Diego, and will get to know them better in Banderas Bay at Christmas time. Christmas? It is now December 15th and if we wish to meet with our cruising friends we must not linger. One nights rest and then on down the coast tomorrow.

                                        San Benito.
Two days later we are approaching Bahia Santa Maria to anchor for the night when we run into a fog bank liberally sprinkled with fishing boats hauling in a rich harvest created by the meeting of the cold current that we have been riding south on, with the leading edge of tropical waters. We turn on the radar and dodge our way through the circus of busy boats. We enter the wide bay in the dark and spot Wylie E Coyote and Victoria anchored nearby.

                                        Fog and fishing boats.

Next morning at sunrise Jim greets the dawn with his drum as we all leave for the final leg to Cabo San Lucas. He will have trouble from irate sleepy sailors in busier anchorages further south with this salutation to the dawn, but here in this peaceful bay surrounded by desert hills it is remarkably appropriate.

                                                            Bahia Santa Maria.

Cabo San Lucas. We arrive once again in the dark but Wylie Jim shines a light to guide us in to anchor nearby. The next day we put in a tiring day running from office to office, from one side of town to the other to do our official check-in to Mexico. Oh, to speak Spanish!

                                              The southern tip of Baha California. Cabo San Lucas.

We refuel and head back out to sea in the dark to cross the Sea of Cortez, bound for Banderas Bay and a Christmas reunion with boats we have met along the way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 28. San Diego. Smoked.

Safe in the Harbour at Last. San Diego is a naval base.

It takes us nearly two more weeks to work our way from harbour to harbour down the coast but finally we are checking in at the police dock in San Diego and sorting out the complex of anchorages that are available to transient yachts. In the past there has been friction between the police and the people of limited means who live permanently on boats, so everyone must now move from anchorage to anchorage every few days. This weeds out those boats of the alternate fleet that are so wedded to a certain place that they can no longer move. Since Los Angeles, we have been aware of the increasingly urban population looking sideways at transients like ourselves but this only makes us more determined to find the cracks in the system. We are now part of the landless class of no fixed address like those engaging migrant characters in John Steinbeck`s novels.

On American Thanksgiving we walk the streets near Shelter Island and watch families arrive at homes to celebrate a proper holiday supper. The problem with being free-as-a-bird travellers is just that: free and far from our own families when we too might like an affirmation that we are missed and loved. No one invites us in however, so we go shopping at a grocery store that gives a turkey away with each order. ( free, as a turkey). Heather cooks it up as a large stew with vegetables and then bottles it in the pressure cooker for future meals at sea when a precooked turkey dinner or soup will be so simple to prepare. We bought the pressure cooker for just this kind of situation so we can provision where and when food is free or cheap.( Our big boat can also carry six months worth of other supplies stowed away in plastic buckets.) All the glass jars have compartments under the floorboards or on shelves in the galley ranged below square plastic containers full of flour, oats, raisins, rice and so on. The food side of our cruising adventure is critical both to our daily well being and to our small monthly budget. We invite Wylie Jim over for turkey soup and pumpkin muffins and feel close to those original Pilgrim Fathers of a few centuries ago who clung to the edge of a strange new continent, missing their homes and grateful for the kindness of the locals.

We spend nearly a month in San Diego buying those items we will need on our voyage across the Pacific. We get a replacement for the equipment lost off Mendocino: this time a drogue rather than a parachute sea anchor. We think that something to drag behind the boat to slow us down and keep us under control will be more useful when strong winds and big waves find us again. We know they will.

We bid a sorrowful goodbye to Gwyn, our good companion who helped her parents so well when they really needed it and, after a few days, greet Anne off the train. She has left the Navy to manage without her and has signed on for the long voyage across the Pacific. We have been in port for too long as we wait for the hurricane season to be over in Mexican waters and are losing our nerve. Our friend Jim sees this and now shows us another facet of his personality. He offers to smoke us! Our eyes cross most decidedly until we grasp that Jim practices Native American Spirituality and is proposing to perform a blessing ceremony to calm our fears and align our spirits with the coming journey. Anne decides that this is too much for her and goes to do a last load of washing while Jim wafts the smoke of sage throughout the ship. We feel it flowing over us as well and take in its calming spirit. Would we have accepted this gift before the events of this voyage? We have been in a space of high adventure and in this world, Jim`s feathers, his sacred smoke, strengthens our spirits for tomorrow`s beginning of the passage down the long desert coast of Baha California.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shiriri Saga #27 Pt. Conception. The Shepherd.

                                            The Shepherd.

Two little white masthead navigation lights swing and sway as they dance across the dark waves ahead of us. We are traveling in convoy with Wylie E Coyote and another sailboat we met in Monterey called Apogie and we are all southbound around the last big California cape we will see before we reach our next main destination, San Diego. The forecast is for light winds after midnight and so far so good. We pass a brightly lit oil platform to seaward, and a weird structure on shore that we will later find is a launching site for the space program.

Shiriri rolls heavily in the sloppy beam seas. There is not enough wind to properly fill her sails and keep her steady but the engine pushes us along as best it can. As we reach the cape the wind increases suddenly and once again Shiriri is off on another cape sleigh ride. We leave only the staysail up and continue under power as well to maintain our place in the convoy. The wind leaps to forty knots and builds a particularly steep and nasty sea. “Here we go again” we think, as we slide and lift, slide and lift through the pitchy dark night. We notice that our engine is losing power and soon it will only run at low rpm`s. This is no time to start diagnosing the problem.

Dawn finds us angling in behind the cape to a little anchorage called Cojo. Jim, in Wylie E. Coyote sails back to escort us in. He has put in a long night all by himself and could now be at anchor and resting but here he is standing in his cockpit in the windy morning light shepherding us toward a kelp filled rocky stretch of coast: the best shelter to be found. We drop anchor and Jim is over immediately to try to help me repair the engine. We are a little disconcerted. “Now? We were thinking of sleep!” He is right of course, a boat with an ineffective engine is a vulnerable boat and the sooner fixed the better. In the end, we cannot solve the problem in our tired state and sleep the windy day away.

We smell oil! The next morning, away from the windy cape, the surface of the calm sea has an iridescent sheen from natural petroleum seeps, as we slowly motor along bound for Santa Barbara. Our two buddy boats keep us company and we finally anchor not far from the big wooden pier. That night I read books on diesel engines and decide our problem is a plugged air filter. Diesels need lots of clean air and our filter is within the box in the rear cabin that encloses the engine and it has picked up rubber dust from a poorly adjusted fan belt.

The next morning our first item of business on shore, once we have climbed the very high ladder on the pier, is to find a replacement air filter. The store does n`t have our Isusu`s brand so we learn to adapt by buying another. Back on Shiriri I dig into our spare-bits-of-useful-junk box and come up with a length of rubber exhaust hose, attach one end to the air intake, lead it out of the box, up under the deck head and attach the new filter to the end. The engine now has a snorkel that sucks in clean filtered air from outside the engine compartment. It is louder, but it works!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shiriri Saga #26. Monterey.

Three weeks after arriving in San Francisco determined to have a long and relaxing rest, we determinedly head back out under the Golden Gate and turn left once again to begin a series of day sails south toward San Diego: each night a different harbour. Three days later we drop our hook off the Monterey docks and row ashore in Edith. We find a beautiful town with some of the old Mexican heritage still in evidence.

We are practicing the “new port” skills that we will learn to use effectively over the next few years. We soon fill our propane bottles, thanks to the help of some friendly strangers with a car, and learn where we can bring Edith in to a free dinghy dock. Now we need to do free e-mail at the library to check on our family back home. I look at the books as Heather and Gwyn do their computer thing. Suddenly Heather turns to me with her eyes wide. Does she shriek? I cannot be sure! There is a letter from Penguin Books saying they want to publish The Patti Stories that she had finished way back in that other life during our productive winter in the underground house. Plus they want a sequel!

We wander around a park chattering excitedly, and then see “Patty`s CafĂ©”. We take it as a sign and go in for a celebration!

Back at Shiriri we find another yacht anchored beside us and meet Jim, single handing it on Wylie E. Coyote. We will get to know Jim very well over the next year as we cross the Pacific to Tahiti in his company, but for now we begin to get acquainted in a practical way as he puts his radio skills to work fixing our expensive marine HF radio that has worked very poorly up till now. Jim is a Viet Nam war vet and, as we will discover, has other interesting attributes as well! This casual meeting of strangers in other boats and the camaraderie that develops, the way we help each other with little useful things or big life threatening events is a big attraction of the cruising life and will be a difficult attitude for me to lay aside again once I`m back on shore.

Next morning the VHF weather radio that we keep a careful ear to at all times warns of big swells from a winter storm in the north Pacific about to reach our shore. We are anchored in thirty feet of water which could be a surf line in a little while: already we can feel the waves building beneath us. We find there is room for us at the dock and quickly raise anchor and motor in through a narrow opening past a fancy yacht that sports a large sea lion lolling on it`s scoop stern.

Once in among the dock fingers full of boats we feel the surge from the swells that causes the water to swirl around in a most disturbing way. One second we are stopped by a current on our bow, the next we careen ahead as it reverses direction. I have Gwyn poised to jump for the dock with a line to tie us quickly into place when we must make the final tight turn into our slip. I steer our monster boat (or so it always seems, when tight in among other boats with her bowsprit sticking way out in front) up a narrow channel, pause to catch the current just right, and start to turn. At the critical moment there is another big sea lion just where she must jump! I gently butt our bow against the inside end of the slip and hold Shiriri firmly in place with the engine and rudder until nearby boaters rush over to chase the creature away and take our lines. Phew! Once upon a time, this morning`s exercise would have been cause for more than a wiping of the brow, but now we simply make sure that Wylie E. Coyote has also made it safely in, cinch up our dock lines very carefully, add a few more, (the surge is now very noticeable) and finally trot up the dock to the marina showers that we can now use as part of our very reasonable dock fee. When we leave for a walk a few hours later, there are people surfing where we had been anchored. This afternoon, a couple of vacationers will be killed by these waves while walking a little farther up the beach.

We walk down the Pacific Grove street on a sort of pilgrimage: this is John Steinbeck`s real Cannery Row and we need to touch this place. We stop in a moment of recognition and say, “ Hey these are the train tracks, there is the corner, where his friend Doc. was killed by the train!” The tourist trade has used Steinbeck`s name of course, but still there is enough of the old town for us to feel the presence of the past and to thank this author for passing on his very human perspective on the world. Soon we too will be following his and Doc`s old course down the coast to the Sea of Cortez.

Death by misadventure: in the past for Doc., very close to us off Mendocino, and too final for the honeymoon couple who died while our backs were turned this afternoon. We are now living a life where the well defined borders between us and the man with the scythe have become frayed. We are getting used to living on the edge.

Shiriri Saga # 25. Yachties in San Francisco Bay.

Gwyn steers across the Bay.
We are suddenly in no great rush to get south: we really need a rest and what a great harbour to do it in. We row Edith ashore each morning and wander the streets that angle up the steep hillsides of Sausalito to the crest where fog blows in from the ocean. We look at all the typically west coast houses that originally set the design trends that have reached way up the coast to BC. It`s a little disconcerting to grasp how California has originated so much of what we had thought of as our own Canadian West Coast Culture.
We find groceries expensive in upscale Sausalito and take Edith on a long cutting-out expedition along the waterfront and up the river to a Safeway store in a more working class neighbourhood. Here we can buy food in normal sized quantities instead of pre-made, almost ready to eat portions.
By hopping on a bus we cross the Golden Gate Bridge and wander the waterfront of San Francisco and take the trolley up the hillsides. Shore leave in a foreign port! Just not that foreign!
One day we motor across to Angel Island and after wedging our way through the muddy bottom to a mooring at low tide ,Gwyn offers to take a bow line to a mooring buoy for another sailboat that arrives behind us. It turns out to be a family of four aboard Greyhawk from Vancouver and we all walk together around the island trails sniffing the scent of eucalyptus trees and trading experiences of our travels down the coast. While we were having our date with destiny off Mendocino, Greyhawk was rounding Cape Blanco further north in the same winds and opting to sail on through the night under jib alone and get close inshore in the lee of the cape as quickly as possible. Even so, it was quite a ride! We will meet other big strong boats with experienced crews, that got beaten up on their journey south during this period and it does n`t seem to matter what course they took: inshore or far offshore or somewhere in between.
The Bridge, Sausalito, Angel Island.
We are still agonizing over our own choices and remain acutely aware that we have used a lot of US taxpayer funded expensive manpower and equipment. The crew of the cutter made a point of reassuring us that we did everything right. They do not want people in trouble at sea to not call for help for fear of expense or of calling on them too early on in an emergency: the sooner they know of a problem, the more options they have available and the more likely there will be a timely and successful outcome. They also attempted to reassure us because they were aware that a traumatic experience like this would continue to return for us to chew on long after the trauma had ended. In the end, to balance things up in our minds, we remind ourselves of a boating incident just a few months earlier in which we saved an American woman from drowning. The action required no Canadian Coast Guard or their equipment, hardly any effort on my part, but the result was the same: a life saved. Eventually we learn to chalk the Mendocino experience up as a learning opportunity. We will continue to make mistakes and continue to learn from them but will just become more experienced at managing those precious opportunities!